McClellan Testifies Before Congress
Friday, June 06, 2008
REP. JOHN CONYERS JR, D-MICH: Good morning. The committee will come to order. We welcome everyone to the hearing, especially former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan and his counsel, Mike and Jane Tigar.
Many respected commentators have noted that this is the most important matter Congress could examine in its oversight of this administration. As John Nichols wrote in The Nation magazine, "What Scott McClellan wrote in his new book about the administration's propaganda campaign to promote and defend the occupation of Iraq was not a revelation. It was a confirmation that the White House has played fast and loose with the truth in a time of war."
"Depending on how one reads the Constitution, that may or may not be an impeachable offense. But Mr. McClellan's assertion that top presidential aides, perhaps with the cooperation of the vice president, conspired to obstruct justice by lying about their role in the plot to destroy the reputation of former Ambassador Joe Wilson, a critic of the rush to war, and his wife, former CIA agent Valerie Plame -- and this demands a response from Congress.
"When White House insiders leak classified information, manipulate media coverage and otherwise employ their immense power to punish dissenters, Congress does not have any other option. It has a constitutional duty to check and balance an errant executive branch.
"That the former White House spokesman, with his claim that the president said he authorized the selective release of classified information to reporters covering the Wilson story, links the wrongdoing directly to Bush ups the ante even further." That is the quote.
I'd like to make these three points.
First, though Mr. McClellan's revelations highlight acts that may constitute illegal obstruction of justice beyond that for which Scooter Libby was convicted, in his book Mr. McClellan explains that he stated to Mr. Libby that he did not intend to vouch for and exonerate him to the press in the way that he had done concerning Karl Rove, since the leak investigation had actually begun.
Shortly after that conversation, however, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told Mr. McClellan that "the president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurances for Scooter that you gave for Karl."
It seems clear that Mr. Libby, Mr. Card, the president and vice president were involved in directing Mr. McClellan to falsely vouch for Mr. Libby despite Mr. McClellan's earlier reservations. In fact, handwritten notes from Vice President Cheney himself confirm -- confirmed this.
These notes, now on the screen, were an exhibit in the Libby trial and appear to be notes from Mr. Cheney's conversation with the president. The notes say, "Has to happen today. Call out to key press saying same thing about Scooter as Karl. Not going to protect one staffer and sacrifice the guy."
And then something intelligible -- something illegible -- but looks like "this Pres." -- meaning this president -- "that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others," end quotation. That's disturbing enough, but we also have a letter from two former federal prosecutors, as we can see on the screen.
The first paragraph -- that's all I'll read -- of that letter states that "A substantial predicate exists for investigation of whether this conduct may constitute the criminal offense of obstruction of justice."
To those who would dismiss the significance of today's hearing, I'd say that concerns about possible obstruction of justice are not trivial, and clearly warrant this committee's attention. In many respects, today's hearing just offers us a partial glimpse into apparent deceptions at the White House, including, most notably, with regard to the outing of Valerie Plame.
To truly get to the bottom of this matter, we'll need far more cooperation by the administration and from the Justice Department. It's vital that we obtain the interview reports of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, and unredacted interview reports of other key White House officials, to determine their involvement, not only in the leak but also the cover-up.
Yet the Justice Department has been less cooperative with this committee and has refused even to give us access to redacted materials that the oversight committee of the Congress has already seen.
Such conduct is unacceptable, which is why, this week, we sent a letter to Attorney General Mukasey, reiterating our request and explaining that we may have to resort to compulsory process if they continue to deny us the documents.
We look forward to hearing from Mr. McClellan on the role of the vice president and the president. Now, the issue of a possible pardon of Mr. Libby still remains outstanding in addition to the president's earlier commutation of Mr. Libby's prison sentence.
Following Mr. Libby's sentence commutation, we held a hearing on the issue, and we hope to explore with Mr. McClellan his thoughts on a possible presidential pardon for Mr. Libby in the context of the revelations in his book.
And I want to close by acknowledging Mr. McClellan's suggestion in his book and in today's opening statement that all of us work on what he mentioned in his book, "restoring civility and bipartisanship and candor to our national political discourse and putting our nation's interests above our partisan goals."
I want to point out this committee has been, I think, superb in working in that spirit. We have very important issues, wide differences of view, but we've always been able to conduct our discussions in a very highly appropriate way. And these goals are shared by members of this committee on both sides of the aisle.
As a result, when credible and troubling allegations are made by an important former administration official, although partisan tensions may arise, we know that we can deal with the facts and not personal or partisan attacks.
I thank you for your appearance. And I'd like to recognize now the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Lamar Smith.
REP. LAMAR SMITH, R-TEXAS : Thank you, Mr. Chairman. 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)." It's hard to take Mr. McClellan, or this hearing, too seriously. Despite what Mr. McClellan says regarding Iraq, three different studies -- the Senate Intelligence Committee report of 2004, the Robb- Silberman report of 2005 and Britain's Butler report -- conclude that intelligence reports were not altered in the lead-up to the Iraq war.
And, despite this book's innuendo, a three-year independent criminal investigation found that no White House officials leaked Valerie Plame's name to the media in violation of the law. Also, it should be of no surprise that there was spin in the White House Press Office. What White House has not had a communications operation that advocates for its policies?
Any recent administration that did not try to promote its priorities should be cited for dereliction of duty. Many have asked why Mr. McClellan did not object to what he saw while he was at the White House. The reason is clear: There was nothing to object to.
Last Monday, at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, I had a conversation with an airline employee who asked me what I was working on. I mentioned this hearing, and she, a self-proclaimed Democrat, replied: "Why are you having him? All he did was write a book."
It appears many Americans might have trouble taking this hearing seriously. Motives are important, and we really don't know Mr. McClellan's motives. He says he had a revelation which contradicts everything he said and did for two and a half years before.
There are some questions we may never get the answer to. What really explains going from a loyal and trusted staff member to a person who makes biting accusations? Since Mr. McClellan has included no footnotes in his book, and few direct quotes or written memos are cited, is the book just a typical opinion piece without evidence to support its assertions?
Mr. McClellan was asked to leave his job. Did this color his views? Did he just want to strike back at those who showed him to the door? What role did money play? So far he has not revealed what he was paid for the book or what he stands to gain by promoting it.
Clearly, Peter Osnos, the editor at large for Mr. McClellan's publisher PublicAffairs, would have known that an inflammatory book would sell more copies and make more money for all concerned.
How much influence did a biased editor have on the finished product? What edits were made to the original manuscript to make it more critical of the administration? We do know that Mr. Osnos and PublicAffairs have published six books by George Soros. Mr. Soros was the largest donor to Democratic 527 groups during the 2004 presidential election, giving over $23 million.
And we know that Mr. Osnos himself has been highly and publicly critical of the Bush administration. Also, Mr. McClellan's project editor for the book, Karl Weber, has written venomous statements about the president; for example, calling him a, quote, "clearly horrible person."
So who is the real Scott McClellan, the one who actually wrote in his book that the administration did not employ deception and said, quote, "Some critics have suggested that sinister plans were discussed at the White House Iraq Group meetings to deliberately mislead the public -- not so," end quote, or the one who elsewhere in the same book leveled self-serving accusations? 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.
We will have -- he will have to confront whether he was manipulated by extremely biased editors with a partisan agenda. And, finally, sooner or later, he will have to answer to his own conscience. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I'll yield back.
CONYERS: Thank you. Before I...
SMITH: Mr. Chairman, the gentleman's out of order, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: I'm afraid you're out of order. We'll have an opportunity to object in just a moment.
SMITH (?): Mr. Chairman, point of order.
CONYERS: Counsel cannot object to the committee proceedings.
(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman?
CONYERS: Let me do this, please.
I'd like to introduce into the record the following documents: the statement from former federal prosecutor Barry Coburn (ph) and Professor Adam Kurland of Howard Law School; second, a letter from our colleague, Neil Abercrombie, attaching a letter he wrote to the United States attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald; and an exhibit from Mr. Libby's trial that I referenced in my opening statement.
Mr. Scott McClellan served as the White House press secretary from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he was principal deputy White House press secretary. And before that as traveling press secretary for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign. Earlier, he served as deputy communications director in the Texas governor's office for Governor Bush, as a top legislative aide, as a campaign manager for three successful statewide campaigns.
We would appreciate if you would stand, raise your right hand and take the oath before you begin your testimony. Do you swear or affirm that -- under penalty of perjury, that the testimony you're about to provide the committee will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to the best of your knowledge, information and belief?
FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I do.
CONYERS: Thank you very much. Welcome to the committee. You may begin your statement.
MCCLELLAN: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Smith and members of the committee. I am here today at your invitation to answer questions about what I know regarding the Valerie Plame episode.
Back in 2005, I was prohibited from discussing it by the White House, ostensibly because of the criminal investigation under way. But I made a commitment to share with the public what I knew as soon as possible. That commitment was one of the reasons I wrote my book.
Unfortunately, this matter continues to be investigated by Congress because of what the White House has chosen to conceal from the public. Despite assurances that the administration would discuss the matter once the special counsel had completed his work, the White House has sought to avoid public scrutiny and accountability. The continuing cloud of suspicion over the White House is not something I can remove, because I know only one part of the story. Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an end.
Sadly, they remain silent. The result has been an increase in suspicion and partisan warfare and a perpetuation of Washington's scandal culture, one of three core factors that have poisoned the atmosphere in Washington for the past two decades.
The central message in my book is the need to change the way Washington governs. We need to minimize the negative influence of the permanent campaign, end the scandal culture and move beyond the philosophy of politics as war. No one has a better opportunity to make that happen than the president. To do so, he must first fully embrace openness and candor, and then constantly strive to build trust across the aisle and seek common ground to unite Americans from all walks of life and political persuasions.
I believed President Bush could be that kind of leader for the country when I first went to work for him in Texas. He was a popular bipartisan leader who had a record of working with Democrats.
Unfortunately, like many good people who come to Washington, he ended up playing the game by the existing rules rather than transforming it. The larger message of my book is bigger than any person or party. 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.
Indeed, all of us, especially those in elected office, can do more to make this happen by promoting openness and engaging in civil discourse. The permanent campaign leads to just the opposite. Substantial debates over policy give way to a contest over which side can most effectively manipulate the media narrative to its advantage. It is about power and electoral victory.
Governing becomes an offshoot of campaigning rather than the other way around. Vicious attacks, distortions, political manipulation and spin become accepted. Complex issues are reduced to black-and-white terms and oversimplified in the context of winners and losers and how they will affect the next election. Too often the meeting -- the media unwittingly ignores the impact of government on the daily lives of Americans, focusing foremost on the Beltway game and lionizing those who play it most skillfully.
There is no more recent example of this unsavory side of politics than the initial reaction from some in Washington to my book. I received plenty of criticism for daring to tell the story as I knew it. Yet few of my critics tried to refute the larger themes and perspectives in the book. Instead of engaging in a reasoned, rational and honest discussion of the issues raised, some sought to turn it into a game of gotcha, misrepresenting what I wrote, seeking to discredit -- and seeking to discredit me through inaccurate personal attacks on me and my motives.
The American people deserve better.
Governing inevitably has an adversarial element. People and groups will always differ about the proper use of limited government resources.
But should government be a process of constant campaigning to manipulate public opinion, or should it be centered, as much as possible, on rational debate, deliberation, and compromise? Writing this book was not easy for me to do. These are my words, my experiences, and my conclusions. I sought to take a clear-eyed look at events. To do so, I had to remove my partisan lens and step back from the White House bubble.
Some of the conclusions I came to were different from those I would have embraced at the outset. My book reflects the only idea of loyalty that I believe is appropriate in a democratic government, and that is loyalty to the ideals of candor, transparency, and integrity, and indeed to the constitutional system itself. Too often in Washington, people mistakenly think that loyalty to an individual office-holder should override loyalty to basic ideals. This false loyalty is not only mistaken, but can exercise a corrupt influence on government.
I'm here because, in my heart, I'm a public servant who, like many Americans, wants to improve the way Washington governs and does not want to see future administrations repeat the mistakes that this White House made. I do not know whether a crime was committed by any of the administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters, 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. I regret that I played a role, however unintentionally, in relaying false information to the public about it. I'll do my best to answer any questions on this matter that members of the committee may wish to ask. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Thank you so much. One of the most disturbing revelations in your book was that White House officials, including the president and vice president, directed you to falsely vouch for Scooter Libby not being involved in the Wilson leak. Please explain what happened and whether you think Mr. Libby was involved in that.
MCCLELLAN: That was -- that happened on a Saturday after the investigation I guess was launched, which was on September 29th. That Saturday morning, 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. I was reluctant to do it, but I headed into the White House that Saturday morning. I talked with Andy Card. And I said I would provide the same assurances for Scooter Libby, provided he gave me the same assurances that Karl Rove had.
And I got on the phone with Scooter Libby and asked him, point blank, "Were you involved in this in any way?" And he assured me in unequivocable terms that he was not, meaning the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity to any reporters. And then I contacted reporters to let them know about that information. But it was Andy Card that had directed me to do that, at the request of the president and vice president.
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?
MCCLELLAN: I do not think the president in any way had knowledge abut it, based on my conversations with him back at that time, when he said that Karl Rove had not been involved in it and told him something to that effect. In terms of the vice president, I do not know. There is a lot of suspicion there. As Patrick Fitzgerald said at the trial of Scooter Libby, there is a cloud that remains over the vice president's office, but it is because Scooter Libby put it there, by lying and obstructing justice.
CONYERS: In the light of your testimony and your statement that you do not think Mr. Libby's criminal sentence should have been commuted, do you think that it would be any more appropriate to give Mr. Libby a full pardon?
MCCLELLAN: No, Congressman, I do not. Mr. Chairman, I believe that it would signal a special treatment, the same thing that happened with the commutation. And the president has always held a certain standard for granting pardons, even going back to when he was governor and I worked for him then, and that is that the person must first repay his debt to society, and, second, must express remorse for the crimes which he committed, and we have seen neither of that from Scooter Libby at this point.
CONYERS: Thank you. Chair recognizes Lamar Smith.
SMITH: Thank you, again, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, your title of the book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," implies that the president himself engaged in some amount of deception. Yet, elsewhere in the book you said he did not engage in outright deception. Who was it that suggested the title to your book?
MCCLELLAN: The title to my book, "What Happened?"
SMITH: No, who suggested...
MCCLELLAN: Or "Inside the" -- or "Inside the" -- the subtitle?
MCCLELLAN: This was something I talked about with my publisher.
SMITH: And so Mr. Osnos...
MCCLELLAN: We came to an agreement on it. But in terms of the...
SMITH: Since it contradicts what you wrote...
MCCLELLAN: "Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception"...
SMITH: Who came up...
MCCLELLAN: ... that was something we all discussed.
SMITH: And who is the "we."
MCCLELLAN: With the publisher.
SMITH: That's Mr. Osnos?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, it would include Mr. Osnos.
SMITH: OK, thank you. It's been reported that you received $75,000 as an advance to your book. Is that true...
MCCLELLAN: That is correct.
SMITH: And you're also aware, of course, that every book that sells means more money to you as well?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
SMITH: You're aware that every -- the more books you sell, the more money goes to you, I presume.
MCCLELLAN: Yes. A small percentage goes to the author usually in situations...
SMITH: Is it true that Karl Weber was the project editor?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, he worked with me.
SMITH: OK. Were you aware before you worked with him that he had called President Bush a clearly horrible person and said, quote, "He's consciously manipulative and deceitful"?
MCCLELLAN: No, I was not.
SMITH: OK. So in other words, someone who called the president a clearly horrible person helped you draft and edit the book, is that right?
MCCLELLAN: Actually, this is my book. I wrote this book. And he provided great help as an editor.
SMITH: Yes. Did he edit the book?
MCCLELLAN: He was an editor on the book, yes.
SMITH: OK. You write that you witnessed Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby meet in Mr. Rove's office behind closed doors, and you infer that they were conspiring to mislead the grand jury looking to the Valerie Plame investigation at the time.
SMITH: Did you hear any portion of their conversation?
MCCLELLAN: No, sir, I did not. And I say that in the book.
SMITH: And so it's speculation, as to your part, as to what they were saying?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I thought full disclosure was the only way I could go. I said I was going to discuss everything I knew about the episode, and that's why...
