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GOP Leaders Turn Up Heat on 9/11 Panel

House Republican leaders stepped up their attacks on the 9/11 commission’s focus and alleged partisanship Friday, bringing a response from the body’s GOP chairman.

On Friday, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Chief Deputy Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) both released letters they had written to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States’ chairman, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean (R), decrying the panel’s behavior and the frequent media appearances by its members.

Kean wrote back to DeLay Friday evening, responding in mostly measured tones, stressing the importance of public hearings and “transparency” in the commission’s actions.

“We recognize that not all Members supported the creation of the Commission,” the chairman wrote. “Our answer to our critics can only be the quality of the report.”

Both Cantor and DeLay had been motivated to write to Kean by their belief that the commission was deviating from its original mandate.

“I just think they should be ashamed of themselves,” Cantor said of the commission in an interview Friday afternoon. “It got to the point where I felt I needed to speak out. … Especially since the [Richard] Clarke testimony, this has been a circus. You’ve got most of the members of the commission conducting interviews [in the press] and blasting witnesses.”

Cantor’s letter to Kean argued that “the commission’s myopic approach is too concentrated on pointing a finger at a single action or an individual rather than examining the long-term, systematic problems that led us to 9-11.”

DeLay’s letter to the chairman made similar points but used harsher language, complaining that “the camera-driven tone of the hearings undermines the commission’s credibility … and could send dangerous messages to unfriendly eyes and ears around the world.”

The House Majority Leader also addressed an issue that has become increasingly controversial — the alleged conflicts of interest held by Democratic commission member Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration.

After Attorney General John Ashcroft suggested during hearings last week that Gorelick had been instrumental in maintaining the “wall” between the government’s criminal and intelligence investigations, House Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) called on Gorelick to resign from the panel. Several other critics followed suit.

“Given the importance of impartial analysis to the commission’s work, these allegations, if true, would seem to preclude Commissioner Gorelick’s involvement in preparing a credible final report,” DeLay wrote.

On that issue, Kean responded that “we are committed as well to the integrity of our work” and that Gorelick “has complied fully with our recusal policy. … Commissioner Gorelick has recused herself from the Commission’s work on any of her decisions or actions as Deputy Attorney General.”

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