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Inside Politics

Public hearings set for 9/11 panel

Commission seeks more time with Bush, Cheney

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

The 9/11 panel wants President Bush to agree to more interview time with its members.
The 9/11 panel wants President Bush to agree to more interview time with its members.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The independent commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will begin holding public hearings March 23, its spokesman said Friday.

There will be eight days of public testimony -- two each month from March through June, said Al Felzenberg. Seven days of hearings will be held in Washington and one in New York, he said.

Scheduled to testify on the first day are the current and former secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright, and the current and former secretaries of defense, Donald Rumsfeld and William Cohen. The focus will be on the Bush and Clinton administrations' counterterrorism policy prior to the attacks.

Scheduled to speak March 24 is former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger.

Felzenberg said the full commission will hold private sessions in the next several weeks with former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have each agreed to meet privately with the chair and vice chair of the commission for one hour. No dates have been set for their interviews. The commission is trying to persuade them to meet with the full investigative body, Felzenberg said.

While commission leaders have praised the Bush administration for providing huge numbers of documents and interviews, some Democrats have accused the president of stonewalling the investigation.

Relatives of victims complained Friday that Bush has failed to provide adequate cooperation.

"As someone who has fought for two years to get an independent commission established and get the commission access to documents and individuals like the president, like (National Security Adviser) Condoleezza Rice, I am offended because, really, I don't think President Bush has been too cooperative with the commission," Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband was killed in the attacks, told CNN's American Morning.

"He should use 9/11 as a reason to fix homeland security, a reason to go into the commission. I encourage him to speak to the commission for longer than an hour."

At a news conference Friday calling on Bush to pull campaign ads that include imagery from the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, two victims' relatives and a former firefighter also said he should do more with the panel.

"The president didn't want the commission," said retired New York City firefighter Tom Ryan, adding that the administration "dragged their feet as far as the commission is concerned."

The commission is required to wrap up its investigation July 26. The commission then will have an additional 30 days to close down its operations.

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