Bush capitulated on a second point and said he and Vice President Cheney will appear in one joint, private session with all 10 of the commissioners, backing off his previous demand that questioning be conducted only by Chairman Thomas H. Kean and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton.
Republican officials involved in the negotiations said that the twin announcements constituted a recognition by the White House that the continued resistance to the commission’s request was beginning to look like stonewalling as the general election campaign gets underway. Public attention to the longtime disputes between the White House and the commission had increased exponentially following last week’s testimony by Richard A. Clarke, formerly Bush’s counterterrorism chief, that the administration failed to respond quickly enough to near-daily warnings about al Qaeda in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Commission members, who questioned Rice in private for four hours in February, have said they are anxious to get her public testimony regarding discrepancies between White House statements and Clarke’s assertions.
White House aides had said they were seeking a more limited compromise, such as the public release of a transcript of a future private commission session with Rice, but officials said that commission members refused to yield.
White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales made the offer this morning in a two-page letter to Kean and Hamilton. “The Commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice,” Gonzales wrote.
Gonzales also said the commission “must agree in writing that Dr. Rice’s testimony does not set any precedent for future commission requests.”