How This White House Operates

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; 1:14 PM

From the first time the White House was asked about allegations that senior officials had exposed a CIA agent's identity as part of a plot to discredit an administration critic, the answer was consistent.

As spokesman Scott McClellan put it as early as July 22, 2003: "That is not the way this President or this White House operates."

But in the course of the Scooter Libby trial, one thing has become quite clear: That is precisely the way this White House operates.

Faced with accusations that they had marched the country to war on evidence they knew was suspect, White House aides evidently responded with little if any restraint in attempting to discredit their critics.

That lack of restraint, now exposed for all to see, is likely to leave a bad taste in the public's mouth.

But generally speaking, it has served Bush and his aides well. The White House's ferocity -- compounded by an easily distracted press corps and a Republican-controlled Congress not the least bit interested in oversight -- successfully kept crucial information about the administration's use and abuse of prewar intelligence out of the public sphere through the 2004 election and, arguably, to this day.

White House Watch

As of today, this column's name is changing from "White House Briefing" to "White House Watch." I am delighted with the new name -- in fact, it's what I originally proposed this column be called when it launched three years ago.

My editors at feel that the new name better conveys the column's mission -- that is, to take a critical look at the White House and its media coverage. They also feel that renaming the column will head off any confusion that some users might have about its relationship to " Capitol Briefing," a new blog that just launched in's revamped Politics section. That blog will apparently not contain the same sort of opinionated analysis that I bring to my column.

Nothing else is changing: Not my approach to the column, not the support of my editors, nothing.

Dispatches From the Libby Trial

Amy Goldstein and Carol D. Leonnig write in The Washington Post: "Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testified yesterday that I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby divulged Valerie Plame's identity to him in July 2003, three days earlier than Libby has told investigators he first learned of the undercover CIA officer.

"Fleischer's narrative of Libby's 'hush-hush' disclosures over a lunch table in a White House dining room made President Bush's former spokesman the most important prosecution witness to date in the week-old perjury trial of Vice President Cheney's onetime chief of staff. . . .

"The unusual spectacle of a president's top spokesman testifying in open court widened the rare view the trial is providing the jury -- and the public -- of the inner workings of a White House that has proudly guarded its privacy. . . .

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