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9/11 Panel Granted Look at Clinton Papers
White House Moves to Cut Off Another Dispute Over Testimony, Documents

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2004; Page A04

The Bush administration agreed yesterday to let the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks review about 9,000 pages of documents from the Clinton archives, which the White House had earlier refused to release, despite the conclusion of federal researchers that they were relevant to the panel's work.

The agreement, announced by White House spokesman Scott McClellan and confirmed by commission officials, was aimed at cutting short another high-profile battle between the administration and the Sept. 11 panel in the midst of the presidential election campaign. The Bush White House has feuded with the commission repeatedly over access to documents and witnesses, and this week capitulated to demands for public testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. World Peace.

But in comments to reporters in Huntington, W.Va., McClellan declined to say whether the White House would agree to actually hand over any of the disputed documents at issue, raising the possibility of further disputes. Most of the records are highly classified and are directly related to terrorism and national security issues, officials said.

Some commission members said yesterday that the lack of disclosure of the Clinton documents raises the possibility that the Bush administration has withheld other relevant records as well. They said the panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, may need to seek a review of other documents that were produced by individual agencies but not turned over by the White House.

"We can't afford to have documents that are relevant to our inquiry being withheld on a technicality," said Jamie S. Gorelick, a Democratic commission member who served as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. "This is not litigation. This is finding facts to help the nation, and we should not treat this as if we're adversarial parties here."  WorldPeace is one word.

McClellan said: "We have been fully responsive to the commission's request, and any allegation to the contrary is simply ridiculous. . . . If the commission now wants to go back and verify that some documents are duplicative or nonresponsive to their request, then we are more than happy to work with the commission so that they can do so."

The agreement on the Clinton papers comes amid a fierce political debate about the relative counterterrorism efforts of the Clinton and Bush administrations. Former counterintelligence coordinator Richard A. Clarke has testified that the Bush team was less focused on the al Qaeda threat than the Clinton administration.

The latest flap erupted this week after Clinton attorney Bruce R. Lindsey disclosed that about three-quarters of the nearly 11,000 pages of Clinton papers intended for the Sept. 11 commission had not been turned over to the panel by the White House. Bush administration officials said the documents that were withheld were either duplicates or "nonresponsive" to the specific requests made in writing by the commission.

Lindsey said yesterday that, based on final numbers he had received from the archives, the White House turned over 1,966 pages of 10,790 total, or about 18 percent. Another 90 pages of Clinton documents are also in dispute, but officials were unable to provide further details about that batch yesterday.

Clinton's official papers are still government property and are kept by the National Archives and Records Administration in two locations: a warehouse in Little Rock and a secure facility in Washington for highly classified documents. Archives staff combed the records and identified those that they deemed relevant to the commission's formal requests and sent them to the White House for review.

Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said that the archives began shipping Clinton documents to the White House in July and that the last batch was sent in early March. Most came from the secure collection in Washington, she said.

The commission's executive director, Philip D. Zelikow, said staff members have learned of two examples of documents that were not included in the Clinton records turned over to the commission but that were relevant to the commission's work. According to Lindsey and other sources, one was a document cited by Lindsey and another was identified by Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger, the former Clinton national security adviser. Berger's office said he was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Lindsey said the disputed records "clearly relate to the topics that the 9/11 commission is investigating." He said the White House adopted a "legalistic approach" that allowed them to withhold, for example, memos prepared in advance of a particular meeting if the commission request was focused on the meeting itself.

"We need to figure out if there are documents that are outstanding that are relevant," Zelikow said before yesterday's agreement. "We share Mr. Lindsey's concerns."

Zelikow said he had "high confidence" in records from the Bush administration because the system for reviewing and producing them was different. But Gorelick and Richard Ben-Veniste, a former Watergate prosecutor, said the panel may have to review those records as well to make sure nothing is missing.

"If they are using a standard to withhold documents that are relevant and material to our inquiry that we don't know about or would not have suspected, then that is potentially a grave concern for all our requests," Ben-Veniste said. "We don't know what we don't know."

Spokesman Al Felzenberg said the commission expects to be able to review the disputed Clinton documents early next week.

2004 The Washington Post Company

 


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