Ex-Press Secretary: White House should 'answer questions' now on CIA leak case
Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan says that the White House should be more forthcoming now about the CIA leak case that has resulted in the conviction of former Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Editor & Publisher reports.
McClellan, appearing Tuesday night on CNN's Larry King Live, said "I would advise the White House to find a way to get out there and talk about it and answer some of the questions."
The president's former chief spokesperson said it will be "interesting to see" if the Bush administration can "sustain its refusal to say anything through the appeal process," writes E&P.
Libby was declared guilty of most of the counts against him in the CIA leak trial, as RAW STORY reported earlier.
Excerpts from the E&P article, available in full here, are below, followed by portions from CNN's transcript. Video of McClellan's appearance can be seen at this link.
Former White House adviser David Gergen raised several questions that the White House should address, especially why Libby lied and why Libby and Vice President did not testify at the trial. "There's clearly something they don't want to come out," he said. There's "a lot more to know," he said.
King had opened by playing a clip of McClellan's famous statement to the press in October 23 -- that he had gone to the suspects in the White House and they had told him they had nothing to do with any leaking. Were you lied to? King asked.
"I said what I believed at the time, based on the assurances given," McClellan said. "Knowing what I know now," he added, he would not have made that all-clear statement. Gergen commented: "He was betrayed," adding, "It was terribly unfair to him."
John Dickerson, also on the show, said Ari Fleischer at the trial had not spoken truthfully on the stand when he said that he had leaked Plame's name to Dickerson. How did he react when he heard Fleischer's testimony? "Having covered the White House when Air was press secretary," Dickerson replied, "I was used to him saying things that weren't true."
Portions of the CNN transcript of Tuesday's Larry King Live, available in full here, follow...
KING: Joining us now from Washington, Scott McClellan, old friend, former White House press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006. In Raleigh, North Carolina, David Gergen served as White House advisor to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, editor at large U.S. News and professor of public service at Harvard's JFK school of government. Scott, what are you doing, by the way?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON: I have been out on the speaking circuit and kind of enjoying my post White House life. I'm looking at starting some new ventures as well but doing some communications work on the side as well too.
KING: What's your reaction to the verdict today, Scott?
MCCLELLAN: Like many of my colleagues at the White House, I'm obviously saddened for Scooter Libby and his family, but at the same time I think that this does change the equation a little bit with the American public. Once you have someone that was a member of the president's senior staff as well as the top guy to the vice president of the United States involved in criminal wrongdoing, then this changes the equation with the American people to some extent. For a long time, don't think this has been much of a story for the American people. It been more of an inside the beltway story. But now they are kind of looking at it saying, what's going on here?
KING: David, what's your read?
DAVID GERGEN, FMR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: I think that Scott is right about that. This is an administration that has been mostly free of scandal over the last six years and now they have the taint that they cannot erase. A major figure, very close to the vice president, a very powerful vice president, who was indicted and found guilty on felony charges, of lying. Those are very serious charges. He could easily go to jail while George W. Bush is president. I think it's weakened the vice president. It has damaged this White House and I think it's damaged the Republican prospects for 2008 in retaking, in taking the White House and keeping it.
KING: While the CIA leak was going on, Scott McClellan fielded lots of questions. Here's one at a briefing in October 2003. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Earlier this week you told us that neither Karl Rove, Elliott Abrams nor Lewis Libby disclosed any classified information with regard to the leak. I wonder if you can tell us more specifically whether any of them told any reporter that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA?
MCCLELLAN: Those individuals -- I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this and that's where it stands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Scott, were you lied to?
MCCLELLAN: Well, Larry, I said what I believed to be true at the time. It was also what the president believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given. Knowing what I know today, I would have never said that back then. As you heard me say in that clip, I said that those individuals assured me they were not involved in this. I did speak directly with them and I was careful about the way I phrased it at the time, even though I believed what they had told me to be the truth.
KING: David, was in a sense Scott McClellan betrayed or is that too harsh a word?
GERGEN: He was betrayed, absolutely. Unfortunately, Scott, were under the same fate that other press secretaries were in. What the public doesn't understand very well is that the press secretaries of the White House, is dual hatted. He reports to the press but in effect, he plays or she plays inside the White House the role of reporter. And you're often going around asking people for what happened so that you can go out and faithfully recount that to the reporters. If you're lied to inside, you have -- you're set up. And I must tell you, Scott is not the first to whom it's happened but it was terribly unfair to him to put him in that position.
KING: When was the last time you talked to Scooter Libby, Scott?
MCCLELLAN: The last time I saw him was the morning of his indictment. He was in the senior staff meeting. He sits directly or used to sit directly across from me in the senior staff meeting. At the time he had just come back from a skiing trip and he'd had an accident and hurt his leg and so he was on crutches. And I remember the senior staff was going on, someone was talking at the time. We all knew that something was brewing out there, that Fitzgerald was getting ready to announce an indictment and there was a lot of speculation going on. That morning, an aide walked into the senior staff meeting, an aide of Scooter Libby's and came in and handed him a note and then we all kind of turned and watched as Scooter Libby got up and left the room. There was kind of a lot of tension in that room at the moment. Everybody I think knew what was about to happen when he walked out of that room.
KING: Yeah. David Gergen, do you think there's more to come?
GERGEN: I'm not sure, Larry. I -- it's not clear to me that Mr. Fitzgerald is going to pursue this any further. What I do think is clear is that there's a lot more to know. And there had to be a reason why the defense attorney did not put Scooter Libby and the vice president on the stand, particularly after he said some days earlier that we would be hearing from them. That decision was -- I think in addition to the Tim Russert appearance, that decision was the turning point in the case. They must have had a strong reason. Perhaps Ted Wells never even knew why Scooter Libby didn't want to go on the stand. But clearly, there's somebody behind this case. Why would Scooter Libby lie as the jury determined? Why would he not take the stand? Why would the vice president not take the stand? There's clearly something they do not wish to discuss. And I don't know what that is.
MCCLELLAN: And I think, Larry, it will be interesting to see if the White House can sustain not talking about this through the appeals process. They sustained it for this long, but I think they would be better served as a communications advisor now. I would be advising the White House to get out there and find some way to talk about this in enough detail to answer some of questions that David brings up that are still hanging out there.
GERGEN: That's really interesting, Larry, that he would have come to that position. That's a very brave decision to take because I'm sure there are former colleagues of his who would like not to go down that path.
MCCLELLAN: Of course, the lawyer's always the first to say it's a legal matter. We're not going to talk about it. But that's not always the best advice from a communications standpoint, as David knows.
GERGEN: I agree.
KING: That's the advice from Scott McClellan. Scott and David will be back with us in our last two segments. Up next someone who can relate to Scooter Libby like no one else can. Susan McDougal went to prison for defending Clinton. She will share her thoughts on the Scooter Libby case when we come back.