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Inside Politics

Republicans amplify criticism of 9/11 commission

Sessions calls on Gorelick to step down

From Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau

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The 9/11 commission cited fragmented intelligence-gathering prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks.

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Jamie Gorelick
Justice Department
September 11 attacks
Jeff Sessions

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney set to appear in private before the 9/11 commission next week, Republicans are ramping up their criticism of the panel -- and Democratic member Jamie Gorelick in particular.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, called on Gorelick to resign, becoming the first senator to do so. He told CNN that such a move would help the commission salvage its credibility.

"We have a little bit of a problem now with confidence in that commission," said Sessions. "For her to continue to play a key role in it when she herself really should be one of the people being reviewed is difficult for me to swallow."

A Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has previously called on Gorelick to step aside, a demand that was rejected as "silly" by Thomas Kean, the Republican chairman of the 9/11 commission.

Sessions' comment comes in the wake of a letter sent by 11 other Republican senators to the commission, urging it to compel Gorelick to testify before the panel.(Full story)

Republicans point to a memo Gorelick wrote as a top official in the Clinton Justice Department, which critics charge put a firewall between law enforcement and intelligence agents and made it harder for them to share information and thwart terrorism.

That policy remained in place under the Bush administration, until it was changed by the Patriot Act, passed after the 9/11 attacks.

In a recent Washington Post editorial, Gorelick wrote the restrictions on intelligence sharing date back to 1978- well before she came to Justice. "I did not invent the 'wall,' " she wrote.

Gorelick has previously said she will not be deterred by political pressure. "I'm not going to resign from the commission," she told CNN earlier this month.

She also has the backing of Kean, who is taking heat from fellow Republicans for sticking up for her.

Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg told CNN that any member of Congress has the right to express an opinion, but "we very much hope that they would contact the commission directly and not communicate through the media."

A separate spokesman for Gorelick told CNN Friday that "she has followed all the commission's rules and has provided testimony on any issue the staff has requested. She also has offered to provide any additional information, if asked."

Behind the controversy is a big dose of election-year politics. Democrats say Republicans are just poisoning the well because they fear the commission report will reflect badly on the president.

The Bush administration was the focus of some critical testimony and questions at a recent series of public hearings by the commission. U.S. intelligence efforts and the work of the FBI were faulted.(Full story)

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said earlier this week that some Republicans "are afraid the commission will get the facts" so they are "undermining the credibility" of the panel.

But Republicans believe Democrats will pounce when the commission's report is released on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.

"Oh, they'll seize on the report," said Sessions. "They'll find one line. If there is one line out of 10,000, they'll be something to say gotcha with."

Bush and Cheney are scheduled to answer questions from the commission in a session at the White House set for Thursday morning.

They are due to appear jointly before the full commission. Neither man will be under oath -- unlike witnesses who have testified before the commission in public hearings.

CNN's Susan Pettit contributed to this report.

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