White House to turn over Clinton papers

Administration officials had withheld documents from commission on 9/11

April 03, 2004|By Josh Meyer | Josh Meyer,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - In its second high-profile turnabout of the week, the Bush administration agreed yesterday to give the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks full access to the papers of former President Bill Clinton.

The decision came after commission officials pressed the White House to turn over thousands of pages of documents that had been shipped from the former president's archives for review by the commission.

The White House received 11,000 pages of Clinton documents, but turned over less than 25 percent of them to the commission despite repeated requests for all of them, according to commission officials and a top aide to the former president.

The commission's lawyers will begin reviewing the material Monday and should know within a day and a half if additional documents should be released, said commission spokesman Al Felzenberg. The panel isn't making prejudgments until then, he said.

"There's a lot of paper flying around," Felzenberg said. "We'll know quickly if there are materials we should have or if they are duplicates."

The decision to release all the Clinton papers came two days after President Bush announced that White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice would testify publicly before the commission. The decision on Rice's testimony, which is set for Thursday, came after weeks of pressure by the panel. Senior Bush administration officials had refused, noting her role as a confidential adviser to the president.

Rice is expected to be asked about claims by Richard A. Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism chief, that Bush underestimated the threat of terrorism in the months before the attacks and that the war on terrorism had been hampered by Bush's insistence on waging war in Iraq.

White House officials confirmed Thursday that they had withheld the Clinton-era documents, but did so because some were duplicative or unresponsive to the commission's request for information. Others were considered highly sensitive.

Yesterday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said any suggestion that the Bush administration was not cooperating with the commission "is simply ridiculous."

"If the commission now wants to go back and verify that some documents are duplicative or nonresponsive to their request, then we are more than happy to work with the commission so that they can do so," McClellan said.

Commission spokesman Felzenberg said hours later that the panel had been granted full and free access to all 11,000 items.

"We're asking for everything they have, to see it ourselves and that's what they granted us, so we can ascertain for ourselves what's relevant," a commission official said on condition of anonymity. White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the administration was not reversing course but merely was trying to accommodate a new and broader request for documents made Thursday by the Sept. 11 commission, spurred by complaints from Bruce Lindsey, director of the Clinton Presidential Library and Archives in Little Rock, Ark., that the papers had not been forwarded.

Lindsey, a longtime Clinton confidant and the former president's legal representative for documents, disagreed with Duffy. He said he has complained for months that the commission needs the entire set of documents to get a full and accurate picture of the Clinton administration's counterterrorism policies.

"Yesterday the commission didn't have access to the documents," Lindsey said. "Today they have access to the documents. I think that speaks for itself."

The commission had asked the White House to be an intermediary, because only a sitting administration and Congress can access a prior administration's archives during the first five years after leaving office.

Commission officials and Lindsey said they had no reason to think the White House was intentionally withholding specific information.

The mostly classified materials refer to discussions among senior Clinton officials about counterterrorism, intelligence, law enforcement and foreign policy matters. The commission had requested them as part of its effort to investigate how Sept. 11 occurred and what might be done to shore up the nation's defense against future attacks.

The commission, formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, is required to complete its investigation and issue its report by July 26.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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