SMITH: But you were still speculating as to what you thought they were saying...
MCCLELLAN: Well, I said it was suspicious to me. In the book, I said I do not know what they discussed behind closed doors.
SMITH: OK. And they could have been talking about -- who knows -- Supreme Court nominations, at the time, or anything else.
MCCLELLAN: Well, they could have been.
SMITH: OK. Thank you. And is it true that Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has admitted that he was the source of the Valerie Plame leak?
MCCLELLAN: Well, to Robert Novak, but there were other reporters that that information was revealed to, prior to it being public.
SMITH: But was it...
MCCLELLAN: And there was a report in The Washington Post that even identified at least six reporters were told about her identity.
SMITH: And wasn't that the first public leak?
MCCLELLAN: That was the first time it was published.
MCCLELLAN: But it was revealed -- her identity was reveled to multiple reporters.
SMITH: That was the first time...
SMITH: That's correct.
SMITH: No, that's correct. That was the first time her name was published.
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry. I couldn't hear you over the buzzer. The first time her name was published?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, but, I mean, I'd like to make the point...
SMITH: And Richard Armitage...
MCCLELLAN: Could I finish? Could I finish my answer?
SMITH: Armitage has admitted that he was the source. Do you agree with that, or do you question his...
MCCLELLAN: He was the initial source for Robert Novak. Karl Rove was the confirming source.
SMITH: Right. And that was...
MCCLELLAN: Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and Ari Fleischer also...
SMITH: And that was the first time...
MCCLELLAN: Can I finish my response here, please?
SMITH: And that was the first her name...
MCCLELLAN: They also revealed her identity to other reporters prior to it being published.
SMITH: Right. But that was the first time her name was ever published, was when it appeared...
MCCLELLAN: Yes, as I point out in the book, that's correct.
SMITH: OK. Thank you, Mr. McClellan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Thank you. That was a call for a journal vote. The chair recognizes the...
(UNKNOWN): Mr. Chairman? Mr. Chairman?
CONYERS: What's the problem?
(UNKNOWN): Well, the problem is, we're the committee of jurisdiction on FISA.
(UNKNOWN): As I understand it, FISA is...
CONYERS: It's a journal vote.
(UNKNOWN): I understand. But could you inform the committee as to what the process is going to be and whether we're going to be (inaudible)?
CONYERS: Oh. We're going to -- we're going to cover -- we're going to be on the floor and the hearing will be suspended.
(UNKNOWN): Will there be -- will there be an opportunity for members to be on the floor for the debate on the rule for FISA or just for the FISA debate itself?
CONYERS: No, not the rule, but the debate. You can use your own option, though. The chair recognizes the chairman of the Constitution Committee of Judiciary, the gentleman from New York, Jerry Nadler.
REP. JERROLD NADLER, D-N.Y.: Thank you. I'm going to ask a series of questions, so try to keep the answers brief because I only have five minutes.
NADLER: Do you have any knowledge of whether prior to or after the leak of Ms. Wilson's covert identity either the vice president or the president declassified her covert status in order to have it leaked to reporters?
MCCLELLAN: No, I do not.
NADLER: And do you have any information on the role, if any, played by the vice president in the leaking of Ms. Wilson's identity?
MCCLELLAN: No. I have no direct knowledge of that.
NADLER: And do you have any idea why Vice President Cheney may have knowingly, indirectly or directly, instructed you to publicly exonerate Mr. Libby?
MCCLELLAN: No, sir, I do not. I was not a party to that conversation with the president. NADLER: Do you have any idea whether at the time he knew that Mr. Libby had, in fact, been involved in the leak?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
NADLER: Do you have any idea whether when he gave that instruction that he knew at that time that Mr. Libby had, in fact, been involved in the leak?
MCCLELLAN: No, I do not know that.
NADLER: In any event, did you come to learn that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby had lied to you and that each of them was involved in the Plame leak?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I did...
NADLER: Could you comment on that briefly, how you learned that?
MCCLELLAN: That was in -- well, first in July of 2005, when it was about to be reported in the media, I learned that Karl Rove had revealed her identity to Matt Cooper of Time magazine. And then a short time after that, it was Robert Novak. And then, within the next few months, it was learned that Scooter Libby had also revealed her identity to reporters.
NADLER: OK. Now, the president had promised the American people, had stated publicly when this first came out, that he was going to investigate internally, find out who had leaked the information, whoever had leaked would no longer be in the administration, et cetera, because this was a terrible thing.
NADLER: Do you know what steps, if any, were taken by the White House to conduct an internal investigation into the leak?
MCCLELLAN: As far as I know, the White House Counsel's Office worked to provide information to the Justice Department that was gathered during the process of the investigation at their request: e- mails and things of that nature. But I don't know of any internal...
NADLER: You don't know of any internal investigation...
NADLER: ... to find out for the president so that he could fire or do...
MCCLELLAN: My understanding was that we weren't doing any of that.
NADLER: You weren't doing any of that. Now, the president commuted Mr. Libby -- commuted Mr. Libby's sentence. Now, this would seem -- well, do you regard this as in any way in violation of the president's pledge to find out all the information he could and make it public about this?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I certainly think that the president should have stuck by his word on the matter, and I certainly view the commutation as it was special treatment, it does undermine our system of justice, in my view.
NADLER: But I'm not sure what you were saying in the first part. The president's commutation of Mr. Libby's sentence was somehow not standing by his word?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that it was not standing by his word. I don't know he said anything specifically about a commutation. But he did say anyone that was involved in this would no -- and I said on his behalf no one would be -- would not be in this administration any longer. So...
NADLER: So by -- OK. And do you think -- would you regard the president's commutation as -- do you think it's fair to infer from your knowledge that the president's commutation of Mr. Libby's -- of the conviction or whatever it was -- that his commutation was part of an effort to, in fact, assure that all the facts would not become public; part of a cover-up, in fact?
MCCLELLAN: I do not know that. I do not make that claim. And I do not have the information to know whether or not that was the thinking. I was already -- I had already left the White House by the time he commuted Scooter Libby, but there were a lot of suspicions that are raised because of that action.
NADLER: OK. And switching subjects, in your book -- oh, before I go to this last question, let me, on behalf of some members of the committee, apologize to you for the aspersions as to your motives instead of asking you questions about the truth or evidence of what you wrote that we heard a few minutes ago. Such character assassinations has no business in this committee.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
NADLER: In your book, Mr. McClellan, you state that the Iraq war was sold to the American people with a sophisticated political propaganda campaign that included overstating intelligence in Iraq, manipulating sources of public opinion and downplaying the major reason for going to war.
As the president's former deputy and chief press secretary, this is a very serious charge. Could you explain why you think that this was a political propaganda campaign, as opposed to simply informing the American public as to what was going on?
MCCLELLAN: Well, it was a marketing campaign or a propaganda campaign, whatever -- however you want to refer to it. What I talk about in the book is that we took this permanent campaign mentality that was used on other issues, like Social Security or education reform, and used it to take the nation to war, and sold the nation on the premise that Iraq was a grave and gathering danger. We now know that it was not. That the case was overstated, it was overpackaged in the way that the intelligence was used. That was something...
NADLER: And by overpackaged in the way the intelligence was used do you mean that they were declassifying only those portions of intelligence that seemed to indicate the threat and not those portions of the intelligence that downplayed the threat and said, "We're not sure of this information."
MCCLELLAN: I think it's public record that they were ignoring caveats and ignoring contradictory intelligence. The implication and innuendo that was used to talk about the connection to Al Qaida, for instance, is one example. The Senate Intelligence Committee for the first time just released a report about how the intelligence was used...
NADLER: And therefore misrepresenting the facts and misleading Congress and the American people?
NADLER: Is that a fair statement?
MCCLELLAN: I think it was more to make the strongest possible case. And in doing so, they ignored caveats, they ignored...
NADLER: And mislead and misrepresent, therefore?
MCCLELLAN: And it had that effect. I do not think it was -- I do not think it was necessarily deliberate on the part of a group. Whether individuals were doing things intentionally or deliberately, I do not know. But I don't think there was a group sitting around trying to conspire to say, "Let's mislead the American people." Instead, it was, "How do we make the strongest possible case?"
But when you're going to war it is particularly troubling when you use that kind of mentality and you don't speak about the truths of the situation as best you know them, including the contradictory intelligence, including the caveats and qualifications, and including the consequences, the risk and the cost of going into war, and we did not do that.
NADLER: Thank you very much.
CONYERS: Chair recognizes the distinguished gentleman from North Carolina, senior member of the committee, Howard Coble.
REP. HOWARD COBLE, R-N.C.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, let me follow up on the war issue. I voted to dispatch troops to Iraq believing that Saddam Hussein was an international terrorist, which I still believe. I furthermore believed that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or they had the capability of developing same, which I still believe. I believed that a post-entry strategy had been formulated. I'm not sure I believe that now. Was there a post-entry strategy...
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, post-what strategy, sir?
COBLE: Post-entry strategy. After we go in and take him out, was there any sort of plan whereby A, B, C was to be followed?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that the public record shows that there were a lot of problems with the post-invasion planning and preparation. That was not something I was directly involved in. Certainly from a communications standpoint I was, but not from the planning standpoint.
COBLE: That has plagued me from day one.
COBLE: I'm still uneasy about that. But now let's shift gears to Scooter Libby. And I know we're on a short timeframe here, Mr. Chairman.
COBLE: Your book, Mr. McClellan, included many recollections from your experiences working in the White House during this time. I had some problems as to whether or not Scooter Libby should have been prosecuted. I still have some doubts about that. But what was your reaction, Mr. McClellan, when you learned that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage revealed the identity of Mrs. Valerie Plame Wilson? And do you think that more should have been done to hold Mr. Armitage accountable?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I can't speak directly to whether or not he should have been held accountable. I don't know the facts of why he revealed her name, other than what has been reported during the trial and during the investigation publicly and what he has stated publicly since that time.
Obviously, I think that all of the information should have been put out as quickly and as soon as possible about exactly what occurred and when it occurred, and maybe we wouldn't have ended up where we did. But I think that the problem here is that this White House promised or assured the American people that at some point when this was behind us, they would talk publicly about it, and they have refused to. And that's why I think, more than any other reason, we are here today and the suspicion still remains.
COBLE: But as to the post-entry strategy, you're not -- you really don't have your hands around that.
MCCLELLAN: Well, yes. I can't speak specifically to all the planning there, because that was done without me being in those discussions.
COBLE: I understand. That's just plagued me, and I've said so publicly. I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Thank you. Members of the committee, we do have three votes on the journal, ordering the question on the rule, on the stop child abuse law, and then we'd be -- and then on H. Res. 1276 providing -- a rule providing for consideration of 5876. And then we begin debate on the FISA bill. And so, we will stand in recess until we've covered all of those matters, and then resume immediately when we return. Thank you very much. The committee stands in recess.
CONYERS: Committee will come to order. I'm pleased now to turn to the distinguished chairman of the Crime Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, Bobby Scott of Virginia.
REP. ROBERT C. SCOTT, D-VA.: Mr. McClellan, in response to a question from the chairman, you were asked about the situation where Scooter Libby -- Mr. Card called you to ask you to try to get Scooter Libby also exonerated. Do you have any reason to believe that Mr. Libby himself was involved in that effort to get himself exonerated?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I do. We spoke earlier that week. I believe it was Wednesday of that week, when I told Scooter Libby that I was not going to go down a list of White House aides and start trying to exonerate them now that the investigation was officially under way. And he expressed his appreciation that I let him know that.
But I think that as his name continued to surface, he certainly was behind that effort to make sure that I exonerated him. And I later saw public documents with his handwriting putting down some talking points that I should use. Now, I never saw those talking points myself until they were -- until they came out in the press.
SCOTT: You mentioned several people that were leaking Valerie Plame's name all over town. Was this -- do you have reason to believe this was a coordinated effort?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't know for sure. There's certainly three White House -- at least three White House aides that revealed her identify to reporters. But I don't know personally whether it was a concerted effort. I was deputy press secretary at the time, and so I was not involved in any of that effort, if there was.
SCOTT: Now, it seemed to me that in response whether or not individuals might have been involved with the leaking of the name, the administration seemed to leave a clear impression that Valerie Plame was fair game in the debate over Mr. Wilson's information. And it seemed to leave the impression that anyone who, in effect, told the truth, thereby criticizing the administration effort to get us into war, might reasonably expect problems, including having the lives of their family members put in jeopardy.
SCOTT: Was that an intentional impression?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I certainly think that, for at least some people, that she became just another talking point in this effort to discredit her husband, Joe Wilson. You know, whether or not I could characterize it before that, I would not want -- I'd hesitate to characterize it more than that.
SCOTT: Well, she was a covert CIA agent, was she not?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, that's right.
SCOTT: And revealing her identity could reasonably be expected to jeopardize her life. Is that not true?
MCCLELLAN: It is a serious matter. And, as I said in my opening statement, it was wrong. Whether or not it was criminal, it was certainly wrong, because of her covert national security status.
SCOTT: And did it not leave the impression with people that family members' lives may be in jeopardy if you tell the truth about this -- what's going on?
MCCLELLAN: You mean people that were involved in revealing her identity?
MCCLELLAN: I can't speak for them. But they should have been more careful about it; that's for sure.
SCOTT: Another piece of information that was involved in the run-up of the war was what the war would cost. I serve on the Budget Committee in addition to the Judiciary Committee. I served on the Budget Committee at the time. And we were told to ignore the cost of the war because it would be so negligible as not worthy of Budget Committee consideration. Are you aware of that testimony?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know if I'm familiar with that specific testimony, but I'm sure -- certainly aware that we left the impression that it would be less costly and for a shorter duration than what has happened.
SCOTT: The present estimates of the total cost of the war are now $3 trillion. What information did the administration have that could have led us to believe we'd gotten truthful information that the cost of the war would be significant?
MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly I recount in the book a conversation the -- well, that Larry Lindsey had, making some projections, in September of 2006 -- or 2002, I believe, informing a reporter that he thought it might cost somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion, which at the time everybody seemed to think was high. And now we realize that even that estimate was considerably low.
SCOTT: What happened to -- what happened to him and his estimates?
MCCLELLAN: Well, he left the administration a few months later.
SCOTT: Was he fired?
MCCLELLAN: I -- he resigned. But my understanding, he was -- he was asked to leave as well.
SCOTT: So we find that his estimate was truthful, honest, candid and turns out to be even optimistic, that it could only cost $100 billion to $150 billion. And he was fired for telling the truth.
MCCLELLAN: That's correct. It's not something that we wanted to discuss at the White House.
SCOTT: Now, we had a similar situation with a Medicaid -- Medicare estimate. The prescription drug benefit cost. Administration officials knew that the number we were working with was not the correct number; that the number was actually higher.
Is that right?
MCCLELLAN: I -- I guess there was a different estimate between Congressional Budget Office and the Medicare actuaries, if I remember correctly.
MCCLELLAN: My brother might be better to testify for that.
SCOTT: What happened to the administration official that had that accurate information? And was he threatened if he reveled it before...
MCCLELLAN: I understand that...
MCCLELLAN: ... yes, the administrator at the time -- I understand from public records, that something along those lines did happen, if I remember correctly.
SCOTT: Now, is this a pattern, that people who tell the truth get sanctioned?
MCCLELLAN: Well, as I say in the book, I think that we have not embraced a high level of openness. This is a very secretive White House that tends to be pretty compartmentalized and very disciplined, in terms of what message or talking points they put out there. And there's some things that they would prefer not to be talked about. And I think that's what you're getting at.
SCOTT: Well, I was wondering what you were getting at...
SCOTT: Do you agree?
MCCLELLAN: Well, yes, both of us, yes.
SCOTT: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Mr. McClellan, is there a clarification that you'd like to make about a discussion we had earlier?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, Mr. Chairman. There was a comment made earlier, and I would like to clarify the record. There's a quote attributed to one of my editors, Karl Weber, describing the president as a "clearly horrible person." Actually, that was a comment that was made by his daughter...
... and his daughter's name is on that post that is on the family blog site. Irregardless, the views and conclusions on the book are mine and they were not affected by any editor.
CONYERS: Thank you very much.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: We now turn to Mr. Ric Keller, who is the gentleman from Florida who serves on the Administrative, Commercial Law Subcommittee.
