Today’s Must Read

January 31, 2008 8:56 a.m.

When someone comes out with a book called The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation, you know it’s not going to be a fawning portrait of the commission’s thoroughness and objectivity. And indeed the book, by New York Times reporter Philip Shenon, has some revelations that are sure to challenge its reputation.

The book is being closely held until its release next month, but Max Holland, a D.C. area blogger and author, was somehow able to snag an advance audio copy at his local bookstore.

A lot of what has been “censored,” it turns out, revolves around the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow. According to Holland, Shenon reports that Zelikow 1) hid the depth and breadth of his relationship to key members in the administration, 2) had a number of private conversations with Karl Rove (funny how he keeps popping up) while he was on the panel, and 3) succeeded in softening the final report’s judgment on the Bush Administration’s responsibility.

Star ABC muckraker and TPM alum Justin Rood confirmed Holland’s account, and got Zelikow’s response.

But on to the revelations. First, about what Zelikow failed to disclose. He was a former aide to Condoleezza Rice, and had a long relationship with her. That was well known. But:

According to Shenon, however, Zelikow failed to disclose several additional and egregious conflicts-of-interest, among them, the fact that he had been a member of Rice’s NSC transition team in 2000-01. In that capacity, Zelikow had been the “architect” responsible for demoting Richard Clarke and his counter-terrorism team within the NSC. As Shenon puts it, Zelikow “had laid the groundwork for much of went wrong at the White House in the weeks and months before September 11. Would he want people to know that?”

Zelikow denies this and says he recused himself from anything to do with the NSC transition. Update: Sorry for the lack of clarity here. Zelikow is not denying that he was on the transition team; that fact was reported by The Wall Street Journal as far back as 2003. He’s denying that he hid that fact from the commission.

Second, about those phone calls. Shenon reports that not only did Zelikow frequently talk to Rove, but that he tried to hide it, even requesting that his secretary not take messages. Zelikow denies this, too, and tells Justin, “I never discussed the 9/11 Commission with him, not at all. Period.”

And then there’s Zelikow’s influence on the final product:

Even after his recusal, Zelikow continued to insert himself into the work of “Team 3,” the task force responsible for the most politically-sensitive part of the investigation, counter-terrorism policy. This brief encompassed the White House, which meant investigating the conduct of Condoleeza Rice and Richard Clarke during the months prior to 9/11. Team 3 staffers would come to believe that Zelikow prevented them from submitting a report that would have depicted Rice’s performance as “amount[ing] to incompetence, or something not far from it.”

On this count, Zelikow has a glass half-full view of things:

Out of 85 staffers, half a dozen were disgruntled, Zelikow told ABC News. “Under the circumstances, that was a pretty low fraction,” he said. “But they all talked to Shenon.”

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