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Two democrats walk out during bush cheney questioing { April 30 2004 }

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April 30, 2004 -- In a stunning snub, two Democrats on the 9/11 commission yesterday abruptly walked out in the middle of the Oval Office interview with President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Both early-departing panelists, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey and ex-Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton, insisted they had prior commitments - but their sudden slip out the side door of the White House left Washington and some fellow commission members in shock.

Kerrey dashed to handle a private business matter - lobbying Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) for more money for his employer, the New School University in Manhattan.

Hamilton bolted so that he could introduce the Canadian prime minister at a ceremonial event at the Woodrow Wilson Center, which employs Hamilton as its director.

"I was surprised," fellow commission member James Thompson told The Post.

The sudden walkouts while Bush and Cheney were still testifying are all the more surprising because the commission had lobbied for months for unlimited time with the president with all 10 commissioners able to participate.

The treatment they afforded Bush and Cheney comes at a time when some Democrats on the 9/11 commission are already under fire for partisan grandstanding.

Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick also has faced calls for her resignation over a memo she wrote while a Clinton Justice Department staffer that critics say strengthened "the wall" separating criminal and intelligence investigations and inhibiting the hunt for terrorists.

Yesterday, commissioners questioned Bush and Cheney in front of the Oval Office fireplace for three hours and 10 minutes; afterward, Bush said he answered "every question."

"I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I took the time . . . I enjoyed it," Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden, refusing to divulge the national-security topics discussed.

The session began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 12:40 p.m., without any breaks or interruptions.

Kerrey and Hamilton were spotted leaving a side door of the West Wing to a waiting black van at about 11:40 a.m.

"They didn't anticipate it would go as long as it did," 9/11 commissioner John Lehman told The Post.

In a phone call to The Post after returning to New York yesterday afternoon, Kerrey said he thought the White House meeting would only last until 11:30 a.m., and so he'd scheduled a meeting with Domenici for a half-hour later at the Capitol, just about a mile from the White House.

"The White House said it would be over by 11:30 a.m.," Kerrey said, adding that the meeting was for an important school project, but he refused to disclose it.

When it became clear the Oval Office meeting was going to go longer than he thought, Kerrey said he asked commission Chairman Tom Kean if he should stay or go - and Kean told him he could leave.

"I told the chairman I'd cancel my meeting if he wanted me to," Kerrey said.

Kerrey raised eyebrows even before yesterday's snub, admonishing White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and repeatedly forgetting her name during a public hearing earlier this month.

Last week, he went on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and joked with host Jon Stewart about questions to ask the president.

A recent Fox News poll showed that the commission is seen as a partisan joke by 56 percent of Americans.

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Intelligence says 911 commission didnt try hard { August 17 2005 }
New atta information conflicts with commission timeline { August 11 2005 }
Two democrats walk out during bush cheney questioing { April 30 2004 }
Widows say kean wasnt aggresive { July 23 2004 }

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