Book: Director of 9/11 commission secretly spoke with Rove, White House
Nick Juliano
Published: Thursday January 31, 2008 |
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Former NSC aide denies political meddling

A book to be published next month contains an explosive allegation sure to call into question the independence of the 9/11 Commission: Its executive director secretly spoke with President Bush's close adviser Karl Rove and others within the White House while the ostensibly autonomous commission was completing its report.

Philip Zelikow, a former colleague of then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, was appointed executive director of the 9/11 Commission despite his close ties to the Bush White House, and he remained in regular contact with Rove while overseeing the commission, according to New York Times reporter Philip Shenon's new book, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation. Shenon's book will not be released until Feb. 5, but author Max Holland purchased an audio copy of it at a New York bookstore and published a summary on his blog, Washington DeCoded.

"Shenon delivers a blistering account of Zelikow’s role and leadership, and an implicit criticism of the commissioners for appointing Zelikow in the first place—and then allowing him to stay on after his myriad conflicts-of-interest were revealed under oath," Holland writes.

Shenon, who led the Times coverage of the 9/11 Commission and still writes for the paper, based his book on myriad interviews with staffers and members of the commission, according to Holland. In addition to his ties to Rice and Rove, Zelikow had been the "architect" of a plan to demote Clinton-era counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, who sounded the alarm about Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda months before the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks they perpetrated.

Zelikow "had laid the groundwork for much of what went wrong at the White House in the weeks and months before September 11. Would he want people to know that?" Shenon writes, according to Holland's summary.

Shenon also reports that Zelikow received at least two calls from Rove while serving as 9/11 Commission executive director, and he made numerous calls to the White House, Holland says.

Zelikow has not denied speaking to Rove, but he apparently claimed their conversations involved his old job as director of the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs.

RAW STORY left messages at a phone and e-mail listing for Zelikow on the university's Web site Thursday morning; they were not immediately returned.

Criticism of Zelikow's ties to the Bush administration hounded him even as the commission was compiling its report, according to news archives.

"[C]ritics privately charge that Zelikow ... has deliberately soft-pedaled the inquiry to protect the administration, and in particular his close former colleague, national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, whom he helped to establish a new, streamlined structure for the Bush National Security Council during the transition," wrote Shaun Waterman in an April 2004 article in the American Prospect. "They accuse him of plotting behind the scenes with Bush political supremo Karl Rove."

Widows of World Trade Center victims demanded Zelikow resign around the same time, when news emerged that Zelikow had participated in Bush administration transition briefings, but the commission's chairmen defended their executive director.

"Because he was one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country, the same--they asked him to help the same reason we asked him to help," 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean said on Meet the Press then. "We haven't found, I think, either Vice Chairman [Lee] Hamilton or myself, any evidence to indicate in any way that he's partial to anybody or anything."

Critics scoffed at that justification.

"His academic career focused on Cold War issues, from the Cuban missile crisis to the fall of the Soviet Union.... He is certainly not among the world's 'foremost experts' on al-Qaida, a topic on which he appears to have written nothing," wrote Salon's Joe Conason, "and he is very unlikely to have briefed the new administration on that threat."

In the book to be published next month, Shenon reports that Zelikow had promised to cease all communications with Bush administration officials after taking the 9/11 commission job, but Zelikow told ABC News this was not the case. Furthermore, he denied trying to hide his connections to the Bush administration from commission members.

"It was very well-known I had served on this transition team and had declined to go into the administration. I worked there for a total of one month. I had interviewed Sandy Berger, Dick Clarke and most of the NSC staff," he told ABC, noting he recused himself from work on the Commission report dealing with the NSC transition.

According to Holland's summary of Shenon's book, though, this apparently was not the case:

"Zelikow continued to insert himself into the work of 'Team 3,' the task force responsible for the most politically-sensitive part of the investigation, counter-terrorism policy. This brief encompassed the White House, which meant investigating the conduct of Condoleeza Rice and Richard Clarke during the months prior to 9/11. Team 3 staffers would come to believe that Zelikow prevented them from submitting a report that would have depicted Rice’s performance as 'amount[ing] to incompetence, or something not far from it.'"