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Context of 'October 10, 2002: President Bush Backtracks on Support for Independent 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 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

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

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