Rice Doesn't Move the Ball

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, April 9, 2004; 10:42 AM

In their morning-after analyses, the big print media are agreed: Yesterday's hugely anticipated testimony by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice didn't really move the ball very much, one way or the other.

In a Washington Post analysis, David Von Drehle writes: "When the Washington investigative machinery gets rolling, it takes a major event to stop it. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice's defense of the Bush anti-terrorism effort at yesterday's hearing before the 9/11 commission was not enough."

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "She mounted the defense vigorously, but in the hours after she returned to the White House, it was evident that she had not defused the arguments. . . .

"In one tangle after another with members of the commission, she did not put to rest questions about why the administration had not taken stronger action after learning of evidence that not only was Al Qaeda intent on striking the United States, but also that airplanes could somehow figure in the attack."

Calvin Woodward writes for the Associated Press: "The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice's testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did and should have done before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks."

Newsweek's Howard Fineman writes for MSNBC.com: "Republicans who'd been hoping that Condi Rice would calm the political waters with her testimony to the 9/11 commission have to be disappointed."

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times that some of Rice's defenses backfired, as "the portrait of Bush and his closest aides that emerged from her testimony, while acquitting them of ignoring the warnings, left an image of leaders detached from the practical challenges of mounting a defense.

"In a sense, it came down to two concepts of how a president should operate: the Bush team's view that the chief executive should delegate authority, and the view espoused by Clarke and others that the White House should actively work to ensure that effective action is taken -- including 'shaking the trees' to move sometimes-hidebound government agencies."

Reynolds notes: "Rice faced more than three hours of questioning that oscillated between hardball and softball, and at times even descended to T-ball as friendly members of the panel served up queries designed to help her score rhetorical home runs."

There was no doubt, however, that Rice proved to be unflappable.

As Washington Post television critic Tom Shales put it: "She probably could have done the whole thing with a teacup and saucer balanced on her head. She's that cool."

Here are excerpts from Rice's remarks, and the full transcript.

The News Reports

Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post that Rice "offered a carefully prepared and largely familiar defense of Bush anti-terrorism efforts. . . .

"Perhaps the tersest exchange came between Rice and former senator Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who angrily told Rice at one point: 'Please don't filibuster me. It's not fair.'"

Philip Shenon writes in the New York Times: "Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, testified Thursday that Mr. Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11 terror attacks that the F.B.I. had detected 'suspicious activity' that suggested terrorists might be planning a domestic hijacking."

In a multimedia package, David E. Sanger of the New York Times says: "When Condi Rice took the national stage this morning, she clearly came into the room determined to give no ground. And the fact of the matter is, she didn't give any."

The New York Times Web site also has a panoramic photograph of the room.

David Montgomery writes in The Washington Post that families of the Sept. 11 victims generally "left the hearing knowing not much more than they did when they came. . . .

"After such a massive buildup for the national security adviser's public testimony -- first it was stonewalled by the White House, then it was stoked by the media -- not many minds were changed really."

The Nets

Here are reports from Lisa Myers and David Gregory of NBC News, Terry Moran of ABC News, Bill Plante of CBS News and Jim Angle of Fox News.

And fresh from ABC News's new Noted Now instant pithalyzer: "White House Communications chief Dan Bartlett and Democratic 9/11 Commission member Bob Kerrey fight to morning show draw in serial appearances."

Those New York Tabs

"The Lady is a Champ" says the banner headline of the New York Post.

The New York Daily News analyzes her body language.


The biggest excitement yesterday, by most accounts, came from revelations about the August 6 PDB.

Mimi Hall and John Diamond write in USA Today: "In the alphabet soup that marks so many government hearings in the nation's capital, PDB -- for President's Daily Brief -- was the acronym of the day Thursday. . . .

"The Aug. 6 PDB has become a flash point because some suggest it proves Bush knew there was a plot in the works. He and his aides have said they didn't have any way of knowing al-Qaeda's intentions."

Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, Rice acknowledged that the PDB's title was "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States."

The commission has asked the White House to declassify the PDB. So stay tuned.

The existence of the memo was first reported in a May 19, 2002, article by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Dan Eggen.

The Format

In retrospect, yesterday's relative lack of news may have been a foregone conclusion. That's because, as The Washington Post's Dan Eggen reported on Thursday, the panel decided in a closed-door meeting Wednesday night "that each member would have about 10 minutes of questioning and that they would proceed in alphabetical order, several members said. The approach is a departure from the commission's previous practice of appointing two lead questioners who had more time than the others, and reflects the members' desire to be aggressively involved in the high-profile hearing."

As Ben-Veniste told Paula Zahn on CNN last night: "The difficulty was, in the format, we just didn't have enough time to go into long answers and get our questions addressed."

He added: "Our point is this. We had intelligence information regarding al Qaeda operatives. We knew about planes as missiles. The question is, if we had butted heads together, because we knew the FBI wouldn't talk to the CIA. The CIA wouldn't talk to the FBI. This is a leadership issue to butt heads together and shake the trees and get the information that was in the system into the hands of individuals who could make a difference. We didn't do anything to protect our airports.

