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Monday, March 29, 2004

Updates on Clarke

From Mark A.R. Kleiman, I learned that Senator (and Majority Leader) Bill Frist said some things last week about Richard Clarke's congressional testimony that were not true.

As I noted, Frist came close to accusing Clarke of perjury -- but Frist may have committed a similar offense within a few minutes of making his statement in Congress (since it was on the floor of the Senate, he cannot be prosecuted for a crime):
Frist later retreated from directly accusing Clarke of perjury, telling reporters that he personally had no knowledge that there were any discrepancies between Clarke's two appearances. But he said, "Until you have him under oath both times, you don’t know."
If Frist had no idea whether Clarke told a different story, why did he say it?

Salon has a great interview with Clarke, by the way. First come the questions from Joe Conason (in bold) and then Clarke's replies. This exchange is interesting, to demonstrate how the administration has politicized 9/11:
[White House spokesman] McClellan also said that although you criticize the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in the book, you had attempted to become the No. 2 in that department and were passed over -- and that's yet another reason why you wrote this critical book.

They're trying to bait me, and they're trying to get me to answer all these personal issues. You know, the fact is that Tom Ridge opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. George Bush opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. And then one day, they turned on a dime and supported it. Why?

As I said in the book, the White House legislative affairs people counted votes. Senator [Joseph] Lieberman had proposed the bill to create the Department of Homeland Security -- and the legislative affairs people said Lieberman has the votes; it's going to pass. They said, "You've got the possible situation here, Mr. President, where you're going to have to veto the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. And if you don't support it now, if you don't make it your proposal, not only will it pass but it will be called the Lieberman bill."

The Lieberman-McCain bill.

The Lieberman-McCain bill, in fact. So that there were two outcomes possible. One in which we have this Frankenstein department, created during the middle of the war on terrorism, reorganizing during the middle of a war. That was possible. It was also possible that a second thing would happen, and that was that Lieberman would get credit for it. And therefore the president changed his position overnight, and became a big supporter of the Department of Homeland Security.

Did you see a memo to that effect? I wondered about that when I was reading the book, because you don't say how you know they gave the president that advice.

No, I don't say ... It was from oral conversations in the White House.
There's a lot more good material in that interview. Here's the bit comparing the Clinton and Bush policies on terror:
It's possible that the vice president has spent so little time studying the terrorist phenomenon that he doesn't know about the successes in the 1990s. There were many. The Clinton administration stopped Iraqi terrorism against the United States, through military intervention. It stopped Iranian terrorism against the United States, through covert action. It stopped the al-Qaida attempt to have a dominant influence in Bosnia. It stopped the terrorist attacks at the millennium. It stopped many other terrorist attacks, including on the U.S. embassy in Albania. And it began a lethal covert action program against al-Qaida; it also launched military strikes against al-Qaida. Maybe the vice president was so busy running Halliburton at the time that he didn't notice.

[P]rior to 9/11, the Bush administration didn't have an approach to terrorism. They'd never gotten around to creating an administration policy. It was in the process of doing so, but it hadn't achieved that. And it was clear that the national security advisor didn't like this kind of issue; she didn't have meetings on this issue. The president didn't have meetings on the issue of terrorism.

Now the White House is saying, oh, they had meetings every day. But let's be clear about what those meetings every day were. Every day George Tenet, the CIA director, would do the morning intelligence briefing of the president, and he would raise the al-Qaida threat with great frequency. That's not the same as having a meeting to decide what to do about it. That's not the same as the president shaking the lapels of the FBI director and the attorney general and saying, "You've got to stop the attack."

Apparently on one occasion -- of all these many, many days when George Tenet mentioned the al-Qaida threat -- the president on one occasion said, "I want a strategy. I don't want to swat flies." Well, months or certainly weeks went by after that, and he didn't get his strategy because Condi Rice didn't hold the meeting necessary to approve it and give it to him. And yet George Bush appears not to have asked for it a second time.

In fact, he told Bob Woodward in "Bush at War" that he kind of knew there was a strategy being developed out there, but he didn't know at what stage it was in the process. Well, if he was so focused on it, he would have kept asking where the strategy was. He would have known where it was in the process. He would have demanded that it be brought forward. He had a fleeting interest.
Among other bloggers, Digby has been making this point.

This is a story that I'll continue to watch.

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