WASHINGTON -- The independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will have to consider scaling back the scope of its inquiry and limiting public hearings unless Congress agrees by next week to give the panel more time to finish its work, its chairman said this week. Former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, a Republican, also said in an interview that the commission has not decided whether to accept an offer from the White House under which President Bush would meet privately with a small delegation, rather than with the panel as a whole.
Kean's comments indicate that two of the most important issues facing the 10-member bipartisan panel have yet to be resolved just three months before its current deadline of May 27. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, created in late 2002 after months of fierce congressional debate, has been hobbled by a series of disputes with the Bush administration over access to documents and other issues.
The White House reversed course earlier this month and announced it would support a two-month extension of the commission's deadline, to July 26, with the panel shutting down a month later. But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Republican of Illinois, has said he is opposed to any delay. Many Republicans fear that a later deadline would put the release of a potentially damaging report on the terrorist attacks in the middle of the presidential campaign.
Kean said Thursday that he and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, have not met with Hastert but that time is running short for the commission.
"Every week that goes by makes the extension less valuable," Kean said. "When you have to work toward the earlier deadline, you have to start canceling things, and you can't go over things quite as clearly as you might like."