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White House Decision to Allow National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to Publicly Testify Before the 9/11 Commission

Location: Washington, DC

Federal News Service



TIME: 5:02 EST

SEN. KENNEDY: We welcome the decision by the president of the United States and the cooperation that the White House is going to give now by permitting Condoleezza Rice to testify. Basically, the White House bowed to the inevitable and they conceded to the obvious.

Why all this obstruction in the first place? It was an intolerable and untenable position to have Dr. Rice speaking to every talk show in the country and failing to speak to the 9/11 commission.

What is the most important result is the result on the families. These families are entitled to hear from Dr. Rice in the 9/11 commission, and we welcome the fact that the president has finally conceded to it.

SEN. SCHUMER: Thank you.

I agree with Senator Kennedy. I mean, I hope the president will learn a lesson from this. It's a lesson that comes from the scriptures: the truth will set you free. The only thing the families have asked for is the truth. The pain that they will have every day for the rest of their lives because of their lost loved ones will never go away, but the solace that we will get to the bottom of what happened before 9/11 and what we can learn so that it doesn't happen again is real.

No one is interested in finger pointing and just finding blame. The purpose of the 9/11 commission was to find out what went wrong the first time so it doesn't happen a second time. And the constant reluctance of this administration to come forward and tell the truth makes one scratch one's head in wonderment because we need the truth so desperately here.

The commission is bipartisan. The commission is fair. The commission has the same number of Democrats and Republicans on it. And I am glad that the stonewalling has stopped and look forward to the commission putting out a truthful, balanced and thorough report on what we did wrong and what we must do to never let that happen again.

SEN. KENNEDY: I'll just say we also hope that the administration will declassify the information that Mr. Clarke had requested for the declassification. That will be an enormous service as well to the families and for the understanding of exactly what did and what did not take place.

I would just say, finally, I imagine the families themselves are going to-with the announcement today about the president and the vice president testifying in secret, I imagine they are as well going to wonder why this testimony shouldn't be in public as well. There's obviously precedent for that. When Gerry Ford gave the pardon to President Nixon, it was a matter of national interest and of national concern. President Ford, in an extraordinary action came up and testified openly and publicly to the Congress on this extremely important decision that affected the whole nation as a whole. So there's certainly precedent on that too.

Q Senator, are you calling, then, for the president and vice president to come testify in public before the commission?

SEN. KENNEDY: I just said this is going to be a matter, I would expect, for the families themselves. The actions that were taken, certainly, with President Ford were in response to a national kind of a concern and interest in that policy decision that he gave in granting that. And I think the interest of the families themselves would be the overriding factor as far as I personally was concerned.

Q Senator Schumer, you talked about stonewalling.

But during the president's remarks, he made a point of saying that since day one, since the panel was created, he has directed all the executive branch agencies to fully cooperate with the commission. What did you make of his making this point to say that? Was this a purely political --

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, the bottom line is, the excuse that was used-and that is separation of powers-had nothing to do with the commission, because it was a congressional commission. And so many people were saying: What is this separation of powers argument? It's not relevant to the commission. It's relevant to the Congress, and I think there's a legitimate argument there. You can argue that one either way. But it was never relevant to a commission.

And it seems to me, just as Senator Kennedy said, when they saw the handwriting on the wall, they then sent-said that Condoleezza Rice could testify in public under oath. I don't think this was a great argument of principle, the separation of power. It-first, it didn't fit the commission. And second, when it got too hot to maintain it, they dropped it.

Q Senator Schumer, what's your own position on whether the president --

SEN. SCHUMER: I agree with Senator Kennedy. I mean, I've taken a lot of guidance from this on (sic) the families. I know many of them and understand how they feel. And frankly, we wouldn't have a 9/11 commission except for them. And so I would want to see what they-their viewpoint is. You can argue it each way.

I can argue, of course, that sunlight is the best disinfectant and doing this in the public makes sense. You can argue that given the president and given the sensitive nature of all of this, even with nonclassified things, that it might be better done in private. I think Senator Kennedy's wisdom, you know, is correct on this, and that is that the families ought to be our guide here.

Q Senator, Senator Frist made a point to stress that there was a-to get the deal for her to testify that this would not be-set a precedent, that he wanted that in writing. And they put some restriction on the notion that this would be it, that it was one person, one testimony. Are you comfortable with that?

SEN. SCHUMER: Well, again, I'd like it to be as open as possible, speaking for myself. It won't be a precedent because they were always arguing about Congress asking security advisor to the president to come testify, but I think it was a bit of face saving.

STAFF: Thank you all very much.

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