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Rice may testify before 9/11 panel by next week

Bush, Cheney to appear together in private


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ON CNN TV
Stay with CNN for ongoing reports, updates and analysis of developments on the campaign trail, and more on Condoleezza Rice's anticipated public testimony under oath before the 9/11 commission.
THE MORNING GRIND
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CNN's Soledad O'Brien talks with 9/11 commission Chairman Thomas Kean.

CNN's Dana Bash on the White House decision on Condoleezza Rice's testimony.

CNN's David Ensor reports: Clarke says Rice failed on terror
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Condoleezza Rice
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The 9/11 commission hopes to hear public testimony from national security adviser Condoleezza Rice within the next 10 days, panel Chairman Thomas Kean said Wednesday.

The Bush administration on Tuesday decided to allow Rice to testify publicly to the independent commission under oath, a reversal that came after weeks of public pressure to do so.

"We would prefer it happen as soon as possible," a White House spokesman said Wednesday. "We're in discussion with them, and they have to coordinate everybody's schedule."

The administration is seeking to quell a political firestorm sparked by criticism from former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke. (Interactive: Bush and terrorism)

Testifying last week before the commission, Clarke said the administration failed to respond to his urgent calls for action before September 11, 2001, and that its invasion of Iraq had hurt the war on terrorism.

These assertions also are detailed in Clarke's new book, "Against All Enemies: America's War on Terror." (Clarke book a best seller)

The White House had resisted letting Rice testify, arguing that to do so would be a violation of executive privilege.

Bush announced Tuesday that he would waive that privilege because the attacks were a "unique circumstance."

Kean told CNN's "American Morning" that commission members want to clear up discrepancies between Rice's private account to the commission and Clarke's testimony.

"I think the thing that Mr. Clarke emphasized the most is a lack of attention by the Bush administration to the problem of terrorism," Kean said.

Clarke's assessment also contradicted descriptions by Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Kean said Rumsfeld told the panel that Bush was focused on the problem before 9/11 and was attempting to come up with a policy to eliminate al Qaeda.

The commission also will hear from Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who said Tuesday they will meet jointly with all 10 commission members. Previously, the president and Cheney had agreed to meet with the chairman and vice chairman in a session set to last an hour.

"They asked to testify together, and we didn't see how that compromised our investigation at all," Kean said. "We are going to ask the same questions and get the same answers."

Republican commission member Slade Gorton told CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports" that the administration's request for Bush and Cheney to appear together is "curious."

"But this is a president and vice president who have been very close to one another. And if this is the way they want to do it, and if they answer all our questions, it's fine."

Democratic commission member Jamie Gorelick told CNN that it is critical to speak with Rice publicly. "If we're going to make sure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again, the public has to buy into it," she said. "It has to understand the nature of the threat and what went wrong."

She praised the White House decision, but added, "I just wish they would have come to this one a while ago."

The commission wants to speak publicly with Rice about a series of matters, beginning with what Bush officials learned about terrorism from the Clinton administration, Kean said.

"What was the advice? And then what were the policies of the Bush administration as they proceeded ahead?" he asked.

The commission also will ask Rice what the current policy is and how successful she thinks it is, Kean said.

Rice's high-stakes testimony will be closely watched and may have repercussions in the presidential race, but two senators said her appearance before the panel will unlikely resolve the dispute triggered by Clarke's criticism.

"I don't think anybody will be convinced who wasn't convinced before about the situation relative to the preparation and the focus of the Bush team on terrorism," U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, told "American Morning." "That's the problem with commissions like this. ... They really raise more questions than they will ever answer."

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, said Rice's testimony will move the debate forward but added, "This is not a story with a quick ending."

But the lawmakers, both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, were directly at odds over another key question -- whether Clarke's latest statements contradict testimony he gave a congressional panel investigating the attacks two years ago.

Top Republicans called for the earlier testimony to be declassified, saying it would prove inconsistencies. Clarke said he wanted the entire testimony released -- not just certain sections that might be taken out of context -- because it supports what he says now.

Rockefeller said he was present for Clarke's 2002 testimony, reread it over the weekend and doesn't see any inconsistency.

The senator pointed out Clarke told the commission last week that following his January 2001 recommendations would not have prevented the September 11 attacks.

"I think what he felt was a whole lot more could have been done by the administration about terrorism, about al Qaeda, on a global basis, and there were all kinds of signs popping up that things were going to happen, even some talk about airline attacks," Rockefeller said.

"And really there was no sense of urgency. That was vastly frustrating to a 30-year professional who had been doing counterterrorism for four different presidents. ... He wanted to get things done and was frustrated by the Bush administration."

But Chambliss said he saw a huge contradiction between Clarke's earlier testimony and his recent allegations.

"The president of the United States was very focused from the very day he took office, and Mr. Clarke was a big part of the team that prepared him ... on the issue of terrorism," Chambliss said.

The 9/11 panel -- formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United Statesexternal link -- is scheduled to issue a report on its findings by July 26.


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