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Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout after ABC Interview

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
March 28, 2004
Secretary Rumsfeld Media Stakeout after ABC Interview

            Rumsfeld:  Good morning.

 

            Q:  Condi Rice will only testify before 9/11 Commission only in private.  Why shouldn’t she testify under oath?

 

            Rumsfeld:  Those of us who’ve worked in the Congress or worked in the White House over the decades know how important it is that the roles of those institutions be protected and preserved, so that the proper balance and checks exist in our society.  And for decades, it has been a practice that a president and the people who advise a president know before the fact that the advice they get will be not something that will be subject to analysis after the fact -  a president just as in the Congress.  They have prerogatives and responsibilities that need to be protected. 

 

So that to the extent they’re eroding every year -- just a little bit, just a little bit, they’re eroding – you end up decades later with an institution that’s weak, where the checks and balances aren’t working.  Condi Rice would be a superb witness.  She is anxious to justify.  The president would dearly love to have her testify.  But the lawyers -- I think, probably properly – have concluded that to do so would alter that balance, if we got into a practice of doing that. 

 

            Q:  Sir, with all due respect, don’t you think under the present circumstances, that would put an end to a lot of controversy that’s going on with the Clarke allegation?

 

            Rumsfeld:   I do.  I think it would put an end to a lot of the controversy and that would be very nice.  It also would leave the institution different than it was when it was taken over.  And one of the things that the people in any institution – and I’m sure others will see that as they go through the coming years – each of them have a responsibility to leave that institution as strong and healthy as it was when you found it.  If you eroded away and degraded it somewhat, a little bit each year, you end up with an imbalance in our society, which wouldn’t be a healthy thing. 

 

            Q:  And the Vice President Dick Cheney said that Clarke is out of the loop.  And Condi Rice also said – I mean, she denied that.  She said that he’s not out of the loop.  Do you think he’s out of the loop? 

 

            Rumsfeld:  I don’t know what the context was for that.  I think the only thing that it may have related to is a fact and the fact is that, apparently, at the prior administration, he met frequently with the senior people.  And in this administration, President Bush made a decision to meet instead with the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, and did so on a daily basis, and engaged himself – President Bush did – engaged himself directly with the person responsible for providing an all-source, integrative intelligence product. 

 

And once the president made that decision, obviously -- and then he was meeting with him, instead of the access that his predecessor gave to Mr. Clarke and that was a change of the circumstance.  But I think most people looking at it would say it’s probably a good thing for the president to meet with the director of Central Intelligence regularly and that’s what President Bush did. 

 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, Senator Kerry criticized Condoleezza Rice, and I’m paraphrasing, he said, you know, she can appear on “60 Minutes,” you know, she should have 60 minutes to testify…

 

            Rumsfeld:  Sure. 

 

            Q:  … and (Inaudible.)

 

            Rumsfeld:  And of course, she has testified and made presentations to the committee over a sustained number of hours and has offered to do so again.  It isn’t a matter of time, obviously, it’s a matter of, the question that I posed as to the extent to which advice given to the president should later be subject to congressional inquiry.  And my feeling is that they’re probably making the right decision legally.  And although I certainly agree with the comment you made that it would be nice if Condi could testify in public, because she’d be an excellent witness.

 

Thank you, folks.