By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, March 23, 2004; 10:57 AM

It was an intense day of firefighting for the White House yesterday as everyone from Dick Cheney on down fanned out to major media outlets trying to try to smother the searing indictment that former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke was continuing to level against them.

Read yesterday's column for background on Clarke's new book and the first wave of White House response.

I'll get to the news coverage in a moment -- as well a look at today's public testimony before the 9/11 commission -- but first some direct links into the current scrum.

• Vice President Cheney on Rush Limbaugh -- text. "The other thing I would say about Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit . . . and I didn't notice that they had any great success dealing with the terrorist threat.

• Clarke on ABC -- text. "I'm an independent. I've spent 30 years in the government. They're saying I want a job in the Kerry administration. Let me say right here, Charlie, I will never work in any Kerry administration because I'm not going to work in the government again. I've done 30 years in the government. I've done my public service. Now I want to get the facts out."

• National security adviser Condoleezza Rice on ABC -- partial text. "This was in fact Dick Clarke's area of responsibility and when I asked him shortly after coming to the White House to give us a strategy for dealing with al Qaeda, because he made a very persuasive brief being the dangers of al Qaeda, what I got was a laundry list of ideas, many of which had been rejected in the Clinton administration in 1998."

• Clarke on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer -- text and audio. "This book would have come out three months earlier if the White House hadn't taken three months to clear it. It sat in the White House for three months or else it would have been out earlier."

• White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer -- text and audio. "I'm not here to dispute that there wasn't a conversation and the fact that President Bush didn't ask questions about Iraq, I'm sure he did and I'm glad he did, and the fact that Iraq was a sworn enemy of the United States who had tried to assassinate a prior president and gone to war with us, that we not at least ask those questions. I think it would have been irresponsible for him not to. So the president did ask them. Now Dick Clarke says that it was an intimidating meeting, I've worked for President Bush about a decade now and I've never been intimidated in a meeting and I've done plenty wrong for him to come down on me and he's never done that."

• White House press secretary Scott McClellan's briefing -- text and video. "His assertion that there was something we could have done to prevent the September 11th attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible, it's offensive, and it's flat-out false."

• Rice on CNN -- text. "I really don't know what Richard Clarke's motivations are, but I'll tell you this: Richard Clarke had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the administration that he thought the war on terrorism was moving in the wrong direction, and he chose not to."

• Rice on CBS -- video. "What he gave us was four or five ideas most of which had already had been around since at least 1998, which were a kind of laundry list to, as he said, 'roll back al-Qaida over three to five years.' The president needed more."

• Deputy national security adviser Jim Wilkinson on CNN -- text. "The top agenda item on the president's agenda and Dr. Rice's agenda and everyone who works at the National Security Council is protecting this country from all threats."

• Bartlett on CNN -- text. "It seems to me that Dick is more involved in or more concerned about is the process, what meetings he didn't get to go to or meetings he wasn't involved in, or maybe his title."

• Rice on Fox News -- video. Anchor Steve Doocy asks: "In this new book that this guy is trying to sell today, he says that you looked skeptical when he warned about the threat from al Qaeda in 2001. He writes that you appeared, that you never had heard of al Qaeda before." Rice's response: "Well, that's just ridiculous. And I don't why Dick Clarke goes around trying to read people's minds. That's ridiculous. Of course we had all heard about bin Laden and al Qaeda."

• Clarke gave an interview to PBS's Frontline in March, 2002, to which McClellan made reference in his briefing. Here's the text. "On the day of Sept. 11, then the day or two following, we had a very open mind. CIA and FBI were asked, 'See if it's Hezbollah. See if it's Hamas. Don't assume it's Al Qaeda. Don't just assume it's Al Qaeda.' Frankly, there was absolutely not a shred of evidence that it was anybody else. The evidence that it was Al Qaeda began just to be massive within days after the attack."

• Here are some very brief excerpts from Clarke's book, from the New York Times and the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

The Coverage

Dana Milbank and Mike Allen write in The Washington Post: "President Bush's top aides launched a ferocious assault on the former White House counterterrorism official who accused Bush of failing to act on the al Qaeda threat before Sept. 11, 2001, and strengthening terrorists by pursuing a misguided focus on Iraq. . . .

"In addition to Cheney's radio appearance, Rice was a guest on all five network morning shows, and by 11 a.m. the White House had booked more than 15 interviews on cable news channels, as well as numerous talk-radio appearances, over the next nine hours. . . .

"Clarke's allegations come after two weeks in which Kerry (D-Mass.) struggled for footing and the Bush campaign enjoyed what his aides believed was their best run of the year. But by Friday, a Republican official said the campaign was bracing for a tidal wave of negative publicity from Clarke's book. The campaign's defense strategy was that although Clarke could not be roundly refuted on the facts, enough doubt about the issue could be raised by portraying him as reckless and partisan."

