WASHINGTON -- Leading congressional Republicans announced plans Friday to seek declassification of 2-year-old testimony from Richard Clarke, hoping to show discrepancies between his recent criticisms of the Bush administration's terrorism policies with flattering statements he made as a White House aide.
It was not clear how aggressively Republicans would pursue the matter, first suggested this week by House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla.
"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said in a speech on the Senate floor.
The Tennessee Republican and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., want Clarke's July 2002 testimony before the joint House and Senate intelligence inquiry into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks made public.
Frist said Clarke, appearing before the joint committee then as a White House counterterrorism adviser, was "effusive in his praise for the actions of the Bush administration" and told the committee the White House had actively sought to address the al-Qaida threat.
Compare and contrastRepublicans hope to compare those words to Clarke's testimony this week before a separate bipartisan commission investigating the attacks. "Your government failed you," Clarke told the presidentially appointed panel and an audience of victims' families.
He did not respond to multiple telephone and e-mail messages seeking comment Friday.
The declassification requests marked the latest turn in a Republican counterattack against Clarke, who has leveled his criticism against Bush in a new book, "Against All Enemies," as well as in interviews and this week's sworn testimony.
The allegations against Clarke could linger for weeks as the declassification request winds through the appropriate agencies to ensure sensitive national security information isn't revealed. Often most protected are the "sources and methods" of gathering intelligence.
Goss said he feels an obligation to make sure Congress' 810-page report, released publicly in 2003, isn't "contaminated by this new revelation" from Clarke.
Frist made clear Friday that he isn't accusing Clarke of perjury. Goss said he is reviewing testimony and other documents and plans to request the declassification -- a sometimes lengthy process -- in case a need for public hearings or other disclosure arises.
Questions of accuracy
"We have to dig through this," Goss said, "not only for the continued accuracy and utility of the joint 9-11 report, but now we have this further question: Does this change things, or is it part of a book-selling tour?"
Two sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that in his testimony two years ago, Clarke depicted the Bush administration as far more active in grappling with the threat of al-Qaida than his testimony on Wednesday outlined. Another congressional source, however, played down the differences.
It was not clear whether he also testified two years ago -- as he did this week -- that some senior administration officials almost immediately called for strikes against Iraq in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes.
Former Senate Intelligence Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., who worked with Goss on the inquiry, supported the declassification of Clarke's testimony in its entirety and suggested the administration open the door even wider to include documents -- including Clarke's January 2002 al-Qaida plan -- that could help resolve issues in dispute.
"To the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mr. Clarke has said this week," Graham said.
California Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also wants to see more information disclosed, including 27 pages of the congressional inquiry's report addressing the involvement of a foreign government in supporting some of the 19 hijackers -- an item of dispute with the Bush administration.
"This is selective declassification, in my view, and it is all about discrediting an administration critic," Harman said.
In his testimony this week, Clarke said that while the Clinton administration had "no higher priority" than combatting terrorists, Bush made it "an important issue but not an urgent issue" in the eight months between the time Bush took office and the Sept. 11 attacks.
In a sharply worded speech, Frist said that Clarke himself was "the only common denominator" across 10 years of terrorist attacks that began with the first attack on the World Trade Center, a bombing in an underground parking garage in 1993 that killed six people.
Without mentioning the congressional Republicans' effort, White House spokesman Scott McClellan continued the administration's criticism of Clarke on Friday. "With every new assertion he makes, every revision of his past comments, he only further undermines his credibility," McClellan told reporters.
Asked about Bush's personal reaction to the criticism from a former White House aide, McClellan said, "Any time someone takes a serious issue like this and revises history it's disappointing."