October 01, 2003

When You're in a Hole, Stop Digging

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan tries to earn his pay by digging himself in deeper:

QUESTION: "Why did the President sit on his hands two-and-a-half-months ago and not ask his staff?"

MR. McCLELLAN: "I'm sorry, I answered this question very clearly at the time that it came up, and you need to go back and look at what I said then....

QUESTION: When did he become aware of this?....

MR. McCLELLAN: That there was an allegation that someone leaked classified information? When was that first --

QUESTION: No, no, that an undercover official of the United States government had been outed. When did the President of the United States know that? When was he informed of that? And what was his reaction? Where's the outrage, I think, was the question that was asked.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the outrage has always been made known. If someone leaks classified information -- are you -- when did --

QUESTION: When did the President know it, and what did he do about it?...

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll look back at some of this and try to get some information for you....

In short, McClellan is saying: "George Bush did not act in July, August, or September to try to uncover the principals in the Plame Affair because his staff treat him like a mushroom--someone to be kept in the basement and fed dirt. I have no idea when George Bush learned about any of this."

This is not a winning line of thought for Scott McClellan.


Talking Points Memo: by Joshua Micah Marshall: QUESTION: Scott [McClellan], the President's father, as CIA director, when he was dedicating the CIA, said at the time that outing an operative is like one of the most insidious treasons.

MR. McCLELLAN: And the President has essentially said something to that effect, as well. For a long time.

QUESTION: Okay. So why, two-and-a-half months ago when this became public, what would have kept the President then from going to his inner circle and directly asking each and every one of them whether they were the source?

McCLELLAN: How many anonymous sources make all sorts of allegations in the paper on a regular basis?

QUESTION: This isn't a routine allegation.

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information that suggests --

QUESTION: I know you're trying to turn this back on --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, I'm not trying to turn it back. I'm trying to say that we should look at the facts, that if there's specific information that you have -- I mean, all we know at this point is they're anonymous sources. And it was not a White House name.

QUESTION: I know, but the fact that the name --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are we supposed to go throughout the entire administration?

QUESTION: No, but as you said yourself --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, but are we supposed to, every time there's an allegation in the paper, are we supposed to go pursue that throughout the administration?

QUESTION: Anyone within your administration that would have access to classified information, right, could have known this. What kept the President, two-and-a-half months ago, from asking his staff --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that anyone who has access to classified information could have -- I would direct that question to justice or CIA about the people that would have access to classified information of this nature.

QUESTION: Why did the President sit on his hands two-and-a-half-months ago and not ask his staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I answered this question very clearly at the time that it came up, and you need to go back and look at what I said then.

QUESTION: But where was the outrage?

QUESTION: The President often says he gets his news not from reading the papers or watching TV, but from aides because he's very busy. Do you know if this was brought to his attention? Was he aware of this on July 14th or 15th, or in that time frame, either by reading it himself, or was it brought to his attention? I'm not asking you whether he said anything should do anything about it, but was he aware of this in a timely window --

MR. McCLELLAN: On July 14th?

QUESTION: When the Novak column came out, which I believe was July 14th. It was within that time frame.

MR. McCLELLAN: Call my predecessor. No --

QUESTION: Within a couple of days of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I haven't even asked that question.

QUESTION: Scott, it seems like a good question to ask.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: That would be a good one if you can take it.

QUESTION: It's probably worth following up on.

QUESTION: When did he become aware of this?

QUESTION: Right.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?

QUESTION: When did he become aware that --

MR. McCLELLAN: That there was an allegation that someone leaked classified information? When was that first --

QUESTION: No, no, that an undercover official of the United States government had been outed. When did the President of the United States know that? When was he informed of that? And what was his reaction? Where's the outrage, I think, was the question that was asked.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the outrage has always been made known. If someone leaks classified information -- are you -- when did --

QUESTION: When did the President know it, and what did he do about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: When did someone make the allegation that this -- that someone had leaked classified information?

QUESTION: On July 14th or 15th, it was clear that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll look back at the timing and post the information --

QUESTION: -- that the American taxpayer had invested a lot of money in the undercover status of a woman who had been outed in the newspaper. What did the President know that and what did he do about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll look back at some of this and try to get some information for you.

QUESTION: Scott, can you have something about how he was informed at that time while you're doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I will look back at that time. Some of it was before I became the press secretary, but I will look back at some of this time.

Posted by DeLong at October 1, 2003 03:09 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Sorry, I don't follow. From the transcript, it looks like the questioner asserted that the president gets his news from his staff. This is different from your summary which seems to attribute this assertion to McLellan as an explanation of why the president did not investigate the Plame affair earlier. Am I missing something?

Posted by: Sciaraffa on October 1, 2003 03:21 PM

Reading through the transcript, it looks like the attribution gets reversed partway through, starting with the below segment:


MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I answered this question very clearly at the time that it came up, and you need to go back and look at what I said then.

QUESTION: But where was the outrage?

QUESTION: The President often says he gets his news not from reading the papers or watching TV, but from aides because he's very busy. Do you know if this was brought to his attention? Was he aware of this on July 14th or 15th, or in that time frame, either by reading it himself, or was it brought to his attention? I'm not asking you whether he said anything should do anything about it, but was he aware of this in a timely window --

MR. McCLELLAN: On July 14th?

