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Senators Urge President To Ask Condoleeza Rice To Testify Before 9/11 Commission

New revelations from former White House aide Richard Clarke underscore need for Rice to testify; Clinton officials expected to testify this week that they gave urgent warning to Rice about Qaeda threat

Byrd, Kennedy, Schumer, Clinton, Lautenberg, Corzine, Dodd and others rebut White House rationale for keeping Rice from testifying publicly before the 9/11 Commission

A group of US Senators today wrote to the President to urge him to ask Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, to publicly testify before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks. The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States is expected to hear testimony from top officials in both the Bush and Clinton Administrations this week. Senators Robert Byrd, Edward Kennedy, Charles Schumer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Frank Lautenberg, Jon Corzine, Christopher Dodd and others signed the letter to the President.

The Senators said that the need for Dr. Rice to testify was underscored by the latest revelations being made by former White House aide Richard Clarke who claims that his efforts to brief the President and top staff about the pending threat of al Qaeda were repeatedly rebuffed by Dr. Rice in the months leading up to and immediately following the 9/11 attacks. In addition, Mr. Clarke and Clinton Administration officials are expected to testify before the Commission this week that they warned Dr. Rice and the national security staff about the need to address the al Qaeda threat following the 2000 elections and beyond.

"While we acknowledge her efforts to work with the Commission in private, we believe that these revelations demonstrate a need for Dr. Rice to appear publicly before the Commission. She has been appearing in frequent television interviews to present her position on these issues. Her refusal to testify before the Commission can only lead the American people to one conclusion – that she has something to hide and is not fully committed to finding the truth," the Senators wrote in a letter being sent to the President today.

The Senators said that while the Secretaries of Defense and State from both Administrations along with the Director of Central Intelligence are planning to testify, Dr. Rice is not on the Commission's hearing schedule. The White House's rationale for Dr. Rice not giving public testimony is that staff-level officials do not offer sworn testimony before Congress and that her testimony would raise separation of power issues. In their letter to the President, the Senators said the White House's concerns about Dr. Rice testifying were off base because the Commission is an independent entity and cited a number of examples dating as far back as World War II of White House staff voluntarily testifying. Specifically, they laid out the following points:

• Dr. Rice is not being asked to testify before Congress but is rather being called to appear before the independent Commission investigating one of the worst tragedies in American history.

• The White House's argument against Dr. Rice testifying is undermined by the decisions of Samuel Berger, President Clinton's national security adviser, and Richard Clarke, a top counter-terrorism aide in both Administrations, to testify. Like Dr. Rice, they served at the staff level but are complying with the Commission's request to testify.

• Dr. Rice has not shied away from discussing the national security staff's role in responding to the al Qaeda threat. Indeed, she wrote a newspaper opinion article today where she voluntarily discusses proposals that were considered by the White House to thwart al Qaeda. In our view, there is no reason why she can discuss these issues in a newspaper article but not under oath before the Commission in public.

• Notwithstanding the fact that the Commission is not Congress, there are several examples of Presidential advisors voluntarily testifying before Congress. According to the Congressional Research Service, during World War Two, Presidential advisors Donald M. Nelson, Jonathan Daniels and Donald S. Dawson all appeared before various Senate Committees.

"Finally, we ask that you take pains to ensure that no one in the Administration engages in any effort to smear or otherwise retaliate against those who testify before the Commission this week," the Senators added.

A copy of the letter is attached.


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