White House Spokesman Takes Heat for CIA Scandal

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan is facing relentless questions about Bush administration political guru Karl Rove's involvement in leaking scandal. McClellan earlier denied that Rove, the architect of Bush's winning presidential bids, was involved in the identification of a secret CIA operative — but new revelations indicate the opposite may be true. Madeleine Brand talks with Washington Post columnist and former White House correspondent Dana Milbank about the climate change in the pressroom, where McClellan is relentlessly pressed on the issue by an aggressive press corps.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back in this country, at the White House in recent days, the daily briefing in the press room has been dominated with questions about the possible role of President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, in leaking the name of an undercover CIA agent. Today, President Bush faced more questions from reporters on the issue, and again the president declined to comment.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and this is a serious investigation. And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports.

CHADWICK: But the media in the form of White House reporters have been hammering White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan with questions for days. This is a culture that Dana Milbank knows very well. He's a Washington Post columnist, a former member of the White House press corps. He spoke with DAY TO DAY's Madeleine Brand.

MADELEINE BRAND reporting:

Dana Milbank, why do you think the press is so worked up over this? Is it because one of their own is now in jail, Judy Miller?

Mr. DANA MILBANK (Columnist, The Washington Post): Oh, no, it's most certainly not because of that. Judy Miller's very unpopular among journalists, among the White House press corps. What's going on here has very little to do with the issue or the merits one way or the other of Karl Rove. It's the fact that the people in the White House press corps feel that a little less than two years ago they sat in that room and Scott McClellan deceived them.

BRAND: But you could argue that there have been similar dissemblings, if you will, from the White House with regards to the whole issue of weapons of mass destruction or the uranium in Niger. So why this case? Why are they suddenly becoming so aggressive and hostile in this case?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, that's the whole point, is that there are many cases where the White House will shade things, will spin things, will be a little fast and loose with the truth, but here you have a case where a very specific thing that the president's press secretary said at the podium on camera was 180 degrees opposite of the truth. Now obviously the WMD is a much more serious issue overall, but in each case, it's cloudy and it's difficult to argue that one thing was said and they knew otherwise. But here we know one thing was said and people in the White House definitely knew otherwise.

BRAND: And that one thing being that Karl Rove definitely had nothing to do with the leaking.

Mr. MILBANK: Absolutely nothing to do with it. They said that would be ridiculous to think.

BRAND: And so is the suspicion that Scott McClellan actually knew differently or that he himself was being duped?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, we can only speculate because Scott isn't talking about it. My own speculation--and that's all it is--is that he himself was duped because he has been known to--while he's not particularly forthcoming with information, it is quite rare for him to come out with a 100 percent whopper.

BRAND: And Scott McClellan's reason for not talking about it, saying that this is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation, obviously that didn't wash.

Mr. MILBANK: Well, it was absurd on its face because he was talking about it before when the criminal investigation was ongoing. Then he said, `Well, OK. Well, the prosecutors asked us to stop talking about it.' And then we find out, while they were asked to stop talking about it, that the president nine months later was still talking about it. So on its face, that sort of response was not going to fly.

BRAND: Is it possible in this White House that only Karl Rove knew that Karl Rove spoke to Matthew Cooper, that the president didn't know, that Scott McClellan didn't know, that no one else knew?

Mr. MILBANK: Well, sure. I mean, anything is possible. It would be somewhat surprising because Scott McClellan at the time had said that the president is well aware that Rove had nothing to do with it. So that makes the president look pretty bad right now one way or the other; either he wasn't being properly informed by his aides or was being properly informed and somebody wasn't telling the truth.

BRAND: Do you think that this signals a new relationship between the White House and the press corps?

Mr. MILBANK: No, I think it's been a pretty tense relationship from the start. It's been worsening. There's been ebbing and flowing, but this is certainly a--I'd hesitate to say that we've reached some new point here, but certainly this is a low ebb.

BRAND: Washington Post national political reporter Dana Milbank, thanks for joining us.

Mr. MILBANK: Thank you.

CHADWICK: And thanks to DAY TO DAY's Madeleine Brand for that interview.

I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us. DAY TO DAY continues.

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