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Context of 'May 2003 and Before: 9/11 Commissioner Argues Panel Should Investigate False Claims of Iraq Link to 9/11, but Other Commissioners Not Interested'

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Following the 9/11 Commission’s first formal meeting, Democratic commissioner Max Cleland is unhappy with the state of the inquiry. Specifically, he dislikes the facts that the Commission will not issue subpoenas for the documents it wants (see January 27, 2003) and will have a single non-partisan staff headed by executive director Philip Zelikow, who is close to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). In addition, he is disappointed by the resignations of Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and George Mitchell (see December 11, 2002). Although Kissinger is a Republican, Cleland had believed that “with Kissinger… we were going to get somewhere,” because: “This is Henry Kissinger. He’s the big dog.” Kissinger’s replacement Tom Kean has no experience in Washington and Cleland thinks he is “not going to be the world’s greatest tiger in asking a difficult question.” Cleland respects Mitchell’s replacement Lee Hamilton, but knows that he has a reputation for a non-confrontational style of politics, the reason he was initially passed over for the position of vice chairman of the Commission (see Before November 27, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 71-72]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At early meetings of the 9/11 commission, Commissioner Max Cleland tries to persuade the other commissioners that they should investigate the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq. Cleland wants to know whether the president used 9/11 as an excuse to launch an attack he had been planning from the beginning of his presidency. Cleland also thinks that the administration’s obsession with Iraq was the reason it paid so little attention to the problem of terrorism in the spring and summer of 2001, and tells the other commissioners, “They were focused on Iraq, they were planning a war on Iraq, they were not paying attention to the business at hand.” However, the commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton, as well as Executive Director Philip Zelikow, are against this, as are some of the Republican commissioners, perhaps because of the popularity of the Iraq war at this point. Author Philip Shenon will say: “Even some of the Democrats [on the commission] were distancing themselves from him. Cleland knew he was quickly becoming a pariah.” Cleland will comment, “It was painfully obvious to me that there was this blanket over the commission, adding, “Anybody who spoke out or dissented, whether against George Bush, the White House, or the war against Iraq, was going to be marginalized.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 129-130]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Max Cleland, Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission begins to look for ways to get rid of one of its members, Democrat Max Cleland, who the other commissioners have come to dislike.
Accusations of Partisanship - According to author Philip Shenon, some of the Commission’s members feel that Cleland has been “so combative and harshly partisan in the Commission’s early private meetings—so angry at the mention of the names of [George W.] Bush or [Karl] Rove, so obsessed with what was happening in Iraq—that it threatened any hope of a unanimous final report.” Cleland’s stance is apparently influenced by his recent election defeat, which he blames on what he regards as a smear campaign led by Rove and Bush (see October 11, 2002 and After). Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Max Cleland is an extremely embittered individual, and all he wanted to do was ‘get’ the president.”
Appointment to Federal Agency - Therefore, Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman, and other commissioners begin to look for a way to remove Cleland from the investigation. However, these moves have to be conducted in secret, as Cleland is known to the victims’ family members as a harsh critic of the White House. If news of plans to remove him leaked, it would lead to a firestorm of criticism. Kean therefore calls Democratic Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who arranged Cleland’s position on the Commission. In July, Daschle will put Cleland forward as a Democratic member of the board of the Export-Import Bank, a federal agency that helps US exports. The lucrative position would be markedly advantageous to Cleland, a severely injured war veteran with no stable source of income. Although the White House does not like Cleland, it will agree to appoint him to the board so that he can be removed from the Commission. However, this will not occur until December (see December 9, 2003). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 160-162]

Entity Tags: Slade Gorton, Max Cleland, Tom Daschle, 9/11 Commission, White House, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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