March 24, 2004

Live-Blogging Clarke's Testimony

The Clinton Administration, per Clarke, gave terrorism issues an "extraordinarily high" priority. Nothing was given higher billing.

Only some other critical matters, Clark says, were treated at an "equal" level (Clarke mentions the Middle East peace process in this context--another, not so subtly veiled, attack on the Bush Administration).

The Bush Administration, again per Clarke, merely considered terrorism issues "important but not urgent."

Clarke was then asked to speculate, if he had gotten a high-level briefing with the President back in February of 2001 (he didn't), whether he might have been able to materially change our pre 9/11 terrorist threat posture.

Clarke says he would have planned to relay to Bush that the state of al-Qaeda was "strong."

He complained that he had a "strategy ready before [Bush's] inauguration," but that delays prevented it from getting to the President's desk.

The intimations are clear. Bush didn't care. And so thousands may have needlessly died.

I have a question for Richard Clarke.

If the Clinton team handled terrorism as an "extraordinarily high" priority--why the need for a major new strategy when Bush came in?

Why hadn't it already been implemented?

And why was the state of al-Qaeda "strong"?

Just asking.

UPDATE:

Richard Ben-Veniste asking Clarke about the differences between Clarke's access to Clinton era NSC advisors as compared to Condi Rice.

Clarke complains that he was told that "..policy development on counter-terrorism would be best done at [the] Deputy National Security" level rather than at the NSC advisor level.

One potential sour grape?

Listen, Clarke is an estimable former civil servant.

But no high-level bureaucrat ever enjoys a de facto demotion like that.

None at all.

We can look at the merits of whether meeting at the Deputies rather that Principals level might have had a material impact on counter-terrorism policy.

But, given some of his pretty inflammatory rhetoric lately, one wonders if this factor might be motivating him at some (even if subconscious) level.

MORE:

Clarke being asked about the content of his press briefing in August 2002 as compared to the incendiary allegations in his book.

Why the differences?

In '02 briefing, he said, for instance, that Bush administration was "vigorously pursu[ing] the existing [Clinton] policy."

Of course, that's not at all what he says in his book.

Was he lying, he's asked?

No. Clarke says he briefed the press thus back in '02 because he was asked to stress the positive and downplay the negative by the Administration.

And that special assistants to Presidents are often asked to do that type of thing (now that's a fair point!).

Still, Clarke's a damn good spinner, isn't he?

MORE:

Jamie Gorelick of Wilmer Cutler quotes Condi Rice to the effect that the Bush plan went beyond law enforcement type action vis-a-vis al-Qaeda and marshalled all means (including military).

Is this true, she asks Clarke?

No, he responds.

AND MORE:

Clarke is suggesting we act on threats before we see them--even it if requires "boldness".

Another supporter of preemption, one might ask?!?

And while critiquing America's lack of robust preemptive style action earlier--Clarke rationalizes it didn't occur because we "couldn't see the threat because it hadn't happened" yet.

So much for all the al-Qaeda attacks of the 90s....

STILL MORE:

John Lehman:

Lehman sarcastically says he's "green" with envy at how easy the PR job must be going for Clarke's book. He even mentions forthcoming movie rights for the book.

And asks Clarke to apologize to the families for the "tremendous difference" in his disclosures in the book as compared to what he was saying pre-book.

Lehman goes on to say that Clarke has a "real credibility problem."

Wow. The gloves are off.

Clarke responds:

There was a "very" good reason for the differences between his previous testimony to the 9/11 commission and his allegations in the recently published book.

The reason that he is now "strident" in his criticisms is the invasion of Iraq.

Because the President has "greatly undermined" the war on terrorism as a result of going into Iraq.

But Clarke had told 60 Minutes that Bush flat out "ignored terrorism"--not just undermined it because of too much attention to Iraq.

Might he not have mentioned such a shocking dereliction of duty in previous testimony to the Commission, the committee members are basically querying?

Even as someone asked to, er, stress the positive?

Clarke is basically defending the differences in his previous testimony/press statements--as compared to the allegations contained in the book--by saying he had to act like an Adminstration flak.

But if Bush really had dropped the ball so flagrantly, imperiling the ship of state, one has to keep their integrity in mind too--a committee member just suggested to Clarke.

Not a bad point. [emphasis added]

ROUND TWO QUESTIONS BEGIN:

Clarke:

The Sudanese plant was a valid, terror target.

Critics mocking the operation as merely hitting a pharma plant and such are "wrong."

MORE:

Former Nebraska Senator Kerry: states he has no problems with Clarke's integrity.

And criticizes Fox news for leaking the 'background' press briefing linked above.

MEDIA UPDATE:

Guess how W. 43rd St. leads the story? [ed. note: But that's your lead too? Yes, but I view it as a howler--the Times will headline it (Clinton's handling of terror treated as "extraordinarily high", Bush's merely "important") with quiet approval.

Richard Ben Veniste:

No "substantive differences" between what Clark said in previous testimony and his published work.

Guess it depends on what the meaning of is is. I'm getting Clinton flashbacks.

AND FINALLY:

Kean is wrapping it up and thanking Clarke for his testimony.

Note: Live-blogging, I've just discovered, is pretty exhausting.

And I've got a friend in from New York who wonders why we haven't had dinner yet.

So analysis to follow later.

Posted by Gregory at March 24, 2004 06:59 PM
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