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Rice to Testify Publicly, Pres. Bush and Cheney in Private on 9/11

BY Admin  March 30, 2004 at 1:20 PM EST

The president and Vice President Dick Cheney also will testify, but behind closed doors.

Rice, who met privately with the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States on Feb. 7 and had offered to do so again, said as late as Sunday that a public appearance would go against the long-standing principle of the separation of the legislative and executive branches.

A letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to the commission said the president recognizes the unique circumstances surrounding the investigation into the attacks, and Rice could testify as long as the panel agreed her appearance would not set a precedent for testimony by a national security adviser.

Gonzales also stipulated a second condition was that the commission would not request additional public testimony from any other White House official, including Rice.

Commissioner Slade Gorton, a former Republican senator from Washington, told The Washington Post that the panel agreed to the conditions, including that it not call any other White House officials because “we hadn’t planned to.”

Commissioner Bob Kerrey, a former Democratic senator from Nebraska, said Rice’s testimony will be critical in determining what the Bush administration could have done to prevent the attacks and that the White House “made the right decision,” according to the Associated Press.

President Bush and Cheney, meanwhile, agreed to meet privately with all ten members of the commission, backing off an earlier requirement to sit only with Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.

Kerrey said the president and vice president will not be under oath in their meeting with the commission.

Republican officials involved in the negotiations said the dual decisions constituted a recognition by the White House that the continued resistance to the commission’s requests was beginning to look like stonewalling in an election year, the Post reported.

Commission members had urged Rice to testify under oath about discrepancies between White House statements and those of former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who told the commission last week that the Bush administration ignored his repeated warnings about the danger al-Qaida posed in the months leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

A preliminary report from the commission said neither the Bush nor the Clinton administration took the threat seriously enough.

The commissioners released a statement Tuesday saying they welcomed President Bush’s decisions and would work with the White House to schedule the sessions “promptly.”

The panel’s next scheduled hearings are April 13-14 with the law enforcement and intelligence communities. The hearings with the White House officials could occur prior to those.