Following is prepared text of statements by Senator Bill Frist in response to allegations by Richard A. Clarke, the former counterterrorism chief who has accused the Bush administration of not heeding warnings before Sept. 11.
There has been much fulminating in the media and by some Senators on the other side about a new book by a former State Department civil servant named Richard Clarke. In this book, released for sale by the parent company of the CBS network, Mr. Clarke makes the outrageous charge that the Bush Administration, in its first seven months in office, failed to adequately address the threat posed by Osama bin Laden.
I am troubled by these charges. I am equally troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their former service as a government insider with access to our nation s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001. I am troubled that Senators on the other side are so quick to accept such claims. I am troubled that Mr. Clarke has a hard time keeping his own story straight.
I do not know Mr. Clarke, although I take it from press accounts that he has been involved in the fight against terrorism for the past decade. As 9-11 demonstrates, that decade was a period of growing peril, and unanswered attack, against the United States.
It is awesomely self-serving for Mr. Clarke to assert that the United States could have stopped terrorism if only the three President’s he served had better listened to his advice.
In fact, when Mr. Clarke was reportedly at the height of his influence as terrorism czar in the Clinton Administration, the United States saw the first attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on a U.S. Air Force barracks in Saudi Arabia, the attack on two U.S. embassies in Africa, the attack on the USS Cole, and the planning and implementation for the 9-11 attack. The only common denominator throughout these 10 years of unanswered attacks was Mr. Clarke himself, a consideration that is clearly driving his effort to point fingers and shift blame.
While the reasons may be open to debate, the previous Administration’s response to repeated attacks by al Qaeda was clearly inadequate — a few cruise missiles lobbed at questionable targets. Al Qaeda could only have been encouraged by their record of success and the absence of a serious or sustained response from the United States.
After 10 years of policies that failed to decisively confront and eliminate the threat from al Qaeda, Mr. Clarke now suggests that in its first seven months in office the Bush Administration is to blame. That sounds like finger pointing and blame shifting to me.
But this has not always been Mr. Clarke’s view of the events leading up to September 11. This week a transcript was released of a press interview Mr. Clarke gave in August of 2002. I will submit for the record the full transcript, but let me just cite a portion of this interview reviewing in glowing terms the policies of the Bush Administration in fighting terrorism:
RICHARD CLARKE: Actually, I’ve got about seven points, let me just go through them quickly. Um, the first point, I think the overall point is, there was no plan on Al Qaeda that was passed from the Clinton administration to the Bush administration.
Second point is that the Clinton administration had a strategy in place, effectively dating from 1998. And there were a number of issues on the table since 1998. And they remained on the table when that administration went out of office issues like aiding the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, changing our Pakistan policy — uh, changing our policy toward Uzbekistan. And in January 2001, the incoming Bush administration was briefed on the existing strategy. They were also briefed on these series of issues that had not been decided on in a couple of years.
And the third point is the Bush administration decided then, you know, mid-January, to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings, which we’ve now made public to some extent.
Did Richard Clarke perjure himself this week before the 9/11 commission? Congressional Republicans hope to prove so by declassifying his testimony before the House and Senate intelligence committees in July 2002.
“Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath,” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in a fiery speech today on the Senate floor.
The Tennessee Republican said that Clarke was “the only common denominator” across 10 years of terrorist attacks that began with the first attack on the World Trade Center.
He accused Clarke of “an appalling act of profiteering” by cashing in on a book that exploited insider information about the worst terrorist attacks in America’s history.
And Frist accused him of making a “theatrical apology” to the families of the terrorist victims before his testimony Wednesday, which was not “his right, his privilege or his responsibility” to do so.
“Mr. Clarke can and will answer for his own conduct, but that is all,” the senator said.
He noted that Clarke’s testimony in 2002 was “effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration” and that Clarke had praised the administration’s successes to reporters in 2002.
Though Clarke has tried to play down his earlier praise of Bush, Frist said, “Loyalty to any administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied to Congress.”
The Associated Press reported today, “No immediate information was available on how the declassification process works, but one GOP aide said the CIA and perhaps the White House would play a role in determining whether to make the testimony public.”
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan took a separate jab at Clarke today. “With every new assertion he makes, every revision of his past comments, he only further undermines his credibility.”
Faced with damaging charges this week by former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke, Republican leaders in Congress are seeking to declassify previous testimony Clarke gave to the House and Senate intelligence committees to determine whether he committed perjury.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) called for the declassification today in a floor statement that included the harshest GOP attacks to date on Clarke, who resigned his National Security Council post last year after having served in the last four administrations.
Frist told reporters that his aim was to see whether Clarke lied under oath in July 2002 when he testified before a joint meeting of the House and Senate intelligence committees, or on Wednesday when Clarke appeared before a bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In his testimony Wednesday, Clarke criticized what he called the Bush administration’s less-than-urgent approach to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network.
The move to declassify Clarke’s testimony came as the White House maneuvered to control the damage from his appearance before the 9/11 commission and the publication of a new book that accuses President Bush of failing to take the terrorist threat seriously enough before Sept. 11 and of using it afterward to launch a war on Iraq that ultimately undermined the fight against terrorism.
The White House late Thursday offered to allow national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to appear before the commission in a second private session, but it continued to insist that she not be compelled to testify before the panel publicly under oath, citing the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Rice previously testified before the commission in private for four hours last month.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today that Rice wants to correct “some assertions that were made that were wrong, and some misstatements about issues she had talked about previously.”
McClellan said of Clarke, “with every new assertion he makes and with every revision of his past comments, he only further undermines his credibility.”
Referring to the Sept. 11 attacks, McClellan said, “It’s important for the American people to know that we did everything that we could, based on the information that we had at the time, and based on the tools and the resources that were available to us, to prevent something from happening. Now, it’s very well-documented that all the threat information was pointing to something that might happen overseas. But at the same time, this president acted to make sure we were buttoning up our defenses at home, as well.”
Asked about Bush’s reaction to Clarke’s charges, McClellan said, “I think any time someone takes a serious issue like this and revises history, it’s disappointing.”
Clarke, who headed the National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Security Group under Presidents Bush and Bill Clinton, apologized Wednesday to relatives of the Sept. 11 victims, some of whom attended the 9/11 commission’s hearing.
“Your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you, and I failed you,” Clarke said. He asked for their “understanding and forgiveness.”
Clarke said although he repeatedly stressed to Bush White House officials that terrorism was an urgent problem before Sept. 11, “I don’t think it was ever treated that way.”
“By invading Iraq . . . the president of the United States has greatly undermined the war on terrorism,” Clarke also told the commission.
In his floor statement, Frist decried “much fulminating in the media” and by Democratic senators about Clarke’s new book, “Against All Enemies: Inside the White House’s War on Terror — What Really Happened.”
In the book, Frist said, “Mr. Clarke makes the outrageous new charge that the Bush administration, in its first seven months in office, failed to adequately address the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. I am troubled by these charges. I am equally troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their former service as a government insider with access to our nation’s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on September 11, 2001. I am troubled that senators on the other side are so quick to accept such claims. I am troubled that Mr. Clarke has a hard time keeping his own story straight.”
Frist charged that Clarke’s assertions were “self-serving” and that the Clinton administration’s response to terrorist attacks during its tenure “was clearly inadequate.”
He said that in lengthy testimony to a congressional joint inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, Clarke had been “effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration.” That testimony came when Clarke was still Bush’s counterterrorism adviser.
Frist’s statement concluded: “I do not know if Mr. Clarke’s motive for theses charges is partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush administration. But the one thing that his motive could not possibly be is to bring clarity to the issue of how we avoid future September 11 attacks.”