WASHINGTON — President Bush will answer privately all questions raised by a federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the White House said Tuesday, softening its insistence that his testimony be limited to an hour.
"Nobody's watching the clock," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.
Still, he said an hour was "a reasonable period of time to set aside for a sitting president of the United States."
The White House and the commission are working on a date for the meeting with Bush.
The commission urged Bush to meet with all its members, not just the chairman and vice chairman.
The shift came after John F. Kerry, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, accused Bush of stonewalling investigations of the terrorist attacks and U.S. intelligence failures.
Kerry issued a statement saying, "It's good to see that the president has finally found time in his schedule to spend more than an hour with the 9/11 commission to investigate the greatest intelligence failure in our nation's history."
McClellan, in responding to Kerry, said, "It appears he doesn't want to let the facts get in the way of his campaign."
It was the administration's latest change of heart about the commission. Bush had opposed the panel's creation. Then he had opposed its request for a two-month extension of its work. He is viewed as intent on protecting his standing with Americans on the war on terror, which polls show is his best issue with voters.
"This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 commission," McClellan said. "It provided access to every single bit of information that they have requested."
The 10-member commission sought interviews with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about what the administration knew before the attacks, potentially a sensitive subject in an election year.
Bush had agreed to meet privately for an hour with the chairman and vice chairman of the panel but said it was unnecessary for him to testify publicly. Cheney also has said he would meet with some commissioners.
Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said the panel still hoped that Bush would consider meeting with all the commissioners, not just the chairman and vice chairman.
Former President Bill Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, are to meet the full panel for unlimited private questioning in coming weeks, but Bush and Cheney have said they preferred the smaller group.
"The commission has not accepted or rejected the president's offer to meet the chair and vice chair," Felzenberg said. "It has expressed the hope it would meet with the entire commission."