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Context of 'Before June 2004: 9/11 Commission Consultant Complains Report Is ‘Indulgent’ of Senior Administration Officials'

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9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow is recused from some parts of the Commission’s investigation, specifically its examination of the Bush transition, on which he worked (see January 3, 2001), and interviews of senior Bush aides, including his associate, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see September 2003). This follows a complaint by victims’ relatives about Zelikow’s conflicts of interest (see October 3, 2003) and his interview by one of his own subordinates under oath (see October 8, 2003).
Only Recused from Some Aspects - The subordinate, the Commission’s counsel Daniel Marcus, recommended that, due to the conflicts, Zelikow should be recused from the Commission’s work on the transition and anything to do with the National Security Council (NSC). This is what the families wanted and, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “would have effectively ended Zelikow’s involvement in the parts of the investigation that were most important to him.” Zelikow will later say this recusal proposal “would have had the prompt and foreseeable effect of forcing my resignation.” However, Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton water the proposal down, allowing Zelikow to continue to work on most aspects of the NSC investigation.
Decision to Keep Zelikow Already Taken - According to Shenon, the decision to stick with Zelikow had been taken before Marcus interviewed him: “Kean and Hamilton made it clear to Marcus that they wanted to keep Zelikow on, regardless of what Marcus found. It was too late to find a new executive director. Besides, Zelikow had made himself indispensible, if only because he had so tightly controlled the flow of the information within the Commission that only he really knew all that was going on among the teams of investigators.” Marcus will say: “I think [Kean and Hamilton] basically made the decision that they were going to stick with this guy, that it was too late in the game to make a change.… [I]t was pretty clear that my instructions were to do what we needed to do on the recusal front and to make it work.”
Lack of Appreciation of Zelikow's Importance - One reason behind the decision to keep Zelikow may be that Kean and, in particular, Hamilton do not fully appreciate how important Zelikow’s role is in shaping the Commission’s final output. Marcus will comment, “Lee had this view, which was somewhat unrealistic, that the staff was not important.” Shenon will add, “In Hamilton’s view, Marcus thought, Zelikow might be the most important person on the staff, but he was still a ‘staffer’ and was not capable of ‘sneaking something’ by the commissioners.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-171]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Daniel Marcus, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After finding that FAA and US military officials have made a string of false statements to them about the air defense on the day of the attacks and have withheld key documents for months (see September 2003, Late October 2003, October 14, 2003, and November 6, 2003), the 9/11 Commission’s staff proposes a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into those officials.
Proposal Sent to Zelikow - The proposal is contained in a memo sent by the Commission team investigating the day of the attacks to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. However, nothing much is done with the memo for months. A similar proposal will then be submitted to the very last meeting of the 9/11 commissioners, who decide to refer the matter not to the Justice Department, but to the inspectors general of the Pentagon and FAA (see Shortly before July 22, 2004). Whereas the Justice Department could bring criminal charges for perjury, if it found they were warranted, the inspectors general cannot.
Dispute over Events - According to John Azzarello, a Commission staffer behind the proposal, Zelikow fails to act on the proposal for weeks. Azzarello will say that Zelikow, who has friends at the Pentagon (see (Late October-Early November 2003)), “just buried that memo.” Azzarello’s account will be backed by Commission team leader John Farmer. However, Zelikow will say that Azzarello was not party to all the discussions about what to do and that the memo was delayed by other Commission staffers, not him. Zelikow’s version will receive backing from the Commission’s lawyer, Daniel Marcus. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 209-210]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, John Azzarello, Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, John Farmer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ernest May, a consultant hired by the 9/11 Commission to help with the drafting of its final report, tells the Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, that the report is “indulgent” towards senior officials in both the Bush and Clinton administrations. He thinks that the report is incomplete in many ways as it is being censored by the two groups of commissioners—Democrats and Republicans. However, he believes the effect on the report goes beyond what is reasonable. According to May, the report fails to hold accountable officials that should take a share of the blame for failing to prevent 9/11, and the judgments about Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as their senior aides, are overly forgiving. However, these comments do not spur Zelikow to take any action and do not have an impact on the final version of the report. In addition, May generally does not share them with other staffers on the Commission. In an article published after the report, May will write, “The report is probably too balanced,” adding: “Individuals, especially the two presidents and their intimate advisers, received even more indulgent treatment. The text does not describe Clinton’s crippling handicaps as leader of his own national security community. Extraordinarily quick and intelligent, he, more than almost anyone else, had an imaginative grasp of the threat posed by al-Qaeda. But he had almost no authority enabling him to get his government to address this threat.” Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will agree with some of this. “We did pull our punches on the conclusions because we wanted to have a unanimous report,” he will say. “There was this implicit threat, occasionally made explicit on both sides of the aisle on the Commission, that by God, if you get explicit in criticizing Bush on this, we’re going to insist on being explicit in criticizing Clinton, and vice versa.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 387, 413]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, 9/11 Commission, Ernest May

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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