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Context of 'Early 2004: White House Asks 9/11 Commission Not to Call for CIA Director Tenet’s Resignation'

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Following Henry Kissinger’s resignation as 9/11 Commission chairman the day before (see November 27, 2002), presidential aide Karl Rove calls Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, to ask if he is willing to be considered as chairman of the Commission. Kean, who does not know Rove well and has been out of politics for some time, is surprised that he is being considered for the job. He is even more surprised that it is Rove making the call, especially given Rove’s reputation as the brain behind the rise of President George W. Bush. However, he says that he may do the job, if chosen. Kean will later speak to the president’s chief of staff Andy Card about the job, and formally accept it in a call from President Bush. Rove will later say that he thinks it was he who first suggested Kean as chairman, but will add that he regrets this, due to later battles with the White House. Card will also say he thinks he was the first to suggest Kean. (Shenon 2008, pp. 16-7, 25)

White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and asks him not to demand the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Card says that he has heard the Commission will issue a statement tomorrow, but that President George Bush does not wish it. “You know, the president likes George,” he says, so such a call from the Commission would put Bush in an impossible position. Card asks that the Commission reconsider its apparent demand. However, Kean tells Card that he must have heard a false rumor, and that the Commission has no intention of calling for Tenet’s head in the middle of its inquiry. Card had actually heard the rumor from Tenet himself, although it is not known where Tenet learned it. At this point the Commission is considering recommending a long-mooted split of Tenet’s responsibilities. As director of central intelligence (DCI), Tenet runs the CIA and is also responsible for the intelligence community as a whole, although he does not have any real power over the other agencies supposedly under him. The split would mean that the CIA director would only run the CIA, and a director of national intelligence would be appointed above him, to coordinate the activities of all agencies in the intelligence community. It is possible that Tenet has misinterpreted talk of such a split as preparations for calling on him to resign. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 144; Shenon 2008, pp. 403)

Vice President Dick Cheney is furious that the 9/11 Commission is going to conclude in its final report that it does not believe he has been telling the full truth about his actions on the morning of September 11, and tries to get the report rewritten on the eve of its release. Since late June, each completed chapter of the 9/11 Commission Report has been forwarded to the White House for a declassification review by a team of intelligence specialists assembled by White House chief of staff Andrew Card. According to author Philip Shenon, “Cheney and his counsel, David Addington, [are] outraged by the Commission’s timeline on Cheney’s actions on September 11—and the clear suggestion that Cheney had issued an unconstitutional shootdown order that morning without Bush’s knowledge or approval.” Members of the Commission’s staff had become convinced that the decision to authorize the military to shoot down threatening aircraft was made by Cheney alone, not by President Bush (see (Mid 2004)). A few days before the 9/11 Commission Report is to be released, an angry Cheney phones Thomas Kean, the chairman of the Commission. Cheney complains, “Governor, this is not true, just not fair.” He says he finds it startling that the Commission does not accept his word and that of President Bush: “The president has told you, I have told you, that the president issued the order. I was following his directions.” Cheney demands that the relevant sections of the report be rewritten. Kean promises that he will ask the Commission’s staff to review the material about the shootdown order again before the report is published. According to Shenon, “no major changes” are subsequently made in response to Cheney’s complaint. (Shenon 2008, pp. 265 and 411-412) The White House had previously successfully lobbied the Commission to water down one of its staff reports that dealt with the shootdown authorization (see June 15, 2004). (Klaidman and Hirsh 6/20/2004)


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