- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 28, 2004

The national commission looking into the September 11 terrorist attacks may see itself as nonpartisan, but Democratic officials and strategists say the panel’s report, due out just before their party’s July convention, can only hurt President Bush and help John Kerry.

“The report will be a perfect introduction to the Democratic convention on July 26,” said Bob Mulholland, the California Democratic Party spokesman who says the commission’s inquiry will be a political bonanza for the Democrats and Mr. Kerry’s presidential campaign.

“If you had to look at its potential political impact, it will be significant. Democrats all across America will be reinforced by this report on why they don’t like Bush. I don’t think anything in it will bear the headline that ‘Bush bears no responsibility for what happened.’ That’s just not going to happen. I think it will hurt Bush,” Mr. Mulholland said.

Mr. Mulholland is one of the Democrats’ most partisan pit bulls, known for his blistering broadsides against Republicans. But his pointed political prediction is shared by many Democrats who see the bipartisan, 10-member commission’s investigation largely in political terms and how much damage it can inflict on Mr. Bush’s re-election campaign.

But a key member of the commission, former Sen. Bob Kerrey, Nebraska Democrat, sought to disabuse hopeful Democrats of that notion yesterday.

“I think they will be disappointed in that regard. I don’t think it will be a political document,” he said in a telephone interview with The Washington Times. “Judging from the way the commission has worked thus far, my experience is that it is likely to be very bipartisan in its conclusion. At least, I’m hopeful it will be bipartisan.

“If you are asking is this going to be a document that will be terribly damaging to the president, I think the likelihood of that is not good,” he said.

However, the former lawmaker, who is now president of the New School University in New York, also delivered a warning to the administration about the way it has been responding to the commission’s work.

“If the White House continues to make political mistakes, it’s possible the commission could have a negative impact,” he said.

Nonetheless, other officials at the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States say that, for the most part, members have preserved the panel’s tenor of bipartisanship as they delve into the attacks and what the Clinton and Bush administrations could have done differently to better protect the country.

“All 10 of them have approached this as American citizens, concerned about the safety of the American people and the survival of our system of government and the freedoms we all enjoy. The terrorists didn’t care what the political affiliations of the 9/11 victims were,” commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said.

“There’s a hope that we can take [the commission’s work] out of politics. Maybe they can’t, but that’s the hope,” said another commission official. “The blame game only gets you so far.”

But a central issue in the Democratic presidential campaign is the way Mr. Bush has handled the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq, and interviews with a number of Democrats reveal that they are not shy about addressing the political implications of the commission’s work and expressing the hope and belief that Mr. Kerry stands to politically benefit from its final report.

“This could help Kerry’s campaign if the facts lead in that direction, and if the facts are there, the chips should fall where they may,” said Amy Isaacs, national director of the liberal Americans for Democratic Action.

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