SATURDAY, APRIL 17, 2004
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Be sure to enjoy each installment of our series, Rice Under Oath:
Part 1: Condi Rice ignored her oathand the press corps has no plan to notice. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/12/04.RICE UNDER OATH (PART 4): Lets face itits good to be Condi Rice, the press corps pampered darling. But it isnt good to sit on a panel questioning the security aide. When Rice appeared before the 9/11 commission, she was favored with the Condi Rules; no one would question for more than ten minutes, the commission decided, a departure from established procedures (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/04). And just as soon as the questions began, Rice began giving long-winded answers, apparently to take time off the clock. On last nights Charlie Rose, Richard Ben-Veniste offered a pleasing sally, explaining what its like to question Rice. (For the present, well have to paraphrase.) If you ask what time it is, Ben-Veniste said, some people will tell you the time. And then again, some peoplepeople like Ricewill explain how to build a new watch.
How long-winded were Rices answers? To provide a bit of context for todays discussion, consider Sandy Bergers appearance before the commission. (Berger was Rices counterpart in the Clinton Admin.) His longest answerto a question by Ben-Venistewas 364 words. And that was Bergers War and Peace; his second-longest reply, to commissioner Fielding, ran 289 words. An answer to John Lehman took the bronze medal, clocking in at 261 words. In short, Berger told commissioners the time. His answers were brief and to the point, permitting an actual dialogue.
Rice told the panel how to build watches. As part of those permissive Condi Rules, she was questioned first by the mild-mannered co-commissioners, Kean and Hamilton, who normally dont take turns in the questioning. And her answers to Kean showed where things were heading; they totaled 439, 383, 549 words respectively, all longer than Bergers most fulsome effort. Then came questioning by the Democrat, Hamiltonand Rice ripped off a 967-word reply to one of his queries. Well, I thank you for a careful answer, the vice chairman wryly said. Nor were her filibusters through. An answer to commissioner Fielding ran to 925 words. Later, when she gave a 524-word answer to Jamie Gorelick, the commissioner begged her for brevity:
GORELICK: Well, I have lots of other questions on this issue. But I am trying to get out what will probably be my third and last question to you. So if we could move through this reasonably quickly.Rice showed mercy, limiting her next answer to 407 words. Again, even at this merciful length, this reply was longer than any answer Berger gave the commission. Later, commissioner Kerrey begged Rice to stop filibustering his time. It isnt fair, he plaintively said.
To all appearances, Rice was taking time off the clock, trying to limit the number of questions. The panel had adjusted its rules for Rice, limiting commissioners to ten minutes each. And as Rice rambled on and on, answering questions she hadnt been asked, she insured that there would be the fewest possible number of questions. As everyone knows, this is a standard strategy, taken by witnesses who want to limit the number of questions theyll face. Establish a time limitthen give long answers. By the time Rice finished her day, all the commissioners knew how to make watches. And several commissioners were plainly annoyed by the way she had eaten their time.
Which brings us to Ben-Venistes questions, in response to which the pampered aide made quite a joke of her oath.
As we have seen, Ben-Veniste wanted to ask Rice about that 8/6 PDB. He asked a question whose answer was obvious:
BEN-VENISTE: Isnt it a fact, Dr. Rice, that the August 6th PDB warned against possible attacks in this country?Duh! Did the August 6 PDB warn against possible attacks in this country? Only if you actually read it! According to the PDB, FBI information since  indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks. But apparently, it all depends on what the meaning of warning is. Rice gave this oddball reply:
RICE: You said, did it not warn of attacks? It did not warn of attacks inside the United States. It was historical information based on old reporting. There was no new threat information, and it did not, in fact, warn of any coming attacks inside the United States.Puzzling, isnt it? But as Rice testified before the nation, that 8/6 PDB was still classified. Citizens couldnt see what it said, and Ben-Veniste couldnt quote it. Trying again to establish some basic information, Ben-Veniste rephrased his question. This time, he used language from the PDB itself:
BEN-VENISTE: As of the August 6th briefing, you learned that FBI information since the 1998 blind sheik warning of hijackings to free the blind sheik indicated a pattern of suspicious activity in the country, up until August 6th, consistent with preparation for hijackings. Isnt that so?The answer to that was obvious: Yes. But the pampered princess still wouldnt say it. So Ben-Veniste, his time being burned, was forced to ask Rice once again:
BEN-VENISTE: I am asking you whether it is not the case that you learned in the PDB memo of August 6th that the FBI was saying that it had information suggesting that preparationsnot historically, but ongoing, along with these numerous full-field investigations against al Qaeda cellsthat preparations were being made consistent with hijackings within the United States.And thats when Rice offered her latest discourse on how to make watches. She talked about things she hadnt been asked, then repeated her oddball statement:
RICE: May I address the question, sir? The fact is that this August 6th PDB was in response to the presidents questions about whether or not something might happen or something might be planned by al Qaeda inside the United States. He asked because all of the threat reporting, or the threat reporting that was actionable, was about the threats abroad, not about the United States.Commissioner, this was not a warning, she oddly said, after taking more time off the clock.
