Sept. 11 chairman says not to blame Clinton or Bush teams

Friday, December 19, 2003

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of a federal commission looking into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said Thursday that mistakes over many years left the United States vulnerable to such an attack, but he resisted pinning blame on either of the last two presidential teams.

"We have no evidence that anybody high in the Clinton administration or the Bush administration did anything wrong," chairman Thomas Kean said in an interview with ABC's "Nightline" taped for airing Thursday night.

Kean said the 10-member National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has not decided whether to ask former President Clinton or President Bush to testify. He also said that any conclusions about the performance of high-level officials "will be reached when we are finished with our job, not now."

Kean sought to clarify remarks attributed to him in a CBS News report that aired Wednesday.

In the CBS interview, Kean said the commission's report, due May 27, will detail "what wasn't done and what should have be done" to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He added, "There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed."

CBS reported that Kean's comments constituted "pointing fingers inside the (Bush) administration and laying blame."

On Thursday, Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark labeled Kean's statements "disturbing" and said they showed the Bush administration could have done more to protect America from a terrorist attack.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., said Kean's comments meant "that Bush administration officials had valuable information that could have prevented the terrorist attacks."

But Kean said in Thursday's interview that he did not mean to suggest that certain federal officials should have been fired after Sept. 11. He said he was commenting on obvious mistakes that were made, such as letting terrorists into the country and letting dangerous items onto planes.

"There are a number of steps along the way, that if they had occurred differently, this event wouldn't have occurred," he said.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said he reviewed the CBS report and did not believe Kean leveled accusations against the Bush administration.

"There is nothing that we have seen that leads us to believe that Sept. 11 could have been prevented," McClellan said.

Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, was appointed by Bush to lead the bipartisan commission.

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