The cudgel the Republicans on the 9/11 Commission <$NoAd$>tried to use against Richard Clarke today was the background briefing which the White House released to Fox News.
Here's former Reagan Navy Secretary John Lehmann (itals added)...
I never got Jim Thompson to stand before 50 photographers reading your book. And I certainly never got 60 Minutes to coordinate the showing of its interview with you with 15 network news broadcasts, the selling of the movie rights, and your appearance here today. So I would say, Bravo. (LAUGHTER) Until I started reading those press reports, and I said this can't be the same Dick Clarke that testified before us, because all of the promotional material and all of the spin in the networks was that this is a rounding, devastating attack -- this book -- on President Bush. That's not what I heard in the interviews. And I hope you're going to tell me, as you apologized to the families for all of us who were involved in national security, that this tremendous difference -- and not just in nuance, but in the stories you choose to tell -- is really the result of your editors and your promoters, rather than your studied judgment, because it is so different from the whole thrust of your testimony to us. And similarly, when you add to it the inconsistency between what your promoters are putting out and what you yourself said as late as August '05, you've got a real credibility problem. And because of my real genuine long-term admiration for you, I hope you'll resolve that credibility problem, because I'd hate to see you become totally shoved to one side during a presidential campaign as an active partisan selling a book.
Here's how Fox News described Lehmann's comment ...
"You've got a real credibility problem," John Lehman, former Navy secretary under President Reagan, told Clarke, calling the witness "an active partisan selling a book."
Clarke responded: "I don't think it's a question of morality at all, I think it's a question of politics."
Now, get a load of this Clarke guy! Okay, wait, don't get a load of him yet. Lehmann's broadside was harsh enough. Did Fox accurately portray what Lehmann said? I'll let you decide.
Okay, now ... get a load of this Clarke guy! Lehmann accuses him of all this terrible stuff. And this character Clarke comes back with, "Hey buddy, morality, shmorality. It's all politics to me!"
Hmmm. Actually, that wasn't his response. That was his response to a completely different exchange, which came later ...
THOMPSON: Mr. Clarke, in this background briefing, as Senator Kerrey has now described it, for the press in August of 2002, you intended to mislead the press, did you not?
CLARKE: No. I think there is a very fine line that anyone who's been in the White House, in any administration, can tell you about. And that is when you are special assistant to the president and you're asked to explain something that is potentially embarrassing to the administration, because the administration didn't do enough or didn't do it in a timely manner and is taking political heat for it, as was the case there, you have a choice. Actually, I think you have three choices. You can resign rather than do it. I chose not to do that. Second choice is...
THOMPSON: Why was that, Mr. Clarke? You finally resigned because you were frustrated.
CLARKE: I was, at that time, at the request of the president, preparing a national strategy to defend America's cyberspace, something which I thought then and think now is vitally important. I thought that completing that strategy was a lot more important than whether or not I had to provide emphasis in one place or other while discussing the facts on this particular news story. The second choice one has, Governor, is whether or not to say things that are untruthful. And no one in the Bush White House asked me to say things that were untruthful, and I would not have said them. In any event, the third choice that one has is to put the best face you can for the administration on the facts as they were, and that is what I did. I think that is what most people in the White House in any administration do when they're asked to explain something that is embarrassing to the administration.
THOMPSON: But you will admit that what you said in August of 2002 is inconsistent with what you say in your book?
CLARKE: No, I don't think it's inconsistent at all. I think, as I said in your last round of questioning, Governor, that it's really a matter here of emphasis and tone. I mean, what you're suggesting, perhaps, is that as special assistant to the president of the United States when asked to give a press backgrounder I should spend my time in that press backgrounder criticizing him. I think that's somewhat of an unrealistic thing to expect.
THOMPSON: Well, what it suggests to me is that there is one standard of candor and morality for White House special assistants and another standard of candor and morality for the rest of America. I don't get that.
CLARKE: I don't think it's a question of morality at all. I think it's a question of politics.
THOMPSON: Well, I... (APPLAUSE)
THOMPSON: I'm not a Washington insider. I've never been a special assistant in the White House. I'm from the Midwest. So I think I'll leave it there.
We'll touch on the substance of the matter later. In general I think Fred Kaplan had it just right in the title of his piece this afternoon: "Richard Clarke KOs the Bushies."