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Rice's testimony elicits mixed reaction

Hamilton: 'An extraordinary occasion'

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Excerpts from comments of national security adviser Condoleezza Rice

  • "In hindsight, if anything might have helped stop 9/11, it would have been better information about threats inside the United States -- something made difficult by structural and legal impediments that prevented the collection and sharing of information by our law enforcement and intelligence agencies."

  • Concerns that terrorists may use airplanes as weapons may have existed in the intelligence community before September 11, 2001, but "to the best of my knowledge this kind of analysis ... actually was never briefed to us."

  • In the days after the attacks, the Bush administration considered the involvement of Iraq, but never "pushed anybody to twist the facts."
  • more videoVIDEO
    Rice says President Bush 'never pushed anybody to twist the facts' on Iraq.

    9/11 commission member Richard Ben-Veniste presses Rice about a memo that may have warned of attacks.

    Sen. Bob Kerrey says the 9/11 commission needs Condoleezza Rice's testimony to 'complete the picture' of events.
    Clarke vs. Rice:  Former colleagues at odds
    Transcript:  Rice's opening statement

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    • FindLaw:  Colb on the oath
    • Gallery: Key 9/11 testimony
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    Should the August 6 intelligence memo to President Bush discussed by the 9/11 commission be declassified?
    Condoleezza Rice
    White House
    Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
    September 11 attacks

    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National security adviser Condoleezza Rice got high marks for her poise and demeanor during her three hours of testimony before the 9/11 commission, but some observers, particularly Democrats, expressed disappointment with the substance of her remarks.

    Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Rice "open and refreshing in her candid response."

    Though he conceded that little new information was revealed, he said, "I thought she did a good job."

    President Bush, who initially sought to keep Rice from testifying in public and under oath, watched Rice's testimony from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

    White House communications director Dan Bartlett said Bush was pleased with Rice's effort.

    Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of-West Virginia was unimpressed. "She glossed over a great deal," he said.

    Carrie Lemack, whose mother was killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001, agreed.

    "I think she was pretty evasive," said Lemack, vice president of the group Families of September 11.

    Another 9/11 family member disagreed. "I was very satisfied," said Debra Burlingame, whose brother was killed in the attacks. "I was impressed with what Dr. Rice had to say."

    Rockefeller noted that Rice did not disagree fundamentally with former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke's recent criticism of the administration's response to the terrorism threat before and after 9/11.

    Rice "didn't dispute that they were distracted by a lot of things that prevented them from paying attention to the war on terrorism," Rockefeller said.

    He pointed to the August 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing memo given by the CIA to Bush while he was vacationing at his Texas ranch that allegedly raised the specter of an attack.

    The president remained at the ranch for the rest of the month, returning to Washington just 11 days before the attacks.

    "The FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States consistent with preparations for hijacking," said commission member Bob Kerrey, a former senator from Nebraska, referring to the August 6 memo.

    The memo itself has not been made public, despite calls from commission members that its contents could be revealed without compromising U.S. security.

    Rice suggested the memo's contents should not be made public and disputed that it predicted an attack in the United States. She said it was a historical document.

    "This was not threat reporting about what was about to happen; this was an analytical piece," she said.

    Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, a former Democratic presidential candidate, said Rice's testimony "did not resolve the many contradictions between various accounts of what actions the Bush administration took in response to the threat of terrorism prior to 9/11."

    Graham was also critical of the White House response since the attacks.

    "Not a single person has been held accountable for the intelligence failures prior to 9/11 -- or for the failures prior to the Iraq War, for that matter -- and there have been no structural reforms of the intelligence community initiated by this administration," he said in a written statement.

    Graham is a former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and was co-chairman of the House-Senate Joint Inquiry into intelligence failures before 9/11.

    Graham said Rice was "very effective in taking a question and then elaborating on issues that are largely irrelevant to the question in order to chew up the clock."

    Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said he hadn't heard Rice.

    "My hope is that her testimony today contributed to our finding out about what we need to do to protect the security of our country, and we'll look for the judgments of the commission when they first make their report," Kerry told reporters at a town hall meeting in Milwaukee.

    As Rice was speaking, Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took to the Senate floor to criticize the commission as partisan.

    "Hopefully, the commission will identify additional methods to improve U.S. security but, forgive me for not being terribly optimistic, I feel the commission has lost sight of its goal and has become a political casualty of the electoral hunting season," McConnell said.

    In a written statement, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said Rice "helped the commission and the American people better understand that, while there may have been chatter amongst the intelligence gathering community, there was no single piece of evidence of when, where, or how al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization would perpetrate their evil on Americans at home or abroad."

    After Rice's testimony, Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York criticized the Bush administration for not acknowledging what he described as mistakes.

    "Unfortunately, we did not hear from Dr. Rice three important words: 'We made mistakes.' Of course we made mistakes," Schumer said.

    "This administration made mistakes, the previous administration made mistakes. But the inability of this administration and of the national security adviser to admit that mistakes were made makes us fear that we will make future mistakes."

    James Woolsey, who served as CIA director during part of the Clinton administration, called Rice's appearance "a real success for her."

    Woolsey said Rice presented herself as a strategic thinker and laid out in clear terms that much of the problem before 9/11"had to do with coordination of intelligence in the United States."

    Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said he was "impressed" to hear Rice testify in public, under oath.

    "That's an extraordinary occasion and an historic one," Hamilton said.

    Hamilton said Rice was "a very strong witness, very well prepared."

    He predicted her testimony would prove useful to the panel, formally titled the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, in its deliberations.

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