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Profile: Daniel Marcus
Daniel Marcus was a participant or observer in the following events:
After experiencing some problems at its inception due to the resignation of its chair and vice-chair (see December 11, 2002 and December 13, 2002), the 9/11 Commission spends much of the next four months hiring staff, getting security clearances (see March 27, 2003), finding office space, and asking for a budget increase (see March 26, 2003). One of the first employees hired is executive director Philip Zelikow, but disputes within the Commission over who will be general council last until March, when Dan Marcus is hired. The Commission is unable to even have a telephone until February, when it finds an official security facility for its offices, and until then the cell phone of staffer Stephanie Kaplan is used as the commission’s initial operations center. However, most of the Commission’s staff cannot then enter their offices, because they do not have the relevant security clearances yet, even though there are no secret documents actually in the offices at this point. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commission’s early logistical problems were more than a little humiliating to men like [commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton, who had commanded vast staffs and virtually unlimited office space during their years in power in government. Now they were at the mercy of others if they wanted second-hand office furniture for the commission’s cramped offices in Washington.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 34-45; Shenon, 2008, pp. 92]
Following the appointment of the Republican Philip Zelikow as the 9/11 Commission’s executive director (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), Democrats on the commission demand that its general counsel be a Democrat. However, some of the Republican commissioners are unhappy about this, and inform the White House what is happening. Shortly after this, Commission Chairman Tom Kean hears from White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and others at the White House that they are concerned the commission is attempting to find a partisan Democrat. Kean will later say, “They were very, very alarmed when they heard some of the names being considered.” Both Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, himself a Democrat, agree that the counsel should be a Democrat, but, according to author Philip Shenon, they do not want “a candidate who seemed eager to confront the Bush administration.”
Two Rejected Candidates - One name considered is that of James Hamilton (no relation to Lee Hamilton), who had been a lawyer on the Senate Watergate committee. However, he had worked on the 2000 Florida recount for Al Gore, so Kean rules him out. Another name considered is Carol Elder Bruce, but at her interview she says issuing subpoenas for documents the commission wants would be a good idea, although Kean and Hamilton have already decided against this (see January 27, 2003).
Daniel Marcus Hired - In the end, the position is given to Daniel Marcus, a lawyer who had served in the Clinton administration and specializes in constitutional and regulatory law. Marcus has no ties to Democratic political operations, so he is acceptable to the Republicans on the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 92-95]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow fires one of the commission’s investigators, Dana Leseman, with whom he has had a number of conflicts (see April 2003). Leseman and a colleague were researching a possible link between two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and elements of the government of Saudi Arabia.
Blocked - The firing stems from a dispute over the handling of classified information. Leseman asked Zelikow to provide her with a document she needed for her work, 28 redacted pages from the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report she had helped research herself, but Zelikow had failed to do so for some time (see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). Leseman then obtained a copy of the report through a channel other than Zelikow, which is a breach of the commission’s rules on handling classified information. Some colleagues will later say that this is just a minor infraction of the rules, as the document is relevant to Leseman’s work, she has the security clearance to see it, and she keeps it in a safe in the commission’s offices. However, she does not actually have authorisation to have the document at this point.
'Zero-Tolerance Policy' - Zelikow will later say she violated the commission’s “zero-tolerance policy on the handling of classified information,” and that she “committed a set of very serious violations in the handling of the most highly classified information.” Zelikow is supported by the commission’s lawyer Daniel Marcus, as they are both worried that a scandal about the mishandling of classified information could seriously damage the commission’s ability to obtain more classified information, and will be used as a stick to beat the commission by its opponents.
Fired, Kept Secret - Zelikow is informed that Leseman has the document by a staffer on one of the commission’s other teams who has also had a conflict with Leseman, and fires her “only hours” after learning this. Luckily for the commission and Leseman, no word of the firing reaches the investigation’s critics in Congress. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “The fact that the news did not leak was proof of how tightly Zelikow was able to control the flow of information on the commission.”
