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Bush administration rejects Clarke charges

Rumsfeld to testify before 9/11 panel Tuesday

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Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke joins "American Morning" to discuss his claims about the White House and 9/11.
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The potential fallout from Clarke's allegations

McClellan decries Clarke's claim

In a talk with CNN's Soledad O'Brien, Condoleezza Rice dismisses Richard Clarke's charges.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on the new book from former Bush counterterrorism coordinator Robert Clarke.
• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
Richard Clarke
Condoleezza Rice
George W. Bush
Al Qaeda

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top members of the Bush administration sharply rebuffed their former counterterrorism chief Monday, calling his assertions in a new book about the White House's handling of terrorism and Iraq "deeply irresponsible" and "flat-out wrong."

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Richard Clarke had engaged in a "retrospective rewriting of the history."

In his book "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," published Monday, Clarke accuses the Bush administration of ignoring repeated warnings about an al Qaeda threat in 2001 and looking for an excuse to attack Iraq at the expense of battling terrorism.

"I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he's done such great things about terrorism," Clarke said in a "60 Minutes" interview on the book with CBS. "He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11. Maybe, we'll never know."

Clarke's book offers the first perspective on Bush's performance on Iraq and the war on terrorism from someone who was on the inside.(Full story)

Some administration officials questioned Clarke's motives, suggesting he had a partisan agenda. Clarke has served under both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Vice President Dick Cheney said Clarke "wasn't in the loop" on major decisions and may hold a personal grudge against Rice. He told listeners of Rush Limbaugh's conservative radio program Monday that Clarke may have wanted a more "prominent position."

Clarke has denied any such motive for his book.

Rice, who is among the top officials berated in the book -- and to whom Clarke answered in his role in the administration -- flatly denied Clarke's accusation that she failed to act on his January 2001 "urgent" memo calling for a meeting on the possibility of an al Qaeda attack.

"This retrospective rewriting of the history of the first several months of the administration is not helpful," she told CNN's "American Morning."

"To somehow suggest that the attack on 9/11 could have been prevented by a series of meetings -- I have to tell you that during the period of time we were at battle stations."

Rice also characterized as "ridiculous" Clarke's statement in his book that she seemed unaware of al Qaeda until he told her about it.

"I wasn't born yesterday when Clarke briefed me," she said. "This wasn't an issue of who knew about al Qaeda, but what we were going to do about al Qaeda."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that Clarke's "assertions are deeply irresponsible and they are flat-out wrong." He also said Clarke's "past comments and actions contradict his current rhetoric when it comes to Iraq."

Rice said Bush's "aggressive response" after September 11 put the United States "well on the road to winning the war on terrorism."

But Clarke, saying the American people need to "know the facts," followed Sunday's "60 Minutes" interview with another television appearance in which he slammed the administration.

"Basically, the president botched the response to 9/11. He should have gone right after Afghanistan, right after bin Laden. And then he made the whole war on terrorism so much worse by invading Iraq," he told ABC's "Good Morning America."

"I think we could have had a good chance to get bin Laden, to get the leadership and wipe the whole organization out if we had gone in immediately and gone after him."

Instead, Clarke said, Bush has "inflamed the Arab world and created a whole new generation of al Qaeda terrorists."

He added, "U.S. soldiers went to their deaths in Iraq thinking that they were avenging 9/11 when Iraq had nothing do with it."

In a meeting on September 12, 2001, "The president, in a very intimidating way, left us, me and my staff, with the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11 because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office," Clarke said.

"I think they had an idée fixe, a plan from Day One that they wanted to do something about Iraq. And while the World Trade Center was still smoldering, while they were still digging bodies out, people in the White House were thinking, 'Ah, this gives us the opportunity we've been looking for to go after Iraq.'"

Rice said looking at Iraq made sense. "Iraq, given our history, given the fact they tried to kill a former president, was a likely suspect," she said.

A Pentagon spokesman told CNN that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will tell the commission investigating the September 11 attacks that he makes no apologies for considering Iraq's potential involvement during the days that immediately followed, because the Bush administration was looking at a "global war on terror" not just a war against al Qaeda.

Rumsfeld is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the commission. Clarke is to testify on Wednesday.

"Richard Clarke is missing the context. It's not clear he understands what the global war on terrorism was about," said the Pentagon spokesman.

Clarke, who previously served under Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton, stepped down in March 2003.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, who worked with Clarke, told NBC's "Today" that Clarke was "very credible" and not partisan.

Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate, has fiercely opposed the Iraq war.

Sen. John Kerry, all but officially the Democratic nominee for the White House, has not publicly commented on Clarke's allegations. But his Web site's "D-bunker" page, which claims to set "the record straight" about Bush, carried the headline "Richard Clarke Delivers 9/11 Bombshell," along with a link to the CBS report on its interview with Clarke.

In her interview with CNN, Rice pointed out repeatedly that Clarke was in charge of counterterrorism efforts in 1998 when U.S. embassies in Africa were bombed and in 2000 when the USS Cole was bombed, as well as during "a period of the '90s when al Qaeda was strengthening and when the plots that ended up in September 11th were being hatched." She said Clarke holds a more "narrow view" of combating terrorism than Bush does.

Rice came under new pressure Monday to testify publicly before the 9/11 commission. In a letter to Bush, several Democratic senators called on Rice to reconsider her decision to only meet with the commission in private.

"Her refusal to testify before the commission can only lead the American people to one conclusion: that she has something to hide and is not fully committed to finding the truth," the letter said.

Challenging motivation

McClellan pointed to the timing of Clarke's book.

"If Dick Clarke had such grave concerns, why wait so long? Why wait until the election?" Instead, McClellan said, Clarke "conveniently" released a book in the middle of the campaign season.

Clarke has denied being politically motivated. He is a registered Republican, and told ABC, "I'm an independent. I've spent 30 years in the government. ... I will never work in any Kerry administration because I'm not going to work in the government again."

He added, "It pains me to have Condoleezza Rice and others mad at me. But I think the American people needed to know the facts and they weren't out, and now they are."

Rice had some praise for Clarke, saying it was his job to develop "a broad comprehensive strategy for dealing with the al Qaeda threat, and he eventually did that. And I think he did a very good job."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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