Bush open to more time with 9/11 panel
Spokesman says president to answer 'all the questions'
From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Showing a new flexibility, the Bush administration indicated Tuesday that the president is willing to sit for more than one hour of questioning when he meets with a federal commission investigating the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The change in posture came one day after the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. John Kerry, suggested Bush was impeding the investigation, which will look, in part, at intelligence surrounding the attacks.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the president would "answer all the questions they raise" when he sits with the chairman and vice chairman of the panel in a private session.
In addition, a senior administration official said there is a new willingness by the president to go beyond the hour previously promised to the commission.
However, McClellan reiterated the president will speak only before the chairman and vice chairman -- former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican, and former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat -- not the full panel, as had been requested.
Kerry, in a stop in Florida on Monday, used Bush's visit to a Houston, Texas, rodeo and livestock show to criticize him about what some Democrats and families of 9/11 victims have described as his limited cooperation with the panel.
"If the president of the United States can find time to go to a rodeo, he can spend more than one hour before the commission," Kerry said.
McClellan insisted the administration has provided "unprecedented cooperation" with the commission, including already handing over 2 million documents, 60 compact discs and 800 audiocassettes; making 100 administration officials available for interviews; and providing four hours of testimony by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
McClellan and other administration officials argue that a limited amount of time before the panel by the president is justified because the questions would only cover the eighth-month period Bush was in office before the attacks, and that much of the information requested by the panel already has been provided.
The 10-member bipartisan panel is known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
The Bush administration initially opposed the commission's creation in November 2002, and the White House's commitment to the probe has been questioned by Democrats and some family members.