'Do Not Cross Me' - Shenon will add: “To Leseman’s friends, it seemed that Zelikow had accomplished all of his goals with her departure. He had gotten rid of the one staff member who had emerged early on as his nemesis; he had managed to eject her without attracting the attention of the press corps or the White House. And he had found a way to send a message to the staff: ‘Do not cross me’.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 110-113] Zelikow will later be investigated for mishandling classified information himself, but will apparently be exonerated (see Summer 2004).
In a series of meetings with 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice-Chairman Lee Hamilton, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales continues to deny the commission access to White House documents and personnel (see Late January 2003). The commission wants access to classified White House documents, as well as interviews with President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Claim of Executive Privilege - Gonzales says that the access the commission wants is protected by executive privilege, which means that if advice given to the president by his staff is to have any value, it must remain secret. He thinks that, as the commission was created by Congress, if he gives the commission the access it wants, this will set a precedent, meaning the White House will have to turn over other documents to Congress.
Not a "Viable Position" - Kean thinks that this is not a “viable position” for Gonzales and that he must give them something. He asks himself if Gonzales understands the political damage he is doing to President Bush, and also if Bush knows what Gonzales is doing in his name. Kean is also aware that the commission could subpoena documents, but never makes this threat explicitly to Gonzales. Issuing subpoenas would lead to a constitutional argument that would do a lot of political damage to the White House. Kean believes that Gonzales will have to compromise in the end—9/11 was such a unique event that providing some access will not set a precedent. 9/11 Commissioner and former White House Counsel Fred Fielding is also extremely surprised by what Gonzales is doing. He knows it is only a matter of time before Gonzales retreats, and the longer it takes him to do so, the more damage he will do to Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 122-126] Fielding will return as White House counsel in January 2007. In a scandal over the firing of US attorneys for allegedly political reasons, he will behave in much the same way as Gonzales does in this case. [Washington Post, 4/11/2007]
Gonzales Refuses to Meet Commission Lawyer - Gonzales insists on meeting only Kean and Hamilton and, following an earlier frosty meeting with executive director Philip Zelikow (see Late January 2003), refuses to see anyone else from the commission, including its counsel Daniel Marcus. When Kean and Hamilton return from the meetings with Gonzales at the White House, Marcus has to debrief them and work out a counter-strategy to what Gonzales’ position seems to be. “It was very messy,” Marcus will recall. Marcus also knows Gonzales is getting Bush in trouble: “Gonzales didn’t have good political judgment and staked out positions that got the White House in trouble—these kinds of wooden separation of powers arguments.”
Some Speculate Addington Behind Gonzales - Some commissioners and staff think that what Gonzales is doing is so damaging to President Bush that he may not even be expressing Bush’s views. According to this line of thinking, Gonzales is being directed by Vice President Dick Cheney and his counsel David Addington, both of whom are known to have extreme views on executive privilege (see June 26, 2007 and June 27, 2007). Kean will later say the commission “never knew” who was really behind the arguments. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 122-126]
Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, tells his secretary Karen Heitkotter not to keeps records of his calls. Although there is no formal process for logging calls, Heitkotter has been keeping records of them for Zelikow in a notebook she purchased herself. However, Commission staffers recently learned of contacts between Zelikow and White House adviser Karl Rove, leading to bad feeling on the Commission (see September 4-15, 2003 and September 15, 2003 or Shortly After). Zelikow calls Heitkotter into his office and gives her the order without explaining why. According to Heitkotter, Zelikow is “insistent,” but she is worried about doing something improper so she asks a lawyer friend on the Commission what she should do. The friend tells her to contact someone in authority, to protect herself in case the information ever becomes public. She chooses Dan Marcus, the Commission’s counsel and a Democrat, telling him Zelikow has “asked me to stop keeping records—phone logs—for his contacts with the White House.” Marcus tells her not to obey Zelikow’s instruction and to continue to log the calls, although he does not raise the matter with Zelikow, the Commission’s Chairman Tom Kean, or Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton. Marcus will later say that Zelikow’s order “looks bad—it certainly doesn’t look good.” Asked about the matter later, Zelikow will simply deny that the Commission kept formal phone logs: “I think this is recycled, garbled office gossip. I don’t think my office kept phone logs.” [Zelikow and Shenon, 2007 ; Shenon, 2008, pp. 171-172; Democracy Now!, 2/7/2008]
