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Top Stories - Reuters
Kissinger Resigns as Head of Sept. 11 Commission
1 hour, 18 minutes ago
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By Adam Entous

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Under fire for potential conflicts of interest, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger abruptly resigned on Friday as chairman of an independent commission investigating the government's failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

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"This is a moment of disappointment for me, of course. ... My hope is that, by the decision to step aside now, the joint commission can proceed without further controversy," Kissinger said in a letter to President Bush (news - web sites), who tapped him for the high-profile job.

The announcement, which followed the resignation of former Democratic Sen. George Mitchell as vice chairman of the commission, threw the Sept. 11 investigation into disarray.

Kissinger's selection had sparked considerable controversy, both because of his policy-making role during the Vietnam War and the bombing of Cambodia, and because he is now a high-priced private international consultant. A new documentary called "The Trials of Henry Kissinger" alleged Kissinger was an international war criminal.

The 10-member commission was charged with investigating possible intelligence, aviation security, immigration or other policy lapses related to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.

The Bush administration initially opposed the commission, arguing a congressional investigation was better equipped to preserve national security secrets. Victims' families led a public campaign and pressured Bush to back down.

He appointed Kissinger, one of the most controversial American statesmen of the last half-century, to serve as chairman on Nov. 27.

In his letter of resignation, Kissinger, 79, said he was confident he could have resolved potential conflicts of interest with his consulting firm, Kissinger Associates, but was concerned that "the controversy would quickly move to the consulting firm I have built and own."

"I have, therefore, concluded that I cannot accept the responsibility you proposed," said Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and secretary of state under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Kissinger has stated publicly there are no conflicts between the commission's work and clients at his New York-based consulting service.

But congressional Democrats had demanded that he fully disclose his business clients, and relatives of the victims asked for information about his business interests to see if he had any potential conflicts.

"In the end, he (Kissinger) would've been willing and was going to make his client list public. But he reached the conclusion that even after he had done that, people still would've said 'it's not enough; you must stop making a living; you must sever your ties to all your clients; you can no longer have Kissinger Associates,"' a senior White House official said.

NEW CHAIRMAN SOUGHT 'QUICKLY'

Bush promised to "work quickly" to name a new chairman to the commission "whose mission will be to uncover every detail and learn every lesson of Sept. 11."

"It is with regret that I accept Dr. Kissinger's decision to step down as chairman of the National Commission to investigate the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and the years that led up to that event," Bush said in a statement.

"As I stated at the time of his appointment, Dr. Kissinger is one of our nation's most accomplished and respected public servants. I thank him for his willingness to consider serving his country once again."

Kissinger called White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card on Friday afternoon and told him he had made his mind up to step down. "This came as a surprise," a White House official said.

Earlier this week Mitchell, the former Senate Democratic leader, announced he would not serve on the panel, citing time pressures. Democrats have recommended former House International Relations Committee chairman Lee Hamilton to take Mitchell's place.

When he signed legislation creating the commission, Bush urged its members to expedite their work, due to be completed within the next 18 months, and directed them to "follow all the facts wherever they lead."

But a senior administration officials conceded: "The resignations of Sen. Mitchell and Secretary Kissinger means the commission is not getting off to as quick a start as the president would've hoped."

Democrats have named five representatives to the Sept. 11 commission, including Hamilton as vice chairman. Republicans still must name three more members.

In a statement issued late on Friday, Hamilton said Democratic members of the commission "support complete disclosure and we will each comply fully with the requirements."


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Prev. Story: Embattled Senator Lott Says Sorry but Won't Resign (Reuters)
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