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Sept. 11th Investigation Commission Formed After Agreement in Congress

By Helen Dewar
THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The White House and key members of Congress agreed Thursday night on legislation to create an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, breaking a month-long deadlock over sensitive issues such as who would choose the members.

Nearly all the principals in the dispute had endorsed the agreement by early evening, and its backers were hoping for House and Senate passage by Friday. The plan calls for an 18-month probe by a 10-member panel of private citizens, with the chairman chosen by President Bush, the vice chairman by Democratic leaders, and the eight remaining members chosen jointly by congressional leaders of both parties. The commission would be evenly divided between Democratic and Republican appointees.

Its scope would be considerably broader than the current congressional committee probe into intelligence failures, covering aviation, border security, immigration, and private-sector problems as well as intelligence and law enforcement.

In one of the last issues to be resolved, it would take six commission members -- assuring a bipartisan majority -- or the concurrence of the chairman and vice chairman, to issue subpoenas.

The deal was hammered out in a meeting in the office of Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and attended by White House officials and two key senators, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn). Senior members of the Senate intelligence committee later joined in.

Senate sources said House Republicans, who earlier had blocked action on the measure at the White House’s behest, were ready to support the latest proposal so long as it had the president’s backing.

On Wednesday night, voting largely along party lines, the House rejected inclusion of the proposal in legislation it subsequently approved to create a Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, Senate Republicans blocked action on a similar proposal on its homeland security bill, prompting an angry denunciation from Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). Sources said the agreement may have been prompted in part by veiled threats that Bush would appoint a panel by executive order if Congress failed to reach agreement with the White House on details regarding appointment powers and the commission’s operations.

The sources said the deal was clinched when it was agreed that one of the Senate Republicans’ appointees would have to have the approval of McCain and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). Both men have reputations for supporting aggressive investigations and subpoenas.