Washington Post, April 1, 2004;
President Bush's top lawyer placed a telephone call to at least one of the Republican members of the Sept. 11 commission when the panel was gathered in Washington on March 24 to hear the testimony of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke, according to people with direct knowledge of the call.
White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales called commissioner Fred F. Fielding, one of five GOP members of the body, and, according to one observer, also called Republican commission member James R. Thompson. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, wrote to Gonzales yesterday asking him to confirm and describe the conversations.
Waxman said "it would be unusual if such ex parte contacts occurred" during the hearing. Waxman did not allege that there would be anything illegal in such phone calls. But he suggested that such contacts would be improper because "the conduct of the White House is one of the key issues being investigated by the commission."
White House spokesmen were unable to get a response from Gonzales.
Fielding did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Thompson declined yesterday to say whether he spoke with Gonzales. "I never talk about conversations with the White House," he said. Asked about the source of his information for his questioning of Clarke, Thompson said: "I ask my own questions."
During the commission's 21/2 hours of questioning Clarke, Fielding and Thompson presented evidence questioning the former official's credibility.
Fielding, a former White House counsel under President Ronald Reagan, raised questions about Clarke's "integrity," and suggested classified testimony he gave a congressional inquiry in 2002 was different from his current version of events.
Thompson, a former Illinois governor, pointed to Clarke's remarks praising Bush in a previously anonymous 2002 news briefing. It was reported on Fox News two hours before the hearing started; the White House that morning had authorized Fox News to identify the anonymous briefer as Clarke.
The commission has functioned largely on a bipartisan basis, but the testimony by Clarke, which was highly critical of Bush, split the members along party lines.
Clarke was counterterrorism coordinator in the Clinton and Bush White Houses, and has charged that the Bush administration was insufficiently concerned about terrorism before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The White House has worked aggressively to raise doubts about him and his account. It alleges that he is a disgruntled former colleague, has partisan motives and is trying to promote his book on the subject.
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.