Ex-Press Aide McClellan Blasts Bush on Iraq

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Scott McClellan, who once served as press secretary to President Bush, has written a memoir that accuses the Bush administration of misleading the country on the way to an unnecessary war in Iraq.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Noah Adams.

Today, the White House called former press secretary Scott McClellan disgruntled, and that is because two years after leaving the Bush administration, McClellan is speaking for himself. He's published a book titled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." In the memoir, McClellan writes that he passed false information to the press after being lied to by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. He also assails the White House for the overall case it made for the war in Iraq.

NPR's Don Gonyea has the report.

DON GONYEA: Scott McClellan took over as President Bush's spokesman in July of 2003, three months after the start of the Iraq War, and at a moment when the White House case for the war was coming under a closer scrutiny. Part of that scrutiny was a disputed CIA report which led to the leaking of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Scott McClellan had to deal with the widespread belief that the leak came from someone inside the White House, either Karl Rove or Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Scooter Libby. Here's what McClellan said to reporters then.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (Former Press Secretary): I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you. That's exactly what I did.

GONYEA: Of course the subsequent investigation revealed that Libby and Rove did talk to reporters about Valeria Plame. Libby was later found guilty of charges related to the investigation of the leak. Rove was never charged. But in his book, McClellan now says he was misled by both of them and by Vice President Cheney. But the broader assault in his memoir is on the Bush White House in general and the man McClellan worked for going back to the time the president was governor of Texas - McClellan's home state.

McClellan says the Bush White House was dishonest in the way it sold the war, relying not on truth but on, quote, "a political propaganda campaign." McClellan now says the war was unnecessary and a blunder sold to the country in a way that ruled out any other option. Karl Rove, who left the White House last August, had this reaction to the book on Fox News's "Hannity and Colmes" program.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff): First of all, this just doesn't like Scott. It really doesn't, not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time. Second of all, it sounds like somebody else. It sounds like a left wing blogger. Second of all, you're right. If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about him. And frankly, I don't remember him speaking up about these things. I don't remember a single word.

GONYEA: In his book, McClellan also criticizes the press for not being tough enough during the run-up to the war. That comment and the overall tone of the book surprised Cox Newspaper's correspondent Ken Herman, who has known McClellan since Herman covered the Texas State House.

Mr. KEN HERMAN (Cox Newspaper): It's the fascinating thing about this. There's not much criticism in here that we have not heard from a never-ending and growing selection of books about this topic. What's fascinating is who we are hearing it from. And not only is it fascinating that we're hearing it from Scott; it's hard for me to imagine anyone else as intimate with the president and this presidency will write a book like this.

GONYEA: Today, the current White House press secretary, Dana Perino, released this statement. Quote: "Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him before, during, and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew." Perino said the president himself would not comment because he had, quote, "more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers."

When McClellan left the White House in 2006, President Bush lavished praise on his outgoing press secretary, looking forward to a time way down the road when they'd sit in rocking chairs on the porch and reminisce. It's a scene that now seems highly unlikely.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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Ex-Press Secretary McClellan Lambastes Bush

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Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has startled Washington by slamming the Bush administration in a new memoir.

In What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, McClellan levels harsh criticism at the Bush administration for its handling of Iraq, charging that it manipulated public opinion with "propaganda." He also attacks the administration's response in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mike Allen, chief political correspondent for Politico, says what stands out to him after rushing through the book is that "a member of the president's political family ... says that the administration went badly off course, that the war was sold based on propaganda, not facts, and that some of the things that [McClellan] was saying from the podium turned out to be badly misguided."

In the book, McClellan says he was asked to say things as press secretary that turned out not to be correct, thereby eroding his credibility.

"Scott knew that he was going to lose friends over this," Allen tells Alex Chadwick. "A lot of his former friends thought that he was basically selling out and that he was using the president's reputation to do it."

Allen says he thinks McClellan wrote the book "because he took off his flack hat and put on the historian's hat."

Ari Fleischer, President Bush's first press secretary, is not convinced.

"There is just something about it that doesn't make any sense to me," he tells Chadwick. "Scott was always a great deputy to me, very reliable, trustworthy, and never once did he come up to me and express any misgivings that he had — or to anybody else that I know of — about the war or the manner in which the White House prepared for the war. ... There are parts of this book that just don't sound like Scott. ... I don't know what could have led him to have such a dramatic change of heart."

In the book, McClellan uses the word propaganda to describe the White House press machine.

"If Scott thought it was propaganda, then Scott should not have accepted the job of White House press secretary," Fleischer says.

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