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The 9/11 Commission's Saint Rudy Problem

August 7, 2006

No one who sat through the 9/11 Commission’s public hearings at the New School in May 2004 will forget its wimp-out in questioning Rudy Giuliani.

The May 20, 2004 headline of this column, the day after Rudy’s testimony, summed it up: “Enough with the softballs!”

Now in their new book, “Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission,” Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton try to justify their failure.

“It proved difficult, if not impossible, to raise hard questions about 9/11 in New York without it being perceived as criticism of the individual police or firefighters or of Mayor Giuliani,” they write.

As someone who witnessed the commissioners’ sycophantic spectacle, there is but one word for this explanation: bull….

Just the day before, the commission displayed no such compunction in lambasting Giuliani’s key appointees — police commissioner Bernie Kerik, fire commissioner Tom Von Essen and Emergency Management head Richie Sheirer — for their agencies’ lack of coordination that led to the deaths of many of the 343 firefighters in the rescue effort.

Commissioner John Lehman was so pumped up, he called the city agencies’ joint response “an insult” and a “scandal.”

How criticizing these Giuliani subordinates cannot be perceived as criticism of Giuliani defies belief.

Furthermore as Giuliani’s spokeswoman Sunny Mindel pointed out to the Times, the News and the Post [but not to Your Humble Servant, thus sustaining her moniker Sunny the Silent], the commission had Giuliani all alone in private session and apparently failed to ask him the questions they should have.

No, there is a better explanation for this 9/11 Commission failing. It is this: Giuliani’s presence — call it his aura as America’s Mayor — was so commanding that one after the other, each commissioner fell over himself in praising him.

This is how Giuliani began, in words that still resonate and make him a formidable presidential candidate:

“Our enemy is not each other. Catastrophic emergencies and attacks have acts of great heroism attached to them. They have acts of ingenious creativity attached to them, and they have mistakes that happen.

“Hopefully, this commission will assess that correctly, with compassion and understanding, and then the next one will be done a little bit better. But the next one, unfortunately, is probably going to be a mix of exactly those same things: acts of great heroism, many, many creative and brilliant things done, and some terrible mistakes that were made. Because when human beings are put under this condition, that’s what happens. Sour anger should clearly be directed and the blame should clearly be directed at one source and one source alone, the terrorists who killed our loved ones.”

This was followed by sustained applause.

Now let’s take the first commissioner to question our former mayor, the hard-charging Richard Ben-Veniste. Ben-Veniste, who worked under Giuliani in the United States Attorney’s office, evaporated at the New School from a tiger into a pussycat.

“I have followed your career since then with admiration, and while sometimes disagreeing with your decisions never questioned your unwavering dedication to New York City.

"On September 11, 2001, the City of New York showed what it was made of. The heroism of the firemen and the police officers who risked and in previously unimaginable numbers gave their lives in the quest for saving the lives of others, and your leadership on that day and in the days following gave the rest of the nation, and indeed the world, an unvarnished view of the indomitable spirit and the humanity of this great city, and for that I salute you.”

Next came commission member and former Illinois Governor James R. Thompson. This is how he began:

“Mayor Giuliani, I'd like to associate myself, and I think probably every member of the panel does, with Commissioner Ben-Veniste's opening remarks considering your extraordinary leadership not only for the City of New York during crisis but for the nation as well in setting an example for all of us.”

Thompson was followed by Congressman Timothy Roemer.

“I too want to join, Mayor, in thanking you for your time this morning and particularly your brave and courageous leadership on September the 11th .... I served in government, in Washington D.C. on that day, and we constantly saw the replaying of the planes crashing into the two towers, and that brought a potential sense of devastation and insecurity to many people.

“At the same time people would see the video of you marching down the streets of New York City, showing calm and showing leadership, that I think had a ripple effect not just in New York City but to people, leaders in Washington and around the country.”

Heard enough?

Nor was Giuliani the only person over whom commissioners took a dive. Current police commissioner Ray Kelly also testified and was asked not one hard question about an issue with relevance today.

One of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations was that — as exists in every major American city — the fire department assume the role of first responder in another 9/11-like catastrophe.

But not in New York City. Here, with Giuliani’s successor, Michael Bloomberg, in thrall of Kelly, that authority rests with the police department.

A Marriage Made in Heaven?
Jeanine Pirro, who’s running for attorney general, already has a philandering, mob-connected ex-con as a husband. Now she apparently has a philandering, guilty-pleading, mob-connected former New York City police commissioner as a public supporter.

Here’s an e-mail about Pirro from Kerik, sent to 50 of Bernie’s closest friends, including law enforcement buddy Jerry Speziale, Congressman Peter King, FBI spokesman John Miller and restauranteur Anthony Scotto.

“Jeanine Pirro is a fighter,” says Bernie. “Smart, understanding and tough, she has dedicated her career – to fighting crime and improving the lives of her fellow New Yorkers. I have know [sic] and worked with Jeanine Pirro for more than 12 years and know firsthand her commitment to ‘getting the job done,’ whether that be pursuing white collar criminals, vicious thugs, child pornographers or scam artists. She’s been in the trenches, knows the fight and has gotten results. Let’s keep her fighting for us as Attorney General of the Great State of New York.”

So was this e-mail authorized by Pirro? Campaign spokeswoman Anne Marie Corbalis promised to check. We’re still waiting.

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Copyright © 2006 Leonard Levitt