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Monday, March 29, 2004 - Page updated at 03:34 P.M.

Calls increase for Rice to testify before Sept. 11 panel

By The Associated Press and The Washington Post

In this image from television, national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice speaks with Ed Bradley on CBS's "60 Minutes" yesterday. Rice told Bradley she wants to meet with the families of the Sept. 11 victims because she knows they are disappointed she will not be testifying publicly.
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CRAWFORD, Texas — White House allies and Republicans investigating the Sept. 11 attacks pressed yesterday to hear open testimony from national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, with one commissioner calling her refusal a "political blunder of the first order."

Rice said in a TV interview that she wants to meet with the families of the Sept. 11 victims because she knows they are disappointed she will not be testifying publicly.

"Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify," Rice told CBS's "60 Minutes." "I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle involved here: It is a long-standing principle that sitting national-security advisers do not testify before the Congress."

President Bush, spending a long weekend on his Texas ranch, gave no ground, and several aides said he will not change his mind on letting Rice testify. But Bush sent her and other top administration officials out for television interviews to rebut fresh attacks on the way his administration has handled the threat of terrorism.

Meanwhile, former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, sharpening his criticism, said President Clinton was more aggressive than Bush in trying to confront al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden's organization.

"He did something, and President Bush did nothing prior to September 11," Clarke told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"I think they deserve a failing grade for what they did before" Sept. 11, Clarke said of the Bush administration. "They never got around to doing anything."

But Rice said the Bush administration regarded terrorism as "an urgent problem."

Clarke said a sweeping declassification of documents would prove that the Bush administration neglected the threat of terrorism in the eight months leading up to the attacks.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., saying Clarke may be guilty of perjury, last week called for declassifying testimony that Clarke gave a congressional committee in 2002 that was favorable toward the Bush administration.

Clarke said he would support declassifying the testimony as long as it was not done selectively. He also said Rice's private testimony before the Sept. 11 commission should be declassified, as well as a key memo he gave Rice on Jan. 25, 2001, the national-security directive on al-Qaida developed eight months later, and all e-mails Clarke sent to Rice and her deputy.
The material will prove "they wasted months when we could have had some action," Clarke said.

Asked about Clarke's request for the declassification, Secretary of State Colin Powell on CBS' "Face the Nation," said, "My bias will be to provide this information in an unclassified manner not only to the commission, but to the American people."

Sept. 11 commission members made clear they will not relent in their pursuit of public testimony from Rice but said they were not inclined to subpoena her.

The White House has declined to let her appear at the commission's televised hearings, citing the constitutional principle of separation of powers; the panel was created by Congress.

"Condi Rice would be a superb witness. She is anxious to testify. The president would dearly love to have her testify," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters. "But the lawyers have concluded that to do so would alter the balance if we got into the practice of doing that."

Republican commissioner John Lehman, who has written extensively on separation-of-powers issues, said, "The White House is making a huge mistake" by blocking Rice's testimony. He decried it as "a legalistic approach."

"The White House is being run by a kind of strict construction of interpretation of the powers of the president," Lehman said on ABC's "This Week." "There are plenty of precedents that the White House could use if they wanted to do this."

The panel interviewed Rice behind closed doors Feb. 7. The administration has offered a second private session with Rice, but the commission has not accepted.

Rice was "very, very forthcoming in her first meeting with us," said former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, a Republican named by Bush to lead the commission. "But we do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public. We feel it's important to get her case out there.

"We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden," Kean told "Fox News Sunday."

Lehman said Rice "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, that Condi Rice has something to hide.

"And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order," Lehman said.

Bush adviser Karen Hughes says Clarke playing the 'blame game'

AUSTIN, Texas — Presidential adviser Karen Hughes kicked off a six-week national book tour yesterday with unblinking support for President Bush and the war in Iraq.

Speaking about her memoir "Ten Minutes from Normal," Hughes said she was upset by recent claims from former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke that the administration didn't take the threat from al-Qaida seriously enough before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Hughes called Clarke's criticism the "Washington blame game."

Hughes' memoir calls Bush "powerful and tough" on the war on terror. She writes that the administration weighed every option before going to war in Iraq.

"I watched over the course of a long year as smart, thoughtful people considered every option; debated strategy, worked hard to convince other nations that the world should present a united front," she wrote.

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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