Lawyers representing families of victims allege that the three attorneys lack objectivity, as their investigations will include whether there were lapses in airline security, while recent reports show that all three have lobbied on behalf of airlines.
The probe by the National Commission on Terrorism Attacks will focus on law enforcement diplomacy, intelligence, immigration, commercial aviation and the flow of assets to terror organisations. It may produce evidence for cases dealing with compensation applications.
Some US lawyers are concerned that the government is protecting itself by hiring investigators who will naturally err in the airlines' favour. Mary Schiavo, a lawyer representing some 50 families, said: “I believe the government is protecting the carriers, but I also believe the government is protecting itself.”
The lawyers are former state governor James Thompson, a partner and chairman of Winston & Strawn; former senator Slade Gorton, a partner at Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds; and Fred Fielding, a senior partner at Wiley Rein & Fielding and a former legal adviser to Ronald Reagan.
According to disclosure forms filed with the US Congress and House of Representatives, the firms of all three have lobbied airlines. Thompson's firm is understood to have been paid $380,000 (£240,000) during the last two years to lobby for American Airlines.
Gorton is a well-known lobbyist, and clients have included Boeing and Ever-green International Airlines. Thompson dismisses the conflict allegations, but says if “reasonable people” believe otherwise he will disqualify himself from allegations involving American Airlines.