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Sen. Daschle on the Abuse of Government Power

United States Senate
Office Of The Democratic Leader

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
http://democrats.senate.gov/~dpc/releases/2004330506.html

Floor Statement of Sen. Tom Daschle on the Abuse of Government Power

Mr. President, last week I spoke about the White House's reaction to Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9-11 Commission. I am compelled to rise again today, because the people around the President are systematically abusing the powers and prerogatives of government.

We all need to reflect seriously on what's going on. Not in anger and not in partisanship, but in keeping with our responsibilities as Senators and with an abiding respect for the fundamental values of our democracy.

Richard Clarke did something extraordinary when he testified before the 9-11 Commission last week. He didn't try to escape blame, as so many routinely do. Instead, he accepted his share of responsibility and offered his perceptions about what happened in the months and years leading up to September 11.

We can and should debate the facts and interpretations Clarke has offered. But there can be no doubt that he has risked enormous damage to his reputation and professional future to hold both himself and our government accountable.

The retaliation from those around the President has been fierce. Mr. Clarke's personal motives have been questioned and his honesty challenged. He has even been accused, right here on the Senate floor, of perjury. Not one shred of proof was given, but that wasn't the point. The point was to have the perjury accusation on television and in the newspapers. The point was to damage Mr. Clarke in any way possible.

This is wrong–and it's not the first time it's happened.

When Senator McCain ran for President, the Bush campaign smeared him and his family with vicious, false attacks. When Max Cleland ran for reelection to this Senate, his patriotism was attacked. He was accused of not caring about protecting our nation -- a man who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, accused of being indifferent to America's national security. That was such an ugly lie, it's still hard to fathom almost two years later.

There are some things that simply ought not be done – even in politics. Too many people around the President seem not to understand that, and that line has been crossed. When Ambassador Joe Wilson told the truth about the Administration's misleading claims about Iraq, Niger, and uranium, the people around the President didn't respond with facts. Instead, they publicly disclosed that Ambassador Wilson's wife was a deep-cover CIA agent. In doing so, they undermined America's national security and put politics first. They also may well have put the lives of Ambassador Wilson's wife, and her sources, in danger.

When former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill revealed that the White House was thinking about an Iraq War in its first weeks in office, his former colleagues in the Bush Administration ridiculed him from morning to night, and even subjected him to a fruitless federal investigation.

When Larry Lindsay, one of President Bush's former top economic advisors, and General Eric Shinseki, the former Army Chief of Staff, spoke honestly about the amount of money and the number of troops the war would demand, they learned the hard way that the White House doesn't tolerate candor.

This is not "politics as usual." In nearly all of these cases, it's not Democrats who are being attacked.

Senator McCain and Secretary O'Neill are prominent Republicans, and Richard Clarke, Larry Lindsay, Joe Wilson, and Eric Shinseki all worked for Republican Administrations.

The common denominator is that these government officials said things the White House didn't want said.

The response from those around the President was retribution and character assassination -- a 21st Century twist to the strategy of "shooting the messenger."

If it takes intimidation to keep inconvenient facts from the American people, the people around the President don't hesitate. Richard Foster, the chief actuary for Medicare, found that out. He was told he'd be fired if he told the truth about the cost of the Administration's prescription drug plan.

This is no way to run a government.

The White House and its supporters should not be using the power of government to try to conceal facts from the American people or to reshape history in an effort to portray themselves in the best light.

They should not be threatening the reputations and livelihoods of people simply for asking – or answering – questions. They should seek to put all information about past decisions on the table for evaluation so that the best possible decisions can be made for the nation's future.

In Mr. Clarke's case, clear and troubling double standards are being applied.

Last year, when the Administration was being criticized for the President's misleading statement about Niger and uranium, the White House unexpectedly declassified portions of the National Intelligence Estimate. When the Administration wants to bolster its public case, there is little that appears too sensitive to be declassified.

Now, people around the President want to release parts of Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony in 2002. According to news reports, the CIA is already working on declassifying that testimony – at the Administration's request.

And last week several documents were declassified literally overnight, not in an effort to provide information on a pressing policy matter to the American people, but in an apparent effort to discredit a public servant who gave 30 years of service to his American government.

I'll support declassifying Mr. Clarke's testimony before the Joint Inquiry, but the Administration shouldn't be selective. Consistent with our need to protect sources and methods, we should declassify his entire testimony.

And to make sure that the American people have access to the full record as they consider this question, we should also declassify his January 25 memo to Dr. Rice, the September 4, 2001 National Security Directive dealing with terrorism, Dr. Rice's testimony to the 9-11 Commission, the still-classified 28 pages from the House-Senate inquiry relating to Saudi Arabia, and a list of the dates and topics of all National Security Council meetings before September 4, 2001.

I hope this new interest in openness will also include the Vice President's Energy and Terrorism Task Forces. While much, if not all, of what these task forces discussed was unclassified, their proceedings have not been shared with the public.

There also seems to be a double standard when it comes to investigations.

In recent days leading congressional Republicans are now calling for an investigation into Mr. Clarke. As I mentioned earlier, Secretary O'Neill was also subjected to an investigation. Clarke and O'Neill sought legal and classification review of any information in their books before they were published.

Nonetheless, our colleagues tell us these two should be investigated, at the same time there has been no Senate investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity as a deep cover CIA agent; no thorough investigation into whether leading Administration officials misrepresented the intelligence regarding threats posed by Iraq; no Senate hearings into the threat the chief Medicare Actuary faced for trying to do his job; and no Senate investigation into the reports of continued overcharging by Halliburton for its work in Iraq.

There is a clear double standard when it comes to investigating or releasing information, and that's just is not right. The American people deserve more from their leaders.

We're seeing it again now in the shifting reasons the White House has given for Dr. Rice's refusal to testify under oath and publicly before the 9-11 Commission.

The people around the President first said it would be unprecedented for Dr. Rice to testify. But thanks to the Congressional Research Service, we now know that previous sitting National Security Advisors have testified before Congress.

Now the people around the President are saying that Dr. Rice can't testify because it would violate an important constitutional principle: the separation of powers.

We will soon face this debate again when it comes time for President Bush and Vice President Cheney to meet with the 9-11 Commission. I believe they should lift the limitations they have placed on their cooperation with the Commission and be willing to appear before the entire Commission for as much time as the Commission deems productive.

The all-out assault on Richard Clarke has gone on for more than a week now. Mr. Clarke has been accused of "profiteering" and possible perjury. It is time for this to stop.

The Commission should declassify Mr. Clarke's earlier testimony. All of it. Not just the parts the White House wants. And Dr. Rice should testify before the 9-11 Commission, and she should be under oath and in public.

The American people deserve to know the truth -- the full truth -- about what happened in the years and months leading up to September 11.

Senator McCain, Senator Cleland, Secretary O'Neill, Ambassador Wilson, General Shinseki, Richard Foster, Richard Clarke, Larry Lindsay ... when will the character assassination, retribution, and intimidation end?

When will we say enough is enough?

The September 11 families – and our entire country – deserve better. Our democracy depends on it. And our nation's future security depends on it.

##

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