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Rice seeks another private meeting with commission

Bush insists he would have stopped 9/11 attacks if possible


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The White House says Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, is asking for another private meeting with the commission investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House has told the independent panel investigating the attacks of September 11, 2001, that Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser, wants another private meeting with the commission.

The request comes in the wake of two days of public hearings this week by the commission, during which Bush's anti-terrorism policies were sometimes criticized.

Rice did not testify at those sessions, but she has met privately with the commission before. The commission, along with some 9/11 family members, have asked Rice to testify publicly.( Gallery: Key testimony)

Thursday evening, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to the commission's chairman and vice chairman.

"In light of yesterday's hearings in which there were a number of mischaracterizations of Dr. Rice's statements and positions, Dr. Rice requests to meet again privately with the commission," he wrote.

Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg said the panel is sure Rice has more to share and said something will likely be set up soon.

Rice had previously verbally offered to hold further meetings with the commission; the letter from Gonzales is a formality.

Former Bush counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, testified Wednesday that Bush did not see the threat from the terrorist network al Qaeda as "urgent" before September 11, 2001 -- contrasting the current administration unfavorably with the Clinton White House, in which he also served. (Clarke testifies before the commission)

Rice has called Clarke's assertions "scurrilous" and has said that administration records refute Clarke's allegations.(Full story)

Clarke's allegations -- including his assertion that Bush sought to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks at the expense of undermining al Qaeda -- have also been denounced by several other administration figures, and were challenged by Republican members of the 9/11 panel. (Gallery: Commission members)

Bush's defense

In the wake of the week's public hearings, Bush insisted Thursday that he would have used "every resource, every asset, every power of this government" to avert the attacks, had he known they were coming.

Speaking in Nashua, New Hampshire, Bush diverted from his planned remarks on the economy to respond to assertions that his administration may not have done all it could to prevent the attacks.

In doing so, he made a point of noting his administration's relative short tenure before it was faced with the devastating attacks.

"There is a commission going on in Washington D.C.," Bush said. "It is a very important commission determined to look at the eight months of my administration and the eight years of the previous administration to determine what we can learn, what we can do to make sure we uphold our solemn duty.

"Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to strike America, to attack us, I would have used every resource, every asset, every power of this government to protect the American people."

Family pressure on Rice

Rice faced some new pressure Thursday to testify publicly.

"The American public deserves to see in public under oath what she knew ahead of time," said Carrie Lemack, vice president of the Families of September 11 group.

Lemack's mother, Judy Larocque, was a flight attendant on one of the hijacked planes that hit the World Trade Center in New York City.

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Carrie Lemack, vice president of the Families of September 11, wants Rice to testify publicly.

Rice has spent several hours with the commission in private, but the White House has maintained that a member of the president's staff can't appear before a congressionally chartered commission without violating the Constitution's separation of powers.

"I've heard Dr. Rice say that she has evidence that what he said was wrong," said Lemack, referring to Rice's comments about Clarke.

"I implore her to come forward and speak in front of the commission and American public -- under oath, in public -- and let us know what that evidence is."

Clarke's assertions about the Bush administration are in his book, "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror," which was released this week.

They have been challenged vigorously by the White House. Secretary of State Colin Powell, for example, told the commission that Bush recognized terrorism as a key priority even before he took office.

The 9/11 panel -- known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States -- is charged with coming up with an authoritative account of events leading to the attacks, including any security and intelligence lapses. It will also draft recommendations on how to prevent future attacks.


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