April 8, 2006

The Lies Just
Keep on Coming

If you thought that the Bush administration couldn't possibly get caught in a lie more obvious that the one about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, you thought wrong. The following is taken verbatim from a White House Press Conference on April 7, 2006, following the stunning revelations that Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, testified to a grand jury that it was President Bush himself who ordered that classified information be leaked to reporters. It was these leaks to reporters that outed Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent.

Plame is the wife of Joe Wilson, a former ambassador sent by Cheney and the CIA to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein was attempting to obtain uranium for a nuclear bomb. Wilson reported back to the CIA that the documents in question were forgeries and that there was no substance to the charges, but Bush went ahead and used the year old discredited information in a nationally televised speech to the nation prior to his invasion of Iraq accusing Hussein of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. When Wilson went public with his findings after the president's speech, Bush ordered that classified information be leaked to reporters in an attempt to smear Wilson, including information that Wilson's wife was a covert CIA agent. It is also against federal law and a felony to deliberately reveal the identity of a CIA agent.

Upon Plame's outing, the president himself publicly stated on several occasions that anyone who leaked classified information to reporters would be severely punished. Libby's statements to the grand jury now place the blame solidly on the president's shoulders.

The questions below indicated by "Q" were being asked by an unidentified reporter:

Q I understand the reason why you thought it needed to be declassified, because of the debate at the time. The question was, when was it declassified. And you were asked that day, when -- the question was, "When was it actually declassified?" And you said, "It was officially declassified today."

If it had been officially declassified on July 18, 2003, then 10 days before, when the information was given out, it was still classified at the time.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're going back to an assertion that is made in a filing related to an ongoing legal proceeding when you talk about the second part of your question. There is no way for me to separate that question and talk about this issue without discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. And I can't do that. We have a policy that's been established, and I'm obligated to adhere to that policy.

Q But answer the question, it's a factual question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but you can't separate that question from the legal proceeding --

Q Was it declassified that day --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- because of one of the assertions that was made in the filing.

Well, you can go back and look at comments that were made at that time. That was when it was --

Q Those were your comments.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that was when it was publicly released at the time. I haven't looked back at exactly what was said at that time.

Q Well, let's be really clear about this. It says right here on July 18th, "When was it actually declassified?" Mr. McClellan, answer, "It was officially declassified today." Is that correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me to get into the timing. I'm not backing away from anything that was said previously -- that's when the document was released, so that's when it officially --

Q They don't say "released." They say "declassify."

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, Jim. Let me tell you. That's when it was officially released. So I think that's what I was referring to at the time. I'd have to go back and look at the specific comments, but I'm not changing anything that was said previously, so let me make that clear.

Q But if you were --

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, secondly, the question you're going to, again, relates to the timing of when certain information was declassified --

Q I'm not going to that question --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but there's no way you can separate that question out from the ongoing legal proceeding --

Q Scott, you are very careful with your words here. I think if you wanted to say "released," you would have said "released." You said, "declassified."


Q Well, what does that tell --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's when the information was released publicly.

Q Scott, did you not know --

MR. McCLELLAN: But there was --

Q That's not what --

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, for the National Intelligence Estimate, Jim, it did go through a declassification process; you are correct. And the information was carefully looked at by the intelligence community before the portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were made available to the public --

Q But, Scott, you said, "declassified." If it's declassified on that day, it wasn't declassified before. And you're saying you're sticking to -- you're not taking back anything you said before, and what you said that day is it was officially declassified. MR. McCLELLAN: I'd be glad to take a look at exactly what I said, and I'll do that.

Q You didn't say -- I mean, we've got that here --

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't do that here in this room right now, but I'll be glad to take a look at it --

Q Then why are you saying you're not backing up from anything if you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what I'm saying is that -- I think what I was referring to is the fact that that was when it was made available to the public. So all that information is officially declassified at that point.

Q Then why are you saying you won't back off anything you said before if, in fact, we have transcripts here where you say that's when it was officially declassified? Are you still saying that's when it was officially declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's when it was made available to the public. So it's officially --

Q When was it officially declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- so it's officially declassified at that point. I think we're talking past each other a little bit. I'll have to go back and look at the specific transcript -- and I'll be glad to do that -- and we can talk about it further later.

Q Okay. When was it officially declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the timing of when information may have been declassified, that gets into a question relating to the legal proceeding in a filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald earlier this week.

Q What were you referring to on July 18th, then? Was that the official release, or official declassification?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I'll have to check. I'll have to go back and look. But my sense is, and my recollection is -- while we're sitting here talking about it is -- I was referring to the fact that was when it was officially declassified for the public.

(A new question from Helen Thomas.)

Q Did the President know that Joe Wilson was married to a CIA agent before Novak revealed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this goes to -- go back and look at previous comments, but this goes to an ongoing legal proceeding, and I would encourage you --

Q Did he know? It's a simple question.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I would encourage you to go and look at the filing that was made just the other night, because Mr. Fitzgerald touches on that subject in the filing.

Q You mean the President did not know?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I can't get into discussing an ongoing legal proceeding, and that's a question relating to the ongoing legal proceeding.

Q I think it's a very simple, important question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Matt, did you have something?

(A new question, now here is where McClellan really get's into his Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine.)

Q Scott, what was the President's reaction to this story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q What was the President's reaction to this story? What has he said?

MR. McCLELLAN: "This story"?

Q The story, as it's published.

MR. McCLELLAN: "The story as it's published"? Which story as it's published?

Q You sound like Donald Rumsfeld. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: "This story" -- I'm just asking you to specify what the story is.

Q I'm talking about the filing --

MR. McCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald, okay.

Q -- I'm talking about what we found out --

MR. McCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald. I can't get into talking with you relating to an ongoing legal proceeding.

Q I'm not asking you to. I'm asking, did the President say anything about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I can't get into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding. That relates to an ongoing legal proceeding. I just can't do that.

If you thought you were reading a transcript of the "Who's on First" vaudeville routine made famous by Abbot and Costello, you'd be right. Of course, Politics 101 dictates that even when caught red-handed, you must NEVER admit that you told a lie, no matter how obvious it is. Press Secretary Scott McClellan certainly made no attempt to break this golden rule.

Blog Sources:

White House Press Conference, April 7, 2006.