Former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell announced he will not take the position of vice-chairman on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, to be headed by Henry Kissinger.

"My understanding of the law establishing the commission is that it contemplates members who will serve part-time while continuing their prior employment. However, as you know, some have urged that I sever all ties to the law firm with which I am associated. Since I must work to support my family I cannot comply," Mitchell said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.

Mitchell, who was named to the commission by Daschle and Gephardt, said he saw no conflict of interest between representing clients of his law firm and working on the committee, and would have been willing to sever ties had it become a problem.

"I would immediately stop representing and have no further contact with any client of my firm who becomes involved in the inquiry," he wrote. "I have no doubt that the commission will take action sufficient to insure that all of the members (including me, had I served) will be in full compliance with the letter and the spirit of all applicable laws and regulations."

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States was established to investigate intelligence failures that otherwise may have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. It has 18 months to finish its work. Five of its members are to be named by Republicans and five by Democrats.

The commission will have power to subpoena any witness to testify about possible intelligence failures, as long as six members of the commission -- or the chairman and vice chairman -- agree to it. This provision was drawn up to make sure the subpoenas were not issued on a partisan basis, and was demanded by President Bush who wanted to avoid finger-pointing.

Daschle and Gephardt have also named former Indiana Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton to vice-chair the commission. While in Congress, Hamilton served as chairman of the House International Relations Committee and chairman of the Select Intelligence Committee.

On Tuesday, Senate Republican leader Trent Lott appointed former Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash. Republican congressional leaders will name three more members.

Daschle and Gephardt's other appointees to the panel, which must be in place by Dec. 15, include outgoing Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, outgoing Indiana. Rep. Tim Roemer, former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste, and Fannie Mae Vice Chairman Jaime Gorelick.

Said Dick Gephardt in a written statement: "There is no more important task than investigating the events related to 9/11 and making sure these kinds of events never happen again. I can think of no individuals better suited to work on this project than the people we have announced."