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Deal 911 commision { November 15 2002 }

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Deal Reached on 9/11 Commission
Bipartisan Panel To Probe What Led Up to Attacks

By Helen Dewar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 15, 2002; Page A06

The White House and key members of Congress agreed last night on legislation to create an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, breaking a monthlong deadlock that appeared to have doomed the proposal just a day earlier.

The delicately balanced compromise, ending a year of struggle over the issue, put the measure on track for final approval before Congress adjourns for the year. The House approved the proposal early today, 366 to 3, as part of the intelligence authorization bill for this year. The Senate plans to follow suit today or early next week.

The plan calls for an 18-month probe by a 10-member panel of private citizens, evenly divided between Democratic and Republican appointees. The chairman would be chosen by President Bush, the vice chairman by Democratic leaders, and the eight remaining members chosen by congressional leaders of both parties.

The commission's scope would be considerably broader than the current congressional committee probe into intelligence failures, and would cover 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 or agreement by the chairman and vice chairman, ensuring at least some semblance of bipartisanship, to issue subpoenas.

"This is a decisive victory for the families of September 11 victims and the nation as a whole," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), co-sponsor with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) of the commission proposal in the Senate. "Finally, we will get a clear, clean picture of what government agencies failed, how they failed and why."

The deal was hammered out in a meeting at the office of Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) and attended by Lieberman, McCain and White House officials.

House Republicans, who earlier had blocked action on the measure at the White House's behest, supported the latest proposal because it met administration objections to the earlier draft, which would have given the president less of a role in the commission's makeup and operations.

The breakthrough came just as the commission proposal appeared to have run aground in both houses.

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. Senate Republicans blocked action on a similar proposal on its homeland security bill, prompting an angry denunciation from Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle (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 C. Shelby (R-Ala.). Both men have reputations for supporting aggressive investigations and subpoenas.

Earlier in the day, Daschle strongly condemned Republicans for blocking votes on the commission proposal. Citing an audiotape indicating that Osama bin Laden is alive and possibly plotting more terrorist attacks, he questioned whether the United States is winning its war on terrorism.

Daschle said Bush wanted to pick the commission members in order to get a "subjective" judgment. A truly independent commission is needed so the United States will not repeat mistakes that may have occurred before the Sept. 11 attacks, Daschle said. "If we can't evaluate how it was that the last 9/11 happened, how is it that we can prepare for the next one, should there be, God forbid, a threat of that kind again?" he said.

As he did several months ago, Daschle suggested that antiterrorism efforts were flagging, and criticized the administration's record. .

"We haven't found bin Laden," he said. "We haven't made any real progress in many of the other areas involving the key elements of al Qaeda. They continue to be as great a threat today as they were a year and a half ago. So by what measure can we say this has been successful so far?"

Daschle's critique of the war effort drew a ferocious rejoinder from Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who called his comments "nothing less than asinine."

Lott issued a statement saying: "It seems to me like Senator Daschle's comments are inappropriate and out of order."

Staff writer Mike Allen contributed to this report.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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