Anyone who has ever been young -- which, I suppose, includes everyone -- remembers some shameless whippersnapper who had an older brother, or older sister, or some other sort of protector. And from under the wing or shadow of that protector they'd hurl all manner of taunts and insults and boasts at all the other little kids, confident that none of them could fight back or do anything about it.
Which brings us to Condoleeza Rice.
Here's Richard Clarke, at the center of the storm, up there on Capitol Hill getting grilled over his story. And from the peanut gallery, there's Condi Rice, heading over to the microphones at the White House every chance she gets to attack Clarke when no one can ask her any serious follow ups.
A couple hours after Clarke testified Rice headed over to the mikes and called his charges "scurrilous."
"This story has so many twists and turns, he needs to get his story straight," she said.
Rice truly has the best of all worlds. She hangs back at the White House shooting spit balls at Clarke and the rest of them. But she doesn't have to back anything up because she doesn't have to testify under oath or get questioned.
Needless to say, Rice rather undermines her arguments about the constitutional importance of maintaining the privacy of her advice to the president since she's sharing all sorts of information on the Post op-ed page and more or less every TV show in the universe.
When she went down to the White House press room to make the statements above, she also read from a previously classifed email Clarke had written to her just after 9/11. Needless to say, it was declassifed so she could try to use it to damage Clarke. Or to put it another way, it was declassified for narrowly political purposes -- taking advantage of the fact that the NSC, which Rice runs, is in charge of that process of declassification.
Evidently there are very few classes of confidential information Rice is not willing to publicize. She just doesn't want to get questioned.
Now, perhaps you'll say, following the White House line, that she'd love to testify but a constitutional principle is at stake and she has, as she puts it, a "responsibility to maintain what is a longstanding separation -- constitutional separation between the executive and the legislative branch."
Now, there is a constitutional issue involved. But Rice is trying to get people to think that members of the White House staff never testify. And that's not even close to true. In my hand I have a 2002 Congressional Research Service study that lists a whole slew of presidential aides and advisors who've testified in the past.
Indeed, it lists two of Rice's predecessors as National Security Advisor who've given public testimony: Zbigniew Brzezinski in 1980 and Sandy Berger in 1997.
Interestingly, the CRS study lists five examples of cases where presidential aides refused to testify. It's not clear whether this list is supposed to be exhaustive. And in most cases presidential aides are simply not even asked to testify at all, for reasons of comity between the branches if nothing else. But of the five listed four are from the Nixon administration. And each of those were before the Watergate investigation really got under way. A whole slew of Nixon aides had to head up to the Hill in 1974 after things started to go south for them -- so perhaps we haven't heard the final word on this matter.
In any case, there's a high bar for testimony from a National Security Advisor. But it's happened before. And more than once. If they wanted her to testify, she could testify. What they want is for her to be able to lacerate her critics, discuss whichever parts of her advice to the president would be helpful to her politically at the moment, and freely declassify documents which she or the White House believes will hurt her enemies.
She's a veritable information geyser, a one-woman-FOIA. She just won't answer questions under oath.