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House Panel Proves McClellan's Point Without Even Trying

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Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan told a House committee Friday he doesn't know whether White House officials broke the law when they revealed CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, nor when they tried to cover up the leak. Video by AP

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By Dana Milbank
Saturday, June 21, 2008

The people's representatives set aside the hard work of governing yesterday and instead stretched their minds in the unfamiliar field of literary criticism.

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"Welcome, everyone, to the Judiciary Committee's first Book of the Month Club meeting," declared Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the panel's ranking Republican, as he looked down from the dais at the lone witness for the day's hearing, White House press secretary turned kiss-and-tell author Scott McClellan.

"Today, it's Scott McClellan's 'What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception,' " Smith continued. "I propose that next time we consider Ann Coulter's book, 'How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).' "

This being Congress, the literary salon quickly turned into a Wild West saloon. Republicans panned the author and his memoir detailing abuses in the Bush White House. Democrats gave him rave reviews. Inadvertently, both sides wound up proving the very point McClellan made in his book: "It is about restoring civility and bipartisanship and candor to our national political discourse. It is about putting our nation's interest above partisan goals."

But rising above party was anathema to the lawmakers on the panel. Putting the nation's interest above partisan goals? Right.

"Could you not have taken some of this to the grave with you and done this country a favor?" demanded Steve King (R-Iowa).

"Your book, quite frankly, is a political book, launched in the most political time!" thundered Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

"Do you recall if you've ever used illegal drugs?" inquired Ric Keller (R-Fla.).

And Smith likened McClellan to Judas, "selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver."

The themes of betrayal, greed, revenge and sinister motives turned the hearing into an epic, so here are the CliffsNotes: Republicans, having trouble refuting the substantive points McClellan raised in his book, turned against their former ally's character with a fratricidal glee. Liberal Democrats, in turn, tried to turn him into a pawn in their bid to impeach Bush.

McClellan wasn't having any of it.

"These facts, and your testimony, Mr. McClellan, are more than enough, in my view, to open up impeachment hearings!" exulted Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a top surrogate for Barack Obama.


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