Down at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the mood is not just somber. It’s downright doom and gloom. The Bush Administration has been caught in another lie, a big lie, one that involves the President’s closest advisor divulging classified information to a reporter, an outright breach of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
And reporters in the White House Press Corps seem to have finally grown a set of balls and won’t let the issue go. For the second day in a row, Scott McClellan, the President’s spokesliar, found himself on the hotseat at the daily press briefing:
Q: Scott, some Democrats are calling for the revocation of Karl Rove’s security clearance. Does the President see any need for that?
McCLELLAN: John, I think there’s a lot of discussion that’s going on in the context of an ongoing investigation. This is based on some news reports that came out recently. I think you heard me talk about the importance of helping this investigation move forward. I don’t think it’s helpful for me from this podium to get into discussing what is an ongoing investigation. I think it’s most helpful for me to not comment while that investigation continues. And these are all issues that some are trying to raise in the context of news reports. I don’t think we should be prejudging the outcome of any investigation at this point.
Q: But the issues of security clearance and criminal investigations are often on very separate tracks. So does the President see any reason, any necessity, at least in the interim, to revoke Karl Rove’s security clearance?
McCLELLAN: John, the President — first of all, let me back up — some of you asked a couple of questions about does the President still have confidence in particular individuals, specifically Karl Rove. I don’t want to get into commenting on things in the context of an ongoing investigation. So let me step back and point out that any individual who works here at the White House has the confidence of the President. They wouldn’t be working here at the White House if they didn’t have the President’s confidence. And in terms of security clearances, there are a number of people at the White House that have various levels of security clearance. And I’m confident that those individuals have the appropriate security clearance. I haven’t gone around looking at what those security clearances are.
Q: But, Scott, are you suggesting — I think it’s pretty clear to everybody at this point you don’t want to comment on the investigation. But the President has also spoken about this when asked. So does the President —
McCLELLAN: Spoken about?
Q: Well, he has spoken about these questions that have come up as part of a leak investigation. So does he retain confidence in Karl Rove, specifically?
McCLELLAN: Yes. Any individual who works here at the White House has the President’s confidence. They wouldn’t be working here if they didn’t have the President’s confidence. That’s why I stepped back from this and talked about it in the broader context.
Now, these questions are coming up in the context of an ongoing investigation, and I stated long ago, you all will remember, that the investigation is continuing, I want to be helpful to the investigation, I don’t want to jeopardize anything in that investigation, and that’s why I made a decision and the White House made a decision quite some time ago that we weren’t going to get into commenting on questions related to that investigation.
Q: But isn’t the difficulty that you have said to the public, dating back to 2003, affirmatively, Karl Rove is not involved, and now we have evidence to the contrary? So how do you reconcile those two things? How does the President reconcile those two things?
McCLELLAN: Again, if I were to get into discussing this, I would be getting into discussing an investigation that continues and could be prejudging the outcome of the investigation. I’m not going to do that from this podium. You do point out some statements that were made. I remember well the comments that were made. After that point, I also remember going and testifying in this investigation. I remember well individuals who are involved overseeing this investigation expressing their preference personally to me that we not get into discussing what is an ongoing investigation. I think that’s the way to be most helpful as they move forward, and that’s why I’m in the position that I am. I’m not going to get into jumping on every news report as the investigation continues and trying to comment on them, because I don’t think that’s helpful.
So I think you have to step back from any individual news story or individual reports. Let’s let the investigation take place. I look forward to talking about some of these matters once the investigation is complete. I welcome the opportunity to talk about some of these questions, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to do so at this time.
Q: Let’s just — just one final —
McCLELLAN: And I think the American people can understand and appreciate that.
Q: Well, we’ll see. But I just have one final question on this. The question of whether a law has been broken, a crime committed, is a separate matter. You’re not going to resolve that; that’s for a grand jury to decide. But we know what the facts are. We know that Karl Rove spoke about Joseph Wilson’s wife, referring to the fact that she worked at the Agency. You’ve heard Democrats who say that — say today that alone was inappropriate conduct. What was Karl Rove trying to accomplish by having the conversation he did? And does the President think that it was fair of him to do that? Was it fair game?
McCLELLAN: Now, that’s a question related to an ongoing investigation. The investigation continues, David. I think you know that very well. I’ve responded to that question. And if I were to start commenting on news reports or things related to the investigation, I’m getting into prejudging the outcome of that investigation. I don’t want to do that from this podium. Let’s let the investigation take place, and let’s let the investigators bring all the facts together and draw the conclusions that they draw, and then we will know the facts at that point.
Q: But, Scott, there’s a difference between what’s legal and what’s right. Is what Karl Rove did right?
McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, you can state the obvious. I understand and appreciate that, and I appreciate you all. I know you all want to get to the bottom of this. I want to get to the bottom of it; the President has said no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than he does. We want to see it come to a successful conclusion. The best way to help the investigation come to a successful conclusion is for me not to get into discussing it from this podium. I don’t think that —
Q: Well, wait, wait, wait —
McCLELLAN: Wait — I don’t think that helps advance the investigation.
