Monday, November 22

Conason: Frist Slandered Clark

Even though this declassified government document vindicates Richard Clark, you'll hear nothing that resembles an apology from Frist - because apologizing is a sign of weakness in the new "moral" GOP. Jerks.

Bill Frist exposed

In Washington's fetid culture of personal destruction, the powerful and privileged can trash an adversary's reputation without concern that the truth will embarrass them when it emerges months or years later. Consider the case of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

Last March, Frist rose on the Senate floor to demonstrate his fealty to the White House by attacking Richard Clarke in the ugliest and most personal terms. Seeking to discredit the former counter-terrorism chief after his stunning appearance before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Frist essentially accused the former counter-terrorism chief of committing perjury.

But now we know who was telling the truth and who wasn't, thanks to the release of a newly declassified document. That document is the transcript of Clarke's testimony before a closed, joint congressional hearing in June 2002, when he discussed "the evolution of the terrorist threat" leading up to 9/11 with members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. While the declassified text contains lengthy redactions, it also shows conclusively that Frist slandered Clarke last spring.

In his furious floor speech, the senator mocked Clarke for acknowledging his own responsibility in the government's failure to prevent the 9/11 disaster, berated his "profiteering" from the tragedy with his revealing memoir, "Against All Enemies," and went on to insinuate that the star witness had lied and might be prosecuted:

"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath," said Frist. "In July 2002, in front of the Congressional Joint Inquiry on the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Clarke testified under oath that the administration actively sought to address the threat posed by al-Qaida during its first seven months in office ... .[It] is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media. But if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far more serious matter. As I mentioned, the intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke's previous testimony declassified so as to permit an examination of Mr. Clarke's two different accounts. Loyalty to any administration will be no defense if it is found that he has lied before Congress."

Clarke reacted by urging the immediate declassification of the entire six-hour transcript of his secret testimony, confident that he would be vindicated. Eventually, Frist's own spokesman admitted that his boss hadn't read Clarke's testimony -- and that his only "evidence" was gossip from other unnamed legislators who had called the majority leader to complain that Clarke's "tone" differed from what he had said two years earlier. Some Republicans who had heard Clarke's testimony quietly suggested that Frist didn't know what he was talking about, including Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kansas.

His detailed description of those efforts, which explodes Republican attempts to blame Clinton for 9/11 and confirms both his testimony and his book, should be required reading for mythologizers like the Senate majority leader. And when Frist has finished reading the 103 pages, the majority leader ought to be decent enough to apologize publicly for lying about this remarkable public servant.