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Context of 'October 4, 2003: White House Chief of Staff Asks Reluctant Press Secretary to Tell Reporters that Libby Knew Nothing of Leak'

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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

The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, John D. Roberts, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

A retyped version of Libby’s handwritten note suggesting what McClellan should say to reporters.A retyped version of Libby’s handwritten note suggesting what McClellan should say to reporters. [Source: US District Court for the District of Columbia / Think Progress]Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who is suspected of leaking CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), implores Cheney to have press secretary Scott McClellan publicly exonerate him. In a note whose contents will later be made public during the runup to Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005 and January 16-23, 2007), Libby suggests what McClellan should say to the press:
bullet “People have made too much of the difference in
bullet “How I described Karl and Libby
bullet “I’ve talked to Libby.
bullet “I said it was ridiculous about Karl
bullet “And it is ridiculous about Libby.
bullet “Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
bullet “And he did not leak classified information.” [Think Progress, 4/6/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2009 pdf file]
Cheney will write a note recommending Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003). McClellan will use much of Libby’s wording in his statement to the press (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 217-218] Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Andrew Card, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

White House press secretary Scott McClellan reiterates the White House’s stance that three senior aides—deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and National Security Council official Elliott Abrams—bear no responsibility for leaking the identity of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. McClellan has already made the same assurances before (see September 29, 2003 and October 4, 2003). During a press briefing, he is asked: “Scott, you have said that you personally went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliott Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that? And can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked them?” McClellan replies: “Yes, unfortunately, in Washington, DC, at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that’s exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They’re good individuals. They’re important members of our White House team. And that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that, in the beginning (see October 4, 2003), but I like to check my information to make sure it’s accurate before I report back to you. And that’s exactly what I did.” A reporter asks: “You’re saying, categorically, those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks. Is that what you’re saying?” McClellan responds: “That’s correct. I have spoken with them.” A reporter then asks, “Did the president direct you to check with those individuals and get—to find out if they were the leaker?” McClellan refuses to answer directly, but says that President Bush “wants… to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better,” and touts the White House’s “full cooperation” with the Justice Department investigation. Asked the same question again, McClellan again emphasizes the White House’s cooperation with the investigation, and adds, “I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals are not involved.” He gives a similar answer when asked if Bush wants someone “to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is,” and adds that no one in the White House has any more information on the matter than has been made available in the media—a blanket, if indirect, denial of any White House involvement. McClellan also notes that it would be “premature” to speculate if the White House will claim executive privilege to keep any information out of the investigation (see October 7, 2003). [Washington Transcript Service, 10/7/2003]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Elliott Abrams, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Frank Lautenberg, one of the Senate Democrats critical of the White House’s response to the leak investigation.Frank Lautenberg, one of the Senate Democrats critical of the White House’s response to the leak investigation. [Source: Washington Post]Congressional Democrats question whether President Bush and White House officials are trying to influence the Plame Wilson leak investigation through their comments. Recently, Bush told reporters that he doubted the person or persons who leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press would ever be identified (see October 7, 2003). While administration officials say Bush was just acknowledging the difficulties such an investigation presents, Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) says his comments threaten to undermine the investigation by lowering expectations. “If the president says, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to find this person,’ what kind of a statement is that for the president of the United States to make?” Lautenberg asks. “Would he say that about a bank-robbery investigation? He should be as indignant as everybody else is over this breach.” Bush, says Lautenberg, “certainly seems far less certain about finding the leaker than he is about finding Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein.” Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson agrees. “This goes far beyond someone identifying my wife,” he says. “This was a breach of public trust, and I would think it would behoove the president to ensure that the appropriate assets are devoted to identifying the leaker.” In contrast, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that criticism of the investigation “appear[s] to be more about politics than about getting to the bottom of the investigation.” Democrats are also critical of the White House’s vocal opposition to the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. And they question McClellan’s recent attempts to exonerate three administration officials—Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Elliott Abrams—from any responsibility for the leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 5, 2003). In a letter to Bush, four Democratic senators—Tom Daschle (D-SD), Carl Levin (D-MI), Joseph Biden (D-DE), and Charles Schumer (D-NY)—write that McClellan’s assurances are part of an overall pattern of missteps and errors surrounding the White House’s response to the leak investigation. McClellan lacks the legal expertise to question possible suspects, they note. “The White House has now put the Justice Department in the position of having to determine not only what happened, but also whether to contradict the publicly stated position of the White House,” the senators write. Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says that anything White House officials say has “nothing to do with this investigation. The investigation will follow the facts.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/10/2003]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Charles Schumer, Carl Levin, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Frank R. Lautenberg, US Department of Justice, Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Joseph C. Wilson, Elliott Abrams, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Mark Corallo, Tom Daschle, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Terry Moran, ABC News’s chief White House correspondent, tells ABC host George Stephanopoulos that he believes White House press secretary Scott McClellan unwittingly lied to reporters when he asserted that White House staffers Karl Rove (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, September 29, 2003, and September 29, 2003) and Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003) knew nothing of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. “He was telling falsehoods right at us over and over unwittingly,” Moran says. Asked if McClellan knew he was lying, Moran replies: “No. And he signaled he wants to tell us the story,” referring to McClellan’s comments that he would like to be able to discuss his public support of Rove and Libby. Stephanopoulos asks, “[Y]ou say he didn’t know it, so that means Karl Rove lied to him?” “Yes,” Moran answers, “yes.” Moran notes that the White House will most likely do nothing except continue to “stonewall” and deny involvement: “My sense it right now they’ll kick this down the road. They’ll say it’s a continuing case and we’re going to kick it down the road.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 265-266]

Entity Tags: Terry Moran, ABC News, Bush administration (43), George Stephanopoulos, Karl C. Rove, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Scott McClellan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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