- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

A former U.S. counterterrorism expert who in his new book accuses the Bush administration of bungling the war on terror had praised the president in his letter of resignation.

The White House released the letter yesterday in an attempt to stop any damage that Richard A. Clarke’s “Against All Enemies” could inflict on Mr. Bush’s record as a wartime leader.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan yesterday presented the letter, dated Jan. 30, 2003, at his daily press briefing as evidence that it “runs counter to what [Mr. Clarke] is now asserting.”

“It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months,” Mr. Clarke wrote. “I will always remember the courage, determination, calm and leadership you demonstrated on September 11 … I will also have fond memories of our briefings for you on cybersecurity and the intuitive understanding of its importance that you showed.”

Mr. McClellan said the letter shows that “when [Mr. Clarke] was leaving, there was no mention of the ‘grave concerns’ he claims to have had about the direction of the war on terrorism or what we were doing to confront the threat posed by Iraq.”

White House spokesmen have accused Mr. Clarke of timing his book’s release to damage Mr. Bush’s re-election chances and to coincide with his testimony tomorrow to the special commission investigating the intelligence leading up to the September 11 attacks.

“The fact is, he chose to release it at a time and in a way where he could maximize coverage to sell books and at a time when he could have the greatest impact to influence the political discourse,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. Clarke said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” yesterday that he is not surprised that the White House has moved aggressively to discredit him.

“I say in the preface of the book that I expect it,” Mr. Clarke said. “They’ve got lots of people — on taxpayers’ dollars, by the way — out refuting these charges.”

Mr. Clarke’s most explosive accusation in the book is that Mr. Bush ignored his warnings about al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks and put the United States at greater risk of more terrorist strikes by invading Iraq.

Democrats have rallied to Mr. Clarke’s side.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, accused the White House of trying “to destroy the reputation of those who tell the truth.”

He said Democrats will meet soon to discuss their strategy on the issue.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, technology and homeland security, said in a statement yesterday that Mr. Clarke’s previous testimony to the committee made clear that “his concerns about the government’s response to terrorism long preceded the current administration.”

“Indeed, if we’re going to start assessing blame for 9/11, then one must consider that the Clinton administration had eight years to confront the al Qaeda threat and the Bush administration less than eight months,” Mr. Kyl said.

Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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