Despite several requests from the White House press corps, top administration spokesman Josh Earnest refused to ask President Obama last week if he has read a classified section of the Congressional 9/11 inquiry — one that could implicate Saudi Arabia in the attacks.
The secret text has become an issue in recent days following a “60 Minutes” report that aired this month. Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), the co-chair of the joint Congressional inquiry, told the CBS News magazine that the chapter reveals the 9/11-hijackers received “substantial” support from elements of Saudi society, including the government and wealthy charities.
Though Graham has made similar claims in the past and calls to release the 28-page-section in question predate the Obama White House, the “60 Minutes” segment ratcheted up pressure on the administration to reverse the report’s classification. Following the airing of the Graham interview, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) also called for release of the chapter, stating that “the Bush Administration’s refusal to do so was a mistake.”
The segment and the reaction led to questions from reporters every day last week at White House press briefings. Reporters want to know whether or not President Obama has even read the section. Earnest still apparently refuses to answer the question — at least publicly.
Last Monday, Earnest’s response to whether or not Obama had read the 28 pages and if he had an opinion on them was a simple, “I don’t know.”
“But we can check on that,” he added.
Come Tuesday, Earnest had yet to follow through. “I can’t tell you whether or not the President has read these 28 pages,” he told the assembled press corps once again.
“You haven’t had a chance to ask him?” one member responded.
“I have not asked him about that,” Earnest replied.
The following day, the press chief was called on to respond to a Tampa Bay Times report stating that former Sen. Graham was told by the administration that the 28 pages would be re-classified in the next two months.
“Have the President and Mr. Clapper had a conversation about this?” a reporter asked, referring to James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence. Clapper’s office (ODNI) is currently conducting a declassification review of the section.
“I’m not aware of any specific conversations between the two of them on this,” Earnest responded. He added simply that there’s hope ODNI will complete its review before the end of the President Obama term.
On Thursday, NBC reporter Ron Allen asked Earnest the exact same question that was asked on last Monday and Tuesday. After Earnest replied, again, in the negative, Allen followed up: “Do you intend to? Or is there some reason you haven’t?”
“It hasn’t been on the list of things I’ve talked to him about,” Earnest claimed, parrying the inquiry for the fourth straight day.
“So at this point we don’t know whether he’s read this, or requested it, or not,” a frustrated Allen replied.
“I’ll see if I can get some more information about it,” Earnest repeated.
During Sunday’s “60 Minutes” report, Sen. Bob Graham said that he remains “deeply disturbed by the amount of material that has been censored from this report.”
A House Resolution calling on the president to declassify portions of the report has 42 bipartisan cosponsors.