Anatomy of a stonewall

The 9/11 commission only has until May to complete its report, and they’ve apparently grown so frustrated with the Bushies that they’ve gone public with their complaints. According to an article in today’s Times:

The panel also said the failure of the Bush administration to allow officials to be interviewed without the presence of government colleagues could impede its investigation, with the commission’s chairman suggesting today that the situation amounted to “intimidation” of the witnesses.

In what they acknowledged was an effort to bring public pressure on the White House to meet the panel’s demands for classified information, the commission’s Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman released a statement, declaring that they had received only a small part of the millions of sensitive government documents they have requested from the executive branch.

While praising President Bush and top aides for their personal commitment to the panel’s work, the commission’s leaders — the chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee H. Hamilton, the former Democratic member of the House from Indiana — said that federal agencies under Mr. Bush’s control were not cooperating quickly or fully.

That last bit is the sort of thing people in political life have to say, much like praising “my good friend from across the aisle,” before detailing the ways in which he is a scum-sucking reprobate actively seeking to destroy all that is good about America.

The truth is, the Bushies are stonewalling and the commission is apparently growing frustrated.

Mr. Kean and Mr. Hamilton suggested that the Justice Department was behind a directive barring intelligence officials from being interviewed by the panel without the presence of agency colleagues.

At a news conference, Mr. Kean described the presence of “minders” at the interviews as a form of intimidation. “I think the commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency,” he said. “You might get less testimony than you would.”

If you have access to the print edition of yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, there’s a much better article (not online, sadly) on the same subject, in which we learn or are reminded:

— At the White House’s insistence, an adviser to Ashcroft is reviewing all commission requests for documents and interviews;

— The commission is required by law to build on a classified report of a Congressional inquiry into intelligence agencies, access to which the White House was blocking until two months ago;

— Bush successfully opposed the creation of the commission for more than a year;

— The commission wanted 24 months to complete its task; after negotiations with the White House, which insisted on 12, a compromise of 18 months was reached;

— The White House insisted that subpeonas could only be issued with the approval of six of ten of the commissioners (meaning that a split on party lines would block any subpeona);

— The White House has been trying to dissuade the commission from pushing for access to daily briefing memos to the President from the CIA and minutes of meetings from the National Security Council;

— There was no allocation for the commission in the White House budget announced in March; members had to apply pressure and even then the White House budgeted $2 million less than requested (Congress later appropriated the full amount);

— The commission’s executive director, Philip Zekilow, has close ties to the Bush White House, having served under the first President Bush, co-written a book with Condaleeza Rice, and serving on the current President’s transition team and his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board;

— And of course, let us not forget Bush’s first choice to head the commission: that paragon of honesty and open government, Henry Freaking Kissinger. (Yes, that’s his middle name. I’ll bet you did not know that.)

And finally, there’s this:

Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governer of New Jersey who serves as chairman of the commission, says that he intends to meet the deadline next May, although it will be difficult. He has ruled out asking for an extension because, he says, “the White House has made it known that they don’t want it to go into the election period.”

Now, in terms of civil liberties, this administration seems to have taken to heart the notion that “the innocent have nothing to hide.” So…I wonder what they have to hide…?

Update: Lisa takes a stroll down memory lane:

Remember back before the war, when UN investigators were questioning Iraqi scientists? Remember how it was that the US made such a stink about being able to interview the scientists without official Iraqis present? Sure you do.

Back then, the Bush administration claimed that Saddam Hussein was intimidating these scientists into spouting the official government line. In fact, the US went so far as to demand that questioning be continued outside of Iraq, where Saddam would be less likely to influence what the scientists had to say.

Well, in another administration example of the Pot Calling the Kettle Black, we learn that the commission charged with investigating the circumstances that brought us 9/11, are having one heck of a time getting information out of folks associated with OUR government, and for similar reason.

Seems some executive branch agencies are rather insistent that anyone who speaks with the commission, speak only with an administration handler sitting nearby, Saddam-style, as it were.