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Goss Questions Truthfulness of Clarke’s 2002 Testimony

House Intelligence Chairman Porter Goss (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that former White House anti-terror czar Richard Clarke, the author of a new book critical of President Bush’s handling of the al Qaeda threat before Sept. 11, 2001, may have lied in testimony to his committee, and said he plans to explore whether Congressional action on the matter is warranted.

Clarke’s “testimony to our committee is 180 degrees out of line with what he is saying in his book,” Goss said. “He’s either lying in his book or he lied to our committee. It’s one or the other.”

Goss added, “If he was lying to a Congressional committee, he’s got a big problem on his hands here.”

Goss did not reveal the substance of the alleged contradictions. But he waved a print-out from the Fox News Channel’s Web site that detailed apparent discrepancies between statements Clarke delivered in 2002 and allegations made in his controversial new memoir, “Against All Enemies.”

Goss suggested that the statements from 2002 more accurately reflected the substance of what Clarke had told the Intelligence panel during that time.

Goss did not specify whether the allegedly contradictory testimony had been made in closed-door session before his committee or the joint Congressional committee that conducted its own separate investigation of the Sept. 11 attacks — or both.

The earlier statements, which surfaced Wednesday, came from a recording of a “background” briefing Clarke provided to reporters while he was still a White House aide. In them, Clarke describes early and aggressive anti-terror efforts in the Bush White House that built significantly on the previous planning by the Clinton administration.

Goss was unwilling to speculate on a potential course of action, saying he is “still trying to understand” what Clarke is contending now.

“You can be sure I’ll be looking at it,” Goss said. “I don’t want people lying to Congressional committees.”

A conviction of lying to Congress carries potential jail time as a penalty.

Clarke’s newest account of the Bush administration’s anti-terror efforts before 9/11 has unleashed a fiercely contested debate over the truthfulness of the former White House aide, who served in four consecutive administrations going back to President Ronald Reagan.

Already, the anti-Bush group MoveOn.Org has launched television spots that quote Clark saying, as he launched the publicity for his book this week, “Frankly, I find it outrageous that a president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’d done such great things on terrorism. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.”

A different assessment emerges from the briefing Clarke provided to reporters in 2002. “The Bush administration decided then, you know, in late January [2001], to do two things. One, vigorously pursue the existing policy, including all of the lethal covert action findings. The second thing the administration decided to do is to initiate a process to look at those issues which had been on the table for a couple of years and get them decided.”

Clarke added, “That process, which was initiated in the first week in February [2001], decided in principle in the spring to add to the existing Clinton strategy and to increase CIA resources, for example, for covert action, five-fold, to go after al-Qaeda.”

In sworn testimony Wednesday, Clarke told the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks that the discrepancies reflected the “political” role he needed to perform on the Bush administration’s behalf after the attacks.

Asked by former Illinois Gov. James Thompson (R), a member of the commission, whether he believes the comments made in the 2002 recording are consistent with the information provided in his book and in his recent press interviews, Clarke responded, “I do.”

Clarke nevertheless adjusted the tenor of his criticism slightly. In contrast to the charge that the White House “ignored” the threat from al Qaeda, Clarke said, “I feel the Bush administration in the first eight months considered terrorism an important issue, but not an urgent issue.”

The Clarke transcript from 2002 emerged after the White House agreed to permit Fox News to reveal the identity of the background briefer. That action drew strong criticism from Democrats, including commission member and former Sen. Bob Kerrey (D-Neb.), who suggested that the White House had violated a pact it made with the press in order to discredit the former aide.

Efforts to reach several Intelligence Committee Democrats on Thursday were unsuccessful.

A publicist for Clarke’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, said, “We always stand by the books that we publish.”

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.) lashed out at the White House on Thursday for what he alleged to be “character attacks” on Clarke.

“Instead of dealing with it factually, they’ve launched a shrill attack to destroy Mr. Clarke’s credibility,” Daschle alleged in a speech on the Senate floor. He did not cite specifics.

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