- The Washington Times - Monday, March 29, 2004

The pressure on National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and under oath before the September 11 commission grew yesterday, with Republicans on the panel renewing calls for her to answer questions about President Bush’s counterterror strategy before and after the attacks.

“We do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public,” Thomas H. Kean, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and former Republican governor of New Jersey told Fox News. “We feel it’s important to get her case out there.”

“I think the White House is making a huge mistake,” commission member and Reagan-era Navy Secretary John F. Lehman told ABC’s “This Week.”

“She has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country, and people all over the world, that the White House has something to hide,” Mr. Lehman said. “It’s a political blunder of the first order.”

Meanwhile, a new poll shows that many Americans are skeptical of former counterrorism official Richard A. Clarke’s criticism of the administration’s policy.

A Newsweek poll released Saturday showed that 50 percent of those who have been following the story suspect Mr. Clarke has some personal or political agenda. A quarter of those questioned in the survey of 1,000 Americans say they see Mr. Clarke as a selfless public servant, while another 25 percent don’t know what to make of his accusations. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.

Miss Rice has faced questions this week about discrepancies between her public statements on the administration’s policy toward al Qaeda and what warnings it had about the terrorists’ plans, and Mr. Clarke’s statements under oath.

In an interview broadcast last night, Miss Rice said she had met with commissioners privately, and was willing to do so again, but that constitutional precedent made it impossible to testify publicly.

Members of both parties on the bipartisan commission have said repeatedly that Miss Rice’s responses to their questions at that private meeting Feb. 7 were articulate and convincing.

But that was before the highly publicized charges from Mr. Clarke that prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Bush administration was insufficiently focused on the al Qaeda threat. Mr. Clarke said that failure deprived the administration of “at least … a chance” of apprehending the plotters in the United States and stopping the attacks.

The administration has come under criticism for allowing Miss Rice to rebut these charges repeatedly in television and newspaper interviews while denying her the chance she says she wants to testify publicly before the commission itself.

“Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify,” Miss Rice told CBS’ “60 Minutes.” But she added that the constitutional principle of the separation of powers made it impossible for her to testify before a body that “derives its authority from the Congress.”

Commissioners argue that the administration needs to make an exception for an inquiry that is “sui generis” — one of a kind — in the words of commission member and former Democratic Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick.

“We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers,” Mr. Kean said yesterday. “We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden.”

The calls from Mr. Kean and Mr. Lehman cap a turbulent week for the White House, during which it sought to fight off Mr. Clarke’s accusations by questioning his motives and saying he had told a different story before he left the administration.

“He’s taken advantage of the circumstances this week to promote himself and his book,” Vice President Dick Cheney told Time magazine.

Others went further, with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, suggesting that Mr. Clarke might be guilty of perjury.

“Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Mr. Frist said on the Senate floor Friday, calling for the declassification of Mr. Clarke’s July 2002 testimony on the attacks before a joint congressional panel.

Mr. Clarke said yesterday he would welcome the declassification of his July testimony, and called for the administration to release several of the documents at the heart of the dispute, including a proposal he said he sent to Miss Rice in the first few days of the new administration, and the policy the White House eventually adopted more than seven months later.

“And what we’ll see … is that they are basically the same thing, and they wasted months when we could have had some action,” Mr. Clarke told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Mr. Clarke accused his White House critics of launching a taxpayer-funded smear campaign to destroy him.

“Dozens of people … are engaged in a campaign to destroy me personally and professionally,” he said, “because I had the temerity to suggest that the American people should consider whether or not the president had done a good job on the war on terrorism. The issue is not me. The issue is the president’s job on the war on terrorism.”

Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times contributed to this report.

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