Plan to set up panel to probe September 11 collapses
An agreement announced by leading lawmakers to form an independent commission to investigate the September 11 attacks fell apart late yesterday after the chairman of the House intelligence committee said more details needed to be worked out.
The agreement would have given the commission a broader scope and more time than the often-frustrating House-Senate inquiry that lawmakers are winding down.
It was announced at a news conference by three of the four leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who assured that the fourth, Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Intelligence committee, had agreed to the plan.
Leaders of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and John McCain, Arizona Republican, also said an agreement had been reached.
But after the White House and House Republican leaders raised concerns about the commission, Mr. Goss told members of the two intelligence committees that more issues needed to be resolved.
Mr. Goss later told reporters that the only agreement reached yesterday was on four issues involving the commission.
"We haven't gotten quite full agreement yet," he said.
The leading House advocate for the commission, Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, blamed the Bush administration for blocking the agreement.
"I worry that the White House is trying to pull the carpet over the independent commission and do the slow roll and kill it," he said.
Governmental Affairs committee spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said Mr. Lieberman "was surprised and disappointed to learn that the deal had collapsed because he had been informed earlier in the day that there was a bipartisan agreement."
Both the House and Senate have voted for an independent commission, though the two versions differ. The administration initially opposed a commission, but announced last month that it would support it. Lawmakers have been meeting with White House officials to work out the commission's structure and scope.
Lawmakers said yesterday morning that talks with the White House broke down. But by afternoon, they said the three key congressmen had worked out an agreement among themselves, which they would try to add to a bill authorizing 2003 intelligence programs.
But the White House said no agreement had been reached with them, and John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said Republican leaders were still trying to work out consensus in Congress.
Under the plan announced yesterday afternoon, the commission would have consisted of 10 members with two co-chairmen, one appointed by the president, the other by the Democratic leader of the Senate, and have a two-year mandate. The commission would look into issues such as intelligence, commercial aviation and immigration.
The joint inquiry of the intelligence committees began in February and has a one-year mandate. Its scope is limited to intelligence issues related to the attacks.
Meanwhile yesterday, members of the inquiry panel met with the CIA and FBI directors, discussing the handling of an informant who was the landlord of two of the hijackers.
Many lawmakers have complained that the panel's work has been hampered by difficulty in receiving information from intelligence agencies.
Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, declined to discuss details of the meeting yesterday with FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and CIA Director George J. Tenet, but said he believed it helped ease members' doubts.
"There have been some communications problems, but I don't detect a systematic effort to deceive," he said.