The White House is expected to soon release a transcript of a 2004 interview that former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney gave to the bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Wall Street Journal.
According to a copy of the 31-page document reviewed by the Journal, the April 2004 interview took place in the Oval Office and included discussion of intelligence warnings prior to the attacks and the events of the day.
It also describes how Bush told Cheney he had the authority to shoot down unresponsive commercial airliners.
"'Yes, engage the enemy,'" Bush recalled telling Cheney. "'You have the authority to shoot down an airplane.'"
Cheney repeatedly told Bush, who was onstage at a Florida school when the attacks began, not to return to Washington, according to the document.
"The president agreed, reluctantly," the document said. "The president asked the vice president to take necessary steps and stay in close touch."
While the interview wasn't recorded — and is not a verbatim transcript — a note taker was present and created a "memorandum for the record."
The Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel authorized the public release of the document and it contains few redactions, according to the Journal.
In the interview, Bush repeatedly challenged claims that his administration could have been more proactive against al-Qaida, which had already attacked two U.S. Embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole before terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 11, 2001.
Per the transcript, Bush told the 9/11 commission that there was no information about al-Qaida terrorist cells within the U.S. in an item entitled "Bin Ladin determined to Strike in U.S." from his Aug. 6, 2001, Presidential Daily Brief.
"There was no actionable intelligence on such a threat — not one," Bush is quoted as saying.
Declassified in 2004, that intelligence report said the FBI possessed information on "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijacking or other types of suspicious attacks," but did not go into detail.
If Bush had suggested sending U.S. military forces to Afghanistan, where al-Qaida was based, prior to the attacks, he would have raised eyebrows, he said, quoting former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as saying, "I would have looked at you like a nut."
Bush and Cheney weren't under oath during the interview, as the White House contended it would set a troubling precedent, according to the Journal.
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