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March 30, 2004

Condi Rice's 9/11 Testimony Comes With A Price Tag

By J.M. Berger

The White House agreed Tuesday to let National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testify under oath in a public hearing before the 9/11 Commission.

While most media outlets depicted the move as a concession by the Bush Administration, the White House placed significant conditions on the agreement which have received little media scrutiny.

A letter drafted by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales requires the Commission to "agree in writing it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice." (The full text of the letter can be found here.)

It's unclear exactly who is included under the designation of "White House official." The letter also stipulates that Rice will appear before the Commission only once.

The wording is particularly important. Rather than simply stipulating that the agreement does not ensure further testimony from White House officials, the Commission agrees "not to request" testimony — which means that the Bush Administration is spared the embarrassment and possible controversy of refusing any further requests.

Allowing Rice to testify may end up being a relatively small price to pay in exchange for such a provision during an election year. The deal profoundly limits the Commission's ability to publicly investigate any new allegations or information that emerge concerning the current administration.

Even if Rice's testimony contains new bombshells (an unlikely prospect), the damage will be contained because the deal stipulates that there will be no follow-up. The new agreement ushers in the final phase of the 9/11 Commission's fact-finding mission, regardless of how many facts might remain to be found.

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