It is a day of 9/11 Commission unanimity, but one commissioner, looking back at its public work, is remembering the partisan past. “We were mugged by Viacom,” Republican commissioner John Lehman says, referring to the owner of the publisher of Richard Clarke’s book, Against All Enemies, and the owner of CBS, which broadcast a long, loving segment devoted to Clarke just prior to the release of his book.
”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.”
But Lehman is proud of the unanimous final report released today. It reflects the more sober, behind-the-scenes work of the commission: “By and large it was nothing like you saw in those public hearings.” Lehman calls the final report “very feisty,” with significant forward-looking recommendations.
He rejects the notion that the report didn’t devote sufficient attention to the so-called “wall,” the legal barrier to cooperation between prosecutors and counter-terrorism officials. “Whether there is a wall or not a wall, it’s not a huge difference,” he says. Lehman maintains that the main problem is that law enforcement will always act like law enforcement, concerned primarily with making criminal cases.
Lehman, a conservative stalwart and former secretary of the Navy, hopes the commission’s unanimous report can be a model for a way out of the current poisonous partisan morass. Don’t bet on it. Richard Clarke and all his fans are still out there.