Image: Pat Tillman
AP
Pat Tillman’s family and others believe officials at the highest levels of government hid facts about his death to limit public-relations damage.
updated 7/24/2007 7:01:34 PM ET 2007-07-24T23:01:34

Congressional investigators told the White House on Tuesday that they intend to question several former Bush administration officials about their knowledge of Pat Tillman’s death, escalating their inquiry into the high-profile friendly fire case.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., the committee’s top-ranking Republican, also pressed for drafts of a speech President Bush made in the weeks before it became publicly known that the former NFL star was killed by his own troops. In the 2004 speech at the White House correspondents’ dinner, Bush didn’t mention how Tillman died.

The congressmen informed White House counsel Fred Fielding of their intentions in a letter Tuesday. The White House was reviewing the letter, spokesman Trey Bohn said.

“As part of our ongoing investigation, the committee plans to interview or depose former White House officials regarding when and how White House and Pentagon officials learned that Corporal Tillman’s death in Afghanistan in April 2004 was caused by friendly fire,” Waxman and Davis wrote.

The former White House officials would likely be allowed to choose whether to be deposed under oath or interviewed, committee officials said.

The five former White House officials the committee plans to question are Dan Bartlett, the recently resigned White House counselor and communications czar; Scott McClellan, a former White House press secretary; Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter; John Currin, a former fact-checker on the speechwriting team; and Taylor Gross, another former spokesman.

Facts hidden
Congressional investigators are interested in what White House staff members knew because Tillman’s family and others believe officials at the highest levels of government hid facts to limit public-relations damage.

Tillman, a San Jose native, turned down a lucrative contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed April 22, 2004, in Afghanistan.

Although Pentagon investigators determined quickly that he was killed by his own troops, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire.

A week after Tillman died, a top general sent a memo to Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command, warning that it was “highly possible” that Tillman was killed by friendly fire. The memo made clear that the information should be conveyed to the president. The White House said there is no indication that President Bush received the warning.

Bush’s speech at the correspondents’ dinner came two days later.

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Fielding had resisted providing drafts of the speech personally reviewed by Bush. Waxman’s committee relented after several days of behind-the-scenes negotiations, but it continues to insist that the White House turn over drafts not reviewed by the president.

“We note that the administration has previously provided drafts of the president’s 2003 State of the Union Address making the case for war against Iraq — perhaps the most significant speech of the Bush presidency — to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” Waxman and Davis wrote. “We see no reason why drafts of the president’s remarks to a correspondents’ dinner would merit greater secrecy than drafts of the State of the Union Address.”

More documents available
Last week, after the committee complained publicly of selective stonewalling, the White House made about 400 pages of additional documents available, according to the letter.

The White House and Defense Department had previously turned over nearly 10,000 pages of papers — mostly press clippings. The White House cited “executive branch confidentiality interests” in refusing to provide other documents.

The committee plans a second hearing on Tillman’s death for Aug. 1, this time to probe what senior Pentagon officials knew and when.

Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld; Richard Myers, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Abizaid were among those the committee invited Friday to appear.

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