Lawmakers push for Obama to break seal on 9/11 pages

Martin Matishak and Julian Hattem The Hill 

President Obama is coming under pressure from lawmakers to declassify 28 pages of the 9/11 report that were blacked out when the document was first released to the public.

Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) are trying to whip up support for a resolution that would release those pages from the 2002 study, which have long been rumored to contain information about Saudi Arabia and its relationship to al Qaeda.

“You cannot have trust in your government when your government hides information from you, particularly on something horrific like 9/11,” Jones told The Hill on Friday.

Thus far, 11 House lawmakers — including eight Democrats — have co-sponsored Jones’s resolution, and he is talking to a handful of senators, including Rand Paul (R-Ky.), about getting a similar measure introduced in the other chamber.

The push has also gained momentum with the endorsement of former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who, as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, oversaw a congressional inquiry into the attack that was separate from the 9/11 Commission.

“If I thought this was going to do anything to jeopardize the national security of this country, I would not advocate for it,” said Jones, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The redacted pages are believed to suggest that high-level officials in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia — Osama bin Laden’s home country — were complicit in the 2001 attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

Opponents of releasing the documents contend that the pages do no[t] support that argument and say the pages should remain classified.

“I have read the 28 pages and the issues raised in those pages were investigated by the 9/11 Commission and found to be unsubstantiated,” Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

“I believe that at appropriate time in the near future they should be declassified — with any redactions necessary to protect intelligence sources and methods — as this would help demystify the issues raised,” he added.

Members of Congress can view the 28 pages by writing the House Intelligence Committee and asking for permission.

A spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the Intelligence panel’s chairman, said the committee granted more than 30 requests from lawmakers to view the pages in the 113th Congress. Eight more requests were granted on Thursday, he said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee who supports releasing the pages to the public, said he was not taken aback when he read them.

“I don’t think there’s any big smoking gun there, as has been suggested by some,” he told The Hill this week.

The Saudi government has supported releasing the pages. Secrecy, it has said, has made the news appear worse than it actually is.

In 2003, then-Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Bandar bin Sultan said that the 28 pages “are being used by some to malign our country and our people,” and had actually been blanked out because the information “could not be substantiated.”

“Saudi Arabia has nothing to hide,” he added.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest recently stated that based on a congressional request made last year the administration had “moved forward with asking the intelligence community to conduct a classification review of this material,” noting it was “standard operating procedure when the government is considering releasing classified material.”

On Friday a White House spokesman said that process is “ongoing.”

Jones demurred at the idea that the motive behind his resolution was to somehow embarrass Riyadh. He stressed that Obama had held two separate meetings with the families of the 9/11 attack victims and told them he had no objection to releasing the pages.

“What we’re trying to do is put pressure on the White House to keep its promise to the families,” Jones said.

As a lame duck, Obama has already made aggressive administrative moves on immigration, net neutrality and other issues important to his liberal base. Transparency advocates are holding out hope that whatever instinct drove him to take those actions might also lead him to make additional disclosures about secret national security documents.

“I’m not terribly optimistic, but at some point maybe he’ll look to his legacy,” said Katherine Hawkins, the national security fellow at the anti-secrecy Open the Government coalition.

If anything, critics are only raising their voice.

“People don’t seem to have forgotten in this case,” she added.

“It’s not as if these are 10,000 pages in the CIA archives from the 1950s that they should review and release; it’s 28 pages. It’s finite.”

Jones promised to continue “beating the drum” for the pages to be made available, even if intelligence officials rule they shouldn’t.

He said he wouldn’t want to be in Obama’s shoes if that happens, especially after reportedly promising the families to release the documents.

“I would not want that on my conscience,” Jones told The Hill.

“If you’re going [t]o turn your back on truth and sunshine you might as well turn your back on democracy,” he said.

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