White House Holds Back Clinton Papers
Former President's Aide Says 9/11 Panel May Lack Full View of Anti-Terror Effort

By Dan Eggen and Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, April 2, 2004; Page A02

The White House has not turned over thousands of pages of documents from the Clinton administration to a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even though the records are relevant to the panel's mission, one of Clinton's attorneys said yesterday.

Bruce R. Lindsey, who represents the former president on records issues, said yesterday that the Bush administration has turned over about 25 percent of the nearly 11,000 pages of Clinton records that document custodians had determined should be released to the commission investigating the terrorist attacks. Lindsey said that, as a result, the commission may not have a full picture of the Clinton administration's anti-terrorism efforts.

"I was concerned that the commission was making findings of fact based on an incomplete record," Lindsey said.

White House spokesman Sean McCormack said documents that have not been turned over are not relevant to the inquiry. "We're applying the same standards to documents from our administration and from the Clinton administration," he said.

Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, said the panel's executive director, Philip D. Zelikow, and staff counsel Daniel Marcus were aware of the problem and are negotiating with the White House. He said there may be a range of explanations, from duplicate records to disagreements about the relevance of some records.

"It may well be that everything has not made its way to us, but there may be a good reason or reasons," Felzenberg said.

Presidential records are sealed by law for five years after a president leaves office, but an exception was made to allow the panel access to the documents.

Lindsey's comments came on the same day the commission officially scheduled national security adviser Condoleezza Rice's public testimony before the panel for Thursday. White House attorneys had refused for weeks to allow Rice to testify publicly and under oath, but capitulated in an agreement reached Tuesday.

Rice is expected to be questioned closely about disagreements between her and Richard A. Clarke, her former aide, who told the commission on March 24 that the Bush administration did not move urgently before Sept. 11, 2001, to address warnings of a major terrorist attack and was later distracted from battling terrorism by the war in Iraq.

Zelikow said in an interview last night that he first notified the White House of the problem in February but that "we don't have answers yet." He said that although some of the documents are duplicates, many others were withheld because Bush lawyers decided they were "not responsive" to the commission's requests.

He said commission staff members have identified two examples of documents from the Clinton years that were relevant to the Sept. 11 inquiry but were not turned over. Those documents did not substantively change any of the panel's conclusions so far, Zelikow said.

Also yesterday, several commission members dismissed complaints from Democratic lawmakers and family members of terrorist attack victims that two Republican commissioners spoke with the White House's chief lawyer last week on the day that Clarke testified.

Commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican New Jersey governor, said that the two GOP panel members, Fred F. Fielding and James R. Thompson, have each served as liaisons with the White House and that their roles are well-known to the rest of the 10-member bipartisan panel.

Two Democratic commissioners, former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste and former Indiana congressman Timothy J. Roemer, also said they would not be concerned about such contacts. Several commission sources said that some Democratic members have had similar contacts with lawmakers from their party.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, complained in a letter to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales on Wednesday that contacts between Gonzales's office and the two GOP commissioners on March 24 would be improper because "the conduct of the White House is one of the key issues being investigated by the commission." Six House Democrats from New York sent a similar letter to the White House yesterday.

The Family Steering Committee, a group of relatives of Sept. 11 victims, said in a statement yesterday that the contacts "raise the concern that the independent and nonpartisan nature of the 9/11 Commission is being compromised."

Thompson has declined to comment on any contact with the White House but said, "I ask my own questions." Fielding has not returned repeated telephone calls seeking comment.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Waxman was trying "to politicize the 9/11 commission." He said: "Our counsel's office is in regular contact with the commission to make sure they have the information they need to do their job."

The White House refused yesterday to release the full text of a speech Rice had been scheduled to give on Sept. 11, 2001, saying the speech had not been delivered. The Washington Post, quoting former officials who have seen the text, reported yesterday that the speech was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups.

McClellan played down the significance of the speech, saying it was not a fair reflection of the full range of policy deliberations and actions on terrorism during the Bush administration's first months in office.

"We're talking about one speech here," McClellan told reporters. "Look at the actions and steps that we were taking prior to September 11. I think that's what you need to look at to measure our commitment to addressing this high priority."

Staff writer Robin Wright contributed to this report.

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