WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham accused the Bush administration Thursday of stonewalling on the public release of a congressional report on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The only reason that delay has occurred is because the administration does not want our report to be available to the American people," said Graham, Florida's senior senator and the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
After months of investigation and a series of congressional hearings last year, the House and Senate Intelligence panels wrapped up their report Dec. 20 and released a summary. The full classified report is still under review at the FBI and CIA, which are trying to determine whether any disclosure of information might pose a risk to national security and should remain secret.
Graham, who chaired the committee at the time the report was completed, said he thinks the White House is behind the delay.
"They don't want this report to come out," he said. "There has not been in my memory, and I would question whether there has been in modern American history, an administration that was so committed to secrecy as this Bush administration."
The White House had no immediate comment.
Graham said the administration is using "classification to cover up information that is not a legitimate threat to America's security, but rather to avoid the American people's opportunity to know what happened, why and what this administration has done about it."
Rep. Jane Harman of California, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said she prefers to "think well of everyone involved," and thinks the report is being held up by bureaucratic delays rather than an administration conspiracy.
"I don't know what the reasons for the holdup are, but there are not any reasons that persuade me that we should wait longer," she said. "I'm for immediate release of large portions of the report. The majority clearly does not need to be classified."
Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., one of Graham's rivals for the Democratic nomination, also called on the administration to stop blocking the report's release.
"I fear the administration is placing bureaucratic, political, or secrecy interests ahead of the national interest," Lieberman said in a statement.
Graham's comments came at his first Washington appearance since his formal announcement in Florida Tuesday that he would join the presidential race. The news conference was designed to highlight his economic plan, but was overshadowed by his comments on the Sept. 11 report and reporters' questions about whether he had ruled out running for re-election to his Senate seat.
Graham continued to avoid answering that question directly. He said he has encouraged other Democrats interested in pursuing the Senate seat to build their campaign and felt no pressure to state his intentions.
"The only people who seem to feel any pressure are you folks," he told the reporters.
Graham's offered his economic proposal as an alternative to a Republican plan to cut taxes on stock dividends as the Senate Finance Committee debated the legislation Thursday, but it was rejected 14-7. The centerpiece of his plan would have given the average worker a $765 refundable wage tax credit in 2003 and 2004.
"Our plan would put the money in the hands of Americans most likely to spend it," he said.
One of Graham's rivals and fellow member of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, also supported the amendment. Kerry said the wealthiest Americans who would get the dividend cut don't need a tax break now given the country's situation.
"This is what I call cheap politics and I think the American people are going to see through it ultimately," Kerry said in a conference call with New Hampshire media. "There are a better set of choices to be made for the nation."