updated 2/4/2004 1:46:13 PM ET 2004-02-04T18:46:13

The White House reversed course Wednesday and said that President Bush now supports giving a commission investigating the 9/11 attacks more time to produce a final report.

The commission is scheduled to finish its work May 27. But panel members last month asked Congress for a two-month extension, citing a need for full analysis of reams of documents about the disaster.

Bush had resisted that request for months, saying through his spokesmen that the administration wanted the panel to complete its work as soon as possible. Privately, White House aides feared that delaying the commission’s final report would result in a potentially damaging assessment of the administration’s handling of pre-attack intelligence in the heat of a presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, the White House relented, saying it backed moving the deadline to July 26. But White House spokesman Scott McClellan also urged the commission to wrap up its work 30 days after that. If Congress accepts Bush’s recommendation, the report would arrive at the end of August, just as the presidential campaign is entering the post-Labor Day final stretch.

“The president is pleased to support the commission’s request, and we urge Congress to act quickly to extend the timetable for an additional 60 days for the commission to complete its work,” McClellan said. The administration changed course because it became convinced the panel needed the extra time, he said.

Panel urged to act quickly
At the same time, he urged the panel to act quickly. “If the commission has information that can help prevent another catastrophic terrorist attack on America soil, we need to have that information as soon as possible,” McClellan said.

The 9/11 panel — known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States — was established by Congress to study the nation’s preparedness before Sept. 11, 2001, and its response to the attacks, and to make recommendations for guarding against similar disasters.

The 10-member, bipartisan group held a two-day hearing this week that highlighted a series of government missteps in customs and aviation security that allowed many of the 19 hijackers to elude detection.

The commission said it plans to meet this weekend with national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and is trying to set up interviews with President Bush as well as officials from the Clinton administration.

McClellan was noncommittal Wednesday about whether Bush would submit to an interview by the commission. 

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