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Context of 'Before November 27, 2002: Lee Hamilton Considered for Vice Chairmanship of 9/11 Commission, but Republican Ties Count against Him'

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Hamilton and Cheney hold a press conference together about the Iran-Contra Affair investigation on June 19, 1987.Hamilton and Cheney hold a press conference together about the Iran-Contra Affair investigation on June 19, 1987. [Source: J. Scott Applewhite]Future 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), at this time chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, fails to properly investigate Iran-Contra allegations. He learns of press reports indicating that the Reagan administration is illegally funneling weapons and money to the anti-Communist rebels in Nicaragua, but when the White House denies the story, Hamilton believes it. Hamilton will later acknowledge that he has been gullible, and will say of his political style, “I don’t go for the jugular.” It is during the Iran-Contra investigation that Hamilton becomes friends with Dick Cheney, at this time a Republican congressman. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 33] Cheney is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee and so must work closely with Hamilton, including on the Iran-Contra investigation. [PBS, 6/20/2006] Hamilton calls Cheney “Dick” and they will remain friends even after Cheney becomes vice president in 2001 and Hamilton, as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, begins to investigate Cheney’s actions as a part of the Commission’s work. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 33] Hamilton will also fail to properly investigate “October Surprise” allegations (see 1992-January 1993).

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Iran-Contra Affair

In 1992, a House of Representatives task force chaired by Lee Hamilton (D-NH) conducts a ten-month investigation into the “October Surprise”—an alleged Republican plot to delay the release of US hostages held in Iran in 1980 until after that year’s US presidential election. The investigation concludes in 1993 that there is “no credible evidence” of any such plot. But Robert Parry, a journalist writing for the Associated Press and Newsweek, gains access to the stored records of Hamilton’s task force. He finds clear evidence of a major cover up. For instance, William Casey, CIA Director in the early 1980s, was alleged to have been involved in the plot, and Hamilton’s investigators discovered a CIA created index of Casey’s papers made after Casey’s death in 1987. When investigators searched Casey’s possessions, they found all the papers mentioned in the index, except for all the ones relevant to the alleged October Surprise plot. But the disappearance of such evidence was not mentioned in Hamilton’s findings. [Scott, 2007, pp. 101] In addition, an official Russian intelligence report placing Casey in Europe in order to arrange a politically favorable outcome to the hostage crisis arrived in Washington shortly before Hamilton’s task force issued their conclusions, but this Russian information was not mentioned by the task force. [Scott, 2007, pp. 106-107] Hamilton will later be appointed co-chair of the 9/11 Commission (see December 11, 2002).

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, William Casey, Robert Parry

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton is considered by his party for the position of vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, but does not get the appointment, which goes to former Senator George Mitchell (see November 27, 2002). Hamilton, who is nonetheless appointed to the Commission as an ordinary member, is rejected as vice chairman by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and other leading Democrats because he is seen as too soft on Republicans—he lacks “a taste for partisan fights,” and seems “always to assume the best about people, Republicans included.” He is also friends with two of the investigation’s targets, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who he calls “Dick” and “Don,” and Cheney’s White House counsel, David Addington. He got to know Cheney during the Iran-Contra investigation, when Cheney was the ranking Republican on the committee and Hamilton failed to distinguish himself (see Mid-1980s), as he did over the “October Surprise” affair (see 1992-January 1993). Author Philip Shenon will comment, “While [Hamilton] might disagree with Cheney and Rumsfeld on policy, Hamilton trusted both men always to tell the truth.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 32-33] However, Mitchell will subsequently resign and Hamilton will replace him as vice chairman (see December 11, 2002). In this role Hamilton will have good relations with the Bush White House (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, Donald Rumsfeld, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Iran-Contra Affair


