Ex-Press Secretary McClellan Lambastes Bush In a new memoir, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan attacks the president's handling of the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. Mike Allen of Politico breaks down the "propaganda" charges. Then, former press secretary Ari Fleischer explains why he is upset about the book.

Ex-Press Secretary McClellan Lambastes Bush

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From the studios of NPR West, this is Day to Day, I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. Coming up, Madonna is allowed to adopt a child from Africa. We talk to a mom in this country who changed her life - moved from the white suburbs to the inner city when she adopted her black children.

CHADWICK: First, the hottest book in Washington today is "What Happened-" It's an account by former Bush administration press secretary Scott McClellan of the three years he spent at the White House with Mr. Bush. It is in part a devastating account. Mike Allen is a writer for Politico.com. He broke the story yesterday about this memoir. Mike Allen, what is the headline here-

MIKE ALLEN: Well, Alex, the headline here is that a member of the president's political family, someone who came to Washington from Texas with him says that the administration went badly off course, that the war was so based on propaganda not fact and that some of the things he was saying from the podium turned out to be badly misguided.

CHADWICK: There are a lot of things in your account of this book, it covers Hurricane Katrina, it covers the dust up over Valerie Plame, the CIA agent who was named publicly. But the part that strikes me as the hottest is on the Iraq war and this question of how the president began to, I think in Scott McClellan's account, mislead the country.

ALLEN: He felt that he had been asked to go out and say things that turned out not to be right, that he puts it fatally hurt his own credibility. He says that on the CIA leak case that he was at best mislead is the way that he puts it which makes it clear what he thinks happened and he clearly thought that White House officials who told him that they had no involvement that in fact did. And you get a sense for how difficult things were in the White House.

CHADWICK: Here's a paragraph from which you write at Politico.com. Bush was, quote, "clearly irritated, steamed, when McClellan informed him that Chief Economic Advisor Larry Lindsey had told The Wall Street Journal that a possible war in Iraq could cost from 100 billion to 200 billion. Quote, "It's unacceptable Bush continued, his voice rising. He shouldn't be talking about that." Of course, the war wound up costing a lot more than that.

ALLEN: Right. That was the low ball of all low balls, but at the time that was heresy. We've got a little lesson in here how the Bush world works that you shouldn't make news unless they want you to. And the President was furious about this that Larry Lindsey apparently just been asked a smart question by the reporter Bob Davis of The Wall Street Journal he blurted out the answer. It was very damaging at the time, but it turns out that if they'd paid more attention to it a lot of heartache would have been saved.

CHADWICK: What about Hurricane Katrina and the White House handling of that-

ALLEN: We hear at the beginning of Scott's frustration with the White House. The chapter is called "Out of Touch." That tells you how he felt. And he tells how they came up with that turned out to be disastrous photo-op of the president looking out of the window of Air Force One as it did a fly-over of New Orleans. And Scott said that he and the president's counselor Dan Bartlett had been against that. Karl Rove had pushed for it, the president signed on to doing it and Scott said he just sort of, like gave up and didn't fight it.

CHADWICK: They were concerned that it made the president look detached, that he's just flying over Hurricane Katrina while the people below are suffering-

ALLEN: That's how it was widely perceived. It became a symbol of what was taken as a larger failure in the handling of Katrina.

CHADWICK: There's a lot of information on the wires, a lot of comment already on this book. Do you know Scott McClellan-

ALLEN: I do.

CHADWICK: Why did he write this book-

ALLEN: I think he wrote this book because he took off his flat (ph) hat and put on his historians hat. I think he wanted to give a clear (unintelligible) account of what was going to happen. He had intended for it to be published next Monday. They'd offer copies to reporters if you would sign an agreement that you wouldn't write about it until Sunday. I declined that offer and went into a bookstore and got three copies. So it kicked off a little sooner than he'd expected. But Scott knew that he was going to lose friends over this. And there was a sign of that in November when the publisher put out that little excerpt, you remember, where it suggested that the president had been involved in misleading Scott. Of course, that didn't turn out to be the case. The book makes that clear, but 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. So that's why you have the White House today pushing back very hard, people using the words like pathetic, saying that Scott was out of the loop and that he gave up the one good quality that he had, which is loyalty.

CHADWICK: Mike Allen for Politco.com. He broke the story of Scott McClellan's memoir "What Happened Inside the Bush White House and Its Culture of Deception." Mike, thanks.

ALLEN: Have a great day. Thank you.

CHADWICK: Ari Fleischer was President Bush's first press secretary up through the early days of the Iraq war. His own book about that time is "Taking Heat." Ari Fleischer, what went through your mind when you read reports of this book-

ARI FLEISCHER: Well there's just something about it that doesn't make any sense to me. And I'm heartbroken about this. 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.

