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Rice to Testify Under Oath Before 9/11 Commission
Paula Wolfson
White House
30 Mar 2004, 23:04 UTC

White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify in public and under oath before the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney will also meet in a joint private session with all 10 members of the panel.

The President says the commission has a crucial task, and the White House is cooperating fully by providing documents, private interviews and now the public testimony of Condoleezza Rice. "I've ordered this level of cooperation because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on September the 11, 2001," he said.

It is a big reversal for the Bush White House, which had long maintained that Ms. Rice is barred from testifying publicly before any panel created by Congress because of the confidential nature of the advice she provides the president.

But that argument began to fade in the wake of the controversy over allegations put forward by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. He told the commission last week that the Bush administration did not consider the terrorist threat a priority before the September 11 attacks and was fixated on Iraq.

In his comments to reporters, the president did not specifically mention Mr. Clarke. Instead, he focused on the nature of the commission and its work. "Our nation must never forget the loss or the lessons of September 11 and we must not assume that the danger has passed," he said.

Under the deal struck with the commission, there will be no further requests for public testimony from White House officials, including Ms. Rice. The president said the circumstances surrounding her appearance are unique, as unique as the events of that September day two and a half years ago. "Now the commission and leaders of the United States Congress have given written assurances that the appearance of the national security adviser will not be used as precedent in the conduct of future inquiries," he said.

Commission members unanimously backed the deal and commended the president. The Republican chairman of the panel, Tom Kean, told reporters the conditions set by the White House are totally acceptable. "We look forward to the commission's meeting with the president and the vice president and the public testimony of Dr. Rice," he said.

The Democratic vice chairman of the commission, Lee Hamilton, noted that Richard Clarke's testimony gave "a partisan edge" to the last round of hearings. He pledged an all-out effort to keep politics in check when Ms. Rice testifies. "Tom and I have the job of trying to take the partisan edge off of these hearings. And you do that by focusing on the facts, by pushing for specifics and then seeing how broad a consensus we can build," he said.

The commission's leaders both stressed the deal struck with the White House will enable the panel to get all the information needed to accomplish its mission and prepare a good report on the September 11 attacks.

Congressional leaders agreed and signaled their approval. The top Democrat in the Senate, Tom Daschle, said the American people want Condoleezza Rice to testify in public and the president made the right decision. "We want a full and comprehensive review of what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent it from happening again. Dr. Rice plays a pivotal role in giving us the information that will allow us to make that judgment," he said.

No date has been set for Ms. Rice's appearance before the commission, or the private session involving the president and the vice president. However, the commission says it wants to schedule them promptly.