March 26, 2004
Remarks of Senator Tom Daschle On the Administration's Treatment of Richard Clarke
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Delivered on the Senate Floor, March 25, 2004.
I have a simple request for the President today.
Please ask the people around you to stop the character attacks they are waging against Richard Clarke. Ask them to stop their attempts to conceal information and confuse facts. Ask them to stop the long effort that has made the 9-11 Commission's work more difficult than it should be.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with Mr. Clarke's facts, he set an eloquent example for all of us yesterday. He acknowledged to the families of the victims of September 11 that their government had failed them. He accepted responsibility for September 11. He made himself accountable and he tried, in my view, to help us understand what happened in the months and years before September 11.
I couldn't be more disappointed in the White House's response. They have known for months what Mr. Clarke was going to say. Instead of dealing with it factually, they've launched a shrill attack to destroy Mr. Clarke's credibility.
I know something about those attacks. On several occasions I've been on the receiving end of White House broadsides. I saw the White House's ferocity firsthand.
I saw the people around the President attack John McCain, when he ran for President in 2000. I will never forget the distortions, the recklessness, and the viciousness of those attacks. They were wrong, and they impugned one of our great patriots.
I saw the same viciousness two years ago, when Senator Max Cleland, a man who served when called during the Vietnam war, had his reputation and patriotism smeared in his reelection campaign. The idea that a man who gave so much to his country could be smeared by those who were willing to give so little haunted me then, as it haunts me now.
There are some things that simply ought not to be done in politics, and that line was crossed by the attacks on both Senator McCain and Senator Cleland.
Last year I watched the people around the President set their sights on Ambassador Joe Wilson, when he stepped forward to tell the truth about the President's claims on Iraq, Niger and uranium. The White House didn't battle Ambassador Wilson on the facts – instead, they put his wife's life in danger by disclosing publicly that she was a deep cover agent for the CIA.
That was a grossly irresponsible act done for the worst of reasons – to avoid accountability and unwelcome political consequences. It ought never have happened. It was shameful. And it crossed a line that had never been crossed before.
Now, when I watch what the people around the President are trying to do to Richard Clarke, I think it's past time to say enough is enough. The President came to Washington four years ago promising to change the tone. The people around him have done that – they've changed it for the worse. They are doing things that should never be done and have never been done before.
What they need to do, what we need to do, is put politics aside and put the American people and their security first. I know how difficult that is in an election year. But we all, every one of us, needs to do that. Some things are more important than politics, and September 11 ought to be at the top of that list. We need the facts on September 11, not spin and character assassination. We need this Administration and everyone involved to follow Mr. Clarke's example and accept responsibility and accountability.
We need Condoleezza Rice, who seems to have time to appear on every television show, to make time to appear publicly before the 9-11 Commission. She is not constrained by precedent from doing that, as the White House has argued. As the Congressional Research Service documented, two of her predecessors have given testimony in open session on matters much less important than September 11. I've reluctantly reached the conclusion that what really constrains Ms. Rice's full cooperation is political considerations.
The September 11 families deserve better than that and, just as importantly, our country deserves better than that. There is only one person who can change what's going on at the White House, and that's the President. So I appeal to President Bush to change it.
He deserves better than the tactics his staff are using. And, as I've said, the September 11 families and our country deserve better, too.
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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