John Roberts, meet Karl Rove

Scott McClellan dodges questions about conversations at the White House -- and this time, they concern Bush's Supreme Court nominee.

Published July 20, 2005 6:24PM (EDT)

We just listened in to a bit of Scott McClellan's daily press briefing, and -- imagine our surprise! -- we heard the White House press secretary refusing to answer questions from the press. And while the subject matter this time around was the president's nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, McClellan's nonanswer answers sure had a familiar ring to them.

For the better part of the past two weeks, McClellan has been insisting that the White House shouldn't answer questions about Karl Rove's involvement in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity because there's an investigation going on -- never mind the fact that McClellan has previously and repeatedly proclaimed Rove's innocence while there was an investigation going on. Today, McClellan applied the same skipping-over-the-facts strategy to questions about Roberts. McClellan insisted that senators should not ask Roberts to explain his views on Roe vs. Wade because such a discussion would amount to prejudging an issue -- never mind the fact that Roberts once wrote a legal brief in which he said, "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."

Yes, but, reporters said, didn't Bush ask Roberts about his views on abortion when he interviewed him for the Supreme Court job on Friday? McClellan never gave a straight answer. McClellan said that the president doesn't apply a "litmus test" to his judicial nominees. He said that that's not the way the president operates. But when asked, flat out, whether Bush -- or Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or anyone else at the White House -- had asked Roberts about his views about abortion rights or other hot-button issues, McClellan dodged and weaved and eventually punted, saying he hadn't sat in on every conversation that every White House official may have had with the nominee.

And where have we heard this all before? Back when McClellan was still talking about the Plame case -- that is, back in the day when he was suggesting that it was "ridiculous" to think that Rove was involved and that "the president knows" otherwise -- McClellan used language almost identical to that which he used today in describing (or not) White House discussions with Roberts. Asked at a July 22, 2003, press briefing about allegations that the White House was involved in leaking Plame's identity, McClellan said: "That is not the way this president or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion."

McClellan wasn't telling the truth -- or didn't know the truth -- then. Why should anyone believe that he's telling the truth now?

By Tim Grieve

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

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Karl Rove War Room