By Mary Curtius
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
1:21 PM PDT, June 24, 2004
Comparing President Bush to Julius Caesar, former Vice President Al Gore warned
today that the president's accumulation of power since the Sept. 11, 2001
terrorist attacks threatened the foundations of American democracy.
In a hard-hitting speech delivered to an enthusiastic audience at Georgetown University Law School, Gore accused President Bush of having increased his own power at the expense of the other branches of government and individual civil liberties.
The greatest danger to the United States, said the man who narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to Bush, was posed not by terrorism, but by the threat that Americans "will acquiesce in the slow and steady accumulation of too much power in the hands of one person."
Gore made his comments as a political firestorm rages over a report from the special commission investigating the 9/11 attacks and the way the media characterized that report.
After the commission's staff concluded that the Iraqi regime had contacts, but not a "collaborative relationship" with Al Qaeda, news organizations said that finding undercut one of the Bush administration's key rationales for invading Iraq. Vice President Cheney, in turn, denounced the media as mischaracterizing the report and the administration's position.
But in remarks sure to fuel the controversy, Gore accused Cheney and Bush of deliberately misleading the American public on connections between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
Gore accused them of doing so "because if Iraq had nothing to do with the attack or the organization that attacked us, then that means the president took us to war when he didn't have to."
Gore remained tightly controlled as he delivered his remarks, in sharp contrast to his demeanor when he attacked the Bush administration's Iraq policy last month in a speech that brought criticism from Republicans and some Democrats.
In the earlier speech, Gore seemed to lose control as he shouted his demand that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency Chief George J. Tenet and other administration officials resign over what he said were their "twisted values and atrocious policies" in Iraq. Tenet has subsequently resigned, citing personal reasons.
Before Gore delivered his remarks today, the Republican National Committee issued a press release accusing him of having "anger management" issues. The release cited disapproving commentaries offered by conservative columnists and other political analysts after Gore made his remarks in May.
But while Gore kept his voice low and his delivery measured, the words were no less harsh than those of his earlier speech.
Noting that "democracy disappeared in Rome when Caesar crossed the Rubicon in violation of the Senate's long prohibition against a returning general entering the city while still in command of military forces," Gore said Bush, too, "has gone to war and has come back into 'the city' and declared th at our nation is now in a permanent state of war."
The president, Gore said, plays on the fear Americans have of global terrorism to justify what Gore called "his reinterpretation of the Constitution in ways that increase his personal power at the expense of Congress, the courts, and every individual citizen."
Gore reserved his most scathing remarks for what he called the "curious question of why President Bush continues" to claim that there was "a working cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaeda."
If Bush is not lying, Gore said, "if they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in battle with Al Qaeda. If they believe these flimsy scraps (of evidence), then who would want them in charge?"
Republicans accused Gore of acting as a surrogate for Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, in attacking the administration's assertions of links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.
In a written response, Republican National Committee com munications director Jim Dyke said that "Al Gore's history of denial of the threat of terrorism is no less dangerous today in his role as John Kerry's surrogate than it was in the 1990s in his role as vice president, a time when Osama bin Laden was declaring war on the United States five different times."
Dyke was repeating an oft-made Republican criticism that the administration of President Bill Clinton failed to act aggressively to destroy Al Qaeda, even after Bin Laden declared war on the United States and launched attacks on U.S. targets abroad.