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Commission on 9/11 Claims Executive Hampered Work

By Philip Shenon

the New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 terror attacks said on Tuesday that its work was being hampered by the failure of executive branch agencies, especially the Pentagon and the Justice Department, to respond quickly to requests for documents and testimony.

The panel also said the failure of the Bush administration to allow officials to be interviewed without the presence of government colleagues was impeding its investigation, with the commission’s chairman suggesting today that the situation amounted to “intimidation” of the witnesses.

In what they acknowledged was an effort to bring public pressure on the White House to meet the panel’s demands for classified information, the commission’s Republican chairman and Democratic vice chairman released a statement, declaring that they had received only a small portion of the millions of sensitive government documents they have requested from the executive branch.

While praising President Bush and top aides for their personal commitment to the panel’s work, the commission’s leaders said that federal agencies under Bush’s control were not cooperating quickly or fully.

“The administration underestimated the scale of the commission’s work and the full breadth of support required,” said the chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Lee H. Hamilton, the former Democratic member of the House from Indiana. “The coming weeks will determine whether we will be able to do our job within the time allotted. The task in front of us is monumental.”

Under the law creating the bipartisan, 10-member panel last year, the commission is required to report its findings by next May. “While thousands of documents are flowing in -- some in boxes and some digitized -- most of the documents we need are still to come,” the statement said. “Time is slipping by.”

The criticism Tuesday from Kean and Hamilton clearly took senior administration officials by surprise and brought a fresh round of attacks on the White House from congressional Democrats who have said that the administration was trying to stonewall a politically damaging inquiry.

Although the White House had initially opposed the creation of an independent commission to investigate intelligence and law-enforcement failures before the 2001 terrorist strikes, the administration eventually came around to support the move, and it has repeatedly pledged full cooperation.

“The president is committed to ensuring that the commission has all the information it needs,” Claire Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, said on Tuesday in response to the statement from the panel, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. “The president has directed federal agencies to cooperate and to do so quickly.”

The White House chose Kean to lead the investigation after its first choice, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, resigned from the post rather than release a list of clients of his consulting firm. Hamilton was named vice chairman by congressional Democrats after their first choice, George J. Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic majority leader, resigned when questions were raised about similar conflicts of interest.