According to a Republican staffer on the 9/11 commission, growing public and pundit outrage over commissioner Jamie Gorelick's failure to disclose the existence of a Justice Department memo, had chairman Gov. Tom Kean asking Gorelick yesterday morning if she would think about stepping aside.
"The word is she was asked whether she might consider it and she flat out shut him down," said the staffer. "We're in an extremely difficult spot on this."
Gorelick's conflict of interest came to light on Tuesday afternoon, when a newly declassified 1995 Justice Department memo written by her when she was serving as Deputy Attorney General was presented to the commission by Attorney General John Ashcroft during public testimony. The memo, which mandated policy that, as it turned out, made it almost impossible for counter-terrorism investigators to pursue the 9/11 plot before it unfolded, surprised Gorelick's fellow commissioners and staff because, staffers said, she never disclosed its existence to any of them.
Kean's quiet attempt to press the issue on Gorelick's situation comes at a time when there were mounting calls for the former Clinton political operative to step aside from not only the House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner but families of 9/11 victims concerned that the commission's report would be tainted by her presence.
Those families were also calling for Gorelick to be called before the committee to explain her role in devising a legal impediment that contributed to the intelligence and law enforcement failures to combat and prevent terrorist acts.
But according to former Clinton staffers, it's doubtful Gorelick will budge. "She's on that commission for a reason, and it isn't because of her brilliant legal mind," says a former DNC and Clinton White House staffer. "She's there to make sure Bush and his team look as bad as possible and to protect the Clintons and Reno."
It isn't just Gorelick who is now in hot water. Based on their remarks on Wednesday and Thursday, both Kean and fellow commissioner, former Sen. Slade Gorton are taking heat from 9/11 families for telling critics during TV interviews to stay "out of our business."
Those remarks came in response to questions about Gorelick's conflict of interest.
"We've got to get these guys out of the limelight," says the Republican 9/11 staffer. "Kean has enjoyed the media spotlight a little too much. Remember, most of these guys are has-beens. They haven't experienced this much attention in years. In a matter of two days they have managed to undo six months of good work that was done under the radar screen. A few more days of this and the commission's work will be tainted."
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