Bush's Agreement to Testify Before 9-11 Commission Unprecedented

Roundup: Media's Take

Dan Eggen, in the Washington Post (Feb. 14, 2004):

President Bush agreed to meet privately with the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but has ruled out offering any testimony in a public setting, according to a White House statement released last night.

In addition, the commission's executive director said that Vice President Cheney, former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore have tentatively agreed to provide similar private testimony to the panel. None has committed to testify publicly.

Commission officials and historians said Bush's decision appears to be unprecedented, allowing an outside, nonprosecutorial panel to question a sitting president about some of the most sensitive national security issues of his administration. During the investigation into the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, for example, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson submitted a three-page statement to the Warren Commission but was not subjected to questioning.

"Outside of a legal investigation, I cannot recall any sitting president meeting with an investigative body of this kind," said Philip D. Zelikow, the commission's executive director, who is a history professor at the University of Virginia. "It is highly unusual."

Among the issues likely to be pursued during interviews with Bush and the others are whether either the Bush or Clinton administration had specific clues that could have provided a warning of the Sept. 11 plot and whether the government was sufficiently focused on the threat posed by al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, commission sources said. The questioning is also certain to include discussions of intelligence reports known as the President's Daily Brief, including one from Aug. 6, 2001, that discussed the possibility of hijackings by al Qaeda, sources said.


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