CHADWICK: He uses the term propaganda, that's quite a term. And he's talking about President Bush I think he was talking about you as well. I think he's talking about the message from the White House.

FLEISCHER: Well that's what really struck me is 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 have on principle declined it.

CHADWICK: Did you have any discussions with him about this at the time, about what you all were saying about the war in Iraq, about getting ready for it-

FLEISCHER: I did and Scott was 100 percent fully on board. Scott helped me prepare for the briefings. Scott and I would talk about what I was going to say. His job should have been to report them to me, he worked for me. He should have said I wouldn't say that if I were you Ari, or I'm not so sure I can say that Ari.

CHADWICK: Here's a specific that Mike Allen quotes, and we spoke with Mike about this. Larry Lindsey, the chief economic advisor to the president is quoted in The Wall Street Journal as saying, this is before the war starts, as saying the war might cost 100 to 200 million dollars and the president gets very angry and tells Scott McClellan he shouldn't be talking about that.

FLEISCHER: Well, I remember that and I remember it well, and I think Scott's told that accurately. The president's direction to the staff was if America goes to war we go to war for moral reasons regardless of the financial cost. And so he didn't want people talking about what dollars and cents might be, you either go to war or you don't go to war. And I remember standing at the podium when I got asked about that, Scott helped me prepare for that briefing.

CHADWICK: Well in this recounting of it, it's part of this propaganda. Don't talk about how much it's going to cost. Indeed the administration said it's going to cost much less than that. In fact it has cost much, much more than that.

FLEISCHER: Well that's why in the president's guidance was if America goes to war we go to war whether it's a dollar or a trillion dollars because it saves lives. It's not an economic decision; it's a moral decision.

CHADWICK: You're speaking about the obligations of the role of the press secretary-


CHADWICK: What about someone who feels that they've been mislead by the administration- That they have lied for the administration and that people above them knew they were lying. That's a charge that Scott McClellan levels in his book. I believe, I haven't read the book yet but in Mike Allen's account. In regards to the Valerie Plame affair, the CIA agent whose identity was revealed.

FLEISCHER: And even after Scott left the White House he went on TV shows and defended President Bush and the war. So I don't know what changed so dramatically for Scott in the last few months - several months - that led him to write a book that was so different from everything I saw about Scott personally and privately. Something changed and there are parts of this book that just don't sound like Scott. Scott to me will always be a friend and somebody who I always relied on, and I don't know what could have led him to have such dramatic change of heart. And I talked to Scott yesterday.

CHADWICK: You did-

FLEISCHER: Yeah. Scott and I remain close and that's one of the reasons I'm so heartbroken about this. And Scott told me this book really did change and he said this book ended up a lot different from the way it got started. He told me he didn't know if he could write a book like this a year ago.

CHADWICK: So when this story broke you called him and spoke with him-

FLEISCHER: Well, I actually I called Scott because Scott and I frequently periodically kept in touch, ever since he left the White House. And when Scott and I - we got together gosh, about a year and a half ago for breakfast, and I remember talking to Scott about the book and he told me how good it was going to be for President Bush.

CHADWICK: Well, you had a private conversation with a friend who has written this book, which you know is about to become very public. And in the course of that you don't develop any greater understanding about why he says what he did over the course of a time was that critical to both your lives.

FLEISCHER: At that point the story did not appear in Politico. So I hadn't seen yet just how tough and rough this book was. And Scott didn't read to me any of the passages in it. And then I saw the Politico story.

CHADWICK: Well did you ask him that conversation- What do you mean tough and rough- What happened why are you doing this-

FLEISCHER: I didn't say why are you doing this. I wish I had said to him, Scott, why are you doing this, what changed. I wish I had asked him that. I think if I had seen the Politico story before my conversation with him I surely would have.

CHADWICK: Are you going to call Scott McClellan again today-

FLEISCHER: Yeah. I think I probably will. And I will always on a personal level wish Scott will - Scott was a great deputy to me, Scott was reliable and I've got nothing but good memories of the time we worked together. And I'm sure Scott's going to be very busy right now and I think he's uncomfortable too. In our conversation yesterday you could tell he was a little bit uncomfortable because he was about to - but you could tell was a little bit uncomfortable because he knew he was going to be out of sync with the people he used to work for.

CHADWICK: Ari Fleischer runs Ari Fleischer Communications. It's a consulting company in New York. Ari any more books coming from you-


FLEISCHER: I had one book in me and I think that's probably about it.

CHADWICK: It was taking his account of the White House years. Ari Fleischer, thank you.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

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