9/11 Testimony Compromise Eyed

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The White House is struggling to end the controversy over whether Condoleezza Rice should testify to the commission probing the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and is considering ways to satisfy panel members without violating a claim of "executive privilege."

Late Monday afternoon, White House officials were

on whether to bow to demands from the commission to have Rice testify in public and under oath, reports Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts.

Roberts tells the change in policy is being discussed at the highest levels in the White House. Rice reportedly believes that it might be positive for her to appear. But President Bush makes the final decision, and is thus far against it, says Roberts.

The Los Angeles Times reports Sens. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles Schumer of New York planned on Tuesday to introduce a resolution calling on Rice to testify.

Rice has previously offered to meet with the commission in private for a second time. But the heads of the commission indicate that if she refuses a public session, any private interview will be conducted under oath and a transcript made.

The Los Angeles Times reports no transcript was made of Rice's first, four-hour meeting with the commission, although some panel members took notes. And according to the Washington Post, only six of the 10 commissioners attended that session because it was held on a Saturday at the White House.

The White House performance on 9/11 has been under fire from former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. Clarke was critical of the Bush administration in a newly-released book.

Last week, Clarke told the 9/11 commission that the Bush administration did not make fighting al Qaeda an urgent priority before the 2001 attacks and was fixated on Iraq. The White House has denied his allegations, but refused to allow Rice to testify in public.

The White House is under enormous political and public pressure to waive its claim of so-called "executive privilege." Mr. Bush has vigorously defended his right to receive advice from aides without the threat it will be aired in public.

In a 60 Minutes interview aired Sunday, Rice cast herself as ready to testify but restrained by the principle of executive privilege.

"Nothing would be better from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there's an important principle involved here," Rice said "It is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisors do not testify before the Congress."

But after the parade of current and former officials that have gone before the commission, Rice's absence, say former White House officials, is playing as a negative — creating the perception that she has something to hide.

Add to that Rice's recent blitz of the public airwaves to state her case — while stonewalling the commission — and it appears to some that the White House has badly stumbled.

"The longer they refuse to have her testify in public the more suspicion they bring. And frankly the more they string this story out," said former White House advisor David Gergen.

The White House also faces charges of hypocrisy — claiming executive privilege at the same time it made public confidential e-mails and transcripts of background briefings to discredit chief critic Clarke.

Republican lawmakers have moved to declassify Clarke's earlier testimony in 2002, hoping to show discrepancies between Clarke's recent attacks on the administration's terrorism policies with flattering statements he made as a White House aide.

Clarke said he welcomed such a move, and also suggested they declassify all e-mails, memos and all other correspondence between him and Rice, as well as her private testimony before the commission.

The New York Times reports commission chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican New Jersey governor, and Lee Hamilton, a retired Democratic congressman, say they are willing to declassify notes taken during Rice's earlier session.

Rice, a chief critic of Clarke, has said Clarke praised Mr. Bush's anti-terror efforts while working for the president, but then began telling a different story after leaving his post and writing a book that has become a best seller since going on sale last week.

Clarke has suggested the president pressured aides to find an Iraq link to Sept. 11. Rice acknowledged in the 60 Minutes interview on Sunday that Mr. Bush asked whether Iraq was involved, but denied he wanted a particular answer.

"The president asked a perfectly logical question," Rice said. "This was a country with which we'd been to war a couple of times, that were firing at our airplanes in the no-fly zone. It made perfectly good sense to ask about Iraq."