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Rice to testify in public, under oath

Bush, Cheney to meet in private with full 9/11 commission


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ON CNN TV
Stay with CNN for ongoing reports, updates and analysis of developments on the campaign trail, and more on Condoleezza Rice's anticipated public testimony under oath before the 9/11 commission.
THE MORNING GRIND
more videoVIDEO
CNN's Dana Bash on the White House decision on Rice's testimony.

CNN's Bill Schneider on pressures that led Condoleezza Rice to agree to testify in public.

CNN's Bruce Morton on the 'buck stops here' nature of Richard Clarke's apology.
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• Gallery: Key 9/11 testimony
• Gallery: Commission members
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Condoleezza Rice
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September 11 attacks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush reversed course on Tuesday and announced that national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will testify publicly and under oath before the independent commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Bush also defended his administration's cooperation with the panel created by Congress, saying that more than 800 members of the administration have been interviewed and a wide variety of documents have been turned over.

"I've ordered this level of cooperation because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens," Bush said during a brief White House news conference.

A date for Rice's testimony could be set by the end of the week, pending scheduling discussions with the White House, the commission's chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, told CNN.

"We're looking at as soon as we can practically do it," he said.

The president backed off his insistence that executive privilege precluded testimony by White House advisers, such as Rice, after getting written assurances from the commission and congressional leaders that their appearance would not set a precedent for future investigations.

Bush said he agreed to waive claims of executive privilege to let Rice appear publicly and under oath because the attacks were a "unique circumstance."

Rice will be the only member of the White House staff to appear before the panel in public.

Kean said he had no problem with the White House's condition that no other members of its staff be called to testify in public.

"This is not something we planned to do anyway," he said.

Bush also said that he and Vice President Dick Cheney will meet privately with all 10 members of the commission to answer questions.

The president previously agreed to meet only with the panel's chairman and vice chairman in a session scheduled to last one hour.

"The terrorist threat being examined by the commission is still present, still urgent and still demands our full attention," Bush said.

Kean said Bush and Cheney will appear together in a session during which they would not be under oath.

Kean said the commission was "very grateful" that Bush will meet with the panel, noting such an appearance by a sitting president was "very unusual."

"We look forward to the commission's meeting with the president and the vice president and the public testimony of Dr. Rice," Kean said.

The White House had resisted letting Rice testify, arguing that to do so would be a violation of executive privilege.

"A president and his advisers, including his adviser for national security affairs, must be able to communicate freely and privately without being compelled to reveal those communications to the legislative branch," Bush said.

Calls to waive that privilege have mounted since former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke testified before the commission in public last week that the Bush administration did not put enough focus on the threat of terrorism before the 2001 attacks. He singled out Rice for particular criticism.

His allegations also are detailed in his new book, "Against All Enemies: America's War on Terror." (Clarke book a best seller)

The White House had requested that Rice, who met in a closed, four-hour session with members of the commission in February, meet again with the panel behind closed doors, without being put under oath, to rebut Clarke's charges. Commissioners had pushed for public testimony under oath. (Interactive: Bush and terrorism)

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans believed the Bush administration was hiding something, though two-thirds of those polled doubted that anything could have been done to prevent the attacks.

Panel seeks clarification

Kean said one of the key reasons the commission wanted Rice to testify publicly is to clarify differences between Clarke's testimony and comments Rice made to the commission in private and more recently to reporters.

"We've got to try and clear up those discrepancies as best we can," he said. "Some of those questions may be important to the fact-finding of our report."

However, Kean said that some of those discrepancies may be attributable to differences of opinion, rather than being an indication that either Rice or Clarke was lying.

The commission's vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana for 34 years, said the panel's staff is reviewing Rice's previous, unsworn statements and Clarke's testimony last week, "and the differences will be highlighted for us."

Hamilton would not discuss specifics. Another Democratic member of the commission, former U.S. Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana, said the panel wants to ask Rice about the differences between a Bush administration plan to tackle al Qaeda -- approved just a week before the attacks on New York and Washington -- and a proposal Clarke offered in a memo seven months earlier.

Clarke maintains those two plans were virtually identical, trying to cast doubt on claims by Rice and other administration officials that they were actively engaged in taking a harder line against al Qaeda than the Clinton administration.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush decided Monday that the dispute over whether Rice would testify was beginning to overshadow the commission's efforts to investigate the attacks.

The panel -- formally known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United Statesexternal link -- is scheduled to issue a report on its findings by July 26.

Several relatives of those killed in the attacks welcomed the White House's reversal.

"It's something they should have done from the beginning," said Bruce Decell, whose son-in-law was killed in the attack on the World Trade Center.

"I'm glad they're doing it, but it remains to be seen if they are asked any tough questions. I want to know what they knew, when they knew it, and how they reacted."

Charles Wolf, whose wife died in the New York attack, said Tuesday's decision was "the right thing."

"I never believed they had anything to hide," he said. "I believed the separation-of-powers argument. [Bush] has to protect the institution of the presidency."

Campaign issue

The refusal to have Rice testify before the commission had become an issue in the presidential campaign.

David Wade, a spokesman for presumptive Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry, charged Tuesday that the Bush White House "only does the right thing under public political pressure."

"Their first instinct should be to answer questions about our security rather than launch a public relations offensive, and when that fails do what they should've done from day one," Wade said.

While praising the White House for reversing its stance, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, criticized the Bush administration for "16 months of foot-dragging and an unwillingness to cooperate" with the commission.

"We hope that they will also announce that they will release all of the information that the 9/11 commission has requested," Daschle said. "Certainly having the testimony is good, but having all of the information would be even better."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee -- who suggested last week that Clarke might have perjured himself -- said he was happy Rice would be able to offer her side of the story.

"There have been a lot of allegations going back and forth over the last several days and the last several weeks. It's very confusing to the American people," Frist said.

"She will have the opportunity to come forward with what I know will be a very powerful testimony."

CNN's Dana Bash, Suzanne Malveaux, David Ensor and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.


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