Saturday, April 03, 2004

Censure Frist


When Condoleezza Rice appears Thursday before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush's national security adviser will have the administration's best opportunity to rebut her former employee's stinging critique of Bush's terrorism policy.

Since former White House counterterrorism chief Richard A. Clarke charged March 24 that the Bush White House reacted slowly to warnings of a terrorist attack, his former colleagues have poked holes in his narration of the early months of 2001 and have found evidence that Clarke elevated his own importance in those events.

The most sweeping challenge to Clarke's account has come from two Bush allies, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Fred F. Fielding, a member of investigative panel. They have suggested that sworn testimony Clarke gave in 2002 to a joint congressional committee that probed intelligence failures was at odds with his sworn testimony last month. Frist said Clarke may have "lied under oath to the United States Congress."

But the broad outline of Clarke's criticism has been corroborated by a number of other former officials, congressional and commission investigators, and by Bush's admission in the 2003 Bob Woodward book "Bush at War" that he "didn't feel that sense of urgency" about Osama bin Laden before the attacks occurred.

In addition, a review of dozens of declassified citations from Clarke's 2002 testimony provides no evidence of contradiction, and White House officials familiar with the testimony agree that any differences are matters of emphasis, not fact. Indeed, the declassified 838-page report of the 2002 congressional inquiry includes many passages that appear to bolster the arguments Clarke has made.