A memo is distributed inside the 9/11 Commission discussing the problem of government minders attending 9/11 Commission interviews. The memo, entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses,” is written by three staffers on the Commission’s Team 2, which reviewed the overall structure of the US intelligence community. The authors are Kevin Scheid, a senior staffer who led the team; Lorry Fenner, an Air Force intelligence officer; and lawyer Gordon Lederman. The complaint is sent to the Commission’s counsels, Daniel Marcus and Steven Dunne, about halfway through the Commission’s 19-month life. [9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 156]
Minder Interference - Typically, if a witness to be interviewed is from a government agency, such as the FBI, then one or more FBI “minders” also attend the interview. But the Team 2 memo makes clear that these minders are not simply passive observers. The memo complains: “When we have asked witnesses about certain roles and responsibilities within the intelligence community, minders have preempted witnesses’ responses by referencing formal policies and procedures. As a result, witnesses have not responded to our questions and have deprived us from understanding the intelligence community’s actual functioning and witnesses’ view of their roles and responsibilities.”
Minder Intimidation - Furthermore: “[M]inders have positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses to our questions. Minders generally have sat next to witnesses at the table and across from Commission staff, conveying to witnesses that minders are participants in interviews and are of equal status to witnesses.” Sometimes, minders simply “answer questions directed at witnesses.” The memo also registers concern that minders take “verbatim notes of witnesses’ statements,” and this “conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review their statements and may engage in retribution.” Furthermore, the verbatim note-taking “facilitates agencies in alerting future witnesses to the Commission’s lines of inquiry and permits agencies to prepare future witnesses either explicitly or implicitly.” The memo states that “the net effect of minders’ conduct, whether intentionally or not, is to intimidate witnesses and to interfere with witnesses providing full and candid responses.”
Not Just Team 2 - The memo makes clear that the problems are not occurring only with witnesses talking to Team 2, but also in “other teams’ interviews.” A hand-written note on a draft of the memo says, “not one agency or minder—also where we’ve sat in on other teams’ interviews.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003]
Trip to Canada Provides Example - Minders are mentioned in passing in many other 9/11 Commission documents. One memo entitled “Canada Trip Lessons Learned” provides more details about how minders behave. The memo is undated, but appears to have been written by staffer Gordon Lederman in the autumn of 2003. The memo complains that one minder “acted as a participant,” “responded to inquiries,” and “consulted with” the witnesses during several interviews. This minder took verbatim notes while sitting next to witnesses, and in one interview, “sighed heavily repeatedly.” The memo further notes that the minder “had an opportunity to coach/poison the well with” the witness “at dinner the night before and with others before they arrived.” It is unclear which agency this minder is from, although she is an intelligence community attorney. The memo also complains about another minder: “He sat next to the subjects in at least two [interviews]. He responded to questions and even asked a question.” Furthermore, “He sought to describe Canadian system/organization while there were three Canadians there to talk to us.” He even invited another minder to attend a later interview; the memo notes that it should have been the 9/11 Commission staff inviting the minders. [9/11 Commission, 2003]
Proposed Action - The memo does not propose that minders should be banned from interviews, but instead suggests a set of rules governing minder conduct. For example, minders should keep a “low profile,” sit out of witnesses’ sight, not take verbatim notes, and not answer any questions directed at the witnesses. The memo also proposes that there should be only one minder per witness, which reveals that witnesses being outnumbered by minders is a common problem. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003]
