Jan. 30, 2008 -- The former executive director of the 9/11 Commission denies explosive charges of undisclosed ties to the Bush White House or interference with the panel's report.
The charges are said to be contained in New York Times reporter Philip Shenon's unreleased book, "The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation," according to Max Holland, an author and blogger, and generally confirmed by the book's publisher. Although the book is not slated to hit stores until early next month, Holland says he bought a copy of the audio version at a bookstore. (Attempts to purchase the book, in any format, at the Barnes & Noble across the street from ABC News headquarters were unsuccessful.)
9/11 Commission co-chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton hired former Condoleezza Rice aide Philip Zelikow to be executive director, Zelikow failed to tell them about his role helping Rice set up President George W. Bush's National Security Council in early 2001 – and that he was "instrumental" in demoting Richard Clarke, the onetime White House counterterrorism czar who was fixated on the threat from Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, according to Holland's version of Shenon's tome.
"[Zelikow] had laid the groundwork for much of what went wrong at the White House in the weeks and months before September 11. Would he want people to know that?" Shenon writes, according to Holland.
Zelikow denied that was the case. "It was very well-known I had served on this transition team and had declined to go into the administration. I worked there for a total of one month. I had interviewed Sandy Berger, Dick Clarke and most of the NSC staff." He noted he recused himself from working on the section of the panel's report addressing the NSC transition, and that other staffers had held conflicting positions in the Clinton administration.
In his book, Shenon also says that while working for the panel, Zelikow appears to have had private conversations with former White House political director Karl Rove, despite a ban on such communication, according to Holland. Shenon reports that Zelikow later ordered his assistant to stop keeping a log of his calls, although the commission's general counsel overruled him, Holland wrote.
Zelikow told ABC News he was under no prohibition that barred his conversations with Rove, and did not recall asking his assistant to stop logging his calls, although he did speak to her about leaving phone messages in a publicly visible place. "Two other people took my calls as well, and neither have a recollection" of Zelikow asking for calls not to be logged, he said. Further, Zelikow said 9/11 Commission general counsel Daniel Marcus did not raise the matter with Zelikow at the time.
Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Marcus declined to confirm or deny the events.
Zelikow flatly denied discussing the commission's work with Rove. "I never discussed the 9/11 Commission with him, not at all. Period."
What's more, the idea of Zelikow and Rove conspiring over the commission's work was unrealistic, the ex-director indicated. "I was not a very popular person in the Bush White House when this was going on. There's a lot of carryover of that to this day."
Holland reports that Shenon discovered some panel staffers believed Zelikow stopped them from submitting a report depicting Rice's performance as "amount[ing] to incompetence, or something not far from it."
"I don't think that staffers will bear that out," Zelikow said. Out of 85 staffers, half a dozen were disgruntled, Zelikow told ABC News. "Under the circumstances, that was a pretty low fraction," he said. "But they all talked to Shenon."
Halfway into the panel's operation, Zelikow told his bosses under oath of the once-hidden ties, Holland's blog says Shenon's book reports. Upon hearing the details, Shenon writes, Marcus concluded Zelikow "never should have been hired," according to Holland.
"That's not right," Marcus said when told of the account. "That's certainly not true."
Shenon directed calls to his publisher, Twelve Books, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group.
Cary Goldstein, a spokesman for Hachette, confirmed the blog's characterization of the book's contents, but said he could not confirm direct quotes.
"It's not a surprise," Goldstein said when asked his reaction to the leak of the book's details before its Feb. 5 publication date. "I think people are really curious to see what the report had looked like if it hadn't been neutered in [the panel's] effort to be unanimous."