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
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.
Former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, speaking at a news
conference at Drew University in Madison, N.J., where he is president,
said he would devote one day a week to the panel.
(Mike Derer -- AP)
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
"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
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 commission.
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
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 "thorough."
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 report.