By PHILIP SHENON
The New York Times
July 7, 2004
WASHINGTON, July 6 - The leaders of the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on Tuesday disputed Vice President Dick Cheney's suggestion that he probably had access to more intelligence than the commission did about possible ties between the Qaeda terrorist network and Iraq.
In a one-sentence statement, the panel's chairman and vice chairman said that "after examining available transcripts of the vice president's public remarks, the 9/11 commission believes it has access to the same information the vice president has seen regarding contacts between Al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9/11 attacks."
A report issued by the commission's staff last month found that there did not appear to have been a "collaborative relationship" between Iraq and the terrorist network, a finding that appeared to undermine a justification cited by President Bush and Mr. Cheney for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein.
White House officials questioned the finding and insisted that there had been a close relationship between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. While he did not directly criticize the commission, Mr. Cheney said in a television interview a day after the report's release that he "probably" knew things about Iraq's links to terrorists that the 10-member bipartisan panel did not know.
The commission chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, and the vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana, then called on Mr. Cheney to turn over any reports that would support the White House's insistence of links between Iraq and Al Qaeda.
A spokesman for Mr. Cheney, Kevin Kellems, said on Tuesday that the White House welcomed the statement, calling it proof that the White House had fully cooperated in providing the panel all available intelligence relevant to its work.
"We are pleased with today's statement from the 9/11 commission, which puts to rest a nonstory," he said. "As we have said all along, the administration provided the commission with unprecedented access to sensitive information so they could perform their mission. The vice president criticized some press coverage of the draft staff report. He did not criticize the commission's work."