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Context of 'June 10, 2004: Bush Says He Will Stand by Pledge to Fire Leakers'

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Scott McClellan and Karl Rove.Scott McClellan and Karl Rove. [Source: Doug Mills / New York Times]Newly promoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan takes part in his first truly contentious White House press briefing. He will later recall feeling “well prepared,” both from the morning’s less formal “press gaggle” and from a prebriefing preparation session with his staff. He has confirmed from President Bush and White House chief of staff Andrew Card that the White House had no involvement in the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan is authorized to say that anyone involved in the leak “would no longer be in this administration”; Bush has said, “I would fire anybody involved.” McClellan will later write, “I had his full, unequivocal approval.” Bush has also reminded McClellan to ask reporters to come forward if they know who the leakers are. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]
Leakers 'Would No Longer Be Part of This Administration' - During the briefing, McClellan says that it is “simply not true” that White House political adviser Karl Rove is involved in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity (see September 26, 2003 and September 27, 2003). He says, after frequent questioning about Bush being “passive” about the possibility of criminal activities in the White House, “If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.” [White House, 9/29/2003; New York Times, 2006]
Denying Rove's Involvement - McClellan denies again and again that Rove or any other White House official leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. “[T]hat is not the way this White House operates,” he says. “The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there—I’ve seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who ‘anonymous’ was, it would make my life a whole lot easier.… [A]nyone—anyone—who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.” The only information suggesting White House involvement has come from the media, McClellan says. A reporter asks McClellan about his statement earlier in the day that “the president knows” Rove did not leak Plame Wilson’s name. McClellan says: “I’ve said that it’s not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.… [Bush is] aware of what I’ve said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.” When pressed about discussing the matter with Rove, McClellan adds, somewhat contradictorily: “I’ve known Karl for a long time, and I didn’t even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.… I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I’ve already addressed it.” McClellan refuses to answer repeated questions about any possible White House investigations or attempts to find the leakers, repeating his answer that any such investigation is a task best left to the Justice Department and repeatedly asking reporters if they have any information about the leaks. He dodges repeated questions about the possibility of Attorney General John Ashcroft appointing a special counsel to investigate the leaks (see December 30, 2003). [White House, 9/29/2003]
'Aggressive' Push Back against Reporters' 'Assumptions' and 'Challenges' - McClellan will later describe his performance at the briefing as “push[ing] back aggressively on assumptions embedded in the questions, and challeng[ing] reporters to produce information suggesting that White House aides were responsible for the leak.” He will write: “Those last words [the statement that anyone caught leaking information ‘would no longer be part of this administration’] would get plenty of media play over the next few years, particularly as important information came to light. With the president’s approval and his oft-stated commitment to honor and integrity embedded in my mind, I could not have been more confident in what I said.” The post-briefing critique with his staff, he will recall, is “very positive.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 187-189]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Scott McClellan, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A reporter asks President Bush in reference to allegations that White House officials leaked the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, “[D]o you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so” (see September 29, 2003)? Bush responds: “Yes. And that’s up to the US Attorney to find the facts.” [White House, 6/10/2004] Bush will later modify his position to say that he would fire anyone convicted of a criminal offense (see July 18, 2005), and will refuse to fire White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 13, 2005) after he admits to being one of the leakers (see July 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff reveals that White House political strategist and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was Time reporter Matthew Cooper’s source in revealing that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA operative (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Isikoff learns that Rove was Cooper’s source from Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin. Rove has given Cooper permission to testify about their conversations surrounding Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, and anonymously confirms his identity as the source. There is no indication in Cooper’s notes or e-mails to suggest that Rove knew Plame Wilson was a covert operative. However, Isikoff notes, “it is significant that Rove was speaking to Cooper before Novak’s column appeared; in other words, before Plame’s identity had been published.” A “source close to Rove” says, “A fair reading of the [Cooper] e-mail makes clear that the information conveyed was not part of an organized effort to disclose Plame’s identity, but was an effort to discourage Time from publishing things that turned out to be false.” In 2008, current White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write that Luskin’s confirmation is “part of Karl’s and Luskin’s strategy.” Luskin continues to publicly insist that Rove never actually leaked Plame Wilson’s identity. [Newsweek, 7/10/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 261] He tells a Washington Post reporter that while Rove mentioned someone he identified as “Wilson’s wife,” he never actually identified her to Cooper by name. Rove also identified Plame Wilson, falsely, as the person who sent Wilson to Niger on behalf of the CIA (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). [Washington Post, 7/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Michael Isikoff, Karl C. Rove, Joseph C. Wilson, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush says he is withholding judgment on whether senior political adviser Karl Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. Rove has been identified in court testimony as having disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate journalists, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2005) and Matthew Cooper (see July 6, 2005). Bush has said repeatedly that anyone identified as leaking Plame Wilson’s identity would be fired (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). He now says it would be wrong for him to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation. “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation,” he says. “I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” Bush makes these statements with Rove literally sitting at his elbow. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin indicates that Rove already told the grand jury of his conversation with Cooper (see July 17, 2003). “Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation,” Luskin says. “Rove has done nothing wrong. We’re confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence.” Rove’s supporters inside and outside the administration emphasize that Rove never told the reporter Plame Wilson’s actual name, nor mentioned her undercover status, but merely told Cooper that “Joseph Wilson’s wife” worked at the CIA. Critics note that it would take anyone a matter of moments to identify Plame Wilson as Wilson’s wife. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have asked Bush to revoke Rove’s security clearance. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says the issue of whether Rove actually broke the law is not the only issue. “We just don’t hold those working at the closest and highest levels to the president to a criminal standard and say, ‘If you have not committed a crime, show up for work tomorrow morning,’” he says. [New York Times, 7/14/2005] Days later, Bush will modify his earlier statements, saying that someone who has committed a crime would no longer work in his administration (see July 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: House Intelligence Committee, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Karl C. Rove, Robert Luskin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Beth Slavet, Charles Schumer, Dan Bartlett, Henry A. Waxman, Elaine Kaplan, Scott McClellan, George W. Bush, John Conyers, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Washington Post reporter Dan Froomkin writes that since special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has decided not to charge White House political strategist Karl Rove with any crime related to the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see June 13, 2006), it is up to the press to find out the extent of Rove’s involvement. “The White House has long maintained—spuriously, I might add—that the ongoing criminal investigation precluded them from answering any questions even vaguely related to Rove’s conduct,” Froomkin writes. “Now, without charges against Rove in the offing, the media should demand answers to a slew of questions. The overriding issue: Just because Rove wasn’t charged with a crime doesn’t mean his conduct meets the standards the public expects from its White House. If Rove was irresponsibly lax with classified information, if he intentionally misled the press, the press secretary, and the president, if he conspired with fellow White House aides to punish someone who spoke out against the president—all of which appears to be the case—what is he still doing serving as the president’s most trusted aide?” Froomkin continues: “Is a criminal indictment the only thing that gets someone in trouble over there? Here’s a question for Bush: You said you’d fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003, June 10, 2004, and June 10, 2004). Rove no longer faces criminal charges, but undeniably was involved. Now that nothing you do or say can in any way influence the criminal investigation, will you tell us what you know and when you knew it? Will you fire him? Will you strip him of his security clearance? It seems to me that the White House has a variety of options: Admit Rove misled the president and his colleagues; admit the president and his colleagues misled the public on his behalf; admit they intentionally engaged in legalistic hairsplitting; or sweep it all under the rug. It’s up to the press corps to rule out the last of those options.” [Washington Post, 6/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Karl C. Rove, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Dan Froomkin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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