The Sept. 11 commission shed its bipartisan spirit and turned a Senate hearing room into a courtroom yesterday for the testimony of Richard A. Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief-turned-Bush administration whistle-blower.
... Shortly before the hearing, the White House violated its long-standing rules by authorizing Fox News to air remarks favorable to Bush that Clarke had made anonymously at an administration briefing in 2002. The White House press secretary read passages from the 2002 remarks at his televised briefing...
Back at the hearing, former Illinois governor James R. Thompson, a Republican member of the commission, took up the cause, waving the Fox News transcript with one hand and Clarke's critical book in the other. "Which is true?" Thompson demanded, folding his arms and glowering down at the witness.
Clarke, appearing unfazed by the apparent contradiction between his current criticism and previous praise, spoke to Thompson as if addressing a slow student.
"I was asked to highlight the positive aspects of what the administration had done, and to minimize the negative aspects of what the administration had done," he explained. "I've done it for several presidents."
With each effort by Thompson to highlight Clarke's inconsistency -- "the policy on Uzbekistan, was it changed?" -- Clarke tutored the commissioner about the obligations of a White House aide. Thompson, who had far exceeded his allotted time, frowned contemptuously. "I think a lot of things beyond the tenor and the tone bother me about this," he said. During a second round of questioning, Thompson returned to the subject, questioning Clarke's "standard of candor and morality."
"I don't think it's a question of morality at all; I think it's a question of politics," Clarke snapped.
Thompson had to wait for Sept. 11, 2001, victims' relatives in the gallery to stop applauding before he pleaded ignorance of the ways of Washington. "I'm from the Midwest, so I think I'll leave it there," he said. Moments later, Thompson left the hearing room and did not return.
... Republican commissioners labored to change that reputation. Fred F. Fielding implied that Clarke may have perjured himself when he spoke to a congressional investigation into the attacks but did not raise complaints about Bush's Iraq policy then. Clarke, though the back of his neck and head were a burning red, replied coolly: "I wasn't asked, sir."
The gallery drew quiet when Lehman questioned Clarke. "I have genuinely been a fan of yours," he began, and then he said how he had hoped Clarke would be "the Rosetta Stone" for the commission. "But now we have the book," Lehman said, suggesting it was a partisan tract.
Clarke was ready for that challenge. "Let me talk about partisanship here, since you raised it," he said, noting that he registered as a Republican in 2000 and served President Ronald Reagan. "The White House has said that my book is an audition for a high-level position in the Kerry campaign," Clarke said. "So let me say here, as I am under oath, that I will not accept any position in the Kerry administration, should there be one."
When Clarke finished his answer, there was a long pause, and the gallery was silent. Lehman smiled slightly and nodded. He had no further questions.
The gray bureaucrat outguns the pompous senators. Lovely. Washington veterans are tough bastards.
Fox once again plays its role as the American Pravda. In this case, however, they probably didn't do anything wrong. They did earn themselves some political favors, which they'll use wisely. Bush may be corrupt, but he keeps his promises -- to his donors.
In retrospect, even distracted by the insane assaults of the republican right, the Clinton administration comes out well head of the early GWB administration in defending the nation. That must so enrage Bush.
How nice that Kerry didn't have to spend money on attack ads this week.