WASHINGTON – The White House said Tuesday it expects that President Bush (search) rather than Vice President Dick Cheney (search) will handle most of the questions when they appear jointly Thursday before the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Despite some sharp exchanges between commission members and other witnesses at earlier sessions, Bush's spokesman said, "You should not look at this as an adversarial process. We are all working toward the same objective here."
Bush and Cheney will meet in a private session with all 10 commission members at the White House Thursday, beginning at 9:30 a.m. EDT. Members will be allowed to take notes of their remarks, but there will not be a stenographer to make a complete record. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that was similar to the practice followed with other closed-door testimony.
Unlike witnesses in public sessions, Bush and Cheney will not be under oath. Likewise, former President Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore and Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice (search), were not under oath when they appeared in private sessions. Rice also testified in a public session and she was under oath on that occasion.
Questions have been raised about why the White House insisted on Bush and Cheney appearing together. Bush has declined to explain the decision. Some analysts have suggested the dual appearance is intended to prevent any differing accounts from the president and vice president.
"I expect most of the questions are going to be directed to the president," McClellan said. "So I expect the president will be answering most of the questions. Obviously if they have specific questions to the vice president, they can direct those to the vice president in that meeting."
He said that having Bush and Cheney appear together "can better help the commission piece together all the information that they have already been provided and can better help the commission have as complete account of events as possible."
Preparing for his appearance, Bush has been reviewing documents from the months leading up to Sept. 11 and has been consulting with White House chief of staff Andy Card (search), Rice and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales (search).
Gonzales is expected to be at Thursday's session, along with perhaps another member of the counsel's office and other White House officials, McClellan said.
Bush had opposed creating the commission and then opposed extending its life, and also had opposed having Rice testify in public. But he subsequently relented on all counts. McClellan said Bush "appreciates the job the commission is doing. He strongly supports the commission's important work."
He said the president "very much looks forward to sitting down with the commission and answering whatever questions they may have."