In White House reversal, top general in Iraq will testify on war progress
If the White House had its way, the Bush Administration's Sept. 15 progress report on Iraq may have been delivered by the U.S. secretaries of state and defense -- and not by top US Iraq General David Petraeus and US Iraq Ambassador Ryan Crocker in a widely anticipated public congressional briefing, a newspaper reported Thursday morning.
The White House on Thursday clarified that Petraeus and Crocker would testify publicly before Congress, but their testimony will come before the report is released. White House deputy press secretary Gordon Johndroe told reporters in Crawford, Texas, that Petraeus and Crocker's testimony would not be hampered by an inability to discuss the surge progress report before its release.
"I mean, I think everyone expects Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus to offer a very candid assessment of the situation on the ground in Iraq. I know that's what President Bush expects. It's what the American people expect," Johndroe said. "And so, no, I don't think there will be any constraints on their testimony whatsoever."
White House officials suggested to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week that
Petraeus and Crocker would brief lawmakers in a private, closed session before the report's release, the Washington Post reported earlier Thursday. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates then would have been the only members of the Administration to provide public testimony.
Democrats, however, say an alternative presentation plan is not viable.
"Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr.
(D-DE) told the White House that Bush's presentation plan was
unacceptable. An aide to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl
M. Levin (D-MI) said that 'we are in talks with the administration
and... Senator Levin wants an open hearing' with Petraeus," the Post's Jonathan Weisman and Karen DeYoung reported.
White House officials said that they have no plans to shield Petraeus or Crocker from testimony--a requirement of the war-funding legislation signed by President Bush in May--but did not deny suggesting a revised plan in informal talks with Congress.
"The administration plans to follow the requirements of the legislation," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe yesterday.
Johndroe denied the reports that strictly closed-door briefings were being considered, and he accused Democrats of “trying to start a fight where there really isn't one.”
Read the full Post story here.