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“This is not a matter of inspections. It is about disarmament of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and the Iraqi regime’s compliance with all other Security Council resolutions.”
“These individuals are terrorists or supporters of terrorism and we are at war on terrorism and the reasons for detaining enemy combatants in the first place is to gather intelligence and make sure that these enemy combatants don’t return to help our enemies plot attacks or carry out attacks on the United States.” [BBC, 10/10/2003]
The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) files a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking that the courts reverse a recent FDA decision not to allow the so-called “morning-after” birth-control drug “Plan B” to be sold without a prescription (see May 6, 2004 and After). The CRR says the FDA’s decision was made based on politics and not science. CCR president Nancy Northrup will say that the FDA’s decision “broke its own rules, held Plan B to a higher standard than other over-the-counter drugs, and [as a result,] women have suffered the consequences.” Testimony and depositions gathered indicate that the FDA indeed placed politics over science in its decision. One scientist says that a deputy FDA commissioner told her that the over-the-counter (OTC) application for Plan B had to be rejected “to appease the administration’s constituents,” and that it could later be quietly approved for adults only (see March 4, 2008). Another scientist testifies that he learned before the 2004 decision was issued that then-FDA commissioner Mark McClellan—the brother of White House press secretary Scott McClellan—had already decided to disapprove the drug even before the FDA’s advisory panel had completed its analysis. However, McClellan will deny the accusation. (Center for Reproductive Rights 11/14/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 301-302)
A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333)
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. (Savage and Wirzbicki 2/2/2005; Boehlert 2/15/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger 2007, pp. 332-333) Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. (Rich 2006, pp. 172-173)
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. (Byrne 4/24/2005; Leupp 5/21/2005)
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. (Byrne 3/31/2005)
Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization, questions White House reporter Jeff Gannon’s credentials as well as the legitimacy of the Internet news organization he works for, Talon News. Media Matters is as yet unaware that Gannon’s true name is James Guckert, and that he has no journalistic experience and his livelihood is apparently made by moonlighting as a gay prostitute (see January 26, 2005). The organization shows that several Gannon/Guckert pieces for Talon News are little more than what it calls “reprints of Republican and Bush administration releases,” and demonstrates that Gannon is a frequent “lifesaver” for White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who regularly calls on Gannon/Guckert when he needs a safe question to allow him to get back on track. Media Matters has found out more about Talon News itself; it reports that the information unearthed “casts additional doubt on Talon’s claim to be a media outlet and raises questions about whether Gannon/Guckert should be a credentialed member of the White House press corps.” Talon News is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party operative who also owns the conservative Internet organization “GOPUSA,” which proclaims itself to be a “conservative news, information, and design company dedicated to promoting conservative ideals.” Though Eberle claims that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate organizations, in fact they are not. Eberle is the owner and chief operator of both entities. Both domain names—“TalonNews.com” and “GOPUSA.com”—are registered to the same Pearland, Texas, street address, which appears to be Eberle’s home address. The domain name contact is Eberle’s GOPUSA email address. Most of the articles on Talon News’s Web site consist of short introductory paragraphs with “Read more” links that take the reader to a page that announces, “This story can be found on our #1 client—GOPUSA!” Readers are then redirected to the GOPUSA.com site. GOPUSA and Talon News are both staffed by Eberle, Gannon/Guckert, and several volunteers. Media Matters concludes that the two organizations are “virtually indistinguishable.” Interestingly, both Eberle and Gannon/Guckert post on the right-wing Internet forum Free Republic, and Gannon/Guckert has hosted a radio show on Radio Free Republic. Another poster once suggested that McClellan “appreciated” Gannon/Guckert’s questions “from the smirk he was trying to hold back,” and Gannon/Guckert responded, “It’s hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he’s going to get from me.” None of the other volunteers on Talon News seem to have any journalistic experience, but all are heavily involved in Republican politics, including a high school student who is president of his school’s Young Republicans’ Club; the owner of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest; a county GOP chairman and campaign manager for a Maine Republican candidate for the House of Representatives; a South Carolina GOP campaign operative; and a Nebraska freelance writer who has worked as a speechwriter for conservative candidates and organizations. Members of GOPUSA’s board of directors have no more journalistic experience than the writers of Talon News, but all are active GOP operatives, consultants, and financial managers. (Foser 1/25/2005)
As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” (Baker 2/9/2005; McClellan 2008, pp. 246-247)
President Hugo Chavez announces that the Venezuela controlled oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, may sell eight oil refineries owned by US companies. Four of them are owned by Citgo Corporation and are currently used to refine Venezuela’s heavy, high-sulfur crude oil for use in the US. This move is part of a strategy to reduce Venezuelan dependency on US oil markets. At his speech in Argentina, Hugo Chavez describes Venezuelan dependency: “Not one Venezuelan works at these refineries… they don’t give us one cent of profit… they don’t pay taxes in Venezuela… this is economic imperialism.” Ivan Orellana, Venezuela’s representative to OPEC says that any “contracts found to be not in the national interest would be renegotiated.” (Kennedy 2/2/2005) The Venezuelan oil industry currently exports half of its oil to the US. (Romero and Ellsworth 1/25/2005) This latest move is an indication to the Bush administration that the Chavez government is willing to test their relationship. US officials are worried about the implications of the sale for the American economy as 15 percent of US oil imports currently come from Venezuela. White House spokesman Scott McClellan says, “we have serious concerns. We have made our concerns known when it comes to President Chavez….” (Kennedy 2/2/2005)
Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. (Block and Norris 2/9/2005)
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” (Boehlert 2/15/2005) White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” (Kurtz 2/16/2005)
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” (Kurtz 2/19/2005) On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” (Boehlert 2/15/2005)
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. (Rich 2/19/2005)
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” (Solomon 3/20/2005)
Newsweek prints an item in its “Periscope” section that reports an American guard at Guantanamo Bay flushed a detainee’s Koran down a toilet. According to the report, the US Southern Command intends to mount an investigation into the desecration, which violates US and international laws. The report sparks widespread rioting in Pakistan and Afghanistan that results in the deaths of at least 17 people. The Pentagon and the Bush administration immediately blame Newsweek for the riots and the deaths; Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the senior commander of US forces in Afghanistan, says the report did not spark the Afghan rioting, as does Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Newsweek says the information came from an American official who remains unidentified. “We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the US soldiers caught in its midst,” Mark Whitaker, Newsweek’s editor, writes in a subsequent article. Whitaker adds: “We’re not retracting anything. We don’t know what the ultimate facts are.” The Pentagon denies the report; spokesman Bryan Whitman says: “Newsweek hid behind anonymous sources, which by their own admission do not withstand scrutiny. Unfortunately, they cannot retract the damage they have done to this nation or those that were viciously attacked by those false allegations.” The report is “demonstrably false” and “irresponsible.” Whitman says the report has “had significant consequences that reverberated throughout Muslim communities around the world.” Senior Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita calls Whitaker’s note “very tepid and qualified.… They owe us all a lot more accountability than they took.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan says, “Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care.” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says Newsweek is wrong to use “facts that have not been substantiated.” And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issues the admonishment, “[P]eople need to be careful what they say… just as people need to be careful what they do.” According to Whitaker, while the magazine tries to avoid using unnamed sources when it can, there are instances where sources will not speak to reporters unless their anonymity is guaranteed. The administration source has been reliable in the past, Whitaker says, and, moreover, the reporters of the story, Michael Isikoff and John Barry, received confirmation from both the source and a senior Pentagon official. Whitaker’s explanation notes that Newsweek has chosen not to publish previous reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo because the sources are former detainees whom it considers unreliable. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that guards and officials at Guantanamo have looked for documentation of the reported Koran-flushing and cannot find it. (Seelye 5/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 164) The Pentagon will conclude that the Newsweek report is indeed responsible for the riots; Isikoff and Barry’s source for the story will back off on his original claim (see May 15, 2005). A month later, the Pentagon will confirm that at least five instances of Koran desecration at Guantanamo did indeed occur (see June 3, 2005).
