McClellan: 'I'll tell them what I know'
Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan is agreeing to go where other former administration officials have feared to tread -- before a congressional committee investigating his former boss's misdeeds.
McClellan's recently published tell-all memoir has created a stir with its revelations about the use of "propaganda" by President Bush and his confidants to tell the Iraq war. The book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, is also reigniting inquiries into the outing of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, and McClellan has been invited to testify about his disclosures regarding administration officials' involvement in that saga.
"I'll tell them what I know," McClellan told MSNBC host Keith Olbermann Monday night, regarding his scheduled appearance next week in front of the House Judiciary Committee. "I think Patrick Fitzgerald had it about right when he said during the trial of Scooter Libby that she became just another talking point in this effort to discredit Joe Wilson. That's unfortunate. Whether or not there was any criminal activity involved, I don`t know. It was wrong to do that. And I will speak to the questions that they ask me and share exactly what I know."
Since publishing his book, McClellan has been roundly excoriated by his former colleagues who remain loyal to the president. Olbermann noted these attacks have mostly boiled down to "character assassination," and further insistence that the administration's pre-war claims were based on faulty intelligence that everyone believed.
The two went on to discuss a recent Senate Intelligence Committee report that showed the administration twisted the findings of the Intelligence Community in pushing for the invasion of Iraq.
McClellan said that report, which itself was five years in the making, was one the administration never wanted to see the light of day.
"The White House can continue to bury their heads in the sand, but the reality is still the same," he said. "I think the American people see it for exactly what it is.
"The Senate Intelligence Committee closely tracks exactly what I write about in my book. We came to the very same conclusion, that the intelligence was used in a way that made the threat sound more grave and more urgent and more serious than it was," he continued. "When you go to war, an issue as serious as war, the American people need openness and candor. And that was absent from this administration in the build up to the war."
This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast June 9, 2008.
A partial transcript appears below:
OLBERMANN: We spoke last time about the prospect of you testifying. You said
it was all in the book. Why are you testifying?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the House Judiciary Committee reached out to me. They
invited me to come testify. As I said before, I'm glad to share my views. And I told them I was glad to share what I know about the Valerie Plame leak episode. So I will be going before the committee a week from Friday, on the 20th of this month.
OLBERMANN: Do you have any doubt that key people in the administration were willing to sacrifice a CIA asset like Valerie Plame just to punish her husband and stifle critics? Will you testify to that effect before the committee?
MCCLELLAN: I'll tell them what I know. I am not going to get into things that I don't know about. I think Patrick Fitzgerald had it about right when he said during the trial of Scooter Libby that she became just another talking point in this effort to discredit Joe Wilson. That
s unfortunate. Whether or not there was any criminal activity involved, I dont know. It was wrong to do that. And I will speak to the questions that they ask me and share exactly what I know.
OLBERMANN: To your knowledge, is it only going to be about the Plame outing and your sort of tangential part in it, or are they going to go in Judiciary and ask you anything else about the selling of the war or any other topic?
MCCLELLAN: We'll see. The letter they sent said specifically about the
Valerie Plame leak episode, and the potential concerns that there might have been a cover-up, I think is the way Chairman Conyers phrased it in a letter. If they get into other questions, we
ll go from there.<br>
OLBERMANN: The few substantive answers to your book, other than the character assassination attempts, have basically boiled down to, and even the ones from the White House have been, gosh, everybody thought we had WMD. We were just as surprised as anybody else. Do you think, having seen the operation in effect first hand and even participated in it, do you think were seeing a second phase of that, not to use the Rockefeller Committee
s phraseology? Is this a second attempt by the White House to mislead the American people about Iraq retroactively?<br>
MCCLELLAN: What I do know is that the White House never wanted to have the way the case was made, the way the intelligence was used to sell the war to the American people looked into or investigated by Congress. This was delayed for quite some time. And finally Chairman Rockefeller, Senator Rockefeller, pushed this forward to get to the truth. And the White House can continue to bury their heads in the sand, but the reality is still the same. I think the American people see it for exactly what it is.<br>
The Senate Intelligence Committee closely tracks exactly what I write about in my book. We came to the very same conclusion, that the intelligence was used in a way that made the threat sound more grave and more urgent and more serious than it was. When you go to war, an issue as serious as war, the American people need openness and candor. And that was absent from this administration in the build up to the war.<br>
OLBERMANN: Scott, let me put two things together; the Intelligence Committee report, very powerful in those respects, as you
describe, and what you said the last time you were here with us on the 29th of May, this was about Saddam's supposed nuclear ambitions. You said the intelligence was packaged together in a way to make it sound more ominous and more grave and more urgent than it really was. I dont think that this was some deliberate conscious effort to go and mislead the American people. If the purpose of the repackaging of the intelligence was not a deliberate effort to mislead the American people into supporting that war, what do you think it was?
s a good question. What I talk about in my book is I think they got caught up in this permanent campaign culture, and everyone was focused on how do we make the strongest case. You dont make the strongest case by talking about the caveats and contradictions and intelligence that contradicts what you
re saying. We can get into this argument of whether or not it was deliberate or not. The result is that it was very troubling that we went into war in a less than open and candid way, and the consequences are playing out before us right now.<br>
In some ways, its problematic in its own right, whether or not it was
delivered or not. I think the intention there by some of these people may have been well intentioned, but they lost sight of what
s most needed during the time of the war making process, which is to speak the truth to the American people, make sure they understand the consequences, the realities and the truth as best we know them, what the threat is and how serious it is, before we make the decision to go into war.<br>
OLBERMANN: Is it problematic for you now, has it become so, the more feedback you get about your book, the more people you talk to about it who say, you're absolutely right, as if you didnt know that -- do you find yourself internally questioning that central conclusion? Do you wonder if maybe it was more deliberate than you
ve given them credit for?<br>
MCCLELLAN: I dont think there was a conspiracy theory there, some conspiracy to deliberately mislead. I don
t want to imply a sinister intent. There might have been some individuals that knew more than others and tried to push things forward in a certain way, and thats something I can
t speak to. I dont think that you had a bunch of people sitting around a room, planning and plotting in a sinister way. That
s the point I make in the book. At the same time, whether or not it was sinister or not, it was very troubling that we went to war on this basis.<br>
OLBERMANN: A fair point, one way or the other. Lastly, this book tour must be an eye opener. When the interviews have not been sympathetic -- I don;t want to go into details about it -- did it strike you when you encountered interviewers who were not -- either wanted to continue to believe the administration's point of view or they think youve been programmed by the left or administration critics or they have other explanations other than you`re telling the truth and felt like you needed to do so? Have you been startled by these people? You mentioned the White House and their heads in the sands. Does it seem to you there are a lot of people out there whose heads are still in the sand about all this?
MCCLELLAN: I think that is the case. I think some people would rather we not talk about how the intelligence was used. They would just simply like to say, the intelligence was wrong but they were basing it on the intelligence. And that's not entirely accurate as we see from the Senate Intelligence Committee and the report they put forth, that, by the way, was endorsed by ten individuals on the committee, including two Republican members of that committee.
But one of things that some of the people argue out there that you know I'm
helping the president's critics; I'm out there to talk about the important
truths. And the fact that the administration wasn't candid is the reason the critics have standing.
OLBERMANN: Scott McClellan, author of "What Happened." I'll say it again, a Rosetta Stone for understanding the last seven years, his account of
his time in the press office during the Bush presidency. Scott, again, thanks for your time.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Keith.