Scott McClellan breaks his silence on Plamegate -- but only for a minute

The president's press secretary challenges a report saying that Bush knew about Rove's role, then retreats immediately to "no comment" land.

Published October 19, 2005 5:40PM (EDT)

The White House won't comment on the Valerie Plame investigation -- except when it does. Long before we all knew that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby leaked Plame's identity to reporters, White House press secretary Scott McClellan swore up and down that they absolutely, positively weren't involved. By the time the truth came out this summer, McClellan had long since announced that he wouldn't comment about the case anymore.

Only today, he did. Asked about the report that George W. Bush knew about Rove's role in the fall of 2003 and rebuked him for it then, McClellan said he couldn't comment and then commented, in a self-serving way, anyway. McClellan said that he disputed the accuracy of the New York Daily News' account, but he wouldn't say how and he wouldn't say why, retreating immediately into the "we won't comment on an ongoing investigation" mantra he has used repeatedly for months now.

The White House hasn't posted a transcript yet, but Josh Marshall has the relevant excerpts here.

Some highlights:

Question: Is it true that the president slapped Karl Rove upside the head a couple of years ago over the CIA leak?

McClellan: Are you referring to, what, a New York Daily News report? Two things: One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation; two, and I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account ...

Question: So what facts are you challenging?

McClellan: Again, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

Question: You can't say you're challenging the facts and then not say which ones you're challenging.

McClellan: Yes, I can. I just did ...

Question: Well, if you want us to say it's inaccurate, you need to give us a reason why, or it wouldn't be responsible to report it.

McClellan: Well, there's an ongoing investigation, and as you know, our policy is not to comment on it. So that's where we are ...

Question: Based on your personal knowledge, based on your opinion, based on your frustration with the story -- what caused you to [challenge the accuracy of the story]?

McClellan: No, I mean, I read the story and I didn't view it as an accurate story.

Question: Why not?

McClellan: Again, I'm not going to go any further than that. There's an ongoing investigation. This is bringing up matters related to an ongoing investigation.

Question: After you read the story, Scott, did you check with either of the two people mentioned, the president or Rove, to ask them? Is that what you base --

McClellan: I don't have any further comment.

It seems like we just said this, but maybe we'll say it again: Wouldn't it be easier to just tell the truth?

By Tim Grieve

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

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