Friday, April 16, 2004

Congressional Democrats yesterday defended Jamie S. Gorelick’s position on the September 11 commission, one day after a leading House Republican called for her resignation.

Several top Democratic leaders cited the continued support of Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, in stating their support for Ms. Gorelick.

“The senator agrees with Chairman Kean,” said David Smith, spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. Ms. Gorelick “is a distinguished member of the commission and the senator has every confidence that, if necessary, she will recuse herself from those particular aspects of the commission’s work” that pertain to her earlier Justice Department role in the Clinton administration.

On Wednesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. called for her resignation from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.

The Wisconsin Republican’s demand came after it was revealed that Ms. Gorelick, as the No. 2 official in the Clinton Justice Department, was the author of a 1995 directive to the FBI that has been blamed during the hearings for hindering antiterrorism efforts by the U.S. government.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, who declassified the four-page memo before testifying this week, said the Gorelick directive created “draconian barriers” to uncovering the September 11 plot.

“The commission’s work and independence will be fatally damaged by the continued participation of Ms. Gorelick as a commissioner,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said Wednesday. “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.”

Ms. Gorelick’s selection to the September 11 commission was “highly problematic” from the start, said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

“It’s hard to see how she can review systemic failures in intelligence, when she held a high-ranking position in the prior administration and played a role in intelligence matters,” Mr. Turley said yesterday. “Not only is there a strong suggestion of conflict [of interest], there is an overwhelming appearance of conflict.”

One top Republican aide on Capitol Hill said many Republicans share Mr. Sensenbrenner’s concerns about Ms. Gorelick. However, the staffer said, he didn’t expect them to express much outrage over the situation until they return next week after a recess.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, who is Mr. Sensenbrenner’s counterpart in the Senate, defended Ms. Gorelick.

“I know and respect Jamie Gorelick,” he said. “I trust she will do the right thing regarding any conflict of interest or appearance of conflict of interest regarding her continuing service on the 9/11 commission.”

A spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said her boss “agrees with Chairman Kean that the attacks are baseless, and he supports Gorelick.”

Geoffrey Hazard Jr., a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said criticism of Ms. Gorelick’s position on the September 11 panel is overblown.

“It was well known she’d been deputy attorney general [during the Clinton administration]. And if that was so awful, it should have been awful from Day One,” when she was named to the commission, said Mr. Hazard.

He questioned why Ms. Gorelick should be singled out for removal. “There are a lot of people on that panel who could have some responsibility [for failures preceding the attacks], such as former U.S. senators and congressmen,” Mr. Hazard said.

The man who appointed Ms. Gorelick to the commission, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, has avoided stepping into the fray. He has maintained a low profile on Capitol Hill since dropping out early in the race for his party’s presidential nomination.

Mr. Gephardt appointed Mr. Gorelick when he was House minority leader. His spokeswoman, Loren Raszick, did not return several phone calls yesterday seeking comment about Ms. Gorelick’s service on the commission.

Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and deputy majority whip, sent the commission chairman a letter Wednesday criticizing the panel for becoming overly politicized.

In his letter, Mr. Cantor asked Mr. Kean why so many commissioners are giving interviews “sharing opinions before the investigation has been completed.”

“Unfortunately, the recent tone of the Commission has become that of opportunism and assigning blame,” Mr. Cantor wrote. “The Commission has been asked to be judges of our preparation for and response to the 9/11 attacks, not to be advocates, shills or ideologues for a cause or party.”

“It is my hope that the Commission will not remain hijacked by politics,” he added. “Americans died on September 11, 2001, and more have died since trying to protect America. Ideological demagoguery must not replace the Commission’s duty to do everything possible to examine the complete responses of both Presidents Clinton and Bush to worldwide terrorism.”

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