WASHINGTON – The panel probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is defending Jamie Gorelick (search).
Gorelick, a commissioner on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (search), is causing a stir because she served as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department from 1994 to 1997, during the Clinton administration.
Both the Clinton and Bush administrations are key targets of the investigation, and although the panel is comprised entirely of Washington insiders and elected officials, Gorelick, a Democrat, is the only one who was actively serving an administration during the time period being investigated.
Gorelick recused herself from cross-examining some of the law enforcement and intelligence officials who testified before the commission on Tuesday, but to some, that's simply not enough.
"I think she has to recuse herself from everything," said Fox News senior judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano.
But not everyone shares that view.
Republican commissioner John Lehman (search), former Navy secretary under President Reagan, told Fox News on Thursday that he does not agree that Gorelick should resign.
"Jamie Gorelick has made a very good contribution and she's one of the really savvy, nonpartisan of the bipartisan members," Lehman said.
But some critics have pointed out that Gorelick was one commissioner who was relentless — perhaps a little too much so — against Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, during Rice's testimony last week.
"Certainly in the Rice hearings and the [Richard] Clarke hearings, a lot of the members got partisan because they're in front of the cameras and there's a role for them to play," Lehman said, giving the panel a grade of a "C" for keeping partisanship out of the picture.
During Tuesday's proceedings, Attorney General John Ashcroft (search) pointed out that a 1995 memo written by Gorelick during her tenure as second in command at the Justice Department helped build the "walls" that, according to Ashcroft's testimony, prevented the FBI from being able to effectively communicate and go after terrorists.
"We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies," Ashcroft said in his opening remarks. "Our agents were isolated by government-imposed walls, handcuffed by government-imposed restrictions and starved for basic information technology."
Other commissioners also defended Gorelick.
"She is in my mind one of the finest members of the commission, one of the hardest working members of the commission and, by the way, one of the most nonpartisan and bipartisan members of the commission," panel Chairman Thomas Kean (search), the former Republican governor of New Jersey, told reporters Wednesday. "So people ought to stay out of our business."
Kean pointed out that Gorelick recused herself from questioning certain witnesses as called for by the commission rules.
"I think she's a valuable member," added Democratic commissioner Tim Roemer (search), a former U.S. representative from Indiana. "I think nobody has worked harder on this commission than Jamie Gorelick. And nobody has underscored the importance of the commission's work" as she has.
Rep. Robert Andrews, D-N.J., also a member of the Homeland Security Committee, agreed with the commissioners that Gorelick is not posing a conflict of interest.
"I do think the commission has been politicized in the past week ... but I think it's outsiders that’s politicized the commission, not those on it."
Noting that many panelists have at some point in their careers been involved in the U.S. government's intelligence community, Andrews added, "I think we could disqualify a lot of people if you want to use that as a basis."
Calling Gorelick's role in setting Clinton Justice Department policy an "inherent conflict of interest," House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis., urged Gorelick Wednesday to resign.
"She's investigating herself and there's no way an independent commission can come up with an independent conclusion when you have one of the participants, in what appears to be a significant part of the problem, sitting in the commission meeting and having a vote in the commission," Sensenbrenner said.
"I believe the commission's work and independence will be fatally damaged by the continued participation of Ms. Gorelick as a commissioner," the U.S. representative wrote in a statement calling for her resignation.
"Commissioner Gorelick's memo directing a policy that 'go[es] beyond what is legally required' indicates that her judgment and actions as the deputy attorney general in the Reno Justice Department are very much in question before the commission."
Sensenbrenner noted that Ashcroft called the Justice Dept. policy in question "the single greatest structural cause for September 11 ... [and] embraced flawed legal reasoning."
"Commissioner Gorelick is in the unfair position of trying to address the key issue before the Commission when her own actions are central to the events at issue," Sensenbrenner wrote, noting that it's "regrettable the conflict" wasn't brought to light sooner. "The public cannot help but ask legitimate questions about her motives."
Sensenbrenner said Gorelick would be more valuable and less controversial as a witness, not a commission member.
People like former FBI Director Luis Freeh and current FBI chief Robert Mueller, Ashcroft, former presidential adviser Richard Clarke and Rice, who have all testified, "would have rightly sparked indignation about a conflict of interest had these individuals also been members of the commission," Sensenbrenner wrote.
Others agreed with Sensenbrenner.
"The American people want and really expect from this commission more principal, less politics … we don't need to be entertained, we need to be informed," Rep. John Sweeney, a Republican from New York who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, told Fox News, adding that Gorelick should "absolutely" resign.
But Gorelick said in a television interview Wednesday that she will not resign. "The wall was a creature of statute. It's existed since the mid-1980s," she said.
Gorelick is currently a partner at the law firm of Wilmer Cutler and Pickering; she stepped down as vice chairman of Fannie Mae when she took the position on the commission. She was appointed to the panel by Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota and former House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Two groups — The 9-11 Family Steering Committee and 9-11 Citizens Watch — previously called for the resignation of the commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, after it was discovered that he participated in Bush administration briefings on the Al Qaeda threat prior to Sept. 11.
Only Zelikow and Gorelick reportedly are allowed to read classified intelligence reports — known as the presidential daily briefs — in their entirety.
Fox News' Greg Kelly and Anna Stolley contributed to this report.