White House press briefing: What the hell is going on?


White House Press Briefing. Edited for Rove-specific content, though almost all is about Rove; Monday's briefing exhibited perhaps the most vitriol from the press yet over the White House's refusal to answer questions -- at one point one reporter seething with irritation, saying, 'What the hell is going on?'

Q Scott, the President seemed to raise the bar and add a qualifier today when discussing whether or not anybody would be dismissed for -- in the leak of a CIA officer's name, in which he said that he would -- if someone is found to have committed a crime, they would no longer work in this administration. That's never been part of the standard before, why is that added now?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree, Terry. I think that the President was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they're not going to be working any longer in this administration. Now the President talked about how it's important for us to learn all the facts. We don't know all the facts, and it's important that we not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. We need to let the investigation continue. And the investigators are the ones who are in the best position to gather all the facts and draw the conclusions. And at that point, we will be more than happy to talk about it, as I indicated last week.


The President directed the White House to cooperate fully, and that's what we've been doing. We want to know what the facts are, we want to see this come to a successful conclusion. And that's the way we've been working for quite some time now. Ever since the beginning of this investigation, we have been following the President's direction to cooperate fully with it, so that we can get to the -- so that the investigators can get to the bottom of it.

Q But you have said, though, that anyone involved in this would no longer be in this administration, you didn't say anybody who committed a crime. You had said, in September 2003, anyone involved in this would no longer be in the administration.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we've been through these issues over the course of the last week. And I know --

Q But we haven't talked about a crime.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- well what was said previously. You heard from the President today. And I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the President said at this point. And I think that's something you may be trying to do here.

Q Does the President equate the word "leaking" to a crime, as best you know, in his mind? Just the use of the word "leaking," does he see that as a criminal standard? And is the only threshold for firing someone involved being charged with a crime?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we all serve at the pleasure of the President in this White House. The President -- you heard what he had to say on the matter. He was asked a specific question, and you heard his response.

Q Is leaking, in your judgment of his interpretation, a crime?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll leave it at what the President said.

Go ahead.

Q What is his problem? Two years, and he can't call Rove in and find out what the hell is going on? I mean, why is it so difficult to find out the facts? It costs thousands, millions of dollars, two years, it tied up how many lawyers? All he's got to do is call him in.

MR. McCLELLAN: You just heard from the President. He said he doesn't know all the facts. I don't know all the facts.

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to know what the facts are. Because --

Q Why doesn't he ask him?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you why, because there's an investigation that is continuing at this point, and the appropriate people to handle these issues are the ones who are overseeing that investigation. There is a special prosecutor that has been appointed. And it's important that we let all the facts come out. And then at that point, we'll be glad to talk about it, but we shouldn't be getting into --

Q You talked about it to reporters.

MR. McCLELLAN: We shouldn't be getting into prejudging the outcome.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, we don't know all the facts, but we know some of the facts. For example, Matt Cooper says he did speak to Karl Rove and Lewis Libby about these issues. So given the fact that you have previously stood at that podium and said these men did not discuss Valerie Plame or a CIA agent's identity in any way, does the White House have a credibility problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. You just answered your own question. You said we don't know all the facts. And I would encourage everyone not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.

Q But on the specifics -- on the specifics, you made statements that have proven to be untrue.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me answer your question, because you asked a very specific question. The President has great faith in the American people and their judgment. The President is the one who directed the White House to cooperate fully in this investigation with those who are overseeing the investigation. And that's exactly what we have been doing. The President believes it's important to let the investigators do their work, and at that point, once they have come to a conclusion, then we will be more than happy to talk about it.

The President wants to see them get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. I share that view, as well. We want to know what the facts are, and the investigators are the ones who are drawing those -- are pulling together those facts, and then drawing conclusions.

Go ahead, Bob.

Q Given the new formulation "if somebody committed a crime," would that be a crime as determined by an indictment, or a crime as determined by a conviction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Bob, I'm not going to add to what the President said. You heard his remarks, and I think I've been through these issues over the course of the last week. I don't know that there's really much more to add at this point.

Q But the importance is the question of would -- if it is the latter, the strategy would be to run out the clock?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I indicated to you earlier that everyone here serves at the pleasure of the President. And the White House has been working to cooperate fully with the investigators. That was the direction that the President set. That's what we've been doing. We hope they come to a conclusion soon.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, going back to the President's statements from earlier -- if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration -- it makes me go back to the question I asked you last Wednesday, is there regret from this administration of what it has done to the Wilson family, with the CIA leak? And I talked to Mr. Wilson prior to going into the East Room, and he basically said, the American people deserve an apology, and that his family was basically collateral damage in a bigger picture.

MR. McCLELLAN: All these questions are getting into prejudging the outcome of the investigation, and we're not going to do that.

Q But if someone -- if the President acknowledged that there was a problem, and it could be a criminal problem, if he acknowledged that, isn't there some sort of regret?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a criminal investigation. We don't know all the facts to it.

Go ahead.

