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Desperately Seeking Condi: Rice Avoids 9/11 Commission

As the 9/11 Commission opens its second day of public hearings, one top Bush official will be noticably absent: National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. On Tuesday, Commissioners repeated their request she come to testify under oath, but she has so far refused, citing separation of powers. [rush transcript]

Today is day 2 of the 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington DC. Much of the attention will be focused on the testimony of President Bush’s former terrorism czar Richard Clarke, whose new book “Against All Enemies” slams the White House’s handling of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent war against Iraq.

Among those who testified yesterday were: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell, former Defense Secretary William Cohen, former Secretary of State Madelline Albright and Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. The hearings thus far have been very tame, with no major confrontations. In a moment, we are going to look at what has been said at these hearings up to this point. But first, we are going to look at what has not been said and who is not saying it.

As the White House began to feel the heat from the publication of the scathing new book by President Bush’s former terrorism czar Richard Clarke, the administration sent out its attack team to discredit him. Leading the offensive for the administration was National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. The media blitz intensified early this week, as Rice appeared on all 5 morning talk shows on Monday. By 11 a.m. that day, the White House had booked its people on 15 cable news channels.

While Rice has led the administrations media offensive, attacking Clarke’s credibility and his criticism of Bush’s handling of 9-11, one stop she is not making is at the 9-11 Commission’s Hearings underway in Washington. Despite repeated requests from the commission, Rice has refused to give any sworn testimony. Commission member Timothy Roemer:

  • 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer

While Rice refused to testify under oath in front of the American public, she opted instead to make her case in a major Op-Ed in Monday’s Washington Post called “9/11 For the Record.”

  • * David Corn*, Washington Editor of The Nation magazine. He is also author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception. He was at the 9-11 Commission hearings yesterday and is there again today.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the line right now by David Corn, Washington editor of “The Nation” magazine, author of “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.” he was at the 9-11 commission hearings yesterday, there again today. Welcome to Democracy Now! David.

DAVID CORN: Good to be with you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you on with us. Before we talk about what was said yesterday, about what wasn’t said and who didn’t say it, about Condoleezza Rice not being there.

DAVID CORN: Well, I think Commissioner Roamer had an excellent point. She certainly had time to on Monday to go on every TV show imaginable and just slam Richard Clark and really try to discredit him. I would take on the arguments. They really went after him personally. The White House to date is making an argument that there’s a separation of powers argument that the close advisers to the president shouldn’t be called before congress because that might in a way hinder their ability to give confidential, private good advice to the president. This is sort of the same argument they made in terms of the energy task force that Dick Cheney ran and they won’t tell us which C.E.O.'s and energy lobbyists he spoke to about that. But during the hearing yesterday, I believe it was Commissioner Roamer, had this long list of previous times when members of past administrations of national security advisers and others, including Tom Ridge, when he was an adviser to the president, came before congress and testified. So, they don't have a leg to stand on on this, but they’re insisting they won’t let her testify publicly, and it raises the issue that you talked about earlier about the relationship between her and Phillip Zellico. Now, I also say this, I like Phillip Zellico. He is a good historian. He is a moderate mainstream republican, and he wasn’t in some respects a bad pick for the commission, but there’s a lot of conflicts between the commission and The White House.

