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Sept. 11 Commission To Ask Rice To Testify Under Oath 2 decks

By Philip Shenon

and Richard W. Stevenson

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

The chairman and vice chairman of the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks said on Monday they would ask Condoleezza Rice to testify under oath in any future questioning because of discrepancies between her statements and those made in sworn testimony by Bush’s former counterterrorism chief.

“I would like to have her testimony under the penalty of perjury,” said the commission’s chairman, Thomas H. Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, in comments that reflected the panel’s exasperation with the White House and Rice, the president’s national security adviser.

Rice has refused to testify in public before the commission even as she has granted numerous interviews about the commission’s investigation.

The White House declined to respond to Kean’s comments.

One official who had been briefed on discussions between the White House and the commission said Monday night that a number of options were under consideration that might lead to a compromise over Rice. The official, who asked not to be named because he had not been authorized to disclose information, declined to specify the options and said nothing had yet been decided.

Rice has granted one private interview to the 10-member, bipartisan commission and has requested another. But the White House has cited executive privilege in refusing to allow her to testify in public or under oath. That decision has led Democrats and other critics to accuse the White House of attempting to hide embarrassing information about its failure to preempt the Sept. 11 attacks.

“I think she should be under the same penalty as Richard [A.] Clarke [’79],” Kean said in an interview, referring to the former White House counterterrorism adviser who testified last week that the Bush administration had not paid sufficient attention to the threat from al-Qaida before Sept. 11, 2001.

Congressional Republican leaders have said that Clarke lied under oath and requested that previous Congressional testimony by him be declassified.

In a private interview in February with several members of the commission, Rice was not required to be under oath, and panel officials said that no transcript was made of the four-hour conversation.

The commission has required all witnesses testifying at public hearings to be sworn in, opening them to perjury charges if they are found to be lying, while all but a handful of the hundreds of witnesses questioned behind closed doors have not been sworn.

In separate interviews, Kean and the panel’s vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic House member from Indiana, said they would continue to press for Rice to testify under oath in public.

But they said that if the White House continued to refuse to have her answer questions at a public hearing, any new private interviews with Rice should be conducted under new ground rules, with the national security adviser placed under oath and a transcription made.

There were signs throughout the day on Monday of a debate within the administration over whether to hold fast to the principle of not allowing White House aides to testify before Congress or to seek a deal that would allow Rice to appear before the commission.