Henry Kissinger.
Henry Kissinger. [Source: Public domain]President Bush names Henry Kissinger as Chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Congressional Democrats appoint George Mitchell, former Senate majority leader and peace envoy to Northern Ireland and the Middle East, as vice chairman. Their replacements and the other eight members of the commission are chosen by mid-December. Kissinger served as Secretary of State and National Security Adviser for Presidents Nixon and Ford. [New York Times, 11/29/2002] Kissinger’s ability to remain independent is met with skepticism. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/29/2002; CNN, 11/30/2002; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/3/2002; Washington Post, 12/17/2002] He has a very controversial past. For instance, “Documents recently released by the CIA, strengthen previously-held suspicions that Kissinger was actively involved in the establishment of Operation Condor, a covert plan involving six Latin American countries including Chile, to assassinate thousands of political opponents.” He is also famous for an “obsession with secrecy.” [BBC, 4/26/2002] It is even difficult for Kissinger to travel outside the US. Investigative judges in Spain, France, Chile, and Argentina seek to question him in several legal actions related to his possible involvement in war crimes, particularly in Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia (see March 1969), Laos (see 1969-1973), Bangladesh, Chile, and East Timor (see December 7, 1976). [Village Voice, 8/15/2001; BBC, 4/18/2002; Chicago Tribune, 12/1/2002] The New York Times suggests, “Indeed, it is tempting to wonder if the choice of Mr. Kissinger is not a clever maneuver by the White House to contain an investigation it long opposed.” [New York Times, 11/29/2002] The Chicago Tribune notes that “the president who appointed him originally opposed this whole undertaking.” Kissinger is “known more for keeping secrets from the American people than for telling the truth” and asking him “to deliver a critique that may ruin friends and associates is asking a great deal.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/5/2002]

Entity Tags: George Mitchell, 9/11 Commission, Henry A. Kissinger, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


George Mitchell.
George Mitchell. [Source: Public domain]George Mitchell resigns as vice chairman of the recently-created 9/11 investigative commission. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana congressman for more than 30 years and chairman of the committee which investigated the Iran-Contra affair, is named as his replacement. [CNN, 12/11/2002] Mitchell cites time constraints as his reason for stepping down, but he also does not want to sever ties with his lawyer-lobbying firm, Piper Rudnick, or reveal his list of clients. Recent clients include the governments of Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. [Newsweek, 12/15/2002]

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, 9/11 Commission, George Mitchell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The first time 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat noted for his bipartisanship (see 1992-January 1993, Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004), meet after their appointment to the commission, Kean offers Hamilton extra powers in the investigation. In effect, Kean and Hamilton would be co-chairmen of the inquiry, rather than chairman and vice chairman. Author Philip Shenon will call this a “remarkable gesture,” as it gives Hamilton an equal say in the hiring and structure of the investigation. Kean also proposes that the two of them should be “joined at the hip,” and that they should always appear in public together, especially on television. Hamilton agrees, thinking this will go some way to make up for their lack of stature in Washington in comparison with the two men they replaced on the commission, Henry Kissinger and George Mitchell. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 68]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the 9/11 Commission’s first formal meeting, Democratic commissioner Max Cleland is unhappy with the state of the inquiry. Specifically, he dislikes the facts that the Commission will not issue subpoenas for the documents it wants (see January 27, 2003) and will have a single non-partisan staff headed by executive director Philip Zelikow, who is close to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003). In addition, he is disappointed by the resignations of Henry Kissinger (see December 13, 2002) and George Mitchell (see December 11, 2002). Although Kissinger is a Republican, Cleland had believed that “with Kissinger… we were going to get somewhere,” because: “This is Henry Kissinger. He’s the big dog.” Kissinger’s replacement Tom Kean has no experience in Washington and Cleland thinks he is “not going to be the world’s greatest tiger in asking a difficult question.” Cleland respects Mitchell’s replacement Lee Hamilton, but knows that he has a reputation for a non-confrontational style of politics, the reason he was initially passed over for the position of vice chairman of the Commission (see Before November 27, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 71-72]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The White House comes to prefer dealing with the 9/11 Commission’s vice chairman, Democrat Lee Hamilton, rather than its Republican chairman Tom Kean. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The White House found that its best support on the Commission came from an unexpected corner—from Lee Hamilton.… Hamilton, they could see, was as much a man of the Washington establishment as he was a Democratic partisan. Probably more so.” This is because Hamilton, a friend of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “underst[ands] the prerogatives of the White House—in particular, the concept of executive privilege—in a way that Kean d[oes] not or w[ill] not.” White House chief of staff Andrew Card will comment: “I came to really respect Lee Hamilton. I think he listened better to our concerns better than Tom Kean.” The White House even comes to view Kean as disloyal, effectively operating as one of the Commission’s Democrats, while Hamilton is a de facto Republican (see Early July 2004). Kean will later say, “I think the White House believed Lee was more reliable than I was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 177] Hamilton previously helped Republicans cover up political scandals (see Mid-1980s and 1992-January 1993). He is friends with Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and trusts them to tell the truth (see Before November 27, 2002).

