Lawmakers Say Talks Broken Down Over Independent Commission
By Ken Guggenheim Associated Press Writer
Published: Oct 10, 2002
WASHINGTON (AP) - Talks have broken down between the White House and Congress over the creation of an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks, congressional aides said Thursday.
Both the House and the Senate have approved different versions of the commission and, after initially opposing it, the Bush administration announced last month it would support a commission.
Talks between lawmakers and the White House bogged down over details like the commission's duration and scope, as well as how intelligence sources and methods would be protected during an investigation.
Leslie Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said lawmakers would try to create the independent commission when the House and Senate intelligence committees work out the final version of a bill authorizing 2003 intelligence activities. She said the plan would include provisions sought by the White House to protect intelligence sources and method.
Though it resisted the outside commission at the start, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer cast the administration as its champion on Thursday, urging Congress to finish work on it before its upcoming recess.
"The president thinks it is so important that Congress create this commission," Fleischer said. "The president thinks it would be a great disappointment to the families and to the nation if the Congress left without creating a commission on Sept. 11."
The House approved the commission in July as part of its version of the intelligence authorization bill. The House version, though, would limit the commission to an examination of intelligence activities, following up a joint House-Senate inquiry that is winding down.
In September, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to create a much broader commission that would look into issues related to the attacks beyond intelligence, such as aviation safety and immigration issues.
That proposal was included in the Homeland Security legislation that has stalled in the Senate. Seeking to speed up the creation of the commission, Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Ind., is trying to get the broader Senate language included in the intelligence bill. House and Senate members were supposed to work out the final version of the bill this week, but meetings have been repeatedly postponed while the White House and lawmakers worked out details of the commission.
The leader of a group of Sept. 11 relatives, Stephen Push of Families of Sept. 11, has questioned whether the White House was trying to block the commission.
"As recently as Monday, they were bringing up issues they never brought up before," he said.
The breakdown of talks come as tensions have been rising between intelligence agencies and a congressional panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Lawmakers abruptly postponed Thursday's public hearing with CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller and instead decided to meet with them behind closed doors. A brief statement by the House and Senate intelligence committees said lawmakers needed to discuss more business from a closed session Wednesday.
The subject of Wednesday's meeting wasn't announced, but it was believed to have included discussions about the FBI's handling of an informant who was the landlord of two of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
An FBI official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said congressional staff have spoken several times to the agent who handled the informant. But the bureau won't allow staff to speak to the informant, who has been promised anonymity.
The public hearing will be rescheduled for next week, it said. The two directors were expected to appear, along with the National Security Agency director, Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden.
On the Net: House intelligence panel: http://www.house.gov/intelligence/
Senate intelligence panel: http://intelligence.senate.gov/