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Context of 'February-April 2004: Bush Administration Withholds Clinton Documents from 9/11 Commission'

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After the 9/11 Commission’s staff is divided into nine teams, the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, begins to closely supervise the work done by the commission’s team 3, which is investigating counterterrorism policy. Author Philip Shenon will later point out that this team is responsible for the “most politically sensitive” portion of the commission’s work, because it is to “review the performance of the Bush and Clinton administrations in dealing with al-Qaeda threats before 9/11.” It will have access to CIA and NSC files, and is tasked with determining whether the Clinton administration did enough to destroy al-Qaeda and why “the Bush administration had seemed to do so little in response to the flood of terrorism warnings in the months before 9/11.” Zelikow soon makes it clear that this team is his priority, carefully checking the lists of documents and interviews the commission is asking the Bush administration for. He also announces that he wants to be present at all the major interviews. Shenon will comment: “At first, members of the team found it flattering that Zelikow wanted to spend so much of his own time and energy on the work of Team 3. Their suspicion of his motives grew later.” As time goes on, the team members are startled to discover that he wants to “be involved in the smallest details of their work” to such an extent that he “ignore[s] the work of other teams of investigators,” who are even moved out of the commission’s main building and into separate “dark, claustrophobic” offices known as “the Cave.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 86-87, 145]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Bush administration withholds thousands of documents from the Clinton administration that had already been cleared by Clinton’s general counsel Bruce Lindsey for release to the 9/11 Commission. [New York Times, 4/2/2004] In April, after a public outcry, the Bush administration grants access to most of the documents. [Washington Post, 4/3/2004; Fox News, 4/4/2004] However, they continue to withhold approximately 57 documents. According to the commission, the documents being withheld by the Bush White House include references to al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and other issues relevant to the panel’s work. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Bruce Lindsey, Clinton administration, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission privately interviews former President Bill Clinton about his counterterrorism policy. Clinton tells the Commission that he did everything he could to kill Osama bin Laden and is reluctant to criticize the current administration’s actions. In addition, Clinton says that the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal did not affect his decisions, although Democratic commissioner and former senator Bob Kerrey points out that it had a “big impact” on him and other Democratic lawmakers; when Clinton attacked al-Qaeda, they were forced to deny it was an attempt to divert attention from the scandal. Clinton may have been willing to testify publicly, but such a move was not considered seriously, as it would have been blocked by the Republicans on the Commission. Had Clinton testified in public and President George Bush only in private, this would have created the impression Bush was hiding something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 303-306]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Monica Lewinsky

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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