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Context of '(Summer 2003): 9/11 Commissioner Tells White House of Saudi Links to 9/11 Plotters, White House Uninterested'

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The Bush administration tries to convince 9/11 commissioner John Lehman that there are ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The attempts take place in a series of meetings at the White House and Pentagon, where Lehman meets with Vice President Dick Cheney, White House chief of staff Andy Card, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Lehman, a prominent Republican, was previously frozen out of politics by the administration due to his ties to John McCain, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination against George W. Bush in 2000. However, the administration officials encourage the meetings when they see Lehman is interested in the alleged connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden, in the hopes that he will use his position on the 9/11 Commission to draw attention to the allegations. However, the White House says it cannot share all the intelligence it has about the ties, because it is too classified. Nevertheless, Lehman can take it on faith that the intelligence exists. Wolfowitz tells him, “Just wait until you see the evidence we’ve got.” Lehman will later say: “I got that from everybody I talked to: ‘Wait and see, just wait until you see the evidence.’” After it becomes clear to Lehman the alleged links are non-existent, he will comment, “I think they were all drinking their own bathwater.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 178-180]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, John Lehman, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

White House counsel Alberto Gonzales denies a request made by the 9/11 Commission for access to a number of White House documents pertaining to 9/11, citing executive privilege. The documents date from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The request is made by Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, who believes the Commission must see the documents if it is to do its job properly, and that the White House has already indicated the Commission will get what it wants. The documents include highly classified presidential daily briefings (PDBs), the “crown jewels” of US intelligence reporting. Only a very few such PDBs have ever been made available, from the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Zelikow says the Commission needs to see the PDBs so it can determine what warnings Clinton and Bush received about al-Qaeda. However, the PDBs had not been provided to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, and Gonzales says they will not be given to the 9/11 Commission either. Zelikow tells Gonzales that this would be bad for the Commission and the US, recalling the uproar that ensued when it was discovered the CIA had withheld documents from the Warren Commission that investigated the murder of President Kennedy. Zelikow also pressures Gonzales by threatening to resign from the Commission if it is not given the documents, knowing this will generate extremely bad publicity for the White House.
Refusal to Meet with Zelikow - However, Gonzales refuses to cave in and, a few days later, makes what author Philip Shenon calls a “blunt and undiplomatic” phone call to Tom Kean, the Commission’s chairman. He tells Kean that he does not want to see Zelikow ever again, which means that in the future he will only discuss access to the documents with Kean and Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
Alleged Involvement of Rove - The battle over access to documents and witnesses will go on for some time (see June 2003), and commissioner John Lehman will say that White House political adviser Karl Rove is “very much involved” in it. According to Lehman, “Gonzales cleared everything with Rove,” and friends tell him that “Rove was the quarterback for dealing with the Commission,” although the White House will deny this. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 73-76, 176]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Thomas Kean, John Lehman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commissioner John Lehman repeatedly meets with Bush administration officials and discusses links between the 9/11 hijackers and Saudi government officials.
Lehman Interested in Saudi Money - Lehman is aware that the Commission’s investigators are working the topic and is interested to see what they will find. According to author Philip Shenon, “He thought it was clear early on that there was some sort of Saudi support network in San Diego that had made it possible for the hijackers to hide in plain sight in Southern California.” He is especially intrigued by money possibly passed from Princess Haifa, wife of the Saudi ambassador to the US, to associates of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999), although Lehman thinks she would not have known the money’s real destination and had simply signed checks given her by radicals at the Saudi embassy in Washington. Lehman also doubts that the Saudi officials knew the details of the 9/11 plot, but thinks they knew the hijackers were “bad guys,” and “The bad guys knew who to go to to get help.”
Critical of 'Stonewalling' - Lehman is also interested in possible links between Iraq and al-Qaeda and goes to the White House to discuss these with administration officials. However, at the meetings he brings up the Saudi connection. There are several meetings, but the administration is not at all interested in the Saudi angle. Lehman will say: “I used to go over to see [White House chief of staff] Andy [Card], and I met with [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld three or four times, mainly to say, ‘What are you guys doing? This stonewalling is so counterproductive.’”
No Interest in Saudi Connection - However, there is an absolute lack of interest on the administration’s part about the Saudi information. According to Shenon, “Lehman was struck by the determination of the Bush White House to try to hide any evidence of the relationship between the Saudis and al-Qaeda.” Lehman will say: “They were refusing to declassify anything having to do with Saudi Arabia. Anything having to do with the Saudis, for some reason, it had this very special sensitivity.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 185-186]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, 9/11 Commission, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld, John Lehman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

White House adviser Karl Rove orders a Republican Party poll to determine public interest in a number of issues: Martha Stewart’s insider trading case, Enron’s collapse, and the 9/11 Commission’s investigation. The poll suggests that the public is not that interested in the Commission, which, according to author Philip Shenon, is “a relief at the White House.” Apparently, this is not the only poll Rove orders about the 9/11 Commission. Shenon will add that Rove “would have been a fool not to keep an eye on the Commission, given the potential trouble it could create for Bush on the eve of his reelection campaign—a campaign that would be centered almost entirely on the president’s record on terrorism.” Perhaps partly because of this, the Commission and its staff have “a sense of being watched” by Rove, and commissioner John Lehman will say that Rove views the Commission as a “mortal threat” to Bush’s reelection chances. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 175-176]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, John Lehman, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

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