Menu

Rice Defends Decision Not to Publicly Testify

Condoleezza Rice says she would like nothing more than to testify before the commission probing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

But President Bush's national security adviser said Sunday she can't testify because of White House (search) rules. "There is an important principle involved here: It is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress."

Rice appeared on CBS' "60 Minutes" to say that though she was unable to speak publicly "nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify" to the commission.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration continued to defend itself against charges from a key former top counterterrorism adviser that it didn't take the Al Qaeda (search) threat seriously enough.

Rice told CBS' "60 Minutes" that she'd like to meet with the families of the Sept. 11 victims.

Commission member John Lehman (search), a Republican, called the refusal to testify "a political blunder of the first order."

Panel Chairman Thomas Kean (search), a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said Rice would serve the nation better by talking in a public hearing rather than on a news program.

"I would recommend to the commission accepting any testimony Dr. Rice gives us under any conditions, but we are still going to press and still believe unanimously as a commission that we should hear from her in public," Kean said on "Fox News Sunday."

The controversy stemming from the publication of former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's (search) book is in its second week, complicating Bush's re-election campaign. Bush spent a long weekend on his Texas ranch, giving no ground, and several aides said he will not change his mind on letting Rice testify.

Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) criticized Clarke, saying, "I think Dr. Rice is getting a bit of a bum rap. It's been set up as, I told her everything we needed to do and she ignored it all. That's not accurate. Condi was on this from the very beginning. She took action."

Rice acknowledged Sunday that Bush had asked Clarke at a meeting on the day after Sept. 11 to find out if Iraq had been involved in the terror attacks.

The president, she said, was not trying to bully Clarke or force him to give a particular answer.

"This was a country with which we'd been to war a couple of times, it was firing at our airplanes in the no-fly zone. It made perfectly good sense to ask about Iraq," Rice said in the televised interview. "The president asked a perfectly logical question — we had just been hit and hit hard. Did Iraq have anything to do with this, were they complicit in it?"

Rice offered a rebuttal to criticism by Clarke in another television interview that President Clinton "did something, and President Bush did nothing" before Sept. 11 and that both "deserve a failing grade."

Rice responded: "I don't know what a sense of urgency - any greater than the one that we had - would have caused us to do differently."

Appearing on ABC, Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick said better coordination inside the government might have averted "disconnects."

"The CIA had not told the FBI that two bad actors it knew about were coming to this country," she said.

"If you brought people together and say, 'What do you have today? Have you talked to so-and-so?' — perhaps those connections would have been made," Gorelick added.

Rice said, "the war on terrorism is well served by the victory in Iraq."

Told there have been more terrorist attacks since Sept. 11 than before it, she replied: "I think that's the wrong way to look at it."

While the terrorists will sometimes succeed, she said, in the end, "they are going to be defeated."

Clarke said his Jan. 25, 2001, memo urging steps against the Al Qaeda terrorist network and the Bush administration's national security directive eight months later are "basically the same thing."

"They wasted months when we could have had some action," said Clarke, urging that his Jan. 25 memo and the Sept. 4 national security directive be declassified for comparison purposes.

Powell said, "My bias will be to provide this information in an unclassified manner not only to the commission, but to the American people. ... We're not trying to hide anything."

Questioned about his motives for attacking the administration, Clarke said he will make substantial donations from the profits of this book to the families of Sept. 11 victims. Making clear he won't donate everything, he said he has to take into account the fact that his enemies are saying "Dick Clarke will never make another dime in this city."

Clarke said he voted for Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000, but "I'm not going to endorse John Kerry," Bush's presumptive opponent in November. "That's what the White House wants me to do. They want to say I'm part of the Kerry campaign."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.