- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle yesterday recanted his May 16 charge that President Bush had advance warning of the September 11 terror attacks, the latest example of a top Democrat backing off from such a claim.
"We were told on that particular morning that the president had received a particular set of facts that he may or may not have received. He has denied having received that information. And we accept that," the South Dakota Democrat said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Mr. Daschle added: "If he says he didn't receive it, I'm not going to challenge that. What I'm going to say is, why didn't he receive it?"
His statement yesterday was in marked contrast to what he said on May 16, when he declared: "I'm gravely concerned about the information provided us just yesterday that the president received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers by Osama bin Laden."
The backtracking by Mr. Daschle came one week after House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, walked away from his earlier statements suggesting that Mr. Bush had warnings before September 11 that might have prevented the deadly terrorist attacks.
Mr. Daschle and other senators appearing on network talk shows yesterday criticized the FBI's handling of pre-September 11 intelligence. Mr. Daschle was particularly critical of what he called "fouled-up information sharing" between the FBI and CIA.
"I don't think anyone implicates the president in this. The question is, why didn't he have this information?" asked Mr. Daschle.
The Senate leader insists he still has confidence in FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. But he said Mr. Mueller's attempts to reorganize the FBI must go beyond "shuffling the chairs." There must be a "change of attitude, a change of environment, a change in the mentality," Mr. Daschle said.
"That lack of sharing [of intelligence between agencies] is something we've got to address," said Mr. Daschle, who renewed his call for an independent blue-ribbon commission to investigate intelligence lapses before September 11. The Bush administration opposes such a commission.
After Mr. Daschle claimed on May 16 that the president had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks, Vice President Richard B. Cheney said it was "incendiary," "thoroughly irresponsible" and false for anyone to suggest Mr. Bush had information that could have prevented the attacks.
Asked if he felt his patriotism was being questioned by the vice president, Mr. Daschle said, "Sometimes, I think the administration steps over the line when they make these kinds of accusations."
Pressed as to whether Mr. Cheney's remarks were "over the line," Mr. Daschle said: "I think it's getting close to the line. I think we have a responsibility to ask questions."
In the NBC interview, Mr. Daschle said Democrats and Republicans alike need to "tone down" the "incendiary rhetoric" they've displayed about media leaks or other issues related to September 11.
Mr. Daschle was asked several times if he viewed statements by Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, Georgia Democrat, as being incendiary and irresponsible. She charged that people died needlessly on September 11 because administration officials had advance warnings about the danger but did not act because they stood to gain financially.
Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, has characterized Miss McKinney's comments as "looney, dangerous and irresponsible." But Mr. Daschle yesterday declined to say if he shared that opinion.
Mr. Daschle said he does not know if he has the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and pass the legislation to create a blue-ribbon commission to investigate missed intelligence opportunities prior to September 11.
"But I'm encouraged by the growing number of Republicans in the Senate who have come forth to say they now support it," he said, adding that he is "reasonably confident" the votes will be there to pass the legislation when it comes to the floor sometime next month.
But key Republicans who appeared on talk shows yesterday, such as Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott and Rep. Porter J. Goss, chairman of the House intelligence committee, opposed the idea of an outside investigation.
On "Fox News Sunday," Mr. Goss, Florida Republican, said he thinks it would be hard to pull together an independent panel, and he worries it could be responsible for "egregious leaks."
Mr. Lott, who appeared on CBS' "Face the Nation," said that in the past six years, "something like six commissions" have studied aviation safety and other security issues. He suggested Congress read those reports, which cost "millions of dollars" to prepare, before creating yet another commission.
Mr. Daschle said Mr. Bush asked him on Jan. 28 not to seek an outside commission to investigate the September 11 attacks. Mr. Daschle said previously that Mr. Cheney made a similar request Jan. 24.
"They were concerned about the diversion of resources," Mr. Daschle said on NBC, adding that the request was repeated on other dates.
Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney said last week that Congress' intelligence committees which can keep secret the classified information supplied by the administration are the proper panels for an investigation.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice reinforced that position yesterday, saying the administration worries "about anything that would take place outside of the intelligence committees."
Miss Rice said ongoing FBI investigations shouldn't be jeopardized by information "spread to the first pages of the newspapers."


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