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Day April 8, 2004

Condi Rice’s Testimony and the documentary record

Bleary-eyed and clutching my coffee cup in a death grip, I watched Rice’s testimony this morning. Every uninformative minute of it. Naturally, this has already been discussed to death, but I heard nothing new. She did a good job of making everything seem smooth and continuous and conflict-free in the handover between the Clinton group and the incoming Bush team. The sad thing, of course, is that the documentary evidence simply doesn’t back her up on this.

Forget Clarke’s book for the moment, the primary documentary record doesn’t support her. The Center for American Progress has a point-by-point rebuttal on Rice’s testimony which is a good starting point. In terms of the documentary record, CAP has also compiled an exhaustive timeline of Administration public statements on national security starting on January 20, 2001 and ending on September 10, 2001. The 50-page document (with URLs and sources for each statement) clearly shows that counter-terrorism wasn’t high on the national security agenda.

The compilation analyzes 557 public statements concerning national security during the Administration’s first eight months in office. The single mention of al-Qaeda is in a signed continuation by Bush of the older Clinton executive order prohibiting transactions or business with the Taliban. Osama bin Laden is mentioned 19 times, 17 of which occur in the context of press briefings when journalists asked questions.

In contrast, the record shows that senior officials discussed Iraq and Saddam Hussein in 104 statements and missile defense in 101 statements. WMD were mentioned in 65 different statements.

Finally, the CAP compilation document also contains a day-by-day calendar of Bush’s schedule from August 6, 2001 through September 10th. August 6th, if you recall, is the day Bush was given the infamous President’s Daily Briefing (PDB) document titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside U.S.” This is turning out to be a fairly crucial document and should be declassified (with proper care for individual pieces of source material). Rice testified today that this PDB was an “historical document,” not a threat assessment. President Bush must not have considered it a strong threat, because on August 6th, 2001, he began a month-long vacation in Crawford.

In summary, it’s easy to listen just to the questions and testimony and conclude that it’s a “he-said/she-said” argument between Rice and Clarke. That impression, at least for me, is utterly dispelled by examining the documentary record of public statements and available memos. The documentary record firmly supports the substance of Clarke’s testimony.