Stonewalling and slow-walking

Saturday the Bush administration released the hot document of the hour, the Aug. 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Strategically released on the eve of Easter after the printing of the morning papers, the briefing’s release only came after repeated verbal lashings from the committee to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks. Despite this, the release of the document was another capitulation in the Bush administration’s handling of the Sept. 11 investigation. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it best, calling it “stonewalling and slow-walking.”

Indeed, getting the Bush camp to cooperate with the panel can be likened to getting teeth pulled. They only grudgingly cooperate when the political pain is near maximum potential. Even the existence of the Sept. 11 panel took the very public pleas from Sept. 11 victims’ family members. The Bush administration has understaffed the panel and called for it to hold to an impossible deadline. Fortunately, that was extended. It took a few weeks of lame constitutional defenses to have National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice appear publicly before the panel.

Granted, the briefing’s release is unprecedented and the Bush administration should be given some credit for it. Now, political pressure is calling for the release of 57 Clinton administration documents that the Bush administration has kept from the Sept. 11 panel. The Bush administration should facilitate their release as soon as possible.

In any event, the president’s stubborn-mule approach to the panel has been politically damaging. Bush has promised full cooperation with the panel; he should hold to his promise rather than fight for political advantages. After all, the Bush administration has made Bush’s handling of Sept. 11 a cornerstone of his campaign. It is only right that Americans be allowed to judge whether that handling was a failure or triumph.