Excuse me if I'm resentful of the attention Scott McClellan, George W. Bush's onetime presidential press secretary, is receiving for finally telling the obvious truth that the Bush White House deceived the public about the Iraq war. Though McClellan's account has punch coming from an insider, he's late to the party. Some of us made the case when it counted--back in 2002 and 2003, before the war was launched, and in the following years--and we also maintained that the deceptive measures of the Bush administration extended beyond its PR campaign for war in Iraq. Yet back then McClellan was doing what he could to thwart such efforts. Now he says the media failed to confront the Bush administration forcefully enough. Which is true. But when reporters did try, McClellan put up a stonewall. So his complaint is like that of a thief who, after pulling off a caper, gripes that the incompetent police did not nab him. This is absurd. After all, before each press briefing, did McClellan go to the men's room and use a bar of soap to write on the mirror, "Stop me before I spin again"?
Let's turn to one example of McClellan's complicity--one that I know well, for it was an instance when McClellan spoke falsely to me.
McClellan's daily press briefing on September 29, 2003, was a rough one for him. The news had broken that the CIA had requested that the Justice Department investigate the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA identity. This meant that presidential aides could end up facing criminal charges. The reporters in the White House press room were in a justified frenzy. The CIA leak episode was now a full-force scandal. (Two months earlier, I had been the first reporter to note that the Plame leak was possibly a White House crime, but in the intervening period most of the media had ignored or neglected the story.)
Much of the press briefing that day was devoted to the CIA leak investigation. Answering questions about the Plame leak, McClellan declared, "that is not the way this White House operates." (Actually, it was.) He insisted that Bush knew that Rove was not involved in the leak. (Actually, Rove told at least two reporters about Valerie Wilson's CIA connection, which was classified information.) And McClellan said that Rove told him that he had played no role in the leak mess. (Actually, as just noted, Rove had.)
I was at the briefing, but by the time McClellan called on me, all of the leak-related queries had been asked. Even though I was keen on covering that story, I turned to another matter: the missing WMDs in Iraq and the prewar intelligence. A few days earlier, the House intelligence committee had sent then-CIA director George Tenet a letter saying that there had been "too many uncertainties" in the prewar intelligence on WMDs in Iraq. I asked,