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The White House Mole

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By Dan Froomkin
Monday, February 4, 2008; 1:41 PM

Less than four months before the 2004 election, it looked like President Bush might face a perilous accountability moment.

An independent, bipartisan commission was set to report on the "circumstances surrounding the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks."

The White House had a lot to lose from an unfettered, authoritative examination of those issues. The last thing Bush needed during a hotly contested reelection campaign was a reminder of his inattention to the threat of terrorism before 9/11, or of his initial paralysis when he heard the news, or of his misbegotten attempts to pin the blame on Iraq.

Bush originally fought the establishment of such a commission. Even after he bowed to congressional pressure, he still only went along grudgingly. For instance, he famously refused to face the panel alone or in public, insisting instead on a private, unrecorded interview with Vice President Cheney at his side.

But when the report finally came out, it was clear Bush had dodged another bullet. The commission spread the blame for 9/11 far and wide and emphasized needed structural changes over accountability.

Now, it seems the White House may not have needed to be too apprehensive about the commission's report. It had an inside man. And he was one of the guys in charge.

Hope Yen writes for the Associated Press: "The Sept. 11 commission's executive director had closer ties with the White House than publicly disclosed and tried to influence the final report in ways that the staff often perceived as limiting the Bush administration's responsibility, a new book says.

"Philip Zelikow, a friend of then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, spoke with her several times during the 20-month investigation that closely examined her role in assessing the al-Qaida threat. He also exchanged frequent calls with the White House, including at least four from Bush's chief political adviser at the time, Karl Rove.

"Zelikow once tried to push through wording in a draft report that suggested a greater tie between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Iraq, in line with White House claims but not with the commission staff's viewpoint, according to Philip Shenon's 'The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.' . . .

"Reached by the AP, Zelikow provided a 131-page statement with information he said was provided for the book. In it, Zelikow acknowledges talking to Rove and Rice during the course of the commission's work despite a general pledge he made not to. But he said the conversations never dealt with politics.

"The White House had no immediate comment Sunday."

Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek: "In the summer of 2003, Warren Bass, an investigator for the 9/11 Commission, was digging through highly classified National Security Council documents when he came across a trove of material that startled him. Buried in the files of former White House counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, the documents seemed to confirm charges that the Bush White House had ignored repeated warnings about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. Clarke, it turned out, had bombarded national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the summer of 2001 with impassioned e-mails and memos warning of an Al Qaeda attack--and urging a more forceful U.S. government response. One e-mail jumped out: it pleaded with officials to imagine how they would feel after a tragedy where 'hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the U.S.,' adding that 'that future day could happen at any time.' The memo was written on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001 -- just one week before the attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


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