- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 1, 2003

Officials of the blue-ribbon commission set up to investigate the September 11 attacks will be questioned at its meeting today about a decision to let federal officials screen materials before releasing them to commission members.
One commissioner, and representatives of the families of the more than 3,000 killed in the attacks, are concerned that Justice Department officials were allowed to review transcripts of congressional testimony, before deciding whether commissioners should see them.
"There's no entity that should be going through the basic material that the commission is to review and filtering it to decide if or when we should be able to see it," commission member and former Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, told United Press International. "By statute, we are entitled to that information."
The transcripts at issue are of sessions of the special joint inquiry by House and Senate intelligence committees into the institutional and other failures that allowed 19 members of al Qaeda terror network to enter the country, hijack planes and crash them into buildings in New York and just outside Washington.
Although the joint-inquiry sessions were closed for national security reasons, all the commission members have security clearances.
Mr. Roemer was present at the congressional hearings as a member of the House intelligence committee.
All the documents were released to the commissioners yesterday after a five-day period, but Kristen Breitweizer, a representative of the families, said the delay is still the cause of concern for them.
"Our problem was the delay," she said. "Why did the Justice Department need five days? They've had months to look at those transcripts."
Mr. Roemer said he is worried that commission officials, by striking a deal with the administration to allow documents to be reviewed before their release to the commission, have set a dangerous precedent.
"That's just not the way we should be conducting this inquiry," he said, adding that "it weakens the position of the commission both politically and symbolically in future negotiations. If people can negotiate this kind of delay to existing information … which we should have complete and full access to, how are we going to get new information?"
Miss Breitweizer agreed there are worrisome implications for the future.
"This is not the last time that the commission is going to be asking for documents," she said. "If everyone expects that they can force delay by putting up a fight, it is going to impede the commission's work."
Al Felzenberg, the commission spokesman, said federal officials asked for, and were granted, the chance to review the documents "as a courtesy."
"We don't think that a delay of five to seven days is an excessive burden on the commission," he said. He said commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, former Republican governor of New Jersey, "thought that was appropriate. … This is not unusual in government."
"I don't think this is a setback," Mr. Felzenberg said.
Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock agreed, saying, "The vast majority of documents were released to the commission without any delay."
She said the documents that were delayed needed to be reviewed "in case they raised any privilege issues."

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