Scott McClellan: Plenty of criticism, no answers

The press secretary won't say whether Bush knew that his claim about mobile weapons labs had already been debunked.

By Tim Grieve
April 12, 2006 10:01PM (UTC)
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At this morning's press gaggle, White House press secretary Scott McClellan pushed back hard against the Washington Post's report that George W. Bush misrepresented intelligence about those Iraqi mobile weapons labs that weren't. The Post's story was "irresponsible reporting" and left an impression that's "not true," McClellan said.

McClellan said that Bush based his May 29, 2003, statement about the supposed labs on an intelligence assessment that had been released publicly the day before. Yes, but was Bush also aware at the time that a group of experts dispatched by the Defense Intelligence Agency had concluded in a report faxed back to Washington that the trailers found in Iraq weren't really weapons labs at all? Reporters asked McClellan variations on that question at least a dozen times this morning. He never gave a definitive answer.


The president relied on the publicly released intelligence assessment, McClellan said. Yes, but did the president also have the contrary report from the group of experts? You'll have to ask the intelligence community why it said what it said in the intelligence assessment, McClellan said. Yes, but did the president have the contrary report from the experts? These things take a while to work through the system, McClellan said. Yes, but did he have the report from the experts? It was reckless of ABC to use the Post story as a basis for saying that Bush knew his statement was false, McClellan said.

An ABC reporter tried again: "Was the president aware of the faxed field report?" McClellan snapped back: "I think it's reckless reporting for ABC to go this morning and say that the Washington Post says that the president knew at the time what he was saying was not true."

Reporter: So was the president made aware of the fact ...


McClellan: And are you all going to apologize?

Reporter: Was the president made aware of the faxed field report?

McClellan: Are you all going to apologize for that?

Reporter: Was the president aware of the faxed field report?

McClellan: Is that a correct statement?


Reporter: Scott, was the president made aware of the field report that was faxed?

McClellan: Jessica, I just told you, I've asked the intelligence community what they based this paper on. I can't tell you what they based their paper on. You have to. We're not an intelligence-gathering agency.


Reporter: No, but was the field report faxed ...

McClellan: The president made his comments based on this white paper that was publicly released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the arm of the -- which is an arm of the Pentagon ...

Reporter: ... The question is, was he aware of this report on May 27?


McClellan: I just told you -- you shouldn't make any assumptions, but you should go and ask the intelligence community what was this based on. I can't tell you what they based that on. They're the intelligence-gathering agency.

Reporter: You can tell us if the president had this information. Did he have this information?

McClellan: Jessica, this -- I just saw this report. I'll come back with more information if there is. But this is reckless reporting. And for you all to go on the air this morning and make such a charge is irresponsible ...


A few minutes later, the ABC reporter asked McClellan to "clarify" what specifically was wrong with the Post's article. "I've got to go," McClellan said, then insisted that he'd already done just that. The reporter began to ask McClellan again whether he was denying that Bush was aware of the faxed report from the experts at the time he spoke about the supposed mobile weapons labs. McClellan cut her off.

McClellan: Hang on. Are you saying that the president went out there and said something that he knew was not true? That's what you said on ABC News --

Reporter: I didn't say anything on ABC News --

McClellan: ABC News said that this morning. And is ABC News going to apologize for making that assertion?


Reporter: My question is, are you denying that there was ...

McClellan: You haven't answered my question. Are you going to apologize for that?

Reporter: ... contrary information?

McClellan: I just did, Jessica. I just answered that very question.

Tim Grieve

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

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