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Hard Questions For Rice

The commission looking into the Sept. 11 attacks will ask Condoleezza Rice why government anti-terror efforts failed to stop the strike and how the Bush administration plans to fix the problems, panel members said Sunday.

Why did Rice relegate terrorist matters to a sub-committee of deputies at the White House, she is likely to be asked?

Why did she and President Bush make a missile defense shield their number one priority instead of al Qaeda?

To help Rice defuse the attacks, some administration officials are urging that more White House papers be declassified, to show the mixed message the president was receiving about Al Qaeda, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. Perhaps this move would even take the sting out of the president's own words to an author: that he never felt any "sense of urgency" about Al Qaeda until after Sept. 11, 2001.

President Bush's national security adviser, in her public testimony Thursday, will need to answer how that happened, said former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska.

"Nineteen men with $350,000 defeated every single defensive mechanism we had up on the 11th of September, 2001, and they defeated it utterly," Kerrey said.

Rice also will be asked about ways to correct "what has gone wrong so badly," said a Republican commission, former Navy Secretary John Lehman.

"She's now got her mind focused on just what went wrong, and I want to hear her views on some of the things that we're going to do and be recommending to make fundamental changes," Lehman said. He appeared with Kerrey on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Recommendations of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States are due July 26. The commission's deadline was extended from May 27 after complaints about alleged lack of cooperation by the White House.

A major complaint was Bush's refusal to let Rice testify publicly and under oath, which he said would violate a president's right to confidential exchanges with his advisers.

Under pressure from Congress and the commission, including the chairman, former GOP Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, Bush relented last week.

Newsweek reports that a staffer from Kean's commission faxed a photograph from November 1945 of presidential chief of staff Admiral William Leahy appearing before a special congressional panel investigating the attack on Pearl Harbor. Accompanying the photo was a note saying the photo would be all over Washington in 24 hours if the White House didn't allow Rice to testify in public before the commission.

The White House had offered earlier for Rice to speak privately with the commission for a second time. She wanted to clear up "a number of mischaracterizations" of her statements and positions in public testimony by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.

Democratic commission member Tim Roemer, a former congressman from Indiana, said Rice's testimony this week should help clear up discrepancies in her public positions and Clarke's. "Now I hope that we will not only focus on `She said, he said.' It's important for us not to try to trap Dr. Rice into some kind of a statement she made in private interview," Roemer said.

Bush also agreed to testify, alongside Vice President Dick Cheney, but the session will be private, unsworn and unrecorded.

The dual Bush-Cheney testimony, Kean said Sunday, was part of a deal with the White House.

"All things considered, maybe we would have rather to have them one at a time, but we don't see any problem with it, really," Kean in a broadcast interview.

"They promised us to give us the time we needed to get our questions answered, and if we have any problems, ... we'll have follow-ups."

Kean said a date has been set for their appearance, but he would not disclose it. After Rice's appearance, the next scheduled public hearings are April 13-14 that will focus on failures in intelligence and law enforcement.

Scheduled witnesses include Attorney General John Ashcroft; former Attorney General Janet Reno; CIA Director George Tenet; FBI Director Robert Mueller; and former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The final report should be published before the November elections, possibly as early as July, even though the White House must review it first for intelligence problems, Kean said. It will contain surprises, he said.

"I've been surprised by some of what we've found, and so, I think, (the public) will, yes," Kean said.

"We've got some very serious recommendations to make, and I think they'll be something of great value to the American people and also hopefully will make the country safer," he said.

"Nobody has any interest in having the report sitting around Washington during the election period and pieces of it leaking out," Kean said. "So I think it is in the White House's interest, our interest, everybody's interest to get this out in July. And I believe they will."

Asked about the independence of the committee considering that its report must be vetted by the White House for intelligence lapses, Kean said the requirement for prepublication review surprised him considering his lack of Washington experience.

But the vice chairman, former Rep. Lee Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat, said the law requires that because the president is responsible for the intelligence services.

Still, Hamilton said, "We're not going to let them distort our report."

Hamilton said the possibility that the intelligence screeners will order major deletions before publication is worrisome.

"I think we can work through this," Hamilton said, "but the chairman and I are very concerned about this. This is one of the big remaining obstacles, for us to get the report declassified."