CONYERS: He also serves on the Intellectual Property Committee. And in addition, he serves on the Antitrust Task Force Committee. The gentlemen's recognized.
REP. RIC KELLER, R-FLA.: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for being here, Mr. McClellan. Mr. McClellan, all of us in public life have probably, myself included, said some things that in retrospect we wish we would worded it a little differently or used a different adjective or phrase. Is there anything in your book that if you had it to do all over again, any phrase or adjective that you might write differently?
MCCLELLAN: No. I think that the book clearly reflects my views and my conclusions, and I stand by them.
KELLER: Thank you. Some of the adjectives or what some people consider to be some loaded words that you used in your book were that the Bush administration shaded the truth, used innuendo and engaged in a propaganda campaign. You stand by those words?
MCCLELLAN: I do.
KELLER: Did President Bush ever ask you personally to shade the truth, use innuendo or engage in a propaganda campaign?
MCCLELLAN: Not in those words.
KELLER: Did the president ever knowingly mislead you or withhold information from you?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that one episode I recount in the book is when I learned that the president had secretly authorized the vice president to get out some information of the national intelligence estimate on Iraq to reporters, and do it anonymously.
We had decried the selective leaking of classified information for years, the president and myself as his spokesman. And so that was certainly something that caught me by surprise and was a very disillusioning moment for me, to say the least. KELLER: Mr. McClellan, I'm referring to page 269 of your book, and you said, quote, "I never felt the president himself had knowingly misled me or withheld relevant information from me."
KELLER: Do you wish to change that phrase from page...
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't. I don't wish to change that phrase.
KELLER: So you said in the book you don't think he misled you knowingly. And just now you said you think there is an occasion where he did mislead you knowingly.
MCCLELLAN: No, I'm not saying that he was trying to do it consciously or deliberately. But it had that same effect in terms of the national intelligence estimate. So I think there is a distinction there to be drawn.
KELLER: All right. And I want to talk about your personal knowledge, as opposed to your opinion, with respect to this question. Did you ever witness any meeting or see any document or overhear any conversation when the president asked someone else to lie, shade the truth, use innuendo or engage in propaganda?
MCCLELLAN: It had the effect by the way we went about selling the war to the American people, as I outline in the book in some detail.
KELLER: And I understand your opinions. And I think you're entitled to your opinions. And I'm not going to hit you on having opinions. I'm not going to hit you on making money off those opinions. But I just -- do you have any personal knowledge of having the president ask someone else to lie or shade the truth?
MCCLELLAN: No. It's the whole idea of the permanent campaign mentality and when you're trying to make the strongest case, and it's what you leave out that has that same effect. And that's the point I make in the book.
MCCLELLAN: Whether or not it's deliberate or conscious, it still is very troubling, particularly when you're talking about making the case for war.
KELLER: Now, your purpose in writing the book, as you testified today, is to promote civility and bipartisanship and to end the scandal culture and the poisonous political attacks, correct?
KELLER: You write in the book about a very personal issue of the president allegedly using an illegal drug over 30 years ago, and you overhearing his private conversation with a supporter about that. What about that topic that you decided to include in your book do you think promotes civility and bipartisanship.
MCCLELLAN: It's not the issue that you bring up.
MCCLELLAN: It's what the president -- how he approached that issue. And I think it's something that a number of politicians probably do, when he said that, "I can't recall." And my concern about that was that it later transferred over into issues of policy. That particular issue, it didn't bother me whether or not he had used cocaine previously or not; that wasn't the issue 30, 40 years ago. The issue was how he approached it and how that transferred over into other issues. And I think it tells something about his character. It was important to the book.
KELLER: Something about his character because he allegedly had used drugs over 30 years ago, so that says something about his character?
MCCLELLAN: No. No, that's not the point I'm make in that -- in describing that in the book. The point I make is that he couldn't recall it, or at least he said he couldn't recall it. And I thought, "How can that be?" And then there were other times when I later learned that he used that same...
MCCLELLAN: ... that same response for other issues.
KELLER: Well, since that's such a key character issue, do you recall if you've ever used illegal drugs?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, and I haven't.
Would you agree...
MCCLELLAN: ... I write about it in the book in that same section. I talk about my own experiences.
KELLER: Right. Would you agree with me that nothing about that little private story of you overhearing serves to end the scandal culture or poisonous political attack culture?
MCCLELLAN: Well, actually I do. I think it's a very important lesson to look at why politicians sometimes take that approach, this defense, that do not recall, when it's essentially an evasion. And the president, I think we all remember very well when he was asked about the national intelligence estimate on Iran, and he had been talking about how Iran was continuing to pursue nuclear weapons, and he had a national intelligence estimate even during that time telling him that they had suspended their nuclear weapons program. But he said he couldn't recall in a briefing. And I think...
MCCLELLAN: ... it's important for people to understand why a politician might take that kind of position.
KELLER: I'm just saying that some people think that you're a truth-teller and a whistleblower and you're trying to bring back civility and bipartisanship and others characterize you differently with different motives. And I'm just saying if you assume the best, that you really are here to promote civility and bipartisanship and do away with scandalous information, why include such a sensational fact that even you, yourself, there's (ph) probably something -- you, yourself, have said it's (ph) probably something that should be off limits.
MCCLELLAN: I would disagree. I mean, I think -- well, and that's why you talk about it, is that -- in part. But my purpose of this book is about changing the way Washington governs for the better, and to do that you have restore candor and honesty, and the president was not approaching this in a very direct and honest way. And that's why I used that example in the book.
KELLER: But you didn't use that in your original book proposal that you wrote in 12 -- in December of '06, you didn't mention anything about this alleged drug use, did you?
MCCLELLAN: Actually I didn't mention it specific, but I think I mentioned that period about the 2000 campaign and going back and looking at some of those issues. It was a big issue during the campaign...
KELLER: Right. But...
MCCLELLAN: ... one of many issues. And I think it was relevant to talk about the president's leadership style and his character.
KELLER: And some would say that you included that sensational information about the alleged drugs use and his denial not to promote bipartisanship and civility but rather to promote book sales.
KELLER: Would you disagree with that characterization?
MCCLELLAN: I think, if you read it, it's a very thoughtful look at this issue. It's not looking at whether or not he, you know, the truth behind that. It's looking at a broader character issue.
KELLER: OK. Has your initial book proposal from December of '06 been reflective of the book that you ultimately wrote? Or is it fair to say, as Ari Fleischer did, that you have essentially changed, over the course of the past year, and that your version of events having changed?
MCCLELLAN: Well, it's fair to say that the initial book proposal included one of the key themes that I developed in my book, which was, how did this popular bipartisan governor of Texas become one of the most controversial and polarizing figures -- or presidents -- in modern history? And I said that was one of the issues I wanted to look at, and I answered the question why.
Now, yes, I started with some preconceived notions, and wanted to put responsibility a lot of different places. But, as I went through the book and reflected and researched things, I came to the conclusions that I did. It was a constant search for the truth, as I was going through this book. I put a lot of thought into it. This book was not something that was easy to write. The words did not come easily to me. But it is what I believe happened, and it is my views and my conclusions and my perspective on things.
KELLER: And, Mr. Chairman, my time has expired, so just indulge me and let me leave this one final question. And I just want to be fair to you, Mr. McClellan, and get your side out. That's why I'm asking you these questions. I know you have a concern about the president engaged in a permanent campaign. And I think you've made similar concerns about the Clinton White House, as well...
MCCLELLAN: I write about those early days in the book. I actually talk about some of that. But you can't separate some of the other, more consequential decisions that overshadowed some of those positive aspects.
KELLER: OK. Well, thank you, Mr. McClellan. And, Mr. Chairman, my time's expired.
CONYERS: Thank you. I'd like now to recognize Robert Wexler of Florida, who serves the Judiciary Committee on the Intellectual Property Committee.
REP. ROBERT WEXLER, D-FLA.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. McClellan, for appearing before this committee today. Your book raises many questions about an administration that is incapable of telling the truth and, in your words, "avoids accountability." I want to focus on how and why Scooter Libby came to reveal the identity of cover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. From everything we know about this administration, it is inconceivable that Mr. Libby would have acted alone.
WEXLER: It is essential we learn who ordered or gave permission to Mr. Libby to expose the identity of this covert agent. The president and vice president have denied ordering this illegal leak, but logic and the chain of command dictate that it must have been one of them.
Mr. McClellan, in your book, you state that you cannot believe President Bush authorized the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's status as a covert agent. It is unimaginable to you that the president, one of only two people with the authority to give Libby the go-ahead to make this leak, actually did it. So who does that leave us? The vice president. You do not defend Mr. Cheney's in your book. In fact, the lack of faith you express in the vice president in your book is striking. Why?
MCCLELLAN: Well, he is someone that keeps things pretty close to the vest, to say the least. I do not know what his thinking is or what his involvement was in this -- in this whole episode. I think that Patrick Fitzgerald stated it well when he talked about the cloud that was remaining over the vice president's office because of Scooter Libby's actions that led to his conviction on four counts, I guess. But there's a lot of suspicion there because there are questions that have never been answered despite the fact that we said at some point we would address these issues.
WEXLER: So this suspicion leads you to believe that Vice President Cheney could have authorized Mr. Libby's leak?
MCCLELLAN: I can't rule it out. And I think that Scooter Libby in his -- some testimony that was released talked about it's possible that he could have first learned about her from -- or, that the vice president could have even asked him to get that information out.
WEXLER: Well, thank you for your candor, Mr. McClellan. And your suspicion or the doubts that you raise fit in very nicely to what it is we do know. We do know Mr. Cheney has been deeply involved in the efforts to cover up the leak and exonerate Mr. Libby. We know Mr. Cheney called you to have you unknowingly lie to the American people about Libby's involvement. We know that the vice president wrote a note where he starts to write, and then crosses out, the fact that the president himself asked Libby to stick his neck into a meat grinder to protect the administration.
WEXLER: It's clear to me that Mr. Cheney's the only one left, the only likely suspect to have ordered the leak. If Mr. Cheney really thought Libby was innocent, then his note would have likely said something like "We need to protect this man who's done nothing wrong." But that's not what Mr. Cheney's note said. The vice president's own hand betrays him and Libby, and implicates the president of the United States. These facts and your testimony, Mr. McClellan, are more than enough, in my view, to open up impeachment hearings.
Furthermore, the president's use of the pardon power to deflect an investigation into his own wrongdoing by granting a commutation to the man who may have lied for him would constitute an abuse and crime of the highest order, and we must determine on this committee conclusively whether or not this happened. Thank you, Mr. McClellan, for exposing some of the lies that were propagated by this White House. But, unfortunately, as you have said, I believe as well, others in this White House have been blocking access to the truth. It's time we sweep away the bogus claims of executive privilege and get Karl Rove, Andy Card and others before this Judiciary Committee. We have the power of inherent contempt, and if need be, we should use it.
WEXLER: Mr. McClellan, what you have provided today for the American people is enormously important. You are the first high official in this administration to come before this Congress and offer us a glimpse into the truth. I commend you for being here today.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Congressman. I do believe it's important for the American people to have the truth.
CONYERS: Thank you. I now turn to the gentleman from Virginia, former chairman of the Agriculture Committee, but for many years a member of Judiciary Committee, that served on the Intellectual Property Subcommittee and the Immigration Subcommittee. You're recognized at this time, sir.
REP. ROBERT W. GOODLATTE, R-VA.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, Mr. McClellan, welcome. I'd like to talk about the nature of your -- the termination of your employment at the White House. Were you fired?
MCCLELLAN: I actually describe it in detail in the book. Josh Bolten had decided to make a change in the White House press secretary position. I was also ready to leave at the time.
GOODLATTE: And you were upset about this, though, were you not?
MCCLELLAN: You know, I'm not the kind of person that gets angry or upset really. I think most people that know me know that. I was certainly something that was disillusioned at that moment anyway, as I talk about in the book, so I was looking to leave...
GOODLATTE: Well, you say...
MCCLELLAN: ... at some point in that time frame anyway.
GOODLATTE: You say in the book, on page 299, "My emotional response was strong and immediate. I thought to myself, 'He's ready to throw me to the wolves.' I thought how long I had worked for the president and about how loyal I had been to him." I know that in your book you immediately follow this passage with the recognition that you understood why they felt they needed to take the press secretary position in a new direction, but those are pretty strong feelings you had.
MCCLELLAN: I think they're natural initial reactions. But as I say in the book, I went on to describe that I understood where he's coming from.
GOODLATTE: Let me ask you about that. Were you happy in your job before this conversation?
MCCLELLAN: No, I was disillusioned at that moment. As I say, I'd just learned about a week or two before that about the president's national intelligence estimate being secretly declassified by the president himself.
GOODLATTE: Well, today, over two years after that conversation, are you still angry with Josh Bolten?
MCCLELLAN: No, not at all.
GOODLATTE: OK. You then moved on to prepare to write this book. And the Associated Press has quoted Steve Ross, who's the publisher of the Collins Division of HarperCollins as saying, "Books by spokespeople rarely contain anything newsworthy and have generally not proven particularly compelling to consumers," and that your proposal was, quote, "shopped around, but like others who publish in the category, we didn't each take a meeting, based upon past history." Now we move forward to your current publisher...
MCCLELLAN: I believe I met with some part of HarperCollins, actually.
GOODLATTE: Let me then move forward to the folks who did actually decide to publish, and I'd like to read some more quotes from your publishers. Mr. Osnos has stated of you, quote, "A lot of people were skeptical about how far Scott would go in shaping his criticism. He's delivered in every respect." Were you asked to be aggressive with your criticism in the book by anyone that caused this to be published by this publishing entity and turned down by others prior to your...
MCCLELLAN: No, actually there were at least three proposals, I believe, on the book. And, no, I was not. In fact, I told each of the publishers I met with that I was going to be candid, that I was going to search for the truth. And I think Peter Osnos understood that's where I was coming from, and he appreciated that. He actually called some people, some reporters that he knew, to find out if I said something like that, "Could I take him at his word?" And those reporters told him, "Yes, you can take him at his word. He is a straight shooter."
GOODLATTE: Now, where else have you appeared to discuss your book? MCCLELLAN: Oh, I've been on a book tour. I've been doing a number of interviews.
GOODLATTE: Can you give me a rough estimate of the number of TV shows that you appeared on?
MCCLELLAN: No, I think that's probably all out there in the public realm, but there have been a number of national shows...
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know. I don't know if it's dozens, but it's certainly -- it's certainly a lot.
GOODLATTE: Did this particular publisher offer you the most money?
MCCLELLAN: Out of the ones that were the book proposals?
MCCLELLAN: I'd have to go back and look. I think there was one that was within the same range, and then the other one was a little bit less.
GOODLATTE: But basically the most.
MCCLELLAN: At $75,000, we've already said that.
GOODLATTE: And you've acknowledged in your testimony today and some of those other shows you've appeared on and in your response to Mr. Keller that the shape of this book evolved over the original prospectus that you prepared and submitted to some publishers.
GOODLATTE: Is that not correct?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I say that in the book. Some of the conclusions that I came to were different from what I would have embraced at the beginning, because it was a constant search to try to understand the truth by taking off my partisan lens, stepping back from the White House, and then trying to give something to the American people, or the readers, what they could learn from my experiences and what we can take away from it. I think that's an important thing to give back.
GOODLATTE: Well, I have to say that I don't believe that there's any enlightening information to be gained from your testimony here today. Because, as many people who know you have pointed out, many of the statements that you have made in your book directly contradict statements that you made during your tenure in the White House. And they've even questioned how this book was put together because it sounds so drastically different from the Scott McClellan they knew.
I know Ari Fleischer, for one, has made that statement. This puts in doubt, I think, the credibility of everything recounted in...
MCCLELLAN: Well, no one's challenging -- Ari Fleischer or no one else is challenging the themes or perspectives in the book. They're trying to attack me personally, as I say at the beginning. And I stand by everything in this book. I was a spokesman for the president, not for myself. This book reflects my personal views and my own views, some of which I had to be able to step back and reflect on those experiences to understand exactly where things were going.
GOODLATTE: Mr. Chairman, if I just might add one thing, whatever your motivations were for writing this book, I can't help but think that either the allegations you make were serious enough that you should have raised these concerns while you were at the White House, or they've been hyped to sell this book.
