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Friday, February 27, 2004

Nobody is really talking about it -- yet -- but the President's pussyfooting around the 9/11 Commission is starting to raise hackles.

In yesterday's gaggle aboard Air Force One, Clare Buchan got grilled on why, if Bush feels so strongly about the commission being allowed to do its work, he wasn't haranguing Dennis Hastert for blocking a two-month extension for the commission.

In this morning's gaggle, though (linked through TPM) Scottie Mac got it with both barrels:

QUESTION: What the commission is asking for in that one hour is the entire commission, not just the chair and vice chair. Are you not agreeing to that --

McCLELLAN: The request came from the chairman and vice chairman, and the President looks forward to meeting privately with --

QUESTION: I know. But they followed up by saying that they want --

McCLELLAN: -- looks forward to meeting privately with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the necessary information.

QUESTION: Why not all of them? What's the problem?

McCLELLAN: Helen, we have great confidence that the chairman and vice chairman can share all that information with the rest of the commission.

QUESTION: Why do they have to share it? The others have ears.

McCLELLAN: They're going to have a public report. I talked about how this is extraordinary for a President to sit down with a legislative body such as the 9/11 Commission.

QUESTION: What's the President's problem, really, with meeting all of them?

...

QUESTION: First, where the idea of a precedent is concerned, President -- sitting President Gerald Ford went up to Capitol Hill and actually testified before the House Judiciary Committee, so there is a greater precedent than what you're referring to.

My question is, in every speech he gives, President Bush invokes --

McCLELLAN: Keep in mind there are separation of powers issues involved when you're talking about a legislatively created body.

QUESTION: I'm sure President Ford was aware of those. In every speech he gives, President Bush invokes the atrocities of 9/11 and he talks about how that event has impressed on him a determination to always honor the victims of those atrocities in his daily conduct of his office. And I wonder if you could explain with some serious Texan straight talk here, Scott, how it is honoring the victims of 9/11 to restrict the questioning of the President on this subject to one hour?

McCLELLAN: I hope you'll talk about the unprecedented cooperation that we're providing to the commission when you report this, James. Because if you look back at what we've done, it is unprecedented. We have provided more than 2 million pages of documents. We provided more than 60 compact discs of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. So this administration is cooperating closely and in an unprecedented way with the 9/11 Commission, because their work is very important.

QUESTION: That would have been a very pertinent answer had I asked you about the administration. But, in fact, I asked you about the President’s cooperation.

McCLELLAN: And the President is pleased to sit down with the chairman and vice chairman to provide them with the information they need to do their job. And we believe …

QUESTION: Why only one hour? Why only one hour?

McCLELLAN: -- we believe that he can provide them the necessary information in this private meeting.

QUESTION: In 60 minutes, that’s all it will take?

Of course you can only guess what the tone of voice was for those questions, but they certainly don't read as very civil.

The real question is, will any reporters be this testy when Bush starts hiding behind 9/11 on the campaign trail?

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