Contradicting Bill

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How much of a warning did Bill Clinton give incoming President George W. Bush that Osama bin Laden posed a grave danger? It depends on which President you ask. In his interview with the 9/11 commission last week, sources tell Time, Bush testified that Clinton appeared far more passionate about the dangers of North Korea's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to sources, Bush said Clinton "probably mentioned" terrorism as a national-security threat "but did not make it a point of emphasis." Clinton earlier told the panel that he had ranked bin Laden as the No. 1 problem the new Administration would face; he made the same point in a speech in New York City last October.

The content of the testimony Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney gave in the Oval Office remains confidential. But a source says Bush told the commission he had not been warned of the CIA's and the FBI's concerns about would-be 747 pilot Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested in August 2001. Yet Bush went out of his way to express confidence in CIA director George Tenet. Bush described his activities on Sept. 11 and explained how he communicated from the road with Cheney, in a secure bunker back at the White House. A top Administration aide explained this was one reason Cheney accompanied Bush at the session—"because they were both a part of that day." The session had light moments as well. When Bob Kerrey, one of the panel's most outspoken members, left early for an appointment (as did commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton), Bush called out to him as he was leaving and told Kerrey, "Keep your spirits up." Some thought Bush was alluding to Kerrey's especially "spirited" recent appearance on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, an appearance some G.O.P. leaders in Congress had complained about to commission leaders. Reached later, Kerrey said, "I thought he was talking about the energy I bring to questioning people. Maybe not."