Smearing the messenger


Geraldine Sealey
March 23, 2004 3:50AM (UTC)

The Republican attacks on Richard Clarke were predictable and swift. The day after Clarke gave his damning interview to 60 Minutes, Dick Cheney had a lovefest with Rush Limbaugh where he accepted the host's sympathies for being blasted by the left's "attack machine" -- well-staffed by former Bush administration officials if you haven't noticed -- and cast Clarke as a demoted bureaucrat who just wasn't in the loop. From Cheney's point of view, Clarke isn't a leading counterterror expert who's worked for Republican and Democratic administrations, he is irrelevant and deluded. And, Rush helpfully pointed out, Clarke is -- the killer of all credibility -- co-teaching a class at Harvard with an adviser to Kerry. The class syllabus says about the two lecturers: "Between them Rand Beers and Richard Clarke spent over 20 years in the White House on the National Security Council and over 60 years in national security departments and agencies." The "partisan" media, which Cheney referenced, and I don't think he was talking about Rush, won't clue you in on those kinds of damning details.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said Clarke's book was "more about politics and book promotions than it is about policies."

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The Weekly Standard has a column calling Clarke's account -- first-hand testimony from the man who was Bush's counter-terrorism chief on Sept. 11, 2001, and who was one of just a handful of people to stay behind in the White House that day -- "bizarre." An anonymous Bush official says in the piece Clarke is covering for his own "legacy of failure."

There's a lot of misinformation about Clarke in circulation today. Tapped gathered good blog postings on the White House attack on Clarke. And, to set the record straight, the Center for American Progress put together a fact-check sheet this afternoon (below) so you can read up for your next appearance on the O'Reilly Factor.

CLAIM #1: "Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction and he chose not to." - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: Clarke sent a memo to Rice principals on 1/24/01 marked "urgent" asking for a Cabinet-level meeting to deal with an impending Al Qaeda attack. The White House acknowledges this, but says "principals did not need to have a formal meeting to discuss the threat." No meeting occurred until one week before 9/11. - White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #2: "The president returned to the White House and called me in and said, I've learned from George Tenet that there is no evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11." - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: If this is true, then why did the President and Vice President repeatedly claim Saddam Hussein was directly connected to 9/11? President Bush sent a letter to Congress on 3/19/03 saying that the Iraq war was permitted specifically under legislation that authorized force against "nations, organizations, or persons who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11." Similarly, Vice President Cheney said on 9/14/03 that "It is not surprising that people make that connection" between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks, and said "we dont know" if there is a connection.

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CLAIM #3: "[Clarke] was moved out of the counterterrorism business over to the cybersecurity side of things." - Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Dick Clarke continued, in the Bush Administration, to be the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and the President's principle counterterrorism expert. He was expected to organize and attend all meetings of Principals and Deputies on terrorism. And he did." - White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #4: "In June and July when the threat spikes were so highwe were at battle stationsThe fact of the matter is [that] the administration focused on this before 9/11." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "Documents indicate that before Sept. 11, Ashcroft did not give terrorism top billing in his strategic plans for the Justice Department, which includes the FBI. A draft of Ashcroft's Strategic Plan from Aug. 9, 2001, does not put fighting terrorism as one of the department's seven goals, ranking it as a sub-goal beneath gun violence and drugs. By contrast, in April 2000, Ashcroft's predecessor, Janet Reno, called terrorism the most challenging threat in the criminal justice area." - Washington Post, 3/22/04

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CLAIM #5: "The president launched an aggressive response after 9/11." National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, 3/22/04

FACT: "In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows. The papers show that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did, and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks." Washington Post, 3/22/04

CLAIM #6: "Well, [Clarke] wasn't in the loop, frankly, on a lot of this stuff" - Vice President Dick Cheney, 3/22/04

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FACT: "The Government's interagency counterterrorism crisis management forum (the Counterterrorism Security Group, or "CSG") chaired by Dick Clarke met regularly, often daily, during the high threat period." - White House Press Release, 3/21/04

CLAIM #7: "[Bush] wanted a far more effective policy for trying to deal with [terrorism], and that process was in motion throughout the spring." - Vice President Dick Cheney on Rush Limbaugh, 3/22/04

FACT: "Bush said [in May of 2001] that Cheney would direct a government-wide review on managing the consequences of a domestic attack, and 'I will periodically chair a meeting of the National Security Council to review these efforts.' Neither Cheney's review nor Bush's took place." - Washington Post, 1/20/02

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Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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