Until now, I’ve followed the 9/11 Commission hearings both with rapt attention and also with tremendous admiration for the tenacity and frankness of its members in their questioning of hitherto untouchable government bureacrats.
I’ve also admired the Commission members’ use of the media to advance the Commission’s goals. They, and those 9/11 survivor families supporting the Commission’s work, have realized that the only way to goad balky bureacrats into cooperation (remember Bush refused to authorize the Commission for over a year!) is by going “over their heads” to the American people. And the only way to do that is through the media.
But the Commission’s negotiation with President Bush about his testimony allowed him to pull the wraps over his testimony and bury it (for what little coverage there is see Bush and Cheney Tell 9/11 Panel of ’01 Warnings).
9/11 Commission arriving at White
House for Bush-Cheney testimony
(credit: Doug Mills/New York Times)
Who knows what he said? Who knows what questions were asked? Will we ever know? Thanks to this negotiation Bush got to testify on his home turf (the White House), NOT under oath, without producing a record of the testimony, and with his best buddy, Dick Cheney.
This last I thought was particulary pathetic. Does anyone think any of our recent Presidents would’ve insisted on having their VPs “tag along” for such a session? Nixon, Reagan, Clinton? Of course not. Doing so would’ve made them look small and very unpresidential. But I think Bush and his handlers realized that the very real danger of Bush looking like the vapid, empty vessel he is during such solo testimony outweighed any diminishment he’d experience by testifying with Cheney, who’s much more experienced, after all, at testifying before Congressional hearings and other such venues. For a hilarious sendup of Bush’s strategy in dealing with the Commission, see Maureen Dowd’s brilliant, Charlie McCarthy Hearings.
This is the only time that the Commission has allowed witnesses to “get the better of it” and I, for one, feel very unsatisfied by the result.