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9/11 Panel: Bush White House Withheld Papers
Commission Is Demanding Terrorism-Related Documents From Clinton Era

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2004; Page A04

The commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks announced yesterday that it has identified 69 documents from the Clinton era that the Bush White House withheld from investigators and which include references to al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and other issues relevant to the panel's work.

 

The White House turned over 12 of the documents to the commission yesterday, officials said. But 57 others, which were not specifically requested but "nonetheless are relevant to our work," remain in dispute, according to a commission statement. The panel has demanded the documents and any similar ones from the Bush administration.  World Peace.

Yesterday's announcement came just 14 hours before national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to testify publicly in front of the 10-member bipartisan panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The commission has feuded for months with the White House over access to documents and witnesses, and Rice's agreement to testify came after weeks of refusals from White House lawyers.  WorldPeace is one word.

The discovery of the documents came as a result of a staff review this week of about 10,800 pages of material from the Clinton archives, including about 9,000 pages that the White House had not given to the commission despite the conclusion of federal archivists that they may be relevant. The administration had not notified the panel about the records, which Clinton attorney Bruce R. Lindsey discovered in February.

The commission said in its statement that "more than 90 percent of the material had already been produced, was irrelevant to our work, or was duplicative." The review team, including chief counsel Daniel Marcus, also concluded that "any errors in document production were inadvertent."

But Democratic commissioner Timothy J. Roemer, a former Indiana congressman, said: "We continue to have document problems with this White House. . . . Access to documents is absolutely crucial for this commission to be able to do its work."

Another Democrat, former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey, said that although the review team did not find any "blockbusters," the remaining records "could be significant" and deal with al Qaeda, bin Laden and other terrorism-related issues.

"The commission is very strongly of the view that they need to give us a yes as soon as possible, and I'm hopeful they will," Kerrey said, referring to the 57 documents still in dispute.

White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said, "We are cooperating with the commission, and we will continue to cooperate."

Kerrey said the panel was provided yesterday with a copy of a draft speech that Rice was scheduled to give on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks. It focused on missile defense and made little mention of terrorism. Some commissioners had complained that the document had not been turned over to the panel, and the presidential campaign of Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) accused the White House yesterday of trying to "stonewall" the commission.

The Rice testimony comes after weeks of furor over the allegations of Richard A. Clarke, former counterterrorism coordinator in the Clinton and current Bush administrations, who testified March 24 that President Bush was less focused on al Qaeda and bin Laden than his predecessor.

Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean said he hopes the panel will be able to rise above clear partisan divisions in questioning Rice today. During his appearance last month, several GOP members sharply challenged Clarke, while several Democratic members praised him.

"I've never seen the atmosphere that exists in Washington right now; it's the nastiest I've ever seen it," said Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who has been out of politics for more than a decade. He said he wants the commission members to ask "tough questions" but not be partisan. "That's a tough line to walk sometimes."

The panel decided in a closed-door meeting last night that each member would have about 10 minutes of questioning and that they would proceed in alphabetical order, several members said. The approach is a departure from the commission's previous practice of appointing two lead questioners who had more time than the others, and reflects the members' desire to be aggressively involved in the high-profile hearing.

Rice has spent hours on preparation, and a variety of aides worked on her 20-minute opening statement. John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to the National Security Council, took the lead in assembling and creating summaries, timelines and other written materials for her preparation, and communications officials have war-gamed likely questions with her. "There's no mystery as to what the questions are," a senior administration official said. "Commissioners have not been shy about talking about what kind of questions they would like to ask."

That official, like several others who discussed her testimony, refused to be identified because the White House's official position is that people should wait to hear what she has to say.

Several officials said Rice has no intention of following Clarke's lead and offering a public apology to the families of Sept. 11 victims. "That is not the point of this exercise," an official said. "The point of this exercise is for her to provide the facts as she knows them in an objective manner."

Aides said Rice will provide some new details about White House actions on terrorism before the attacks, and will portray Bush as fully engaged on the issue going back to his inauguration in January 2001. Her opening statement will reflect a scouring of White House archives for evidence of action on terrorism.

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.

2004 The Washington Post Company

 


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