It was another Sunday of key interview shows, after a week full of interviews and testimony. It seems like everybody who wasn't already a journalist was looking for some studio time and polishing up their talking points.
Clearly Richard Clarke was the hottest ticket, but Condi Rice certainly covered plenty of ground as well. And today, Clarke took the seat across from Russert on Meet the Press, and Rice was given equal time on 60 Minutes. The battle for White House credibility seems to have come down to these two mid-high government functionaries, somewhat strangely I say, although they are obviously crucial links in the counter-terrorism chain. You'd think a discussion over which an election may hang in the balance, wouldn't be carried out as a spat between national security officials. Anyhow, the meme as it developed over the weekend was a big question for each: did Clarke's 2002 Congressional testimony differ from Tuesday's, and would Rice testify publicly for the 9/11 Commission and the country? If you saw or read about either, you probably know how each answered those questions, but the way each does it is instructive:
MR. RUSSERT: Is there any inconsistency between your sworn testimony before the September 11 Commission last week and two years ago before the congressional committee?
MR. CLARKE: No, there isn't. And I would welcome it being declassified, but not just a little line here or there. Let's declassify all six hours of my testimony.
MR. RUSSERT: You would request this morning that it all be declassified?
MR. CLARKE: And I want more declassified. I want Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission declassified, and I want the thing that the 9-11 Commission talked about in its staff report this week declassified, because there's been an issue about whether or not a strategy or a plan or something useful was given to Dr. Rice in early January. And she says it wasn't. So we now have the staff report of the 9-11 Commission, and it says, "On January 25th, Clarke forwarded his December strategy paper to the new national security adviser, and it proposed covert action to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, significantly increasing CIA funding, retaliating for the USS Cole, arming the Predator aircraft, going after terrorist fund raising."
Now, Dr. Rice has characterized this as not a plan, not a strategy, not a series of decisions which could be made right away, but warmed-over Clinton material. Let's declassify that memo I sent on January 25th and let's declassify the national security directive that Dr. Rice's committee approved nine months later on September 4th, and let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't. And what we'll see when we declassify what they were given on January 25th and what they finally agreed to on September 4th, is that they're basically the same thing and they wasted months when we could have had some action.
MR. RUSSERT: But to be clear, Mr. Clarke, you would urge Congress, the intelligence committees, to declassify your sworn testimony before the congressional inquiry two years ago as well as your testimony before the September 11th Commission?
MR. CLARKE: Yes, and those documents I just referred to and Dr. Rice's testimony before the 9-11 Commission because the victims' families have no idea what Dr. Rice has said. There weren't in those closed hearings where she testified before the 9-11 Commission. They want to know. So let's take her testimony before the 9-11 Commission and make it part of the package of what gets declassified along with the national security decision directive of September 4 and along with my memo of January 25.
In fact, Tim, let's go further. The White House is selectively now finding my e-mails, which I would have assumed were covered by some privacy regulations, and selectively leaking them to the press. Let's take all of my e-mails and all of the memos that I've sent to the national security adviser and her deputy from January 20 to September 11 and let's declassify all of it.
MR. RUSSERT: As well as her responses?
MR. CLARKE: As well as her responses.
That doesn't really sound like a guy who's afraid of what they might find if they lift up the blanket. Or he's putting a king-hell bluff on the administration, betting they won't do it because of what the full testimony will show.
How did Rice do?
The secretary of state, defense, the director of the CIA, have all testified in public under oath before the commission. If - if you can talk to us and other news programs, why can't you talk to the commission in public and under oath?
Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there is an important principle here... it is a longstanding principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress.
But there are some people who look at this and say, "But this - this was an unprecedented event. Nothing like this ever happened to this country before. And this is an occasion where you can put that executive privilege aside. It's a big enough issue to talk in public."
It is an unprecedented event. We've said that many, many times. But this commission is rightly not concentrating on what happened on the day of September 11... So, this is not a matter of what happened on that day, as extraordinary as it is - as it was. This is a matter of policy. And we have yet to find an example of a national security advisor, sitting national security advisor, who has - been willing to testify on matters of policy.
"I'd love to tell the full truth and rebut Mr. Clarke's claims as totally wrong, but I just can't, Ed. Sorry, America!"
Even the Bush-helping Chair of the comission, John Lehman, is slapping his forehead in disgust:
[Rice] has nothing to hide, and yet this is creating the impression for honest Americans all over the country and people all over the world that the White House has something to hide, that Condi Rice has something to hide. And if they do, we sure haven't found it. There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order...
Bush has survived the first week of this story without the bottom dropping out; although he lost all the gains against Kerry presumably created from a stiff ad campaign, he is still running even with the Senator. On the other hand, given how poorly he is tracking on economic issues, Bush can ill afford the slide in favorability on "terra issues" that seems to have occurred since the Clarke story broke. And if the media and public catch the diversion in approach between the principals--Clarke saying "show everything" and Rice saying "tell nothing"--those numbers are going to get worse.