GOP senator joins push to declassify 9/11 report
Bush rejects calls for release of information
From Jonathan Karl and Steve Turnham
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An influential Republican senator has joined Democrats in pushing for the release of a 28-page section of the congressional report on the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks allegedly dealing with Saudi Arabia's ties to the hijackers.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, are gathering signatures on a letter to the president calling for the release of the section, which was almost entirely censored by the administration, citing national security reasons.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by CNN, refers to the use of "Saudi Arabia's banks and charities" being used "to funnel money to al Qaeda," the nation's schools "spew(ing) hateful anti-American rhetoric to would-be suicide bombers across the Middle East" and 15 of the 19 September 11, 2001 hijackers being Saudis.
The two senators hope to gather the signatures of at least 51 senators, which, if it came to a vote, would be enough to force the release of the material even over White House objections.
About 42 senators have signed the letter -- all Democrats except for Brownback.
At least two other Republican senators -- Olympia Snowe of Maine and Richard Shelby of Alabama -- also have called for the declassification of the material.
But Wednesday afternoon, two Democratic senators -- Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Dianne Feinstein of California -- said they would not sign the letter because releasing the information could jeopardize an ongoing investigation into foreign involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks. Both are members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
In addition, Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, a co-chairman of the September 11 committee who has been an advocate of disclosing what is in the 28 pages, also has declined to sign the letter. He gave no reason.
The letter refers to reports that the deleted section refers to "foreign sources (that) reside primarily in Saudi Arabia."
"As a result," it says, "the decision to classify this information makes it appear as if elements of the Bush administration desire to keep the role of Saudi Arabia in 9-11 private. This impression damages the credibility of the government in the eyes of the American people and also sends the wrong message to the abettors of the hijackers by implying that there will be no penalty for their complicity."
After citing alleged Saudi financial support for terrorism, the letter says, "Given these facts, protecting the Saudi regime by eliminating any public penalty for the support given to terrorists from within its borders would be a mistake. If we are to protect our national security, we must convince the Saudi regime to get tough on terror."
Saudi officials also have asked that the 28-page section be released. They deny that the nation supports terrorists and said they wanted the pages made public so they can defend their country against any allegations.(Full story)
But President Bush said the material should not be released because it would jeopardize the ability of the administration to gather intelligence on suspected terrorists.
"My point of view -- since I am in charge of fighting the war on terror --is that we won't reveal sources and methods that will compromise our efforts to succeed," he said during a Rose Garden news conference.
Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, is pushing an unusual process by which the Senate could release classified material over the objections of the White House.
Graham --a Democratic presidential candidate who, as former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, helped produce the report -- telephoned the current committee chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and vice-chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, to suggest the process.
In a Tuesday news release, Graham said the White House refusal "is a continuation of the pattern of the last seven months -- a pattern of delay and excessive use of national security standards to deny the people the knowledge of their vulnerability."
The process, which according to committee staff has never before been used, works like this: If a member of the intelligence committee asks the committee to hold a vote on publicizing classified material, the committee must do so within five days.
If a majority of the committee then votes to make the material public, the president has five days to say whether he will declassify the material. If the president refuses, the committee may refer the matter to the full Senate for a closed vote. And if a majority of the Senate votes to make the information public, the committee may go ahead and do so.
Graham is no longer a member of the committee, and at this point no sitting member has come forward to request a vote under the procedure. However, most members of the committee, including Roberts, have said they would like some if not all of the 28-page section to be made public.
A call for a vote to declassify may come from Senate Intelligence Committee member Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a vocal critic of administration secrecy. Durbin may initiate the procedure if he believes a majority of the committee will vote for making the material public, according to his spokesman. At least one Republican would need to vote for the measure for it to pass.