WASHINGTON – President Bush said Monday he will tell the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks (search) that his administration lacked the information needed to prevent the terrorists from striking.
The federal panel reviewing the attacks plans to meet soon with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (search) in a joint private session to determine whether anything could have been done to stop the attacks.
A date for the meeting has been set but neither the commission nor the White House has disclosed it. Bush said he looks forward to "sharing information with them."
"Let me just be very clear about this," he said. "Had we had the information that was necessary to stop an attack, I'd have stopped the attack. ... If we'd have known that the enemy was going to fly airplanes into our buildings, we would have done everything in our power to stop it."
After the attacks, "this country immediately went on war footing and we went to war against Al Qaeda. And we're going to keep after them until they are brought to justice and America is secure," Bush told reporters while on a trip to North Carolina.
Bush also said National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) "knows exactly what took place and will lay out the facts" when she testifies Thursday before the 10-member bipartisan panel. "I'm looking forward to people hearing her," he said.
Rice's testimony was assured only after Bush changed course last week under pressure and decided to allow her to appear publicly and under oath. She met privately with the commission in February.
The Bush administration had been uneasy that allowing a top aide to testify could set a precedent of summoning top aides before a congressional panel to provide sworn testimony. Such a move would inhibit the willingness of aides to provide the president with candid advice.
Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said Monday the decision to let Rice testify might have been influenced by a 1945 photo the panel sent to the White House showing a top presidential aide appearing before a congressional panel to discuss policy advice.
The Nov. 22, 1945, New York Times photograph shows Adm. William D. Leahy, chief of staff to Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, appearing before the special congressional panel investigating the Pearl Harbor attacks.
Felzenberg said the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, faxed the photo the day before the White House reversed its position, showing the administration there was historical support for allowing a top presidential aide to testify under oath before a congressional panel.
"It deals with the historical precedent which the White House and we were concerned about," Felzenberg said. "You won't find a clearer case."
Meanwhile, lawyers for the commission on Monday were checking thousands of classified counterterrorism documents from the Clinton administration to determine if Bush's aides had improperly withheld them.
The Bush administration granted the commission access to the documents Friday after Bruce Lindsey, who was legal adviser to President Clinton, said officials didn't turn over all of Clinton's records to the panel.
The commission expects to know by Tuesday whether additional documents should be released, or if the material is, as Bush aides have said, is largely duplicative or non-responsive to the commission's requests, Felzenberg said.