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Context of 'March 26, 2003: President Bush Turns Down Increased Budget for 9/11 Commission'

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President Bush says he is opposed to establishing a special, independent commission to probe how the government dealt with terrorism warnings before 9/11. [CBS News, 5/23/2002] He will later change his stance in the face of overwhelming support for the idea (see September 20, 2002), and will then sabotage an agreement reached with Congress to establish a commission. Several years after leaving the White House, current Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will write that the president’s reluctance to open an independent investigation into the 9/11 attacks (see November 15, 2002) was part of a larger penchant for secrecy in the administration. McClellan will write: “Unfortunately, the initial response of the Bush White House to demands by partisan critics in Congress and elsewhere for an independent investigation fueled the firestorm of anger. It was an early indication that the Bush administration did not sufficiently accept the necessity for transparency in its management of the public business. The president and his senior advisers had little appetite for outside investigations. They resisted openness, and believed that investigations simply meant close scrutiny of things they would prefer to keep confidential. Not that anything they’d done had necessarily crossed a legal line; rather, some things done privately might not look so good if disclosed publicly, and might cause political embarrassment for the president.… The Bush administration lacked real accountability in large part because Bush himself did not embrace openness or government in the sunshine. His belief in secrecy and compartmentalization was activated when controversy began to stir.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 117-118]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a speech, President Bush announces a “new” US policy of preemptive attacks: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002] This preemptive strategy is included in a defensive strategic paper the next month (see July 13, 2002), and formally announced in September 2002 (see September 20, 2002). Despite the obvious parallels, the mainstream media generally fails to report that this “new” antiterrorism strategy was first proposed by Bush’s key administration officials in 1992 (see March 8, 1992) and has been continually advocated by the same people ever since. [New York Times, 9/20/2002; Washington Post, 9/21/2002; Guardian, 9/21/2002] Furthermore, State Department Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass originally drafted this new national security strategy. However, Condoleezza Rice had ordered that it be completely rewritten, reportedly wanting “something bolder.” The man responsible for this task was Philip Zelikow, who in 2003 will be appointed executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Mid-December 2002-March 2003). [Mann, 2004, pp. 316-317]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of damaging Congressional 9/11 inquiry revelations, President Bush reverses course and backs efforts by many lawmakers to form an independent commission to conduct a broader investigation than the current Congressional inquiry. Newsweek reports that Bush had virtually no choice. “There was a freight train coming down the tracks,” says one White House official. [Newsweek, 9/22/2002] But as one of the 9/11 victim’s relatives says, “It’s carefully crafted to make it look like a general endorsement but it actually says that the commission would look at everything except the intelligence failures.” [CBS News, 9/20/2002] Rather than look into such failures, Bush wants the commission to focus on areas like border security, visa issues, and the “role of Congress” in overseeing intelligence agencies. The White House also refuses to turn over documents showing what Bush knew before 9/11. [Newsweek, 9/22/2002]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A tentative congressional deal to create an independent commission to investigate the 9/11 attacks falls apart hours after the White House objected to the plan (it appears Vice President Cheney called Republican leaders and told them to renege on the agreement [New York Times, 11/2/2002] ). Bush had pledged to support such a commission a few weeks earlier (see September 20, 2002), but doubters who questioned his sincerity appear to have been proven correct. Hours after top Republican leaders announced at a press conference that an agreement had been reached, House Republican leaders said they wouldn’t bring the legislation to the full House for a vote unless the commission proposal was changed. There are worries that if the White House can delay the legislation for a few more days until Congress adjourns, it could stop the creation of a commission for months, if not permanently. [New York Times, 10/11/2002] Another deal is made a few weeks later (see November 15, 2002) and the commission goes forward.

