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9/11 Panel Gets New Chairman
Ex-N.J. Governor Kean Named to Replace Kissinger
Amy Goldstein Washington Post Staff writer
December 17, 2002; Page A1
President Bush yesterday appointed former New Jersey governor Thomas
H. Kean to lead the prominent new commission that will investigate
the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, three days after the abrupt
resignation of former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger, the
administration's first choice. Bush announced the selection of Kean,
a moderate Republican and a university president for the past dozen
years, to replace Kissinger, who surprised the White House by withdrawing
before the commission began its work, Kissinger cited widespread concern
over potential conflicts of interest involving his business interests.
Kean, a popular governor from 1982 to 1990, is
widely perceived as independent-minded and skillful at management. But
skeptics said he lacks expertise in immigration, intelligence, security
and other realms the commission will explore as it tries to ferret out
the governmental lapses that allowed the terrorist hijackings to succeed.
According to administration officials, lawmakers and
advocates who lobbied for creation of the National Commission on Terrorist
Attacks, Kean will bring very different characteristics to the
"While he doesn't have Henry Kissinger's depth in
international affairs, he has a proven track record of bringing people
together and finding unity," one administration official said.
The White House portrayed Kean as close to
families who lost relatives in the attacks. Kean said yesterday
that the main reason the administration had mentioned in offering him the
position Sunday night was his roots in the part of the country that had
suffered the greatest losses.
Bush announced his selection on the same day that
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) named a former Navy
secretary, John Lehman, as the 10th -- and final -- member of the
commission. In choosing Lehman, Lott spurned former senator Warren B.
Rudman (R-N.H.), the choice of two Republican senators who have been
intimately involved with the commission's creation.
Rudman, who helped lead a separate inquiry that
exposed the nation's vulnerability to terrorism, was promoted for the new
panel by victims' families and had been backedby Sens. John McCain
(Ariz.) and Richard C. Shelby (Ala.).
The appointments of Kean and Lehman complete
the membership of an inquiry panel whose necessity, purpose and
participants have been disputed for months. Like Kissinger, former Senate
majority leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine), the Democrats' initial
choice for vice chairman, quit the panel even before it began its
18-month investigation. Mitchell also said he was deterred by the possibility
that he would have to forsake some private sector work to make the
commission truly neutral.
By yesterday, the panel's most ardent champions
suggested that the commission probably had attained neutrality, but might
lack aggressiveness or expertise as a result.
Kean, in particular, "doesn't have the
background in any of the areas that the commission will be [probing] --
diplomacy, aviation security, immigration policy, intelligence,"
said Stephen Push, a spokesman for Families of September 11, one of the
family groups that welded their grief into a lobbying force for the
Outgoing Rep. Timothy J. Roemer (D-Ind.), who helped
write the legislation creating the commission and is one of its members,
said the panel "is off to a bit of a bumpy start" but
predicted, "we will be in very good shape," as long as it
"doesn't get into a partisan wrangling game."
Roemer said that, while he believes Rudman would have
brought "fierce independence" to the group's work, Kean
has a background of "moderation and working across the aisle."
The commission will be the second to examine
government failures that allowed the attacks. An investigation by the
House and Senate intelligence committees turned up numerous lapses by the
FBI, CIA and other agencies.
The commission is equally divided between GOP and
Democratic appointees. Advocates are wary that the panel, which will
require six votes to issue a subpoena, may prove reticent to embarrass
the administration by probing deeply into executive branch agencies that
did not detect or thwart the terror plot.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the
possibility of Kean as chairman was first broached to Bush in late
October by the president's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr. "Andy
started bouncing several names off the president," Fleischer said,
adding that Kissinger was discussed at the same time.
At a news conference at Drew University in Madison,
N.J., where he is president, Kean said he spoke to the White House
Saturday, the day after Kissinger stepped down. Several conversations
later, Kean said, Card telephoned him Sunday night to ask:
"Do you want to do it?"
Kean said his relationship with Bush is
"cordial" and that they had met "a couple of times."
In the past, Kean has publicly distanced himself from elements of
his own party, saying in 1995 that he was disturbed by the growing
influence of "right-wing radicals" in the GOP.
Yesterday, Kean sought to put to rest the
matter of conflicts of interest, saying, "I have no clients except
the university." He said that he would remain the school's
president, devoting one day a week to the commission's work.
In a statement, Bush called Kean "a leader
respected for his integrity, fairness and good judgment," and said
he expected that he would assure that the commission's work is
Fleischer said Kean has a "very close
relationship with the 9/11 families," noting that he is a board
member of a company that lost 80 employees in the attack on New York's
World Trade Center.
Kean identified the firm as Fiduciary Trust
International and said he had spoken at a memorial service for its
employees after the attacks.
Correspondent Robert Strauss contributed to this
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