MCCLELLAN: Well, I'd say, which specific allegations?
GOODLATTE: Well, there are many allegations in this book about things that could have been raised at the White House.
GOODLATTE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: The chair is pleased now to recognize the chairwoman of the Commercial and Administrative Law Committee, the gentlelady from California, Linda Sanchez.
REP. LINDA T. SANCHEZ, D-CALIF.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, according to press accounts, the plan to fire all 93 U.S. attorneys originated with Karl Rove, and it was seen as a way to get political cover for firing the small number of U.S. attorneys the White House actually wanted to get rid of.
Many have speculated that Mr. Rove's goal in proposing the U.S. attorney firings was to pressure and intimidate U.S. attorney and special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. When Mr. Rove made the suggestion to fire the U.S. attorneys, he had already been before the grand jury several times in the Scooter Libby case.
SANCHEZ: To your knowledge, is that account correct?
MCCLELLAN: I did not have -- I'm sorry, could you repeat the question again?
SANCHEZ: Sure. That when Mr. Rove made the suggestion to fire the U.S. attorneys, he had already been before the grand jury several times in the Scooter Libby matter.
MCCLELLAN: I don't know the exact time. I did not have direct involvement in terms of those personnel matters regarding the U.S. attorneys. It was not something that boiled up while I was press secretary, it happened after I'd already left.
SANCHEZ: So are you aware of any conversations involving Karl Rove or anyone else at the White House during the leak investigation in which Mr. Rove or anyone else at the White House discussed having Mr. Fitzgerald removed as U.S. attorney or...
MCCLELLAN: No, I'm not. I'm not familiar with those conversations.
SANCHEZ: So to the best of your knowledge, those matters were not discussed during the leak investigation.
MCCLELLAN: I just don't know. It's not something I was involved in.
SANCHEZ: OK. In 2003, President Bush said that anyone who leaked classified information in the Plame case would be dismissed, and in June 2004, when President Bush was asked whether he stood by his promise to fire whoever was found to have leaked Valerie Plame's name, Mr. Bush reiterated his promise and said yes. However, in July 2005 President Bush said, "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration." Do you know what prompted President Bush to raise the bar in July of 2005?
MCCLELLAN: Well, it was revelations regarding Karl Rove's involvement in revealing her identity to Matt Cooper as well as being a confirming source for Robert Novak as well. And I think that's why the president changed the threshold there.
SANCHEZ: Who do you think in the administration should have been fired if Bush had adhered to his initial...
MCCLELLAN: Well, if he had adhered to his word, then Karl Rove wouldn't have longer been in the administration. I think I think he should have stood by his word.
SANCHEZ: OK. Do you believe that Mr. Libby was involved in getting you to vouch for him in the press?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I do.
SANCHEZ: Can you please explain why?
MCCLELLAN: Well, as I recount in the book as well, I talk about the conversation I had with Scooter Libby midweek, where I told him that I wasn't going to go down a list of White House names now that a formal investigation had been launched and we were aware of it. He expressed his appreciation but didn't say much else.
And then it was that Saturday, just a few days later when Andy Card contacted me, saying that the vice president and the president had talked and wanted me to basically exonerate Scooter Libby, give the same assurances I had for him that I did for Karl Rove. And so, I'm sure that Scooter Libby was involved in talking with the vice president about that. It also later became revealed in public documents that he had written out some talking points for me to use that effect prior to that. Now, I never saw those talking points until they came out in the media.
SANCHEZ: OK. Last topic of inquiry for me. You write in the book, "The campaign to sell the war didn't begin in earnest until the fall of 2002, but as I would later come to learn, President Bush had decided to confront the Iraqi regime several months earlier. Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz all saw September 11th as an opportunity to go after Saddam Hussein, take out his regime, eliminate a threat, make the Middle East more secure, and Bush agreed." When, exactly, did President Bush decide that the U.S. would wage a preemptive war in Iraq?
MCCLELLAN: Well, he's someone that tends to govern from the gut, or instinctive decisions. And he confirmed to Bob Woodward that he had asked Secretary Rumsfeld to update the war plans for Iraq in late November. He had conversations with Tommy Franks -- General Tommy Franks, in December about Iraq.
And so, it was in that November, December, January period when he had essentially set the course that either we're going to go in with military action or Saddam Hussein will have to come clean. There was no flexibility in that approach. So he had essentially set the policy in place at that period in time. The president is someone I know very well, and he tends to make the policy decision and then expect everybody to work on implementing that decision. And the marketing of the campaign was part of that effort.
SANCHEZ: And why do you believe that President Bush was fixated specifically on invading Iraq?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think his driving motivation -- and this is something I would come to learn more when I became press secretary -- that the driving motivation was this idealistic and ambitious vision that he could transform the Middle East by coercively going into Iraq and that Iraq would be the linchpin for transforming the rest of the Middle East into a democratic region.
SANCHEZ: Thank you. I have no further questions. I yield back the balance of my time.
CONYERS: Darrell Issa of California serves with great distinction on three committees of the House -- of the Judiciary Committee, plus the Intelligence Committee. But the Constitution Subcommittee, the Antitrust Task Force and the Intellectual Property Subcommittee. And we recognize the gentleman from California at this time.
REP. DARRELL ISSA, R-CALIF.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'll try to live up to that introduction. It will be difficult. Mr. McClellan, I'm not going to be easy on you; I'm not going to be hard on you. I wasn't pleased to see this book, and let me go through why.
By the way, it's a good read. My reason for not being pleased may become more evident, though. You said you reflected for a period of time before you were able to properly write the book. I might propose that that reflection period was a period of time in which, had you reacted sooner, I think even you would admit that you could have affected the outcome of this administration had you, let's say, published this book a year earlier. You would have had some effect on an administration before its waning hours. Would that be fair to say?
MCCLELLAN: I'm not sure. You're talking about changing their policies?
ISSA: Well, let's just say that if you don't say anything about what you now have said in this book, you're not going to have an effect on the administration. The fact that you're now saying it is what troubled me. Had you reflected until November 5th of this year and then published -- had the book come out, would you have had essentially a great effect on an administration on the eve of one or the other coming into office without affecting the actual election in process? And I don't know if you've given much thought to the fact that your book, quite frankly, is a political book, launched in the most political time, disparaging a past administration, but in a sense that makes the war a focus. And many of the comments here today really focused on the war.
MCCLELLAN: Well -- and I don't want to repeat the same mistakes that we've made when you talk about war. The other aspect of this is that this larger message, as I said, is bigger than any person or party, and it's about improving governance in Washington. And that's why it's very important to today's national political conversation, more than anything else.
But I wasn't finished with the book in November of 2006 or 2007. This was a process. I began writing it, in earnest, probably, in July of 2007, and it took until mid-April, really, to finish it. I had to push a couple of deadlines back because I wanted to make sure that the book reflected my views and that it was right. And that's why I pushed the deadline back a couple of times. I was still working through some of these issues myself.
ISSA: Well -- and I have to agree that it takes a while to write a book. But did you consider writing any articles that would have essentially -- very often the George Wills of the world will write a series of articles that, in fact, are preludes to books, but they do, in fact, allow him to affect policy decisions and public debate in a more real time.
Did you consider doing that?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think this is affecting policy debate in a positive way...
ISSA: No, but I mean, a year and a half ago, before writing a book of this length, did you consider writing 400 words for the...
MCCLELLAN: Well, from my perspective, people needed the full context of how I looked at these events. And that's why I talk about my upbringing and being raised in a political family, my belief in speaking up, what I was taught as young kid.
ISSA: Now, I guess I'll go on to another one because, I mean, this is not out here in a timely fashion, through no fault of yours, but it's not a timely fashion to affect this administration. So we're clearly affecting one of two... MCCLELLAN: Well, I disagree. It could affect this administration with regard to Iran.
ISSA: Well, in this case, my statement will stand.
ISSA: This is not going affect this administration in the waning days. Both its friends and its foes alike, I think, believe that. And by the way, I agree with you that Iraq is not going to be the linchpin of democracy in the Middle East, and that, in fact, anyone who believed that believed that because they were naive about what it was going to take to move that area of the world toward government that serves its people better. I've spent a lot of time in that area. I respect that the president's tried to learn about it.
So I don't disagree with some of your premises in this book. Let me move on, though. The next administration's going to put a spokesperson in the White House to stand in that newly remodeled room that I understand used to be a swimming pool or something in the basement.
ISSA: And some have said it should be made that again. What guidance would you give to the next spokesperson? For example, should they not do on-camera? Should they, in fact, not be part of the spin in that sense, but rather report only in a prepared statement the official statement of the White House, rather than taking questions and giving assurances, as you did?
ISSA: Because in your book I think you laid out pretty fairly -- you gave assurances based on assurances. This committee could potentially have the jurisdiction to create a situation in which the next press secretary -- or press spokesperson -- would, if they took those assurances, be called before this committee, and if they swore that, we could refer it for criminal prosecution, that the person who gave that official statement that was then relayed committed a crime.
That isn't currently the case. If Karl Rove were to give you an assurance, or some other person, and that assurance out to be untrue, that doesn't create an action the attorney general by definition go after, just because you said it based on their assurance. Do you believe we should change the law so that when you speak on behalf of the president or you speak on behalf of somebody else who has given you assurances, that that if-false assurance constitutes a crime that would be punishable by the Justice Department?
MCCLELLAN: Not something I've considered or thought about.
ISSA: Mr. Chairman, my time has expired, but hopefully you've considered it or begun considering whether or not a spokesperson on behalf of somebody, if they are relying on assurances, as this book seems to say, either should, A, not be taken seriously, since the assurances don't mean anything; or, B, those assurances should constitute something that we codify in law.
ISSA: I thank you for your presence here today. I thank you for a good book, even if I disagree about the release of time. And I thank chairman for his kind introduction.
CONYERS: Thank you for your observations. The gentlelady from Houston, Texas, Sheila Jackson Lee, is, first of all, a senior member of the committee, serving on four committees -- Intellectual Property, Immigration, Crime and Antitrust -- and additionally chairs the Subcommittee of Border Security in the Homeland Security Committee. And we recognize her now.
REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, D-TEXAS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, let me indicate to you that I am very proud of you as an American. And I imagine that there are many Americans who are likewise proud of you today. It fits right into the constitutional scheme of three branches of government and the responsibility that we have for oversight and the responsibility that we have for integrity as it relates to the American people.
Not only am I proud of you as an American, but I'm certainly proud of you as a fellow Texan. I want to give, sort of, a rapid-fire series of questions. And I know that in some instances in your capacity in the public affairs- communications office -- rightly so -- you would not be in meetings. But, obviously, in discussions with the chief of staff and staff meetings, you could get the flavor of the tone of the White House. So first my question is, have you been paid to come to this hearing?
MCCLELLAN: No, I've not.
JACKSON LEE: I saw you stand and take an oath of office -- or an oath, rather. And do you take that oath seriously?
MCCLELLAN: Very seriously.
JACKSON LEE: And are you committed to telling us the truth?
JACKSON LEE: And do you distinguish, and do you think we should distinguish, payments made for a book from your willingness to come forward here today, take an oath, and commit to the American people that you're telling the truth?
JACKSON LEE: With that premise, I will ask you these questions...
MCCLELLAN: I would hope that it would encourage others to do the same from this White House, but unfortunately, I don't think that'll happen.
JACKSON LEE: And I think certainly it will add to the oversight responsibilities that are taken seriously by this committee and I think the American people. Do you believe that the president in instances of sincerity or belief misrepresented to the American people, told -- made statements that were misrepresenting facts to the American people?
MCCLELLAN: In terms of the buildup to the Iraq war?
JACKSON LEE: Buildup to the Iraq war. I'm going to get into a series of other incidents that you might have had in your book.
MCCLELLAN: As I say, it was less than candid and less than honest by the way we went about marketing that war to the American people. That's the way I would describe it.
JACKSON LEE: Would you describe it as telling an untruth?
MCCLELLAN: It was not completely truthful. That's the way I would describe it.
JACKSON LEE: And do you believe -- having said in this room on occasion dealing with the questions of impeachment, do you believe that hearings that would discuss, well, hearings that would be in the context of impeachment proceedings would be warranted on the basis of untruth? Or that you're not a lawyer...
JACKSON LEE: ... but do you believe that issues could be raised?
MCCLELLAN: Congresswoman, I do not support impeachment based on what I know.
JACKSON LEE: Do you believe that -- however, that there were instances of the untruth being spoken by the president?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think I talk about the permanent campaign culture and how that got transferred into the war-making process, and so the American people didn't get the real truth of the situation as best we knew it, and they should have had that, they should have had all the facts before them and they didn't. Instead, they had a partial case that was being made -- or a case that was being made that only included a part of the information that this administration knew.
JACKSON LEE: And you've just made your comments as a personal citizen relating to your thoughts on any kind of constitutional proceeding?
JACKSON LEE: It's your personal assessment?
JACKSON LEE: Let me go -- let me ask you about the efforts with Ambassador Joseph Wilson, any lingering understanding of that. Prior to the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's covert CIA status in July 2003, did you participate in any discussion with White House officials or officials or other government agencies about Joseph Wilson and charges he had made before the scenes about the misuse of Niger intelligence?
MCCLELLAN: I was not directly involved in any of that. Certainly, there are talking points that would have been passed around the administration. But I was not involved in the overall strategy, if that's what you're getting at, in terms of trying to discredit him.
JACKSON LEE: But what did you represent to the public, based upon discussions that might have...
MCCLELLAN: Well, in that initial period, I was still deputy press secretary. I became press secretary right after -- or during all that period when it was happening, the 16 words controversy over the State of the Union. And, literally, July 15th was my first day, and I think it was the week before that when it was really bubbling up.
JACKSON LEE: So what was your sense, however, being on the inside, of what they were trying to do to Joseph Wilson? Was he treated fairly...
JACKSON LEE: ... by the actions of the White House, inasmuch as he was an official of government; he was a standing ambassador; it would not be thought that he would misrepresent what he had found?
MCCLELLAN: I think it was wrong to start with an anonymous effort to discredit him, which I talk about in the book, which is now public knowledge. And I think it was wrong to go about it that way, instead of addressing these issues openly and directly.
JACKSON LEE: And do you believe that the issue with Mr. Libby and his involvement with the issue of leaking was an intentional action inside the White House?
MCCLELLAN: I do not know for sure. I can't -- as I said, I've spoken to the president. I don't think he, in any way, was involved in that, to the best of my knowledge. In terms of whether or not it was an intentional effort by himself, Scooter Libby or other persons, I do not know for sure. But there's a lot of suspicion that has been left.
JACKSON LEE: But you believe that the leak did generate out of the White House...
MCCLELLAN: Well, there were...
JACKSON LEE: ... individuals involved in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: There were certainly at least three White House officials that revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters before it was publicly known.
JACKSON LEE: And certainly, any impeachment proceedings not only point to the actual actor that would be impeached -- in this incident, a president -- but it will also draw the opportunity to engage, investigate all of the occurrences that might be attributable to either the misuse or the abuse of government. I know you're not a lawyer, but you understand that all of this would be laid out. Do you think the American people need to have an airing or a clearing of some of the elements that you have spoken about in your book?
MCCLELLAN: I think it's always better that they have the facts and that they the truth, and then, that way, we wouldn't be in this position in the first place; we wouldn't be continuing to investigate this matter, asking questions; the suspicion wouldn't be there. The partisan squabbling that goes on, on both sides, because of issues like this would be diminished. I think it was -- I think it's a bad strategy to keep information from the public when they have the right to know it.
JACKSON LEE: My last point: The weapons of mass destruction was a key element...
CONYERS: The gentlelady's time has almost expired.
JACKSON LEE: Mr. Chairman, you are kind for your indulgence. I'll end on this. The weapons of mass destruction became the singular cry for the American people to be frightened into conceding to the necessity of a war against Iraq.
JACKSON LEE: How much goings-on, how much interaction, from your book, from your exposure went on to characterize the dastardly condition that we're in because the weapons of mass destruction were about to destroy America? How much misrepresentation was engaged in that?
MCCLELLAN: To characterize, I'm sorry?
JACKSON LEE: The weapons of mass destruction as a dastardly potential act, coming toward us.
