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9/11 Hearings: Clarke Accused of Telling Reporters Different Story in 2002 Briefing

StoryMarch 25, 2004
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Guests
Geoff Pingree

Covering the situation in Madrid for the Christian Science Monitor.

After getting clearance from the White House, FOX news published a transcript of a background briefing Clarke gave to reporters in 2002. Clarke came under fire from critics who alleged that none of the accusations made in his book "Against All Enemies" were made in the 2002 briefing. He defended himself at the 9/11 hearings. [Includes transcript]

Another source of controversy during Clarke’s testimony was a background briefing he gave in early August 2002 to a handful of reporters. Early yesterday, FOX news published the transcript of the briefing on its website after getting clearance from the White House.

In it, Clarke describes the handover of intelligence from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration. Clarke came under fire from Commission member James Thompson, a former Republican governor of Illinois, who alleged that none of the book’s attacks on Bush can be found in Clarke’s 2002 briefing. TRANSCRIPT

JAMES THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: In August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?

RICHARD CLARKE: No. I think there is a very fine line that anyone who’s been in the White House, in any administration, can tell you about. And that is when you are special assistant to the president and you’re asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn’t do enough or didn’t do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice. Actually, I think you have three choices. You can resign rather than do it. I chose not to do that. Second choice is...

THOMPSON: Why was that, Mr. Clarke? You finally resigned because you were frustrated.

CLARKE: I was, at that time, at the request of the president, preparing a national strategy to defend America’s cyberspace, something which I thought then and think now is vitally important. I thought that completing that strategy was a lot more important than whether or not I had to provide emphasis in one place or other while discussing the facts on this particular news story.

The second choice one has, Governor, is whether or not to say things that are untruthful. And no one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them.

In any event, the third choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did.

I think that is what most people in the White House in any administration do when they’re asked to explain something that is embarrassing to the administration.

THOMPSON: But you will admit that what you said in August of 2002 is inconsistent with what you say in your book?

CLARKE: No, I don’t think it’s inconsistent at all. I think, as I said in your last round of questioning, Governor, that it’s really a matter here of emphasis and tone. I mean, what you’re suggesting, perhaps, is that as special assistant to the president of the United States when asked to give a press backgrounder I should spend my time in that press backgrounder criticizing him. I think that’s somewhat of an unrealistic thing to expect.

THOMPSON: Well, what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don’t get that.

CLARKE: I don’t think it’s a question of morality at all. I think it’s a question of politics.


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