White House press secretary Scott McClellan says accusations stemming from the “Downing Street Memo” (see May 1, 2005) that intelligence was “being fixed” to support a policy of regime change in Iraq are “flat out wrong.” Bush’s decision to invade Iraq was “very public,” McClellan insists. “The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner. Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance. And only then was the decision made, as a last resort, to go into Iraq.” (CNN 5/17/2005; United Press International 5/17/2005)
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, responding to a reporter’s question, says, “The National Academies of Science came out with a report in 2001 (see June 2001) that was requested by the President; it took a look at science of climate change, and in that very report it talked about how there are considerable uncertainties.” (White House 6/8/2005)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan knows that Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff is planning another article detailing what White House official Karl Rove told reporter Matt Cooper (see July 10, 2005). McClellan believes the Isikoff article will reveal that Cooper asked about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, but McClellan has been personally assured by Rove that he told Cooper nothing (see September 16, 2003 and September 27, 2003). President Bush has also assured McClellan that Rove is not the source of the leak (see September 29, 2003). McClellan will later write, “Maybe I did not want to believe that Karl had not been completely forthcoming, or that what he had told me—and the president—was not true.” White House counsel Harriet Miers tells McClellan, “There’s some news that’s likely to come out tomorrow about Karl in the leak investigation that may appear to contradict what you said nearly two years ago” (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003 and July 13, 2005). She warns him not to comment on the investigation. As he will later write, “In effect, she was forbidding me from talking and setting the record straight about my previous comments.” Miers then apologizes and leaves McClellan to mull over the impact of the Rove revelation. He will later disclose the “painful, chilling effect” the revelation has on his “relationships with reporters,” and will reflect: “[I]f some of the highest-ranking officials of the Bush White House hadn’t been forthright with the president’s chief spokesman, how could anyone assume they were honest with the public? The White House had a serious credibility problem, and I was now going to take the heat for it.” He will compare the impact of the Isikoff article to “getting whacked upside the head with a two-by-four. I never saw it coming, given Karl’s personal assurances to me and the president, at least not until the final few days before it became public. And even then I convinced myself not to believe the growing buzz in Washington because of the personal assurances I had received.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 257-260)
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. (Isikoff 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). (White 7/11/2005)
In light of the revelation that White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was a source for a reporter in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005), the White House press corps grills press secretary Scott McClellan unmercifully on the entire issue. Plame Wilson will reveal a modicum of sympathy for the beleaguered McClellan, whom she will note “endured what had to be one of his hardest days on the job as reporters competed to ask the next question.” The reporters are eager to pry information out of McClellan and are exasperated at his refusal to answer questions in any depth.
Fire Rove? - One of the most probing questions involves the White House’s promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Asked, “Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?” McClellan responds that the White House is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation, an answer the gathered reporters find less than satisfactory. “Excuse me,” the reporter continues, “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 the leak. And I just want to know, is that still his position?” McClellan continues to deflect the question with the standard “refusal to comment on an ongoing investigation” line. He also refuses to answer the direct question, “Did Karl Rove commit a crime?”
McClellan Cleared Rove, Others of Culpability - Another reporter, apparently NBC’s David Gregory, asks why McClellan told reporters that Rove, along with National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams and the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were definitely not involved in the leak. “[Y]ou 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 confirms he said that “as part of helping the investigation 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.” The reporter calls McClellan’s response “ridiculous,” and says: “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?” When McClellan says he will go into further detail “at the appropriate time,” Gregory interjects, “Why are you choosing when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?” McClellan begins, “If you’ll let me finish—” and Gregory cuts him off, saying: “No, you’re not finishing—you’re not saying anything. You stand 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 public, he did, indeed, talk about [Wilson’s] wife, didn’t he?” McClellan continues to refuse to answer. Later in the conference, he is asked if “you will be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved would be let go?” McClellan says he “will be glad to talk about it at that point.”
Ordered to Stop Talking? - Another reporter, following up on Gregory’s relentless questioning, asks: “When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?” McClellan answers vaguely, “Back in that time period.” The reporter then notes that “the president commented on it nine months later (see June 10, 2004). So was he not following the White House plan?” Again, McClellan refuses to answer. Another reporter tries a different tack, asking, “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?” McClellan answers that “those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigative side while it’s ongoing.”
When Did Bush Know? - McClellan is asked bluntly, “When did the president learn that Karl Rove had—” to which McClellan interrupts with, “I’ve responded to that question.”
Changing the Subject - McClellan then calls on Raghubar Goyal of the India Times, who he is sure will ask a foreign policy question having nothing to do with Rove or Plame Wilson. He manages to keep the subject more or less off of Rove for the remainder of the conference. Plame Wilson will recall, “I almost felt sorry for McClellan, who was perspiring and had that deer-in-the-headlights look to him.” (White House 7/11/2005; Wilson 2007, pp. 223-227)
Change in Media Focus - After this press conference, as Plame Wilson will note, the press begins issuing far more skeptical reports on the leak and its investigation, depending less on White House spin about the Wilsons’ supposed culpability and zeroing in on the roles of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials. Plame Wilson will recall that for the first time, the pressure was easing off of them and being refocused onto the White House. (Wilson 2007, pp. 227-228)
McClellan: Press Conference 'Brutal,' 'Humiliating' - McClellan will later characterize the press conference as “brutal.” He calls NBC’s Gregory “mocking” when Gregory asks whether he still stands by his old assertions of no involvement by Rove (see September 29, 2003), Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and Elliott Abrams (see October 5, 2003). ABC’s Terry Moran is incredulous that McClellan would try to hide behind a refusal to “comment on an ongoing investigation.” McClellan will later write, “Eventually, long after leaving the White House, I came to see that standing in front of the speeding press bus in those days had much more to do with protecting the president and the White House from further political embarrassment than respecting the sanctity of the investigation.” McClellan will reflect that it was during this press conference, as he felt his “reputation crumbling away, bit by bit,” that he began to lose his “affection for the job.” He will write: “The ridicule I received that day and the following ones, though dispiriting and humiliating, was justified, given what I had previously said. Since my hands were tied (see July 10, 2005), about all I could do was go into a defensive crouch.” After the conference, McClellan receives a brief verbal apology from Rove. McClellan will write, “It’s clear to me, Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 260-261)
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). (Stout 7/18/2005; White House 7/18/2005; Sanger and Stevenson 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. (Stout 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.” (Sanger and Stevenson 7/19/2005)
As Katrina barrels towards the Gulf Coast, most of the top White House staff members are on vacation, taking advantage of President Bush’s five-week vacation at his Crawford, Texas ranch. Andrew Card, White House Chief of Staff, and a veteran crisis manager who managed the federal response to hurricanes under George H.W. Bush, is vacationing at his lakefront summer home in Maine. Vice President Dick Cheney is vacationing at his Wyoming ranch. Frances Townsend, the White House Homeland Security Advisor who reports to Bush on Homeland Security policy and combating terrorism matters, is vacationing as well. After Katrina sweeps through the Gulf Coast, she will attend several meetings in Washington, before leaving on a previously scheduled trip to Saudi Arabia where she will work on joint counterterrorism projects. Bush will urge Townsend to make the trip despite the unfolding Katrina disaster as a “signal to… the enemy” that the hurricane has not distracted Bush’s attention from terrorists, according to one report. Later, White House representatives will decline to identify the person in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington, maintaining that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes. “Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will say at one point. “And the president is the one who’s in charge at the White House.” (Los Angeles Times 9/11/2005) On Tuesday, August 30, when asked to identify the person leading the White House’s response to Katrina, McClellan will reply that Joe Hagin, Deputy Chief of staff is the “point person in terms of overseeing efforts from the White House.” (White House 8/30/2005)
Announcing President Bush’s declaration of emergency for Louisiana (see (Midday) August 27, 2005), White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan states that, “We urge residents in the areas that could be impacted to follow the recommendations of local authorities.” Bush, who is vacationing at his ranch in Crawford Texas, is receiving regular updates on the storm, according to McClellan. (Shreveport Times 8/27/2005; Associated Press 8/27/2005)
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan reports that President Bush speaks with FEMA Director Michael Brown twice this morning, and that Brown has provided Bush with an update on the status of the storm. McClellan also reports that, “In addition to dealing with the urgent issues related to the hurricane, the President will be participating in conversations today in Arizona and Southern California with some people with Medicare experts working with Medicare beneficiaries and health professionals about the upcoming changes in the Medicare program.” (White House 8/29/2005)
White House officials, including Joe Hagin, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, participate in a video conference call with federal and state officials from aboard Air Force One, according to Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary. President Bush likely will not participate: “I think there is a little bit more of a staff participation in this call. This is something the White House has been doing both from D.C. as well as from Crawford over the last few days. We’ve been participating in these video conference calls with the federal authorities and with state emergency management operation centers.” McClellan will report at around 11:30 am that “One of the main things that [FEMA Director Michael Brown] emphasize[s during the call is] that it remains a serious situation, and there’s still a lot of concern about storm surge, flooding, the damage and destruction on the ground, power outages, and things of that nature.” FEMA also provides updates from other states as well. (White House 8/29/2005) McClellan will later state that that Hagin is the “point person in terms of overseeing efforts from the White House.”