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Presidential adviser Karl Rove is concerned about the 9/11 Commission, which is soon to be established (see November 15, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will say this is because he thinks that “in the wrong hands… [it] could cost President Bush a second term.” According to Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, Republican Senator Trent Lott says that behind-the-scenes opposition to the commission’s creation is orchestrated by Rove and the White House’s political office. “It’s all Rove,” Lott tells Daschle. Rove is also involved in the selection of the Commission’s initial chairman, Henry Kissinger (see November 27, 2002), and his successor Tom Kean (see December 14, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 15, 29]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Congress approves legislation creating an independent commission—the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States—which will later be popularly known as the 9/11 Commission. The Commission’s mandate is to “examine and report on the facts and causes relating to the September 11th terrorist attacks” and “make a full and complete accounting of the circumstances surrounding the attacks.” President Bush signs it into law November 27, 2002. [US Congress, 11/27/2002] Bush originally opposed an independent commission (see May 23, 2002), but changed his mind over the summer (see September 20, 2002) after political pressure. The Democrats conceded several important aspects of the Commission (such as subpoena approval) after the White House threatened to create a Commission by executive order, over which it would have more control. Bush will appoint the Commission chairman and he sets a strict time frame (18 months) for its investigation. [CNN, 11/15/2002] The Commission will only have a $3 million budget. Senator Jon Corzine (D-NJ) and others wonder how the Commission can accomplish much with such a small budget. [Associated Press, 1/20/2003] (In contrast, a 1996 federal commission investigating casino gambling received $5 million; the federal government spent $50 million investigating Bill Clinton and Whitewater; and the investigation into the February 2003 Columbia shuttle explosion will receive $50 million.) [Carter, 2004, pp. 280] Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) will call the budget “a joke.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 31] The budget will later be increased (see March 26, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tom Daschle, Jon Corzine, US Congress, 9/11 Commission, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


George Mitchell.
George Mitchell. [Source: Public domain]George Mitchell resigns as vice chairman of the recently-created 9/11 investigative commission. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana congressman for more than 30 years and chairman of the committee which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, is named as his replacement. [CNN, 12/11/2002] Mitchell cites time constraints as his reason for stepping down, but he also does not want to sever ties with his lawyer-lobbying firm, Piper Rudnick, or reveal his list of clients. Recent clients include the governments of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. [Newsweek, 12/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, 9/11 Commission, George Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Henry Kissinger resigns as head of the new 9/11 Commission. [Associated Press, 12/13/2002; Associated Press, 12/13/2002] Two days earlier, the Bush administration argued that Kissinger was not required to disclose his private business clients. [New York Times, 12/12/2002] However, the Congressional Research Service insists that he does, and Kissinger resigns rather than reveal his clients. [MSNBC, 12/13/2002; Seattle Times, 12/14/2002]
Spilled Coffee - Kissinger had also been pressured to reveal his client list at a meeting with a group of victims’ relatives, in particular the “Jersey Girls.” One of the “Girls,” Lorie Van Auken, had even asked Kissinger whether he had “any clients named bin Laden?” Kissinger, who was pouring coffee at that moment, refused to answer, but spilled the coffee and fell off the sofa on which he was sitting. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 12-3]
Business Ties - It is reported that Kissinger is (or has been) a consultant for Unocal, the oil corporation, and was involved in plans to build pipelines through Afghanistan (see September-October 1995). [Washington Post, 10/5/1998; Salon, 12/3/2002] Kissinger claims he did no current work for any oil companies or Mideast clients, but several corporations with heavy investments in Saudi Arabia, such as ABB Group, a Swiss-Swedish engineering firm, and Boeing Corp., pay him consulting fees of at least $250,000 a year. A Boeing spokesman said its “long-standing” relationship with Kissinger involved advice on deals in East Asia, not Saudi Arabia. Boeing sold $7.2 billion worth of aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1995. [Newsweek, 12/15/2002]
Not Vetted - In a surprising break from usual procedures regarding high-profile presidential appointments, White House lawyers never vetted Kissinger for conflicts of interest. [Newsweek, 12/15/2002] The Washington Post says that after the resignations of Kissinger and Mitchell, the commission “has lost time” and “is in disarray, which is no small trick given that it has yet to meet.” [Washington Post, 12/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Congressional Research Service, Lorie Van Auken, Henry A. Kissinger, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After experiencing some problems at its inception due to the resignation of its chair and vice-chair (see December 11, 2002 and December 13, 2002), the 9/11 Commission spends much of the next four months hiring staff, getting security clearances (see March 27, 2003), finding office space, and asking for a budget increase (see March 26, 2003). One of the first employees hired is executive director Philip Zelikow, but disputes within the Commission over who will be general council last until March, when Dan Marcus is hired. The Commission is unable to even have a telephone until February, when it finds an official security facility for its offices, and until then the cell phone of staffer Stephanie Kaplan is used as the commission’s initial operations center. However, most of the Commission’s staff cannot then enter their offices, because they do not have the relevant security clearances yet, even though there are no secret documents actually in the offices at this point. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commission’s early logistical problems were more than a little humiliating to men like [commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton, who had commanded vast staffs and virtually unlimited office space during their years in power in government. Now they were at the mercy of others if they wanted second-hand office furniture for the commission’s cramped offices in Washington.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 34-45; Shenon, 2008, pp. 92]

