The commissioner wears no clothes

I missed both John Ashcroft’s testimony and President Bush’s press conference yesterday. From the Washington Post’s (hostile, slanted, partial, obscurantist — of course) account of Ashcroft’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it appears that Ashcroft had the temerity to suggest that the Commission — or at least one of its members — was an Emperor wearing no clothes:

Ashcroft sought to blame the Clinton administration for many of the shortcomings in counterterrorism strategies before the attacks, taking the unusual step of publicly citing the work of a Democratic member of the commission, Jamie S. Gorelick, who served as a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Ashcroft announced the declassification and release of a 1995 memo she wrote that outlined legal rules on sharing intelligence information, characterizing the guidelines as “the single greatest structural cause for the September 11th problem.”
“We did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade our government had blinded itself to its enemies,” Ashcroft said…Ashcroft also laid out an aggressive defense of his counterterrorism record before the attacks. He argued that a set of classified 1995 guidelines provided a foundation for the “wall separating the criminal and intelligence investigations” that had “debilitating impacts” on terrorism investigations by restricting the FBI from mixing intelligence and criminal investigations.
Ashcroft said that he had the guidelines declassified and that “full disclosure” required him to indicate they had been drafted by [Commission member Jamie] Gorelick. Gorelick did not address the criticism in her questioning and declined to comment afterward.

Click here for a transcript of Ashcroft’s testimony.
The Washington Times has a good account of the Bush press conference and John Kerry’s response. Click here for the transcript of the press conference. John Podhoretz provides the key assessment in his New York Post column:

THE purpose of last night’s presidential press conference was to show purpose, and rarely has a president seemed quite so purposeful as George W. Bush did last night.
The purpose of the White House press corps was to make the president confess to weakness – to corner him into creating the soundbite of all soundbites, in which Bush would acknowledge his errors as president and thereby give John Kerry all the material he would need for a killer TV ad or two.
The president achieved his purpose. The press corps did not achieve its purpose. He would not fall into their astonishingly blatant trap. He simply refused to offer a satisfactory answer to four – four! – different questions demanding that he either enumerate or apologize for his failures.
No one should be fooled by the way he stumbled through some of his answers about his mistakes as president. Bush knew exactly what he was doing, as he always does.
Rather than apologize to the 9/11 families for the terror strike that day, the president said the responsibility for the attacks rested squarely on the shoulders of Osama bin Laden. And it’s a mark of how demented the debate has gotten in the past few weeks that this simple statement of truth seemed bracing and even daring.

Although his evaluation of Bush’s performance may be optimistic, his judgment of the state of the debate is on the mark. Michelle Malkin provides additional evidence supporting that judgment in a column invoking another children’s story: “The liberals who cried ‘didn’t do enough.'”
UPDATE: National Review Online has posted Gorelick’s now-declassified “wall memo.”


Books to read from Power Line