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Pressure Mounts on National Security Advisor Rice to Testify Publicly Before 9-11 Commission - 2004-03-29


There are growing calls for President Bush's national security advisor to testify in public before the independent commission investigating the September 11 terrorist attacks. Condoleezza Rice says she is eager to answer the panel's questions but says doing so in a public forum would damage her ability to give the president advice that should remain confidential.

The White House is coming under pressure from both Democrats and Republicans to allow Condoleezza Rice to appear publicly before the 9-11 commission to rebut damaging allegations by a former Bush administration counter-terrorism adviser.

In testimony before the panel last week, Richard Clarke charged the administration - despite his warnings about the al-Qaida threat - did not do enough to deter terrorism before the 2001 attacks - a charge the White House strongly denies.

Condoleezza Rice told CBS's 60 Minutes she would like to testify in public but said "it is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress."

Doing so, she said, would compromise her ability to give the president confidential advice on matters of national security.

But pressure for her to do so has increased now that Richard Clarke has gone on national television on NBC's Meet the Press and challenged the Bush administration to declassify counterterrorism advice he gave to the White House eight months before the terrorist attacks. It will be clear, he says, once that advice is made public that the Bush administration refused to take urgent action against the terrorist threat.

"What we'll see when we declassify what they were given on January 25 and what they finally agreed to on September 4 is that they're basically the same thing and that they wasted months when we could have had some action," he said.

Many of the Democrats and Republicans on the commission investigating the September 11 attacks are now calling for the White House to relent and allow National Security Adviser Rice to testify under oath in public.

"Her appearance in public would go a long ways, I think, in dispelling a lot of doubt about what the White House may know or not know," said Lee Hamilton, the commission's Democratic vice chairman.

And Thomas Kean, the panel's Republican chairman, believes the White House claim of executive privilege should not apply at a time when the nation is trying to get answers surrounding the 9-11 attacks. "We feel it's important to get her case out there," he said. "We recognize her arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kinds of legal arguments are probably overridden."

American University History professor Alan Lichtman thinks this is a case where the public's right to know outweighs whatever legal arguments the White House may have concerning a national security adviser testifying in public.

"I think it is vastly more important that the public know on critical matters, not every matter, on critical matters like this one, where there is a grave national debate, what is going on inside their government that they pay for rather than come down on the other side in saying that is absolutely critical that all decisions be made confidentially and in secret," he said.

Condoleezza Rice has already given a private interview to the 9-11 panel. And despite the administration's argument to the contrary, there is precedent for a sitting National Security Advisor to testify in public. In 1980, President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, answered questions before a Senate committee looking into ties between the president's brother Billy and the government of Libya.