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Congress Presses White House for 9/11 Papers

Members of both parties say classified material is being withheld from the panel investigating the terrorist attacks. Legal action is threatened.

October 27, 2003|Ken Silverstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Key members of Congress from both parties blasted the Bush administration Sunday for refusing to turn over classified intelligence documents requested by the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who co-wrote legislation that created the commission, issued a statement saying that the administration has "resisted this inquiry at every turn."

"After claiming they wanted to find the truth about Sept. 11, the Bush administration has resorted to secrecy, stonewalling and foot-dragging," the statement said. Lieberman, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said that if the administration continued to refuse to turn over the documents, he would urge the commission to take it to court.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Charles Hagel (R-Neb.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence, also urged the administration to turn over the documents.

"Americans and our allies across the globe must have confidence in our leadership," Hagel said. "They must trust our processes, and that certainly includes our intelligence communities' results."

The 10-member bipartisan commission, which was created despite the initial objection of the Bush administration, has a May 27 deadline to issue its report. It is headed by Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey.

In a New York Times report on Sunday, Kean said that he was considering issuing a subpoena for documents that the White House had failed to turn over.

"There is some frustration that the negotiations have not yet been satisfactorily resolved," commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said Sunday in a telephone interview. "The commission hopes it can all be resolved within a few weeks at the latest."

Felzenberg declined to characterize the documents that the White House has refused to supply.

The White House has said that it is fully cooperating in the investigation and that it already has turned over more than 2 million pages of documents.

Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that his committee has also had difficulty getting documents from the administration.

"We're going through some of the same problems -- a lot of the documents that we've requested from the Department of Defense, from the White House and the National Security Agency, we do not yet have," he said on "Meet the Press."

Tensions between the commission and the executive branch have waxed and waned during recent months. On Oct. 15, the commission announced that it had unanimously voted to subpoena documents from the Federal Aviation Administration. It said the FAA had displayed "serious deficiencies in ... production of critical documents."

"The FAA's delay has significantly impeded the progress of our investigation and undermined our confidence in the completeness of the FAA's production," said the statement issued by the commission, which is formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

Some commission members had expressed fear that the White House is hoping to stall in turning over documents until the commission's mandate expires in May. Lieberman said that if that happens, he and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would "go to the floor of the Senate" to extend the commission's term.

"President Bush may want to withhold the truth about Sept. 11, but the American people -- and especially the victims' families -- demand and deserve it," Lieberman said.

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