President Bush Friday defended himself for the first time since revelations Wednesday evening that he had been warned before Sept. 11 that al Qaeda terrorist groups might try to hijack airplanes. "Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," Bush said during a Rose Garden event.
But, even as the White House said it would cooperate with congressional investigators, Bush and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer began criticizing Democrats who are questioning the president's actions in the period leading up to Sept. 11. "You know what's interesting about Washington--unfortunately, it's the kind of place where second-guessing has become second-nature," Bush said.
Fleischer sought to demonstrate the Democrats, too, had knowledge that the country was at increased risk. He quoted Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in July 2001 that "intelligence staff have told me that there is a major probability of a terrorist incident within the next three months." Fleischer said this raises the question: "What did the Democrats in Congress know, and why weren't they talking to each other?"
Feinstein reportedly responded today that she did not have details that the administration had and that the information was too vague to be of specific use. Fleischer indicated the White House was supportive of a congressional investigation, asserting that the intelligence committees should conduct the probe, but did not rule out that others could investigate the matter as well.
Senate Republicans today also accused Democrats of politicizing the apparent intelligence failures, while several Democrats continued to call for creating an independent commission to examine the issue. "I think both [Senate Majority Leader Tom] Daschle, D-S.D., and [House Minority Leader Richard] Gephardt, D-Mo., went over the line [Thursday]," said Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., referring to the two Democratic leaders, who each called for the president to turn over classified documents about what he knew before the attacks. McConnell said of Democrats: "I think they are salivating at the opportunity to try to bring the president down. They've tried that a couple of times, and they're going to try that again." McConnell said the most "credible" way to deal with an investigation was through the bipartisan intelligence committees.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who spoke on the Senate floor about the subject Thursday, said Friday she supported creating a special commission to look into the matter, but added, "I do not favor people who jump to conclusions, point fingers, and play the blame game."
Sens. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced a bill to create a commission and have discussed adding it to other legislation, such as the Defense authorization bill.