Senator Frist (R-HCA), Liemaster General for the Republicans in Charge

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Bill Frist has hitched his wagon to the Bush Administration's star. He did that a long time ago, when the Bushistas stabbed poor Trent Lott in the back to get Frist Lott's job. And now Senator Frist (R - HCA)* has all the clout of the Senate Majority Leader when he stands up before Congress and utters the crazy mishmash of attack lines in this speech (.pdf, 64k). What on earth could have possessed him to say things like this:

First, in an email to the National Security Advisor four days after the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke expressed alarm that when the era of national unity begins to crack, an effort to assign responsibility for the 9-11 attacks will begin. In that email Mr. Clarke proceeds to lay out in detail a defense of his own actions before the attack, and those of the entire Administration.

Mr. Clarke was clearly consumed by the desire to dodge any blame for the 9-11 attacks while at that same moment rescuers were still searching the rubble of the World Trade Center for survivors. In my mind this offers perfect insight as to what drove him to write his book.

Second, in the August of 2002 interview I just referred to, Mr. Clarke gave a thorough account of the Bush Administration s active policy against al Qaeda. Mr. Clarke now explains away that media performance by suggesting that he was simply telling lies in an interview as a loyal Administration official.

A loyal Administration official? Does Mr. Clarke understand the gravity of the issues being reviewed by the 9-11 Commission and the gravity of the charges he has made? If, in the summer of 2001, he saw the threat from al Qaeda as grave as he now says it was, and if he found the response of the Administration as inadequate as he now says it was, why did he wait until the Sunday, March 21, 2004 to make his concerns known?

There is not a single public record of Mr. Clarke making any objection whatsoever in the period leading up to or following the 9-11 attacks. No threat to resign. No public protest. No plea to the President, the Congress, or the public, to heed the advice he now says was ignored. Mr. President, if Mr. Clarke held his tongue because he was loyal, then shame on him for putting politics above principle. But if he has manufactured these charges for profit and political gain, he is a shame to this government.

I myself have fortunately not had the opportunity to work with such an individual who could write solicitous and self-defending emails to his supervisor, the National Security Advisor, and then by his own admission lie to the press out of a self conceived notion of loyalty only to reverse himself on all accounts for the sale of a book.

Third, Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath. In July 2002, in front of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on the September 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke testified under oath that the Administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda during its first seven months in office.

Mr. President, it is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke's previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke's two different accounts. Loyalty to any Administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress.

Fourth, notwithstanding Mr. Clarke's efforts to use his book first and foremost to shift blame and attention from himself, it is also clear that Mr. Clarke and his publishers adjusted the release date of his book in order to make maximum gain from the publicity around the 9-11 hearings. Assuming the controversy around this series of events does in fact drive the sales of his book, Mr. Clarke will make quite a bit of money for his efforts.

I find this to be an appalling act of profiteering, trading on his insider access to highly classified information and capitalizing upon the tragedy that befell this nation on September 11, 2001. Mr. Clarke must renounce any plan to personally profit from this book.
This speech was evidently vetted by the same minds that approved Bush's Nigerian yellowcake line. What exactly is Frist trying to say?

On the one hand, Frist trumpets that Clarke admitted to lying in the background interview on August 2002. This isn't true: Clarke's job at that backgrounder was to put a positive spin on the administration's efforts, and he did so and says so today. Spin isn't spin if it's a lie. The art of spinning is found in how advantageously you can state portions of the truth.

But on the other hand, which of the statements in the background interview does Frist consider to be the lies? You're the one calling Clarke a liar there: in which part of the interview is he lying?

In the portion of his August interview quoted by Frist, Clarke lays out the Bush Administration's response to several issues concerning terrorism. He had seven points, and Frist's quotation makes sure to include every "uh" and "um" that Clarke said while reading his prepared statement. The upshot of this information is that the Clinton Adminstration hadn't decided how to handle certain issues yet, and the incoming adminstration made some decisions. They also increased money for covert operations five-fold, and didn't stop any of Clinton's policies while they were making the decisions. (By the way, I don't see many "glowing terms" in this account of Bush Administration action. There's positive points there, but no "zowie, we sure were cleaning some al-Qaeda clock, weren't we, boys?" attitude at all.)

So obviously Clarke is lying when he says the Bush Administration wasn't doing anything about terrorism, correct? Well, that's not what Clarke is now saying, as this portion of his 60 Minutes makes clear:
CLARKE: George Tenet was saying to the White House, saying to the President cause he briefed him every morning, a major al Qaeda attack is going to happen against the United States, somewhere in the world in the weeks and months ahead. He said that in June, July, August.

STAHL (exp): {The last time the CIA had picked up a similar level of intelligence chatter was back in December 1999 when Clarke was the Terrorism Czar in the Clinton White House. Clarke says that President Clinton ordered his cabinet to go to battle stations, meaning they were on high alert, holding meetings nearly every day. That, Clarke says, helped thwart a major attack on Los Angeles Int'l airport when this al Qaeda operative was stopped at the border with Canada driving a car full of explosives. Clarke harshly criticizes President Bush for not going to battle stations when the CIA warned him of a comparable threat in the months before 9/11.}

CLARKE: He never thought it was important enough for *him* [Clarke's emphasis] to hold a meeting on the subject, or for him to order his National Security Advisor to hold a cabinet-level meeting on the subject.

STAHL: Why would having a meeting make a difference?

CLARKE: If you compare December 1999 to June and July of 2001, in December '99, every day or every other day, the head of the FBI, the head of the CIA, the Attorney General had to go to the White House and sit in a meeting and report on all the things that they personally had done to stop the al Qaeda attack, so they were going back every night to their departments and shaking the trees personally and finding out all the information. If that had happened in July of 2001, we might have found out in the White House, the Attorney General might have found out that there were al Qaeda operatives in the United States. FBI, at lower levels, knew -- never told me, never told the highest levels in the FBI.
Clarke isn't saying that the Bush Administration didn't do anything at all - it's that the actions were wholly inadequate. Bush's failure was not recognizing al-Qaeda as a serious threat, even when George Tenet told him morning after morning that they were planning a serious attack. Al-Qaeda and other terrorism issues was on the "Republicans In Charge"'s back burner, and just because they stirred the pot a couple of times doesn't mean that they were blameless in the 9/11 attacks.

More mishmash from the Frist speech: On the one hand, Clarke is scrambling to avoid blame for the 9/11 attack. On the other hand, Clarke is out of line for taking responsibility and apologizing for his part in letting the attacks happen. Which is it, Senator Frist?

On the one hand, Frist says that Clarke manipulated the release date to coincide with the 9/11 hearings. But on the other hand, the White House sat on the book for three months while they "vetted" it. It seems to me that the only entity that manipulated the release date of this book is the White House itself, so that they could accuse Clarke of 9/11 profiteering.

On the one hand, Frist accuses Clarke nothing less than perjury. Yet on the other hand, immediately following this speech, Frist says that he has no real evidence of perjury, that there's no real evidence of Clarke having two entirely different stories under oath. Are people allowed to get up on the Senate floor and just lie like that? Perhaps rank-and-file Senators can get away with this, but the Senate Majority Leader? The doctor-Senator with his eye on a 2008 Presidential campaign? I'm just on pins and needles waiting for the other shoe on this one...

Somebody handed Bill Frist a speech and he read it on the Senate floor. You see what happens, Dr. Frist, when you sign your soul away to the devil? Sometimes the devil asks you to destroy your public reputation for his benefit. Unlike Clarke's meek little spin job in August 2002, this Senate speech of yours is beyond spin. You're lying like a champ for this people for your own political gain, and it's going to pull you down with them in the end.