White House doesn't deny McClellan's Bush-to-Libby leak allegation
Eric BrewerPublished: Friday May 30, 2008
In Scott McClellan's recent statements to the press regarding his apostasy, he says that one of the things that pushed him over the edge was the revelation on April 6, 2006, that President Bush had secretly authorized the selective release to reporters of classified information, something that both the president and his then-spokesman McClellan had been vigorously condemning in their public statements about the Valerie Plame leak case.
"I walk onto Air Force One and a reporter had yelled a question to the president trying to ask him a question about this revelation that had come out during the [Libby] legal proceedings," McClellan told the Today Show's Meredith Viera on Thursday morning. "The revelation was that it was the president who had authorized, or enabled, Scooter Libby to go out there and talk about this information. And I told the president that that's what the reporter was asking. He was saying that you, yourself, were the one that authorized the leaking of this information. And he said, 'Yeah, I did.' And I was kinda taken aback."
So "taken aback" evidently that he announced his resignation thirteen days later.
At Friday's morning gaggle in the White House briefing room I asked Press Secretary Dana Perino whether McClellan's claim about what Bush said to him on Air Force One was true. The classified information McClellan was talking about was the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, portions of which were leaked to reporters in the summer of 2003 as part of the Bush administration's counter-attack on Joe Wilson, who had accused the White House of using twisted intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq.
Yesterday, another reporter asked a similar question, but had interpreted Scott's remark as referring to the Plame leak, which is not a claim McClellan explicitly makes.
Today I asked Perino the following question (note: the gaggle was off-camera, and no official transcript was provided by the White House):
Me: Yesterday you were asked about Scott's assertion that in early April 2006 he relayed to President Bush a reporter's question about whether the president had personally authorized Scooter Libby's leaking of classified information, to which the president replied, according to Scott, "Yeah, I did." Did the president make that statement?
Perino: The question I got was whether or not the president had authorized the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity. That's not what the book says. That's what the question was, that's not what the book says. And that's the question that I didn't answer because I knew that's not what the book says.
Me: But can you answer my question, right now?
Perino: I didn't understand your question, because you asked me about a question I was asked yesterday that was mischaracterized.
Me: Well, Scott has asserted that in early April of 2006 he relayed to President Bush a reporter's question about whether the president had personally authorized Scooter Libby's leaking of classified information, to which the president replied, according to Scott, "Yeah, I did." Did the president say "Yeah, I did" to Scott?
Perino: I have no idea whether he said that or not.
Me: Well, have you asked him?
Perino: No, I haven't. And I think it's kind of unreasonable to expect anyone to remember a specific conversation like that. But let me just say one thing. That's commenting specifically on the Libby and Plame case. Because it's still a matter of civil litigation, I'm not going to get myself embroiled in that. I don't think there's anything improper about pushing back on the public record when it needs to be pushed back on. And the case that you're talking about is the NIE on Iraq, and that was declassified.
At least that's the story put out by the Bush administration and by Scooter Libby, who was convicted of two counts of perjury, one count of making false statements to the FBI, and one count of obstruction of justice.
In reality, the NIE was "officially declassified" (those are Scott McClellan's words, by the way) on July 18, ten days after Scooter Libby leaked it to the New York Times's Judy Miller in their meeting in the St. Regis Hotel. But there was something else that Scooter leaked to Judy at that July 8 meeting.
As firedoglake's Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, Scooter Libby was asked to leak something to Judy Miller on July 8 that was so unprecedented, so hush-hush, so on the Q.T., that he wasn't willing to do it until he had gotten assurances from Vice President Cheney that the president himself had authorized it. It doesn't make sense that he would have been that worried about leaking the NIE, because he had already leaked the NIE twice before, to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post on June 27, and to David Sanger of the New York Times on July 2.
So what was it then that made Scooter so nervous? The other thing he leaked to Judy that day at the St. Regis was that Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, worked for the CIA.