Last night I heard through the grapevine that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss was going to ask the Justice Department to bring perjury charges against Richard Clarke.
(As it happens, I've heard at least two other thermonuclear options they were considering using against him -- this just seems to be the one they decided on.)
I told my friend that I thought the White House would be awfully foolish to let that sort of prosecution get underway since the discovery requests from Clarke's attorneys could prove rather uncomfortable for the White House.
But now it seems we know what the story is. According to several news reports out early this afternoon, Congressional Republicans are seeking to declassify testimony Clarke provided on the hill in July 2002. The implication of comments from Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist is that that testimony and this week's don't match and that Clarke must have perjured himself in one of the two instances.
Note that the testimony is from July 2002. That's one month before the backgrounder released by Fox News, which Republican Commission members challenged him with when he testified before them.
They've already argued that these two statements are in bold contradiction. So I think it's a pretty good assumption that the July 2002 testimony is substantially the same, if perhaps more detailed, as that backgrounder in question.
The idea here is to find another version of the same purported contradiction in which both statements are under oath -- thus getting the perjury cudgel out of the tool box.
Now, with respect to that backgrounder, Clarke has said that he was following orders to tell the truth, but with a spin, and did so. And it's worth noting that if that were a crime this White House would be emptied out pretty quickly. But let's set that aside for the moment.
Back up for a moment and look at what's happening here.
What this is about isn't Condi Rice or Richard Clarke or even George W. Bush. It's about what happened -- finding out what happened.
One side wants to find out; the other doesn't. This whole story turns on that simple fact. Why else try to destroy Clark unless what he has to say is profoundly damaging? Liars are usually easily discredited; it's the truth-tellers who need to be destroyed.
This administration has used and continues to use literally unprecedented means to maintain secrecy in order to keep this information -- what happened -- bottled up in the White House and in other parts of the executive branch.
We don't know what Condi Rice did because the documents haven't been released; nor have the minutes of meetings. Nor will she testify in public or even privately under oath.
We don't know what most of the key players did -- or at least we don't know with certainty -- because the locks on the information are being held that tight (the entirety of John Dean's new book Worse than Watergate is excellent in detailing this).
Yet Clarke's new enemies now want to use the fact that they control the Justice Department and the process of declassification to knock him out because he is, to all appearances, trying to bust open that very vault of secrecy.
In other words, precisely the tools these folks refuse to use in the interests of keeping everything secret they are more happy to use to crush someone who is opposing them.
As you know, House Speaker Denny Hastert, who opposed a 9/11 commission, opposed its funding, and opposed its deadline extension, now -- in a line, destined straight for the Daily Show --- says "We need to lean forward in making as much information available to the public as possible, without compromising the national security interests of the nation."
This is Plame all over again, just with the lights on -- a kind of behavior -- a mix of pervasive secrecy and the use of state power to punish political enemies -- that is literally a danger to the republic.
Now, let's consider three different possibilities about what's happening here.
The first possibility is that Clarke is just a straight-up perjurer, that this week he not only perjured himself but slandered the president and misinformed the public.
The second is that it's a scenario like I noted above -- this is the same case as the FOX backgrounder; and the Republicans found a copy under oath to try to use the machinery of the Justice Department to silence him.
The third is that this is just a bluff -- they want to imply there's a contradiction, but they won't actually declassify and release the documents, thus having it both ways.
I strongly suspect it's a mix of two and three.
But why guess? Let's find out. Release all his testimony. All of it.
I think Bob Graham -- former Chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence and Co-Chair of the Joint Committee in question -- had it just right in what he said today ...
I concur with Senator Frist's call for de-classification of Richard Clarke's testimony to the Joint Inquiry. To the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mr. Clarke has said this week.
I would add three other recommendations:
First, if Mr. Clarke's testimony is to be released, it should be released in its entirety -- not, as the Bush administration has done in the past, selectively edited so that only portions favorable to the White House are made public.
Second, the Bush administration should de-classify other documents that surround the Clarke testimony, such as his January 25, 2002, plan for action against al Qaeda, in order to clarify the issues that are in dispute.
And finally, the Bush administration should release all other testimony and documents related to 9-11 for which classification can no longer be justified -- including the 27 pages of the Joint Inquiry's final report that address the involvement of a foreign government in supporting some of the 19 hijackers while they lived among us and finalized their evil plot.
The American people deserve to know what their government has done -- and should be doing -- to protect them from terrorists, and who should be held accountable for shortcomings that have left our country vulnerable."
Compare that with one vintage moment from Frist's performance ...
I do not know if Mr. Clarkeâs motive for these charges is partisan gain, personal profit, self promotion, or animus because of his failure to win a promotion in the Bush Administration. But the one thing that his motive could not possibly be is to bring clarity to the issue of how we avoid future September 11 attacks.
Speaking only for my part -- though I suspect for others as well -- I have no stake in Richard Clarke. I think he's a hero because I'm quite confident (on the basis of very strong evidence) that he's telling the truth and now facing the whirlwind that we all knew these folks would bring against him.
(Bear in mind that top White House aides have told the press that the president personally initiated and is directing this campaign against Clarke. Not outside rabble-rousers, not nefarious aides operating on their own account, but the president himself. This is all his doing, according to his own staffers.)
If it turns out that what he said this week was really a bunch of lies, then he's no hero at all. And he really should be prosecuted. For just that reason I'm happy to let all the information come out, just as Graham says. This isn't an indifference to Clark's fate, but rather respect for him -- sufficient belief that the truth is his friend to want the whole truth to come out.
If it ends up that he told the truth this week but perjured himself two years ago, I'd be disappointed, and he may have to face an indictment, but he'd still be a hero for telling the truth now. The fact that the Bush White House got him to lie for them then hardly puts them in a good light.
In any case, any legitimate legal jeopardy (as opposed to some bogus charge) Clarke may face is really only a matter of concern for him, his family and friends, and the Republicans who are trying to shut him up.
If you're just interested in having the facts come out, then it's really not a great source of concern. For the public, the fact that Clarke might have lied once and told the truth once isn't really point. All that matters here is what the truth actually is, and that it comes out. And the White House is doing us the favor of showing that that is not a goal they share.