- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 7, 2004

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who has been accused of focusing more on Iraq than pre-September 11 threats, will testify today before the September 11 commission.

Officials at the White House and the commission said the press, which has touted the significance of Miss Rice’s testimony, was setting itself up for an anticlimax. They pointed out that Miss Rice already has articulated the Bush administration’s position in numerous public interviews and in four hours of private talks with the commission.

“Dr. Rice is one of nine witnesses,” said Al Felzenberg, spokesman for the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. “She’s a very important witness, but so was Mr. Rumsfeld and Ms. Albright and everyone else.”

He was referring to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Clinton. But the witness generating the most press was former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke, who blamed the Bush administration for failing to foresee the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Miss Rice was not expected to rebut Mr. Clarke’s testimony in her 20-minute opening statement, although she was girding for questions about Mr. Clarke’s accusations from the commission, which consists of five Democrats and five Republicans. Miss Rice met with her staff yesterday to prepare.

“As this encounter will be driven by the questions of the commissioners, it’s only logical that one would try to anticipate some of the questions they may ask,” said a senior administration official.

Although the official described Miss Rice as “particularly busy” with coordinating the administration’s postwar policy in Iraq, she did not ask for her appearance to be postponed.

“She hasn’t quit her day job,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “She’s attending to both issues.”

The official added: “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of choice in the matter.”

Several commission members shared their plans for questioning Miss Rice. Democrat Timothy Roemer, for example, was asked on CNN yesterday about the notion that the Bush White House was “asleep at the switch” before September 11.

“That certainly will be the focus of my first question or two to Dr. Rice,” he said.

Mr. Roemer also said he wanted to know why the Bush administration did not emulate a “top-down” Clinton administration effort to foil terrorist plots at the turn of the year 2000.

Commission member Slade Gorton, a Republican, said he would take a different approach.

“I’m much less interested in people’s 20/20 hindsight, whether it’s Dick Clarke or Condoleezza Rice,” he said. “I’m interested in what they did.

“What policies did they actually adopt?” he said. “How did those policies work, whether it’s the Clinton administration or the Bush administration?”

President Bush initially forbade Miss Rice from testifying before the commission, but relented after being assured it would not compromise executive privilege. The reversal prompted attacks from Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, whose campaign yesterday continued to criticize the administration.

“The White House opened a new chapter in its ongoing effort to obstruct the work of the 9/11 commission with its refusal to comply with the panel’s latest request that it release a speech national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to give on the day of the 9/11 attacks that named missile defense as the administration’s top security priority — not terrorism,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill praised Miss Rice.

“I’m confident that she will perform admirably, because she’s an incredibly intelligent and capable individual,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

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