MCCLELLAN: Well, there was a massive marketing effort to make WMD, as well as the connections to Al Qaida, a central part of that effort to sell war to the American people and package it as a grave and gathering danger, when the reality is that it was not as urgent or serious or as grave as it was portrayed.
JACKSON LEE: So untruth prevailed there.
MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly less than truthful, yes.
JACKSON LEE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
CONYERS: The chair recognizes the gentleman from California, Dan Lungren, a former statewide enforcement officer for California.
DAN LUNGREN, R-CALIF.: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, could you just succinctly say what your purpose is being here?
MCCLELLAN: I was invited by the chairman, received a letter from him to...
MCCLELLAN: ... Valerie Plame episode.
LUNGREN: You were not subpoenaed. Correct?
MCCLELLAN: That's correct.
LUNGREN: So what is your purpose in voluntarily coming here?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think to shed light on this whole episode.
LUNGREN: You're not coming here as part of an impeachment proceeding, are you?
LUNGREN: Because I have listened to my colleagues, now, I think refer to impeachment four different times. And yet we've been told by the leadership on the Democratic side that impeachment's off the table. So my question -- my question, I guess, maybe rhetorically, is whether what we're doing here is Kucinich-light. We're not dared to bring up an impeachment resolution, but we're here asking you questions and then trying to extrapolate from what you say statements that then members can infer lead to impeachment of the president or others.
LUNGREN: But I just wanted to make sure, you're not here for that purpose, correct?
MCCLELLAN: I am not here for that purpose. I don't think we would be here for this purpose if this White House had been more open...
LUNGREN: Well, no. But, I mean, my question is, you didn't come here believing that someone ought to be impeached, did you?
MCCLELLAN: No. I do not. As I said, I do not support that.
LUNGREN: And I was not here in 19 -- or, excuse me, in 2002 when the authorization for the United States armed forces -- the use of United States armed forces against Iraq, but I just went in to get a copy of it, and it goes on for three and a half pages for the basis for the resolution, one of which was weapons of mass destruction. Did the administration, to your knowledge, support this resolution in its entirety?
MCCLELLAN: I believe so.
LUNGREN: Was the administration talking at that time about the other grounds for going against Saddam Hussein as well?
MCCLELLAN: There were other grounds that were talked about, but the chief rationale was the WMD connection and terrorism.
LUNGREN: I understand that, but -- I guess -- I was going to ask you if you have an opinion as to whether Congress ever wastes time or wastes money or wastes space, but that sort of answers itself. We've got two and a half pages talking about whereas clauses, going back to the violation of the sovereignty of Kuwait by Iraq, Iraq entering into a United Nations-sponsored cease-fire agreement, the United States intelligence agencies -- and despite the efforts of United States intelligence agencies, international weapons inspectors, et cetera, Iraq was not cooperating.
Iraq was in direct and flagrant violation of the cease-fire, attempted to thwart the efforts of weapons inspectors to identify and destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. 1998 law passed by the Congress concluding Iraq's continuing weapons of mass destruction programs threatening the United States.
In other words, the administration supported all of those points, is that correct, at that time?
MCCLELLAN: It wasn't just those points that were emphasized. The larger point that was emphasized as the chief rationale was the WMD and connections potentially to Al Qaida.
LUNGREN: So administration spokespeople when they were presented with these others rejected them or said that they supported the overall...
MCCLELLAN: And what I'm saying, it was where the emphasis was in selling this to the American people that made it a grave and gathering danger, was the -- and an urgent danger that needed to be addressed now was how it was packaged together and what the emphasis was.
LUNGREN: And you have repeatedly used the...
MCCLELLAN: The Senate Intelligence Committee also reflected that in their recent report.
LUNGREN: Hindsight's pretty good, isn't it?
MCCLELLAN: Well. there are certainly things that I -- didn't have access to the intelligence at that point in time.
LUNGREN: Neither did I.
MCCLELLAN: I trusted the administration. I trusted the president. And part of that trust I think was misplaced.
LUNGREN: And I, not being in Congress at the time, not only put some trust in the administration, but I was looking at the judgments made by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate and I went through repeated judgments, at least as reflected in their comments, by leading Democrats on the Senate side, who were -- at least as they said at the time, reflecting on their review of the intelligence that was then available. And they were saying the same thing that the president was saying.
But let me ask you this about -- you have used the word "propaganda" a few times. On the "American Heritage Dictionary" definition of propaganda, it says the systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of the information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause. I guess that's what you were talking about, right? I mean, you were actually -- you were part of the machinery that was presenting a cause, and you were trying to make the best case at the time to the best of your knowledge and ability, right?
MCCLELLAN: That's right. But where you're going -- it was to the best of my knowledge of what?
LUNGREN: The best of your knowledge and ability at the time.
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry.
LUNGREN: Knowledge and ability at the time.
MCCLELLAN: Oh, ability, OK. Yes, I was part of that effort to some extent. Now, I was the deputy press secretary at the time, so I wasn't integrally involved in that effort during that period.
LUNGREN: And I'm trying to -- I've gone through your book in some detail, and would it be fair to say that they are -- much of it is your reflections and your opinions based on what you were exposed to at the time you worked at the White House?
MCCLELLAN: It's certainly my perspectives based on the way the White House operates, knowing the president, as well as being involved in these efforts too.
LUNGREN: And some of the -- I mean, some of it was opinion, correct? I mean, when you give us an idea of what you thought people were doing when you were not in the room listening to what they were saying, you were forming an opinion based on your knowledge, but not the knowledge of the precise facts?
MCCLELLAN: Well, based on my knowledge of working closely with the president, based on my knowledge -- there where a number of meetings I was involved in.
MCCLELLAN: There are some -- this White House tends to be compartmentalized, so sometimes decisions were made in a small group of two or three people.
LUNGREN: So you can understand how some of us could -- might have some differences of opinion with your opinion?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I was on the inside. I was...
LUNGREN: I know.
MCCLELLAN: ... intimately knowledgeable of what was going on.
LUNGREN: I know. But I read through your book and you called Jimmy Carter a centrist. You called Ronald Reagan a centrist. Now, I dealt with both of them, and I would describe them in many different ways, but I would describe neither one as a centrist.
MCCLELLAN: But in many ways, that they governed toward the center is what I was talking about during that part of the book.
LUNGREN: Well, a centrist. I just -- the only point I'm making is a lot of what's in your book...
MCCLELLAN: I think I said "moderate or conservative in their views."
LUNGREN: Yes, and you wouldn't think that we ought to proceed on something like impeachment on opinion, would you?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I've already stated my view on impeachment.
LUNGREN: You are not here for that purpose?
LUNGREN: OK. Thank you very much. Thank you.
CONYERS: The chair recognizes Steve Cohen, Memphis, Tennessee, member of the Administrative Law Subcommittee, the Constitutional Law Subcommittee, and the Antitrust Task Force.
REP. STEVE COHEN, D-TENN.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, you said that President Bush came to Washington, you believe, with great potential, having worked with Democrats, as he did in Austin, as governor, and in the beginning. What events or what people do you think led him astray from the potential that he had to be a uniter and not a divider?
Well, I think part of this was he came into this and was going to make an effort to an extent, but that he saw this as the way the Washington game is played, and decided to play it just like it is played by many other people, instead of trying to transform it, like he pledged to do when he was running for president.
MCCLELLAN: I think part of that was based on his experience of seeing what happened to his father in his time in office.
COHEN: So, you think he had the potential to come in, based on the experience he had in Texas where he worked with the lieutenant governor and all the...
MCCLELLAN: Right, and the speaker.
COHEN: And the system changed him, what was in Washington, is that right?
MCCLELLAN: I think that's part of it, yes.
COHEN: And the vice president was put on the team because he had knowledge of the system and experience in Washington, is that not correct?
MCCLELLAN: And his foreign policy experience and, yes, experience in other ways.
COHEN: Do you believe that Vice President Cheney was most responsible from deterring President Bush from being the great president and uniter that you think he could have been or was it Karl Rove?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the president has to bear responsibility for his presidency veering off track like it did more than anyone else. But there were certainly some influences on him that I think were negative influences in that regard, and I would include the vice president in that.
COHEN: Who was the greater influence, the vice president or Karl Rove?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know that I could make a specific judgment on that. But both of them had enormous influence in terms of the direction of this White House and the way this White House operated. Of course, with the vice president it was more on certain foreign policy elements and economic policy issues, and with Karl Rove it was the massive political operation that exists in this White House. It existed in other White Houses as well, but when you transfer that over into the war-making process, it becomes a problem. COHEN: Did you ever hear of any decisions or people that used BlackBerrys that were RNC BlackBerrys or RNC e-mails for political purposes so as to not place those on...
MCCLELLAN: Well, I certainly knew people used -- or that had RNC e-mails. I didn't have an RNC e-mail account myself, but I certainly knew that people used them. I believe that I probably would have sent e-mails to both of Karl Rove's accounts, his White House account and probably that account as well, just to make sure it got to him.
COHEN: Are you aware of any particular policy that said to use those to avoid government oversight?
MCCLELLAN: Not directly, no. No direct knowledge...
COHEN: How about indirectly?
MCCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't say indirectly either.
COHEN: Have you heard -- you say you heard talk about Iraq and the buildup for war there. Did you ever hear any talk about Iran and a buildup for war with Iran in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: Not directly, no; no direct...
COHEN: How about indirectly?
MCCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't say indirectly, either.
COHEN: Have you heard -- you say you heard talk about Iraq and the buildup for war there. Did you ever hear any talk about Iran and a buildup for war with Iran in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: Well, there's certainly a focus on Iran. And I sat in world leader meetings with the president where he would discuss Iran. It was a high foreign policy priority for him and remains a high foreign policy priority as well. And I think the views of people within the administration are pretty well known, in terms of what we ought to be doing to confront Iran.
COHEN: The president didn't attend, and hasn't attended funerals of soldiers who were killed in the war. Are you -- were you privy to any of the discussions of why it was determined that he would not attend those funerals, as previous presidents...
MCCLELLAN: Sure, including discussions from him personally that, you know, he didn't want to view it as picking or choosing one funeral over another. I did attend, often, with him, when he would visit families of the fallen and wounded soldiers as well. Those were certainly very moving moments. And I saw the president's care and concern for those troops and for those families as well.
COHEN: Previous presidents attended funerals, did not?
MCCLELLAN: I believe so, yes.
COHEN: They didn't worry about choosing one over another. They tried to make as many as possible. So there was a decision to make none, because you couldn't make them all. Is that correct?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think part of was, you know, where do you draw the line? And if you do one, then you can't do the others -- then you're not doing the others -- does that show disrespect to others? But the president, as I said, often visits with the troops, the wounded, and visits with the families as well. And that's the way he decided to approach it.
COHEN: Do you remember when he gave up golf?
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't. I saw his comments about that, but I don't remember any discussion, personally, about this was his time to give up golf.
COHEN: During the campaign of 2004, were you familiar with any discussion about swift-boating Senator Kerry?
MCCLELLAN: No, I was not involved in that, but that was more of a campaign side of things, if anything. And I wouldn't have been involved in that.
COHEN: Did you ever overhear any conversations about firing U.S. attorneys, at all?
MCCLELLAN: That was something that boiled up after I was there, so I don't -- it was never something that was high on my plate, in terms of press issues I was dealing with, so it's not something I ever focused on. It was never something that was high on my plate in terms of press issues I was dealing with, so it's not something I ever focused on.
COHEN: Several people who edited your book -- it's been elicited that different people edited it -- what did they edit out of the book that we should know about?
MCCLELLAN: I don't think there is anything that would be of interest to this committee, if you say "edited out of the book." I think I've given a pretty clear view of the big picture of things in this book. And that was what I was trying to focus on is, how did this administration go so badly off-course and what can we learn from it?
COHEN: You said in an interview by Amy Goodman on "Democracy Now" that you mentioned the number of civilian casualties in Iraq as one of several issues you should have spoken up on while you were at the White House, one of several you should have spoken up on. What were the other issues you should have spoken up on?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I mean, in retrospect, there are number of times I think I should have spoken up more. But as I say in the book, too, in this administration, once the policy is decided, the president expects everyone to march in lockstep to that policy and not question it. You can question how it's being implemented. But once that decision's made, you're not encouraged to speak up about it.
COHEN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Mr. McClellan.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: The chair recognizes Tom Feeney of Florida, who's a member of the Administrative Law Subcommittee and the Intellectual Property Committee, as well.
REP. TOM FEENEY, R-FLA.: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank Congressman King, who ceded his time so I can make an early flight and see my son play some little league tonight, maybe, if it's not raining in Orlando.
You know, Mr. McClellan, regardless of the motives or who edited your book, there are some things that are fairly well-known facts. You at length, you know, cite speeches and other news reports. And then there is a lot of inference and speculation and, in some cases, some innuendo based on people you know or people you assume to be true, what may have been happening in meetings that you were not in or not.
And I appreciate that, but, in terms of speculation and opinion, do you have a brief opinion, given your position as secretary, regardless of the merits of your book or why you did it -- do you think in the future, at a time of war or when there's sensitive intelligence being discussed, that when a press secretary goes out, shortly after he leaves a White House, that this book is likely to set the precedent for press secretaries or deputy press secretaries to have more or less access to what is actually behind the decision- making system in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: It depends on what lessons future presidents take away from this book or future administrations. If they take the right lessons, that person is going to have even more access.
FEENEY: Well, for example, as the allies were deciding whether D-Day would occur in Normandy or the southern shores of Europe, should the press secretary have had access to those meetings and been available to the press, the worldwide press, to explain what the thinking and the rationale for the effort was?
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't think a press secretary should ever be talking about potential war movements that are not yet publicly known.
FEENEY: Well, but you speculated a lot about the motives of people, and including the president, but especially with respect to the reason for war, including that the -- why Rumsfeld would want to go to war, why Cheney would want to go to war, while Wolfowitz would want to go to war.
By the way, there's nothing new. Wolfowitz had said, you know, as you write in your book, to Vanity Fair, that one of the primary reasons that they were going to go to war and tell people was because of weapons of mass destruction. Hindsight is 20/20. You know, we all know what we know now, which we may have known at the time, had Saddam Hussein complied with some more than one dozen resolutions by the United Nations Security Council, asking him to let the world know whether he did or did not.
Why would every nation in the U.N. Security Council demand to know the status of a weapons of mass destruction program if we all knew or should have known that it didn't exist? That's sort of a rhetorical question, but let me ask you this question, because you do do a lot of speculation. Secretary Rumsfeld has a lot of experience in administrations, at Defense, the same thing with Vice President Cheney. They also know that history has a lot more perfect vision than contemporary rationales for war.
Can you speculate on the motives of two men that have served in numerous administrations and know that they will be judged by history why they would deliberately go out and lie about a primary justification for war, knowing full well that every history book would prove that their motivation for war was a big lie? I just can't fathom why people that experienced and that sophisticated about the way administrations are subsequently judged would deliberately tell a lie knowing that they would be outed. I can't find a motivation...
MCCLELLAN: Well, actually, I think in the book I say that I don't believe it was a deliberate attempt. It was a cultural problem that exists in this city, where spin and manipulation become part of the accepted culture. And then, when you transfer that over from domestic policy issues to war-making decisions, the American people aren't getting the full truth. And they need to have the full truth so that they understand exactly what we're getting into. And...
FEENEY: Well, let me respond. If Saddam Hussein had complied with what the world demanded of him, they would have had access to the truth about weapons of mass destruction. Finally, I want to -- did the president know or have any knowledge about either Mr. Libby, or Mr. Rove, or anyone else disclosing Plame's identity to reporters?
MCCLELLAN: I do not believe so, based on my conversations with the president.
FEENEY: In fact, you say you're confident. You're convinced.
MCCLELLAN: Yes, that's right.
FEENEY: Well, I think that's important. And I understand, look, you know, that in the heat of battle and a run-up to a war, there's a lot of emotions and there's a lot of lack of knowledge. I remember, after 9/11, Air Force One didn't know what direction to take off in.
FEENEY: And it's the job of an administration to try to tell America what they need to know, but the notion that we're going to share everything that we know with our enemies I find very disturbing.
MCCLELLAN: I don't make that suggestion.
FEENEY: Well, anyway, thank you for your testimony.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts...
