WASHINGTON – Reverberations from Wednesday's Sept. 11 commission hearing were still echoing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday as the White House took pains to rebut accusations by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke (search).
On the road to promote jobs and the economy, President Bush offered his own defense against claims that his administration ignored the urgency of the threat from Al Qaeda (search) in the months before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Bush, who is preparing for his own private appearance in front of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (search), the panel investigating intelligence failures before the terror attacks, said he would have acted on any intelligence the administration had gotten warning of an impending attack.
"I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of the American government to protect the American people," Bush told an audience at a New Hampshire community college.
While the president focused on setting the record straight, his aides worked to undermine Clarke's claim that the war on terror wasn't a high priority for the administration, and that his proposals for combating Al Qaeda were ignored.
Pentagon officials said Clarke is also falsely taking credit for a proposal to arm an unmanned spy drone.
Clarke claims the Defense Department dragged its feet on that suggestion, and could have been shooting missiles at Usama bin Laden when it was instead shooting photos of the Al Qaeda leader in March 2001.
But Joint Chiefs of Staff (search) Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said the suggestion on arming the drone came from within the Pentagon.
"The push for arming the Predator (search) actually came from the current chief of staff of the United States Air Force, John Jumper, when he was at Air Combat Command as the commander," Myers said.
Traveling with the president, spokesman Scott McClellan also suggested Clarke's charge that administration deputies were not pursuing the all-out elimination of Al Qaeda is not only wrong, but is clearly evident in draft strategies sent around in the months prior to Sept. 11.
As McClellan ignored questions about the hassle the Clarke statements have created for the administration, Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle said the administration should stop hassling Clarke. Daschle, D-S.D., accused the White House of trying to destroy Clarke's credibility and said that it should follow Clarke's lead and admit its own inadequacies in the war on terror.
"Some things are more important than politics, and Sept. 11 ought to be at the top of the list. We need the facts on Sept. 11, not spin and not character assassination. We need this administration and everyone involved to follow Mr. Clarke's example and accept responsibility and accountability," Daschle said, adding that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (search) should give public testimony in front of the panel.
"I've reluctantly reached the conclusion that what really constrains Ms. Rice's full cooperation is political considerations. The Sept. 11 families deserve better than that and, just as importantly, our country deserves better," Daschle said.
Clarke admits that some of his proposals — like attacking the Taliban (search) early in 2001 or arming the Northern Alliance (search) in Afghanistan — would have been politically impossible and did not have any chance of preventing Sept. 11.
But much of the back-and-forth between the administration and Clarke has focused on seemingly bad blood between Rice and Clarke. Clarke suggested in his recently published book, "Against All Enemies," which attacks the White House for inaction, that Rice appeared as if Clarke didn't know whom he was referring to when he mentioned Al Qaeda to her during a discussion early in the administration's tenure.
He also said that the national security adviser might have gotten clues to the Sept. 11 attacks by holding daily counterterrorism meetings in the summer of 2001, the way he had done in 1999. He credits those briefings to the discovery of a plan to launch terrorist attacks during New Year's Eve celebrations in the United States.
"That kind of information was shaken out in December 1999, it would have been shaken out in the summer of 2001 if she had been doing her job," Clarke told the panel on Wednesday.
But McClellan said it wasn't the briefings that prevented the attack.
"Mr. Clarke continues to say that because of the meetings at the White House, they were able to prevent the plot — the Millennium plot (search). Well, we know from news reports at that time that it was the hard work of an individual Customs agent who was able to thwart the Millennium plot, by stopping this individual at the border," he said.
Rice has also countered that it's Clarke who wasn't doing his job, refusing to attend her meetings. Officials say privately that Clarke was angry that CIA Director George Tenet gave President Bush his weekly counterterrorism briefings, something Clarke had done for President Clinton in the previous administration.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and Sharon Kehnemui contributed to this report.