WASHINGTON (AP) — Condoleezza Rice isn’t the only
one with a lot riding on her appearance tomorrow before the Sept.
11 commission.

If panel members appear politically motivated in their
questioning of the national security adviser, it could raise
questions about their credibility — and the findings in their
final report this summer.

Thomas Kean, the panel’s Republican chairman, says he and
Democratic vice chairman Lee Hamilton are mindful of the political
overtones in a presidential election year.

They issued an edict to fellow commissioners after last
week’s politically charged testimony from former government
counterterror chief Richard Clarke. The message: Leave politics out
of it.

“In a very difficult atmosphere, in a town that is the
most polarized I’ve ever seen, the commission is trying to do
a job for the American people that is to the best of our ability
nonpolitical,” Kean said in an interview. “That is
enormously hard to do, but I think we can get it done and people
should leave us alone.”

Nolan McCarty, a Princeton University professor of politics and
public affairs, said Rice’s testimony will offer a stern test
for the panel.

“Partisanship is almost inevitable,” he said.
“There’s going to be pressure from all quarters to
reach specific conclusions either in exonerating the current
administration or blasting the previous administration or the
reverse. This may be the low point.”

Kean, a former New Jersey governor, expressed frustration with
people in Washington whom he said are intent on politicizing the
commission’s work. While panel members are political
appointees who have diverse points of view and different
constituencies, they are fair-minded and get along well, he
said.

The 10-member panel, made up of five Republicans and five
Democrats, was criticized by some relatives of Sept. 11 victims
after two GOP commissioners sharply questioned the motivations of
Clarke, who testified that President Bush hadn’t considered
the al-Qaida threat an urgent priority.

The commissioners, Fred Fielding, who served as President
Reagan’s legal counsel, and former Illinois Gov. Jim
Thompson, received calls from the White House during Clarke’s
testimony. Kean said that in those calls the two were acting as
go-betweens in hopes of getting Rice to testify that day.

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