AP failed to challenge claim that White House “supported” 9-11 Commission

An AP article about the assessment of the United States' counterterrorism performance by former members of the 9-11 Commission noted but did not challenge the Bush administration's claim that it supported the commission during its investigation into the events surrounding 9-11.

A December 5 Associated Press article on the recent assessment by former members of the 9-11 Commission of the U.S. government's counterterrorism performance reported without challenge that the Bush administration “not[ed] its support for the commission.” In fact, the White House not only opposed the formation of the Commission but, in many cases, attempted to impede its review of events surrounding the September 11, 2001, attacks. At one point in 2003, commission chair Thomas Kean (R), former New Jersey governor, even threatened to subpoena the administration if it continued to withhold documents requested by the panel.

In noting the Bush administration's response to the scathing findings of the 9/11 Public Discourse Project -- a private entity made up of the 10 former 9-11 Commission members -- the AP article cited a White House "fact sheet" released on December 5:

White House spokesman Scott McClellan related the commission's findings to the administration's campaign in Iraq, saying, “By taking the fight to the enemy abroad, and by doing so, that is keeping them from plotting and planning to attack inside America.”

The White House later released a 17-point fact sheet noting its support for the commission and some its recommendations that have been enacted so far, including the creation of a national intelligence director and a counterterror center to analyze threat information from federal agencies.

Indeed, one of the 17 bullets contained in the White House fact sheet highlighted the administration's support for the commission:

The President Supported The Work Of The Commission. The White House provided the 9/11 Commission with unprecedented access, including providing close to 1,000 interviews with Administration officials and making available 2.3 million pages of documents for the Commission's review.

But the assertion that the White House “supported” the commission's work is belied by facts. First and foremost, President Bush vocally opposed the establishment of an independent panel to investigate the events preceding the September 11 attacks. More than a year had passed by the time he agreed to such a proposal.

After allowing the commission to form and move forward, the Bush administration consistently attempted to obstruct its work. The following are numerous examples of White House efforts to impede the commission's progress:

  • The White House "brushed off" Kean's March 2003 request to increase the investigation's budget by $11 million.
  • The Bush administration limited the commission's access to crucial documents, including the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB), an intelligence report provided to the president each morning. After four months of tense negotiations over these and other documents -- during which the panel threatened the White House with a subpoena -- the administration finally allowed four panel officials to view the PDBs. But the administration permitted the four-member team to see only 24 of those documents, rather than the 360 the commission had requested.
  • In January 2004, the White House opposed granting the commission a two-month extension after members said that the extra time was necessary to complete their work. Two weeks later, the administration responded to public pressure and allowed the extra time.
  • The White House demanded in February 2004 that Bush's testimony be limited to one hour -- a condition the panel quickly rejected. The administration later backtracked. On March 9, 2004, McClellan told reporters: "[T]he president is going to answer all the questions that they want to raise." “Nobody is watching the clock.”
  • The White House refused to allow then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify before the panel in March 2004. The administration eventually allowed Rice's testimony, but only after demanding that the commission “agree not to seek testimony from other White House aides.”
  • In April 2004, the White House demanded that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney be permitted to testify together, despite panel members' indications that they would prefer for them to testify separately.

The AP article appeared on the wires at 5:17 p.m. (EST) on December 5 and was published verbatim in the December 6 edition of the Philadelphia Daily News.