Here's the letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales laying out terms for Condoleezza Rice's sworn public testimony before the 9/11 commission. The White House wants the panel to issue a written assurance that Rice's testimony won't set precedent for pressing presidential advisers to testify in the future. (They asked for the same assurances from House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.) Perhaps such an assurance from the 9/11 panel, which it granted, will help make a case against such testimony in the future, but does this body have the power to set standards for commissions studying other topics? And, anyway, there already are precedents for White House advisers testifying. Gonzales also asked that the panel not request additional testimony of any kind from the White House. Fine, (Republican) Commissioner Slade Gorton said today, "We hadn't planned to." Gonzales also said President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will testify privately before the entire panel, not just to the two co-commissioners, as they had requested.
This major about-face came after mounting political pressure and a mind-boggling misread on the White House's part of just how bad it looks for them to press baseless legalistic justifications for thwarting the investigation into what led to the worst terror attacks ever in the United States. As 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste said earlier this week, Rice appeared everywhere but his local Starbucks to publicly disparage her former colleague Richard Clarke, who testified last week before the panel and made claims that contradict what Rice and other White House officials have said about pre-9/11 counterterrorism policy. The White House has finally been shamed into sending Rice before the commission, too.
The 9/11 panel says it will move quickly to schedule Rice's appearance. We'll soon hear her story for ourselves, and the commission will be able to finish its work.