President Bush will privately answer all questions raised by a federal commission investigating the September 11 attacks, the White House said yesterday, apparently dropping a one-hour limit on the president’s testimony.
The shift came on the heels of accusations by presumed Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry that Mr. Bush was “stonewalling” investigations of the terrorist attacks and U.S. intelligence failures.
“It appears he doesn’t want to let the facts get in the way of his campaign,” presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said of Mr. Kerry.
It was the administration’s second change of heart about the commission. Mr. Bush originally had opposed the panel’s request for a two-month extension of its work but he eventually relented.
“This administration has provided unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 commission,” Mr. McClellan said. “It provided access to every single bit of information that they have requested.”
The 10-member commission sought interviews with Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney about what the administration knew before the attacks, potentially a sensitive subject in an election year.
Mr. Bush had agreed to meet privately for an hour with the chairman and vice chairman of the commission, but said it was unnecessary for him to testify publicly. Mr. Cheney also has said he would meet with some commissioners.
Mr. McClellan indicated the one-hour limit had been dropped. “He’s going to answer all the questions they want to raise,” he said repeatedly, without raising the time restriction.
Commission members are seeking public testimony from Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who has refused to appear on the advice of White House lawyers. Miss Rice has testified in private before the commission and, Mr. McClellan said, “only five members showed up.”
In previous hearings, the commission has highlighted government missteps before the 2001 attacks.