Monday, July 11, 2005

'Gentlemen' of the Press

I understand the press has a job to do, and part of that job is to ask the hard questions. The adversarial role of the press is not limited to either Democrats or Republicans, despite the leftward drift of most major media outlets. When does hard questioning cease being a function of serving the greater good, and become preening, posturing, and badgering? Wherever the line is, it was certainly crossed today. Here's the White House Press Corp and Scott McClellan today:

Q: Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in a leak of the name of a CIA operative?

MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked related to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point.

And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it.

The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.

Q: I actually wasn't talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak to the press about information. I just wanted to know: Is that still his position?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that's why I said that our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium.

The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium...

Q: Scott, if I could point out: Contradictory to that statement, on September 29th of 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one to have said that if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then, on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation, when the president made his comments that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, 'We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation'?

MCCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. And that's something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow.

And that's why we're continuing to follow that approach and that policy. Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And, at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.

Q: So could I just ask: When did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry's question at the beginning. There came a point, when the investigation got under way, when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be - or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing.

I think that's the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.

Q: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?

MCCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to a ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than: We're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.

Q: Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003, when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliot Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this"?

MCCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that, as part of helping the investigators 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.

Q: Scott, this is ridiculous. 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've decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?

MCCLELLAN: I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said. And I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation...

Q: (inaudible) when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?

MCCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish.

Q: No, you're not finishing. You're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke 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 people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn't he?

MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.

Q: Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?

MCCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.

Q: You're in a bad spot here, Scott... because after the investigation began - after the criminal investigation was under way -- you said, October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this," from that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began.

Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?

MCCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that...

And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this. Because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States.

I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I'm just not going to do that.

Q: So you're now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore and since then you haven't.

MCCLELLAN: Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and I'm just not going to respond to them.

Q: When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you pin down a date?

MCCLELLAN: Back in that time period.

Q: Well, then the president commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?

MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.

Q: Well, we are going to keep asking them. When did the president learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife in the decision to send him to Africa?

MCCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.

Q: When did the president learn that Karl Rove had been...

MCCLELLAN: I've responded to your questions.

Q: After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the president's word that anybody who was involved will be let go?

MCCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.

Q: 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, the deputy chief of staff, here?

MCCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.

Q: Does the president continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?

MCCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.

Q: So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the president has confidence in his deputy chief of staff?

MCCLELLAN: You're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation, and I would not read anything into it other then I'm simply going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Q: Has there been any change, or is there a plan for Mr. Rove's portfolio to be altered in any way?

MCCLELLAN: Again, you have my response to these questions...


Q: There's a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it. Newsweek put out a story, an e-mail saying that Karl Rove passed national security information on to a reporter that outed a CIA officer. Now, are you saying that the President is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action and that if he did you still would not necessarily abide by that; that the President is free to respond to news reports, regardless of whether there's an investigation or not.

So are you saying that he's not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this.

This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we're just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.


Q: When the leak investigation is completed, does the president believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what transpired inside the White House at the time?

MCCLELLAN: This is an investigation being overseen by a special prosecutor. And I think those are questions best directed to the special prosecutor.

Q: Have you or the White House considered whether that would be optimal to release as much information and make it as open...

MCCLELLAN: It's the same type of question. You're asking me to comment on an ongoing investigation and I'm not going to do that.

Q: I'd like you to talk about the communications strategies just a little bit there.

MCCLELLAN: Understood. The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and that's what he expects people in the White House to do.

Q: And he would like to do that when it is concluded, cooperate fully with...

MCCLELLAN: Again, I've already responded.

Q: Scott, who in the investigation made this request of the White House not to comment further about the investigation? Was it Mr. Fitzgerald? Did he make a request of you specifically?

MCCLELLAN: You can direct those questions to the special prosecutors. I think probably more than one individual who's involved in overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing.

That's 27 questions, all essentially the same, all with the same answer. It was quite clear that Scott McClellan was dodging the questions, at the request of Bush or a high official. The point was made; even 3 - 5 questions on this subject would have been enough to determine that McClellan was not going to give a substantive answer - and you would have had your story. "Bush spokesman Scott McClellan declined to answer questions about Karl Rove's involvement in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity, despite having no such qualms on prior occasions when he adamantly denied Rove's role in the affair." See? It writes itself...

Even worse is the attitude of the press corps, and here the bias becomes quite evident. These are all quotes from above:

  • 'Scott, this is ridiculous...';
  • 'No, you're not finishing; you're not saying anything...';
  • 'You're in a bad spot here, that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information...'
  • 'After you cleared Rove and others from that podium...'
  • 'Well, we're going to keep on asking them...' (after McClellan pointed out they were asking the same thing over and over and over again)
A disgusting performance...and it doesn't stop there. Ryan James has the story on yet another example of the liberal media spin at work, this time regarding military recruitment figures. What liberal media? Give me a break...

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