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Bush Plays Bait-and-Switch With 9/11 Panel

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  • Bush Plays Bait-and-Switch With 9/11 Panel

    February 19, 2004


    Let us finally put to rest a widely circulated and grossly inaccurate story that's been making the rounds: Rumors of President George W. Bush's cooperation with the panel probing the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are unsubstantiated.

    Unlike those Internet rumors that pop to electronic life and die quickly without fingerprints, this one is traceable directly to the con artist-in-chief. The world thinks Bush is cooperating with the 9/11 commission because he says he is.

    "We have given extraordinary cooperation" the president told NBC's Tim Russert in his Sunday Meet the Press chat. "I want the truth to be known."

    The truth?

    "I've experienced two political bait-and-switches since I've been on the commission," said Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator and current president of the New School University in New York. And that's only about a month. "The bait-and-switch in politics is a technique that is intentionally designed to lead the public (to believe) that you're going to do something that you're not going to do."

    The latest subterfuge involves the president's agreement to be interviewed by the 9/11 commission, as its chairmen, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean and former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, requested. The White House announced with some fanfare that well, certainly, the president would oblige. Then the backtrack began.

    Administration officials said any interview would be done in private. What's more, the president would not submit to questions from the full bipartisan panel, only from selected commissioners. Which ones? Only his damage-controllers know for sure.

    Erin Healy, a White House spokeswoman, refused to answer "yes" or "no" when asked to state whether the president wants to limit the commissioners who would be allowed to question him. "Those details are being worked out," she said.

    Ah, the details.

    Negotiated "details" have constricted the commission's access to the president's daily brief - a digest of intelligence for the commander-in-chief. Previous probes of 9/11 already have revealed that, in the months before the terrorists struck, the intelligence community screamed loudly about a planned attack meant to inflict mass casualties. Bush bragged in his NBC interview about giving the commission access to these briefings.

    In fact, the full commission hasn't seen them.

    The White House negotiated a convoluted agreement under which a handful of panel representatives were allowed to see the briefs and take notes. Then it tried to block these few from sharing their notes with other panelists. Finally - after the commission contemplated a subpoena of its own members' notes - a 17-page summary of the briefings, edited by the White House, went to all commissioners.

    The summary, according to two commission sources, raises more questions for Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser. Still more could be put to former Federal Aviation Administration chief Jane Garvey and to Sandy Berger, national security adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

    "When somebody stands up and says 'well, there's nothing in those PDBs,' that's not true," Kerrey said. Well, that's just about what Rice said publicly when the existence of a key briefing from Aug. 6, 2001, came to light.

    Never mind. The public won't hear from Rice because her interview with the commission was private. And the panel is running out of time to complete work before its May deadline.

    In one of those heralded announcements of cooperation, the White House has said it's willing to give the panel two months more. Curiously, neither the House nor the Senate - both controlled by the president's party and heretofore happy to oblige Bush - has rushed to take the action needed to extend the panel's life.

    Does the president understand the dimension of failure that 9/11 represents? It shook his presidency and changed its course. He has led the nation to two wars to avenge the attacks and, he says, prevent another.

    Still he obstructs the full and fair accounting that the people are due. This must be counted as another failure of 9/11. It is an indignity to history that is, somehow, imposed without shame

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