Snow on Rove: "I don't know ... I'm not competent ... thank you"

Remind us why they have White House press briefings.

Published June 15, 2006 7:06PM (EDT)

From the "If They Weren't So Amusing We'd Say They Should Just Stop Having Them" Department, here's an excerpt from today's White House press briefing:

Question: Tony [Snow], the investigation of Karl Rove is now over. Why is it, then, inappropriate for the president or the White House, three years later, to finally give us some sort of explanation or assessment, judgment, of Karl Rove's actions when it had nothing to do with the Libby trial?

Snow: Because, as you know, there is -- well, they may have. There is talk that he may be called --

Question: Scott McClellan has nothing to do with the Libby trial ...

Snow: Well, that's fine. I will continue my statement first. I can't give you any texture or background on the Scott/Karl stuff, because I wasn't here. But the president made it pretty clear that a lot of this stuff -- and as you know, Peter, once you get up on the stand, and Karl may be called to the stand -- they can ask about anything. And so it is our view that we're simply not going to get involved in making comments on something that may be brought to trial, when Scooter Libby is still under indictment and is going to go to trial with the special prosecutor. The other thing is that Karl, apparently, the prosecutor found nothing untoward in what Karl has done, there is no indictment. But we're just not going to go into it. You could go at it 58 different angles, I'm still not going to give you an answer.

Question: Let me ask a general question then. In 2000, the president said it wasn't enough to simply not be indicted in the White House, that he had a higher ethical standard. Is that, in fact, still the ethical standard --

Snow: Yes.

Question: -- or, in fact, should we interpret from his comments yesterday that as long as you're not indicted, everything is fine?

Snow: Apparently, you've indicted Karl.

Question: No, I'm asking a question.

Snow: And yes, the answer is, the ethical standard still applies.

Question: And what is the ethical standard?

Snow: You tell me. I mean, the president said the higher ethical standard -- you were reciting a thing. You know what the president says is: You serve honorably, you serve well, you obey the law.

Question: And the reality is --

Question: Did Karl Rove serve honorably and serve --

Snow: Like I said, don't try to get me to bite on it because I'm not going to do it ...

Question: ... Is the vice president's office worried about what that may -- how intrusive [the Libby trial] could be, in terms of the inner operations of his office?

Snow: I don't have any idea. You'll have to deal with his office on that ...

Question: Tony, yesterday the president said that he's made the comments he's going to make about the Karl Rove matter, and now he's going to move forward. A year ago, he told us at least twice that he would be more than happy to comment further once the situation, the investigation was completed. Does this mean that despite telling us that he would comment further that now he isn't going to? Or does it mean that he will comment further and be happy to at a later date?

Snow: Well, I'm going to let his comments yesterday suffice. I'm not going to get beyond what he said yesterday, and we'll see what happens. That would be a why-don't-I-figure-it-out -- what the president said yesterday is he's not going to comment because the Libby trial is upcoming. I don't know if he has any plans --

Question: Has he made the comments he's going to make?

Snow: Victoria, I don't know if he has any plans. I just don't know. I can't give you an answer.

Question: Will that include appeals? How far can we stretch this?

Snow: I don't know, Peter. But I'll tell you what. It's obviously really important to you guys. I'll try to find out ...

Question: I have one other one on Karl Rove working in the White House, and the "honorable standard" question, which is that he's not being indicted, apparently. But three years ago -- I say "apparently" because I don't think anyone has seen the letter yet -- but three years ago he was asked about whether he has spoken to any reporter about whether Valerie Plame was --

Snow: OK, I'm not going to -- I can't get back into that question, because, frankly, I'm totally incompetent on it, and I'm not going to get in the middle of the Karl Rove thing. That all predates me.

Question: I can't even finish the question?

Snow: You can finish the question. I'll give you the same answer.

Question: ... Scott McClellan was asked whether in fact he had spoken to any reporter about whether Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. And the reply was that he had assured Scott McClellen that he wasn't involved in any of this.

Snow: Right. As I said, thank you for getting me in the middle of an old fight that I have no part in and I'm not -- I'm just not going to play on it. But thank --

Question: It seems clear, however that he spoke with Matt Cooper, Judith Miller and Robert Novak, so it would seem that the two answers don't match.

Snow: OK, thank you.

By Tim Grieve

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

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