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Airforce academy bush { May 17 2002 }

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"second guessing has become... second nature"

Bush Defends Self on Warning Controversy
House Judiciary Committee Is Asked to Conduct Hearings

By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 17, 2002; 6:39 PM

President Bush defended himself today in the controversy over how his administration handled advance knowledge of terrorist plans, but the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee asked the committee chairman today to open hearings into what the White House and federal agencies knew before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

At a ceremony at the White House, Bush told cadets and officers from the Air Force Academy that "I take my job as the commander-in-chief very seriously; that my most important job is to protect America and to protect our homeland. . . . "

"Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people."

Still, congressional leaders seemed intent on following up on what information the administration had. The proposal for the Judiciary Committee was moving swiftly today.

A letter sent this afternoon to Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) from Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and four other senior Democrats on the committee, which was provided to The Washington Post, said: "We cannot leave an investigation of this matter to a behind-closed-doors review by the intelligence community and Intelligence Committees."

The Judiciary Committee oversees the FBI, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Secret Service and Justice Departments.

Conyers said he wants the committee to examine "bureaucratic breakdowns of the FBI," the "warning signs that were largely ignored by the FBI," the "lack of coordination among federal agencies" and why "the administration waited eight months to disclose to the American people the information it had."

A spokesman for Sensenbrenner declined to comment.

Meanwhile, in Budapest, Laura Bush emphatically defended her husband this morning and called it "very sad that people would play upon the victims' emotions" by suggesting that he had not done enough to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington Post staff writer Ann Gerhart reported.

The intelligence briefing that President Bush received in August while the couple were on vacation at their Crawford ranch "was so inspecific that there was no way you could predict what would have happened," she said in an interview with White House reporters traveling with her on her European tour to support rebuilding in Afghanistan.

The First Lady stopped short of crying partisan politics over the firestorm that has erupted over the White House's acknowledgment that the president had been warned last summer about possible al Queda hijacking plans. But she did make a plea for unity.

"I hope that both sides, both parties can work together," she said. "We're still in a war on terror. It's still very important that both Democrats and Republicans work together because of other threats to our country and because of this war."

Laura Bush has spent the week as a goodwill ambassador and advocate for Afghanistan in stops in Paris and here in Hungary. This morning, she visited a cancer hospital here and talked about the importance of screenings and wellness education to lower a cancer rate that is among the highest in Europe. She has visited four art museums in Paris and last night took in the first act of Madame Butterfly at the ornate state opera house in downtown Budapest.

But she made sure she had finished the evening's cultural menu in time to watch National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice's live briefing on the 911 controversy. And her first phone call with her husband since leaving Washington Monday came yesterday afternoon, as the latest damage control crisis was heating up.

"I know my husband. And all Americans know how he has acted in Afghanistan and in the war with terror," Laura Bush said firmly. "I think really, we need to put this in perspective and I think it's sad to play upon the emotions of people as if there were something we could have done to stop" the suicide hijackings.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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