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Widows say kean wasnt aggresive { July 23 2004 }

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Families pleased with Kean's efforts

Friday, July 23, 2004

Some feel, however, he wasn't aggressive enough
Gannett News Service

A year ago, the Sept. 11 widows weren't too happy with Tom Kean.

In private meetings last year, some family members who pushed to create the commission he was leading to investigate the terrorist attacks urged Kean to be more aggressive in pursuing documents and witnesses.

"There were times we felt they should subpoena often and early, that they should not negotiate," said Mindy Kleinberg, an East Brunswick widow whose husband, Alan, died in the World Trade Center.

Kean's official duties ended Thursday with the release of the bipartisan commission's final report, a 567-page paperback that proposes revamping the nation's intelligence-gathering operations, castigates Congress for lax oversight, and suggests the attacks might have been prevented but for missteps by both the Bush and Clinton administrations.

And now that the panel's work is done, many victims' family members say the former New Jersey governor performed commendably, doggedly yet genteelly pursuing the facts while holding together a panel that at times threatened to fray along partisan lines.

They especially appreciated that he returned calls promptly - even after contentious meetings.

Kean cleared his tallest hurdle by issuing a report endorsed by all 10 members of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the panel's official name. He also noted that none of the report, save for a footnote or two, was redacted by government censors.

"Unanimity was the goal," said Kean, who is president of Drew University in Madison. And it was achieved "while sacrificing nothing."

Though the panel rarely issued a subpoena, its willingness to publicly challenge the White House for information and access to witnesses demonstrated an independence and a thoroughness observers say gives the final report lasting credibility.

"I'm not certain we've gotten all of the story," Patty Casazza, a widow from Colts Neck, said earlier this week. "But I believe, in the political climate we have found ourselves in, that the staff and commissioners - especially Governor Kean - did an admirable job of getting as many facts out in the public as possible."

Bush chose Kean, 69, to head the congressionally created panel after his first choice, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, bowed out.

It's a decision Bush probably now regrets, said Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University.

Kean's resoluteness was a big surprise, Baker said. "They thought he was a pushover," he said.

But a watchdog group that's working with some family members said Kean was far too accommodating to the White House by letting some witnesses testify without being under oath, by agreeing not to record certain interviews and by not pushing harder to declassify information.

"There's also a broader problem which stems from the fact that the commission was under-funded, its time was limited (and) it was obstructed by agencies," said John Judge, co-founder of 9/11 Citizens Watch. "It had its own hard road, but in many cases it didn't use its subpoena powers to force issues and it failed to resolve family concerns and public doubts."

There were also partisan flare-ups. The commission's questioning of Bush and Clinton administration officials sometimes got testy.

"He expressed to me that there's a public perception that he can control people," said Kean friend Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Morristown. "He's never had the ability or the desire to keep them in line."

In hindsight, Kleinberg isn't sure Kean's approach was the best way.

But "at the end of the day, you can't be disappointed," she said. "This is a good report and the recommendations they made will go a long way to make us safer. How could you feel bad about that?"

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Widows say kean wasnt aggresive { July 23 2004 }

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