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Daschle joins call for independent 9/11 probe

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on Tuesday added his voice to a rising chorus of lawmakers calling for an independent commission to probe what went wrong before September 11 -- an idea the White House opposes.

"I think the time has come for us to do what they did after the invasion of Pearl Harbor, do what they did with the assassination of President Kennedy, and come to an agreement on how we might formulate a commission and move to ensure that we get all the facts," the South Dakota Democrat said.

"I think a commission would allow a greater degree of public scrutiny, of public involvement, of public understanding. And I think that public involvement and understanding is critical."

On Monday, Daschle's Democratic counterpart on the House side of the Capitol, Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri, announced that he would co-sponsor legislation setting up an independent inquiry.

Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, also plan to push legislation to set up an independent panel.

Momentum for a probe by an independent commission gained steam last week after revelations that President Bush received a written CIA briefing August 6 that said al Qaeda operatives might try to hijack U.S. commercial aircraft.

The FBI also has come under fire for not passing along information gathered from field agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis that men of Middle Eastern descent were training in U.S. flight schools.

However, the Bush administration opposes creation of an independent panel, saying an ongoing, behind-closed-doors investigation by the House and Senate intelligence committees is, in the words of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the "proper venue."

The White House believes opening up the investigation to an outside panel, with the possibility of public hearings, could compromise intelligence information and harm the war on terrorism. Vice President Dick Cheney has said he would "actively" discourage creation of an independent panel.

Daschle said the commission's investigation would be in addition to the probes by the intelligence committees, rather than replacing them.

"The Intelligence Committee has done outstanding work," he said. "But there are many agencies outside of the intelligence community. The Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Justice, the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- all of those and many other federal agencies fall outside the purview of the Intelligence Committee."

But Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said Tuesday that deciding on the makeup of a new panel, securing funding for it and setting it up would take "months before it would ever produce anything."

"I have worked with commissions in the past, and I don't remember very good experiences with commissions," he said. "We have a process [with the intelligence committees.] Now what we need that process to do is to go forward."

But Daschle said Congress could set time parameters for the commission to complete its work so that its investigation would be finished as quickly as possible.

Gephardt said he would co-sponsor a measure introduced by Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Indiana, that would create a commission with a "broad mandate to investigate all relevant facts and circumstances relating to the attacks," including issues surrounding intelligence, law enforcement, commercial aviation, diplomacy, immigration and border control.

The panel would have an equal number of Democrats and Republicans.

By contrast, the McCain-Lieberman bill would wind up with a Republican majority because, in addition to members chosen from the Democratic-controlled Senate and the GOP-controlled House, President Bush would also get to choose members.

Daschle said he expected the final legislation to "be a version of Lieberman-McCain" and "we're prepared to move forward at the earliest possible date."




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