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Context of 'December 9, 2003: Bob Kerrey Replaces Max Cleland on 9/11 Commission'

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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

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

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