They’re trying to get Bush to testify. He said he will only give them an hour, now he says maybe more than that, but he will only talk to two of the commissioners, not ten. All of the commissioners wanted access to the presidential daily briefs. Those are the highly classified intelligence reports the president gets each day. And they insisted The White House that they couldn’t do that, came up with a cockamamie compromise in which Zellico and the democratic member of the commission were able to look at it and take notes but the notes couldn’t be shared with the other commissioners. The White House said that was okay and of course, the issue about Condoleezza Rice testifying has been another point of conflict and the issue here is that Zellico not only co-authored a book with Condi Rice and was friends with her and worked with her in the first Bush Administration, he also sits on president’s foreign intelligence advisory board. It’s called Pissioc. It’s a consultative advisory group that the president sets up to advise him on intelligence issues. And he is part of a transition team for The Bush Administration on national security issues. There is an issue that Richard Clark has raised about briefing him and Condi Rice about Al-Qaeda and at least from Richard Clark’s perspective. he feels that he wasn’t taken fully seriously. So, Zellico, while, a good historian with a good track record is a participant, and has a connection to one of the key participants, so, I think it raises a lot of questions about his ability to confront The White House, and as in a lot of these situations, it’s a matter of public confidence. Can we be confident that he is pushing at Condi Rice and pushing for a public testimony and pushing in the presidential daily briefs and he’s going to have an honest rendition of what happened in the transition and when the report talks about that, if he has these connections, it’s only natural. I don’t think you have to come up with a conspiracy theory or even have to be insulting to him to say it’s only natural when your friends are involved, if you are involved in a situation, you may not have objectivity. You may not have perspective that is required for a report like this, and that’s I think one reason why a lot of the family members were worried about him from the beginning. I wrote about this last June, I believe, or last summer. And some of them have called for his resignation now. It is a problem when they picked him and I think the problem has come to bear.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to David Corn. Your colleague John Nichols wrote a piece, “When Rupert Calls, Condoleezza Rice Answers.” Last Friday The Bush Administration pumping up hopes that the war on terrorism was about to yield a victory, the capture of the number two man in Osama Bin-Laden’s network. And then it goes on to talk about National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice having a long list of responsibilities at a key time like this, no time for diversions on Friday, right wrong. You can take it from there, David?

DAVID CORN: A producer called me in the middle of that, so I didn’t hear the beginning of your question, but the essence of the question is?

AMY GOODMAN: The question is about National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice and what she was doing last Friday, “When Rupert Murdock calls, Condoleezza Rice answers.”

DAVID CORN: Well, that happens. I think the key issue here are some of the big questions on the 9-11 commission about what the Bush and Clinton Administrations knew about Al-Qaeda and knew about the possible threats and knew about the fact that Al-Qaeda was interested in mounting 9-11-like attempts, and they keep saying, look, no one could have imagined this. There are lots of questions that didn’t get asked yesterday. I don’t know if they will be asked today. About the fact for instance that the C.I.A. Didn’t tell The F.B.I. about two of the hijackers who were either in the United States or were coming to the United States. If they had, perhaps the F.B.I. could have gotten on their trial. They didn’t ask about Bush’s full knowledge of warnings that Al-Qaeda wanted to do something really big before the summer of 2001 and whether the president saw the warnings and Condi Rice too and what they did or didn’t do. These are really tremendous issues that I don’t think have gotten much attention until now. I give Richard Clark credit for focusing attention on the hearings, because up until now, the 9-11 commission has gotten very little attention. Even sometimes in The New York Times, the hearing, last spring, last May or June, and The Times didn’t cover it. I thought that was kind of stunning given that this was supposedly the most dramatic event that’s happened in New York’s history or the United State’s entire history.

So, there’s a lot of policy issues, there are substantive issues that The White House has not answered. Condi Rice came out, and I didn’t think she was quite honest when we had that whole to-do about the August 6, 2001, presidential daily brief that mentioned Al-Qaeda. If you read the house and senate intelligence committee’s report on 9-11 carefully, you see they kind of challenge her rendition of that. She made it sound like it was just a report that had a standard warning about Al-Qaeda when actually probably it said more than that. That’s what they need to zero in on, and the sad thing is that I sat there yesterday for more hours than I care to admit, and watched the commissioners, and I was disappointed in most of them. I found that very few of them got good lines of questioning, stuck to the issue. Bob Kerry, the president of The New School, former democratic senator, asked the same long-winded question of everybody and got the same answer. Basically he asked, why didn’t we invade Afghanistan before 2001? Everyone gave him the same answer. There was no mandate to do that. The public wouldn’t go for it and the international community wouldn’t go for it. He kept asking the same question over and over again. And a lot of the key issues that I have raised, that other people have raised, that I talk about in the book have not been, as I said, zeroed in on, and I think that’s a disservice that I’m hoping today with George Tenet testifying, with Richard Clark testifying, maybe we’ll get to the meat of the matter more, although I have my doubts.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn, I want to thank you for being with us. He is editor at “The Nation” magazine, and author of the book “The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.”

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Bush & Clinton Officials Defend Pre-9/11 Actions At Hearings

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