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McClellan: White House Could Have Been More Open

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Scott McClellan was the White House Press Secretary for three years; then he left his job and wrote a book blasting his former colleagues for lying to him and to the public. That got him called before the House Judiciary Committee today. He testified about one highly public moment in the controversy surrounding the Iraq war.

NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Most current and former White House officials have refused invitations, even subpoenas, to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. Maybe that was why Scott McClellan got a kind of VIP treatment as he entered the committee room today, escorted by Democratic Chairman John Conyers.

Representative JOHN CONYERS (Democrat, Michigan): We welcome everyone to the hearing, especially former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

ELLIOTT: Not everyone offered such a warm reception. Texas Congressman Lamar Smith is the ranking Republican on the panel.

Representative LAMAR SMITH (Republican, Texas): Welcome, everyone, to the Judiciary Committee's first Book of the Month Club meeting. Today it's Scott McClellan's "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." I propose that next time we consider Ann Coulter's book, "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)."

ELLIOTT: And indeed, the book did dominate the session. McClellan would preface his answers with: as I recount in my book. A White House spokesman asked about the testimony dismissed it, saying, I think Scott has probably told everyone everything he doesn't know.

Conyers had invited McClellan to appear because the book said top White House officials misled him about who was involved in the leaking of the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame. Her husband, Joseph Wilson, had angered the White House by disputing its claims about Iraq's efforts to build a nuclear bomb.

But McClellan would not say that administration officials had committed any crime.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (Former White House Press Secretary): Nor do I know if there was an attempt by any person or persons to engage in a cover-up during the investigation. I do know that it was wrong to reveal her identity because it compromised the effectiveness of a covert official for political reasons.

ELLIOTT: McClellan described how he came to vouch for the president's adviser, Karl Rove, and for Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

Mr. McCLELLAN: I received a call from the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, and he said that the president and vice president had spoken that morning and they wanted me to provide the same assurances for Scooter Libby that I had for Karl Rove.

ELLIOTT: McClellan said he had assurances from Libby that he was not involved in leaking Plame's identity to reporters. Chairman Conyers wanted to know just how high up the scandal went.

Rep. CONYERS: You spoke very frequently with the president and the vice president. Do you think either or both of them knew about the leak and had any role in causing the leak to happen or knew that Mr. Libby was involved in the leak when they helped get you to falsely vouch for him?

Mr. McCLELLAN: I do not think the president in any way had knowledge about it, based on my conversations with him back at that time when he said that Karl Rove had not been involved and had told him something to that effect. In terms of the vice president, I do not know. There is a lot of suspicion there.

ELLIOTT: Suspicion that another congressional panel is looking into. The House Oversight Committee is investigating whether Cheney instructed others to reveal Plame's identity to the press.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.