Bush Counselor Bartlett on White House Challenges
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
To the political fallout from the Libby indictment now and Dan Bartlett; he's counselor to the president. When I spoke to him today, Bartlett called the matter `very serious,' and he repeated that President Bush has ordered his administration to cooperate fully with the investigation.
Mr. DAN BARTLETT (Counselor to President Bush): The president understands the gravity of such charges, but it's also important that Mr. Libby have his day in court, and that process started today.
NORRIS: Karl Rove and his role in all of this--he's denied that he played a central role in talking to journalists about Valerie Plame, and it appears that that is not true. When will he explain what actually happened?
Mr. BARTLETT: Well, as you know, the special prosecutor has made very clear that there is an open investigation under way. So it'd be inappropriate for me or for anybody in the White House to discuss any specific element of the investigation or particular people who may be or may not be involved in it. But at the appropriate time, I'm sure those questions will be answered.
NORRIS: How much of a distraction is this for the White House?
Mr. BARTLETT: Well, one thing that's clear in the White House is that there are plenty of issues and challenges that we face on a daily basis. And the old adage here applies, and that is: `Focus on the things that you can control, not the things that are out of your control.' And the investigation, quite frankly, is out of our control. It's in the hands of the special prosecutor, and he's going to make decisions based upon his own judgments. So we are focused on things that we think the American people want us focused on.
NORRIS: But on this question of focus, how do you remain focused and effective when the person in charge of communicating information from the White House, Scott McClellan, is--faces a barrage of questions about his own credibility every time he tries to hold a press conference?
Mr. BARTLETT: Well, that's the nature of the business. We have to deal with these types of distractions all the time. And, you know, I'd be foolish to say it's not human nature that we're not intently focused on this. This has been a very intensive period for people here with this investigation going on. But nonetheless, we have a job to do and the president expects us to do, and we're carrying out our duties.
NORRIS: Now in 2003, Scott McClellan said categorically that Lewis Libby was not involved in the leak. And at this point, how does he restore his own credibility so that you can effectively communicate the business of the White House until he explains what some call `misstatements' and what others are calling outright lies?
Mr. BARTLETT: Well, again, this is kind of the frustration that's always involved when there's an investigation going on because these type of accusations or misimpressions can be left. And Scott McClellan and others are not in a position, while the investigation is ongoing, to clarify or to give explanation to them.
NORRIS: Pardon me, I'm not trying tussle with you on this, but it is very clear now that Lewis Libby and Karl Rove did have conversations with reporters about Valerie Plame. Is that appropriate?
Mr. BARTLETT: Again, Michele, I wish I could go into details about this, but we're under strict instruction from the special prosecutor not to talk about the details of this case. There's going to be plenty of time for those type of questions to be aired and to be discussed upon conclusion of the investigation, but we're just not in a position today to talk about those very conversations and claims that are being made by people who may not have all the facts.
NORRIS: Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito continues to make the rounds on Capitol Hill. It appears that his nomination has been better received by many of the president's supporters than the previous nomination. But as you look beyond the conservative base, how do you, as a communications director, deal with the disappointment among many who point out that there's never been an Hispanic justice, that women, who were already underrepresented on the court, are even more so now that their numbers have been cut in half?
Mr. BARTLETT: Well, I can start by saying that the president--if you look at his overall track record, he has a very strong track record when it comes to appointing people with diverse backgrounds. He did appoint Harriet Miers, as you've noted. That obviously didn't go exactly how we expected it, and the president's deeply disappointed that she didn't get the type of fair hearing that he had hoped.
Having said that, the president has chosen somebody that all Americans can be proud of. Sam Alito is a very distinguished judge on the 3rd Court of Appeals. He probably has more experience and credentials than any nominee to the Supreme Court in the last 70 years, and that is a record and qualifications that all Americans can be proud of.
NORRIS: Dan Bartlett, thank you so much for joining us.
Mr. BARTLETT: You're welcome.
NORRIS: Dan Bartlett is the counselor to the president.