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Context of 'June 2003: White House Counsel Gonzales Continues to Stonewall Commission over White House Access'

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In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 122-126] Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. [Washington Post, 4/11/2007]
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 122-126]

Entity Tags: David S. Addington, Daniel Marcus, Alberto R. Gonzales, Lee Hamilton, Fred F. Fielding, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 218-219]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, White House, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 Family Steering Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 222-224] The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).

Entity Tags: Daniel Marcus, Alberto R. Gonzales, White House, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Robert Weiner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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