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9-11: Limiting Access to Senior Administration Officials: Condoleezza Rice

The Bush administration claims that one of its main goals was to increase the powers of the presidency relative to Congress. Its sole purpose for these increased powers, though, is to deceive Congress, craft bad policy, and deny the public accountability. You can't have strong presidential privilege without trust, and Bush has done nothing to earn even a modicum of trust from Congress or the people. It has consistently stonewalled investigations by the Republican Congress and refused information necessary for the public to hold the administration accountable.

Moreover, it has demonstrated that it's "principles" serve one purpose: getting Bush re-elected and ramming Bush's extreme agenda through Congress. How else can you explain its willingness to waive its privilege whenever political pressure mounts, or its willingness to declassify nothing but that which helps it politically? Actually, it appears willing to declassify anything that helps it politically, including Richard Clarke's extremely sensitive 2002 testimony.

Just days before Bush agreed to let Condoleezza Rice testify, she stated:

Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there's an important principle involved here. We have separate branches of government - the legislative branch and the executive branch. This commission, it takes its authority, derives its authority from the Congress, and it is a long-standing principle that sitting National Security Advisors do not testify before the Congress.
Apparently, though, the president is willing to sacrifice his principles for political gain. The Commission had interviewed National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice in private and without the benefit of prior access to the Presidential Daily Briefings. Administration officials refused to testify in public. [9-11 Commission Press 2/25/04; Boston Globe 2/8/04] Eventually, at the urging of families of September 11th victims, the Commission threatened to subpoena Rice to force her public testimony. [Salon 2/25/04; MSNBC 3/2/04] In response to this pressure, Bush flip-flopped on Rice's availability.

The victory was not total, though. President Bush required the 9-11 Commission to accede to a bizarre condition for Rice's testimony: the Commission "must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice." This prior-restraint on the Commission could only have one purpose: to prevent the Commission from asking questions that could embarass the administration. Why would it bother asking questions if it has already agreed not to talk to anyone that can answer them?

Rice testified before the Commission on April 8, 2004. The Center for American Progress did an excellent job dissecting Rice's disingenuous testimony.


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