Posted by: Thane on October 1, 2003 03:42 PM

Perhaps it would be in his best interest to make it clear that the President is capable of reading a newspaper, or perhaps discerning between hundreds of anonymous allegations a day and an allegation of this type?

Posted by: filchyboy on October 1, 2003 03:42 PM

Still, it's encouraging to note that one or more of the Washington press corps remembered to use the properly resonant wording: "What did the President know, and when did he know it?"

So nice to see them doing their jobs, for a change.

Posted by: Canadian Reader on October 1, 2003 03:44 PM

Sciaraffa: Maybe you missed that whole Brit Hume interview last week, where the President said:

"I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage. ... the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

...which was discussed all over the blogosphere for days afterward. Have you been away?

Posted by: V / VJ on October 1, 2003 04:14 PM

Sciaraffa: Maybe you missed that whole Brit Hume interview last week, where the President said:

"I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage. ... the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

...which was discussed all over the blogosphere for days afterward. Have you been away?

Posted by: V / VJ on October 1, 2003 04:17 PM

You have to feel bad for McClellan -- he is in way over his head. Maybe this is why Ari Fleischer left, because he knew that the s**t was about to hit the fan. Might as well avoid weeks of torture from the press (or an indictment).

Posted by: david on October 1, 2003 04:20 PM

From what I remember, the "clueless, disconnected president" gambit worked well for Reagan during the Iran-Contra hearings.

Posted by: s.m. koppelman on October 1, 2003 04:55 PM

>In short, McClellan is saying: "George Bush did not act in July, August, or September to try to uncover the principals in the Plame Affair because his staff treat him like a mushroom--someone to be kept in the basement and fed dirt. I have no idea when George Bush learned about any of this."

>This is not a winning line of thought for Scott McClellan."

But Bra-aad, That's just not fair.

You know damned well 'neocons' never did have a whole bunch of 'plays' in their political 'book'. 'PLAY DUMB' might be the only one they have left. They already tried:

'PRETEND NOT TO NOTICE'

>The spies who pushed for war

Julian Borger

Thursday July 17, 2003

The Guardian

"As the CIA director, George Tenet, arrived at the Senate yesterday to give secret testimony on the Niger uranium affair, it was becoming increasingly clear in Washington that the scandal was only a small, well-documented symptom of a complete breakdown in US intelligence that helped steer America into war.

It represents the Bush administration's second catastrophic intelligence failure. But the CIA and FBI's inability to prevent the September 11 attacks was largely due to internal institutional weaknesses.

This time the implications are far more damaging for the White House, which stands accused of politicising and contaminating its own source of intelligence.

According to former Bush officials, all defence and intelligence sources, senior administration figures created a shadow agency of Pentagon analysts staffed mainly by ideological amateurs to compete with the CIA and its military counterpart, the Defence Intelligence Agency.

The agency, called the Office of Special Plans (OSP), was set up by the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to second-guess CIA information and operated under the patronage of hardline conservatives in the top rungs of the administration, the Pentagon and at the White House, including Vice-President Dick Cheney..."

http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4714031-103681,00.html

'PASS THE BUCK'

>America Puts Iraq Up for Sale

by Philip Thornton in Dubai and Andrew Gumbel

published by the Independent

September 22, 2003

"Iraq was in effect put up for sale yesterday when the American-appointed administration announced it was opening up all sectors of the economy to foreign investors in a desperate attempt to deliver much-needed reconstruction against a daily backdrop of kidnappings, looting and violent death.

In an unexpected move unveiled at the meeting in Dubai of the Group of Seven rich nations, the Iraqi Governing Council announced sweeping reforms to allow total foreign ownership without the need for prior approval.

The initiative bore all the hallmarks of Washington's ascendant neoconservative lobby..."


http://www.americas.org/subject/9-11-clippings/2003-9-22-Independent_Iraq_Privatize.htm

and

>'INTIMIGATE'

"...The recent story of the Bush Administration leaking classified information in an effort to defame a WMD report is just the latest in a well-established pattern. A look at the historical record shows that the Bush Administration has summarily fired, intimidated and defamed anyone who has had the courage to tell the truth..."

http://www.commondreams.org/news2003/0930-12.htm

And it's, ahem, perfectly clear, now, that none of those did the 'DIRTY TRICK'.


(Can 'MODIFIED LIMITED HANGOUT' be far behind <];?)

Posted by: Mike on October 1, 2003 05:36 PM

That gambit did work to a certain degree, but it may be the sort of defense that only works once...

Posted by: Steven Rogers on October 1, 2003 05:37 PM

Poor Scott! There never will be another Ari.... (sigh).

And he inherits all of Ari's enemies, all primed for bear already, while Scott's still got the training wheels on his spincycle....

Posted by: Zizka on October 1, 2003 06:04 PM

Poor Scott! There never will be another Ari.... (sigh).

And he inherits all of Ari's enemies, all primed for bear already, while Scott's still got the training wheels on his spincycle....

Posted by: Zizka on October 1, 2003 06:09 PM

In the round of questions posted on Josh Marshall's site, McClellan could not say when Bush learned of the outing. He was asked to find out when, and how, and, somewhat less clearly, how Bush responded. From this morning's Post:

McClellan said he could not say when Bush first learned of the leak. "I looked into it, and I just don't know," he said.

Posted by: Masaccio on October 2, 2003 09:35 AM
Post a comment