Jeb Bush: “I Don’t Know What the 28 Pages Are”

By Brian McGlinchey

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush

Activists affiliated with New Hampshire-based “Declassify the 28 Pages” are at it again.

Continuing to make the redacted 28 pages on foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers a campaign issue, they recently asked Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush if he would declassify them.

Bush’s answer: “I don’t know what the 28 pages are, so please explain it.” (Video below.)

The exchange took place at an August 7 town hall in Barrington, New Hampshire. Bush added, “Look, I can’t commit to something until I see it. Since I don’t have classified information, I can’t tell you what it is or tell you whether it should be declassified.” When the woman offered to explain what the 28 pages are—as Bush himself had asked in his initial reply—he stopped her from doing so.

There are two potential explanations for Bush’s answer, and neither is flattering to the former Florida governor. Bush is either so poorly informed on national security matters that he is truly unaware of a well-documented and intriguing 13-year old controversy surrounding his brother’s decision to classify a full chapter in the report of a 2002 joint congressional inquiry into September 11, or he was feigning ignorance to dodge discussion of yet another sensitive Bush family topic.

Jeb’s Links to the 28 Pages: Family, Florida and Saudi Arabia

There are many reasons why Bush’s claim of ignorance on this topic invites skepticism. First, of course, is the fact that his brother sits at the center of the controversy.

Then there’s the fact that, for more than a dozen years, the most prominent voice calling for the declassification of the 28 pages has been Bush’s fellow Floridian Bob Graham. While Bush was governor, Graham represented Florida in the Senate and co-chaired the unprecedented joint inquiry that produced the 28 pages. When the 28 pages were released, Graham publicly decried the redaction and was among 46 senators who signed a letter to Jeb’s brother urging their release.

Also during their governor-senator overlap, Graham published “Intelligence Matters,” a book that was very critical of the Bush administration’s actions before and after the September 11 attacks, including the decision to redact the 28 pages.

Among the criticisms advanced by Graham were well-substantiated claims that the Bush White House went out of its way to shield the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from scrutiny of its ties to the 9/11 hijackers. Graham has since said the 28 pages “point a very strong finger at Saudi Arabia as being the principal financier” of the 9/11 attacks.

Screen shot 2015-08-19 at 1.59.12 PM
George W. Bush and King Abdullah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud

If the family and Florida connections to the 28 pages aren’t enough to put the issue on Bush’s radar, Graham’s claim that the 28 pages implicate Saudi Arabia in the devastating terror attack should be an attention-getter, given the Saudi royal family and the Bush family are deeply connected in ways that are both personal and financial.

$1.4 billion has reportedly made its way from the Saudi royal family to entities tied to the Bush family, and lobbyists for Saudi Arabia are helping to fund Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. On the same day in February, two different lobbyists for Saudi Arabia gave a combined $15,000 to Bush’s super PAC, and one of them has already raised another $32,400 in bundled contributions for the Bush campaign fund.

Congressman Walter Jones—who has introduced a House resolution urging the release of the 28-pages chapter—has said, “There’s nothing in it about national security. It’s about the Bush Administration and its relationship with the Saudis.”

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Christie: Members of Congress Should Read 28 Pages on 9/11 Only “If They’re Interested”

Governor Chris Christie
Governor Chris Christie

Prospective presidential contender Chris Christie routinely accuses rivals of having “9/11 amnesia,” but is at peace with the fact that the vast majority of Congress is in a state of willful ignorance about indications of foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers found in 28 classified pages of a 2002 congressional report.

At a Monday town hall in Goffstown, New Hampshire, a member of the audience provided a detailed overview of the 28 pages and why there’s a growing movement to declassify them.

She concluded by noting the fact that very few members of Congress have read them and asked the New Jersey governor if he felt people making life-and-death decisions should spend a half hour reading what Congressman Thomas Massie recently called “some of the best intelligence we have” in the war on terror.

“Different people in Congress are interested in different things,” said Christie. “If they have an interest, they should go and they should read it. I don’t know why they wouldn’t have an interest, but I’m not going to sit here and dictate to people what they spend their time on.” (Watch the full exchange on the embedded video below.)

It was quite a display of casual ambivalence from a politician who—like any other—routinely prescribes actions that others in government should take on countless issues, including many where human lives don’t hang in the balance.

When asked if the 28 pages should be declassified, Christie said, “It’s hard to argue when you don’t have the knowledge (of what’s in them).” All the more reason, it would seem, that Christie shouldn’t shy away from encouraging members of Congress to read the 28 pages and reach their own conclusions.

Deference to the President and the Intelligence Community

A Demonstrator Outside Christie's Town Hall
A Demonstrator Outside Christie’s New Hampshire Town Hall

Responding to former Senator Bob Graham’s assertion that the 28 pages implicate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Christie—who had earlier in the town hall referred to Saudi Arabia as “our allies”—said, “The intelligence committees of the House and Senate are regularly briefed on all this stuff. I have a hard time believing that…direct evidence that puts something on a specific state actor could be kept secret on Capitol Hill for 13 years.”

The audience member pressed Christie, asking, “Don’t we have a right to know?”

He replied, “That’s for the President of the United States to decide…the question is: In his judgment and the judgment of the people in the national security apparatus, do they believe there’s something in there that’s classified that would cause harm or danger to American interests?”

Christie’s deference to the president and the intelligence community seemed to ignore the very real possibility that, in a country where excessive classification is well-documented, the 28 pages are being concealed for reasons that have nothing to do with national security.

Indeed, at a January press conference introducing H.Res.14, Graham said, “Much of what passes for classification for national security reasons is really classified because it would disclose incompetence. And since the people who are classifying are also often the subject of the materials, they have an institutional interest in avoiding exposure of their incompetence.”

28 Pages a Welcome Addition to Campaign Discourse

Earlier this year, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin declared that the 28 pages should be a 2016 presidential campaign issue. Thanks to one knowledgeable and assertive citizen in New Hampshire—and the fact that top-tier contender Rand Paul is now championing the cause—that vision is starting to be realized.

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