What you see here is a study in dissemblingdissembling under oath. Rice had no intention of telling the public that Bush had been warned about possible hijacks, and she wasted time like a master, making Ben-Veniste ask his question over and over again. She spoke about subjects he hadnt raisedand refused to respond to the question hed asked. All this was done despite the oath shed sworndespite her public promise to tell the whole truth. Did Condi Rice lie? Thats a matter of judgment. But she made a sick joke of her oath.
And two days later, a miracle happened! The text of the PDB was made public, and everyone could see what Rice had done. Result? On last Sundays morning shows, a pair of hosts pounded Ben-Veniste for daring to ask Rice these questions! Why had he been so partisan, so rude? How dare he treat Condi this way?
Who were these hosts? One was CNNs Candy Crowley, in a gruesome performance on Late Edition. The other host was Foxs Chris Wallace, who pummeled Ben-Veniste on Fox News Sunday. By now, anyone could see why Ben-Veniste had asked his question again and again. But the hosts attacked him, for daring to ask. Everyone knew they shouldnt say that Rice had evaded the truth.
Yes, Condi made a joke of her oath. Some will even say that she lied. But Condi Rice is a pampered press darling. Last Sunday, your press corps attacked the guy who was rightand covered up for Rice, who was wrong. Can you see why its good to be Condi Rice? And can you see why weve so often said that you dont have a press corps any more?
A SECOND OPPORTUNITY: Tomorrow, Rice appears on Fox News Sunday. Wallace has had a week to see how thoroughly Rice mocked her oath. Its clear that Rice avoided Ben-Venistes bone-simple questions, then answered them in a very strange way. And no: It isnt hard to post the text of Ben-Venistes questions, and the text of Condi Rices strange replies.
Last week, Wallace pummeled Ben-Veniste, who dared to ask an obvious question. On Monday, well review his session with Rice. How tough will this well-paid man be?
Final point: To state the obvious, Rice should also be asked about airplanes-as-missiles. If Wallace wants a sample question, he should take a belt of a good strong Scotch and thenhis courage suitably bolsteredhe should see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/16/04.
PUFFING RICE: Given the lazy morals of the Washington press, its good to be Condi Rice! Example? After she went before the 9/11 commission, no one pandered, groveled and fawned more than the Chicago Tribunes Clarence Page. No, Rice hadnt told the truth, the whole truth, the way she publicly swore she would. But so what? Page is a Washington press corps insider. His column last Sunday on Rices appearance is a tribute to press corps dysfunction.
PAGE: It was during her musings on the sources of terrorism before the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that Condoleezza Rice had her high-drama, You go, girlfriend! moment.Say what? Page explained his muddled meaning for those who lack street smarts. A You go! moment is the hip-hop generations version of a big applause line, he sagely noted, a red-hot zinger that causes black audiences to bob their heads up and down and erupt with some verbal punctuation. If you want to see Page embarrassed completely, we suggest that you read his whole piece.
But Page reflected the corps lazy morals when he commented on Rices veracity. First, he explained her mission. She did not have to completely refute the charges that have been raised by Richard Clarke, he said. She only had to control the damage such charges had inflicted on the Bush administrations credibility. In short, Rice was sent to bolster the Bush Admins cred. And according to Page, she succeeded:
PAGE (continuing directly): She appears to have done that. An overnight CNN poll released on the day after her testimony found that 43 percent of Americans polled believed Rice, 36 percent believed Clarke and 21 percent were undecided. The fact that Rice is black and a woman didnt hurt, particularly among Democrats, said CNNs senior political analyst Bill Schneider, adding that a lot of Democrats say they are willing to believe her because [they] sympathize and identify with her.Limning the street talk as well as the polls, Page said that Americans believed Rice more than Clarke.
But why were Americans willing to believe? In large part, because they didnt know that Rice had played them about the PDB (and about airplanes-as-weapons; and about those aluminum tubes; and about that National Intelligence Estimate). But Page shows little sign of caring about whose statements were accurate. At the time he wrote his column, the PDBs contents were still unknown. But given Rices iconic status, how much does this scribe really care?
PAGE: Her worst moment undoubtedly came when former Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste bore down on the Bush administrations seemingly passive reaction to an Aug. 6, 2001, presidential daily briefing memo with the startling headline Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States. Rice successfully diminished the importance of that headline by calling the memos information old, historic, and too vague and general to move President Bush to take specific action.In short, Page didnt know if Rice had been truthful. But so what! Condi Rice is a press corps icon. In closing, Page praised her again for her go girlfriend moment, having lazily promised that well debate whether she told us the truth.
By now, of course, every pundit knows that Rice gave the nation some very strange answers. But Page hasnt said a word about it. He said a great debate would ensue. But when they saw Condi had broken her oath, most pundits knew they should chill.