Graham accuses White House of covering up evidence in Sept. 11 attacks
September 7, 2004
WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham accused the White House on Tuesday of covering up evidence that might have linked Saudi Arabia to the Sept. 11 hijackers.
Graham’s charges, made in a new book and at a news conference arranged by the John Kerry campaign, were rejected by Republicans as “bizarre conspiracy theories.” The Saudis said Graham’s claims were unsubstantiated and reckless.
Kerry has called for an independent investigation into the charges made by Graham, his former rival for the Democratic nomination.
Graham’s statements support Kerry’s claims that Bush is too close to the Saudi royal family and unwilling to pressure it to crack down on the financing of terrorists. But they are at odds with the findings of the independent Sept. 11 commission that Kerry has strongly supported. The commission said it found no evidence that the Saudi government funded al-Qaida.
Graham said the commission “has given us its conclusions without giving us the facts upon which those conclusions were established.”
The Florida senator co-chaired the joint congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks that preceded the broader commission investigation. The other co-chair was Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., now Bush’s nominee to head the CIA.
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Republican National Committee Communications Director Jim Dyke said that when Graham was a presidential candidate, his “bizarre conspiracy theories and calls for the president’s impeachment (over the Iraq war) so undermined his credibility it is difficult to understand why the Kerry campaign would now lend him a platform to launch his latest accusations – accusations already disproved by the 9/11 Commission.”
The cover-up charge stems from the FBI’s refusal to allow inquiry staff to interview an informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, who had been the landlord in San Diego of Sept. 11 hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.
In his book “Intelligence Matters,” Graham said an FBI official wrote to Goss and Graham in November 2002 and said “the administration would not sanction a staff interview with the source. Nor did the administration agree to allow the FBI to serve subpoena or a notice of deposition on the source.”
In his telephone news conference, Graham called the letter “a smoking gun” and said, “The reason for this cover-up goes right to the White House.”
The joint inquiry report last year also noted its lack of access to Shaikh, placing responsibility on “the FBI, supported by the attorney general and the administration.”
The inquiry’s report added to suspicions about a Saudi role in the plot. The Bush administration refused to allow the release of a 28-page section dealing with foreign support for hijackers. That section was believed to center on Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
The inquiry also raised questions about the role of two Saudi men who lived in San Diego and were associated with al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi.
One of the men, Omar al-Bayoumi, had visited the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles shortly before meeting the two future hijackers. The wife of the other man, Osama Basnan, had received checks from the wife of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington. The Saudi government has said those checks were charitable donations to pay for medical expenses.
In its report, the independent commission said it found “no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al-Qaida. It also found no evidence that Basnan provided money to the two hijackers and said its investigators found it unlikely al-Bayoumi would be involved with extremists.
But Graham said the commission’s findings were based on an interview with al-Bayoumi in Saudi Arabia with Saudi Arabian officials present. “He had no motivation to speak truthfully as to his role,” he said.
In a statement released by the Saudi embassy, Prince Bandar said: “It is irresponsible of the senator to make statements that he says are based on intelligence when there are no bases for such allegations. His claims have been completely discredited” by the FBI and the Sept. 11 commission.