REP. BILL DELAHUNT, D-MASS.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: ... on the Administrative Law Committee, on the Foreign -- he chairs a subcommittee on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he is on the Immigration and Crime Subcommittees of Judiciary.
DELAHUNT: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I don't think in any way that Mr. McClellan is suggesting that we share information with the enemy. I think it's important, however, that we share information with the American people. Let me applaud you for this book. I think you've made an excellent contribution to public discourse. I think there is much for all of us to learn, not just simply the next administration, but Congress, on both sides of the aisle. This is not a partisan issue.
DELAHUNT: What struck me the most in reading portions of your book was your statement that the Bush administration lacked real accountability, in large part because Bush himself did not embrace openness or sunshine in government. I concur with that. This committee and my own committee have had constant problems dealing with this administration.
Currently, there is a very significant international agreement that's being discussed between Iraq and the United States that has significant implications for the American people and for the region. And despite their own rules in the Department of State, the so-called Circular 175 proceedings, there has been zero -- well, maybe 1 on a scale of 100 -- consultation with Congress.
It was embarrassing to meet with the foreign minister of Iraq who gave us a better briefing in terms of what was under discussion than this administration. And today, in one of the local papers here, The Hill, the headline is "Cheney Gets Last Laugh." Records stay secret, veep managed to stonewall Waxman, stonewall Cheney. You know, it can be funny; it can be humorous. But these decisions are absolutely too important.
So I think you made a real contribution by opening up the debate as to, what is the quality of public discourse among the institutions that this democracy relies on? And at its core, we have to have an informed citizenry.
And I agree with you. I voted against the war, as did 133 of my colleagues, 125 of which, by the way, are Democrats. It was a majority of Democrats that voted against the war simply because of information in the public domain. There were heroes, like a Greg Fieldman (ph). Nobody here would know who he is, but I had him to my office. He's from Department of State. He said, "I've read everything, Congressman Delahunt. There is no nuclear weapons program. There just simply isn't."
It was a hard sell, a tragic one at that. But I think we have to look forward. I'll tell you what I found really disturbing -- and I'd be interested in your comments -- was the secret declassification that no one else knew about except President Bush and Vice President Cheney. You didn't know about it; none of us knew about it. Is this how we operate a democracy?
MCCLELLAN: I think it's one of the problems with this White House, how compartmentalized it is. That's a prime example of how problematic it is, too. The chief of staff didn't know. The national security adviser didn't know. The director of central intelligence didn't know. We were going through a formal declassification process shortly after that, unaware that it...
DELAHUNT: This is not a democracy where you classify, and then declassify, and reclassify, and keep everything secret. This is not openness in government, and I applaud you for this book.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
DELAHUNT: And it was earlier stated that your book -- others have been saying this. You have plenty of company. I can remember reading the memoir of Paul O'Neill, "The Price of Loyalty."
He was stunned, because at the first National Security Council, he was in the room, he was a principal. And the discussion about Iraq and the instruction by the president to Rumsfeld and the then-Joint Chief Shelton to prepare military operations, that was 10 days after the inauguration of the president, prior to 9/11. There was a proclivity. And we heard weapons of mass destruction and Mohamed Atta, and, yes, the dog wagging the tail about his overarching vision for the Middle East. And we all share that vision, but how do you impose it?
MCCLELLAN: That's right.
DELAHUNT: Is my time up, Mr. Chairman?
CONYERS: There's a red light on the desk. I...
DELAHUNT: OK. Well, can I have just another -- can I have another 10 seconds?
CONYERS: Of course.
DELAHUNT: I would -- I chair, as the chairman indicated, the Oversight Subcommittee on Foreign Affairs. And I would like to have you and Paul O'Neill come before that committee after the election, so there won't be any impugning of anyone's integrity, and give us a view of the process, or lack thereof, because that was Paul O'Neill's problem, as well as yours. There was no process; it was all gut and intuition. And now we've got ourselves in a mess. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Steve King of Iowa is the ranking member on Immigration and a valuable member of the Constitution Committee, as well.
REP. STEVE KING, R-IOWA: I thank the gentleman chairman. And I'd like to start out by agreeing with the gentleman from Massachusetts. He said, "This is not a democracy." I couldn't agree more, and I pray it never will be, that it remains a constitutional republic, where we actually have a chance to move this society forward with a representative form of government.
Mr. McClellan, there were impeachment hearings in this very room back in 1998. And although I wasn't a member of this committee, I spent some days here witnessing that. I remember, around that period of time, Charlton Heston made a statement. And his statement was to President Clinton, and he said, "Mr. President, when you say something that's wrong, and you don't know that it's wrong, that's called a mistake. But if you say something that's wrong and you know that it's wrong, that's a lie."
He drew the distinction, and I think it's important for us to look at this, and you've made reference to the 15 words in the president's State of the Union address. And I believe you're referring to his January 28, 2003, address, which I happen to have the copy I had in my hand when he gave that address. And I'll read these words to you, and I think these are the ones that you referred to. The president speaking in that State of the Union address, quote, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," closed quote. That's the reference, I believe.
KING: You believe that that was a mistake or a lie when the president said it?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I actually talk about in the book at length. And I think the president thought it was credible to be saying that at the time, that it had substantiation. I don't know what every individual knew about that or was passing along. I think some questions remain there.
KING: Let me submit that I don't believe it was either a mistake or a lie. I believe that the language in here sustains itself as the accurate and factual truth even today. We did learn from the British...
MCCLELLAN: Well, but our CIA disagrees that it -- with that at this point.
KING: I have in my hand a CIA report. This is a debriefing report from Ambassador Joseph Wilson within two hours of the time that he arrived back home after his two weeks in Niger. He's been before this committee. I didn't have this report in my hand on that day. I wish I had. It's dated, though, the debriefing date, 8 March, 2002. Are you familiar with this report?
MCCLELLAN: I may have seen it before. I'm not sure.
KING: Well, just for your edification and for that of the committee, let me just read it out from this report, debriefing on the return, and I'm going to submit that this report directly contradicts Joseph C. Wilson 180 degrees, where he -- in his report to the CIA, he says he references former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki.
He says, "However, Mayaki did relate that, in June of 1999, a Nigerian-Algerian businessmen approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss 'expanding commercial relations'" -- and that's in quotes -- "between Niger and Iraq. Although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the United Nations' sanctions against Iraq and the fact that Mayaki opposed doing business with Iraq."
"Mayaki, the former prime minister, said that he interpreted the phrase 'expanding commercial relations' to mean that Iraq wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. Mayaki said he understood the rogue states would like to exploit Niger's resources, specifically uranium, but he believed the Nigerien government's regard for the United States as a close ally would prevent sales to these states from taking place despite Niger's economic woes."
This is verbatim from the CIA report that was secret and now been released, redacted. And I'd ask unanimous consent to introduce this into the record, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Without objection.
KING: And I recognize that it catches you a little bit unaware. I trust you have not seen this report nor the language in it?
MCCLELLAN: Not recently, if I've seen it. I don't know if I've seen it before. I'd have to look at. But certainly in October of 2002, for the speech the president gave in Cincinnati, the CIA director had said, "Take this information out that relates to Niger." Steve Hadley recounted that in conversations I was participating in at the White House later, when the 16 words became -- or that...
KING: Well, Mr. McClellan, I'm watching the clock, and I'm sorry. But as recognizing there was a backpedaling on the part of White House, I'm going to submit that the State of the Union address remains factual. They did learn from the British -- whether it turned out to be upheld in later statements or not, they did learn from the British. This statement of Joseph C. Wilson's contradicts his four years of calling President Bush a liar.
And I would submit, also, that -- let me pose this question. If you had to choose, if your life depended upon it, and you had to choose between putting your trust in Ambassador Joseph Wilson's veracity or that of the president of the United States, where would you put your...
MCCLELLAN: I don't know that I would jump into that hypothetical kind of question.
KING: OK. And I'm going to take that as an answer to that question. I'll pose another one, then. And what is your advice to your successor secretaries, White House press secretaries, as to how they should handle themselves and how a president might want to handle them?
There's two parts to this question. What would you say to the succeeding secretaries on whether -- at what point they should step up and tell the world, in the middle of their job, perhaps? And how will the president handle this from this point? Does he have to, then, put the next press secretary into a cubicle and slide press releases to him under the door for fear that he'll be coming -- either write a book or come before the Judiciary Committee...
MCCLELLAN: I would think that the president would...
KING: ... and divulge information that I believe was at least, from a national security -- not national security, but from the integrity standpoint, could you not have taken some of this to the grave with you and done this country a favor?
MCCLELLAN: I think that, by speaking about these issues, that the country can learn much from what went wrong and what we learn from that. And that's why I made -- that's why I wrote this book, because I want to see things change here.
KING: That may well be true, and it'd be...
KING: Thank you for your testimony. And I yield back, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Hank Johnson is a lawyer, magistrate from Atlanta, Georgia, serving on the Administrative Law Subcommittee, the Intellectual Property Subcommittee, and the Crime Subcommittee.
REP. STEVE KING, R-IOWA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, I appreciate your attendance today. During the course of President Bush's administration, there were 5,626 petitions for commutation which were received and processed by the Office of Pardon Attorney, which is a part of the Justice Department.
JOHNSON: And of those, prior to Mr. Libby's commutation, President Bush had granted just three petitions for commutation. So, in other words, he actually denied 4,108 of those petitions, and the other ones were closed without presidential action -- presumably by the Office of the Pardon Attorney. And this reluctance to grant mercy on these commutation petitions is consistent with Mister -- with President Bush's conduct with respect to death penalty cases when he was governor of Georgia.
JOHNSON: Isn't that -- excuse me, governor of Texas. Isn't that correct?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I believe so, yes.
JOHNSON: He presided -- he had the distinct opportunity to preside over a record number of men and women, in fact 150 men and two women, a record unmatched by any governor in modern American history. He presided over 150 executions as governor of Texas and commuted only one sentence. Is that correct?
MCCLELLAN: That's correct.
JOHNSON: And then all of a sudden...
MCCLELLAN: I mean, I trust your numbers. I haven't looked back at it recently.
JOHNSON: Yes. And all of a sudden we've got White House confidant Scooter Libby. And many Americans believe that there was an attempt to silence Mr. Libby. Many Americans believe that there was a misleading of the American public in this administration's march to war, there was an intentional lying to the American public. And many Americans feel that when Ambassador Joseph Wilson had the gall to reveal the deception to the American public, that he was punished by the administration, which ordered the revealing of his wife's identify as a covert agent, Valerie Plame.
And many people feel that the vice president is responsible for Scooter Libby putting his head in the meat grinder, if you will, and that in return for Scooter Libby putting his head in the meat grinder, going through a jury trial, an extensive jury trial, after which he was convicted of obstructing justice, making false statements and two counts of perjury, and having been sentenced to 30 months in prison, and his motion for bond pending appeal having been denied by the trial judge, and then also denied by the Court of Appeals in affirming the trial judge's denial of the appeal bond, and Scooter Libby was headed to jail, to prison imminently, and on the same day that Scooter Libby found out that the Court of Appeals would not reverse the judge's decision to deny the appeal bond, that's when President Bush issued a a commutation -- which is inconsistent with his previous history as governor of Texas and president of this country.
JOHNSON: And without consultation of his own Justice Department, which was responsible for prosecuting Mr. Libby, without consultation with that department or its Office of Pardon attorney, he decided to issue a commutation of that prison sentence. And there are some that believe that he did that so that he could make sure that Scooter Libby would not at some point spill the beans on the vice-president or someone else. Do you believe that is the case?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know. Again, it's one of those questions where I can understand why people, you know, view it that way.
JOHNSON: Even in a situation where Mr. Bush -- well, strike that. Now I'll move toward. Do you have any reason to think that would be a reasonable scenario that I just -- that I just laid out?
MCCLELLAN: Well, we haven't had any real answers to these questions that you're raising, so there's a lot of suspicion there about that, and I understand why people would reasonably come to that conclusion.
JOHNSON: It is a reasonable suspicion.
MCCLELLAN: It sends a terrible message. It was a special treatment in my view that Scooter Libby received. And I think that the president should not have made that decision, but that's his right to do it.
JOHNSON: In your opening statement, you lament the permanent campaign culture and constant spin that has corrupted Washington. Stripping away all of the spin, please tell us candidly and directly, what do you believe were the administration's real strategic motives in misleading this country and the American people into a war in Iraq?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the driving motivation -- and I think I talked a little bit about this earlier -- was, in the president's view, I can't speak to every individual, but in the president's view, was this idea that we could transform the Middle East by coercively going into Iraq, that Iraq would be the linchpin to change Iran into a democratic state, when we had Afghanistan and Iraq on each side of it, a democratic nations on each side of Iran, and then it would go from there. That was the thinking. The president has spoken passionately about it in numerous settings where I was with him.
CONYERS: The gentleman's time has expired.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. If I could just concluded that one question? Well, did you ever hear of any discussions during the run-up to war about the possibilities of gaining control over Iraq's vast oil reserves as a reason for going to war?
MCCLELLAN: I personally did not.
JOHNSON: Thank you, sir.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: Chair recognizes Betty Sutton of Ohio, who serves on the Intellectual Property Committee, the Crime Committee and the Antitrust Task Force.
REP. BETTY SUTTON, D-OHIO: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, one of your conclusions from this experience is that, quote, "war should only be waged when necessary and the Iraq war was not necessary," end quote.
But in discussing the mood of the country in the fall of 2002 in your book you state that, quote, "Conditions were favorable for the Bush team as it launched its campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary."
We know you have come to a conclusion that the war was not necessary. Did the war become inevitable under this administration? And if so, when?
MCCLELLAN: I believe so, because the president left himself no wiggle room. I don't think it was reasonable to conclude that Saddam Hussein was ever going to come fully clean. Then the only other option that the president left him was we were going to use military action to remove his regime from power. And, you know, certainly the whole laying out of the marketing campaign was aimed in moving in that direction as well.
SUTTON: OK. And I want to talk to you more about that marketing campaign and sort of this momentum that was gaining. In reacting to Larry Lindsey stating in the Wall Street Journal that the cost of the war would be somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion, you state in your book, quote, "None of the possible unpleasant consequences of war -- casualties, economic effects, geopolitical risks, diplomatic repercussions -- were part of the message. We were in campaign mode now."
And I guess if you could just share with us, are you aware of any discussions about the costs in lost life and money that would be unacceptable once this campaign to war began?
MCCLELLAN: Well, any direct knowledge of some of those discussions? Certainly Larry Lindsey's comments are one in terms of looking at the -- trying to calculate the potential cost, and I think he was basing it on a one- or two-year time frame. So, I mean, there were discussions that maybe were going on, but certainly that was not part of the way to, you know, sell a war to the American people.
SUTTON: Well, what I'm asking about is were there internal conversations that you're aware of? Was it contemplated, what would be unacceptable loss of life or what would be unacceptable as the cost of war on a monetary sense? Did you hear those discussions? Was that part of...
MCCLELLAN: No, at the time of the build-up, remember, I was deputy press secretary. So I filled in from time to time and participated in some meetings, but in terms of those war discussions, that would have been in the National Security Council meetings that I did not participate in at that time.
SUTTON: OK. Did you ever become aware of any of those discussions along the way, throughout the course of the war?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I mean, I've referenced Larry Lindsey's comments, but, you know, it was not something that was emphasized or stressed around the White House or that I ever remember coming up in terms of some of the discussions about how to take the nation or how to make the case to the nation.
SUTTON: OK, not about making the case to the nation, but did you ever hear any concern expressed about what would be an unacceptable loss of life as...
MCCLELLAN: No, I can't say that I had any direct conversations on that.
SUTTON: OK. And you also state that Vice President Cheney, quote, "might well have viewed the removal of Saddam Hussein as an opportunity to give America more influence over Iraq's oil reserves, thereby benefiting our national and economic security."
Now, of course, today in the Washington Post we see an article that's entitled, "Big Oil Firms Ready to Sign Agreements with Iraq." And in part, June 19th, "Iraq is preparing to award contracts to several Western energy companies to help develop its vast oil resources." The article goes on and states, "U.S.-based ExxonMobil and Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, France's Total, and British oil company B.P. will secure the biggest contracts."
