WASHINGTON — The chairman of the commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday that some of its findings has surprised him and will surprise the public as well.
Thomas H. Kean also said he expects the commission’s final report to be published before the November elections, possibly as early as July, even though the White House must clear it for intelligence problems.
The commission’s deadline for submitting its report is July 26, extended from May 27 after complaints that the White House was delaying the turnover of necessary materials.
Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said he expects no similar foot-dragging as the White House vets the report for security lapses.
“Nobody has any interest in having the report sitting around Washington during the election period and pieces of it leaking out. Nobody has any interest in this thing coming out September or October, in the middle of the election,” Kean said.
“So I think it is in the White House’s interest, our interest, everybody’s interest to get this out in July. And I believe they will.”
When it is published, he said, both its findings and its recommendations for preventive action will draw attention.
“I’ve been surprised by some of what we’ve found, and so, I think, (the public) will, yes,” Kean said.
“We will have things in our report on two ends: first the report itself, second the recommendations. We’ve got some very serious recommendations to make, and I think they’ll be something of great value to the American people and also hopefully will make the country safer.”
White House will see report before it's published
Kean said the White House will vet “line by line” the report of the commission before it is publicly released.
He told host Tim Russert that he was surprised to learn of the White House review, which he said was required under law to ensure any material that could compromise intelligence was not included.
Video: White House will vet 9/11 report “They go through it line by line,” Kean said, referring to the White House review process involving intelligence issues. White House chief of Staff Andrew Card will oversee the vetting.
The commission is expected to submit its report in July on intelligence failures before the 2001 attacks. Kean said he was confident the White House would finish its review so the report could be released well before the November presidential election. Hamilton vowed not to let the White House “distort” the report.
Kean also suggested he would have preferred that President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney appear separately before the commission, rather than together as they are slated to do under an agreement between the panel and the White House.
The disclosures indicate that although the White House has made concessions to the panel, including allowing national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly this week, it still retains significant influence over the process.
Disputes with the White House over the release of classified material led to a seven-month delay in the release of a separate congressional report on the attacks.
Some material -- particularly focusing on any Saudi role in the attacks -- remains classified. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who killed more than 3,000 people in the coordinated attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 were Saudis.
But Kean said he believed the White House did not want to risk leaks from an unreleased report by the Sept. 11 commission during the run-up to the election, or to see the report released close to the election.
Don't want deletions
Hamilton, a former Democratic representative from Indiana, said he had long been troubled by the near-exclusive legal authority given the president over the release of intelligence information.
However, he said, “We’re not going to let them distort our report. ... We do not want to put out a report with heavy redactions (deletions) in it.”
Asked about the plan for Bush and Cheney to appear together before the panel, Kean said, “maybe we would have rather had them one at a time.” However, he said, “we don’t see any problems with it.” He declined to specify when they would appear, but said it would be within the coming weeks.
Bush adviser Karen Hughes said on the same program that it was appropriate for Bush and Cheney to appear together, because they were often together for briefings before the attacks, the period the commission has focused on.
Hughes also said she believed the White House intended for the Sept. 11 commission report to be released before the election. “I think it’s important that the American people see the report,” she said.
Rice is to testify before the panel on Thursday. Her testimony is expected to take about 2 1/2 hours.
The commission will ask Rice tough questions about why the attacks weren't prevented and how the government plans to fix any problems with anti-terror efforts, other panel members said.
“Nineteen men with $350,000 defeated every single defensive mechanism we had up on the 11th of September, 2001, and they defeated it utterly,” said former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.
Rice will need to answer how that happened, Kerrey said.
Rice also will be asked about ways to correct “what has gone wrong so badly,” said a Republican commission member, former Navy Secretary John Lehman.
“She’s now got her mind focused on just what went wrong, and I want to hear her views on some of the things that we’re going to do and be recommending to make fundamental changes,” Lehman said. He appeared with Kerrey on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Panel to get Clinton papers
Meanwhile, the panel will determine early this week whether thousands of classified counterterrorism documents from the Clinton administration were unduly held back by Bush’s aides.
The Bush administration granted the commission access to the documents Friday after Bruce Lindsey, who was legal adviser to former President Clinton, said officials didn’t turn over all of Clinton’s records to the panel.
The commission’s lawyers will begin reviewing the material Monday and should know by Tuesday if additional documents should be released, panel commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said Friday.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report