The much-anticipated testimony Thursday of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks left Democratic lawmakers in search of more answers, while Republicans said it was time to lay to rest the issue of blame for the attacks.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said Rice’s remarks would help put together the “final pieces” of information regarding the threats before the attacks, which killed more than 2,700 people in on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Now that she has testified, he said, “I would hope the 9/11 commission moves forward swiftly in producing their final recommendations.”
However, the commission still awaits the closed-door testimony of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney at an undetermined date.
Democrats said the administration’s failure to acknowledge its mistakes leading up to the attacks make it difficult to correct the problems.
“Unfortunately, we did not hear from adviser Rice three important words — ‘we made mistakes,’” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has been involved closely with the families of those killed in the attacks.
But Republicans also said there was a risk that the intense examination of the events leading up to Sept. 11 was taking needed attention away from the continuing conflict in Iraq.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., praised the administration’s response to the attacks and contrasted it to what he said would have been the response had former Vice President Al Gore won the 2000 presidential election.
“I hesitate to think where we would be today had Al Gore been elected president,” Gregg said. “I suspect we would still be negotiating with the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
Democrats seek more answers
Their views contrasted sharply with those of Democrats, who said Rice’s remarks left them dissatisfied and in search of more information on the months before Sept. 11.
“They should explain why, with such a glaring neon light at the top of then page, somebody didn’t get the message that, ‘Hey, we ought stop a vacation-like attitude and get to work,’” Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., a co-chairman of the joint congressional committee that investigated intelligence failures leading up to the attacks, said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Hardball.”
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., characterized Rice’s testimony as “we didn’t see it coming.” But, he added, release of the documents was “really critical to determining what exactly happened.”
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said he found it difficult to believe that the Bush White House had focused on the al-Qaida terror network before the attacks or had a strategy to eliminate it. “Why did the president abandon that strategy so quickly and go to war with Iraq, when Saddam Hussein had no persuasive link to al-Qaida?” he asked.
Senate Intelligence Committee member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said it was apparent that the White House either did not hear or disregarded warnings of impending attacks.
“Many of us, from all the alarms that have been sounded, knew that something was going to happen. And I don’t think the administration heard that or took it as seriously as it should have.
“We can all take blame ... but the only body that can really move the administrative function of the government is the president,” she said.