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THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

Bush Officials Go on TV to Rebut Clarke's Claims

Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice seek to defuse the charge that threats to U.S. were played down.

March 28, 2004|By a Times Staff Writer

The battle over Richard Clarke's allegations that the White House played down Al Qaeda's threat to the U.S. enters its second week today, with the former counterterrorism czar and top Bush administration officials scheduled to make the rounds of major talk shows.

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld was booked to appear on "Fox News Sunday," while Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was scheduled to be interviewed on "Face the Nation." Clarke was making two stops -- on "Meet the Press" and "Late Edition With Wolf Blitzer."

The news program "60 Minutes" planned to air an interview with national security advisor Condoleezza Rice. Clarke appeared on the show a week ago to begin the increasingly politicized controversy.

The new round of debate over Clarke's claims, detailed more fully in his book released on Monday, comes even as some Bush administration officials distance themselves from White House questioning of Clarke's integrity.

During an interview on PBS' "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," Powell deflected a question on whether Clarke had been credible during testimony last week before the bipartisan Congressional commission investigating the government's reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

Clarke "is a very smart guy. He served his nation very, very well. He's an expert in these matters," Powell said. He added, however, that Clarke's version was "not the complete story."

"It is important for the commission to listen to all of the witnesses and not just focus on one witness who has written a book that happened to come out right now," Powell said. "I'm not attributing any bad motives to it. I'm just saying his book and his point of view is one point of view."

The weeklong slugfest over Clarke's accusations, coming in the middle of a presidential campaign, seemed to have made a dent in Bush's signature issue, the war on terror, according to a Newsweek poll released Saturday. The nationwide poll, with a margin of error of 3 percentage points, showed that Bush's approval rating for his handling of terrorism and homeland security had dropped 8 percentage points, from 65% to 57%, since last month.

Nonetheless, the poll also showed that 50% of the respondents felt that Clarke's accusations were politically motivated, and that a majority, 65%, said his testimony had not changed their opinion of Bush.

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