9.30pm - UPDATE
WASHINGTON - Republicans have broadened their drive to discredit White House critic Richard Clarke by questioning whether the former counter-terrorism official had lied in testifying two years ago about the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The latest move in the fracas over President Bush's anti-terror and Iraq war policies came as it was disclosed that congressional Republicans were trying to declassify closed-door testimony Clarke gave in July 2002 before Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees. Such declassification would be a rare step for Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, charged that Clarke's testimony in 2002 conflicted with his appearance this week before a bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks.
Clarke testified on Wednesday that Bush had failed to heed threats that such attacks might be in the offing and, once they occurred, focused on Iraq rather al Qaeda.
"Mr. Clarke has told two entirely different stories under oath," Frist declared on the Senate floor, charging Clarke had said in 2002 that the administration had actively sought to address the threat posed by al Qaeda before the attacks.
"It is one thing for Mr. Clarke to dissemble in front of the media ... but if he lied under oath to the United States Congress it is a far, far more serious matter," Frist said.
"The (House) intelligence committee is seeking to have Mr. Clarke's testimony declassified to actually permit an examination of (his) two differing accounts. Loyalty to any administration will be no defence if it is found he lied."
The decision to declassify would be made by the White House in consultation with federal agencies with a stake in the intelligence information involved.
Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat who chaired the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002, backed the call to declassify, Clarke's testimony but added: "To the best of my recollection, there is nothing inconsistent or contradictory in that testimony and what Mr. Clarke has said this week."
Graham also said in a statement that Clarke's testimony "should be released in its entirety -- not, as the Bush administration has done in the past, selectively edited so that only favourable portions are made public."
Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, Bush's prospective Democratic opponent in the November presidential election, said Clarke has raised "some very, very serious questions" with the criticisms he has loosed over the past week in a newly published book, a TV interview and his commission testimony.
"My challenge to the Bush administration would be, if he's not believable and they have reason to show it, then prosecute him for perjury," Kerry told CBS MarketWatch on Friday.
ADMINISTRATION MULLS REQUEST
At the White House, spokesman Trent Duffy said the administration was "working to accommodate the request" by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, to declassify Clarke's testimony.
In testifying Wednesday, Clarke said that before the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration regarded terrorism as "not an urgent issue." The White House has rejected the characterisation, arguing that Bush considered terrorism a priority from day one.
In recent days, Democrats and Republicans have taken the floor of their chamber to defend or attack Bush and Clarke, who had served under the past four presidents.