9/11 Commissioners Ignorant or Dishonest about Minders - It is not known if any of the proposals are implemented. However, no documentary evidence will emerge to suggest they are implemented. Furthermore, the heads of the Commission appear to be either oblivious or dishonest regarding the role of minders. In early July 2003, Commission chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, discussed minders in a press briefing, saying: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would” (see July 7, 2003). [New York Times, 7/8/2003] But at a later press briefing on September 23, 2003, Kean no longer saw minders as intimidating. Instead, he said: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers.… I’m glad to hear that it’s—from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.” In the same press briefing, vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, commented, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He added that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but, “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds” (see September 23, 2003). These comments were made just nine days before the previously discussed memo entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” is sent. [9/11 Commission, 9/23/2003 ] It is unclear if Kean and Hamilton were lying or were just oblivious. 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow generally controls and limits the flow of information between commissioners and staffers to such a degree that even near the end of the Commission’s tenure, one staffer will confront a commissioner in a bathroom in an attempt to get a complaint to her (see March 2, 2003 and July 2004).
No Press Coverage - The issue of minder intimidation will not be made public until 2009, when some of the 9/11 Commission’s source documents are made public. Even then, there will be no mainstream media coverage of the issue.
The 9/11 Commission interviews its own executive director, Philip Zelikow, over his role in counterterrorism affairs before 9/11 and his links to the Bush administration. The interview occurs shortly after victims’ relatives call for Zelikow’s removal from sensitive parts of the Commission’s investigation (see October 3, 2003).
Insists on Interview - Zelikow actually requests the interview himself and insists that he be placed under oath, as he thinks this will be proof of his eagerness to tell the truth. It is conducted by Dan Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer and one of Zelikow’s subordinates, and lasts for 90 minutes. Zelikow talks about his role in the Bush transition, when he authored a review of operations run by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that led to Clarke’s demotion and the downgrading of terrorism as a priority for the new administration (see January 3, 2001). Zelikow also admits writing a strategy document that was later used to justify the invasion of Iraq (see September 20, 2002). While the information was known before in outline, author Philip Shenon will say that it is “especially shocking when heard in this much detail.”
Serious Conflicts of Interest - Marcus notes that Zelikow’s resume mentions neither his role in the transition, nor his authorship of the pre-emptive war document. He forms the opinion that Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton may not have known all this before. “I have no idea whether they were deliberately blindsided or not,” he will say. Shenon will add: “Marcus and others on the staff tried to imagine how Zelikow’s conflicts could be any worse. They tried to imagine a comparable conflict on other important blue-ribbon commissions. It became a little parlor game in the office. Would the commission that investigated the Challenger disaster have hired a staff director who was a NASA lobbyist or an executive of one of the contractors that built the faulty shuttle? Would the Warren Commission have hired the chairman of the Dallas tourism board?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 168-170]
Recusal - Following the interview, Zelikow will be recused from the Commission’s investigation of the Bush transition as well as interviews of senior Bush officials (see October 9, 2003 or Shortly After).
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]
The 9/11 Commission issues it first subpoena, to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Commission had initially decided not to issue subpoenas (see January 27, 2003), but found that the FAA had withheld documentation from it (see August 2003 and September 2003), prompting it to take this step.
Request from Team Leader - The subpoena’s issue is the result of a request from John Farmer, leader of the Commission’s team investigating the day of the attacks. After receiving permission from the Commission’s chairman and lawyer, Tom Kean and Daniel Marcus, to address the full Commission, Farmer tells them: “My team and I have lost confidence in the FAA. We do not believe we have time to take any more chances on the possibility that they will act on good faith.” This leaves them with “no choice other than a subpoena.”
