- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004


The White House yesterday asked the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks to give National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice another opportunity to talk privately with panel members.

The White House said, in a letter to the commission chairman and vice chairman from counsel Alberto Gonzales, that such a session would allow her to clear up “a number of mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice’s statements and positions.”

Miss Rice still would not testify publicly before the panel, as the members and many relatives of victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks want. Mr. Gonzales wrote that it is important that presidential advisers such as Miss Rice “not be compelled to testify publicly before congressional bodies such as the commission.”

Miss Rice had said Wednesday that she was willing to return for another private session with the commission.

“I also have a responsibility to make sure that the commission knows everything that I know, and that’s why I spent four hours with them, and I’m prepared to spend longer with them anywhere they want, any time they want, answer as many questions as they have,” she told reporters at a briefing. “And I hope we’ll have an opportunity to do that. But I just have to maintain the separation.”

But the letter from Mr. Gonzales to former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican and the commission chairman, and commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, represented the White House’s formal offer of Miss Rice’s return.

Miss Rice met privately with the commission, formally the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, for about four hours Feb. 7.

In indicating her desire to return, the White House said she wanted to rebut statements made in this week’s public testimony before the panel. In particular, Mr. Gonzales said Miss Rice wanted the chance to argue that she was not inaccurate when she wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece this week that the administration’s post-September 11 plan called for military options to strike al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Mr. Gonzales also sought to set the record straight about the obligation of a presidential aide to testify publicly. He said that statements that other national security advisers have testified before Congress in open sessions were wrong.

Previous testimony from national security advisers has either been in closed session or involved potential criminal wrongdoing, making those situations markedly different from the current one, Mr. Gonzales said. In fact, the more common occurrence is for national security advisers to decline to appear publicly, he said.

The panel’s review was delayed for months as it battled Bush administration officials over access to documents and witnesses.

The commission also has been denied the opportunity to question President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in open session. The White House has agreed to allow those interviews to occur only privately and with two commissioners.

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