Bush refused. He says he will only grant the commission a single hour. Worse, he will only testify before the two co-chairs of the committee, not the full membership!
His press secretary actually dared - DARED - to invoke separation of powers and executive privelege to justify the inexplicable refusal to cooperate fully. They invoked the same argument when the 9-11 panel asked National Security Advisor Condoleeze Rice to testify. Here's one reason why her testimony is important:
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims say they are especially interested in Rice's testimony.
They cited her May 2002 comments that the administration had no indication that terrorists were considering suicide hijackings. Reports later showed intelligence officials had considered the possibility.
Note that Cheney and Rumsfeld will testify, but their testimony is NOT as important as Rice, or the President's. With Rice it is a question of competence - as NSA it is her job to review intelligence and gauge threats. The President is the executive and with him it's a question of ultimate responsibility. After all, the Clinton Administration had a large portfolio of intelligence on the Al-Qaeda threat and even had prepared a set of policy recommendations for the incoming Bush team, which was promptly discarded - presumably because of partisan fear of taint.
Note that the Bush Administration has been curiously uninterested in reacting to genuine terrorist threat indications. Terrorist mastermind Abu Musab Zarqawi, whose most recent handiwork was the massacre of 145 Shi'a in Iraq on Ashura, is acknowledged aqs one of the main terrorists threats at large. His infamous memo calling for holy war against Shi'a in Iraq in order to hamper the US occupation was particularly telling of his evil intent towards American interests. Yet at this NBC article reveals, the National Security Council refused to take action on solid intelligence that later was verified as missed opportunities. Condoleeza Rice is the supposed head of the NSC.
I am therefore glad to see that the 9-11 panel is remaining firm in its reasonable demand for full cooperation:
WASHINGTON - The independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks is refusing to accept strict conditions set by the White House for the panel's interviews with President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
It is renewing its request for Bush's national security adviser to testify in public, commission members said Tuesday.
The panel members, interviewed after a private meeting on Tuesday, said the commission had decided for now to reject a White House request that the interview with Bush be limited to one hour, with the questioners limited to the panel's chairman and vice chairman.
They said the commission had also decided to continue to press the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, to reconsider her refusal to testify at a public hearing. Bush and Cheney are expected to be asked how they reacted to intelligence reports received before the Sept. 11 attacks suggesting al-Qaida might be planning a large attack, and panel members want to ask Rice the same questions in public.
"We have held firm in saying that the conditions set by the president and vice president and Dr. Rice are not good enough," said Timothy Roemer, a former House member from Indiana who is one of the Democratic members of the 10-member commission.
Kudos to the bipartisan panel for their determination. Bush can not be allowed to dodge this responsibility, especially since he plans to wrap himself in the ashes of 9-11 during the coronotation at the RNC convention in New York this summer, and paint his opponent as soft on defense.