Debate inside Commission - Some of the Democratic commissioners, such as Jamie Gorelick, then claim that this is a reason to subpoena all documents the Commission wants. However Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton are against this. Republican Slade Gorton proposes a compromise where the Commission subpoenas the FAA, but only issues a warning to other agencies that are not producing the documents the Commission wants. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 202-203] The Commission approves the subpoena unanimously. The Commission comments publicly, saying, “This disturbing development at one agency has led the Commission to reexamine its general policy of relying on document requests rather than subpoenas.” [Associated Press, 10/15/2003] It also warns other agencies that “document requests must be taken as seriously as a subpoena.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 203]
Following the discovery that NORAD is withholding extremely important evidence from the 9/11 Commission (see Late October 2003), John Farmer, the leader of the Commission team investigating the day of 9/11, and the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow discuss subpoenaing the Pentagon. In the first meeting, Zelikow seems to support Farmer’s demand that a subpoena be issued, but is “hard to read” according to Farmer.
Charges that Zelikow is 'Undoing' Subpoena - Farmer then returns to New York, where he is based for his work on the Commission. According to Farmer, he receives an urgent phone call from Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s counsel, telling him Zelikow is trying to derail the subpoena and that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is to meet with the commissioners to dissuade them. Such a meeting will actually be held one day before the Commission votes on the subpoena (see November 5, 2003). In Farmer’s account, Marcus says: “You’d better get down here. It’s all unraveling. Philip is undoing this.” Marcus will later say he does not recall this call, but will say that Zelikow, who was close to members of Rumsfeld’s staff, would even “flaunt” his good relations with Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Zelikow will later make a successful last-ditch bid to prevent a subpoena being issued on the White House (see February 2004).
Disagreement between Zelikow, Farmer - According to Farmer, he returns to Washington and together with Dana Hyde, one of his staffers, confronts Zelikow. Hyde complains, “We can’t do our job if you frustrate us.” Farmer adds: “I thought you were supporting this subpoena. Now I hear otherwise. What’s going on?” He demands he be allowed to address the commissioners on the subpoena, but Zelikow replies: “I represent the staff. I will represent your views.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow’s face “turn[s] the crimson color that the staff in Washington ha[ve] seen before in moments of his most extreme rage.” Zelikow then says, “It’s beyond our pay grade at this point.” Farmer disagrees and storms out of Zelikow’s office.
Zelikow's Version - Zelikow will confirm that there was a difference of opinion with Farmer on the matter: “We did have concerns about timing and tactics. Tension was building to a breaking point.” However, Zelikow will say he did not necessarily oppose a subpoena, as he shared Farmer’s concerns about the Pentagon’s truthfulness. Marcus will back Zelikow, saying that he thinks Zelikow did not try to derail the subpoena because of his friendship with Cambone or for any other reason. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 205-207]
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 218-219]
Entity Tags: Andrew Card, White House, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199]
9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 222-224] The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).
Some months after he begins working on National Security Council (NSC) files (see August 2003), 9/11 Commission staffer Warren Bass decides that he should quit the commission, or at least threaten to quit. The main reason for this is because he feels the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, is distorting the commission’s work to favor National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to whom Zelikow is close (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005).
'Zelikow Is Making Me Crazy' - Bass tells Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer, “I cannot do this,” and “Zelikow is making me crazy.” According to author Philip Shenon, Bass is “outraged” by Zelikow’s conduct and thinks the White House is trying to “sabotage” his work by limiting his access to certain documents. Zelikow will later admit that he had a conflict with Bass, but will say that it was just an honest difference of opinion between historians. However, colleagues will say Bass saw it differently. Shenon will write: “[Bass] made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political—intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism. For every bit of evidence gathered by Bass and [the commission team investigating US counterterrorism policy] to bolster [former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard] Clarke’s allegation that the White House had ignored terrorist threats in 2001, Zelikow would find some reason to disparage it.”