Q: All right, you say you won’t discuss it, but the Republican National Committee and others working, obviously, on behalf of the White House, they put out this Wilson-Rove research and talking points, distributed to Republican surrogates, which include things like, Karl Rove discouraged a reporter from writing a false story. And then other Republican surrogates are getting information such as, Cooper — the Time reporter — called Rove on the pretense of discussing welfare reform. Bill Kristol on Fox News, a friendly news channel to you, said that the conversation lasted for two minutes and it was just at the end that Rove discussed this. So someone is providing this information. Are you, behind the scenes, directing a response to this story?
McCLELLAN: You can talk to the RNC about what they put out. I’ll let them speak to that. What I know is that the President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And as part of cooperating fully with that investigation, that means supporting the efforts by the investigators to come to a successful conclusion, and that means not commenting on it from this podium.
Q: Well, if —
McCLELLAN: No, I understand your question.
Q: Well, Fox News and other Republican surrogates are essentially saying that the conversation lasted for two minutes and that the subject was ostensibly welfare reform. They’re getting that information from here, from Karl Rove.
McCLELLAN: And again, you’re asking questions that are related to news reports about an ongoing, continuing investigation. And you’ve had my response on that.
Q: At the very least, though, Scott, could you say whether or not you stand by your statement —
McCLELLAN: John, I’ll come back to you if I can.
Q: — of September 29th, 2003, that it is simply not true that Karl Rove disclosed the identify of a CIA operative? Can you stand by that statement?
McCLELLAN: John, I look forward to talking about this at some point, but it’s not the appropriate time to talk about those questions while the investigation is continuing.
Q: So should we take that as a yes or a no?
McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Dick.
Q: Can you explain why —
Q: Scott, this was a statement you made, on the record, 21-months ago. You very confidently asserted to us and to the American people that Rove told you he had nothing to do with it. Can you stand by that statement now?
McCLELLAN: Yes, and I responded to these questions yesterday.
Q Let me — let me just do what you did a few moments ago and step back from the context of the investigation to the President’s agenda. Does Karl Rove, with all the attention being paid to him now, become a liability to the President, an impediment to his pushing his agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: See, you’re asking all these context in — all these questions in the context of the news reports relating to an investigation —
Q: I’m talking about it now in the larger sense of Rove being the Deputy Chief of Staff.
McCLELLAN: We’re continuing to move forward on our agenda, and the — we’re on the verge of accomplishing some very big things when it comes to the agenda. And —
Q: But is Karl Rove an impediment now, with all this attention distracting from that push on your agenda?
McCLELLAN: Everybody who is working here is helping us to advance the agenda, and that includes Karl in a very big way.
Q: Has he apologized to you for telling you he is not involved?
McCLELLAN: Helen, I’m not going to get into any private discussions.
Q: He put you on the spot. He put your credibility on the line.
McCLELLAN: And, Helen, I appreciate you all wanting to move forward and find the facts relating to this investigation. I want to know all the facts relating to the investigation.
Q: You people are on the record, one quote after another.
McCLELLAN: The President wants to get to the bottom of it. And it’s just not appropriate. If you’ll remember back two years ago, or almost two years ago, I did draw a line and I said, we’re just not going to get into commenting on —
Q: You also made comments in defending Mr. Rove.
McCLELLAN: We’re just not going to get into commenting on an investigation that continues. And I think you’ve heard me explain why I’m not going to do that. I do want to talk about this —
Q: Do you regret putting yourself out on a limb, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: I do want to talk about this, and we will talk about it once the investigation is complete.
Q Do you regret what you said in 2003?
McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Do you regret putting yourself so far out on a limb when you don’t know the facts?
McCLELLAN: David, you had your opportunity. I’ll try to come back to you if I can, but I think I’ve responded to those questions.
Q: Well, you haven’t responded to that. Do you think you went too far two years ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: (No answer. Called on another reporter).
Q: Does the White House have a credibility problem?
McCLELLAN: Ed, these are all questions that you’re bringing up in the context of an investigation that is ongoing —
Q: I’m not asking about that.
McCLELLAN: Well, it’s clear that this is coming up in the context of news —
Q: We could talk about WMDs, a whole range of issues.
McCLELLAN: — in the context of news reports. And I appreciate those questions. And I think you’re trying to get at the specific news reports and wanting me to comment on those specific news reports and —
Q: But they’re news reports that have been confirmed by Karl Rove’s attorney, Scott.
McCLELLAN: John, you can keep jumping in, but I’m going to try to keep going to other people in this room, as well. And we can have constructive dialogue here, I think, but that’s not the way to do it.
Q: It’s not my job to have a constructive dialogue, Scott. Sorry.
