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Inside Politics

Photo may have nudged Bush on Rice testimony

Picture shows FDR aide before Pearl Harbor panel

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A historical photograph may have helped persuade the White House to let national security adviser Condoleezza Rice testify before the independent panel investigating the September 11, 2001, attacks, a panel spokesman said Sunday.

The photo, published in The New York Times on November 22, 1945, shows Adm. William D. Leahy -- White House chief of staff under Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman -- appearing before a congressional panel investigating the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, spokesman Al Felzenberg said.

Felzenberg said commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow faxed the photo Monday to the White House counsel's office to show there was a historical precedent for Rice to testify publicly and under oath.

On Tuesday, President Bush announced he was allowing Rice to appear, as long as her appearance was not considered a precedent.

Felzenberg said Zelikow, a University of Virginia historian, had met with other commissioners to come up with ways to persuade the White House to let Rice testify.

He said Zelikow was trying to make the point that in times of great peril, advisers of Rice's stature have sometimes testified before committees designated by Congress.

Brian Besanceney, a White House spokesman, said was it wrong to suggest the faxed photo led to Bush's about-face.

"We've had an ongoing dialogue with the commission about the best ways that we can provide them with the information they need to complete their work," Besanceney said. "The president is pleased we came to an agreement."

Commission member Tim Roemer, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said the photo was just one element of Bush's decision.

Roemer said he believed Bush changed his mind after the five Democrats and five Republicans on the panel, formally titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, pushed for Rice to testify.

Testimony last month before the panel by former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was the second-strongest factor, he said.

Repeating allegations he makes in his new book, "Against All Enemies," Clarke criticized what he believes were the Bush administration's shortcomings in dealing with terrorism before September 11.

"I know that Mr. Zelikow found some type of close historical precedent and standard," Roemer said.

"Again, this may have been one of the straws on the camel's back, but the camel certainly had the big load of the 9/11 commission with bipartisan support insisting on Dr. Rice's public and sworn testimony.

"I think all these things built to a crescendo that had the White House change their mind," Roemer said. "I don't think the White House would change their mind based on one fax."

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