For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 24, 2004
Interview of Dr. Condoleezza Rice by Tom Brokaw, NBC
6:30 P.M. EST
Q Let's begin with that statement by Mr. Clarke, apologizing to
the families, taking responsibility, asking for forgiveness. Will the
President ever consider making such a statement?
DR. RICE: Tom, everybody feels that what happened to us on
September 11th was clearly a deep tragedy. The President has
encountered a multitude of families and families of the victims. He
has talked about their loss being our loss. This was a terrible loss
for the country. But we need to recognize that good people in the
Clinton administration and in the first 200-plus days of the Bush
administration were doing what we knew how to do to try and protect the
Since September 11th we have been able to do things in an all-out
war on terrorism that the President has launched, that we hope will
prevent further attacks on the United States. We are safer now, but
not yet safe. But the events of September 11th, while tragic, probably
could not have been prevented by the kinds of steps that were being
discussed today. That's the hard fact.
Q Let me ask about executive privilege. You've been meeting
with the commission in private, but you will not go before this very
public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But
your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even
President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon. Executive
privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the President on
this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I
should be testifying?
DR. RICE: Tom, I would like nothing better than to be able to
testify before the commission. I have spent more than four hours with
the commission. I'm prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere,
any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to
uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the
legislature. It is a matter of whether the President can count on good
confidential advice from his staff.
Over time, there have been cases, mostly related to -- they've been
related to allegations of wrongdoing of one kind or another. This is
not that kind of case. It would set a bad precedent. But I want the
American people to know the story. That's why I'm here. After all,
this President has a very good story to tell about the first 230-plus
days of his administration and what he did in the war on terrorism, and
certainly since September 11th, the war on terrorism that he has
launched since they launched war on us on that terrible day.
Q Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are
watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television,
write commentaries, but she won't appear before the commission under
oath. It just doesn't seem to make sense.
DR. RICE: Tom, I would like nothing better, but there is a
constitutional principle at stake here. I'm here before the American
people. We're not hiding anything. You can ask me anything that you
want; any journalist can ask me anything that you want. The commission
can ask me anything that it wants in private. It can put it in its
report. The public will know everything that I know. This is a matter
of constitutional principle. It is not a matter of personal preference
Q Mr. Clarke said today that terrorism was the highest priority
of the Clinton administration. It was important to you, but it was not
the highest priority. Any student, I think, of the early days of your
administration might have thought that China, Russia, Iraq, missile
defense systems were probably higher on the President's agenda.
DR. RICE: Tom, I just don't think that the record bears out Dick
Clarke's assertion. In fact, on January 25th, in response to a
question from me to my staff to tell me what we should be worrying
about, what we should be doing, he sent us a set of ideas that would
perhaps help to roll back al Qaeda over a three-to-five-year period.
We acted on those ideas very quickly. And what's very interesting is
that, while Dick Clarke now says that we ignored his ideas, or we
didn't follow them up, in August of 2002, in a press interview, he said
that we had, in fact, acted on those ideas. So he can't have it both
We were acting on issues like arming the Predator, so that we could
have a reconnaissance plane that could also strike the target, cutting
down the time between sighting a target and being able to hit it. The
President increased counterterrorism funding several-fold in order to
be more aggressive.
And most importantly, the President set out a new direction for
American policy in the war on terrorism, to give us stronger, more
coherent policies, and policies that were more robust, to eliminate al
Qaeda, not just to roll it back. That strategy really did not take
very long. In the interim, the administration was pursuing all of the
avenues that the Clinton administration had been pursuing before. So
it's just not right to say that this President was not focused on
He met every morning with his Director of Central Intelligence and
some 46 of his daily briefings were about issues related to al Qaeda
and Osama bin Laden. So we were very active in the fight against al
Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and preparing a strategy to become even more
Q Dr. Rice, I hope we'll have an opportunity to go over these
issues again in the future, whether or not you appear before the
commission. I do thank you for being here tonight.
DR. RICE: Thank you very much, Tom.
END 6:40 P.M. EST