Talked Out of It - However, Marcus and Michael Hurley, Bass’ immediate superior on the commission, persuade Bass not to resign. Shenon will say that his resignation “would have been a disaster for the commission; Bass was the team’s institutional memory on the NSC, and his writing and editing skills seemed irreplaceable.” Hurley thinks that part of the problem is that Bass, as well as the other members of his team, have a heavy workload, so he gets Zelikow’s consent to hire another staffer, Leonard Hawley. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 149-150]
The 9/11 Commission has a private meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The meeting is held in the White House’s Situation Room, the location apparently chosen by Rice in an attempt to impress the commissioners.
Questioning Is 'Polite but Pointed' - The White House has insisted that the encounter be described as a “meeting” rather than an “interview,” because that would sound too formal and prosecutorial. In addition, there is to be no recording of the interview and Rice is not placed under oath. The time limit on the interview is two hours, but it actually lasts four. Rice’s close associate Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, attends, but is not allowed to say anything because he has been recused from this part of the investigation. The questioning is led by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, and will be described as “polite but pointed” by author Philip Shenon.
Commissioners Privately Critical of Rice - The commissioners are aware of allegations that Rice performed poorly in the run-up to 9/11 (see Before December 18, 2003), but are unwilling to aggressively attack an accomplished black woman. However, they think the allegations are well-founded. Commission Chairman Tom Kean will say, “obviously Rice bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for not understanding how serious this threat [of terrorist attacks] was.” Commissioner John Lehman will say that he has “no doubt” former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would have paid more attention to the warnings of a forthcoming attack. Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say that the administration’s failure to act on the urgent warnings was “spectacularly wrong.” Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will comment that Rice “assumed away the hardest part of her job,” and that she should have focused on keeping the president up to date on events, rather than trying to put his intentions into action. Commissioner Bob Kerrey will agree with this and will later recall one of Rice’s comments at this meeting, “I took the president’s thoughts and I helped the president describe what he was thinking.” According to Kerrey, this shows how Rice performed her job incorrectly. She should have been advising the president on what to do, not packaging his thoughts. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 230-239]
Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Thomas Kean, Slade Gorton, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Condoleezza Rice, John Lehman
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow demands that the Commission subpoena a new book by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that is due to be published soon.
Bad Blood - There has been a running argument in the Commission about Clarke’s criticism of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 2003, Before December 18, 2003, and Early 2004) and there is also bad blood between Clarke and Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995) who had Clarke demoted in 2001 (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003). Zelikow’s demand is spurred by a change to the publication date of Clarke’s book, which has been moved forward from the end of April to March 22, shortly before Clarke is due to testify publicly before the Commission.
Zelikow Goes 'Ballistic' - Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will recall that when Zelikow learned of the change, he “went ballistic” and “wanted to subpoena [the book].” The reason for his anger is that he thinks that it may contain surprises for the Commission and does not want new information coming out so close to an important hearing. Marcus thinks issuing a subpoena is a bad idea, as the Commission generally refuses to subpoena government departments (see January 27, 2003), so issuing one for the book will make it look bad, and possibly turn the press against it. However, Zelikow initially refuses to back down, saying, “Well, we have subpoena authority,” and adding, “And they have no right to withhold it from us.”
Publisher Provides Book, Clarke Prevents Zelikow from Reading It - Marcus calls the book’s publisher and asks it nicely to give the Commission the book. The publisher agrees, but, worried that excessive distribution would limit the book’s news value, says that only three staffers, ones involved in preparing for Clarke’s interview, can read it. Clarke personally insists on another condition: that Zelikow is not one of these three staffers. Zelikow protests against this condition, but it is approved by the commissioners.