In light of that and this comment in your book about Vice President Cheney perhaps might well have viewed the removal of Saddam Hussein as an opportunity to give America more influence over Iraq's oil reserves, could you just expand upon what that statement means?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I said it's hard to know what the vice president's thinking is, in terms of what his real rationale was for pushing forward on going into Iraq or encouraging the president to move forward on going into Iraq. But, certainly, you know, if Iraq didn't have its large oil reserves, it wouldn't have been a national security interest and it wouldn't been something on the radar screen like it was from the beginning of this administration.
SUTTON: OK, was there anything specific? Or what would make you make that statement, though? That's sort of a general answer. And is there anything more specific that...
MCCLELLAN: Based on my knowledge of the people at the White House and the workings within the White House, that would be how I'd make that statement.
MCCLELLAN: And the vice president's involvement, certainly, in energy issues.
SUTTON: Is the White House still in campaign mode?
MCCLELLAN: I don't think they've ever gone out of campaign mode, if that's what you're asking.
SUTTON: Thank you. I yield back.
CONYERS: Brad Sherman of California, Intellectual Property Subcommittee, and I'm pleased to recognize you now.
REP. BRAD SHERMAN, D-CALIF.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I'd like to focus not on how Valerie Plame's name was exposed, but rather why. One theory is that the goal was to discredit Ambassador Wilson by questioning the legitimacy of how he was selected to go and investigate things in Niger.
Another theory is that it was to punish Ambassador Wilson by imperiling his wife's career or even her safety. Did anyone in the White House make the statement that Valerie Plame was revealed in order to teach Ambassador Wilson or anyone else a lesson? Or do you think that Valerie Plame's name was revealed just to undermine the report, the credibility of Ambassador Wilson's...
MCCLELLAN: My belief is that it was to undermine his credibility by the people who revealed her name, that there was -- as part of the effort to discredit Ambassador Wilson.
SHERMAN: Moving to a different issue, in November 2004, you said that Guantanamo detainees were being treated humanely. When did you learn that there was waterboarding being used at Guantanamo?
MCCLELLAN: I think that became public in the media -- it may have been some point even after I left, but, I mean, there was certainly discussion about it before that, that this might be going on. In terms of my knowledge of it, you know, essentially I was using the administration talking points that I was given by others from the national security staff.
SHERMAN: So, so long as you were press secretary, you thought that they were being treated humanely and that there was no need to correct...
MCCLELLAN: Well, I was getting assurances from people inside the White House, as well as probably the Pentagon and conversations with them, that that was the case.
SHERMAN: Now, your book brings to light a few occasions where the information you gave the public as press secretary turned out to be false. And I wonder whether there are any occasions not revealed in your book where the statements you made to the press, to the public were false or misleading.
MCCLELLAN: You know, I couldn't say that without bringing up a specific statement. I think I included everything that I'm aware of in the book. Now, I mean, some of what I said, I thought it was sincere at the time. I think some of it, in retrospect, was misguided.
SHERMAN: Do you have any advice for us on what to do to reduce the partisan nature of Washington, D.C.?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the first thing that has to happen is the embrace of openness and forthrightness with the American people. And I think the president, more than anyone else, has the ability to set that kind of constructive tone to establish the trust. That's first and foremost. But then I go into some other ideas, actually, in the book, as well, from the White House perspective, about what the White House can do to change the partisan tone and transcend that bitter partisanship in D.C.
SHERMAN: I think you have some good ideas in your book. I would point out, though, that Washington is not so much a matter of personalities as structure. We have moved over the last 40 years to ideological parties. And if we really wanted more moderation here in Congress and in Washington, we'd go to an open primary system, that we'd be looking at how we structure who gets elected and what it takes to get re-elected, rather than just counting on the next president or the president after that to be a more angelic person than the occupant of the White House. MCCLELLAN: Yes, there are certainly other issues that I mentioned that have been proposed or that need to be addressed. I think you get into some of those. I was focusing on it from the executive branch. And I think that the president can go a long way towards changing the atmosphere here in Washington, D.C.
SHERMAN: I think we have a structure of electing elected officials that won't get you there, but I yield back.
MCCLELLAN: That's part of that, as well.
CONYERS: The gentleman from Alabama, Artur Davis, himself a former assistant United States attorney, and serves on the Immigration, Constitution and Crime Subcommittees.
REP. ARTUR DAVIS, D-ALA.: Mr. Chairman, thank you. And, Ms. Baldwin, thank you for letting me slip ahead, because I have a plane to catch. So I thank you for that. Mr. McClellan, let me circle around a person whose name has come up a great deal today, and that's Karl Rove. You state in your book and you've reiterated to the committee several times that Mr. Rove encouraged you, allowed you and encouraged you to repeat a lie.
You've said a number of things about Mr. Rove. And you've indicated that you've known him for some period of time. So I want you to kind of give the committee some advice on how to deal with the little situation that we have with Mr. Rove right now. The committee has extended an invitation to Mr. Rove to do what you've done to come and appear under oath to allow anyone who wants to ask you questions to do so. Mr. Rove has, not surprisingly to you, I suspect, declined the invitation.
Mr. Rove has come back and he's said to the committee, well, I'm willing to talk, but only if there is no oath, only if there are no cameras present, only if there are no notes made of what I have to say. And let me just ask you, based on what you know of Mr. Rove, Mr. McClellan, does it, first of all, surprise you that Mr. Rove is seeking limitations on the manner and the circumstances in which he would appear before this committee?
MCCLELLAN: No, it doesn't surprise me. And I think it's probably part of an effort to stonewall the whole process.
DAVIS: I'm going to ask you two pointed questions. Would you trust Mr. Rove, if he were not under oath, to tell the truth?
MCCLELLAN: Well, based on my own experience, I could not say that I would.
DAVIS: And, in fact, if Mr. Rove were under oath, would you have complete confidence that he would tell the truth?
MCCLELLAN: I would hope that he would be willing to do that. And as you point out, it doesn't seem that he is willing to do that. But based on my own experiences, I have some concerns about that.
DAVIS: Mr. Rove did testify under oath before the grand jury investigating the leak a number of times, did he not? You have to answer orally.
MCCLELLAN: Yes. I'm sorry. Yes.
DAVIS: You don't believe he told the complete truth to the grand jury under oath when he did testify?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know. Since I haven't seen his testimony, I do not know.
DAVIS: You state at one point -- there was a very pointed sentence -- you say that Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down. Do you believe, based on what you know of Mr. Rove, that he is capable of lying to protect himself from legal jeopardy, sir?
MCCLELLAN: Well, he certainly passed on false information -- or he lied to me. That's the only conclusion I can draw. So based on my own experience, you can appreciate where I'm coming from.
DAVIS: Do believe, based on what you know of this gentleman, your experiences with him, that he is capable of lying to protect himself from political embarrassment?
MCCLELLAN: I would have to say that he did in my situation, so the answer is yes.
DAVIS: You talk about an administration that, in effect, came up with a strategy to go to war in Iraq and was not candid with the American people about the reasons. You suggest an administration that was so conscious of spin, so conscious of protecting itself politically that it would shave facts and shave off elements of the truth. You know that this committee has been investigating for about a year-and-a-half allegations around the firing of the U.S. attorneys. I know that happened after you left, but I want to ask you again about the state of mind of this administration.
Is the Bush administration that you know, Mr. McClellan, capable of coming up with a false cover story as to why the U.S. attorneys were fired?
MCCLELLAN: I would hesitate to try to characterize that, because I have no direct knowledge of that...
DAVIS: What about capability, from what you know of them?
MCCLELLAN: I don't have any direct knowledge of that, so I would not want to make a broad, sweeping statement on the administration itself.
DAVIS: If it were suggested that the administration had come up with a cover story to conceal its true motives, would you say that you had seen the Bush administration do that kind of thing before?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I don't want to try to speculate about that, since I don't have any direct knowledge of it.
DAVIS: Have you seen them do that before?
MCCLELLAN: Have I seen them do -- I'm sorry, repeat?
DAVIS: Come up with a cover story that conceals their true motives?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I certainly think, in the Valerie Plame leak episode, that it's clear today that, you know, instead of hiding behind the cover of an investigation or legal proceedings, that the administration was more interested in simply stonewalling on this issue and not getting involved publicly. We said that we would provide...
DAVIS: Let me stop you, just simply because my time is running out.
DAVIS: I want to make two more points. With respect to Mr. Rove, as you may know from reading news reports, there have been allegations that Mr. Rove may have attempted to influence the prosecution of at least one individual, a fellow named Siegelman, who was governor of the state of Alabama. I suspect you have no factual knowledge of that, but let me ask you this: How long have you known Karl Rove?
MCCLELLAN: I think it's going back to the early '90s, '91, '92.
DAVIS: Do you have a sense of how he thinks about politics and how he thinks about people on the other side of him?
MCCLELLAN: Well, he views the other side as the enemy, I think. He's one that plays bare-knuckle politics.
DAVIS: Is the Karl Rove that you've known for 15 or 16 years, Mr. McClellan, capable of attempting to influence a prosecution, if he had the power to do so?
MCCLELLAN: I don't have direct knowledge of that, so I wouldn't...
DAVIS: That's not what I asked.
MCCLELLAN: I know. I would hesitate to try to speculate on that question, as well.
DAVIS: Let me just end, if I can close out, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Delahunt, my friend from Massachusetts, gave me a document, and there's a particular quote here that I think is appropriate, given some comments by Mr. King. Quote, "To announce that there must be no criticism of the president or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American people."
That quote comes from a noted Republican who held the office of the presidency named Teddy Roosevelt. And I end with that, Mr. McClellan, because I suspect there are some in your party who will tell you that you've somehow wrenched (ph) yourself out of the party by coming here today and writing this book in the candor with which you have. I would suggest that you may want to point out to them that there is another tradition in the Republican Party other than the cut- throat, ideological warfare that your former administration has practiced for eight years. Teddy Roosevelt represented it, and I think that you represent it, as well, sir.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
DAVIS: Thank you.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you.
CONYERS: The gentlelady from Wisconsin, attorney Tammy Baldwin, who serves on the Crime Committee of Judiciary.
REP. TAMMY BALDWIN, D-WIS.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, I want to appreciate your taking the time to come and testify here today. And before I begin with my questions, I want to address one point that you made in your testimony this morning.
You state that President Bush came to Washington and ended up playing by the game -- or playing the game by the existing rules, rather than transforming them. And I could not disagree more. To the contrary, I believe that our president intentionally and repeatedly has broken the rules of the game. And by that, I mean the laws and Constitution of this country. I know you were referring to it in a different context. I believe his conduct and that of the vice president raises serious questions in relation to some of the most principal -- some of the principal elements of our democracy, including transparency and basic respect for the rule of law. The more we learn about why Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as a covert CIA agent was leaked, the more serious the breaches of accountability appear and the more interconnected the lies and violations of the American public trust grow.
For many Americans, myself included, it is difficult to comprehend that the Bush administration manipulated and exaggerated intelligence on Iraq's nuclear capabilities to begin an unjustified war and then instructed Mr. Libby's perjury to protect themselves from further scrutiny brought about by Ambassador Wilson's statements. It's a horrifying display of political retaliation, abuse of authority, and political quid pro quo. And I think for me the only thing worse than knowing that the world will live with the consequences of this administration's actions for generations to come is knowing how many have already suffered or died as a result of these transgressions.
On that note, I would thank you for your contribution to our ongoing congressional investigations and would like to ask you a few questions, as my time allows. And I'd like to actually start with a very, very basic question about how you were prepped and how you got your information for briefings with the press. Before you met with reporters, with whom did you speak?
Who gave you information, for example, on the status of the war, the events at Abu Ghraib? Did you speak with President Bush and Vice President Cheney directly to prepare? Or did you get that information from others for your press briefings? And please just give us a brief...
BALDWIN: ... because I do want to get to some others.
MCCLELLAN: Well, it depends on the situation...
BALDWIN: I'm sure it does. So...
MCCLELLAN: ... sometimes directly with the president. Sometimes it was a national security adviser or someone, or a deputy national security adviser, so it depends on the situation. Sometimes it was just getting information from a policy person on the staff, if I didn't need to go to the president or someone else, or participate in the meetings, even.
BALDWIN: In hindsight, do believe that you were used by the White House to intentionally mislead the American public?
MCCLELLAN: In terms of the Valerie Plame episode or are you talking about...
BALDWIN: Well, in any episode.
MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't think that there was a deliberate effort necessarily saying, "Let's go out and mislead the American people." I think it was part of this permanent campaign mentality which, to some extent, Washington accepts a little bit of the spin and manipulation that goes on. And I think that that's a problem that needs to be addressed, and that's why -- one of the reasons I wrote the book. It's one of the key themes in the book.
BALDWIN: You were just asked by Mr. Sherman some questions, but during your tenure at the White House, you stated on more than one occasion that the president does not condone torture and that he never would.
Yet you were at the White House when the accounts of abuse and torture of prisoners held at Abu Ghraib surfaced. And we now know you were also there during the time when secret legal opinions endorsing the use of torture on terrorism suspects were written.
Given that we are revisiting the statements you made defending the administration's reasons to go to war in Iraq, as well as the administration's official role in leaking of a covert CIA agent identity, would you care to comment on anything statements you made over the years regarding this administration's stance on torture or authorization...
MCCLELLAN: Those are comments I would not make today, knowing what I know today. There was information that I did not know at that time when I was making those comments. And I was relying on the assurances from others within the White House staff.
BALDWIN: So during your time working for this administration, I ask again, were you -- do you believe that you were intentionally used by the White House to mislead the American public?
MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think there are certain individuals there that actually believed that those words are the case and they sincerely believe that. I think most people take a very different view, though.
BALDWIN: During your time working for this administration, did you ever observe any constitution -- sorry, any conversations or actions at the White House that you believe were in violation of federal law?
BALDWIN: And I would include in that obstruction of justice or perjury.
MCCLELLAN: Right, no, nothing, nothing that I would have had direct knowledge about.
BALDWIN: Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
CONYERS: Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida?
Oh, I'm sorry. Excuse me.
Mr. Trent Franks is a distinguished member of at least two committees, two subcommittees on the Judiciary Committee, and I'm happy that he's here to join us at this time. I'm happy to recognize him now.
REP. TRENT FRANKS, R-ARIZ.: Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman. I can hardly wait to hear what I have to say, you know? I appreciate it. Mr. McClellan, thank you for joining us today. I want to be very candid with you and very upfront with you. There is a feeling in my heart that if you felt that you were doing something wrong at the White House or misleading people that you should have spoken up at that time. And then for you to do so afterwards, it seemed like, at some point, I'm having a real struggle with that. So I want to be open with you about that when I begin my questions here. The comments in your book, Ari Fleischer has had some commentary about them. He said, "There's something about this book that just doesn't make any sense." And these are his quotes.
He said, "For two-and-a-half years, Scott and I worked shoulder- to-shoulder at the White House. Scott was always my reliable, solid deputy. Not once did Scott approach me privately or publicly to discuss any misgivings he had about the war in Iraq or the manner in which the White House made the case for the war." "Scott himself repeatedly made the case for the war from the podium and even after he left the White House. And I remember watching him on Bill Maher's show about one year ago making the case for the war."
FRANKS: Now, I understand that people can change their mind about things, but if you really thought you were doing something that was wrong before the public, I just am so convinced that that would have been the time to say it.
In your book you made mention of a couple of things. You said, and I'm going to quote it, "The obfuscation, dissembling and lack of intellectual honesty that helped take our country to war in Iraq." That's a quote. You also said, "When candor could have helped minimize the political fallout from the unraveling of the chief rationale for the war, spin and evasion were used instead of what we employed."
You also said in your book, "We engaged in spinning" -- "spin, stonewalling, hedging, evasion, denial, noncommunication and deceit by omission."
You also said in a White House briefing, though, and this is in contrast to the book, you said, "If you look at the national intelligence estimate, it showed the collective judgment of the intelligence community.
"And then you go back and look at the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission, and they said there is no evidence of political pressure on the intelligence analysts.
"You go back and look at the Butler report. The Butler report said there was no evidence of deliberate distortion.
"You go back and look at the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and they said they did not find any evidence that the administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgment." Now, I got to ask you the obvious question here. It's hard to ask, but were you obfuscating, dissembling, being dishonest, hedging, evading or being deceitful when you used -- when you said those things...