(White House 8/30/2005)
Note - The Los Angeles Times will later report that the White House declines to say who is in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington, asserting that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes. “Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will say, “And the president is the one who’s in charge at the White House.” (Los Angeles Times 9/11/2005) Knight Ridder will report that no one at the White House has been assigned the task of tracking and coordinating the federal response on behalf of the White House. (Knight Ridder 9/11/2005)
President Bush declares Louisiana and Mississippi “major disaster areas,” which makes available federal financial assistance to individuals, businesses, and local governments. (White House 8/29/2005; White House 8/29/2005) “This will allow federal funds to start being used to deploy resources to help in those two states,” White House Spokesman Scott McClellan says. “This is something that was done verbally, and the governors of those states have been notified of that approval.” (Times-Picayune Blog 8/29/2005) (In fact, this declaration has little effect on the immediate disaster and response. Rather, it increases the types and beneficiaries of longer term federal assistance recovery that will be available in the areas affected by the hurricane .)
Conservative radio host and former Secretary of Education William Bennett is castigated by both liberals and conservatives for his statement that aborting all black children would lower the US crime rate (see September 28-October 1, 2005). President Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, tells reporters that Bush “believes the comments were not appropriate,” though he does not actually condemn Bennett’s words, as requested by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Pelosi says: “What could possibly have possessed Secretary Bennett to say those words, especially at this time? What could he possibly have been thinking? This is what is so alarming about his words.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says he is “appalled” by Bennett’s remarks. “The Republican Party has recently taken great pains to reach out to the African-American community, and I hope that they will be swift in condemning Mr. Bennett’s comments as nothing short of callous and ignorant,” he adds. Representative Bobby Rush (D-IL), an African-American, says, “This is precisely the kind of insensitive, hurtful, and ignorant rhetoric that Americans have grown tired of.” Rush asks “my friends, the responsible Republicans” to pass a House resolution condemning Bennett’s remarks as “outrageous racism of the most bigoted and ignorant kind.” He asks: “Where is the indignation from the GOP, as one of their prominent members talk about aborting an entire race of Americans as a way of ridding this country of crime? How ridiculous! How asinine! How insane can one be?” Instead, Rush calls for the “aborting” of Republican policies, “which have hurt the disadvantaged, the poor average Americans for the benefit of large corporations.” Bruce Gordon, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), says Bennett and his employer, the Salem Radio Network, owe the nation an apology. “In 2005, there is no place for the kind of racist statement made by Bennett,” he says in a statement. “While the entire nation is trying to help survivors, black and white, to recover from the damage caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it is unconscionable for Bennett to make such ignorant and insensitive comments.” (CNN 9/30/2005)
Ignorance, Stereotyping Blacks as Born Criminals - In a press release, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says: “Are these the values of the Republican Party and its conservative allies? If not, President Bush, Ken Mehlman [Dean’s Republican counterpart], and the Republican Leadership should denounce them immediately as hateful, divisive, and worthy only of scorn. This kind of statement is hardly compassionate conservatism; rather, Bennett’s comments demonstrate a reprehensible racial insensitivity and ignorance. Bill Bennett’s hateful, inflammatory remarks regarding African Americans are simply inexcusable. They are particularly unacceptable from a leader in the conservative movement and former secretary of education, once charged with the well-being of every American school child. He should apologize immediately. As Americans, we should focus on the virtues that bring us together, not hatred that tears us apart and unjustly scapegoats fellow Americans.” (Democratic National Committee 9/29/2005) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), says: “I’m not even going to comment on something that disgusting. Really, I’m thinking of my black grandchild and I’m going to hold [off].” (Tapper 9/29/2005) The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a former Democratic presidential candidate and former associate of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, says: “Republicans, Democrats, and all Americans of goodwill should denounce this statement, should distance themselves from Mr. Bennett. And the private sector should not support Mr. Bennett’s radio show or his comments on the air.” (Glaister 10/1/2005)
Civil Rights Leader: Bennett's Show Should be Canceled - Wade Henderson, the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, says an apology is insufficient; Bennett’s radio program should be canceled. Referring to inaccurate news reports that blacks were responsible for a “crime wave” in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Henderson says, “I think African-Americans are certainly tired of being stereotyped as being responsible for the majority of crime in American society when the facts simply don’t bear that assumption out.” (CBS News 9/30/2005)
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies for a fourth time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Rove amends and clarifies his earlier testimony, most notably his failure to remember outing Plame Wilson to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spends a large portion of Rove’s session focusing on the omission. In earlier testimony, Rove attempted to claim that he had only a “hazy recollection” of hearing Plame Wilson’s name (see October 15, 2004) before reading Robert Novak’s column which publicly outed her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). He now testifies that he informed Cooper of her status as a CIA agent days before the article appeared, and his memory apparently failed him during his earlier statements to the grand jury. Rove testifies that his recollection was prompted by the discovery of an e-mail message to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, that he wrote after talking to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). (Waas 10/7/2005; Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) He insists that he never identified Plame Wilson by her name, but “merely” as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and did not intentionally reveal her as a covert CIA official because he did not know of her clandestine status. (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005) He says he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from fellow White House official Lewis Libby, and says that both he and Libby learned of her CIA employment status from reporters. He says someone else outside the White House also told him of Plame Wilson’s identity, but he cannot remember who that was. (VandeHei and Leonnig 10/20/2005) Previously, Rove insisted that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from reporters, and not the other way around, as many reporters and others have already testified. Rove has said that one of the reporters who told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA official was Novak, a statement Novak has contradicted (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Rove also testified that he never told Cooper Plame Wilson’s name, but merely identified her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. (Solomon 7/15/2005)
Rove's Testimony No Distraction, White House Officials Claim - White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Rove’s testimony has not distracted the administration from its usual affairs: “[W]hile there are other things going on, the White House doesn’t have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand.” (Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) White House chief of staff Andrew Card concurs. “Well, obviously we’re all human beings and we know that there are external activities that impact the environment you’re working in,” he says. “It is something that is there, but it is something that we don’t talk about because it would be inappropriate.… I haven’t found anyone that is distracted because of the ongoing investigation, but we all know that it’s taking place and we’re all working to cooperate with the investigators.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Lawyer: Rove 'Always Honest' with FBI, Jury, President - Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that his client “has always attempted to be honest and fully forthcoming” to anyone “he has spoken to about this matter, whether that be the special prosecutor or the president of the United States. My client would not hide anything, because he has nothing to hide. It would not be to his benefit to do so.” Previously, Rove had failed to disclose his discussion with Cooper to either the FBI or to President Bush (see After September 26, 2003). (Waas 10/7/2005) “The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Fitzgerald Mulling Criminal Charges against Rove - Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation say Rove’s statements to Bush and to the FBI are at the heart of the decision whether or not to charge him with making false statements to investigators, or with obstruction of justice. Lying to the president could in itself be worthy of charges. Law professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, says: “The president is the top law enforcement official of the executive branch. It is a crime to make a false statement to a federal agent. If the president was asking in that capacity, and the statement was purposely false, then you might have a violation of law.” However, if Bush had discussed the matter with Rove in a more informal capacity, then, Little says, a case for making false statements to a federal agent would be more difficult to prove. Law professor Randall Eliason says that if Rove deliberately lied to the president, a prosecutor could construe the lie as an “overt act… in furtherance of a criminal plan.” Law professor Stephen Gillers notes: “Misleading the president, other officials of the executive branch, or even the FBI might not, in and of themselves, constitute criminal acts. But a prosecutor investigating other crimes—such as obstruction of justice or perjury—might use evidence of any such deception to establish criminal intent. And a lack of candor might also negate a claim of good faith or inadvertent error in providing misleading information to prosecutors.” (Waas 10/7/2005)
The grand jury hearing evidence in the Plame Wilson CIA leak investigation hears the summation of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. The final weeks of the jury’s tenure have been marked by what the Washington Post calls “a furious effort” by lawyers for White House political strategist Karl Rove to convince Fitzgerald that Rove should not be prosecuted for perjury. The press is unsure what criminal charges Fitzgerald may have asked the jury to bring, or whether he asked them to vote on possible indictments. The grand jury’s term is expiring, and observers believe Fitzgerald is reluctant to empanel a second grand jury to consider further evidence. Law professor Lori Shaw says this jury is well-versed and invested in the investigation. “You have to consider: They are not rookies at this anymore,” she says. “I have a feeling that by now this grand jury has a good idea of what crime, if any, occurred.” White House officials believe that either Rove or Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and perhaps both of them, will face criminal charges. But the White House is downplaying the current status of the investigation. Press secretary Scott McClellan tells reporters, “We certainly are following developments in the news, but everybody’s got a lot of work to do.” And President Bush has tried to shift the public’s attention away from the investigation and onto what he calls his successful economic policies. (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/27/2005) Two days later, the jury will indict Libby (see October 28, 2005).