Q Well, is there any regret from this White House that it has caused an American family who worked for this government --

MR. McCLELLAN: I heard what you had to say and I've already answered it.

Q No, you didn't.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Scott, the President talked about if a crime were committed. But a year ago and beyond, he also talked about -- he denounced leaks out of this executive branch, other parts of Washington. He said, things are wrong. If it's only a leak, will he take some appropriate action?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look back at what the President said again. I would not read anything into it more than what he said. The President has said for a long time that this is a very serious matter, and that's why he directed the White House to cooperate fully, so that the investigators can get to the bottom of it.

Q Scott, first of all, I have a great respect for this White House press corps and they're very nice and kind to me.

MR. McCLELLAN: I do, too. (Laughter.) They're doing their job.

Q What I'm -- my question -- comment, also, about when the leaders visit the White House, and they have press availability in the East Room, not only the India today, but any Prime Minister or President. I feel it's kind of insult to that leader, he's standing there, only two questions, but only his own people are asking about his visit or his nation, but other questions are always on different topics. I feel, personally, it's insult to that leader and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I didn't get --

Q -- that if it's the Indian leader visiting here, that press availability should be only on India.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, okay. I think you're opinion is noted. Go ahead.

Q Scott, I just want to sort of go back over this. Insofar as you're telling us that we shouldn't read anything new into the President's comments today, should we then take that to mean that if there is criminal activity, that person would be fired, but this does not render inoperative those things that the President has said "yes" or responded in the affirmative to in the past when asked, for instance, if you would fire somebody if they were involved in a leak?

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read anything into it. You said, "new." I wouldn't read anything into it beyond what he said.

Q So the previous statements remain operative?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, once the investigation is concluded, then we can talk about it at that point. But those are decisions for the President to make.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, Jack Kelly of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette notes that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act defines a covert agent as someone working undercover overseas. He notes Valerie Plame has manned a desk at the CIA headquarters since 1997, while Mark Stein of the Chicago Sun Times notes that Valerie's husband conceded on CNN that she is not a clandestine officer and hasn't been one for six years, so leaking her CIA connection did not endanger her life or comprise her mission.

And my question -- I have a follow up -- would you or the President or Karl Rove disagree with these two nationally syndicated columnists?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think those are matters for the investigators to look at, and I think I've said about all there is to say about it at this point.

Go ahead.

Let me go to David, and then I'll come back to the third row.

Q Scott, with apologies for returning to this definitional issue that we seem to be dancing around. But what I'm having a hard time with is you're telling us that there was nothing new in what the President said today, yet you have said before that the President would terminate somebody or somebody would not work here if they were involved in the issue. The President seemed to set a higher bar today by saying that there was a -- if they were convicted of a criminal act. Those are not the same thing on their face. And I'm trying to see whether or not you can tell us the standard has changed?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would say that I would not read anything into it more than that what the President said, and that's what I would encourage you to do. I think --

Q That is the current standard?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you should not read anything into it more than that at this point. And in terms of what was said previously, you can go back and look at everything in the context of what things were said at that point.

In terms of as we move forward, it's best at this point that we just let the investigation continue and let them gather all the facts and come to their conclusions, then we can talk about it.

Q But the White House standard is the one the President enunciated today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I've addressed that question and said how you should view it.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, back in October 2003, you did assure us that you'd spoken with Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams, and they'd all assured you that they weren't involved in any of this. So with regard to Libby and Abrams, do you still stand by that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Last week I think I assured you that I want to do everything I can to help the investigators get to the bottom of this. I will be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete. I've been stating that position for a long time now, and that's where it stands.

Q So with regard to that, how concerned is the President and you that, notwithstanding that you don't want to talk about it, that Ken Mehlman and other senior Republicans are all over the airwaves doing just that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can direct those questions to the Republican National Committee.

Ken, go ahead.

Q Scott, without asking about the content of the conversation, has the President asked Karl Rove to detail any involvement he might have had in any leaks?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President directed the White House to cooperate fully. This is a serious matter. As the President indicated, he doesn't know all the facts. And we all want to know what the facts are. He'll be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete, and we hope that the investigators get to the bottom of it soon. And that's the -- I think that's the response to that.

Q Has the special prosecutor made any request to this White House that prevents the President from speaking to his top aides about any topic?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask the prosecutors those questions, if they want to comment more on it.

Go ahead, Richard.

Q Has anyone here in the White House been assigned with coordinating with the Republican National Committee and other Republican members of Congress speaking out about this issue, the Karl Rove issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed these issues. Some of this came up last week and again today.

Go ahead.


Q Scott, I just wonder -- Scott, on a personal, human note, how are you holding out? Are you enjoying this? (Laughter.) Seriously. And are you consulting with any of your predecessors who have also gone through crises, Mike McCurry --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are so few things I enjoy more. (Laughter.) Connie, this is nothing personal. Everybody is doing their job here, and I respect the job that you all are doing in this room. And I look forward to having a continuing constructive relationship with everybody in this room.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:26 P.M. EDT

Originally published on Monday July 18, 2005.


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