I advise all students of political speech to read the transcript of the press briefing conducted by White House press secretary Scott McClellan today. It was a smorgasbord of stonewalling. He entered the White House press room at 1:00 p.m., his eyes darting about, and started off by reading a statement from President Bush on the tenth anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. Then the subject changed. Rather abruptly. Reporter after reporter asked McClellan about Karl Rove and the news–broken by Michael Isikoff of Newsweek–of a July 11, 2003, e-mail written by Time‘s Matt Cooper that noted that Cooper had spoken to Rove on “double super secret background” and that Rove had told him that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s “wife…apparently works at the agency on wmd issues.” The e-mail is proof that Rove leaked to a reporter information revealing the CIA employment of Valerie Plame (a k a Valerie Wilson).
This puts Rove and the White House in a pickle. Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that Rove did not mention Valerie Wilson’s name to Cooper. But this is a rather thin defense. (I explain why here, and I also note why George W. Bush, if he takes his own rhetoric seriously, has no choice but to dismiss Rove.) But legal and criminal difficulties aside, the e-mail is undeniable evidence that Rove leaked national security information to a journalist to discredit a critic (Joseph Wilson). How does that square with White House policy as it has been previously stated? Well, it doesn’t. And the journalists in the White House press room knew that. Many had a list of previous McClellan statements at the ready. I was there, and I had a list, too. Here are some of the past White House statements I had collected.
On September 29, 2003, Scott McClellan said of the leak (which first appeared in a Bob Novak column on July 14, 2003):
That is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his Administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing.
Asked then about the allegation Rove had been involved in the leak, he said,
Well, I’ve made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion…. It is simply not true…. And I have spoken with Karl Rove.
He also said that the White House would not stand for such conduct:
If anyone in this Administration was involved in [the leak], they would no longer be in this Administration..
On October 1, 2003, McClellan reiterated the White House position:
The president certainly doesn’t condone the leaking.
And he said of Rove:
I made it very clear that he didn’t condone that kind of activity and was not involved in that kind of activity.