8/20/2005

9/12/01 "We predicted it"

Commission warned Bush
But White House passed on recommendations by a bipartisan, Defense department-ordered commission on domestic terrorism.

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By Jake Tapper

Sept. 12, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- They went to great pains not to sound as though they were telling the president "We told you so."

But on Wednesday, two former senators, the bipartisan co-chairs of a Defense Department-chartered commission on national security, spoke with something between frustration and regret about how White House officials failed to embrace any of the recommendations to prevent acts of domestic terrorism delivered earlier this year.




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Bush administration officials told former Sens. Gary Hart, D-Colo., and Warren Rudman, R-N.H., that they preferred instead to put aside the recommendations issued in the January report by the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century. Instead, the White House announced in May that it would have Vice President Dick Cheney study the potential problem of domestic terrorism -- which the bipartisan group had already spent two and a half years studying -- while assigning responsibility for dealing with the issue to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, headed by former Bush campaign manager Joe Allbaugh.

The Hart-Rudman Commission had specifically recommended that the issue of terrorism was such a threat it needed far more than FEMA's attention.

Before the White House decided to go in its own direction, Congress seemed to be taking the commission's suggestions seriously, according to Hart and Rudman. "Frankly, the White House shut it down," Hart says. "The president said 'Please wait, we're going to turn this over to the vice president. We believe FEMA is competent to coordinate this effort.' And so Congress moved on to other things, like tax cuts and the issue of the day."

"We predicted it," Hart says of Tuesday's horrific events. "We said Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers -- that's a quote (from the commission's Phase One Report) from the fall of 1999."

On Tuesday, Hart says, as he sat watching TV coverage of the attacks, he experienced not just feelings of shock and horror, but also frustration. "I sat tearing my hair out," says the former two-term senator. "And still am."

Rudman generally agrees with Hart's assessment, but adds: "That's not to say that the administration was obstructing."

"They wanted to try something else, they wanted to put more responsibility with FEMA," Rudman says. "But they didn't get a chance to do very much" before terrorists struck on Tuesday.

The White House referred an inquiry to the National Security Council, which did not return a call for comment.

The bipartisan 14-member panel was put together in 1998 by then-President Bill Clinton and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., to make sweeping strategic recommendations on how the United States could ensure its security in the 21st century.

Salon.com Politics | "We predicted it"

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