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)
President Bush gives what is touted as a major speech on the Iraq war strategy at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. The event is heavily stage-crafted, with the strategy document labeled “Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” and the phrase “Plan for Victory” prominently repeated (in what author Frank Rich will later call “Orwellian mitosis”) over the stage and podium. Bush uses the word “victory” 15 times in his speech. The speech itself is not a military strategy proposal, but rather a public relations document based on the work of Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver, who joined the National Security Council as a special adviser in June 2005 to monitor and bolster American public opinion on the war. Feaver, a Navy reservist who has frequently written articles supportive of Bush foreign policies, analyzed poll data from 2003 and 2004 and concluded that the American public would support a war with rising casualties if it believed such a war would ultimately succeed. The speech was written to hammer home the idea (see May 24, 2005) that victory in Iraq is attainable. Other political scientists question both Feaver’s analysis and the ethics of using such tactics to shape public opinion. John Mueller of Ohio State University says that Feaver’s idea would only produce a small, transient rise in public support for the war. Referring to the costs in lives and in dollars, Mueller says, “As the costs go up, support goes down.” “This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency,” says Christopher F. Gelpi, another Duke professor who co-authored the research on American tolerance for casualties. “The Pentagon doesn’t need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion.” The media was not supposed to know about Feaver’s contribution to the “strategy” document; the plan, posted on the White House’s Web site, does not credit Feaver’s work, but the software used to produce the document shows the original author to be “feaver-p.” The White House confirms that Feaver and another NSC staff member, Deputy National Security Adviser Meghan O’Sullivan, wrote the document with assistance from members of O’Sullivan’s staff. The White House insists that the document is an interagency production that reflects the thinking of the entire administration, not just a few NSC officials and staffers. Press secretary Scott McClellan calls the document an unclassified explanation of strategies that have been in use since 2003. Interestingly, Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey, who supervises the training of Iraqi troops, says he did not see the document before its public release. (White House 11/30/2005; Shane 12/4/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 198)
The ten ex-9/11 Commissioners issue a report card to monitor the progress on implementation of the commission’s recommendations given in their July 2004 final report, and they generally give harsh grades. The report card assigns letter grades to the commission’s 41 key recommendations. In nearly half the categories, the government receives a D, F, or incomplete grade. There is only one high grade, an A-minus for its “vigorous effort against terrorist financing.” (Eggen 12/6/2005) Ironically, that one good grade runs counter to the opinion of many counterterrorism experts. For instance, author Zachary Abuza has said, “The glaring exception to the success in fighting terrorism has been on the financial front…” (Abuza 8/1/2003) The report card criticizes the government for:
still not checking the identities of airplane passengers against a complete terrorism watch list.
continuing to allocate domestic security funding without considering that certain parts of the country are at greater risk than others.
excessive secrecy regarding intelligence spending.
the handling of detainees.
persistent problems in first responder communication systems. (Miller 12/5/2005)
the slow transformation of and continuing problems with the FBI. (Eggen 12/6/2005)
The report does not give grades to President Bush or any other specific officials. The 9/11 Commission formally ceased operations after issuing its final report, but some members formed a privately funded foundation to monitor progress. The foundation disbands after releasing the report card. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defends the Bush administration’s efforts, saying, “The best way to protect the American people is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive.” (Miller 12/5/2005)
After Human Rights Watch, an organization which works to end torture of government detainees around the globe, claims that the Bush administration has made a “deliberate policy choice” to abuse detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “What took place at Guantanamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment.” In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees in US custody should be treated “humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles” of the Geneva Conventions (see January 19, 2002). Shortly after Rumsfeld’s statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Human Rights Watch has damaged its own credibility by making such claims. (Mayer 2/27/2006)
According to the White House, deputy chief of staff Karl Rove gives up his day-to-day control over the Bush administration’s domestic policy in order to concentrate on the upcoming midterm elections. The announcement comes on the same day as press secretary Scott McClellan’s resignation announcement (see April 20, 2006). Many observers believe that the internal shakeup has something to do with the ongoing Plame Wilson identity leak investigation, and the upcoming trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). The shakeup is being handled by White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten, himself a recent replacement for the departed Andrew Card. Rove will retain his title and his position as President Bush’s senior adviser. “The president and the new chief of staff said they wanted me focused on the big strategic issues facing the administration,” Rove says. Rove’s domestic policy duties will be assumed by Joel Kaplan, the White House’s deputy budget director. Rove’s recent mishandling of the White House’s failed attempt to “sell” the privatization of Social Security to Congress and the citizenry is also a factor in his reassignment, observers note, as well as his poor handling of the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina and the failed attempt to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. Some Congressional Republicans believe Rove has too much influence within the White House, and is being distracted by the Plame Wilson investigation. The director of American University’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies, James Thurber, says: “Karl Rove is a great guy in terms of developing issues for a campaign, but he’s not done well on advocating policy in a governance setting. The job is diminished, but he probably doesn’t mind that. He’s a racehorse in a campaign.” White House communications director Nicolle Wallace says Rove’s reassignment takes the White House back to its successful personnel strategy from the first Bush term: “We’re returning to the structure we had at the beginning of the first term. All that changes is that the management of the day-to-day policy process will be put under Joel. Karl will keep the high-yield strategic role that he’s always had.” But former Republican House member Vin Weber, a lobbyist who is close to the White House, says that Rove’s role in the White House will change little, and that the reassignment is largely cosmetic. “The notion that this is a demotion just doesn’t ring true to me,” Weber says. “He’s been the guy who wrote his own job description pretty much. I think that is still more true than less true.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) applauds the change, saying: “The White House has never separated politics from policy and that’s been one of the reasons for its undoing. Late is better than never, but the key for the White House will be getting a new person in charge of policy independent from Karl Rove who understands that policy is not simply politics.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean calls Rove’s reassignment a “demotion,” and says Bush should have fired Rove over his role in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005). (Bumiller 4/20/2006)
White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who has faced an increasingly disbelieving and hostile Washington press corp in his role as Bush administration spokesman in handling the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 11, 2005), announces his upcoming resignation. Possible successors include Fox News commentator Tony Snow, former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Dan Senor, a former coalition spokesman after the invasion of Iraq, though Clarke says she is not interested in the job. President Bush says McClellan has had “a challenging assignment.” He adds: “I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity. It’s going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accepted it. One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking in chairs in Texas and talking about the good old days.” McClellan tells reporters that he has been considering leaving for weeks, ever since chief of staff Andrew Card announced his own resignation. “With a new chief of staff coming on board,” McClellan says, “it was a good time to make this decision. And three years would have been an awfully long time in this position. I’ve been at this for a long time and I didn’t need much encouragement to make this decision, even though you all [reporters] kept tempting me.” (MSNBC 4/20/2006; Bumiller 4/20/2006) Neither Bush nor McClellan tell the press that McClellan did not decide on his own to leave, but was asked to resign by Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten. In his 2008 book What Happened, McClellan will write that he had indeed considered leaving his position, perhaps by July 15, 2006, but was taken aback when Bolten informed him the week before that he had made the decision for him to leave. “[T]his is a White House that is severely crippled and in need of change,” Bolten told McClellan. “One area that I have decided needs to change is your position.” McClellan will write that his first, emotional response was, “He’s ready to throw me to the wolves,” but rationally, he understands that Bolten is just making a decision he feels he needs to make. “I had been on the defensive too often since the Rove revelations in July” (see July 10, 2005 and July 10, 2005), McClellan will write. “A press secretary cannot survive for long under such circumstances.” McClellan will add that when he discusses his upcoming resignation with Bush, the president seems regretful that he is leaving, but McClellan is not entirely convinced of Bush’s sincerity, even when Bush tears up during their brief conversation. (McClellan 2008, pp. 298-301)
