Many commentators, pundits and bloggers have noted the apparent contradiction between Condoleeza Rice's refusal to testify before the 9/11 Commission which is investigating that massive national security failure, and her many appearances in the media to attack Richard Clarke and defend herself against allegations that she is (not to put too fine a point on it) completely incompetent at her job. Rice says that she cannot testify for very important Constitutional reasons.
I would love to have been a fly in the wall when Ms. Rice informed her boss of that momentous decision:
Scene: The office of Condaleeza Rice.
The office is piled high with files, reports and dossiers, back issues of Foreign Affairs and Commentary. The shelves are full of impressive looking books on foreign policy, geopolitics and international affairs. Every inch of desk space is covered with mounds of paperwork, all of it in the process of being worked on, and all the lines on the phone are flashing.
We see RICE simultaneously reading a brief stamped "Top Secret", writing notes in the margins of another report, and carrying on two conversations on the phone in different languages, when suddenly the door burst open, and in comes George W. BUSH, who seems agitated.
BUSH: Condi, I need to speak with you.
RICE: Yes, Mr. President, I always have time for you. Let me just put Uzbekistan and Nairobi on hold. ... Now, sir, I apologize that there is no place for you to sit, but you know I had the chairs removed from my office so that no one will waste my valuable time -- how can I be of service?
BUSH: Well, I've just found out that you aren't going to testify to that committee, that .. uh... commission, the 9/11 people, that they asked you to testify and that you decided not to go. What's up with that?
RICE: Mr. President, that is indeed the case. It was a very, very difficult decision for me to make. But that is what I have decided is the best thing to do, the right thing to do.
BUSH: But, Condi, don't you see... This puts me in an awkward place, because I've said many times that everyone in my administration will cooperate with those people entirely because, you know, of how important the work they're... uh... engaging in is to all the people of the country, so...
RICE: Yes sir?
BUSH: Well, your refusal to go looks really bad, doesn't it, after I've said that and all? I mean, what reason can you possibly have for not testifying to the committee?
RICE: Sir, it's entirely a matter of principle. As you well know, our Constitution divides power and authority between three branches of government...
BUSH: Sure, the President, the Congress and those judges.
RICE: Yes, sir, and it's very, very important that those branches be kept separate in all possible ways, except those specific instances which are detailed in the Constitution.
BUSH: You mean, like where the Senate consoles and advisors me?
RICE: Yes, sir, advice and consent, exactly right. But outside of those very specific things, the Executive Branch, that's us, and the Legislative Branch, that's Congress, should be kept apart, because that's how our freedoms are guaranteed, otherwise Congress and the President could get together and do things which would hurt the people of the country.
BUSH: I see, and this committee....
RICE: The 9/11 Commission, yes sir...
BUSH: ...that's...um... part of the Legislators Branch?
RICE: Oh yes, sir, very much so. The commission was authorized by an act of Congress, and that makes it part of the Legistlative Branch. If I were to go before them and testify, the separation of the branches would be breached, and it would be very bad for our country, as I think you can understand.
BUSH: Hmmm. But, don't you have things to tell them that nobody else can say? I mean, you're so important here and you know so much and all. Isn't it real darn important that you speak to them and tell them those things? I mean, this 9/11 thing was really really important, right? Everyone said that the whole world was changed by it, so shouldn't we make an exception?
RICE: Sir, I can't tell you how much I would like that to be that case. I am bursting to talk to the commission, sir, and tell them all the things that I know and nobody else does, but I'm afraid that once we make one exception, we're on the darn slippery slope again.
BUSH: The one that leads to bestiality and incest?
RICE: No sir, that's another slippery slope. This one leads to flagrant abuse of the power of the Federal government, because checks and balances would no longer be working to insure that the power of the government wasn't abused.
BUSH: And this thing you're talking about, the separation of the different...um...trees of the government, that's part of checking the balances?
RICE: Without a doubt sir, my testifying before the 9/11 commission would be the first step towards a terrible end, the misuse of governmental power by the people in office.
BUSH: Wow, that's... I'm so glad I came down here, I always learn so much.
RICE: It's always my pleasure, sir.
BUSH: But isn't there something we can do? I mean, You want to testify, I want you to testify, the committee wants you to testify. What can we do?
RICE: Well, I do have something of a plan, sir.
BUSH: I knew you'd come up with something!
RICE: I can't testify to the commission, because of all the reasons I've said, but there's no reason that I can't bring the relevant information to their attention in another way.
BUSH: You'll call them on the phone!
RICE: No, sir, I'm sorry, that would be just like testifying.
RICE: No sir, what I'll do is take the information I have, and I'll go on every news program that will have me, and I'll tell the American people directly all the things that I have to say, and that way the commission will hear the important things that they need to hear, but the separation of powers will be preserved.
BUSH: Hmmm. Let me get this straight. You can't testify to the 9/11ers, but you can say all those same things to the American people through the TV talk shows, like on Fox News.
RICE: Yes, sir. I know it seems like an anomaly...
[BUSH looks confused]
RICE: ...a very odd and strange thing, that a person in my position can't testify before the commission even though I very much want to, but that I can talk to the media... I mean, to the people through the media.
BUSH: Yes, very strange. ... I couldn't possibly get you to change your mind?
RICE: No sir, it's a matter of deeply held principle, with the state of the country and the integrity of our Constitution at stake. As much as I'd like to overlook it, I'm afraid I can't. You know how I am about principles.
BUSH: Yes, Condi, I do. I suppose your plan is the best we can do, huh?
RICE: Yes, sir, I'm afraid it is.
BUSH: Condi, you're a credit to this great country, and I'm damn proud to have you as part of my administration.
RICE: Sir, you flatter me.
BUSH: Well, it's time for my afternoon run. Keep up the good work, Condi, and remember my door is always open to good people like you.
RICE: Thank you, sir, and may I say once again what an honor and privilege it is to work for a man of such integrity and principle as you.
BUSH: Oh, go on with ya. [Laughs] See you at Bible study.
RICE: I wouldn't miss it, sir.
[CURTAIN as BUSH exits and RICE returns to her work.]
Update: I corrected the spelling of Condoleeza Rice's given name.
hostile to science
lacking in empathy
lacking in public spirit
out of control
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