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Compromise sought over Rice's 9/11 testimony

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Stay with CNN for updates and analysis on the controversy over Condoleezza Rice's position on 9/11 testimony, and for news from the Bush-Cheney and John Kerry forces on the campaign trail.
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Interactive: The White House and terrorism
• Gallery: Key 9/11 testimony
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Should U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice be forced to testify in public to the independent commission investigating the September 11 attacks?
Condoleezza Rice
George W. Bush
Richard Clarke
September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House is searching for a compromise to satisfy demands that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice testify publicly before the commission investigating the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The White House still wants Rice to answer questions in private, but is exploring whether some of her statements to the panel could be made public, according to Bush administration and commission sources.

Rice has been under mounting pressure to testify publicly -- even from some Republicans -- since last week's furor generated by a former subordinate's charges that the Bush administration dropped the ball in the war on terror.

Rice has denounced as "scurrilous" the assertions by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, who testified before the 9/11 panel last week.

In February, Rice met privately with the commission for more than four hours. She was not under oath, and there are no transcripts of her session.

But commissioners' notes from the interview, which are currently classified, could become declassified in the future, commission sources said.

Sunday night, Rice said she "has nothing to hide" from the commission.

Appearing on the CBS news magazine "60 Minutes," Rice also denied the Bush administration put the war on terror on a "back burner" before the tragedy, as alleged by Clarke.

Clarke's interview on the program last week launched the controversy.

When asked whether she would have done anything differently about potential terrorism threats between President Bush's inauguration in January 2001 and the attacks on New York and Washington nine months later, Rice said, "We were where we were. I know what we did.

"I know that shortly after we came into office I asked the counterterrorism team -- which we kept in place from the Clinton administration in order to provide continuity and experience -- we asked them what policy initiatives should we take."

She said Bush officials were given a list of policy initiatives, which they followed, and that they put in motion a strategy to eliminate al Qaeda.

The strategy was in place before the attacks, she said.

In his book, "Against All Enemies," Clarke says members of the Bush administration, including Rice, did not act on repeated warnings before September 11 that an al Qaeda attack could be imminent.

Clarke was White House counterterrorism coordinator in the Clinton and Bush administrations.

He repeated his criticism last week in testimony before the 9/11 commission, saying the administration considered terrorism an important issue, but not an "urgent" issue.

He also told the commission that Bush "has greatly undermined the war on terrorism" by ordering the invasion of Iraq.

White House officials tried to portray Clarke as a disgruntled former employee with a book to sell, releasing earlier statements and documents they say undercut his credibility.

Rice called Clarke's allegations "scurrilous" and made the rounds of news shows last week to challenge his credibility.

Earlier Sunday, the top two leaders of the bipartisan 9/11 panel, formally titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, urged Rice to appear before it to rebut Clarke's testimony.

Chairman Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, said White House concerns about executive privilege should be waived to help the commission get to the bottom of what led to the attacks.

"We recognize there are arguments having to do with separation of powers," Kean said on "Fox News Sunday." "We think in a tragedy of this magnitude that those kind of legal arguments are probably overridden."

The panel's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, said on CNN's "Late Edition" that it would to be the administration's advantage to have Rice testify in public, "but they've refused to do that."

Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said Rice "has been very helpful to us" in private sessions.

"She's told us she's happy to have us come back, so we're going to get the information that we want in the commission," Hamilton said.

"But there's another whole dimension here, and that dimension is the public dimension -- and I think the American public would benefit from hearing Condi Rice testify under oath."

Sunday, Rice told "60 Minutes" that testifying in public was not possible, given her position. She has already given four hours of private testimony to the panel.

The White House argues that as a member of the White House staff, Rice should not be called to testify publicly under the principle of executive privilege.

"There's an important principle involved here. We have separate branches of government -- the legislative branch and the executive branch," Rice said.

"This commission, it takes its authority, derives its authority, from the Congress, and it is a long-standing principle that sitting national security advisers do not testify before the Congress.

"I'm more than happy to spend as much time as they would like answering further questions," Rice said.

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