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, the US Attorney prosecuting former White House senior aide Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction (see January 16-23, 2007), says that the evidence clearly shows Libby lied to both the FBI and the grand jury when he failed to disclose his involvement in the press leak of the identity of then-covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. Fitzgerald says Libby learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from at least five different government sources, including his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, and (June 12, 2003)). Libby’s claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003), Fitzgerald says, are specious. Evidence proves that Libby had discussed Plame Wilson’s identity well before he spoke to Russert. “You can’t learn something on Thursday that you’re giving out on Monday,” Fitzgerald says. He lays out a rough timeline of the events leading up to, and following, Plame Wilson’s public exposure (see July 14, 2003), and gives an overview of the evidence showing that Libby lied about his actions under oath. (Ponder 1/23/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/23/2007; CBS News 1/25/2007; BBC 7/3/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Fitzgerald walks the jury through a timeline of events surrounding each of the five charges Libby faces—two counts of perjury, two counts of making false statements, and one count of obstruction of justice—and tells the jury what evidence he will present to prove each of the charges. Fitzgerald plays actual audiotapes of Libby making his alleged lies before an earlier grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004); court observer Christy Hardin Smith, a former prosecutor, writes of the tactic, “The jurors in the criminal trial were riveted as they listened to the defendant’s voice, while they watched his reaction live in the courtroom as he was also hearing his testimony.” (Christy Hardin Smith 1/23/2007) Plame Wilson will call Fitzgerald’s opening statement “a very narrow but compelling argument that Libby [the former chief of staff for Cheney] had lied, often, in response to investigators’ questions about with whom he had discussed me and my CIA employment (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Fitzgerald seemed to place Vice President Dick Cheney at the center of the case by saying that Cheney himself had disclosed my identity to Libby (see March 24, 2004) and later intervened to have White House press secretary Scott McClellan issue a misleading public statement clearing Libby of any involvement in the leak of my name to reporters” (see October 4, 2003). (Wilson 2007, pp. 282-284)
In the Lewis Libby perjury trial, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald plays video excerpts from press briefings by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who fielded questions about the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see October 4, 2003 and October 7, 2003). Judge Reggie Walton has ruled that he does not grant credibility to charges by Libby’s defense team that Libby is being “scapegoated” by the White House to protect White House political strategist Karl Rove, and denies the defense’s attempt to suppress the videos. “There’s no evidence of an effort to throw [Libby] under the bus,” Fitzgerald argues to Walton, and he says he wants to show the videos to disprove Libby’s contention of scapegoating. However, Walton rules that because the press briefings were so emotionally charged (see September 29, 2003 and July 11, 2005), to allow the jury to hear them in their entirety would prejudice it against Libby. Instead, prosecutors read aloud the questions reporters asked McClellan and the jurors see only brief excerpts. The videos show McClellan assuring reporters that he had been assured Libby did not leak classified information, and promising that any White House official who did leak information would be summarily fired. (Froomkin 2/2/2007; Associated Press 2/2/2007; Schmitt 2/2/2007; MSNBC 2/21/2007; BBC 7/3/2007)
The House Oversight Committee holds a hearing about the ramifications of the Lewis Libby guilty verdict (see March 6, 2007) and the outing of former covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Plame Wilson is the star witness, and for the first time publicly discusses the leak and her former status as a covert agent. As earlier revealed by authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn in their book Hubris, Plame Wilson was the covert operations chief for the Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), a section of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), which itself is part of the agency’s clandestine operations directorate. Indeed, as Libby special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has already stated, the fact of her employment with the CIA was itself classified information (see October 28, 2005). (Wilson 2007, pp. 299; Pitney 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Republican Attempts to Close Hearing Fail - Tom Davis (R-VA), the committee’s ranking Republican, attempts to close Plame Wilson’s testimony to the public on the grounds that her statements might threaten national security. “It would be with great reluctance, but we have to protect confidential information,” he says. Politico reporter John Bresnahan describes Davis as “clearly unhappy that the hearing is taking place at all, so his threat has to be viewed in that context.” Davis goes on to say: “We are mining something that has been thoroughly looked into. There are so many other areas where [Congressional] oversight needs to be conducted instead of the Plame thing.” The hearing will remain open to the public. (Bresnahan 3/14/2007)
Pre-Testimony Jitters - In her book Fair Game, Plame Wilson recalls the jitters she experiences in the hours leading up to her appearance before the committee. She had tried, in the days before the hearing, “to think of every possible question the committee could throw at me.… I had to be sharp to avoid giving any information that the CIA would deem sensitive or classified. It was a minefield.” She is relieved to learn that CIA Director Michael Hayden has met with committee staffers and, she will write, “explicitly approved the use of the term ‘covert’ in describing my cover status.” She will write that though she still cannot confirm the length of her service with the CIA, she can “at least counter those who had suggested over the last few years that I was no more than a ‘glorified secretary’” (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). (Wilson 2007, pp. 299)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - Before Plame Wilson testifies, committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reads a statement saying that she had been a “covert” officer” who had “served at various times overseas” and “worked on the prevention of the development and use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States.” Waxman notes that the CIA had cleared this statement. And during subsequent questioning, committee member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) reports that Hayden had told him, “Ms. Wilson was covert.” (Corn 3/16/2007; Pitney 3/16/2007; FireDogLake 3/16/2007; Christy Hardin Smith 3/16/2007)
Confirms Her Status in CPD - Plame Wilson testifies that she is still bound by secrecy oaths and cannot reveal many of the specifics of her CIA career. However, she testifies, “I served the United States of America loyally and to the best of my ability as a covert operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency.” She says, “In the run-up to the war with Iraq, I worked in the Counterproliferation Division of the CIA, still as a covert officer whose affiliation with the CIA was classified.” She also notes that she helped to “manage and run secret worldwide operations.” Prior to the Iraq war, she testifies, she had “raced to discover intelligence” on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “While I helped to manage and run secret worldwide operations against this WMD target from CIA headquarters in Washington, I also traveled to foreign countries on secret missions to find vital intelligence.” Those trips had occurred within the last five years, she says, contradicting arguments that she had not functioned as a covert agent within the last five years and therefore those who revealed her identity could not be held legally accountable (see February 18, 2007). “Covert operations officers, when they rotate back for temporary assignment in Washington, are still covert,” she says. Furthermore, far from her identity as a CIA agent being “common knowledge on the Georgetown cocktail circuit,” as some have alleged (see September 30, 2003, July 12, 2004, and March 16, 2007), she testifies that she can “count on one hand” the number of people outside the agency who knew of her CIA status before her outing by White House officials. “But, all of my efforts on behalf of the national security of the United States, all of my training, and all of the value of my years service were abruptly ended when my name and identity were exposed irresponsibly.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007; Stein 3/16/2007) During this portion of testimony, Davis repeats an assertion that neither President Bush nor Vice President Dick Cheney were aware of Plame Wilson’s covert status during the time of her exposure. (FireDogLake 3/16/2007)
'They Should Have Been Diligent in Protecting Me and Other CIA Officers' - Plame Wilson testifies that, as the Libby trial progressed, she was “shocked and dismayed by the evidence that emerged. My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department. All of them understood that I worked for the CIA, and having signed oaths to protect national security secrets, they should have been diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer.” Many agents in CPD are covert, she says, and thusly, officials such as Cheney and Libby, who knew she worked in that division, should have been careful in spreading information about her.