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Andrew Card, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, makes an 11th-hour visit to the Pentagon in an attempt to avert a subpoena some on the Commission want to file on the Defense Department over documents NORAD is withholding from the Commission (see Late October 2003).
Meeting with Defense Officials - At the Pentagon, Hamilton meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Hamilton takes with him Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the Commission who is inclined towards issuing the subpoena.
Arranged by Zelikow? - It is unclear who initiated and arranged the meeting; some staffers who want the subpoena issued will accuse Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, of setting it up as a part of a wider effort to thwart the subpoena (see (Late October-Early November 2003)). However, Zelikow will later say he does not recall having anything to do with the meeting.
Rumsfeld Promises to Settle Issue - At the meeting, Rumsfeld is, according to author Philip Shenon, “charming and agreeable” and insists he is unaware of the problems between the Commission and NORAD. He vows to resolve the issues and promises that any evidence that has been withheld until now will be turned over immediately. Therefore, he says, there is no need for a subpoena.
Differences between Hamilton and Gorton - Hamilton, who was initially rejected for the vice chairmanship of the Commission because of his links to Rumsfeld and other Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002) and who sometimes takes the current administration’s side in internal Commission debates (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004), thinks this is the end of the matter. “I’ve known Don Rumsfeld for 20, 30 years,” he tells the other commissioners. “When he said, ‘I’m going to get that information for you,’ I took him at his word.” Gorton’s attitude is different. “I was outraged with NORAD and the way they had operated.” Thinking false statements NORAD officials provided to the Commission may have been made knowingly, he will add, “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it was just so grossly negligent and incompetent.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207] The Commission will vote to issue the subpoena the next day, with Hamilton against and Gorton for (see November 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Stephen A. Cambone, Slade Gorton, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Ben-Veniste, a Democratic member of the 9/11 Commission, insists that the commission properly interview two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Ben-Veniste makes the demand after he learns that Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow interviewed one of the analysts by phone, but allegedly pressured the analyst to back the White House version of events (see June 2004). Initially, Ben-Veniste asks to see transcripts of interviews with the analysts. However, according to author Philip Shenon: “With a condescending tone that reflected his disdain for Ben-Veniste, Zelikow explained matter-of-factly that there weren’t any transcripts…. After months of battles with Zelikow, it was hard for Ben-Veniste to be shocked by almost anything he did. But the staff could see that Ben-Veniste was genuinely startled.” Ben-Veniste’s demand for full interviews is opposed by Zelikow, who says that one of the analysts, known only as Barbara S, has already been interviewed (although it is unclear how much of this interview was focused on the PDB). Zelikow will also say, “The CIA was pleading with us not to do this, since the career people involved in preparing and presenting PDBs would be intimidated, disrupting the sense of confidentiality and candor they considered essential for the PDB process.” However, when they are interviewed, the two analysts seem eager to volunteer the information they have. The commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who has a record of siding with the Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002 and March 2003-July 2004) fails to back Ben-Veniste before the full commission. Republican Chairman Tom Kean rescues him, pushing through the request for the interviews in the face of opposition from the other Republicans on the commission (see July 13, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 375-377]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, ’Barbara S’, 9/11 Commission, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Kean, Richard Ben-Veniste

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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