Pressure is growing for Jamie S. Gorelick to resign from the September 11 commission for what the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has called “an inherent conflict of interest.”
Ms. Gorelick, who served in the No. 2 position in the Clinton Justice Department under Attorney General Janet Reno, was the author of a 1995 directive to the FBI, which repeatedly has been cited in testimony as a major hindrance to antiterrorism efforts prior to the 2001 attacks.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, said yesterday he thinks “the commission’s work and independence will be fatally damaged by the continued participation of Ms. Gorelick as a commissioner.”
“Commissioner Gorelick is in the unfair position of trying to address the key issue before the commission when her own actions are central to the events at issue,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “The public cannot help but ask legitimate questions about her motives.
“Testifying before the commission is Ms. Gorelick’s proper role, not sitting as a member of this independent commission,” he said.
The Gorelick directive is credited with thickening the “wall” that prevented federal prosecutors and counterterrorism agents from communicating even though their separate investigations could help catch terrorists.
“These procedures, which go beyond what is legally required, will prevent any risk of creating an unwarranted appearance that [federal law] is being used to avoid procedural safeguards which would apply in a criminal investigation,” Ms. Gorelick wrote in the previously secret memo.
Appearing on CNN’s “Larry King Live” last night, Ms. Gorelick said, “All of the commission members have some government experience. Everyone is subject to the same recusal policies. You could have had a commission with nobody who knew anything about government. And I don’t think it would have been a very helpful commission.”
Attorney General John Ashcroft declassified the four-page document just before his testimony to the commission on Tuesday to help make his point that Ms. Gorelick’s directive created “draconian barriers” to uncovering the September 11 plot.
“If the commission doesn’t take this issue seriously, undoubtedly a large segment of the American people will see its findings as incomplete and partisan,” said Mark Levin, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, which also has demanded that Ms. Gorelick step down.
Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton both dismissed the calls for resignation.
“Of course not. That’s a silly thing,” said Mr. Kean, who said Ms. Gorelick has followed the same rules as every other commission member and has, in fact, been one of the most “nonpartisan” members.
Ms. Gorelick was appointed to the commission by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, and former House Democratic leader and presidential candidate Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri.
She has been criticized by Republicans for what they see as the partisan tone of her questioning of witnesses from the Bush administration.
During the testimony of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice last week, Ms. Gorelick characterized the White House’s attempts to coordinate intelligence gathering as “feckless” and argued with Miss Rice’s contention that President Bush put the federal government at their “battle stations” when terrorist chatter increased in summer 2001.
Ms. Gorelick took as much time making comments and asking questions as Miss Rice did answering them and finished her session with Miss Rice by saying that “the debate will continue” over whether the Clinton or Bush administrations better thwarted terrorist attacks.
In an interview on Sean Hannity’s national radio show yesterday, Mr. Ashcroft also suggested that Ms. Gorelick should resign from the commission
“I think that individuals who are the actors whose policies are under inspection and judgment probably should not sit as judges in those cases,” Mr. Ashcroft said.
Failure to remove her from the commission, he said, will leave people questioning its standards when the final report is released in July.
The commission “has to decide what kind of standards it’s going to have,” Mr. Ashcroft said. “Whether it’s going to have standards that would reflect a disaffection for those kinds of conflicts or whether it is going to ignore” the conflict.
Mr. Ashcroft said yesterday he declassified the Gorelick memo because he felt the other commission members “ought to know.”
“It was a fact that had simply not been made known,” he said.
Indeed, the first commissioner to question Mr. Ashcroft, former Republican Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, asked to see a copy of the memo on Tuesday.
Ms. Gorelick recused herself this week from questioning her former boss, Miss Reno, and former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, who had to abide by her directive in 1995. But she gave no hint that the memo’s revelation would cause a conflict of interest.
“As my colleagues know, the vast preponderance of our work, including with regard to the Department of Justice, focuses on the period of 1998 forward, and I have been and will continue to be a full participant in that work,” she said during Tuesday’s hearing.
Mr. Levin said her continued participation “taints the whole process.”
“The commission wasn’t even aware of her memo until John Ashcroft revealed it,” Mr. Levin said. “She is hopelessly conflicted.
“The fact that she’s a commissioner insulates her from scrutiny, and that’s the problem,” he said. “She should not be a commission member, she should be a star witness.”
Ms. Gorelick suggested that if Mr. Ashcroft was so concerned about the restrictions placed by her policy, he had an opportunity to change it before the attacks, but did not.
“My successor [as deputy attorney general] wrote a memo before 9/11 in August of 2001 leaving those policies in place,” Ms. Gorelick said on CNN Tuesday night. “[Commission member] Slade Gorton pointed out in his exchange with John Ashcroft, a fairly tough exchange, I might say, that in the four areas that Attorney General Ashcroft says were problematic and that he inherited, he left three of them in place.”
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.