- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

Top Republicans are seeking to declassify testimony given by former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke in 2002, saying it directly contradicts his recent attack on the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror.

“Mister Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said in a speech yesterday.

Mr. Frist said declassifying the testimony Mr. Clarke gave in July 2002 before a joint congressional inquiry by the House and Senate intelligence panels into the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will “permit an examination of Mister Clarke’s two different accounts.”

Mr. Frist said Mr. Clarke’s 2002 testimony was “effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration” and included comments about how the administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during the first seven months of Mr. Bush’s time in office.

Democrats blasted the effort as part of “the Republican attack machine,” although some agreed to the declassification.

Former Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, supported the declassification of all of Mr. Clarke’s testimony and suggested even more documents should be declassified, including Mr. Clarke’s January 2002 al Qaeda plan.

“To the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mister Clarke has said this week,” Mr. Graham said.

The current top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel agreed with Mr. Graham, but said the Republicans’ efforts show they are scared.

“It clearly shows that this administration is terrified by the statements of a 30-year veteran of counterterrorism who worked for three Republican administrations,” said Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate intelligence panel.

Mr. Clarke, the former national coordinator for counterterrorism in the Clinton and Bush administrations, sharply criticized the Bush administration in a book published this week, “Against All Enemies,” and in testimony Wednesday before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The commission is examining how the Clinton and Bush administrations dealt with al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Clarke told the commission that senior Bush administration officials ignored his warnings about al Qaeda’s threat in the first seven months of the administration. He said while he viewed the threat as an urgent problem, “I don’t think it was ever treated that way” by the Bush administration.

The effort to declassify the 2002 testimony is being led by Rep. Porter J. Goss, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. A House Republican aide said the executive branch must approve Mr. Goss’ declassification request.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said the administration “is working to see if the request can be accommodated.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also said she would support declassification of Mr. Clarke’s previous statements, “provided they are released in their entirety and not selectively declassified for political purposes.”

She said Mr. Clarke’s statements are consistent and added that, “Our democracy is not served and freedom of speech is undermined when the White House and its allies engage in character assassination.”

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said he believes the testimony “will shed light on the issues without compromising national security.”

“We need to lean forward in making as much information available to the public as possible without compromising the national security interests of the nation,” he said in a statement yesterday, adding that he supports Mr. Goss’ effort.

Democrats said the Republicans’ effort is an unwarranted attack on Mr. Clarke.

“The Republican attack machine is in full-throated roar,” said David Smith, spokesman for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat. “This is all part of a vicious, ferocious attack by the Republican leadership on somebody who has a different point of view. Nothing more nothing less.”

But Republicans said contradictory statements call for an explanation.

“The Clarke comments show that he is saying different things with different audiences at different times,” Mr. Frist told reporters yesterday afternoon.

“If the comments are so different, that should be declassified to demonstrate the hypocrisy.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Clarke was asked by the commission why he never criticized the Bush administration during the earlier congressional joint inquiry.

Mr. Clarke replied that in 2002 he was speaking as a member of the Bush administration, so he obviously had limited freedom to be critical of it.

But in his speech yesterday, Mr. Frist said that’s no excuse.

“Loyalty to any administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress,” he said.

Mr. Frist also said Mr. Clarke was the “only common denominator” in 10 years of terrorist attacks, beginning with the first attack on the World Trade Center. And he sharply criticized Mr. Clarke’s “theatrical apology” before the September 11 commission Wednesday to the families of the terrorist victims on behalf of the United States. Mr. Frist said that “was not his right, his privilege or his responsibility.”

Mr. Frist added that Mr. Clarke, “can and will answer for his own conduct — but that is all.”

This story is based in part on wire-service reports.

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