Nine Days Later, White House Press Corps Discovers the Rove-Plame Story
The White House press corps came roaring back today, discovering the "Is Karl Rove Guilty of Leaking a CIA Operative's Name" story -- just nine days after most other media began reporting it.
And -- Whoa, Nelly! -- did they batter McClellan, early and often, with a whopping 33 questions. The press corrected McClellan spin (huzzah!), pointed out contradictions from ear;ier statements (huzzah!), and openly suggested that he was snowing them when saying he "couldn't" comment (huzzah!).
Unfortunately, McClellan offered a lot of variations of "I can't answer that" and "I've already said I can't answer that." Clearly, it was frustrating to the press corps.
But cheers nonetheless to these reporters for finally having the gumption to ask about the topic, and get McClellan on the record -- albeit a few days later than some would want. If only they were always this relentless in their pursuit for the truth.
Some key exchanges, from the official transcript:
Q Does the President stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?
McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked relating to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.
Q Excuse me, but I wasn't actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the President said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak, to press of information. And I just want to know, is that still his position?
McCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that's why I said that our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium. The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium. And so that's why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation, or questions related to it.
Q Scott, if I could -- if I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29th, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation"?
McCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. That's something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. And that's why we're continuing to follow that approach and that policy. Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
Q So could I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was okay to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?
McCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry's question at the beginning. There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their -- or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing. I think that's the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.
Q Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?
McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than we're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.
Q Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003 when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliott Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this" -- do you stand by that statement?
McCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation we're not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.
Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?
McCLELLAN: And again, David, I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said, and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation ...
Q Why are you choosing when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
McCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish ...
Q No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American people, he did, indeed, talk about his wife, didn't he?
McCLELLAN: David, there will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
Q Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?
McCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question. Go ahead, Terry.
Q Well, you're in a bad spot here, Scott, because after the investigation began, after the criminal investigation was underway, you said -- October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby, as I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this." From that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
McCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization Terry, and I think you are well aware of that. We know each other very well, and it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation. And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this, because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point, I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I'm just not going to do that.
Q Do you recall when you were asked ...
Q Wait, wait -- so you're now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore, and since then, you haven't?
McCLELLAN: Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation, and I'm just not going to respond any further.
Q When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?
McCLELLAN: Back at that time period.
Q Well, then the President commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
McCLELLAN: John, I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response. Go ahead, Dave.
Q We are going to keep asking them. When did the President learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with the President -- with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife and the decision to send ...
McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.
Q When did the President learn that Karl Rove had ...
McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions, Dick. Go ahead.
Q After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the President's word that anybody who was involved would be let go?
McCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q And a follow-up. Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove's lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff?
McCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.
Q Scott, there's a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action ...
What followed was a question about a Pakistani television report on Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. McClellan, eager to change the subject, gave a long answer about the London bombings and our continued fight against terrorism.
But soon, the press corps was after McClellan again.
Q Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?
McCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.
Q So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?
McCLELLAN: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing ...
Q Has there been -- has there been any change ...
McCLELLAN: ... investigation.
Q Has there been any change or is there a plan for Mr. Rove's portfolio to be altered in any way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you have my response to these questions.
What followed was a question about a British memo, leaked to the press today, suggesting that U.S. troops would be halved in Iraq by mid-2006. McClellan, again eager to change the subject, gave a long non-committal answer.
Thereafter, questions about Rove were interspersed with other questions. Here are the questions about Rove:
Q There's a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it. Newsweek put out a story, an email saying that Karl Rove passed national security information on to a reporter that outed a CIA officer. Now, are you saying that the President is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action, and that if he did, you still would not necessarily abide by that; that the President is free to respond to news reports, regardless of whether there's an investigation or not. So are you saying that he's not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?
McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this. This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we're just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.
Q But you acknowledge that he is free, as President of the United States, to take whatever action he wants to in response to a credible report that a member of his staff leaked information. He is free to take action if he wants to.
McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q Scott, what was the President's interaction today with Karl Rove? Did they discuss this current situation? And understanding that Karl Rove was the architect of the President's win for the second term in the Oval Office, how important is Karl Rove to this administration currently?
McCLELLAN: Again, this is coming at it from ...
Q It has nothing to do with what you just said.
McCLELLAN: This is still coming at the same question relating to reports about an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this administration?
McCLELLAN: Do you have questions on another topic?
Q No, no, no, no. Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this current administration?
McCLELLAN: I appreciate the question, April. I think I've responded.
Q Scott, I think you're barrage today in part because we -- it is now clear that 21 months ago, you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstratively false. Now, are you concerned that in not setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?
McCLELLAN: Again, I'm going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time. Dana, you all -- you and everybody in this room, or most people in this room, I should say, know me very well and they know the type of person that I am. And I'm confident in our relationship that we have. But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that's once the investigation is complete. I'm not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.
Q Scott, at this point, are we to consider what you've said previously, when you were talking about this, that you're still standing by that, or are those all inoperative at this point?
McCLELLAN: Again, you're still trying to come at this from a different angle, and I've responded to it.
Q Are you standing by what you said previously?
McCLELLAN: You've heard my response.
Q When the leak investigation is concluded, does the President believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what the -- what transpired inside the White House at the time?
McCLELLAN: This is an investigation being overseen by a special prosecutor. And I think those are questions best directed to the special prosecutor. Again, this is an ongoing matter; I'm just not going to get into commenting on it further at this time. At the appropriate time, when it's complete, then I'll be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q Have you in the White House considered whether that would be optimum to release as much information and make it as open a process ...
McCLELLAN: It's the same type of question. You're asking me to comment on an ongoing investigation, and I'm not going to do that.
Q I'm actually talking about the communication strategy, which is a little different.
McCLELLAN: Understood. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And that's what he expects people in the White House to do.
Q And he would like to that when it is concluded, cooperate fully with ...
McCLELLAN: Again, I've already responded. Go ahead.
Q Scott, was it -- who in the investigation made this request of the White House not to comment further about the investigation? Was it Mr. Fitzgerald? Did he make the request of you ...
McCLELLAN: I mean, you can ask -- you can direct those questions to the special prosecutors. I think probably more than one individual who's involved in overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. I think we all want to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. The President wants to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. And the way to help them do that is to not get into commenting on it while it is ongoing.
Q Was the request made of you, or of whom in the White House?
McCLELLAN: I already responded to these questions.
Q Yes, in your dealings with the special counsel, have you consulted a personal attorney?
McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to say anything further. I expressed all I'm going to say on this matter from this podium.