"There were CYA ["cover your ass"] missives going out, yes, there's a potential for hijacking. But nobody did anything different."

Clarke v. Rice

Christopher Marquis of the New York Times writes: "Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief in President Bush's National Security Council, said on Thursday that his former boss, Condoleezza Rice, had a radically different interpretation from his of the events surrounding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, even though they basically agreed on the facts."

Mark Memmott of USA Today spoke with Clarke Thursday, who disputed three key points from Rice's testimony.

The Washington Post compares Rice and Clarke statements; so do the Los Angeles Times; CNN; the Associated Press; USA Today; and the Wall Street Journal.

Claim vs. Fact?

The liberal Center for American Progress has a Claim vs. Fact sheet on Rice's testimony.

Where's the President?

Scott Lindlaw writes on the Associated Press wire: "Sitting in his white pickup truck, President Bush called national security adviser Condoleezza Rice Thursday to tell her she had done a 'great job' testifying before the Sept. 11 commission.

"Later, Bush roamed his 1,600-acre ranch with about 20 representatives of hunting and fishing groups."

Dana Milbank and Robin Wright write in The Washington Post: "This is Bush's 33rd visit to his ranch since becoming president. He has spent all or part of 233 days on his Texas ranch since taking office, according to a tally by CBS News. Adding his 78 visits to Camp David and his five visits to Kennebunkport, Maine, Bush has spent all or part of 500 days in office at one of his three retreats, or more than 40 percent of his presidency."

Another President Heard From

And what kind of crazy day is it when former president Bill Clinton testifies for more than three hours and it doesn't crack the front page?

Todd S. Purdum and Raymond Hernandez write in the New York Times: "During his appearance, Mr. Clinton told commissioners that 'he's going back in his mind over and over again about whether there's anything else he could have done and how he might have done it' said Tom Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey and the chairman of the commission.

"'But a lot of what we talked to him about was actually the inner workings of presidency as well as many of the classified briefings we've been able to read," Mr. Kean said in an appearance on Thursday evening on 'Newshour' with Jim Lehrer. 'We asked him some pretty detailed questions on those. And he was just totally frank -- totally frank, totally honest, and forthcoming.'"

Here's the transcript from the Newshour interview with Kean and commission vice chairman Lee H. Hamilton.

The Lockerbie Omission

Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post: "National security adviser Condoleezza Rice omitted the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland, as she detailed two decades of terrorist attacks against Americans during her appearance yesterday before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults."

The omission is notable because, as The Post's Tom Shales noted, Rice's prepared remarks included "a history of terrorism against the United States that went all the way back to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915."

Live Online

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus answered reader questions Live Online right after the testimony. Toronto asked: "What were the most glaring gaps, in your opinion?"

"Walter Pincus: One obvious gap is just what the Aug. 6 PDB said about FBI concerns about then current al Qaeda highjacking talk and what was done about it. Another was what followup came after the July 5 meeting she had with Clarke where the commissioners have been told the warning about a spike in terrorist threats never was passed down the line to FBI field offices, for instance. And what did Chief of Staff Andy Card do to follow up."

Gideon Rose, the managing editor of Foreign Affairs, was also Live Online: "Personally, I wasn't too impressed with the questions; there were a lot of issues that could have been raised that weren't. . . .

"I think it was clear that she was spinning as well as trying to inform, and that she was trying to run out the clock with her answers, and so I don't think she necessarily helped her standing with her critics."

Lost in Translation

Jefferson Morley, who writes the World Opinion Roundup for washingtonpost.com, notes how "[t]he sensational story of Sibel Edmonds illuminates the world of difference between the international online media and the U.S. press.

"Edmonds is a 33-year-old former FBI translator whose February allegations to the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks directly challenge the credibility of the commission's star witness, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice."

The Cheney Trip

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney departs today on only his third foreign trip since taking office, a week-long tour of Japan, China and South Korea designed to cement ties and press for progress in the North Korea nuclear crisis. But the sudden flare-up of violence in Iraq -- including the seizure of Japanese and South Korean nationals -- could dominate Cheney's talks with key leaders."

The Cheney Party

Brian Faler writes in The Washington Post: "Vice President Cheney is not known -- at least not publicly -- for his parties.

"But this week he e-mailed millions of his campaign's closest supporters, inviting them to a 'party for the president' later this month -- a soiree Cheney said he will address by telephone in what would be a massive conference call."

New Manufacturing Czar

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "Nearly eight months after announcing he would name a manufacturing policy point person, President Bush yesterday nominated an executive of a California carpet company for the new position of assistant commerce secretary for manufacturing and services."

Late Night Humor

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

"The White House Easter egg hunt will be open to the public, but President Bush will not be there. How embarrassing would that be? It's bad enough he can't find weapons of mass destruction, what if he can't find any Easter Eggs either."

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