Top Republican House lawmakers, including Majority Leader Tom DeLay, say the commission investigating the failures leading up to the September 11 attacks has degenerated into partisanship that “not only undermines its credibility, it undermines the war effort and endangers our troops.”
Mr. DeLay also questioned the continued membership of Clinton administration Justice Department official Jamie S. Gorelick on the commission, and the group actually calling for her to step down grew to include Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.
“I think she clearly has some history and a particular viewpoint on this, and one I think raises some concern about her perspective,” Mr. Cantor said.
The National Commission on nTerrorist Attacks Upon the United States has held a series of public hearings, including two this week with testimony from current and former FBI, intelligence and Justice Department officials. That follows last week’s raucous session with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and the earlier explosive hearing with former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke.
Mr. Cantor said those earlier hearings marked a turning point for the commission, which was chartered by Congress to investigate U.S. government failures that contributed to the terrorists’ success in attacking the United States on September 11.
“Before Clarke testified, I think the commission was going down a path akin to that which Congress intended. And after that the circus started,” Mr. Cantor said. “The commission has gone so far off course, pursuing a political agenda, that at this point all we’re going to get back is a political document.”
He and Mr. DeLay have both sent letters to the commission blasting it for turning into a partisan show.
“Partisan mudslinging, circus-atmosphere pyrotechnics and gotcha-style questioning do not get us any closer to the truth,” Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, said in his letter to Chairman Thomas H. Kean. “They serve as dangerous distractions from the global war on terror. They undermine our national unity and insult the troops now in harm’s way, to say nothing of those who have already given their lives in this conflict.”
Mr. Kean responded with his own letter to Mr. DeLay yesterday, saying the commission is pursuing a robust, open debate.
“Sometimes the public exchanges are pointed, but no more so than in the Congress itself,” he wrote. “Out of debate and discussion, we are convinced, better policies emerge.”
He also said that is the “tradition of freedom that our troops around the world defend, and we salute them.”
If Mr. Clarke’s and Miss Rice’s testimony started the charges of partisanship, the latest spark this week came when Attorney General John Ashcroft revealed that Mrs. Gorelick, one of the 10 commissioners, was instrumental in setting policy on the relationship between the FBI and intelligence communities when she was deputy attorney general.
Earlier this week Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, called for her to step down, arguing that link between the FBI and the intelligence community is central to the panel’s inquiries and her involvement compromises that investigation.
In 1995 she wrote a memo that was seen as enhancing what both law enforcement and intelligence officials called “the wall,” which hindered sharing intelligence information between the two communities.
Mrs. Gorelick was deeply involved in the relationship between intelligence and law enforcement, according to testimony she gave before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1995. Then, she told that committee she had been specifically tasked by Attorney General Janet Reno to work on the relationship between the FBI and intelligence communities.