Clarke letter released praising President Bush

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

WASHINGTON -- The White House, seeking to cool criticism from a former top anti-terror adviser, said Tuesday that Richard Clarke's resignation letter praised President Bush's "courage, determination, calm and leadership" on Sept. 11, 2001.

"It has been an enormous privilege to serve you these last 24 months," said the Jan. 20, 2003, letter from Clarke to Bush. "I will always remember the courage, determination, calm, and leadership you demonstrated on September 11th."

The letter was stamped "the president has seen" the next day.

Clarke, who left the Bush administration in March 2003 after 30 years in government service and 11 years at the White House, has written a book in which he criticizes the president and his administration for ignoring repeated warnings about al-Qaida before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and acting ineffectively afterward, primarily because of a preoccupation with Iraq.

On Monday, the day Clarke's "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror" hit stores and the day after he promoted it in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," the White House went to great lengths to dismiss Clarke's accusations.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan suggested Clarke's praise belies his later criticism of Bush's handling of the crisis.

"At this time period, when he was leaving, there was no mention of the grave concerns he claims to have had about the direction of the war on terrorism, or what we were doing to confront the threat posed by Iraq, by the former regime," McClellan said.

But the letter contains no praise of Bush's anti-terror actions before or after the attacks -- only on the day of. Clarke does commend Bush for his "intuitive understanding" of the importance of cybersecurity.

Clarke's job as the White House's counterterrorism chief was split in two early in the Bush White House, with Clarke put in charge of cybersecurity and others brought in for the anti-terror role.

"You had prescience in creating the position of Special Adviser to the President for Cyberspace Security and I urge you to maintain that role in the White House," Clarke wrote.

Even though the White House argued that Clarke's memoir was released to do the maximum political damage to Bush in a presidential election year, Clarke has said a required national security review of the book delayed the book's publication. McClellan said the review, a routine procedure that makes sure publications by administration officials do not compromise classified information or national security, was begun last Nov. 4 and completed in early February.

Also on Tuesday, first lady Laura Bush defended her husband's response to terrorism.

"When my husband was inaugurated and he swore to protect and defend the Constitution and the people of the United States, he took that very, very seriously," she said after an event on heart disease in Chicago. "And for someone to imply that he doesn't is just wrong."

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