Published on Wednesday, February 25, 2004 by Reuters
Hastert Tells White House He Won't Extend Sept. 11 Panel
by Adam Entous
WASHINGTON - In a blow to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives has told the White House that he will not bring up legislation to extend the May 27 deadline for completing its report, officials said on Wednesday.
Speaker Dennis Hastert said granting the commission's request for a 60-day extension to July 26 would politicize its final report at the height of the U.S. presidential campaign, according to a spokesman.
The White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, had personally appealed to Hastert to reconsider, and the Illinois Republican met on Wednesday with President Bush at the White House.
But the speaker's spokesman, John Feehery, said Hastert told the White House and fellow Republican members of the House that "it's a bad idea to extend the commission and ... that we're not going to bring any legislation up."
Despite initial objections, Bush backed the 60-day extension and the Senate is moving forward with legislation.
But Hastert cast serious doubt on its prospects for passage in the Republican-controlled House.
"He thinks the (commission's) report is overdue and we need to get the recommendations as soon as possible. He is also concerned it will become a political football if this thing is extended and it is released in the middle of the presidential campaign," Feehery said.
The commission says it needs the extra time to complete hundreds of interviews and review millions of documents.
Unless Congress acts, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California warned Hastert in a letter that "important investigative work will not be done, a result clearly not in the national interest."
Democratic congressional aides said Bush only halfheartedly supported the extension and put little pressure on Hastert to back down.
The commission issued a public appeal on Wednesday to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney to reconsider their opposition to meeting with the full panel.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice has also refused to testify publicly on the grounds she is a presidential adviser and not a Senate-confirmed Cabinet officer. The White House defended that decision as in accordance with the practices of previous administrations.
Bush and Cheney have only agreed to meet privately with commission chairman Thomas Kean and vice chairman Lee Hamilton, rather than with the full, 10-member panel.
Former President Bill Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore have agreed to meet privately with all commission members, the panel said.
The panel, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, says it wants to question Rice and other presidential advisers about what the government knew about potential terrorist threats in the months leading up the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"Dr. Rice has already sat down with, and had a good discussion with, commission members and answered all of their questions for over four hours," White House National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Rice and other administration officials said there was no advance indication terrorists planned suicide hijackings.
But the White House revealed later that Bush had received a briefing one month before the attacks warning of the possibility of a plot to hijack airplanes.
So far, CIA Director George Tenet, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell have agreed to testify publicly, according to the commission.
Clinton's secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, and defense secretary, William Cohen, are also due to testify.
© Copyright 2004 Reuters Ltd