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President Bush Agrees to Give 09/11 Commission More Time

Aired February 5, 2004 - 07:32   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: We want to get back to the whole question of 9/11. It was news again yesterday from the White House. The independent commission now has until late July to complete its work after the White House heeded a plea for more time. They'll get it, about two more months, in fact.
Reaction in a moment from the widow of a 9/11 victim.

But first from the White House this morning, here's Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After resisting the idea for months, President Bush has agreed to give the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks more time to do its job.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is pleased to support the commission's request and we urge Congress to act quickly to extend the timetable for an additional 60 days for the commission to complete its work.

MALVEAUX: Last week, the commission's leadership formally asked Congress and the White House to extend their deadline until late July, to hold hearings and submit its report. The administration balked, sources say because the White House feared damaging information could be released just four months before election day.

But many Republicans on the Hill were inclined to support the commission's request for a two month extension and the families of 9/11 victims were lobbying to push the deadline beyond that into 2005.

KRISTEN BREITWEISER, FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE: We don't care about politics. We never did. What we care about is finding out why this nation was so vulnerable to terrorists on the morning of 9/11. What we care about is making sure that something like that never happens again.

MALVEAUX: A bipartisan group of law makers proposed allowing the commission to release its findings on its own timetable before next year. One warned against candidates using a final report for political gain.

REP. VITO FOSSELLA, (R), NEW YORK: To those who view this vehicle or commission's work as, again, a political pawn in a game to be used in the presidential election, the American people are watching. The victims' families are watching. MALVEAUX: Others pushed the administration to cooperate fully with the panel.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: Getting it done right is far more important than following any arbitrary deadline and any delays that the commission has experienced we hope will end and we hope they will have access to all the information they need.

MALVEAUX (on camera): Commission sources say National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice will be interviewed by the 9/11 commission on Saturday and that negotiations have already begun for private interviews with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, former President Clinton and former Vice President Gore.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.


HEMMER: You saw Kristen Breitweiser in that story from Suzanne.

She's a member of the family steering committee for the 9/11 commission.

Her husband Ron was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Kristen is with us now this morning to talk about what we have now in D.C.

Kirsten, welcome back.


HEMMER: Nice to see you again.

Two more months, a positive development?

BREITWEISER: You know, I think it's a step in the right direction, but the families feel that there's more time needed than just two months. The commission has a legislative mandate, by law. They have to meet the requirements in that mandate. To do anything else is unconscionable, it's negligence.

The families feel that January 2005 will give this commission the time it needs to access all the documents, if that needs to be done with a subpoena and the subpoena needs to be fought in court...

HEMMER: So right now the deadline goes to the end of July and you're saying if you take it to January, you'll get what done in that time that you can't get done between now and the end of July?

BREITWEISER: Well, we're hopeful that with the additional time built in, if a subpoena is necessary, there will be time to fight that subpoena in court. You remove the clock, the playing of the clock, basically, and it keeps the subpoena with teeth, which is necessary in this case because we are not getting access to the presidential daily briefings. The commission as a whole do not have access to those briefings. In fact, the commission is contemplating subpoenaing their own notes, which is unacceptable.

In addition, we were promised public hearings with high ranking officials under oath. The commission has had to cancel those hearings due to time constraints. We want to see the individuals that were running this country that morning under oath in a public hearing. It's important for a number of reasons.

Number one, it will restore confidence in the American people. Our nation was shaped to -- shook to its very core on the morning of September 11. These people need to come forward and restore our confidence. Let us know that we're back on track. Let us know that these problems have been fixed. And that's why the public hearings are important.

Access to this information is important, access to these witnesses. If people are not willing to testify under oath, use a subpoena.

HEMMER: Let me stop you on a few things here.

You've won access to the presidential daily briefings. What do you think is in there that will give you answers?

BREITWEISER: I think we have a pretty good idea of what is in there from the joint inquiry's report, the congressional inquiry that looked into 9/11. With particular note towards the words said by Condoleezza Rice in May of 2002, that she had no idea that planes could be used as missiles. Apparently the historical record is replete with instances of the intel community, the Pentagon, the State Department knowing that planes could be used...

HEMMER: Now, some people, Kristen, on the committee have seen these briefings, one or two at least, right? Is it possibly more than that?

BREITWEISER: I believe it's just one or two, according to news accounts.

HEMMER: Yes, why is that not satisfactory? Why do you want everyone to have a look and why not just trust their judgment?

BREITWEISER: Because this is a commission of 10 individuals and 10 individuals need to write this final report. So it's important for all of those people to gain access to all of the information that needs to be discussed, recommendations made from. You can't just have one or two individuals. All commissioners need full, unfettered access to the presidential daily briefings and to all witnesses.

HEMMER: Another question about Condoleezza Rice. She'll be questioned this Saturday. You say it should be public. It won't be at this point.

What would public -- how would that differ from being questioned in private, if eventually you have access to the transcripts and the questions and answers anyway?

BREITWEISER: We don't necessarily know that we will have access to what she will be saying on Saturday. She will not be placed under oath, which I find unacceptable and the families find unacceptable. She made a public statement to this nation, a statement that indicates that, for whatever reason, the vital flow of information from our intel community to the National Security Council and to the president failed us leading up to 9/11 and on the morning of 9/11. She made that statement public. She brought this into this investigation and she should answer that to the public to restore our confidence that we know that this intel information is flowing properly.

HEMMER: How are you doing?

BREITWEISER: You know, I'm frustrated. I don't understand why we all do not share the same mission, which is to make this nation safe. And I don't understand why this commission has had roadblock after roadblock after roadblock. And we all want this nation to be safe. And I think because it's an election year, that's ridiculous. We should be safe here, not because it's an election year, not because people are embarrassed. We need to fix these problems, problems that have been made readily apparent in hearings. People need to care about this. They need to call their congressmen. They need to support the legislation with Senator McCain and Lieberman and Congressman Facella (ph) for a January 2005 extension.

HEMMER: Thanks, Kristen.

Kirsten Breitweiser with us this morning.



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