Video: Partisan bashing of Rice, Clarke

By Lisa Myers Senior investigative correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/29/2004 7:10:46 PM ET 2004-03-30T00:10:46

In the days before 9/11, is it true that President Bush had no sense of urgency about dealing with al-Qaida?

“Although I continued to say it was an urgent problem, I don’t think it was ever treated that way,” Richard Clarke testified during last week's 9/11 hearings.

Here, Clarke is supported by three other former White House insiders — Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, the National Security Council's Flynt Leverett and Clarke’s deputy, Roger Cressey, now an NBC News analyst.

What’s more, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward quotes President George W. Bush himself on Osama bin Laden prior to 9/11, as staying, “I knew he was a menace,... but I didn’t feel that sense of urgency.”

However, the White House insists before 9/11 it was working hard on a new tougher policy to eliminate al-Qaida, and CIA Director George Tenet says he briefed the president on the threats daily.

“I gave the president very intimate understanding of what we were doing operationally around the world,” Tenet says.

Still, the 9/11 commission concludes it took nine months just for the White House to hash out a policy.

What did Condoleezza Rice know about al-Qaida?  Clarke claims when he briefed Rice on al-Qaida in January 2001, she “gave me the impression she had never heard the term before.”

Rice calls that arrogant and insulting.

In fact, Rice spoke at length about al-Qaida in a radio interview on Oct. 4, 2000, with WJR Radio in Detroit, saying “We don’t want to wake up one day and find out that Osama bin Laden has been successful on our own territory.”

Finally, are there inconsistencies in Clarke’s statements?

Clarke, on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert, said, “President Bush did nothing prior to September 11.”

But Clarke boasted to reporters in 2002, that the White House had increased funding five-fold and “changed the strategy from one of rollback with al-Qaida ... to rapid elimination of al-Qaida.”

Clark’s explanation now is: “When you’re in the White House, you spin.”

Clarke’s supporters say the differences between now and then are largely a matter of tone.  But others claim that, in ratcheting up his rhetoric, Clarke has become a combatant in an already heated election.

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