McClellan's Plame Disillusionment
Last week, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan made the media rounds to promote his insider's account of his time in the Bush administration. The book has revived interest in the Valerie Plame leak scandal, what McClellan calls a "defining moment" in his "disillusionment" with the Bush White House. Pointing to passages in the book, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) requested more documents from the FBI this week after learning that Scooter Libby, who was convicted of crimes for his role in the scandal, "told the FBI that it's possible he was instructed by Cheney to disseminate information to the press about Plame." Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Robert Wexler (D-FL) have called on McClellan to testify before Congress as well. Not surprisingly, the White House is already indicating it might try to block that testimony. Last month, Plame appealed last year's dismissal of her civil lawsuit against Bush officials for outing her identity as a CIA agent-- allowing the White House and Karl Rove to continue to duck questions about the scandal by citing the open legal case.
DID BUSH AUTHORIZE PLAME LEAK?: McClellan's account confirms that President Bush was directly behind at least one aspect of the leak scandal. Some history: In July 2003, former ambassador Joseph Wilson published a New York Times op-ed arguing that, contrary to Bush's State of the Union assertion, Wilson had found no evidence that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger, when he went on a fact-finding mission to the African country in 2002. The next day, White House officials admitted the Niger claim was based on "bogus" intelligence. Still, the White House went into attack mode to discredit Wilson. A week later, Robert Novak published a column outing Wilson's wife, Plame, as a covert CIA agent. At the same time, "Vice President Dick Cheney directed his then-chief of staff, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby" to leak to the media portions of "a then-highly classified CIA report that Cheney hoped would undermine the credibility" of Wilson. The 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) "detailed the intelligence community's conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq"; Bush instructed Cheney to "get it out" to push back against Wilson. Appearing on NBC's Today Show last week, McClellan revealed that Bush confirmed to him in 2006 that he had personally authorized the declassification of the NIE. McClellan said, "Here we were, learning that the President had authorized the same thing we had criticized" -- namely, "the selective leaking of classified information." "I was kinda taken aback," he added. This information reveals that Bush was personally involved in the push-back against Wilson. As McClellan wondered aloud to MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, "Did this set in motion the chain of events that led to the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity?"
ROVE VERSUS McCLELLAN: McClellan said on the Today Show that he "grew increasingly disillusioned" with the Bush administration when it was clear "that what I'd been told by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby -- that they were in no way involved in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity" -- turned out to be false. When asked by Olbermann whether he had ever lied from the podium, McClellan admitted that he had "unknowingly" lied "when it came to the issue of the Valerie Plame leak episode." "I had been given assurances by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby that they were not involved in the leak but it turned out later they were," he said. To rebut these charges, Rove took to the airways himself last week, "maintaining his hair-splitting defense that since he didn't use Plame's name, he didn't reveal her identity." "What I told Scott was that I didn't know her name, didn't reveal her name, didn't know what she did at the CIA, and that I wasn't the source for the leak," Rove said. On NBC's Meet the Press last Sunday, McClellan called Rove's defense "pretty disingenuous." "When I said, 'were you involved in this in any way...he categorically said, 'no,'" McClellan said. McClellan recalled Bush's vow to fire anyone in his administration involved in the leak. "I think the president should have stood by the word and that meant Karl should have left," McClellan said.
RIGHT WING POINTS TO ARMITAGE: Besides parsing his language on what, exactly, he told McClellan, Rove, and his conservative allies are deflecting McClellan's criticisms by pointing their own finger of blame to former State Department official Richard Armitage. As the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin wrote Tuesday, "Armitage was the first to disclose Plame's identity to journalists, but that doesn't change the fact that Rove and Libby did so too, likely for more nefarious reasons than Armitage, and then lied about it." Talking to Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, Rove emphasized that "the identity of Valerie Plame was leaked to Robert Novak by Richard Armitage." Right-wing website Newsbusters picked up Rove's talking points, complaining that during McClellan's interviews, "Richard Armitage, who was the actual leaker, was virtually ignored." Novak argued in a June 2 column that McClellan "virtually ignores" Armitage's role because it "undermines the Democratic theory, now accepted by McClellan, that Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove aimed to delegitimize Wilson as a war critic." Regardless of the right wing's misdirection campaign, it is a fact that Rove also directly leaked Plame's identity to at least one person: the New York Times's Matt Cooper, who said last August, "I didn't know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said that she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD."