Commission “Brethren”
A little too friendly.


Byron York

What’s this “brother” thing going on among the members of the Sept. 11 investigating commission?

”You had a very interesting exchange with Brother Lehman,” said Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick to CIA Director George Tenet on April 14, referring to Republican Commissioner John Lehman.

“I’m going to sound like my brother Kerrey, which terrifies me somewhat,” said Republican commissioner Jim Thompson on April 8, referring to Democratic Commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former senator from Nebraska.

“As Brother MacGaffin said, this bias…has plagued us for years,” said former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre last Dec. 8, testifying alongside former top CIA official John MacGaffin.

And this, last Sunday, from Gorelick, writing in the Washington Post: “I intend–with my brethren on the commission–to finish the job.”

We should be happy that the commissioners and some of their sources are all getting along, but do they have to be quite so chummy?

The good-guy friendliness seems particularly strong in the case of Gorelick, who shouldn’t be on the commission in the first place, but whose selection for the panel has been vigorously defended by Republican Chairman Thomas Kean, a former New Jersey governor.

When Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D., S.D.) and then-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D., Mo.) selected Gorelick for the committee in December 2002, Gephardt said, of her and the other Democrats chosen for the job, “I can think of no individuals better suited to work on this project than the people we have announced today.”

The Daschle-Gephardt announcement also noted that Gorelick had, since 1997, been a member of the National Security Advisory Panel at the CIA.

Gorelick was also, of course, the No. 2 official in the Janet Reno Justice Department in the mid-1990s. And, though few remember it now, she was at one time on Bill Clinton’s short list to nominate as CIA director.

National Security Adviser Anthony Lake eventually got the nod, then dropped out after a contentious nomination fight. Tenet ultimately got the job.

At the Justice Department, Gorelick did a lot of work on the terrorism issue.

When she left, the department put out a press release saying, “One of Ms. Gorelick’s principal priorities was to help prepare the Justice Department to be able to respond effectively to the new challenges of transnational crime and terrorism. To do this, she forged new relationships and administrative protocols with the Departments of State, Treasury and Defense, and with the intelligence community.”

Republicans criticizing Gorelick’s selection for the commission have focused on what is now called the Wall–that is, the traditional barrier separating law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

It was the Wall that made it so difficult–nearly impossible, actually–for the agencies to share information about the Sept. 11 hijackers, which might have allowed the government to break up the plot.

In his testimony before the commission, Attorney General John Ashcroft charged that Gorelick, during her time at Justice, had made the Wall higher.

Maybe she did–and maybe she didn’t.

In September 1996, Legal Times reported that Gorelick was actually part of a Clinton administration initiative to lower the Wall.

Gorelick and her colleagues, Legal Times wrote, were “quietly breaking down the traditional barrier between domestic law enforcement and intelligence operations overseas.”

As part of that, Gorelick and Tenet, who was then the CIA’s deputy director, met every other week, the paper reported.

Whether or not Gorelick made the Wall higher, it seems certainly true that, despite the effort outlined in Legal Times, she did not make it lower, and it did play a significant role in pre-Sept. 11 intelligence gathering.

Gorelick defends herself by arguing, correctly, that she didn’t build the Wall in the first place. She also argues, correctly, that a lot of Republicans over the years have abided by the same guidelines she did.

But that’s not the issue.

Gorelick should not be on the commission not because she made the Wall higher or lower but because she was a major player in the government’s counterterrorism programs in the 1990s. As such, she is, in much of her work on the commission, investigating herself.

Small gestures such as recusing herself from Reno’s testimony aren’t enough to solve the problem.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Democrats haven’t shown much concern about conflicts of interest. After all, when Daschle and Gephardt chose Gorelick, they also appointed former Sen. Max Cleland (D., Ga.) to the commission.

Cleland has held a bitter grudge against President Bush and the Republican party since his defeat in the 2002 midterm elections. The only reason he is not on the commission today is that he instead accepted a job running the Export-Import Bank.

So it could have been worse.

As for Gorelick, it appears she won’t be going anywhere. When Republicans complained about her conflict, Kean rushed to her aid, saying, “People ought to stay out of our business.”

After all, what are brothers for?


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