Clarke's Contradiction May Dampen Dem Attack on Bush

By Scott Wheeler | July 7, 2008 | 8:30 PM EDT

( - As Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, two senators may need to revise one of their harshest critiques about the Bush administration's actions in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, especially now that Bush critic Richard Clarke has contradicted one of his own key statements.

It turns out that President Bush and other top members of his administration had nothing to do with the decision to let members of Osama bin Laden's family depart the United States in the days immediately after 9/11, despite the suggestions of Democratic Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Charles Schumer of New York.

Clarke, the former White House counter-terrorism official and author of a recent book blasting the Bush administration's handling of intelligence leading up to the terrorist attacks, told The Hill newspaper last week that he gave the go-ahead for two members of the bin Laden family and other Saudi nationals to leave the U.S.

"It didn't get any higher than me," Clarke told The Hill . "I take responsibility for it. I don't think it was a mistake, and I'd do it again."

However, back in March, testifying before The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9-11 Commission), Clarke described a different scenario regarding the attempts by the Saudis to depart the U.S. "The request came to me and I refused to approve it," he said at the time.

Clarke's original comments helped Boxer to apply more public pressure on the Bush administration.

"Who in the administration authorized the Saudi Arabian flights ... who did this?" Boxer demanded to know on May 18. "Why would the Saudis want to get out of the country?"

In September of 2003, long before Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Boxer and Schumer had already seized on the issue involving the bin Laden family.

"I have sent a letter to Andrew Card, the (White House) chief of staff, asking how this happened, what was the justification, what safeguards were taken, and what are we doing to make sure it doesn't happen again," Schumer proclaimed.

The New York senator suggested that the Bush administration had acted irresponsibly.

"On September 12th and 13th, hundreds of Saudis were able to take flights home back to Saudi Arabia when no one else could fly. I couldn't fly. Senator Boxer couldn't fly," Schumer said. "But relatives of the royal family, including two members of the bin Laden family, were allowed to get on airplanes and go back to Saudi Arabia.

"Now, Dick Clarke, at our Judiciary (Committee) hearing yesterday, said that the FBI approved each person and said they would be okay to go. How the heck did the FBI know on September 13th that none of these people were either involved in terrorism or, at the very least, be needed for questioning?" Schumer asked.

Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus told that she wonders how Democrats will change their strategy, in light of Clarke's recent admission.

"What Boxer and Schumer do with this new information will tell a lot about their agenda" Jacobus said. But she added that Clarke, in reversing himself and accepting responsibility for approving the flights to Saudi Arabia, has made it impossible for the Democrats to use the issue against President Bush.

The contradiction also discredits Clarke's views on other matters related to 9/11, Jacobus said. Clarke's criticism of the president and his administration were heavily publicized by many in the media when the book, Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror , was published. Clarke followed up the release of his book with two days of testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

Jacobus said she wonders whether Boxer and Schumer were really more interested in scoring political points than in national security. "Do Schumer and Boxer still want accountability since it no longer serves their political agenda?" she asked.

But in a bitter election year, all issues are subordinate to politics, Jacobus added.

"Is their agenda to get to the bottom of things and find out what really happened? Or is it a political agenda where if the wrong person gives the wrong answer they will simply ignore it and be hypocrites?" Jacobus asked.

Schumer and Boxer were unavailable for comment on Friday.

See Related Story:

When Bush-Bashers Collide? Moore's Film at Odds with Clarke Remarks

E-mail a news tip to Scott Wheeler.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.