- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft this week became the only Cabinet-level Bush official to criticize the September 11 commission, writing in a memoir that it “seemed obsessed with trying to lay the blame for the terrorist attacks at the feet of the Bush administration, while virtually absolving the previous administration of responsibility.”

In the book, Mr. Ashcroft also writes that the hearings of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States “were not so much about discovering the truth as they were about assessing blame and grandstanding.” He added that the hearings “degenerated into show trials.”

Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington state who was a member of the commission, said yesterday that he found the charges “extraordinary,” recalling that President Bush had personally repudiated Mr. Ashcroft’s tactics in his sparring with the commission.

“Most of the criticism [the commission received] was the exact opposite: that we didn’t blame anyone,” he said. “Our job was to write a factual account, which readers could use to assess blame for themselves.”

In the memoir, “Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice,” Mr. Ashcroft also accuses the commission of trying to “stimulate media interest” in its hearings by leaking “juicy tidbits” beforehand. He writes that this was why he alone of all the serving and former senior officials who were witnesses for the commission did not provide them with advance copies of his testimony.

Mr. Gorton dismissed that explanation, saying, “The reason, I’m convinced, is that he intended to and did use his testimony to launch a disingenuous and underhanded personal attack on a member of the commission.”

At his April 14, 2003, appearance, Mr. Ashcroft reported to the commission a just-declassified memo written by commission member and former Clinton administration Justice Department official Jamie S. Gorelick in 1995. The memo, Mr. Ashcroft said, was “the basic architecture” for what became known as the “wall” that hindered cooperation between U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Before September 11, 2001, a variety of laws, court rulings and departmental regulations strictly separated intelligence from criminal investigations, out of concern that prosecutors should not be allowed to use the much less restrictive rules about wiretapping and other kinds of surveillance that applied in intelligence operations to gather material for criminal cases.

The commission’s report, however, concluded that the wall grew up during the 1980s, primarily as a response to a series of court rulings, and noted that a memo from Mr. Ashcroft’s deputy in August 2001 had effectively ratified the policy laid out by Miss Gorelick in 1995.

Two weeks later, on April 28, Mr. Ashcroft declassified more memos written by or receiving comment by Miss Gorelick, posting them on the Justice Department Web site, even though they had not been made available to the commission.

Mr. Ashcroft, who was traveling in Europe yesterday, did not respond to a request for a comment. The White House, the Justice Department and Miss Gorelick all declined to comment.