Observations on the world today.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Can I Get a Witness? No, I Said Witness, Not Witless. 

Transcript: Condoleezza Rice on '60 Minutes' (washingtonpost.com)
RICE: Nothing would be better, from my point of view, than to be able to testify. I would really like to do that. But there's an important principle involved here. We have separate branches of government -- the legislative branch and the executive branch. This commission, it takes its authority, derives its authority from the Congress, and it is a long-standing principle that sitting National Security Advisors do not testify before the Congress. And...

BRADLEY: But there is a long list -- not to cut you off, but there is a long list of presidential advisors who have testified before the Congress in public and under oath.

RICE: Well, let me be very clear about this, because the people who -- the only National Security Advisors, sitting National Security Advisors that to our knowledge have testified did so in matters having to do with either criminal intent or criminal allegations, or impropriety -- not on matters of policy. Indeed, Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger and Tony Lake and Henry Kissinger have all declined to testify when matters of policy come up because it's important for the President's close, personal staff to not breach this line between the executive and the legislature.
American Progress had no difficulty disproving this assertion. But what I want to talk about is how the right has glommed onto this assertion as if it had validity, despite the fact that it is a transparent attempt to shield Rice from telling the truth.

Case in point: A right-wing blogger named Brian said:
It is beyond disgraceful that the 9/11 Commission is allowing itself to be used like this. And the usual suspects are out in force.
But the real disgrace is that the right is allowing us all to be used this way by the administration. Don't they want the truth? Isn't that more important than partisanship? Brian continued:
There is only 2 reasons that Democrats want Rice to testify publicly:

1. To destroy a possible future political threat. Is there any doubt that if she ran for President, Republicans would rally around her?

2. To get her to say something like, "We discussed the possibility of airplanes being hijacked in a briefing," so that the lapdog media can run with the "Bush Knew" meme again.
Do they really think this makes a strong case for refusing to testify before a commission that is charged with learning if we could have protected America better? In fact, I replied to Brian:
This only adds support to the argument that her refusal is due to political concerns rather than security or constitutionally motivated.
Sadly, I don't think he'll get the point.

Another worthwhile point is that Rice really has no legs to stand on when she argues that she is unable to testify due to the seperation of powers. For two seperate reasons.

• As I also pointed out to Brian, "Rice's argument is that she cannot be compelled to testify, and that is true. But there is no prohibition against her voluntarily testifying. So the argument for dangerous precedent is a non-argument. Nobody is saying that she should be compelled to testify. What some in the press and everybody on the commission is saying is that she should voluntarily testify."

• As Atrios points out, "Legally, there is difference between testifying in front of a Congressional Committee and testifying in front of a commission established by a Bill signed into Law by the preznit."

Ultimately, Rice's decision not to testify under oath and not publicly only serves to undermine any determinations ultimately made by the commission. From what we have seen in public and what we have read in the news, if the commission decides that the powers that be did everything possible, it feeds the conspiracy theorists for Rice to have spoken behind closed doors. And if they find guilt on anybodie's part, Rice's closed-door testimony will only be worse for the president's legacy.

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