So National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is going to testify in public and under oath before the 9/11 commission after all. That can only be a good thing. The attacks of 9/11 were a singular disaster, and responsible officials should explain what they knew about the threat and, more important, what they were doing about it beforehand.
We’ve heard Richard Clarke’s version of events. Now let’s hear Rice’s. And let’s hope the commissioners question her account with the same forthrightness they questioned Clarke.
Part of this package deal was an agreement by the 9/11 commission to send the White House a letter saying Rice’s agreement to appear sets no precedent. This is just a fig leaf to cover White House embarrassment. The so-called “executive privilege” argument posited by the White House against Rice testifying was a red herring from day one because the 9/11 commission is not, itself, a legislative body. Oh, well.
However, the most interesting nugget of news was buried at the end of this story:
“U.S. officials told NBC News that the full record of Clarke’s testimony two years ago would not be declassified. They said that at the request of the White House, however, the CIA was going through the transcript to see what could be declassified, with an eye toward pointing out contradictions.”
Ah, the plot illuminated! Clarke has suggested declassifying everything he said and wrote in that period. No! Hell no! Instead, we’ll have the CIA, under guise of the “national interest,” comb the voluminous material for bits and pieces that, ripped out of context, will show Clarke told two different stories. None of this is surprising, of course.
At yesterday’s press briefing, White House spokesman Scott McClellan was somewhat more obtuse.
Q: Where do things stand with Porter Goss's request to declassify the Clarke testimony from 2002?
McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know if there's any update beyond what we've already told you all over the weekend. Obviously this is a request by congressional leaders. Our role would be simply to review the documents, along with other appropriate agencies, to determine what could be declassified. This is a decision that some congressional leaders have made.
Q: But it's up to you to decide if it can be.
McCLELLAN: Well, I think ultimately it's up to the members of Congress to decide what they would choose to release, regarding the joint inquiry. It's their congressional report.
Q: How long would a decision take?
McCLELLAN: A decision take -- you'd have to ask members of Congress. You mean, how long would a review take? I don't know that I could put a timeline on it at this point. It will be reviewed, just like any other documents would be reviewed at the request of members of Congress.
Q: This Clarke request goes beyond just congressional testimony. He's also asking for all of his emails and all correspondence to be released. Is that something that the White House would have to review? Is there anything you'd give consideration to?
McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, those are decisions that would be made in discussion with the September 11th Commission. Those are issues that we would work to address with the commission, in order to make sure that they can provide the American people with a full and complete report.
Footnote: President Bush and Vice President Cheney, by the way, will testify privately and not under oath.