The Condi Rice Countdown

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Wednesday, April 7, 2004; 10:42 AM

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice takes the stand tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. EDT, and the whole world will be watching. Live video of her testimony will be on the homepage of

Here's what we know about her testimony:

Mike Allen and Dan Eggen write in The Washington Post: "National security adviser Condoleezza Rice plans to testify tomorrow that the Bush administration was acting in a pre-Sept. 11 mindset in its efforts to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and must be judged in that context, administration officials said yesterday.

"At the same time, Rice plans to argue that President Bush focused aggressively on terrorism before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001."

David E. Sanger and Philip Shenon write in the New York Times: "With little more than a day until Condoleezza Rice testifies before the Sept. 11 commission, the White House is still deciding what kind of tone she should strike as she explains the intelligence lapses leading up to the attacks, officials involved in the internal debate said Tuesday. . . .

"In her opening statement, Ms. Rice is expected to speak directly to the survivors of those killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, some of whom will be in the audience in a Senate hearing room."

But Sanger and Shenon say Rice has ruled out issuing the kind of apology made by Richard A. Clarke two weeks ago.

"That statement was immediately denounced as grandstanding by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and one administration official said, 'Condi's not going there.'"

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Rarely has so much seemed to hinge on a single government official stepping into the glare of television lights and raising a right hand before God and country. . . .

"While no historical parallel is exact, there have been similar moments. Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, appearing ramrod straight in full uniform before congressional investigators, wrapped President Reagan's Iran-Contra policies in a mantle of patriotism that critics could not penetrate. During Watergate, on the other hand, the unshakable testimony of White House Counsel John W. Dean III began the unraveling of Richard Nixon's presidency."

Job Interview?

Carol Giacomo of Reuters writes: "Condoleezza Rice will be defending two futures when she makes an eagerly awaited appearance before the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks on Thursday -- U.S. President George W. Bush's and her own.

"The nation's first black female national security adviser is widely presumed to be a leading candidate for secretary of state if there is a second Bush term."

But CBS News's Bill Plante ends his profile of Rice for the "Early Show" with the assertion by Rice's friends that she doesn't want the job.

No Speech for You

Adam Entous reports on the Reuters wire: "The White House has refused to provide the panel investigating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks with a speech national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was to deliver on that day touting missile defense as a priority rather than al Qaeda, sources said on Tuesday."

The Washington Post's Robin Wright wrote last week that the address "was designed to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and contained no mention of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or Islamic extremist groups."


Mimi Hall of USA Today writes: "White House spokesman Scott McClellan complained last month that when she testified in private, 'only five members showed up' to hear what she had to say.

"What McClellan didn't tell reporters was that on Nov. 21 -- long before Rice met with the five commissioners in February -- the White House counsel's office had sent the commission a letter saying no more than three commissioners could attend meetings with White House aides of Rice's rank."

This from McClellan's March 9 briefing:: "She was more than happy to visit with the commission. Only five members actually showed up, despite the fact that it was scheduled for the entire commission."

Must See TV

Reuters reports that the three major U.S. broadcast networks will carry Rice's appearance live on Thursday morning starting at 9 a.m. EDT. She'll obviously be live on cable, as well.

Iraq Watch

Kenneth R. Bazinet and Thomas M. DeFrank write in the New York Daily News: "President Bush publicly vowed to 'stay the course' in Iraq yesterday but the deteriorating security situation on the ground prompted fresh jitters among his political aides.

"One source acknowledged that Team Bush was caught off guard by the escalating violence of recent days and is becoming resigned to increasingly difficult scenarios ahead."

Terence Hunt writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush's Iraq problems are piling up as violence spreads, U.S. casualties rise and his poll numbers fall at home . . . .

"Each day brings more bad news and graphic pictures of fiery clashes that raise doubts about Bush's strategy, even among some Republican allies."

Officially, of course, as Steve Holland of Reuters reports, the White House says that U.S. resolve in Iraq is undiminished.

"Our resolve is firm, our resolve is unshakable and we will prevail. The president was told that our troops and coalition forces are performing well," McClellan told reporters.

On the NBC Nightly News, David Gregory says that "senior White House aides admit" that the recent events have "put more pressure on the president to put the violence in context."

The Trip to Arkansas

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush endorsed a proposal Tuesday that would require states to test 12th-grade students and called for the replacement of an 87-year-old vocational education program.

"Bush's testing proposal, which needs congressional approval, would expand reading and math testing beyond the fourth- and eighth-graders who are tested in all states every other year. "

Scott Lindlaw of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush advocated sweeping changes Tuesday to a $1 billion federal program that provides training in vocations like car repair and health care, fast-growing fields that require workers to bring increasing sophistication into the workplace. "

Seth Blomeley of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette notes: "Tuesday's session was an official White House event, without campaign signs. One person at the college tried to start a 'four more years' cheer, but it didn't catch on. . . .

