Zelikowed: Miller Center chief irks widows

When the assassination of President John F. Kennedy shocked the nation, the person chosen to lead the investigation of the horrific crime had to be someone whose integrity and independence were above question. Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren got the nod.

Today, after another horrifying national event, Americans are again demanding answers. But the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist attacks upon the United States– aka the 9/11 Commission– continues to face controversy, including one surrounding a local man.

The commission hasn't gone long without conflict. Just two weeks after his appointment as chair, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stepped down rather than reveal the names of his consulting firm's clients.

In public hearings two weeks ago, allegations about the Bush administration in former security advisor Richard Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, ignited a firestorm that was fanned further by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's refusal to testify publicly before the commission. She cited the need to maintain a line between executive and legislative branches of government.

Her change of heart is credited partly to the 9/11 Moms– Kristen Breitweiser, Lorie Van Auken, Mindy Kleinberg, and Patty Casazza– who lost husbands in the twin towers and have dogged the commission's every step.

Commission executive director Philip Zelikow, who's the director of UVA's Miller Center for Public Affairs, also may have had something to do with the decision to have Rice testify.

According to Newsweek, Zelikow faxed to the White House a 1945 photograph of the presidential chief of staff testifying before a special commission investigating Pearl Harbor, demonstrating that there was indeed a precedent for Rice to testify. He attached a note that warned if she didn't, the photograph would "...be all over Washington in 24 hours."

"This is what happens when you hire historians," jokes commission chairman Thomas Kean in the Newsweek story.

The Four Moms aren't laughing. They don't think the commission is tough enough on the administration, and they're charging Zelikow with conflict of interest.

In a lengthy March 24 New York Observer article by Gail Sheehy, the Moms allege that because Zelikow was a member of the new Bush administration– which is the focus of the investigation– he should resign from the commission.

They didn't like the way Zelikow handled the testimony of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Writes Sheehy, "The Moms had tried to get their most pressing questions to the commission to be asked of Mr. Rumsfeld, but their efforts had foundered at the hands of Philip Zelikow, the commission's staff director."

The Moms claim Zelikow was one of the few people in the Bush administration who were warned about 9/11 and who knew Osama bin Laden was this country's Number One terrorist threat, according to the New York Observer.

They don't like it that Zelikow decides whom the commission will interview and the topics for the hearings. And when Zelikow said in January, "This was everybody's fault and nobody's fault," the Moms told Sheehy the commission was a "whitewash waiting to happen."

Zelikow's ties to Bush include his October 2001 appointment to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. He worked with Rice on the National Security Council in the first Bush administration. And he's written a book with her.

Some people argue that anyone with any expertise in national security is likely to have ties to either the Bush or Clinton administrations. For example, commissioner Jamie Gorelick served as counsel in the Clinton administration.

Through a Miller Center spokesperson, Zelikow declined to comment. But 9/11 Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg dismisses the allegations.

"Dr. Zelikow served one month on the Bush transition team," says Felzenberg. "He never served in the administration. Dr. Zelikow recused himself from all aspects pertaining to that one month."

Felzenberg says the commission has known about Zelikow's connections all along, and that the executive director has satisfied the ethics policies set by law.

"It's been looked into several times," says Felzenberg. "The commission disagrees he's in conflict and is perfectly satisfied."

As for Zelikow's work with Rice writing Germany Unified and Europe Transformed: A Study in Statecraft, "He's a scholar; he's an academic," says Felzenberg. "That's what academics do. The book has nothing to do with terrorism. She's one of a line of academics he's worked with."

While Felzenberg won't speculate about how Zelikow feels having his integrity attacked, the spokesman does say that what's important about the 9/11 Commission is not its director, staff, or commission members.

"This is about writing the definitive account of the events from 9/11 and what led to them with an eye to making policy recommendations that if enacted, would make the American people safer," he says, and adds, "If they succeed, these issues will pale in the long run."

Miller Center Director Philip Zelikow used to work with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice– and he's written a book with her. This week she appeared before the 9/11 Commission, of which he's executive director.