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Policy and principle

From Wolf Blitzer
CNN


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Condoleezza Rice

WASHINGTON -- Former President Bill Clinton's national security adviser Samuel Berger testified before Congress in 1997. On the agenda: allegations of illegal campaign fundraising practices in the 1996 presidential election.

Former President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brezezinski, also testified before Congress in 1980. On the agenda then: allegations the president's younger brother, Billy Carter, had tried to influence the U.S. government on behalf of Libya.

Those appearances before Congress by sitting national security advisers are being cited by the 9/11 commission members as precedents for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice appearing before the commission now.

She says she'd too love to do that but insists there's a huge difference.

"This commission is rightly not concentrating on what happened on the day of September 11. So this is not a matter of what happened on that day -- as extraordinary as it was. This is a matter of policy. And we have yet to find an example of a national security adviser -- sitting national security adviser -- who has been willing to testify on matters of policy," Rice said Sunday night on CBS's "60 Minutes".

Former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger, who served under President George H.W. Bush, agrees that's an important difference -- noting that both Berger and Brzezinski testified on alleged criminal wrongdoing.

"The most important thing was neither was about an ongoing policy matter, let alone the prosecution of an ongoing war against terrorism," Terwilliger says.

Former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis sees it very differently.

"It's deja vu all over again. We made the same arguments in the Clinton administration and ultimately we surrendered. And Sandy Berger testified on the China matter and campaign finance. Sooner or later, transparency wins out over that principle. You might as well do it earlier rather than later," says Davis.

The White House insists critical Constitutional issues are at stake.

Terwilliger says, "This is an issue of principle. Separation of powers is of constitutional dimension."

But again Davis disagrees, saying, "Voluntarily appearing in front of a congressional committee in public does not violate separation of powers."


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