On Rove, Scott McClellan is suddenly silent

The White House press secretary used to tell anyone who'd listen that Karl Rove had nothing to do with the outing of Valerie Plame. Now he won't say anything at all.

Published July 11, 2005 6:11PM (EDT)

The White House press corps is finally asking questions about Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of Valerie Plame. And all of a sudden, it's White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan who doesn't want to talk about the issue anymore.

Reporters peppered McClellan with questions about Rove and Plame at today's White House press briefing. Did Karl Rove commit a crime? Does the president still have confidence in Karl Rove? Is McClellan concerned that he misrepresented facts about Rove's involvement in the past? Has McClellan hired an attorney for himself? In a sign that things are getting just a little more serious at the White House, McClellan's answers were invariably -- and increasingly testy -- variations on one theme: There's an "ongoing investigation," and he's not saying anything about anything until it's over.

That's not a particularly unusual response for someone caught up in a legal tangle, but it's a striking departure from the way in which McClellan used to talk about the Plame case. In days gone by, the White House press secretary was downright loquacious about the matter.

On Sept. 29, 2003, McClellan told reporters that the president was certain that Karl Rove was not involved in leaking Plame's identity. When asked how he knew that the president knew, McClellan said: "Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion, backing away from that. And I said it is simply not true. So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've said that it's not true. . . . [T]here is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it."

When McClellan was asked about Rove's involvement on Oct. 1, 2003, he said: "Let me make it very clear. As I said previously, he was not involved, and that allegation is not true in terms of leaking classified information, nor would he condone it. So let me be very clear."

And when McClellan was asked again about the case on Oct. 10, 2003, he said that he had talked with Rove and other White House officials and they'd all "assured me they were not involved in" the "leaking of classified information."

With the revelations of the weekend -- it's now clear that Rove told Time's Matthew Cooper that Joseph Wilson's wife was a CIA analyst -- those old denials must be sounding a little, well, quaint. McClellan might want to revise and extend some of his earlier statements about the case, and we're sure he will -- just as soon as the "ongoing investigation" is over.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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