President opposes special commission on pre-Sept. 11

Friday, May 24, 2002

BERLIN -- President Bush wants congressional intelligence committee members, not a special commission, to investigate how the government dealt with terror warnings before Sept. 11, saying the lawmakers know the importance of keeping the nation's secrets.

The Senate and House intelligence committees "understand the obligations of upholding our secrets and our sources and methods of collecting intelligence," Bush said Thursday. "Therefore, I think that's the best place for Congress to take a good look at the events leading up to Sept. 11."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and others, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have called for a special commission to conduct the investigation, along with the intelligence committees, which have already begun their own joint inquiry. McCain said Thursday he hoped the Senate would vote on the special commission shortly after next week's Memorial Day recess.

During a news conference with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on the first stop of a four-nation European trip, Bush also expressed reservations about releasing a memo he received last August that carried a warning that Islamic extremists might try to hijack an airliner.

"We're still at war," the president said. "We've still got threats to the homeland that we've got to deal with, and it's very important for us not to hamper our ability to wage that war." He said it is important to act in a manner that does not jeopardize intelligence-gathering.

Recent revelations about advance intelligence that terrorists might hijack an airplane have not shaken Bush's faith in the CIA and FBI.

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said Thursday he hopes Bush can be persuaded an independent commission "is the right thing to do."

"We will do nothing but gain from having an independent commission ... get the facts out on the table for the American people so that we can all do better the next time something like this happens," Gephardt said at a news conference.

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