McClellan's Book: Familiar Slurs, Surprising Source Scott McClellan was with President Bush when he was governor of Texas. He came to Washington as the ultimate Bush loyalist. Now the former press secretary has written a new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, that's critical of the administration.
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McClellan's Book: Familiar Slurs, Surprising Source

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McClellan's Book: Familiar Slurs, Surprising Source

McClellan's Book: Familiar Slurs, Surprising Source

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Robert Smith, in for Steve Inskeep, on assignment.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

One of President Bush's longest serving and most loyal aides has written a book highly critical of the Bush White House, particularly the war in Iraq. Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan left the administration in 2006. Now he says the war was a mistake, a blunder, and that the White House sold it to the American public with a political propaganda campaign.

McClellan's book will be in stores officially on Monday. It's called "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." NPR's Don Gonyea has more.

DON GONYEA: By any account, Scott McClellan had a rough go of it while serving as press secretary. He took the job three months after the invasion of Iraq at a time when the initial flush of victory had begun to give way to the long protracted struggle that continues there today. He had to defend the rationale for the war.

And in his first year on the job, he had to defend White House officials Karl Rove and Lewis Libby, who were widely believed to have revealed the identity of a CIA operative to the media. Here's how he tried to do that:

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

GONYEA: It was later learned that what McClellan said that day was false. In the book, he says he was deceived by Rove, Libby and Vice President Cheney. He stayed in the job for nearly three years before being pushed out in an administration shakeup in '06. Still, as President Bush said goodbye to him, the relationship seemed warm.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: One of these days, he and I are going to be rocking on chairs in Texas talking about the good old days of his time as the press secretary. And I can assure you I will feel the same way then that I feel now that I can say to Scott, job well done.

Mr. McCLELLAN: Thank you, sir.

GONYEA: But such reminiscing on the porch may no longer be in McClellan's future. His memoir reads as a broadside against the way this White House has been run. He says the selling of the Iraq war was dishonest. He faults the president for setting up a situation where there was no other option than the use of military force. He says the White House ran in permanent campaign mode.

On Hurricane Katrina, he called the president out of touch and in denial. All of this prompted a strong reaction yesterday from the White House. Current Press Secretary Dana Perino described McClellan as disgruntled. She told reporters that the book is both puzzling and sad. She described the president as surprised and disappointed.

Karl Rove, who left the White House last August, had this reaction during an appearance on Fox News.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Former Presidential Adviser): First of all, this doesn't sound 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 them. And frankly, I don't remember him speaking up about these things. I don't remember a single word.

GONYEA: Also weighing was another former Bush administration press secretary, Ari Fleisher, on NPR's DAY TO DAY program. Fleisher said the book left him, quote, "heartbroken."

Mr. ARI FLEISHER (Former Bush Administration Secretary): If Scott thought it was propaganda, then Scott should not have accepted the job as White House press secretary. If Scott viewed what the White House was saying was so irresponsible or wrong that it rose to the level of propaganda for him, it's not a job he should have accepted. He should, on principle, have declined it.

GONYEA: A similar counterattack came from the White House back in 2004 when a former Bush national security aide named Richard Clark wrote a book critical of the president and the rationale for the war. That time, the reproach came from Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Mr. McCLELLAN : Why, all of the sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of the sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had.

GONYEA: As McClellan's book appeared, reporters who've known him for many years expressed surprise at its tone. Among them, Cox Newspaper's correspondent Ken Herman, who covered George W. Bush as governor of Texas and as president.

Mr. KEN HERMAN (Correspondent, Cox Newspaper): It's the fascinating thing about this. There's no 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.

GONYEA: McClellan's book is expected to be in stores Monday.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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