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Context of 'April 8, 2004: Clinton Tells 9/11 Commission Lewinsky Scandal Had No Effect on Terrorism Response'

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Bob Kerrey.Bob Kerrey. [Source: US Congress]Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who also served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is appointed to the 9/11 Commission, replacing Max Cleland, who leaves the Commission to accept a position on the board of the Export-Import Bank. [Washington Post, 12/10/2003]
Criticism of Commission's Work - Just before resigning, Cleland called the Bush administration’s attempts to stonewall and “slow walk” the Commission a “national scandal.” He criticized the Commission for cutting a deal with the White House that compromised its access to information, and said: “I’m not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I’m not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions. I’m not going to be part of political pressure to do this or not do that. I’m not going to be part of that. This is serious.” [Salon, 11/21/2003] Cleland will later add, “There was a desire not to uncover bad news, a desire to leave rocks unturned—both in the White House and, to a certain extent, on the leadership of the Commission.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 161]
Some Democrats Unhappy - Kerrey is selected by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), but some Democrats are unhappy, as Kerrey has a reputation as a “contrarian” and critic of the Clinton administration. For example, when Kerrey and Bill Clinton were competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Kerrey called Clinton an “unusually good liar.” Democrats are therefore worried that he will be critical of the Clinton administration’s treatment of terrorism, instead of criticizing the Bush administration. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 165]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Export-Import Bank, Bob Kerrey, Max Cleland

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission privately interviews former President Bill Clinton about his counterterrorism policy. Clinton tells the Commission that he did everything he could to kill Osama bin Laden and is reluctant to criticize the current administration’s actions. In addition, Clinton says that the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal did not affect his decisions, although Democratic commissioner and former senator Bob Kerrey points out that it had a “big impact” on him and other Democratic lawmakers; when Clinton attacked al-Qaeda, they were forced to deny it was an attempt to divert attention from the scandal. Clinton may have been willing to testify publicly, but such a move was not considered seriously, as it would have been blocked by the Republicans on the Commission. Had Clinton testified in public and President George Bush only in private, this would have created the impression Bush was hiding something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 303-306]

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Monica Lewinsky

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony.There were no pictures allowed of the Bush and Cheney joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. Here are commissioners Thomas Kean, Fred Fielding, and Lee Hamilton preparing to begin the testimony. [Source: New York Times]President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear for three hours of private questioning before the 9/11 Commission. (Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore met privately and separately with the Commission earlier in the month.) [New York Times, 4/30/2004; Washington Post, 4/30/2004]
Testifying Together, without Oaths or Recordings - The Commission permits Bush and Cheney, accompanied by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, to appear together, in private, and not under oath. Author Philip Shenon will comment that most of the commissioners think this is an “obvious effort… to ensure that the accounts of Bush and Cheney did not differ on the events of 9/11.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 342-343] Their testimony is not recorded. Commissioners can take notes, but these are censored by the White House. [Knight Ridder, 3/31/2004; Newsweek, 4/2/2004; New York Times, 4/3/2004]
Questions Similar to Those Asked of Clinton - The Commission draws its questions from a previously-assembled list of questions for Bush and Cheney that Commission members have agreed to ask. According to commissioner Bob Kerrey: “It’s essentially the same set of questions that we asked President Clinton with one exception, which is just what happened on the day of September 11th. What was your strategy before, what was your strategy on September 11, and what allowed the FAA to be so surprised by a hijacking?” [Washington Post, 4/29/2004]
'Three Hours of Softballs' - After Bush starts the meeting with an apology for an attack by Attorney General John Ashcroft on commissioner Jamie Gorelick (see April 13-April 29, 2004), the Democratic commissioners are disarmed. Commissioner Slade Gorton will comment: “They knew exactly how to do this. They had us in the Oval Office, and they really pulled the talons and the teeth out of many of the Democratic questions. Several of my colleagues were not nearly as tough in the White House as they were when we went in that day.” Author Philip Shenon will call it “three hours of softballs.” Some of the toughest questions are asked by Republican John Lehman, who focuses on money allegedly passed by an acquaintance of the Saudi ambassador’s wife to two of the hijackers (see December 4, 1999). Lehman will say that Bush “dodged the questions.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 343-345]
Cheney Says Little - Although the Commission’s Democrats are expecting Bush to defer to the vice president in his responses, reportedly Bush “thoroughly dominate[s] the interview.” Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, will later recall that Cheney only “spoke five percent of the time.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 292] According to four unnamed individuals that are in the room during the meeting, Cheney “barely spoke at all.” [Gellman, 2008, pp. 344] Gorelick will say: “There was no puppeteering by the vice president. He barely said anything.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 344]
Early Departure - Two commissioners, Lee Hamilton and Bob Kerrey, leave the session early for other engagements. They will later say they had not expected the interview to last more than the previously agreed upon two-hour length. [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
'Unalloyed Victory' for Bush - The press’ reaction is so positive that Shenon will call the meeting an “unalloyed victory” for Bush. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 345]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bob Kerrey, Philip Zelikow, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Slade Gorton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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