- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2004

The commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks said yesterday it had completed its review of top secret White House papers, and voted not to issue a subpoena for them.

A subcommittee of the commission, composed of three of its 10 members and their staff director, submitted a report to the full commission on the so-called Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) — a roundup of the most serious threats to the nation provided to the chief executive every morning by the intelligence community.

The subcommittee said they had seen all PDBs relevant to the terror threat and al Qaeda from both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

But some members were unhappy that the wording of the subcommittee’s report on the documents was approved by the White House before it went to the commission.

“I’m disappointed that we agreed to let the White House have a veto on this important information,” former Rep. Tim Roemer, Indiana Democrat, told United Press International. He said the proposal to subpoena the whole text of the PDBs had been voted down.

“How can we make judgments based on a tantalizing glimpse, based on a report that’s been filtered and edited and vetted by the White House?” he asked.

Some relatives of the victims of the attacks said they were outraged at the commission’s decision.

“The fix is in,” said Kristen Breitweizer, who lost her husband, Ron, in the World Trade Center, “the majority on the commission has caved and now the public will probably never know what the president knew and when he knew it.”

Last year, administration officials acknowledged than an August 2001 PDB had warned that al Qaeda terrorists might try to hijack U.S. aircraft.

Phillip Zelikow, the commission’s staff director and one of the four members of the subcommittee, said that they had “extracted what we thought was really important information [from the PDBs] and produced a comprehensive report for the commission.”

He said the subcommittee had been at work since November, when the deal to allow limited access to the PDBs was originally reached with the White House, and had finished Monday.

Mr. Zelikow said there had been “back and forth” with White House officials over the wording of the final report. “There was a difference of view about how much information from these documents should be reported back to the commission.”

Prior to the deal with the commission, many in the administration argued that the White House should claim executive privilege over the PDBs, saying that releasing them to an inquiry — even one whose members and staff all had the necessary security clearance — would have a chilling effect on the president’s ability to get candid advice.

“They made some very hard choices,” Mr. Zelikow said of the White House. “This was a much more detailed report than they expected.”

He acknowledged that the subcommittee, too, had made compromises, but declined to go into more detail, saying they involved mainly a matter of the form or way the information was presented.

“We developed a report, the White House raised some issues with it, but we were able to address them in a way that [the subcommittee] was satisfied with.”

Mr. Zelikow said that White House officials’ concerns were nonpolitical. “They fought just as hard over the Clinton material,” he said.

He said that the discussions about that August 2001 PDB had been “some of the easiest” they had had with the White House.

“Everyone is aware of the intense public interest” in that document, he said, adding that “exactly how that threat was depicted is key. … We tried to capture the precise form in which the warnings were issued.”

He declined to say whether that included the use of verbatim quotes from the document.

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