Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop will be meeting with the 9/11 commission later today…
It would have been a pleasure to be able to congratulate President Bush on his openness in agreeing to sit down today with the independent commission on the 9/11 attacks and answer questions. Unfortunately, Mr. Bush conditioned his cooperation on stipulations that range from the questionable to the ridiculous.
The strangest of the president’s conditions is that he will testify only in concert with Vice President Dick Cheney. The White House has given no sensible reason for why Mr. Bush is unwilling to appear alone. (When asked at his recent press conference, the president gave one of his patented nonresponses: “Because it’s a good chance for both of us to answer questions that the 9/11 commission is looking forward to asking us, and I’m looking forward to answering them.”)
Given the White House’s concern for portraying Mr. Bush as a strong leader, it’s remarkable that this critical appearance is being structured in a way that is certain to provide fodder for late-night comedians, who enjoy depicting him as the docile puppet of his vice president.
Mr. Bush’s reluctant and restrictive cooperation with the panel is consistent with the administration’s pattern of stonewalling reasonable requests for documents and testimony and then giving up only the minimum necessary ground when the dispute becomes public. Today’s testimony will be in private in the White House, away from reporters or television cameras. The session will not be recorded, and there will be no formal transcript. The president’s aides have defended this excessive degree of secrecy with the usual arguments about protecting highly classified information and not wanting to establish dangerous precedents.
The idea that the panel may wring from Mr. Bush some comment that may endanger national security is ridiculous. The commission, led by the respected former Republican governor of New Jersey, Thomas Kean, has already heard, in public, from the leaders of the nation’s top intelligence agencies, the secretary of defense and Mr. Bush’s national security adviser. It seems highly unlikely that the president knows secrets more sensitive than they do. If he did, he would certainly be free to go off the record while discussing them.
The president’s aides have also been arguing that making the event anything more than a “meeting” or informal discussion would establish a pattern that future chief executives would be forced to follow. That is true, in a way. If Mr. Bush or any of his successors have the tragic misfortune to be in command at a time when terrorists strike the country, killing thousands of innocent civilians, they should be expected to cooperate with the official investigations, and to do so in a way that puts their statements on the record and into history.
Remember Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop? I’ll leave up to your imagination as to which is Bush and which is Cheney.