WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday chastised the Justice Department for publicly releasing documents about Sept. 11 commission member Jamie Gorelick (search) that indicated she was partly responsible for erecting the controversial "walls" between intelligence and law enforcement agencies tracking Al Qaeda and other terrorists.
Gorelick, who served as the No. 2 Justice official during the Clinton administration under then-Attorney General Janet Reno, has caused a stir lately for her participation in the National Commission on Terror Attacks Upon the United States (search), which is investigating the intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Although she recused herself from publicly questioning some Clinton officials with whom she worked while she was deputy attorney general, many Republican members of Congress and others have said she should resign from the investigation and testify as a witness instead.
Bush and Vice President Cheney met with the commission behind closed doors Thursday.
The president told commissioners that he was disappointed in the Justice Department for releasing documents from Gorelick on the Internet, according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
"I think he's disappointed that that information was placed on their Web site like that," McClellan said, adding "We were not involved in that."
McClellan said the department was made aware of the president's disapproval and Bush aides brought their complaints directly to Attorney General John Ashcroft's staff.
"The president does not believe we ought to be pointing fingers. ... We ought to be working together to help the commission complete its work," McClellan said.
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo declined to comment.
Ashcroft has been critical of Gorelick's memos from the mid-1990s that he says caused a barrier in communication between law enforcement and intelligence agencies. She came under fire from Ashcroft during his recent testimony before the commission.
The Justice Department released documents on Wednesday that were given to the commission on Tuesday. They show that Gorelick was responsible for signing off on the new policy of separation and rejecting criticism from U.S. prosecutors who feared it could undermine future efforts to stop terror attacks.
The documents show that despite public comments to the contrary, Gorelick was heavily involved in Clinton Justice Department rules that fortified or heightened the "wall" separating criminal and terrorism/intelligence gathering investigations. The previously classified 1995 memo written by Gorelick had instructions to "more clearly separate" counterintelligence from criminal investigations. Ashcroft said this "wall" was a major barrier to terrorism probes.
The Justice documents also show sharp criticism from Mary Jo White (search), the former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office prosecuted the terrorists convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. That office also indicted Usama bin Laden for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.
"It is hard to be totally comfortable with instructions to the FBI prohibiting contact with the United States Attorneys' offices when such prohibitions are not legally required," White wrote in a June 13, 1995, memo to Reno.
Several senators have asked on more than one occasion that Chairman Thomas Kean (search) and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reconsider their decision to not force Gorelick to testify publicly.
A group of senators wrote a letter last week saying that a lot of "significant unresolved differences" remain in the public statements of Gorelick and Ashcroft, and others involved in the "wall" issue.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., pointed out that it was Gorelick and Hamilton who were most vocal in calling for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly after she spent about four hours with the commission behind closed doors.
"I think that standard not only applied to Dr. Rice ... I think that same standard applies to Ms. Gorelick even though she is a commissioner," Bond told Fox News on Thursday. "She knows more about what happened than almost any other witness they could call before that commission."
Gorelick has said that she will not resign, and commission chairman Kean and other panel members, including Republican members, have said she is doing a fine job on the panel and will not ask her to leave.
A Cordial, Friendly Meeting
Two sources who were in the Oval Office during the commission's questioning of Bush and Cheney told Fox News that the meeting was very cordial. One source said: "Ninety-nine percent of the questions were directed to the president." Another source added: "He answered them all ... and didn't have to turn to anyone for guidance … He knew them all."
"Everyone got to ask all the questions they could think of," one source added.
Bush declined Thursday to describe the details of the meeting, but acknowledged that Al Qaeda is still a threat to the United States. He added that he was pleased with the 3 hour and 10 minute session.
"They had a lot of good questions. I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I took the time. It's important that they asked the questions they asked ... I answered every question that they asked," Bush said.
Some of the questioning was sharp but the president answered all questions in a "direct and businesslike manner," the sources said.
One said the whole session "was in very good humor." A second person said, "the atmosphere was very cordial."
Commission members said the meeting was extraordinary. Hamilton, a Democrat, seemed extremely satisfied after the historic meeting.
"We had a marvelous meeting with the president. The president's comments were very candid, very forthcoming, he was interested in what he had to say and we, of course, were very interested in what he had to say," Hamilton told reporters, calling the meeting "very productive."
One of the participants said Bush was able to straighten out some things where there had been inconsistencies between some other people's testimony.
Cheney was said to have filled in some things and "was a real help."
"It was a big success for all parties," said one of the sources. And he said it was clear from the session that "the president really does want to work with us now."
The second source said the president was confident and knowledgeable and was "really interested in our views."
Fox News' Jim Angle, Anna Stolley, Greg Kelly and Liza Porteus contributed to this report.