Center of the Storm
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
KWAME HOLMAN: For months, the independent commission investigating the decisions and events surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks had gone about its work with little fanfare. That was until Richard Clarke sat down to testify.
RICHARD CLARKE: I do.
KWAME HOLMAN: Clarke, considered to be the top counterterrorism expert in the bush white house before he resigned, had been a holdover from the Clinton administration and served two previous republican presidents, as well. But last month Clarke began to describe in great detail frustration he experienced over what he saw as President Bush’s failure to grasp the seriousness of the terrorism threat posed by al-Qaida, a frustration that culminated on Sept. 11.
Clarke told a Sunday night television audience all about it on the CBS program “60 Minutes”; he wrote about it in what has become a number-one bestseller; and two weeks ago, Clarke spent several hours before the 9/11 Commission repeating his charge that the Bush administration did not pay enough attention to terrorism.
RICHARD CLARKE: I believe the bush administration, in the first eight months, considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue. They… well, President Bush himself says as much in the… his interview with Bob Woodward in the book “Bush at War;” he said, “I didn’t feel a sense of urgency.”
KWAME HOLMAN: The commission had hoped the president’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, Clarke’s boss, would respond publicly to his charge. Rice did, on several national broadcasts, including “60 Minutes.”
ED BRADLEY: (“60 Minutes”) Clarke has alleged the Bush administration underestimated the threat from al-Qaida — didn’t act as if terrorism was an imminent and urgent problem. Was it?
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Of course it was an urgent problem. I would like very much to know what more could have been done, given that it was an urgent problem.
KWAME HOLMAN: But citing executive privilege, rice refused to appear as a public witness before the 9/11 Commission.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the congress.
KWAME HOLMAN: 9/11 commissioners reacted with varying degrees of disappointment. Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a Republican, is the commission chairman.
THOMAS KEAN: We’re disappointed that she’s not going to appear to answer our questions about national policy coordination. We have had extended private meetings with Dr. Rice. We have received a lot of information from her and she’s been a very cooperative witness in that circumstance.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tim Roemer is a former Democratic congressman from Indiana.
TIM ROEMER: We have Dr. Rice on the airwaves saying that she strongly condemns and disagrees with Mr. Clarke’s assessments and analysis. I would hope that this discussion would not be for the airwaves and would not be a partisan type of discussion that we have, but belongs in this hearing room tomorrow.
KWAME HOLMAN: Eventually, Richard Clarke’s charges and calls– including from Republicans– for Rice to come forward persuaded the president to waive his claim of executive privilege and allow Rice to testify.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Now the commission and leaders of the United States Congress have given written assurances that the appearance of the national security advisor will not be used as precedent in the conduct of future inquiries.
KWAME HOLMAN: When Condoleezza Rice does testify tomorrow, questions are sure to focus on Richard Clarke’s broad charge that the president didn’t take the al-Qaida threat seriously enough. But the commission, from earlier testimony, already has determined that senior Bush administration officials, members of the so-called principals committee, had priorities other than terrorism.
DANIEL MARCUS: No principals committee meetings on al-Qaida were held until Sept. 4, 2001. The principals committee did meet frequently before Sept. 11 on other subjects, rice told us, including Russia, the Persian Gulf, and the Middle East peace process.
KWAME HOLMAN: And there is Richard Clarke’s claim that the Bush administration waited until that Sept. 4 meeting to adopt Clarke’s recommendations on how best to respond to the al-Qaida threat.
RICHARD CLARKE: All of the things we recommended back in January were those things on the table in September. They were done. They were done after Sept. 11. They were all done. I didn’t really understand why they couldn’t have been done in February.
KWAME HOLMAN: But in a Washington Post opinion piece last month, rice disputed that claim. She wrote, “No al-Qaida plan was turned over to the new administration.” Rice went on to say: “Through the spring and summer of 2001, the national security team developed a strategy to eliminate al-Qaida. Our plan called for military options to attack al-Qaida and Taliban leadership, ground forces and other targets – taking the fight to the enemy where he lived.” But Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had a different recollection when he appeared before the 9/11 Commission.
JAMIE GORELICK: “Ground forces and other targets, taking the fight to the enemy where he lived,” was that part of the plan as… prior to 9/11?
RICHARD ARMITAGE: No, I think that was amended after the horror of 9/11.
KWAME HOLMAN: And there are other discrepancies in testimony commission members hope rice can clear up.
BOB KERREY: I would like to know what happened during the summer of 2001. What kind of warnings came in over the transom and what did you do with those warnings?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE: I would ask her the question as to why she did not discuss the issue of al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States with her counterterrorism coordinator.
JOHN LEHMAN: She is the one that had to deal with all of the people that had their hair on fire: Dick Clarke over terrorism and other people over North Korea and still others over proliferation and so forth, so she really has the view that we need to establish the facts.
THOMAS KEAN: I mean, in my own personal opinion, she is one of the most able people that’s currently serving in the government, and she was integral to the kind of story which we’re investigating.
KWAME HOLMAN: And on Monday, President Bush himself said he was looking forward to the testimony of his national security advisor.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: She’s a very smart, capable person who knows exactly what took place and will lay out the facts. And that’s what the commission’s job is meant to do, and that’s what the American people want to see, and I’m looking forward to people hearing her.
KWAME HOLMAN: Condoleezza Rice could spend as many as three hours before the commission tomorrow morning. She’s expected to deliver a 20- minute opening statement, after which she’ll answer questions from the ten-member panel, all under oath.