'Grave' Damage to National Security - Plame Wilson says she cannot be specific about what kind of damage was done by her identity being revealed (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006); the CIA did perform a damage assessment, but did not share the results with her, and that assessment is classified (see Before September 16, 2003). “But the concept is obvious,” she says. “Not only have breaches of national security endangered CIA officers, it has jeopardized and even destroyed entire networks of foreign agents who in turn risked their own lives and those of their families—to provide the United States with needed intelligence. Lives are literally at stake. Every single one of my former CIA colleagues, from my fellow covert officers, to analysts, to technical operations officers, to even the secretaries, understands the vulnerability of our officers and recognizes that the travesty of what happened to me, could happen to them. We in the CIA always know that we might be exposed and threatened by foreign enemies. It was a terrible irony that administration officials were the ones who destroyed my cover… for purely political motives.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007) She refuses to speculate as to the intentions of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove in exposing her identity (see July 10, 2005). (FireDogLake 3/16/2007)
Politicization of Intelligence Dangerous, Counterproductive - Plame Wilson decries the increasingly partisan politicization of intelligence gathering and presentation under the Bush regime, saying: “The tradecraft of intelligence is not a product of speculation. I feel passionately as an intelligence professional about the creeping, insidious politicizing of our intelligence process. All intelligence professionals are dedicated to the ideal that they would rather be fired on the spot than distort the facts to fit a political view—any political view—or any ideology.… [I]njecting partisanship or ideology into the equation makes effective and accurate intelligence that much more difficult to develop. Politics and ideology must be stripped completely from our intelligence services, or the consequences will be even more severe than they have been and our country placed in even greater danger. It is imperative for any president to be able to make decisions based on intelligence that is unbiased.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 300-302; Corn 3/16/2007)
No Role in Deciding to Send Husband to Niger - Plame Wilson discusses the persistent rumors that she dispatched her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Such rumors imply that Wilson was unqualified for the mission, and was sent by his wife for reasons having to do with partisan politics and nepotism (see July 9, 2004). Plame Wilson testifies that she had no authority to send her husband anywhere under CIA auspices, that it was a co-worker’s suggestion, not hers, to send her husband (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), and that her participation was limited to writing a note outlining her husband’s qualifications for such a fact-finding mission (see Fall 1999 and February 13, 2002). She testifies that a colleague had been misquoted in an earlier Senate Intelligence Committee report in saying that she proposed her husband for the trip, and that this colleague was not permitted to correct the record. (FireDogLake 3/16/2007; Corn 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Further Investigation Warranted - After Plame Wilson concludes her testimony, Waxman declares: “We need an investigation. This is not about Scooter Libby and not just about Valerie Plame Wilson.” Journalist David Corn concurs: “Waxman was right in that the Libby trial did not answer all the questions about the leak affair, especially those about the roles of Bush administration officials other than Libby. How did Cheney learn of Valerie Wilson’s employment at the Counterproliferation Division and what did he do with that information? How did Karl Rove learn of her CIA connection? How did Rove manage to keep his job after the White House declared anyone involved in the leak would be fired?… What did Bush know about Cheney’s and Rove’s actions? What did Bush do in response to the disclosure that Rove had leaked and had falsely claimed to White House press secretary Scott McClellan that he wasn’t involved in the leak?” Republican committee members are less sanguine about the prospect of such an investigation, with Davis noting that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had already conducted an investigation of the leak. Corn writes: “Not all wrongdoing in Washington is criminal. Valerie Wilson’s presence at the hearing was a reminder that White House officials (beyond Libby) engaged in improper conduct (which possibly threatened national security) and lied about it—while their comrades in the commentariat spinned away to distort the public debate.” (Corn 3/16/2007; Corn 3/19/2007)
Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he “passed along false information” at the behest of five top Bush administration officials—George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, and Andrew Card—about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson during his time in the White House. McClellan is preparing to publish a book about his time in Washington, to be titled What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong With Washington and available in April 2008. (Editor & Publisher 11/20/2007) According to McClellan’s publisher Peter Osnos, McClellan doesn’t believe that Bush deliberately lied to him about Libby’s and Rove’s involvement in the leak. “He told him something that wasn’t true, but the president didn’t know it wasn’t true,” Osnos says. “The president told him what he thought to be the case.” (Rosenkrantz and Fireman 1/20/2007) Early in 2007, McClellan told reporters that everything he said at the time was based on information he and Bush “believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given.” (Apuzzo 11/21/2007) In his book, McClellan writes: “Andy Card once remarked that he viewed the Washington media as just another ‘special interest’ that the White House had to deal with, much like the lobbyists or the trade associations. I found the remark stunning and telling.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 155)
White House Denials; Outrage from Plame, Democrats - White House press secretary Dana Perino says it isn’t clear what McClellan is alleging, and says, “The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information,” adding that McClellan’s book excerpt is being taken “out of context.” Plame has a different view. “I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps,” she says. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds, “If the Bush administration won’t even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?” (Rosenkrantz and Fireman 1/20/2007; Apuzzo 11/21/2007) Senator and presidential candidate Christopher Dodd (D-CT) calls for a Justice Department investigation into Bush’s role in the Plame outing, and for the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, to lead the investigation. (Aivaz and Rhyne 11/21/2007)
Alleged Criminal Conspiracy - Investigative reporter Robert Parry writes: “George W. Bush joined in what appears to have been a criminal cover-up to conceal the role of his White House in exposing the classified identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. That is the logical conclusion one would draw from [McClellan’s book excerpt] when it is put into a mosaic with previously known evidence.” (Parry 11/21/2007) Author and columnist John Nichols asks if McClellan will become the “John Dean of the Bush administration,” referring to the Nixon White House counsel who revealed the details of the crimes behind the Watergate scandal. Nichols writes: “It was Dean’s willingness to reveal the details of what [was] described as ‘a cancer’ on the Nixon presidency that served as a critical turning point in the struggle by a previous Congress to hold the 37th president to account. Now, McClellan has offered what any honest observer must recognize as the stuff of a similarly significant breakthrough.” Former Common Cause President Chellie Pingree says: “The president promised, way back in 2003, that anyone in his administration who took part in the leak of Plame’s name would be fired. He neglected to mention that, according to McClellan, he was one of those people. And needless to say, he didn’t fire himself. Instead, he fired no one, stonewalled the press and the federal prosecutor in charge of the case, and lied through his teeth.” (Nichols 1/21/2007)
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” (Wilson and Wilson 11/22/2007)
The White House refuses to allow special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to turn over key documents from his investigation into the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak to Congress, as requested by House Oversight Committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) since June 2007 and revealed by Waxman today. Waxman has repeatedly requested reports of interviews by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and five top White House aides—White House political strategist Karl Rove, former press secretary Scott McClellan, former chief of staff Andrew Card, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and former communications director Dan Bartlett. Waxman has also requested transcripts and other documents relevant to these officials’ testimony. According to Waxman, Fitzgerald is willing to turn over the documents to the committee, but cannot gain White House permission to do so. Waxman appeals to newly appointed Attorney General Michael Mukasey to overrule the White House and release the documents. “I hope you will not accede to the White House objections,” Waxman writes to Mukasey. “During the Clinton administration, your predecessor, Janet Reno, made an independent judgment and provided numerous FBI interview reports to the committee, including reports of interviews with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, and three White House chiefs of staff. I have been informed that Attorney General Reno neither sought nor obtained White House consent before providing these interview records to the committee. I believe the Justice Department should exercise the same independence in this case.… There is no legitimate basis for the withholding of these documents. Mr. Fitzgerald has apparently determined that these documents can be produced to the committee without infringing on his prosecutorial independence or violating the rules of grand jury secrecy. As records of statements made by White House officials to federal investigators, outside the framework of presidential decision-making, the documents could not be subject to a valid claim of executive privilege.” Mukasey will not accede to Waxman’s request. Many believe that even though Fitzgerald only managed to convict one White House official as a result of his investigation (see March 6, 2007), he compiled evidence that indicates others, including Cheney, were involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Fitzgerald has indicated that his investigation into other White House officials was drastically hindered by Libby’s repeated lies under oath (see 9:00 a.m. February 20, 2007 and May 25, 2007). Fitzgerald has declined to testify before Waxman’s committee, citing rules that prohibit him from revealing grand jury proceedings, and noting that prosecutors “traditionally refrain from commenting outside of the judicial process on the actions of persons not charged with criminal offenses.” (Froomkin 12/3/2007) Waxman will continue, without success, to request the information (see June 3, 2008), though the White House will release heavily redacted transcripts of Libby’s grand jury testimony in the summer of 2008. (Waas 12/23/2008)
The Center for Public Integrity (CPI), a non-profit, non-partisan investigative journalism organization, releases an analysis of top Bush administration officials’ statements over the two years leading up to the March 18, 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Significance - Analysts and authors Charles Lewis and Mark Reading-Smith state that the analysis proves that the Bush administration engaged in deliberate deception to lead the country into war with Iraq, and disproves the administration’s contention that its officials were the victims of bad intelligence. CPI states that the analysis shows “the statements were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.” According to CPI’s findings, eight top administration officials made 935 false statements concerning either Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction or Iraq’s links to al-Qaeda, between September 11, 2001 and the invasion itself. These statements were made on 532 separate occasions, by the following administration officials: President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and former White House press secretaries Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan.
Foundation of Case for War - These deliberate falsehoods “were the underpinnings of the administration’s case for war,” says CPI executive director Bill Buzenberg. Lewis says, “Bush and the top officials of his administration have so far largely avoided the harsh, sustained glare of formal scrutiny about their personal responsibility for the litany of repeated, false statements in the run-up to the war in Iraq.” According to the analysis, Bush officials “methodically propagated erroneous information over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001.” The falsehoods dramatically escalated in August 2002, just before Congress passed a war resolution (see October 10, 2002). The falsehoods escalated again in the weeks before Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and Powell’s critical presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003). All 935 falsehoods are available in a searchable database on the CPI Web site, and are sourced from what the organization calls “primary and secondary public sources, major news organizations and more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.” CPI finds that “officials with the most opportunities to make speeches, grant media interviews, and otherwise frame the public debate also made the most false statements.”
Breakdown - The tally of falsehoods is as follows:
Bush: 260. 232 of those were about Iraqi WMD and 28 were about Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda.
Powell: 254, with 244 of those about Iraq’s WMD programs.
Rumsfeld and Fleischer: 109 each.
The analysis only examines the statements of these eight officials, but, as CPI notes, “Other administration higher-ups, joined by Pentagon officials and Republican leaders in Congress, also routinely sounded false war alarms in the Washington echo chamber.”