Zelikow Discomfited - This deal highlights the state of relations between Zelikow and the staff. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Marcus and others on the staff could not deny that they enjoyed Zelikow’s discomfort. Throughout the investigation, Zelikow had insisted that every scrap of secret evidence gathered by the staff be shared with him before anyone else; he then controlled how and if the evidence was shared elsewhere. Now Zelikow would be the last to know some of the best secrets of them all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 275-277]
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]
Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow in Tel Aviv, October 2006. [Source: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy via Getty Images]9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow tells the staff team working on the Bush administration’s response to terrorist threats in the summer of 2001 that their drafts must be rewritten to cast National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in a better light. Rice’s testimony about the administration’s prioritizing of terrorism has been contradicted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who said that al-Qaeda was not a high priority for the White House. The Commission staffers think that Clarke is telling the truth, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, Clarke had left a “vast documentary record” about the White House’s inattention to terrorism. Clarke’s account is also corroborated by other National Security Council (NSC) members, the CIA, and the State Department.
Zelikow's Reaction - However, Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995 and January 3, 2001), tells the staffers their version is “too Clarke-centric” and demands “balance.” Shenon will comment: “He never said so explicitly, but Zelikow made clear to [the staffers] that the Commission’s final report should balance out every statement of Clarke’s with a statement from Rice. The team should leave out any judgment on which of them was telling the truth.”
Support from Commission Lawyer - Zelikow is supported to a point in this dispute by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer. Marcus thinks that the staffers are making Clarke into a “superhero,” and that there were some “limitations and flaws” in his performance. Marcus also sees that the staff’s suspicions of Zelikow and his ties to Rice are no longer hidden, but will later say, “In a sense they overreacted to Philip because they were so worried about him they pushed and pushed and pushed, and sometimes they were wrong.”
Staffer Regrets Not Resigning Earlier - One of the key staffers involved in the dispute, Warren Bass, had previously considered resigning from the Commission due to what he perceived as Zelikow’s favoring of Rice. At this point he regrets not resigning earlier, but does not do so now. Bass and his colleagues merely console themselves with the hope that the public will read between the lines and work out that Clarke is telling the truth and Rice is not.
"Tortured Passages" - Shenon will comment: “[T]he results of the team’s work were some of the most tortured passages in the final report, especially in the description of the performance of the NSC in the first months of the Bush presidency. It was written almost as a point, counterpoint—Clarke says this, Rice says the opposite—with no conclusion about what the truth finally was.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 394-396]
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]
John Farmer. [Source: Publicity photo]The team of investigators on the 9/11 Commission that is investigating the events of the morning of September 11 comes to believe that a key part of Vice President Dick Cheney’s account is false. The team, led by John Farmer, is convinced that the decision to authorize the military to shoot down threatening aircraft on 9/11 was made by Cheney alone, not by President Bush. According to journalist and author Philip Shenon: “If Farmer’s team was right, the shootdown order was almost certainly unconstitutional, a violation of the military chain of command, which has no role for the vice president. In the absence of the president, military orders should have been issued by Defense Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld, bypassing the vice president entirely.”
No Evidence - Other than Cheney’s own account of his actions that morning, and a subsequent attempt Bush made to confirm this account, the team has found no evidence that the president was involved in making the shootdown decision before Cheney issued the order, and much evidence that he was unaware of this decision. Shenon will describe: “Even in moments of crisis, the White House keeps extraordinary records of communications involving Bush and his senior staff; every phone call is logged, along with a detailed summary of what happened during the call.… But for 9/11, the logs offered no evidence of a call between Cheney and Bush in which Bush authorized a shootdown. And Farmer’s team reviewed more than just one set of communications logs. There were seven of them—one maintained by the White House telephone switchboard, one by the Secret Service, one by the Situation Room, and four separate logs maintained by military officers working in the White House.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 265-266]
Issued by Cheney - The Commission believes Cheney issued the shootdown order between around 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. on 9/11, in response to reports of an aircraft heading toward Washington (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41]
No Notes - Yet deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who was with Cheney at the time, had reportedly “not heard any prior conversation on the subject [of shooting down aircraft] with the president.” As Newsweek describes: “Nor did the real-time notes taken by two others in the room, Cheney’s chief of staff, ‘Scooter’ Libby—who is known for his meticulous record-keeping—or Cheney’s wife, Lynne, reflect that such a phone call between Bush and Cheney occurred or that such a major decision as shooting down a US airliner was discussed.… National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and a military aide said they remembered a call, but gave few specifics.” [Newsweek, 6/20/2004] The notes of White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who had been on Air Force One with the president, show no reference to a shootdown order until several minutes after Cheney issued it (see 10:18 a.m.-10:20 a.m. September 11, 2001).