"Tickets to the speech were distributed through the Republican Party, the local chamber of commerce and the community college. The president took no questions from reporters."

The visit got a banner headline in the El Dorado News-Times. (No president, not even Clinton, ever made it to El Dorado before.)

Here is the text of Bush's remarks in Arkansas.

Blonde Bombshell

"President Bush has a penchant for dishing out good-natured insults, and usually the victim laughs along. But Sammie Briery didn't seem much amused when Bush fired one at her Tuesday."

So notes the Associated Press.

"'You and my mother go to the same hair-dye person,' Bush said to Briery, whose blondish bob bore little resemblance to Barbara Bush's shock of white hair.

"The audience in the gymnasium laughed, and Briery smiled, but replied firmly: 'President Bush, I'm a natural blonde.'"

Bush also had an odd exchange with Bob Watson, superintendent of the El Dorado Public Schools.

Here's a photo of Briery -- and Watson. Neither seem too pleased with the president.

But Dana Milbank spoke to Briery afterwards. He writes: "Bush may hear from his mother on the matter if she joins him at the ranch for Easter festivities. But Briery, at least, said after Tuesday's event that she was not offended in the least. 'I'm proud of this hair,' she said. 'I worked hard for it.'"

Easter Egg Roll

The Associated Press reports: "The annual Easter Egg roll at the White House is back to being open to the public this year. But, like last year, the show will go on without President Bush. . . .

"The Easter Egg roll normally draws a crowd of about 40,000. But last year, the event was closed to the public and limited to only about 12,000 people -- troops involved in the Iraq war and their children."

Expect to see Clifford the Big Red Dog, Elmo, Veggie Tales, The Berenstein Bears and others, White House Visitors Center Director Sarah Armstrong, said in an "Ask the White House" live chat yesterday.

There's much more information on the White House Web Site, including history and a quiz.

About 7,200 dyed eggs will be used in the egg roll.

Personal note: I went in the late '60s and it was really neat-o.

Softball Questions

Washington Post columnist Al Kamen notes that "Vice President Cheney, in battleground Ohio on Monday to throw out the first pitch in the Cincinnati Reds-Chicago Cubs baseball game, chatted in the radio booth with announcers Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall. It made for one of the more unusual White House transcripts."

The announcers were calling the game even as they were asking Cheney questions. Here's the transcript.

Armageddon Plan

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "An 'Armageddon' program designed to ensure that the federal government would continue to function in the aftermath of a nuclear war was put into place during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"According to ABC's 'Nightline,' which plans to report its findings tonight, every federal agency shifted its control to an alternate headquarters outside Washington. President Bush's decision to fly to Nebraska that day instead of returning to the White House, which drew some criticism at the time, was part of that plan, former counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke said on the program."

Here's The March 2002 Washington Post story by Barton Gellman about the "shadow government."

Toxic Charges

Jennifer 8. Lee writes in the New York Times: "While working with Environmental Protection Agency officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury, hundreds of pages of documents and e-mail messages show."

See some of the documents.

Cheney and China

John Ruwitch writes for Reuters: "China will press the United States to halt arms sales to Taiwan when Vice President Dick Cheney visits Beijing next week and advise Washington not to send the wrong signal to the island's independence seekers."

Cheney's China visit starts on Tuesday after a trip to Japan. He is scheduled to go to Shanghai before heading to South Korea.

Who Are You Talking To?

The president's snippy exchange with an Associated Press reporter yesterday was the subject of much mirth on Air Force One yesterday, print pool reporter Joseph Curl of the Washington Times reported to his colleagues.

After Air Force One landed in Arkansas, "Under the wing, McClellan goofed with Reuters' Steve Holland, who was talking on his cell phone. Scott leaned in close to the phone and said loudly: 'Who are you talking to!?' It marked the 627th time the phrase had been said -- all before 11 a.m."

See my "Snippy President" item in yesterday's column. For those of you who read it early, I updated it to reflect the fact that Bush's wrath was apparently triggered by correspondent Pete Yost having his mobile phone to his ear.

Late Night Humor

But my update was too late to prevent the incident from becoming fodder for the late-night comedians.

Via Reuters, this from NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno":

"Yesterday, President Bush got a little upset with a reporter for calling him 'sir' instead of Mr. President. Man, how upset is he going to be after the election when they start calling him 'George' again."

Also, while we're at it: "Yesterday, Vice President Cheney threw out the first pitch at the Cincinnati Reds opening game. President Bush, he threw out the first pitch at the Cardinals game. It's nice to see they've got time for that kind of stuff now that everything in Iraq is under control."

And from CBS's "The Late Show with David Letterman":

"President Bush says he is looking forward to the testimony from Condoleezza Rice before Congress. Well it makes perfect sense you know, he wants to know what was going on too."

© 2004