One of the Other Republican Cover-Ups

It’s strange how the recent revelation from Bob Woodward’s book about the July 2001 meeting between CIA director George Tenet and Condolleezza Rice has followed roughly the same script as the House GOP clusterfuck over the Mark Foley matter. At first, everyone involved (in this case, Rice, her staff, and the members of the 9/11 Commission) insisted that the meeting didn’t happen. Then somebody sticks to their guns and insists that there was a meeting. The blanket denials turn into “maybe there was a meeting, I don’t remember”. And now everyone agrees that there was a meeting after all. funny how abeing caught in a lie can jog the memory. The only question is, as TPM Muckraker asks, why weren’t we told about this before?

The meeting was first reported by Time magazine in August 2002, in its mammoth report, “Could 9/11 Have Been Prevented?”

The meeting was an opportunity for Tenet and Black to brief Rice on the al Qaeda threat, Time said, something Tenet was reportedly very concerned about. The magazine said the DCI’s message was that he ” couldn’t rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas.”

According to stories which appeared online last night, in January 2004 Tenet re-created the briefing for 9/11 panelist Richard Ben-Veniste, executive director Phil Zelikow, and professional staff for the panel. (Zelikow, who worked with Rice before joining the commission staff, is now a top aide to Rice.)

The meeting was reported again last week, this time by Bob Woodward in his new book, “State of Denial.” In it, he characterized Tenet’s message at the sit-down as: “First, al Qaeda is going to attack American interests, possibly within the United States itself. . . Second, this was a major foreign policy problem that needed to be addressed immediately.”

On the premise that Woodward’s book was the first time the meeting had been mentioned to him, 9/11 panelist Ben-Veniste told the New York Times that the meeting “was never mentioned to us.”

“This is certainly something we would have wanted to know about,” he told the paper.

When reporters confirmed Tenet’s January 2004 briefing with the 9/11 commission yesterday, the Democratic panelist changed his tune. “Ben-Veniste confirmed. . . that Tenet outlined for the 9/11 commission the July 10 briefing to Rice in secret testimony in January 2004,” McClatchy newspapers reported. But he wouldn’t comment further, referring all questions about the content of the report to Philip Zelikow. Zelikow has yet to comment.

It’s clear that the commission knew. Even if they didn’t read Time magazine, even if they didn’t search for news clips before digging in, they received a detailed briefing — staffers as well as Ben-Veniste. To date, no one has explained why the meeting wasn’t mentioned in the final report. Why not?

Well, as Ben-Veniste let slip in a recent interview with Wolf Blitzer, the Republican members of the 9/11 Commission have been covering-up the messy details for the Bush Administration :

BLITZER: So you the asked the president in the Oval Office — and the vice president — why didn’t you go after the Taliban in those eight months before 9/11 after he was president. What did he say?

BEN-VENISTE: Well, now that it was established that al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole bombing and the president was briefed in January of 2001, soon after he took office, by George Tenet, head of the CIA, telling him of the finding that al Qaeda was responsible, and I said, “Well, why wouldn’t you go after the Taliban in order to get them to kick bin Laden out of Afghanistan?”

Maybe, just maybe, who knows — we don’t know the answer to that question — but maybe that could have affected the 9/11 plot.

BLITZER: What did he say?

BEN-VENISTE: He said that no one had told him that we had made that threat. And I found that very discouraging and surprising.

BLITZER: Now, I read this report, the 9/11 Commission report. This is a big, thick book. I don’t see anything and I don’t remember seeing anything about this exchange that you had with the president in this report.

BEN-VENISTE: Well, I had hoped that we had — we would have made both the Clinton interview and the Bush interview a part of our report, but that was not to be. I was outvoted on that question.


BEN-VENISTE: I didn’t have the votes.

BLITZER: Well, was — were the Republican members trying to protect the president and the vice president? Is that what your suspicion is?

BEN-VENISTE: I think the question was that there was a degree of confidentiality associated with that and that we would take from that the output that is reflected in the report, but go no further. And that until some five years’ time after our work, we would keep that confidential. I thought we would be better to make all of the information that we had available to the public and make our report as transparent as possible so that the American public could have that.

So that’s the bipartisan “compromise” of the 9/11 Commission. The full scope of the Bush Administration’s lack of interest in protecting the nation prior to 9/11 wasn’t completely swept under the rug, it was just made “confidential” until Bush is out of office. The remarkable thing about Bob Woodward’s book isn’t just the revelations it contains but the fact that the GOP has done everything in their power to make sure you don’t hear about any of them until 2009. I wonder what other incriminating details the 9/11 Commission has been hiding because Democrats like Ben-Veniste were “outvoted”?