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White House will allow interviews in Tillman investigation

Three former aides can be questioned in a congressional inquiry into what was known of the friendly-fire death.

August 03, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House has offered to let congressional investigators interview three former officials in an inquiry into what the Bush administration knew about the friendly-fire death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

The aides are former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, former Press Secretary Scott McClellan and former speechwriter Michael Gerson. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee agreed to White House demands that initial interviews be conducted without a transcript and with White House attorneys present.

If investigators determine the aides have relevant information, they will be asked to return for transcribed interviews. The White House has reserved the right to oppose that by claiming executive privilege.

A White House official confirmed the offer late Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity because a final agreement had not yet been formalized. "The White House made a proposal to the committee that would permit them to talk to the individuals they've identified in connection with the Tillman matter," the official said.

Panel Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) has aimed to determine when and how the White House learned Tillman's April 22, 2004, death was by friendly fire, not at the hands of the enemy as the military had claimed for five weeks.

A hearing Waxman presided over Wednesday shed little light as former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and several of his top generals denied any cover-up or personal responsibility and said they could recall little about how and when they learned of Tillman's death. Tillman family members say they think officials at the highest levels of government hid facts to limit public-relations damage.

Waxman is continuing to press the White House for drafts of a speech President Bush delivered at the White House Correspondents Dinner on May 1, 2004. In the speech, Bush lamented Tillman's death but made no reference to the real circumstances of it.

Two days earlier, a top general had written a memo to Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, then head of Central Command, warning that it was "highly possible" that Tillman was killed by friendly fire and making clear that the information should be conveyed to the president. The White House has said there is no indication that Bush received the warning.

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