An 'Impenetrable Din' - Lewis and Reading-Smith write that the “cumulative effect of these false statements,” amplified and echoed by intensive media coverage that by and large did not question the administration’s assertions, “was massive, with the media coverage creating an almost impenetrable din for several critical months in the run-up to war.” CPI asserts that most mainstream media outlets were so enthusiastically complicit in the push for war that they “provided additional, ‘independent’ validation of the Bush administration’s false statements about Iraq.” Lewis and Reading-Smith conclude: “Above all, the 935 false statements painstakingly presented here finally help to answer two all-too-familiar questions as they apply to Bush and his top advisers: What did they know, and when did they know it?” (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) The Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin approvingly calls the study “old-fashioned accountability journalism.” (Froomkin 1/23/2008)
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, provides his observations on the so-called “liberal media.” McClellan writes: “I’m often asked about the ‘liberal media’ critique. Is it true? Is the problem with Washington in part a result of the fact that left-wing journalists are, in effect, at war with conservative politicians and trying to bring them down? My answer is always the same.”
Less Pronounced Leftward Tilt to Reporting - “It’s probably true that most reporters, writers, and TV journalists are personally liberal or leftward leaning, and tend to vote Democratic,” he writes. “Polls and surveys of media professionals bear this out (see February 24, 2009). But this tilt to the left has probably become less pronounced in recent years, with the ascendancy of a wider variety of news sources, including Fox News.… And more important, everything I’ve seen, both as White House press secretary and as a longtime observer of the political scene and the media, suggests that any liberal bias actually has minimal impact on the way the American public is informed.” McClellan notes that, in his opinion, “the vast majority of reporters—including those in the White House press corps—are honest, fair-minded, and professional. They try hard to tell all sides of the stories they report (see March 6, 2003), and they certainly don’t treat information or statements coming from a conservative administration with excessive harshness or exaggerated skepticism. And even when a bit of bias does seep through, I believe the public sees it exactly for what it is.”
Press Corps 'Too Deferential to the White House' regarding Iraq - McClellan writes: “We in the Bush administration had no difficulty in getting our messages out to the American people. If anything, the national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war with Iraq. The collapse of the administration’s rationale for war, which became apparent months after our invasion, should have never come as such a surprise. The public should have been made much more aware, before the fact, of the uncertainties, doubts, and caveats that underlay the intelligence about the regime of Saddam Hussein. The administration did little to convey those nuances to the people; the press should have picked up the slack but largely failed to do so because their focus was elsewhere—on covering the march to war instead of the necessity of war. In this case, the ‘liberal case’ didn’t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
'Liberal-Oriented Media ... a Good Thing' for Countering Right-Leaning Administrations - He continues: “I’ll even go a step further. I’m inclined to believe that a liberal-oriented media in the United States should be viewed as a good thing. When I look back at the last several presidential administrations—the two Bushes, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford—I see conservative/centrist leaders, either right of center or just left of center, who pursued mainstream policies designed to satisfy the vast bulk of middle-class American voters. All of these presidents were at least moderate on economic policy, generally pro-business in their orientation, and within the mainstream in most other issues, from foreign policy to education to the environment. And the Congressional leaders they worked with were, generally speaking, from the same mold—conservative or centrist. Over the past 50 years, there have been no flaming liberals in positions of greatest power in American politics.”
'Comforting the Afflicted and Afflicting the Comfortable' - “Under these circumstances, a generally liberal or left-leaning media can serve an important, useful role,” McClellan writes. “It can stand up for the interests of people and causes that get short shrift from conservative or mainstream politicians: racial and ethnic minorities, women, working people, the poor, the disenfranchised. As the old saying goes, a liberal reporter ought to take up the cause of ‘comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,’ speaking out on issues that otherwise would be neglected or ignored, exposing wrongdoing, and helping to keep the powerful in government and business honest.”
Welcomes 'Skeptical, Untrusting' Media - McClellan continues: “Furthermore, I welcome media that are skeptical and untrusting. The more so the better—as long as they are honest and fair. Those who are in positions of power should have to continually earn the trust of the governed. They should be constantly challenged to prove their policies are right, to prove they can be trusted, and to prove they are accountable. That is the way we are more likely to get to the important, sometimes hard truth.”
Fixation on 'Controversy' Obscures 'Larger Truths' - He concludes: “So I don’t agree with those who excoriate the ‘liberal media.‘… The real problem with the national media is their overemphasis on controversy, the excessive focus on who is winning and who is losing in Washington, and the constant search for something or someone to pick on and attack. These bad habits too often cause the larger truths that matter most to get lost in the mix.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 156-158)
Former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan, reflecting on the buildup to the Iraq invasion, says that President Bush “managed the [Iraq] crisis in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would become the only feasible option.” Between the increasingly belligerent rhetoric, the UN ultimatum (see September 12, 2002), and the “massive buildup of American arms and military forces in the region, which, for logistical reasons, couldn’t remain in the area indefinitely without being used,” war became the only viable option. McClellan blames Bush’s advisers as much as Bush, and observes: “[D]uring the buildup to war, the president’s advisers allowed his own hands to be tied, putting Bush in a position where avoiding conflict was more difficult than launching it. By creating this enormous momentum for war, the president and his advisers achieved several things. He made the job of his political opponents extraordinarily difficult, putting those who opposed the war in the position of arguing against what was almost a fait accompli. He trapped Saddam Hussein in a shrinking box, making it less and less acceptable for the dictator to continue to temporize and play games with his neighbors. He forced other countries… to make hard decisions as to whether or not they would permit a US-led invasion absent a clear imminent threat. Most important, the White House forestalled any debate about the fundamental goals and long-term plans for such an invasion. By pushing so hard on the WMD issue, reducing the larger issue of the future of the Middle East into a short-term emergency threat that must be dealt with now, the president and his advisers avoided having to discuss the big issues of what would happen after the invasion. Who would rule Iraq? How would the region respond? How long would the United States have to remain on the ground? How would tensions among the nation’s ethnic and religious groups be resolved? Few of these questions ever appeared on the national radar screen during the run-up to war. But they would come back to haunt the president, and the nation, in years to come, when it became clear that the stated rationales for war—the WMD threat and Iraq’s link to terrorism—were less than convincing. The lack of candor underlying the campaign for war would severely undermine the president’s entire second term in office.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 142-144)
Former Bush White House press secretary Scott McClellan, in his book What Happened, reflects on what he considers to be the biggest mistakes of President Bush’s presidency: the rush to war with Iraq, and the unwillingness to admit that rushing to war was an error. McClellan writes: “The first grave mistake of Bush’s presidency was rushing towards military confrontation with Iraq. It took his presidency off course and greatly damaged his standing with the public. His second grave mistake was his virtual blindness about his first mistake, and his unwillingness to sustain a bipartisan spirit during a time of war and change course when events demanded it.” McClellan writes that his own views of the Iraq war “have evolved in parallel to those of most Americans.” Before the invasion, McClellan writes that he was torn between uncertainty over launching an unprecedented pre-emptive strike on a nation that had not attacked us, and a desire to avenge the 9/11 attacks. Now, he has “been forced to conclude that we should never have rushed to war in the first place.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 210)
NBC anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw defends the media’s performance during the run-up to the Iraq war, and says that it was too much to expect that the media be able to cut through what he calls “the fog of war,” even before the war. In an interview with his successor, Brian Williams, Brokaw says that the coverage “needs to be viewed in the context of that time. When a president says we’re going to war, that there’s a danger of the mushroom crowd. We know there had been experiments with Iraqi nuclear programs in the past. Honorable people believed he had weapons of mass destruction. But there’s always a drumbeat that happens at that time. And you can raise your hand and put on people like Brent Scowcroft, which we did, a very creditable man who said this was the wrong decision.… There was this feeling, that this was a bad man, he had weapons of mass destruction, we couldn’t make the connection that he was sponsoring terrorists or harboring them, we raised that question day after day. But this president was determined to go to war. It was more theology than it was anything else. That’s pretty hard to deal with.… [T]here is a fog of war, Brian, and also the fog in covering war.” Many Democrats, too, went along with the Bush administration’s push to war, Brokaw adds.
Brokaw Considers War Propaganda Standard Procedure - Williams notes that former press secretary Scott McClellan has said that the war was “based on propaganda.” Brokaw replies: “All wars are based on propaganda. John Kennedy launched the beginning of our war in Vietnam by talking about the domino theory and embracing the Green Berets. Lyndon Johnson kept it up and so did Richard Nixon. World War II—a lot of that was driven by propaganda, and suppressing things that people should have known at the time. So people should not be surprised by that. In this business we often bump up against what I call the opaque world. The White House has an unbelievable ability to control the flow of information at any time but especially at a time when they are planning to go to war.”
