Saturday, July 24, 2004

Lehman: "We were mugged by Viacom"

As all of you no doubt know, the 9/11 commission report was released on Thursday and is freely available online at numerous locations. Personally, I recommend the GPO Access version, both because it's an official government site, and because it breaks the report down by chapter. So far, I have read only part of the report, but what I have seen so far indicates that the commission has produced a sober, useful, and extremely informative document. This is especially heartening in light of the bitterly partisan nature of many of the committee's hearings this past spring. As the Wall Street Journal puts it, the committee's "unanimous final report seems on our first reading to be better than the process that produced it."

The one factor that, more than any other, contributed to politicizing the committee's deliberations was the Richard Clarke controversy. In an interview published Thursday on National Review Online, Republican commission member John Lehman offered his thoughts on how this occurred:

I think we were mugged by Viacom," Lehman told NRO in a phone interview on Thursday afternoon. "Because they changed the release date of the book and geared up 60 Minutes to launch his book to time them with his testimony and they edited his book to take out all of the criticisms of Clinton from his [original private] testimony. Because they wanted to make it a jihad against Bush."

Lehman says that Clarke's original testimony included "a searing indictment of some Clinton officials and Clinton policies." That was the Clarke, evenhanded in his criticisms of both the Bush and Clinton administrations, who Lehman and other Republican commissioners expected to show up at the public hearings. It was a surprise "that he would come out against Bush that way." Republicans were taken aback: "It caught us flat-footed, but not the Democrats."

Clarke's performance poisoned the public hearings, leading to weeks of a partisan slugfest. Lehman says Republican commissioners felt they had to fight back, adding to the partisan atmosphere. "What triggered it was Dick Clarke," says Lehman. "We couldn't sit back and let him get away with what he wanted to get away with." He adds, "We were hijacked by a combination of Viacom and the Kerry campaign in the handling of Clarke's testimony."

Source: '“Mugged”:A 9/11 commissioner unloads on Richard Clarke and his “jihad against Bush.”,' National Review Online, July 22, 2004

Subsequent revelations, including the 9/11 commission's final report, have confirmed that Clarke sacrificed his credibility on the altar of partisanship. Unfortunately, by then the damage was done. Still, it is to the great credit of the commission members that they were able to overcome this and produce such an excellent, objective report. For that, they deserve our thanks.


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