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UPDATED: 14:45, June 25, 2004
Bush, Cheney questioned by US 9/11 panel
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The US independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks questioned President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for more than three hours at the White House on Thursday.

"I answered every question they asked," Bush told reporters after the private session in the Oval Office at the White House.

Bush said he "discussed a lot of things" with the commissioners during the "very cordial conversation," but declined to disclose what questions were asked and how he answered them.

Bush answered most of the questions because most of them were directed to him during the questioning that lasted three hours and10 minutes, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said at a news briefing.

Asked about an Aug. 6, 2001, memo titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack In the United States," McClellan said the president was asked "a little bit" about the memo during the meeting, but later he denied he had said it.

It largely was expected that questions from the commission dealt with Bush's response to the Aug. 6 presidential intelligence memo and what could have been done to prevent the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, that killed some 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Former White House counter terrorism adviser Richard Clarke has claimed that the president had largely ignored the threats from al Qaeda before the terrorist attacks.

All the 10 members of the commission - five Democrats and five Republicans - were present at the questioning session, where Bush and Cheney were joined by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and two members of his staff.

But two Democrats on the panel, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton and former US Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, were seen leaving the session about an hour early.

Asked about why no recordings or transcripts were made for the meeting, McClellan said "this is consistent with many important meetings that we have at the White House."

The White House initially opposed the creation of the panel, which was set up by the Congress in late 2002 to examine security-related issues before the attacks and response afterward and to make recommendations on guarding against future attacks.

The commission had preferred to meet with Bush and Cheney separately, as it did with former president Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore last month, but the White House wanted the two to face the commission together.

The White House's insistence of a joint session of Bush and Cheney with the commission had stirred speculation. Some critics said it appeared that the two were trying to keep their stories straight.

"If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place," Bush said after the session.

Bush said he was impressed by the questions. "I think it helped them understand how I think and how I run the White House and how we deal with threats," he said.

In a statement issued by the panel after the meeting, the commissioners said they found the president and vice president "forthcoming and candid."

The meeting was "extraordinary" and the information provided by Bush and Cheney "will be of great assistance to the commission as it completes its final report," the statement said.

The commission is scheduled to complete its final report in late July, and reports said Bush's advisers were worried its findings would be critical of the president's re-election campaign, which has centered on his record of fighting terrorism.

Source: Xinhua

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