The Sept. 11 commission's executive director had closer ties with the White House than publicly disclosed and tried to influence the final report in ways that the staff often perceived as limiting the Bush administration's responsibility, a new book says.
Philip Zelikow, a friend of then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, spoke with her several times during the 20-month investigation that closely examined her role in assessing the al-Qaida threat, according to the book. It says he also exchanged frequent calls with the White House, including at least four from President Bush's chief political adviser at the time, Karl Rove.
Zelikow once tried to push through wording in a draft report that suggested a greater tie between al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and Iraq, in line with White House claims but not with the commission staff's viewpoint, according to Philip Shenon's The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation.
Shenon, a New York Times reporter, says Zelikow sought to intimidate staff to avoid damaging findings for Bush, who at the time was running for re-election, and Rice. Zelikow and Rice had written a book together in 1995, and he later worked for her after she became secretary of state in 2005.
The Associated Press obtained an audio version of Shenon's book, which is to go on sale Tuesday.
Reached by the AP, Zelikow provided a 131-page statement with information he said was provided for the book. In it, Zelikow acknowledges talking to Rove and Rice during the course of the commission's work despite a general pledge he made not to. But he said the conversations never dealt with politics.
The White House had no immediate comment Sunday.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, the panel's Democratic vice chairman, praised Zelikow as a "person of integrity" who was up-front in disclosing his background and White House contacts. It made sense for commission staff to contact the White House regularly to get information, Hamilton said.
"Did he try to sway the report to protect the administration? I think the answer was no," Hamilton said.
The book seeks to raise new questions about the independence of the bipartisan commission, which was created in 2002 to investigate government missteps that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Initially opposed by the White House, the panel issued a unanimous, 567-page final report in July 2004 during the height of the presidential campaign that did not blame Bush or former President Bill Clinton for the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people but did say they each failed to make antiterrorism a priority.