McClellan Testifies About Bush Team

Former Spokesman Says Little Beyond Details in His Book

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
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 21, 2008

Scott McClellan, the former White House spokesman turned Bush administration critic, took to Capitol Hill yesterday to decry an insular and secretive White House that he said lied about the leaking of a CIA officer's name and "overstated" intelligence in the rush to war in Iraq.

McClellan, who served as President Bush's press secretary from 2003 to 2006 and is the author of a controversial new book, also said Bush squandered the public's trust by not following through on promises to fire those involved in disclosing the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson and to publicly divulge details about the case.

"The continuing cloud of suspicion over the White House is not something I can remove, because I know only one part of the story," McClellan said during several hours of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. "Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an end. Sadly, they remain silent."

McClellan was a longtime Bush aide whose best-selling book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," has caused a political uproar. It contains sharp criticism of the president and his senior aides on a variety of topics, including the handling of prewar intelligence and the bungled response to Hurricane Katrina.

The former Bush insider received a warm welcome from the judiciary panel's Democratic majority, which attempted, generally without success, to get him to go beyond the material in his book. Republicans, meanwhile, lined up to question McClellan's motives, attack his publishing house and pressing him on why he did not raise doubts while on the job.

"While we may never know the answers, Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver," said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the panel's ranking Republican.

The partisan tenor of the hearing appeared to illustrate one of McClellan's central arguments: that Washington is seized by a "permanent campaign" that adheres to a "philosophy of politics as war," as he put it yesterday.

"Too often in Washington, people mistakenly think that loyalty to an individual officeholder should override loyalty to basic ideals," McClellan said in his opening remarks. "This false loyalty is not only mistaken but can exercise a corrupt influence on government."

The White House, which has been unusually sharp in its criticism of a former loyalist, generally tried to ignore McClellan yesterday. "I think Scott has probably told everyone everything he doesn't know, so I don't know if anyone should expect . . . to see anything new today," spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters traveling with Bush.

McClellan returned to several key points during his testimony, including his stance that the Bush administration "sold the nation on the premise that Iraq was a grave and gathering danger" by using intelligence reports that were "overstated" and "overpackaged."

At the same time, McClellan emphasized that he did not believe that Bush or his aides purposely misled the country about Iraq.

Judging from his testimony and book, McClellan was particularly unhappy about the way the Wilson case was handled, including his unwitting role in passing on inaccurate information to reporters.

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