Scott McClellan defends the silence

The press secretary says the White House decided to stop "commenting" about the Plame case nearly two years ago. So why did it keep commenting until bad news broke about Karl Rove?

Published July 12, 2005 7:28PM (EDT)

At today's White House press briefing, Scott McClellan tried to argue that the sudden White House silence about the Valerie Plame case has nothing to do with the evidence implicating Karl Rove and everything to do with his claim that federal investigators asked him not to talk about the case when he testified before the grand jury in February 2004. "If youll remember back two years ago or almost two years ago, I did draw a line," McClellan said. "I said were just not going to get into commenting on . . . an investigation that continues."

There's at least a little truth to McClellan's argument; McClellan had much to say about the Plame case before he testified and has said little if anything of substance since. But the same can't be said of others in the Bush administration -- the "we" of whom McClellan presumably speaks.

On Sept. 30, 2003, George W. Bush told reporters in Chicago that he wanted to know if anyone in his administration had leaked Plame's identity, and that "if the person has violated law, that person will be taken care of." At a press conference in Georgia nine months later -- which is to say, four months after McClellan testified before the grand jury -- the president said he still intended to fire anyone found to have leaked Plame's identity. And a few months after that, late in the summer of 2004, Karl Rove himself told CNN: "I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name."

Even now, there are signs that the White House may still be involved in spinning the story of Rove and Plame. Ken Mehlman, who not so long ago was running Bush's re-election campaign, has issued a statement in which he complains about "blatant partisan political attacks" on Rove coming from the "far-left, MoveOn wing" of the Democratic Party. Mehlman's RNC has issued talking points to help the party faithful wade through the fight. And as Think Progress notes, a question asked by ABC's Terry Moran at today's White House press briefing suggests that Rove himself is still trying to spin the coverage, at least at Fox News.

Nobody asked McClellan today why he can't talk but everyone else around him can, but it probably doesn't matter. He wouldn't have answered anyway.

(Correction: In an earlier version of this post, we reported that Bush's statement in Chicago came in February 2004. In fact, it was made on Sept. 30, 2003. This post and three others that contained the incorrect date have been corrected. War Room regrets the error.)

By Tim Grieve

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

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