Attorney General John Ashcroft appears today before the 9/11 investigating commission to defend his record on terrorism before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The facts that have emerged so far show contradictions. The Washington Post notes that a Justice Department memo on Aug. 9, 2001 listed terrorism as just one of 36 department concerns. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo points to Senate testimony in May 2001 in which Ashcroft endorsed additional funding for counterterrorism programs and said “our number one goal is the prevention of terrorist acts.”
Corallo also said Ashcroft was briefed regularly by the CIA and FBI on the al Qaeda threat in the summer of 2001 but was told that there was no indication of a domestic plot. “At every one of those briefings, he asked for more information, he asked them if there was any evidence of a domestic threat,” Corallo said. “He was repeatedly told that there was no evidence of any threat against the United States.”
Ashcroft will be among several current and former Justice and FBI officials to appear before the panel today and tomorrow. Former Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, former FBI director Louis J. Freeh, former acting director Thomas J. Pickard and CIA Director George J. Tenet are scheduled to appear.
The FBI already has endured harsh criticism from the commission and its predecessor, the joint House-Senate inquiry into intelligence failures before the attacks. Commissioner Timothy J. Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said, “We’re going to have a plethora of questions for the FBI and for Justice . . . and I’m not sure they are going to have any good answers to those questions.”