Entity Tags: Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, Stephanie Kaplan, Philip Zelikow, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission, officially titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, holds its first meeting in Washington. The commission has $3 million and only a year and a half to explore the causes of the attacks. By comparison, a 1996 federal commission to study legalized gambling was given two years and $5 million. [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] Two months later the Bush administration grudgingly increases the funding to $12 million total (see March 26, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/27/2003] A few days later, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton says, “The focus of the commission will be on the future. We want to make recommendations that will make the American people more secure.… We’re not interested in trying to assess blame, we do not consider that part of the commission’s responsibility.” [United Press International, 2/6/2003]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43), Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Time magazine reports that the 9/11 Commission has requested an additional $11 million to add to the $3 million for the commission, and the Bush administration has turned down the request. The request will not be added to a supplemental spending bill. A Republican member of the commission says the decision will make it “look like they have something to hide.” Another commissioner notes that the recent commission on the Columbia shuttle crash will have a $50 million budget. Stephen Push, a leader of the 9/11 victims’ families, says the decision “suggests to me that they see this as a convenient way for allowing the commission to fail. they’ve never wanted the commission and I feel the White House has always been looking for a way to kill it without having their finger on the murder weapon.” The administration has suggested it may grant the money later, but any delay will further slow down the commission’s work. Already, commission members are complaining that scant progress has been made in the four months since the commission started, and they are operating under a deadline. [Time, 3/26/2003] Three days later, it is reported that the Bush administration has agreed to extra funding, but only $9 million, not $11 million. The commission agrees to the reduced amount. [Washington Post, 3/29/2003] The New York Times criticizes such penny-pinching, saying, “Reasonable people might wonder if the White House, having failed in its initial attempt to have Henry Kissinger steer the investigation, may be resorting to budgetary starvation as a tactic to hobble any politically fearless inquiry.” [New York Times, 3/31/2003]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Stephen Push, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It is reported that “most members” of the 9/11 Commission still have not received security clearances. [Washington Post, 3/27/2003] For instance, Slade Gorton, picked in December 2002, is a former senator with a long background in intelligence issues. Fellow commissioner Lee Hamilton says, “It’s kind of astounding that someone like Senator Gorton can’t get immediate clearance. It’s a matter we are concerned about.” The commission is said to be at a “standstill” because of the security clearance issue, and cannot even read the classified findings of the previous 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. [Seattle Times, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Slade Gorton, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush’s rationale for authorizing warrantless surveillance against US citizens is of questionable legality and “may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” according to a Congressional analysis. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the independent and nonpartisan research bureau of the legislature, answers the question raised around the nation since the revelation of the secret program by the New York Times (see Early 2002): did Bush break the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on US citizens without court orders or judicial oversight? The CRS report does not give a definitive yes or no answer to that question, but finds Bush’s legal rationale dubious at best. That rationale “does not seem to be as well-grounded” as administration lawyers have claimed, and the report finds that, despite assertions to the contrary by Bush and administration officials, Congress did not authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave the executive branch the authority to wage war against al-Qaeda in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, Bush administration officials criticize the report. But some Republicans and Democrats find the report’s conclusions persuasive, and hold up the report as further evidence that Bush overextended his authority by authorizing the wiretaps. For instance, Republican Thomas Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission (see January 27, 2003, says he doubts the program’s legality. Kean, who has not spoken publicly about the program until now, says the 9/11 commission was never told about the program, and he strongly doubts its legality. “We live by a system of checks and balances, and I think we ought to continue to live by a system of checks and balances,” Kean says. [Congressional Research Service, 1/5/2006 pdf file; New York Times, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Congressional Research Service, New York Times, National Security Agency, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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