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9/11 Commission Shield

Ties Between White House, Sept 11 Chief

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By HOPE YEN
February 4, 2008;

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Sept. 11 commission’s executive director had closer
ties with the White House than publicly disclosed and tried to influence the
final report in ways that the staff often perceived as limiting the Bush administration’s
responsibility, a new book says.

Philip Zelikow, a friend of then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice,
spoke with her several times during the 20-month investigation that closely
examined her role in assessing the al-Qaida threat. He also exchanged frequent
calls with the White House, including at least four from Bush’s chief political
adviser at the time, Karl Rove.

Zelikow once tried to push through wording in a draft report that suggested
a greater tie between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Iraq, in line with
White House claims but not with the commission staff’s viewpoint, according
to Philip Shenon’s "The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11
Investigation."

Shenon, a New York Times reporter, says Zelikow sought to intimidate
staff to avoid damaging findings for President Bush, who at the time was running
for re-election, and Rice. Zelikow and Rice had written a book together in 1995
and he would later work for her after the commission finished its job and she
became secretary of state in 2005.

The Associated Press obtained an audio version of Shenon’s book, which is to
go on sale Tuesday.

Reached by the AP, Zelikow provided a 131-page statement with information he
said was provided for the book. In it, Zelikow acknowledges talking to Rove
and Rice during the course of the commission’s work despite a general pledge
he made not to. But he said the conversations never dealt with politics.

The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.

According to the book, when Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey learned the
extent of Zelikow’s ties to the administration, he confronted Republican chairman
Tom Kean and demanded to know why someone with such apparent conflicts of interest
had been hired.

"Look Tom," Kerrey is quoted as saying, "either he goes or I
go." Kean eventually persuaded Kerrey to stay.

Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the panel’s Democratic vice chairman, praised Zelikow
as a "person of integrity" who was upfront in disclosing his background
and White House contacts.

"Did he try to sway the report to protect the administration? I think
the answer was no," Hamilton told the AP.

The book says phone logs maintained by the commission’s executive assistant
showed at least two calls from Rove to Zelikow’s office number in June 2003,
and two more calls in September. During that time, the commission was in the
midst of its fact-finding.

Zelikow ordered the assistant to stop keeping phone records of his contacts
with the White House, the book said, but the panel’s general counsel instructed
her to ignore the order.

The phone logs do not record Zelikow’s calls out, nor do they show calls on
his cell phone, which he relied on for most outgoing calls. Records from the
Government Accountability Office, which maintained some of the commission’s
phone records, showed frequent calls from Zelikow to telephone numbers in area
code 202, with the telephone prefix 4-5-6 — the prefix exclusive to the
White House, the book says.

Zelikow, in his written statement, said Rove had called with questions about
the Bush library and other business related to Zelikow’s work at the University
of Virginia. Zelikow also said he enlisted Rice’s logistical aid on behalf of
the commission at one point to get Saudi cooperation so the panel could interview
their citizens.

"Rove and I didn’t really know each other," he said in the statement.
"I don’t recall ever having an extended conversation with him, and certainly
not about politics or the commission."

The book seeks to raise new questions about the independence of the bipartisan
commission, which was created in 2002 to investigate government missteps that
led to the Sept. 11 attacks. Initially opposed by the White House, the panel
issued a unanimous 567-page final report in July 2004 during the height of the
presidential campaign that did not blame Bush or former President Clinton for
the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people but did say they each failed to
make anti-terrorism a priority.

The book says that in early 2004, Zelikow allegedly sought to add to an initial
staff report wording that linked al-Qaida to Iraq. The wording would have said
the terrorist network repeatedly tried to communicate with the government of
Saddam Hussein, a claim of cooperation the administration had cited to justify
the war in Iraq. After a staff protest, Zelikow backed down; the final report
said there was no "collaborative relationship" between Saddam and
al-Qaida. Zelikow has said that he simply wanted the panel to keep an open mind
on the issue.

Source URL: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5hWQCjbQNbAq13eIw2NMreAthexSgD8UJ290G0


RELATED:

From The Raw Story:

9/11 Commissioner: ‘We had to go through Karl Rove’
02/03/2008 @ 3:09 pm
Filed by Nick Langewis and David Edwards

Two recent segments delve into a new book that accuses the head of the ostensibly
independent 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, of being beholden to the Bush Administration
during his tenure.

The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation,
by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, indicts Zelikow on his
ties
with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and his frequent contact with
senior political adviser Karl Rove, during what was touted as an independent
investigation into the events surrounding the 2001 World Trade Center attack.
This seeming conflict of interest, the book says, led Commission staffers not
to trust Zelikow.

"We found him to be very fair-minded," counters co-chair Lee Hamilton,
"quite impartial, very rigorous in his searching out of the facts; and
he certainly did not try to protect the Bush Administration, or to protect anybody
else."

9/11 Commission member John Lehman goes on to tell MSNBC that it was impossible
not to go through Karl Rove when documents such as presidential daily briefings
were needed. Many Commission members, he says, pressed the White House to provide
more information and lift restrictions on a regular basis.

"We had to go through Karl Rove, and through [Attorney General Alberto]
Gonzales and the other most senior members," says Lehman. He indeed hoped
that Zelikow was talking to Karl Rove, although he expressed disappointment
that contact with the White House wasn’t more frequent towards the beginning
of the investigations.

[continued at Raw
Story
]