Does the newly-appointed National Commission On
Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States have powers
similar to those of the President's Commission to Investigate
the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (better
known as the Warren Commission)?
No. The seven member
Warren Commission, headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren,
was a non-partisan Presidential Commission authorized
one week after the assassination by Executive Order
11130. Its mandate was to supersede all other inquiries
and conduct its own independent investigation into "all
the facts and circumstances" it deemed relevant. The
Commission not only had the power to subpoena witnesses
and documents but it could compel testimony by granting
immunity from prosecution. It appointed its own staff
of lawyers and investigators to carry out this mandate.
The 9-11 Commission, on the other hand, was purposefully
established as a partisan body by a joint resolution
of both Houses of Congress. The joint resolution specified
that the Commission's chairman must be selected by President
Bush and its Vice Chairman must be a member of the opposite
Party. Of its eight remaining members, it specified
four must be selected by the Republican leadership and
four by the Democratic leadership. The Commission is
thus equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.
As it is currently organized, its staff is also partisan.
The majority staff reports to the 5 Republicans on the
Commission, the minority staff to the 5 Democrats.
The joint resolution also limits its subpoena power.
It can only subpoena a witness or document if both the
Republican Chairman and Democratic Vice Chairman concur
in writing, or if six of the remaining eight members
concur. Even if it issues a subpoena, it has no power
to compel testimony by granting immunity. Most important,
unlike the Warren Commission, the 9-11 Commission cannot
start with a clean slate and do an independent review
of "matters relating to the intelligence community."
The resolution expressly requires the 9-11 Commission
to first review the report of the Joint Inquiry of Congress
before pursuing any intelligence-related issue. It can
then proceed if, and only if, it determines the Joint
Inquiry omitted the issue or did not complete its investigation
of it. So, again, either the Democrats or Republicans
on the Commission can block the Commission looking into
any intelligence-related issue. So these two Commissions
are organized in very different ways.