Elisabeth Bumiller and Judith Miller write in the New York Times: "Mr. Clarke fired back that the White House attacks were an effort to divert attention from the substantive information in his book, including his impression that Ms. Rice, as the new national security adviser in early 2001, had not heard of Al Qaeda. (Administration officials disputed the claim about Ms. Rice.)

" 'This is the way the Bush administration deals with people, with ad hominem attacks, and trying to suppress the truth,' Mr. Clarke said by telephone from New York. . . .

"The angry White House response to Mr. Clarke, which was authorized by Mr. Bush, reflects the administration's fears over the book's potential political damage. In a daylong assault on Monday, administration officials portrayed Mr. Clarke, a secretive, combative terrorism expert who spent more than three decades working in the Reagan, Clinton and both Bush administrations, as a bitter former employee who had been denied the No. 2 position in the Department of Homeland Security and who was now trying to help the Kerry campaign."

In a New York Times news analysis, Todd S. Purdum writes that "the stinging indictment of Mr. Bush's own former top counterterrorism adviser" come at "the worst possible moment, it undercuts Mr. Bush on the issue that he has made the unapologetic centerpiece of his administration and a linchpin of his re-election campaign: his handling of the global war on terror.

"Just as Mr. Bush appeared to be gaining the upper hand over Mr. Kerry in the fledgling general election campaign after weeks on the defensive over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Mr. Clarke has put the White House squarely on the defensive again."

Maura Reynolds, Josh Meyer and Greg Miller write in the Los Angeles Times: "Clarke's charges set the stage for what is likely to be a week of recrimination, as an independent commission created by Congress begins today to question top Clinton and Bush administration officials over what they did and did not do to prevent terrorist attacks on the U.S."

Who is Richard Clarke?

Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post that he's got "a hard-charging style and a penchant for self-promotion that has earned him many enemies over the years, and which has given ammunition to his critics in recent days."

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "In his 30 years as a master Washington bureaucrat, Richard Clarke learned to get the job done, no matter what it took -- and no matter whom it annoyed. . . .

"Some in the Reagan and both Bush administrations thought his politics leaned a little to the left; some in the Clinton administration feared that, because of his past service, he might be a little too far to the right. But his knowledge of the issues and the system kept his career advancing."


Hope Yen writes for the Associated Press that today's hearings before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks will "focus on the Bush and Clinton administrations' failed response to the threat from al-Qaida amid new allegations that Bush officials didn't do enough to prevent the tragedy. . . .

"Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said officials from both administrations will face tough questions about why the government didn't consider a stronger military option sooner, particularly after U.S. intelligence received repeated warnings in early 2001 of a possible attack."

The complete hearing schedule is on the commission's Web site.

Other Parties Heard From

Here's a letter to the White House from eight Senate Democrats calling on Bush to allow Rice to testify in public.

After the White House released its own "fact sheet" Sunday evening called "Setting the Record Straight," the Democrat-run Center for American Progress responded with its own, called "Claim vs. Fact."

Watch for more from the center, whose director, former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, coined the term "intimigate"to describe the Bush administration's approach to insiders who make critical statements.

That Other Former President

Meanwhile, Andrew Buncombe of the British newspaper, the Independent, gets former president Jimmy Carter to sternly rebuke Bush for the war in Iraq. "That was a war based on lies and misinterpretations from London and Washington, claiming falsely that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11, claiming falsely that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction," Carter tells Buncombe.

That Other Tell-All Book

Michael Janofsky writes in the New York Times: "The Treasury Department's inspector general reported Monday that Treasury officials should not have released 140 of 19,000 documents that former Secretary Paul H. O'Neill requested and was given after his dismissal in December 2002. Mr. O'Neill, however, did nothing wrong, the investigation concluded.

"Material culled from all the documents, including the 140 that the report found should have been classified, became the backbone of a book, 'The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill' (Simon & Schuster)."

Is That a Flip-Flop?

Steven R. Weisman writes in the New York Times: "In a startling sequence of events unusual even for the ups and downs of Middle East policy, the administration began the day by avoiding direct criticism of Israel after the killing of Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza City.

"Instead, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said in a morning television interview that Hamas was a terrorist organization, that Sheik Yassin had been involved in terrorist actions and that it was 'very important that everyone step back and try now to be calm in the region.'

"Only later in the afternoon did the administration shift tone and criticize Israel's action as harmful to the cause of bringing peace to the region."

Today's Calendar

AFP reports: "White House advisors asked Congress to double US military staff in Colombia on the eve of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's meeting with President George W. Bush, an official said."

Bush meets with Uribe in the morning, then meets with his cabinet, then participates in a photo opportunity and makes remarks to NCAA "sports champions."

No Offense Taken

Richard Leiby writes in The Washington Post about the president's little joke about brothers the other day at the expense of MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Matthews "didn't take it personally, quipping on the air last week that the president 'might be on to something.' He later told us: 'It was just towel-snapping.' "

© 2004