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Sept. 11 Panel Inquires Why Bush Withheld Clinton Files

By Philip Shenon

and David E. Sanger

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Thursday that it was pressing the White House to explain why the Bush administration had blocked thousands of pages of classified foreign policy and counterterrorism documents from former President Bill Clinton’s files from being turned over to the panel’s investigators.

The White House confirmed on Thursday that it had withheld a variety of classified documents from Clinton’s files that had been gathered by the National Archives over the last two years in response to document requests from the commission, which is investigating intelligence and law enforcement failures before the attacks.

Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said that some Clinton administration documents had been withheld because they were “duplicative or unrelated,” while others were withheld because they were “highly sensitive” and the information contained in them could be relayed to the commission in other ways.

“We are providing the commission with access to all the information they need to do their job,” McClellan said.

The commission and the White House were reacting on Thursday to public complaints from former aides to Clinton, who said they had been surprised to learn in recent months that three-quarters of the nearly 11,000 pages of White House files it was ready to offer the commission had been withheld from the panel by the Bush administration.

The former aides said the files, which are now in the custody of the National Archives, contained highly classified documents about the Clinton administration’s efforts against al-Qaida.

The commission said it was awaiting a full answer from the White House on why any documents were withheld. “We need to be satisfied that we have everything we have asked to see,” said Al Felzenberg, a spokesman for the bipartisan 10-member commission. “We have voiced the concern to the White House that not all of the material the Clinton library has made available to us has made its way to the commission.”

The general counsel of Clinton’s presidential foundation, Bruce Lindsey, who was Clinton’s deputy White House counsel and one of his closest advisers, said in an interview that he was concerned that the Bush administration had applied a “very legalistic approach to the documents” and might have blocked the release of material that would be valuable to the commission.

He said he first complained to the commission in February about the situation after learning from the archives that the Bush administration had withheld so many documents.

“I voiced a concern that the commission was making a judgment on an incomplete record,” Lindsey said. “I want to know why there is a 75 percent difference between what we were ready to produce and what was being produced to the commission.”

The debate over the Clinton files was disclosed as the commission announced that it had reached agreement with the White House to schedule a public hearing for next Thursday, when Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser, will testify under oath for 21/2 hours.