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
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