"Completely Understandable" - Daniel Marcus, the general counsel of the 9/11 Commission, will later say he thought: “[I]n many ways, it would have been completely understandable for Cheney to issue a shootdown order without authorization from Bush. Whatever the constitutional issues, it would have been difficult to second-guess Cheney about a decision to save the White House from destruction if a suicide hijacker was bearing down on the capital and there were only seconds to act.” Yet, as Marcus will recall, Cheney’s staff is “obsessed with showing that he didn’t give the order.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 266-267]
Cheney Angry - White House lawyers will subsequently lobby the 9/11 Commission to amend its treatment of the shootdown issue in one of its staff reports (see June 15, 2004). [Newsweek, 6/20/2004] And, on this same issue, an angry Cheney will try to get the 9/11 Commission Report changed just before it is released (see Shortly Before July 22, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411-412]
The 9/11 Commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, has a comparison between Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton that shows Bush in a bad light removed from the 9/11 Commission report.
Clinton and Bush - The comparison was drafted by commission staffer Alexis Albion at the request of vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, and shows how Clinton and Bush addressed terrorism in general and al-Qaeda in particular in their public remarks. It is intended as a measure of how the two presidents had prioritized the issue, although there is the obvious problem that Clinton was in office for eight years, but Bush only eight months before the attacks. Albion found that Clinton addressed terrorism dozens of times, including in every State of the Union address and a speech to the UN General Assembly, and that he often warned about al-Qaeda and similar groups. By contrast, Bush rarely talked about terrorism, and when he did he focused on state-sponsored terrorism and missile defense against rogue states.
Controversial - Albion and other members of her team are aware that the comparison will anger the Bush White House, in particular because other sections of the report will not be especially critical of the current administration. A statement that Bush spoke little about terrorism before 9/11 will probably be seen as the commission’s most direct personal criticism of him. However, they feel strongly that it should be in the report, as what the president says sets the agenda for the rest of the government and media.
Zelikow's Reaction - Zelikow is angered by the comparison, almost yelling that it is “unreasonable” and “unfair,” as Bush “hadn’t been in office long enough to make a major address on terrorism.” Author Philip Shenon will describe Zelikow’s rage about this issue: “Zelikow’s anger was so off the scale on this issue that some of the staff members wondered if this was simply a show on his part to intimidate them into backing down.” Albion is supported by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. According to Shenon: “[Marcus] thought it was one of Zelikow’s most overt displays of his partisanship, of his desire to protect the administration. Obviously it was significant if Bush, who was now claiming that he had been gravely worried throughout 2001 about terrorist threats, never bothered to mention it in public during that same period. ‘You’d think he would say something about it once in a while, right?’ asked Marcus.” However, Zelikow gets his way and the comparison is removed from the report.
Endnotes - Despite this, Albion does manage to reinsert material from the comparison into the endnotes at the back of the commission’s final report. For example, endnote 2 to chapter 6 reads: “President Clinton spoke of terrorism in numerous public statements…. Clinton repeatedly linked terrorism groups and WMD as transnational threats for the new global era.” Endnote 164 to the same chapter reads: “Public references by candidate and then President Bush about terrorism before 9/11 tended to reflect… [his concern with] state-sponsored terrorism and WMD as a reason to mount a missile defense.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 396-398]
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