Monday's must-reads

By Geraldine Sealey
Published March 29, 2004 2:26PM (EST)

No-show Condi makes political blunder
Even fellow Republicans are pressuring National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify publicly under oath before the 9/11 commission, the Baltimore Sun reports. Rice appeared on 60 Minutes Sunday night and reiterated that she would not speak publicly before the panel, saying there is no such precedent for top presidential advisers. Her refusal to testify in public has led a former Navy secretary and member of the 9/11 commission to say the White House is making "a political blunder."

"'We do feel unanimously as a commission that she should testify in public,' Chairman Thomas H. Kean, a former New Jersey governor, said on Fox News Sunday. 'We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers. We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden.'

Commission member John F. Lehman Jr., a former secretary of the Navy, said the White House stance 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,' Lehman told ABC's This Week. 'There are no smoking guns. That's what makes this so absurd. It's a political blunder of the first order.'

Clarke: Go ahead, declassify me
The New York Times reports that in her 60 Minutes interview, Condi Rice acknowledged that on Sept. 12, 2001, President Bush asked his counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke to find out whether Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Rice said Bush wasn't trying to force Clarke to produce evidence that Saddam was involved -- given the United States' "actively hostile relationship" with Iraq at the time, he was asking Clarke "a perfectly logical question," Rice said. But the Times reminds us that: "Last week, the White House said it had no record that Mr. Bush had even been in the Situation Room [on Sept. 12, 2001] and said the president had no recollection of such a conversation. Although administration officials stopped short of denying the account, they used it to cast doubt on Mr. Clarke's credibility as they sought to debunk the charge that the administration played down the threat posed by Al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks and worried instead about Iraq."

Earlier Sunday on Meet the Press, Clarke approved Republican attempts to declassify congressional testimony he gave in 2002 about the terror attacks but said he wants all of it declassified, plus other memoranda and materials from Rice and the administration.

"In particular, [Clarke] urged the administration to make public a memorandum on counterterrorism initiatives that he wrote just days after Mr. Bush took office, as well as a counterterrorism plan that the White House ultimately approved more than seven months later, a week before the attacks. 'Let's see if there's any difference between those two, because there isn't,' he said. 'And what we'll see when we declassify what they were given on Jan. 25 and what they finally agreed to on Sept. 4 is that they are basically the same thing, and they wasted months when we could have had some action.'"

Bush takes blow on security
A Newsweek poll shows that "Richard Clarke's charge that George W. Bush largely ignored the Al Qaeda threat before the September 11 attacks has dealt a sharp blow to the presidents ratings on a crucial issue  the percentage of voters who say they approve of the way the president has handled terrorism and homeland security has slid to 57 percent, down from a high of 70 percent two months ago. The survey was conducted after Clarke, a former counterterrorism chief in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, testified to the 9/11 commission on Wednesday. Still, the president's overall approval rating remains steady at 49 percent and Bush remains neck and neck with presumptive Democratic Party nominee Senator John Kerry."

BC'04 warned about 'overreaching'
The Wall Street Journal reports that Republican senators who served in Vietnam have warned the White House against "overreaching in quick campaign bites" about Kerry's defense record. "And the administration's highly personal approach to defense and foreign-policy issues may raise questions about Mr. Bush's credibility as much as the Democratic challenger's indecisiveness," the Journal reports.

"The [Bush-Cheney '04] attacks on Mr. Kerry bore in on defense and intelligence votes in the 1980s and 1990s, a complex time when many in both parties -- including some Republican hawks and intelligence supporters -- were experimenting with how to adapt to the end of the Cold War and budget deficits that threatened the U.S. economy. The president's own record on national-security issues was challenged last week by his former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who told a national commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that the president's focus on Iraq had weakened the U.S. response to al Qaeda. The administration angrily denied the charge and aggressively challenged Mr. Clarke's truthfulness. But the president didn't help himself by then publicly joking about not finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, raising protests from families with soldiers overseas."

"'I don't think people want questions about character. I think they want questions about our security to be answered,' Mr. Kerry said in response, while campaigning Saturday in Missouri. But he knows that his character is the real White House target, and he must convince voters that he can indeed be a tough commander in chief. Mr. Kerry, a diplomat's son, has an almost relentless faith in multilateral approaches to engagement overseas as an alternative to war. But he also is a senator who has voted for big increases in military and intelligence appropriations at various times in his career, and many of the changes he has proposed in the pace of spending have been at the margins."

Nader gets Ben Stein's money
The Dallas Morning News reports that "Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is getting a little help from his friends -- and from George W. Bush's friends. Nearly 10 percent of the Nader contributors who have given him at least $250 each have a history of supporting the Republican president, national GOP candidates or the party, according to computer-assisted review of financial records by The Dallas Morning News. Among the new crop of Nader donors: actor and former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein, Florida frozen-food magnate Jeno Paulucci and Pennsylvania oil company executive Terrence Jacobs. All have strong ties to the GOP."

Geraldine Sealey

Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at

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