In covering the controversy over national security adviser Condoleezza Rice’s refusal to testify publicly before the 9/11 commission, today’s Los Angeles Times takes a break from “he-said, she-said” journalism and explains to its readers the historical precedents for presidential advisors testifying (or not testifying) before Congress:

Historically, presidents have invoked executive privilege in order to make sure that their advisors can give them the most candid advice possible without fear of being called before Congress to testify.

A 2002 study by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found 20 instances in which presidential advisors summoned by Congress had testified and five in which the White House had refused requests.

In some cases, presidential advisors testified behind closed doors and in other cases in public.

At least two presidents have allowed their national security advisors to testify in public, but in both cases the issue involved political scandal.

The Times continues by describing the specific circumstances surrounding testimony given by Zbigniew Brzezinski during the Carter administration and Sandy Berger during President Clinton’s term.

Based on this account, it appears historical evidence favors neither side of this debate, as precedent exists for national security advisors both choosing and refusing to testify to Congress.

Still, the Times provides its readers information indispensable to helping them draw their own conclusions about Condoleezza Rice’s actions — information that has been overshadowed by partisan exchanges in other reports, much like this Associated Press dispatch from today.

Thomas Lang

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.