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Context of 'June 2003: 9/11 Commission Begins Moves to Get Rid of Troublesome Member'

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Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland.Saxby Chambliss celebrates his victory over Max Cleland. [Source: USA Today]Incumbent Senator Max Cleland (D-GA) angrily defends himself against a television ad that implies he lacks patriotism. Cleland is a triple amputee, having lost both legs and an arm in a grenade explosion in Vietnam. The television ad is sponsored by the campaign of Saxby Chambliss, a House Republican who did not himself serve in Vietnam. The Chambliss ad puts pictures of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein next to Cleland’s, and accuses Cleland of being soft on homeland security. Cleland favors the creation of a Department of Homeland Security (see November 25, 2002), but will not vote for a bill creating such an entity without an amendment guaranteeing labor rights for federal workers. Cleland has also advocated a more deliberate approach to dealing with Hussein instead of joining the push to invade Iraq, and favors the resumption of open UN inspections. “To put my picture up there with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and insinuate I’m not fighting hard enough for national security, I just find that this is an incredible low in Georgia politics,” Cleland says. Chambliss retorts, “Georgians deserve to know—all Americans deserve to know—why Max Cleland is more concerned with protecting federal bureaucracy, rules and regulations than creating a department that can respond effectively to future threats of terrorism.” [Associated Press, 10/11/2002; Unger, 2007, pp. 256] Zell Miller (D-GA), Cleland’s fellow Georgian senator, defends Cleland, calling the ad “disgraceful.… [Chambliss] should be ashamed.” Cleland campaign consultant Karl Struble calls the Chambliss ad campaign “some of the ugliest stuff I’ve ever seen.” Nevertheless, the ad is apparently effective; Chambliss makes up a relatively large deficit to defeat Cleland in the November elections. [PBS, 11/6/2002] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that few voters in Georgia “realized [Cleland’s] views were similar to those held by the president’s father.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 256]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Craig Unger, Saxby Chambliss, Karl Struble, Zell Miller, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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

Senators of both parties have been accusing the White House of stonewalling the 9/11 Commission by blocking its demands for documents despite threats of a subpoena. [Associated Press, 10/27/2003] On this day, the White House and the 9/11 Commission strike a deal. The main issue is access to the presidential daily briefings given to President Bush. Under the deal, only some of the ten commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents, and their notes will be subject to White House review. Some 9/11 victims’ relatives complain that the agreement gives the White House too much power. The Family Steering Committee complains, “All ten commissioners should have full, unfettered, and unrestricted access to all evidence.” It urges the public release of “the full, official, and final written agreement.” [Associated Press, 11/13/2003] Commissioner Max Cleland is unsatisfied with the deal and resigns a short time later (see December 9, 2003).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bob Kerrey.Bob Kerrey. [Source: US Congress]Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who also served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is appointed to the 9/11 Commission, replacing Max Cleland, who leaves the Commission to accept a position on the board of the Export-Import Bank. [Washington Post, 12/10/2003]
Criticism of Commission's Work - Just before resigning, Cleland called the Bush administration’s attempts to stonewall and “slow walk” the Commission a “national scandal.” He criticized the Commission for cutting a deal with the White House that compromised its access to information, and said: “I’m not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I’m not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions. I’m not going to be part of political pressure to do this or not do that. I’m not going to be part of that. This is serious.” [Salon, 11/21/2003] Cleland will later add, “There was a desire not to uncover bad news, a desire to leave rocks unturned—both in the White House and, to a certain extent, on the leadership of the Commission.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 161]
Some Democrats Unhappy - Kerrey is selected by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), but some Democrats are unhappy, as Kerrey has a reputation as a “contrarian” and critic of the Clinton administration. For example, when Kerrey and Bill Clinton were competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Kerrey called Clinton an “unusually good liar.” Democrats are therefore worried that he will be critical of the Clinton administration’s treatment of terrorism, instead of criticizing the Bush administration. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 165]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Export-Import Bank, Bob Kerrey, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey threatens to resign from the commission after discovering a memo written by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow outlining Zelikow’s ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995). Kerrey, who was recently appointed to the commission (see December 9, 2003), makes this discovery on his first day at the commission’s offices.
Conflict of Interests - Kerrey will later say that, although he was aware Zelikow and Rice were friends, he “just could not believe” the more detailed information the memo contains. For example, Zelikow had been responsible for downgrading terrorism as a priority in the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001) and had authored a pre-emptive war doctrine that amounted to the “gene code” for the administration’s policy on Iraq (see September 20, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will write, “Kerrey wondered how [9/11 Commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton could have agreed to put someone with such an obvious conflict of interest in charge of the investigation.”
Persuaded to Remain - The next day, Kerrey meets Kean and tells him, “Look, Tom, either he goes or I go.” Kean tries to talk Kerrey out of it, saying he and Hamilton are keeping a close eye on Zelikow for signs of partisanship. However, he only convinces Kerrey to continue to think over his decision. Shenon will comment, “For Kean, it was hard to see which would be worse, the loss of Zelikow so late in the investigation or the angry resignation of a newly arrived commissioner because of Zelikow’s conflicts of interest.” Soon after this, Kean convinces Kerrey to drop his threat to resign entirely, and both Kerrey and Zelikow remain on the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 164-165]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, release a book giving a behind-the-scenes look at their 20-month investigation of the September 11 attacks. [Associated Press, 8/4/2006] They begin their book, titled Without Precedent, saying that, because their investigation started late, had a very short time frame, and had inadequate funding, they both felt, from the beginning, that they “were set up to fail.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006; Rocky Mountain News, 8/25/2006] They explain the difficulties they faced in obtaining certain government documents and describe how the commission almost splintered over whether to investigate the Bush administration’s use of 9/11 as a reason for going to war. It says that if original member Max Cleland—a strong proponent of this line of inquiry—had not resigned (see December 9, 2003), the commission probably would not have reached unanimity. It also calls their gentle questioning of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during his May 2004 testimony, “a low point” in the commission’s handling of witnesses at its public hearings (see May 19, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/4/2006; New York Daily News, 8/5/2006; New York Times, 8/6/2006] Despite the problems it faced, when discussing his book with the CBC, Hamilton says he thinks the commission has “been reasonably successful in telling the story” of 9/11. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/21/2006] Without Precedent, however, contains little new information about the events of 9/11. Intelligence expert James Bamford says there is “an overabundance of self-censorship by the authors.” [New York Times, 8/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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