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think we need to unpack everything that you rolled together. First of all, in the buildup to the war, as I say in the book, like a lot of Americans I was giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. I thought we were rushing into it, but I didn't have access to the intelligence. The foreign policy team was highly regarded at the time, and so I gave the benefit of the doubt to the administration, just like a lot of Americans. In terms of my role, my role was to speak for the president and his decisions and his policies, not for myself.
And in regards to the intelligence, I actually say in the book, yes, it's not a question of whether or not intelligence analysts were pressured, it's how that intelligence was used, how it was packaged, how it was overstated and sold to the American people. And that was the problem. We weren't open and candid about what was known in terms of caveats and qualifications, in terms of the way we implied certain things with the language that we used. So the case was greatly overstated, in my view.
FRANKS: Mr. McClellan, in your original book proposal you said the following: "Fairness is defined by the establishment media within the left-of-center boundaries that they set. They defend their reporting as fair because both sides are covered. But how fair can it be when it is within the context of the liberal slant of the reporting?" But then in the final draft of your book -- this is a follow-up a little later -- you say, "I'm inclined to believe that the liberal- oriented media in the United States should be viewed as a good thing."
FRANKS: And I'm just wondering: Did the publisher have an effect on this epiphany?
MCCLELLAN: No, Congressman, as a matter of fact, I stated earlier that, if you look at that original proposal that was written in December of 2006, I talk about these issues and the bipartisanship and how the president became such a divisive figure. And that was what I really wanted to look at. And initially, I think I was looking to put responsibility everywhere else but where it really belongs.
FRANKS: All right. Let me ask you one last question. My time's up.
MCCLELLAN: A long process but I put a lot of thought into it...
FRANKS: Let me ask you one last question. It's a very simple one, Scott -- Mr. McClellan -- and it's, kind of, a big one.
Do you believe, in your heart, that President Bush is or is not an honorable and decent man?
MCCLELLAN: I think he is a decent man and I say so in the book, I believe.
FRANKS: Thank you very much.
CONYERS: Thank you.
The chair is pleased to recognize Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who serves on both the Constitution Subcommittee and the Antitrust Task Force.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ, D-FLA.: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. McClellan, it's a pleasure to finally be able to ask you some questions, down here at the very end of the seniority on this committee -- and it's a privilege to serve on the committee.
You know, they said, after the Watergate scandal, that it wasn't the crime; it was the cover-up. And I can't help but think about that, when listening to your testimony here today, because what happened to Valerie Plame and to Joe Wilson was unconscionable, but that was the cover-up. The real crime was the way the war was packaged and sold to a frightened nation, after 9/11, and under false pretenses. And that's what I want to discuss and focus on with you here today.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You make a reference in your book to President Bush's philosophy of coercive democracy, and you've talked about that here today. And I'll quote you, "A belief that Iraq was ripe for conversion from a dictatorship into a beacon of liberty through the use of force and a conviction this could be achieved at nominal cost."
Do you -- in that vein, do you think that there was a conclusion in the administration on going to war with Iraq at the outset? And a subsequent effort to fit the facts and emphasize points that would convince the American people, members of Congress and the press that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was an imminent threat?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry. Do I think that...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you think, basically, that the administration, from the president through the vice president and the upper tier leaders of the White House fit the facts, based on this coercive democracy philosophy, to do what they ultimately wanted to be the end, which was for Congress to support the war and the public to support the war...
MCCLELLAN: Well, the facts were certainly packaged in a way to make the most compelling case to the American people, with the caveats and qualifications and contradictions pretty much left out of that.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: You do emphasize in your book that you don't think there was deliberate, out and out deception...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: ... but...
MCCLELLAN: And that's not speaking to every individual, but as a whole that I don't think Colin Powell and others that were sitting in a meeting, let's go out and deliberately mislead the American people.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So who is it that -- where do you make the distinction? Who do you think was engaged in out-and-out deception and who do you think maybe was more involved in just distortion?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I can't speak to that, because of my role at that time, in the buildup to the war about what -- I can't get in the head of every individual and what they were thinking and what they might have been promoting within the administration or trying to push...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you believe -- OK -- do you believe the president was more focused on distortion, as opposed to deception? I mean, he was more willing to distort and emphasize facts?
MCCLELLAN: Well, it was this whole idea that you can run a war- making campaign like a political campaign, and use the same kind of spin and manipulation that you do in a political campaign or in a campaign to push forward on education reforms or Social Security reform -- and I think that that's the mistake, a big mistake, that was made by this administration.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: I want to bring out something you just implied a minute ago. A minute ago, you implied that there were some that did not intentionally deceive the American people, but that left the impression that perhaps you think there are some that did intentionally deceive the American people.
MCCLELLAN: I can't rule that out, whether or not some were or were not. We don't have a lot of answers to some of those questions today.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So, who can you indicate that you believe engaged in deception?
MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't have direct knowledge in terms of the buildup to the war of who might have been...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But it's an opinion that you hold -- you must have an idea...
MCCLELLAN: No. I don't have direct knowledge of that. What I say in the book is that we were less than open and we were less than candid, but it wasn't some -- in my view -- some sinister attempt, where everybody was sitting around, "Let's go out and mislead the American people." Whether or not an individual held certain views and was engaging in that, I can't speak to it.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you think the process evolved -- even though they might not publicly or stated in meetings that they intended to mislead the American people, do you basically think that that's what it evolved into?
MCCLELLAN: Well, it certainly had a result of being misleading. I think that's what I made clear.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do think that President Bush, Andy Card and Vice President Cheney or others knew that there was no imminent threat from Iraq to the U.S. when it comes to -- when it came to weapons of mass destruction and that they distorted the facts in order to convince Congress to support the war?
MCCLELLAN: Do I think that any of those individuals did? The president, the chief of staff...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: The president, the vice president and...
MCCLELLAN: Again, I can't speak to every individual. I don't think, from my experience, that the president was viewing it that way or that Andy Card was, but I'm not going to try to speak to every individual.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you think any of those three individuals knew that there were not -- that there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the way we portrayed it was that it may not be imminent, but it was a grave and gathering threat. And whether or not some of those individuals knew that it wasn't that serious or that urgent of a threat that needed addressing, I don't know.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: But you emphasize in the book -- and I want to clarify that now -- that that was not necessarily the primary reason for going to war -- coercive democracy was -- but that they thought that was the argument that would be the most convincing to the American people.
MCCLELLAN: Right. And I think that's been made in statements made in the public...
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: OK. And as my time expires, Mr. Chairman, I wanted to ask one other question. Do you think Karl Rove lied to the president of the United States about his involvement in the Plame scandal?
MCCLELLAN: Based on what the president told me, I believe that -- because the president told me that Karl had told him he was not involved in the revealing of her identity.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you think Vice President Cheney lied at any point in this process?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know, because I have not had conversations with him about it.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Do you think there are any instances in which Karl Rove lied to the president on other policy matters?
MCCLELLAN: I don't know specifically. We'd have to try to address each specific issue, but I don't specifically off the top of my head of anything I can think of.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Since I'm -- just let me ask, if you don't mind, Mr. Chairman, one more thing, if you can indulge me. Whom in the White House are the relevant people, if anyone, that you believe should be brought before this committee or any other congressional committees to get more specific answers to these questions that might have more specific knowledge?
MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly on the Plame episode, I mean, the vice president has information that has not been shared publicly, and you can go on down the list, from Scooter Libby to Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, there are others that have probably not shared -- that have not shared everything that they know about this.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So you think these are those people should be brought in front of a congressional committee?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that it would be a benefit if they shared -- if everything was known, and if they shared what they knew. And it would be a benefit if they did it under oath.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Thank you. I yield back the balance of my time.
CONYERS: Keith Ellison of Minnesota is a former state senator, a trial lawyer of more than a decade, and serves on the Immigration Subcommittee and the Constitution Subcommittee.
REP. KEITH ELLISON, D-MINN.: Mr. McClellan, since you have made these revelations, has it damaged some of your personal friendships that you had in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: Well, you find out who your true friends are during a time like this. So that's the way I would describe it. But, yes.
ELLISON: And people you got to know pretty well now may not be talking to you? Is that right?
MCCLELLAN: That's correct. There are also a number that are still good friends, and they understand me and they understand where I'm coming from. They know who I am.
ELLISON: But also, too, you know, I know that you're probably going to make some money off your book, but the truth is, you're a pretty capable guy and could have done pretty well -- and will, I guess -- do well in your professional capacity, aside from a book. Right?
MCCLELLAN: Well, yes, there are certainly other opportunities I could have pursued separate from this book.
ELLISON: And they'd be pretty lucrative.
MCCLELLAN: And I think that -- yes, yes, sir.
ELLISON: And so this is not about money, this is not about grudges. You're just trying to help your country. Is that right?
MCCLELLAN: And make a difference.
ELLISON: And I think what you're doing is courageous. And I just want to just let you know that I hope you continue to be open and have candor. What are the lessons here? I mean, the fact is, you know, you worked in that White House. I imagine there was a tremendous -- when things began to occur to you that really were not right, you must have just felt, man, I don't know what to do. I'm just going to shut up and do my job. Is that right?
MCCLELLAN: Well, there's -- I think there maybe a little bit of that, but those last 10 months certainly became a disillusioning period, when I learned from the media or just as the media was about to report it, that I had been knowingly misled by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, then the NIE revelation came out, but even things in between that, from the terrorist surveillance program or the warrantless wiretapping program to the vice president's hunting accident. You can go down a list of other events.
ELLISON: We certainly could. I want to touch on a few of those. But I just want to just say that, you know, I want to talk about -- ask you about what you think the lessons are? How do we keep our government transparent, open? How do we stop this, sort of, culture of secrecy, silence, and obfuscation that, in your opinion -- how do we -- what do we do to make sure that doesn't happen in the next administration?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I mean, certainly, you're exercising your oversight role and trying to get to some of these answers.
ELLISON: So it's part of a solution that we've got to have an active Congress that does its part?
MCCLELLAN: Oversight is very important. And the other aspect of this is a White House that is committed to embracing openness and government in the sunshine and wiling to be candid with the American people.
ELLISON: How do you think that we got into this frame of mind, in the White House, where, you know, they, sort of, like, circle the wagons? And you use the term "permanent campaign." But was there tolerance for alternative and dissident points of view, for example, on the war?
MCCLELLAN: Well, once the policy was set, there was not tolerance for different views. Before the policy was set, the president would welcome differing views. But I think this Iraq policy, as I state, was set early on.
ELLISON: Like Dan Levy, for example -- you know him?
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't.
ELLISON: You don't know Daniel Levy?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
ELLISON: Maybe I got the name wrong.
ELLISON: Daniel Levin -- sorry -- Levin. Do you know him? He was the acting assistant attorney general for awhile.
ELLISON: He rewrote the memo that was originally written...
ELLISON: ... by Addington and you.
MCCLELLAN: No, I would have dealt with the counsel's office on that, or, maybe, Addington.
ELLISON: OK. Did you deal with Addington?
MCCLELLAN: I dealt with the council's office, primarily, on that, when Al Gonzales was still the White House counsel and David Leach (ph), I believe, was still there at that time. We did some press briefings on those issues.
ELLISON: Now, let me tell you, Addington and you came up with a memo that, sort of, gave license to these enhanced interrogation techniques that have gotten a lot of press. Were you privy to any conversations that took place before the actual drafting of those memos? Do you understand what I'm asking you?
MCCLELLAN: In terms of the detainee policy?
ELLISON: I was not involved in those meetings, where that was discussed. Now, I certainly had to go out and defend the administration on some of those policies, and so information was shared with me, in terms of counsel's office or whoever else it might have been.
ELLISON: How do you they tell you -- how do they equip you to go out there and face the press, given those policies that they were...
MCCLELLAN: Well, part of it was also getting them out there to talk about it, and we did a detailed briefing. I don't remember what year it was -- maybe August of 2004 or 2003, we did a pretty detailed -- or maybe it later than that -- detailed briefing, with reporters, with Al Gonzales, with, I think, the counsel at the Pentagon, Haynes, Jim Haynes, and some others as well.
ELLISON: Now, when you -- you got them out there to talk about it. After, for example, they talked about -- I'm talking about that December 2002 memo that Addington-Bybee-Yoo memo -- did you ever sort of wonder about what they were going out to ask you to defend and ask them questions about it.
MCCLELLAN: Well, I trusted their assurances they were giving me on those issues. That was one time when the press secretary's relying on others within the administration to get his information.
ELLISON: But did you ever in your own mind ever think, "Wow, you know, they're giving me a tough thing to defend here"?
MCCLELLAN: Certainly looking back on it, I have some reservations about some of the things that were said during that time.
ELLISON: Let's talk about the Abu Ghraib issue. I mean, the fact is, is that when that -- you were at the White House during that time. And the world knows that people like Lynndie England and others were put on trial for those things.
Did you ever get the impression that that incident started higher up?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the sentiment within the White House was that this was something that was not higher up, that it was always to put the focus on those individuals that had been responsible for doing this without authority, and that was the attitude within the White House.
ELLISON: Was there any dialogue around that you heard that, you know, people were saying, "Well, we know we may have sort of given them license to do this, get that intelligence however..."
MCCLELLAN: I know the president never personally thought that or expressed that to me in conversations. I mean, he certainly felt that it was the responsibility of those individuals going beyond their authority...
ELLISON: What about Donald Rumsfeld?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry.
ELLISON: What about Donald Rumsfeld?
MCCLELLAN: I didn't have direct conversations with him on that.
ELLISON: What about Jim Haynes?
MCCLELLAN: I did not have direct conversations with...
ELLISON: You talk with anybody about -- during that time?
MCCLELLAN: Well, certainly, yes, we were talking about it internally, but the information I received was pretty much what I was saying publicly.
ELLISON: Did you -- were you ever told -- was there any discussion about, "We're going to honestly try to get to the bottom of this, to prevent it from happening"?
MCCLELLAN: I did not hear that or a focus that it may have been higher up. I mean, certainly it was investigated and looked into. I can't add anything to that record.
ELLISON: OK. What about Guantanamo and the detainee policy there, were you privy to much discussion around that?
MCCLELLAN: Well, not direct discussions in terms of meetings where those policies were set in place. Again, that was part of some of the briefings that we did for the press with Al Gonzales and the others that I mentioned.
ELLISON: But I know that before you go out there and look at those cameras I'm sure you get yourself ready.
MCCLELLAN: I talk to individuals inside the White House who would have knowledge of those issues.
ELLISON: Yes. And so what you're telling me is, when it comes to addressing, for example, those torture memos, the Addington-Yoo torture memo, you never had any private -- you never had any conversation before you had to go out and defend that policy?
MCCLELLAN: No, I would have had conversations with people about what the message is here and what we can share with the public.
ELLISON: Right. Did you ever have any discussion about how that might be -- about how people -- are we there? OK.
CONYERS: Very close.
ELLISON: Last question. You know, of course -- are you familiar with a guy named Maher Arar?
MCCLELLAN: Doesn't ring a bell.
ELLISON: He's a Canadian of Syrian ancestry who was rendered to Syria.
MCCLELLAN: Right. OK. Now I know who you're talking about.
ELLISON: Yes. Did the administration ever talk about what you were to do to defend that policy?
MCCLELLAN: I don't remember if I commented on that publicly or not. I would have to -- I would have to go back and look at that time period to see.
ELLISON: Did they ever talk about rendition at all?
MCCLELLAN: Well, we talked about it. I know we talked publicly about rendition, yes.
ELLISON: What were you told to say about it?
MCCLELLAN: Without looking back at my notes, it's hard for me to talk about it. What I said publicly is probably what I knew about that issue.
ELLISON: Thanks a lot, Mr. McClellan.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Congressman.
CONYERS: I want to thank my colleagues, Steve King and Bill Delahunt and Mr. Ellison, for staying with me. Counsel Mike Tigar and Jane Tigar, we appreciate your endurance.
But I am very impressed, Mr. McClellan, with your ability to recall with such precision the many incidents and issues and names in the course of this very unusually long hearing. I compliment you on what you're doing, what you've done, and probably the further contributions that you'll be able to make toward trying to make this a better federal system of government. And so without objection, the record will remain open for five legislative days for the submission of other materials that you or the committee might want to submit for the record. And with that, the committee stands adjourned.
MCCLELLAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
CONYERS: Thank you very much.END