Rebutting Brokaw - Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell calls Brokaw’s arguments “bankrupt,” and counters several specifics. For Brokaw to say that it was “hard to deal with” the administration’s “drumbeat” for war is specious, Mitchell says: “NBC and others chose to focus on the ‘evidence’ of WMD rather than the evidence that the administration was simply bent on going to war, WMD or not.” Neither Brokaw nor most of his colleagues spent much time focusing on the fact that UN inspectors had found no evidence whatsoever of the WMD programs being hyped by the administration. Mitchell finds Brokaw’s dismissal of the administration’s propaganda efforts disturbing, and writes: “For Brokaw, who has embraced the notion of [World War II] being the ‘good war,’ to put the Iraq invasion in the same class is outrageous. There is a huge difference between admitting that there is a propaganda element to every war—and pointing out that certain wars are mainly based on propaganda and that a country has been misled, or lied, into war. Surely, Brokaw doesn’t think FDR hyped the Japanese and German threat—or was hellbent on war.” Mitchell finds Brokaw’s note that NBC allowed war critic Brent Scowcroft on the air to be disingenuous: “Studies… have shown that such critics were vastly—hideously—outnumbered by war supporters who got face time.” As for Democratic complicity, Mitchell retorts, “What kind of journalist explains a failure to probe the real reasons for a war on others who may not be doing their own due diligence?” (Mitchell 5/31/2008)
Henry Waxman (D-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, writes to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting access to the transcripts of interviews by President Bush and Vice President Cheney regarding the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). The interviews were conducted as part of the investigation of former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Waxman notes that he made a similar request in December 2007 which has gone unfulfilled (see December 3, 2007). Waxman wants the reports from Bush and Cheney’s interviews, and the unredacted reports from the interviews with Libby, former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, former White House aide Cathie Martin, “and other senior White House officials.” Information revealed by McClellan in conjuction with his new book What Happened, including McClellan’s statement that Bush and Cheney “directed me to go out there and exonerate Scooter Libby,” and his assertion that “Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney… allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie,” adds to evidence from Libby’s interviews that Cheney may have been the source of the information that Wilson worked for the CIA. For Cheney to leak Wilson’s identity, and to then direct McClellan to mislead the public, “would be a major breach of trust,” Waxman writes. He adds that no argument can be made for withholding the documents on the basis of executive privilege, and notes that in 1997 and 1998, the Oversight Committee demanded and received FBI interviews with then-President Clinton and then-Vice President Gore without even consulting the White House. (US House of Representatives 6/3/2008; Tilghman 6/3/2008)
In his regular “Journal” broadcast, PBS political commentator Bill Moyers focuses on the role of the media in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. “America was deceived, with the media’s help,” Moyers declares, and interviews three media figures to help explain how: John Walcott, Washington bureau chief of McClatchy News; Jonathan Landay, one of Walcott’s “ace reporters;” and Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher, “known to many of us as the watchdog’s watchdog.” Part of the discussion focuses on the failure of most media reporters and broadcasters to question the Bush administration’s assertions about the Iraq war. Landay says, “I was just I was left breathless by some of the things that I heard where you heard correspondents say, ‘Well, we did ask the tough questions. We asked them to the White House spokesmen,’ Scott McClellan and others. And you say to yourself, ‘And you expected to get real answers? You expected them to say from the White House podium—“Yeah, well, there were disagreements over the intelligence, but we ignored them”’ when the President made his speeches and the Vice President made his speeches. No, I don’t think so.” Mitchell agrees, noting that ABC reporter Charles Gibson said that we “wouldn’t ask any different questions.” Mitchell says he found Gibson’s remarks “shocking.” Mitchell continues: “[T]hat someone would say we would even with the chance to relive this experience and so much we got wrong—going to war is—which is still going on over five years later, all the lost lives, all the financial costs of that. And then to look back at this, you know, this terrible episode in history of American journalism and say that if I could do it all over again, I’m not sure we would ask any different questions.” Walcott takes a different tack, saying that reporters “may have asked all the right questions. The trouble is they asked all the wrong people.” Landay notes that “you have to take the time to find those people,” and Mitchell adds that when you do find real information, “[y]ou can’t bury it.” Landay adds that some powerful, public admission of error and self-examination might go far to counter the perception that the media is just as untrustworthy as the government.
Drowned Out - Walcott notes that even when reporters found informed sources willing to talk about the realities behind the push for war, they were drowned out by “Donald Rumsfeld at the podium or Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice saying, ‘We can’t allow the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud’” (see September 4, 2002 and September 8, 2002). “Over and over again,” Moyers notes. “Over and over again on camera,” Walcott continues. “[T]hat trumps the kind of reporting that John and [Landay’s partner] Warren Strobel did from these mid-level guys who actually know that there’s no prospect of any smoking gun let alone a mushroom cloud. And so when it gets to packaging television news, it’s picture driven, it’s celebrity driven, and that doesn’t allow much room for this kind of hard-nosed reporting under the radar.” Mitchell says, “There’s been at least six opportunities in the last two months for the media to do this long delayed and much needed self-assessment, self-criticism to the American public and it hasn’t happened.”
Liberal vs. Conservative Media - Moyers notes that many conservative media outlets “do not believe they got it wrong. I mean, Fox News was reinforcing the administration’s messages back then and still does today.” Walcott notes, “You know, if Fox News’s mission is to defend Republican administrations then they’re right, they didn’t fail.” He notes that in his book, McClellan draws a distinction between the conservative and the “liberal” media (presumably the New York Times, Washington Post, etc). “I don’t understand what liberal versus conservative has to do with this,” Walcott says. “I would have thought that conservatives would be the ones to ask questions about a march to war. How much is this gonna cost us? What’s the effect of this gonna be on our military, on our country’s strength overseas? I don’t think it’s a liberal conservative question at all. I think that’s, frankly, a canard by Scott.”
Celebrity 'Experts' - Moyers asks about the “experts” who predicted that the war would be quick, bloodless, and successful. Even though they were “terribly wrong,” Moyers notes that most of them are “still on the air today pontificating. I mean, there seems to be no price to be paid for having been wrong about so serious an issue of life and death, war and peace.” Walcott says they are not news analysts so much as they are celebrities. Big name actors can make bad movies and still draw million-dollar salaries for their next film: “It’s the same phenomenon. A name is what matters. And it’s about celebrity. It’s about conflict. It’s about—” Landay completes Walcott’s sentence: “Ratings.”
'Skunks at the Garden Party' - Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the discussion is when Walcott notes that the kind of old-fashioned investigative reporting exemplified by Landay and Strobel is “by definition… unpopular.… Because the public doesn’t wanna hear it.… Doesn’t wanna hear the President lied to them. Doesn’t wanna hear that the local police chief is on the take. You know, people don’t like necessarily to hear all that kind of stuff. And when you’re worried about, above all, your advertising revenue, you become more vulnerable to those kinds of pressures.… Well, the skunks don’t get invited to the garden party. And part of our job is to be the skunks at the garden party.” (Moyers 6/6/2008)
The recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on misleading, exaggerated, and inaccurate presentations of the prewar Iraqi threat by the Bush administration (see June 5, 2008) leaves out some significant material. The report says that the panel did not review “less formal communications between intelligence agencies and other parts of the executive branch.” The committee made no attempt to obtain White House records or interview administration officials because, the report says, such steps were considered beyond the scope of the report. Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus notes that “[o]ne obvious target for such an expanded inquiry would have been the records of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG), a group set up in August 2002 by then-White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.” WHIG (see August 2002) was composed of, among other senior White House officials, senior political adviser Karl Rove; the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James Wilkinson; legislative liaison Nicholas Calio; and a number of policy aides led by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
WHIG Led Marketing of War - Scott McClellan, the former White House press secretary, recently wrote in his book What Happened that WHIG “had been set up in the summer of 2002 to coordinate the marketing of the war to the public.… The script had been finalized with great care over the summer [for a] “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.” On September 6, 2002, Card hinted as much to reporters when he said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August” (see September 6, 2002). Two days later, the group scored its first hit with a front-page New York Times story about Iraq’s secret purchase of aluminum tubes that, the story said, could be used to produce nuclear weapons (see September 8, 2002). The information for that story came from “senior administration officials” now known to be members of WHIG. The story was the first to make the statement that “the first sign of a ‘smoking gun’ [proving the existence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program] may be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002); that same morning, the same message was repeated three times by various senior administration officials on the Sunday talk shows (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002). WHIG did not “deliberately mislead the public,” McClellan claimed in his book, but wrote that the “more fundamental problem was the way [Bush’s] advisers decided to pursue a political propaganda campaign to sell the war to the American people.… As the campaign accelerated,” caveats and qualifications were downplayed or dropped altogether. Contradictory intelligence was largely ignored or simply disregarded.”
Records Perusal Would 'Shed Light' - If indeed the White House “repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even nonexistent,” as committee chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) has said, then an examination of WHIG’s records would, Pincus writes, “shed much light” on the question. (Pincus 6/9/2008)
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