WASHINGTON — A senior aide to Democratic hopeful John Kerry suggested in a recent letter that Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush insisted on
appearing together before the 9-11 Commission so that Cheney could coach
Bush as he answered the panel’s questions.
In a letter to a Massachusetts constituent written before last week’s joint interview at the White House, the congressional aide to Kerry emphasized
that Bush would be “assisted by the vice president.”
“On April 29, President George Bush, assisted by Vice President Richard
Cheney, will appear before the 9-11 Commission in a closed session,” wrote
David McKean, chief of staff for the Massachusetts senator. “It is our hope
that the president, assisted by the vice president, will be able to answer
the commission’s questions in order to provide the full accounting that you
and all Americans deserve.”
The bipartisan panel is investigating the events leading up to the 9-11
terrorist attacks, and the government’s efforts to prevent terrorism. The
White House’s version of events has taken on new significance in the wake of
former White House terror czar Richard Clarke’s testimony that Bush’s
national security team made fighting al-Qaida a low priority before 9-11.
The White House did not immediately return phone calls.
But it has previously denied Bush was trying to coordinate his answers with
the vice president. The White House maintains their joint testimony, which
was not sworn or recorded, was requested to help provide the panel with a
fuller version of events. In contrast, former President Clinton and Vice
President Al Gore agreed to testify separately.
Ironically, McKean made the remarks in an April 23 letter to Brian F.
Sullivan, a former FAA special agent who has accused Kerry of dragging his
feet after he warned the senator that Boston’s Logan International Airport
was vulnerable to multiple hijackings before the 9-11 hijackings there.
McKean asserted that Kerry’s office “promptly contacted both the DOT OIG
[Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General] and the GAO
[General Accounting Office] after you sent our office a videotape of a
Boston Fox News television report of possible security breaches at Logan
However, Kerry waited nearly three months to reply to Sullivan, as his July 24, 2001, letter to
And in his letter, Kerry only mentions contacting the Transportation
Department, a move that Sullivan advised against in his May 7, 2001, letter
to the lawmaker. He complained that he and other agents had gotten nowhere
with previous warnings they took to the inspector general. Two other agents – including one now with the Transportation Security Administration, which
assumed the FAA’s security duties after 9-11 – also lobbied Kerry to prod
Boston officials into tightening security at Logan before 9-11, figuring the
Massachusetts senator could apply political pressure there.
Also, Kerry told a local Washington TV reporter in October 2001 that he went
to the Transportation Department after receiving the warnings. He did not
mention GAO in the interview.
“We went to the Department of Transportation and brought it directly to
their attention – immediately – and were told by the Department of
Transportation that they were doing an undercover operation” at Logan, Kerry
told Fox 5 News reporter Laura Evans.
“Were they?” Evans asked.
“To the best of my knowledge, they were,” Kerry replied.
In fact, no federal security testing was conducted at Logan prior to 9-11.
McKean pointed out in his letter to Sullivan that he only became critical of
Kerry’s response to his warning after the Democratic senator announced his
bid for the White House, suggesting Sullivan was merely playing politics.
“On Sept. 16, 2001, five days after the 9-11 tragedy, you told NBC News
that, ‘I think Sen. Kerry did get it to the right people and they were about
to take the right action,’ ” McKean noted.
“More recently, however – since Sen. Kerry has become the presumptive
Democratic nominee for president – you apparently told the [New York] Post
[where the story first appeared] that Sen. Kerry ‘passed the buck,’ ” he
Sullivan, who says he’s a registered independent, explains that he made the
remark to NBC the day after Kerry told the Boston Globe that he had
triggered a GAO undercover investigation at Logan. He says he now knows
And he says he only raised the issue publicly after hearing Kerry boast in a
campaign ad that he “sounded the alarm on terrorism years before 9-11.”
McKean echoed the boast in his letter to Sullivan: “Senator Kerry’s office
acted responsibly. Indeed, I am unaware of any other public offical who took
any action whatsoever.”
Sullivan wrote to McKean to ask to see all records generated by Kerry’s
office and federal agencies regarding his May 2001 warning. He also asked
for a copy of his constituent’s file.
But McKean refused to provide the records, citing congressional exemption to
the Freedom of Information Act.
It’s not likely the 9-11 Commission will call Kerry or Sullivan to testify
about the Logan warning, says panel spokesman Al Felzenberg.
He explained that seeking testimony from Kerry would open the door to
requests for other members of Congress to testify, which would consume the
panel’s remaining time. However, Felzenberg says its final report, due out
in July, will critique congressional oversight of federal agencies
responsible for aviation security.
Looking back, Sullivan’s
two-page warning to Kerry about glaring holes at Logan security
checkpoints, including the same ones exploited by Mohamed Atta and other
hijackers on 9-11, was as prophetic as it was alarming:
“With the concept of jihad, do you think it would be difficult for a
determined terrorist to get on a plane and destroy himself and all other
passengers?” he wrote. “Think what the result would be of a coordinated
attack which took down several domestic flights on the same day. With our
current screening, this is more than possible. It is almost likely.”