Q: — on why you can’t answer Ed’s question about whether — generally speaking, whether the administration has a credibility problem. I think a lot of people are tuning in, wondering, can we trust what this White House says, can we trust what Scott McClellan says.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: I’m not talking about the case. Can you just address — do you feel like there’s a credibility problem?
McCLELLAN: I think you all in this room know me very well. And you know the type of person that I am. You, and many others in this room, have dealt with me for quite some time. The President is a very straightforward and plainspoken person, and I’m someone who believes in dealing in a very straightforward way with you all, as well, and that’s what I’ve worked to do.
Q Scott, how long has the President known that Karl Rove spoke in 2003 to at least one reporter about Joseph Wilson’s wife?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s a question relating to the investigation. You’ve had my response on those questions.
Q Was it like a big surprise to him this week and when the story broke about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it’s an ongoing, continuing investigation, and I think I’ve addressed why I’m not going to get into discussing it further at this time.
Q So I understand your reluctance to talk. Now, Mr. Rove’s attorney, Mr. Luskin, spoke to reporters a few days ago. Would you be willing to allow your attorney to speak to reporters about these matters?
MR. McCLELLAN: Next question. I’m not going to get into discussing the investigation at this point.
Q Scott, back on — to turn it back, the President has confidence in everyone who works for him —
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re making an assumption that I wouldn’t make either. So — go ahead.
Q That you have an attorney?
McCLELLAN: (Ignored question. Called on another reporter).
Q: Scott, back on the situation of the President having confidence in everyone who works for him, does this confidence allow for everyone, to include Karl Rove, to conduct the same duties that they were conducting a couple of years ago, today and yesterday?
Q: So Karl Rove is still —
McCLELLAN: I don’t know if the duties are the same, because the agenda has moved quite a ways since then.
Q: So nothing has changed in the way of his duties with the President. And what has his interaction been with the President in the last couple of days?
McCLELLAN: As I pointed out at the beginning, any individual that is working here at the White House and doing their job has the confidence of the President in the job that they are doing. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have the confidence of the President of the United States.
And in terms of what we’re doing here at the White House, we’re trying to implement the President’s agenda. We’re going about working on helping him to make a decision to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that exists. We’re moving forward on important pieces of legislation like the energy plan that the President outlined and that has been passed by both chambers, and that they’re working to get passed. We’re trying to move forward on passing the Central American Free Trade Agreement. There are a number of important priorities that we are focused on. And that’s what everybody here at the White House is working on.
There are — anytime you have an investigation of this nature that is a criminal investigation, it’s going to draw media attention. And there — and anytime news reports come out about that investigation, obviously, it gets attention in the media. But we’ve got an important job to do on behalf of the American people. We’re focused on moving forward on that agenda so people are going about doing their work here at the White House.
Q: All right, Scott, since it’s drawn media attention, it’s also drawn attention here at the White House. You’ve totally changed some of your statements, as you said yesterday, so, therefore, it’s been bandied about at the White House. And knowing the President has been advised of the talking points, what has he said to Karl Rove in relation to the situation today and yesterday?
McCLELLAN: You’re asking about the investigation —
Q: I’m asking about the President’s friendship and political advisement from Karl Rove —
McCLELLAN: I appreciate you asking this. It’s in the context of the investigation, and you’ve had my response on that.
Q: I’m asking about the daily briefing —
McCLELLAN: I’m just not going to go further on it.
Q: — and the conversation between Karl Rove and the President.
McCLELLAN: Everybody is going about doing their business, as they should be.
Q: Scott, back on the Rove question, you are continuously saying it’s an ongoing investigation. But it’s also an ongoing news story that has opened up what has been described as a credibility gap here. Do you not sense — is there no sense here that perhaps you, the President and/or Karl, need to say something more about this situation to close that gap?
McCLELLAN: Well, Bob, I think that if I started getting into questions relating to this investigation, I might be harming that investigation from moving forward. I don’t want —
Q: I’m asking about the sense here at the White House.
McCLELLAN: I know. I heard you question, and I appreciate your question, because I know you all have a genuine interest in seeing this investigation come to a conclusion and know what the facts are. And there are news reports that come out all the time in investigations. I’m not going to comment on news reports that come out in the middle of an investigation or during an investigation, because that could just prejudge the outcome of the investigation. We want to know what the facts are, and the way to do that is to let the investigators complete their work. As I said, they certainly expressed a preference to me and others that they would prefer that, from the White House, we not get into commenting about this in a public way. That’s a preference that’s been expressed to me personally, as well. And I want to be helpful to this investigation.
I also would like to be able to talk more about it, but I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to do while it is continuing. That’s the reason why I’m not going further than I am. And I think if the American people hear that, they can understand and appreciate that. It has nothing to do with whether or not I want to comment on anything that was previously said. There will be an appropriate time to talk about all this. The time for that, though is not now.
If not now, when? When will this administration finally own up to the fact that it is duplicitous, dishonest and deranged?
And when will the American people finally rise up and say “enough is enough?”