Lawmakers rush to read 9/11 pages

Lawmakers rush to read 9/11 pages
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Lawmakers are scrambling to review the 28 secret pages of the congressional 9/11 report that the Obama administration might soon release to the public. 

There have been 72 requests by members of Congress to read the pages since the new session of Congress began in 2015, according to the House Intelligence Committee, which approves the requests. That’s nearly triple the approximately 25 requests in 2013 and 2014.

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There was a notable “uptick” in the requests after a report about the documents on CBS’s “60 Minutes” last month, the panel said.

The increased number of access requests, all of which have been granted, point to a heightened interest in the secret pages amid the growing likelihood that they will be made public this summer.

The pages have been alleged to contain details of senior Saudi officials’ support for al Qaeda ahead of the 2001 terror attacks. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi nationals, and allegations of the kingdom’s support in some form or another have lingered for years. 

The Saudi government, which has strongly denied any involvement in the attacks, has urged the administration to declassify the 28 pages to end speculation about what they contain. 

In order for lawmakers to view the documents, which are kept in a secure room in the basement of the Capitol, they need to obtain permission from the Intelligence Committee. The matter is usually pro forma, but Rep, Alan GraysonAlan GraysonPennsylania Dems file ethics complaint against Rep. Barletta The Hill's 12:30 Report Why Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog MORE (D-Fla.), who is now running for Senate, was denied in 2014 due to what he claimed was his opposition to programs at the National Security Agency.

A committee spokesman declined to break down the number of requests on a month-by-month basis.

However, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump 'failing' in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.) first read the pages in the last month, after returning from a trip to Saudi Arabia, a spokeswoman said. 

“For many of these members of Congress, it might be a little bit like being caught not doing their homework and now rushing to get that required reading done,” said Brian McGlinchey, an activist who has pushed for the documents to be released.  

In addition to the increase in access requests, an increasing number of House lawmakers are joining on to legislation urging the White House to declassify the documents. 

This week, four more lawmakers joined the House bill from Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), in addition to the eight others who have hopped onboard in the last two months. The resolution now has 53 cosponsors. 

“I’m much more encouraged now than I’ve ever been,” Jones told The Hill off the House floor on Friday. 

“It was a horrendous day in America’s history and people need to know the truth,” he added.

Scrutiny on the documents has simmered for years, but the “60 Minutes” story last month stirred fresh interest. The report came shortly before President Obama traveled to Saudi Arabia in the midst of an apparent rift between Washington and Riyadh.

“Should we believe that the 19 hijackers — most of whom spoke little English, had limited education and had never before visited the United States — acted alone in perpetrating the sophisticated 9/11 plot?” former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), an author of the 2002 congressional report and a proponent for releasing the pages, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this week.

“Did the hijackers have foreign support? If so, who provided it?”

Others have been more skeptical about releasing the pages.  

Last weekend, CIA Director John Brennan worried that “uncorroborated, unvetted information” in the pages might lead people to a “very, very inaccurate” conclusion about Saudi involvement in 9/11

“It was a preliminary review that put information in there that was not corroborated and not vetted and not deemed to be accurate,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The 9/11 Commission, which published its own, separate review of the terrorist attacks in 2004, “found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded” al Qaeda. 

Intelligence officials began reviewing whether the pages should be released in the summer of 2014, in response to an inquiry from Jones and Lynch. This Tuesday, Clapper will meet with Jones, Lynch and Graham to discuss the issue, Jones said.

A formal response could be due next month.

“When that’s done, we’d expect that there will be some degree of declassification that provides more information,” top White House adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters in Riyadh last month.

Whether it’s a full release or not remains to be seen.

“The question, I think, has moved in this great debate from will there be a declassification to how much declassification,” McGlinchey said.

Rhodes’s comments are “worrisome,” he added. 

“We want a complete release of this information, and if there’s anything controversial or anything that’s has been ruled to be not accurate in these pages, the government would be free to issue an accompanying commentary or rebuttal to help explain away anything that they think might be misinterpreted.”