As White House press secretary, Scott McClellan said that Scooter Libby had "assured" him that he had nothing to do with the outing of Valerie Plame. Now, in what we can only hope is an attempt at ironic understatement, McClellan says that Libby's guilty verdict just might be a problem for his former employer. "It does change things in the public's perception to some extent when a former high-level administration official is found guilty of a crime," McClellan tells the New York Times.
To his credit, McClellan says he would advise the White House to do now what he always refused to do when he worked there: Address the Libby case directly. And McClellan also refrains from spinning away the verdict -- or, at least, the Times' Jim Rutenberg doesn't quote him trying to do so. But who needs McClellan when you've got the entire right-wing echo machine declaring Libby's conviction a travesty of justice in a case that should never have been brought?
A sampling of the reaction from the right:
Wall Street Journal: Scooter Libby "has not been convicted of lying to anyone about the case for war in Iraq, or about Mr. Wilson or his wife. Rather, he has been convicted of telling the truth about Mr. Wilson and Ms. Plame to some reporters but then not owning up to it. One tragic irony is that if Mr. Libby had only taken the Harold Ickes grand-jury strategy and said 'I don't recall,' he probably never would have been indicted. But our guess is that he tried to cooperate with the grand jury because he never really believed he had anything to hide."
National Review: "In his closing statement, Patrick Fitzgerald talked darkly about 'a cloud over the vice president.' Fitzgerald has his weather patterns wrong. It is Joseph Wilson and the partisans echoing his lies who should have a cloud over them. They manufactured a case that the Bush administration manufactured WMD intelligence. The administration understandably tried to defend itself by explaining that Joe Wilson wasn't on a mission from Vice President Cheney, and by declassifying a National Intelligence Estimate so that the rest of us could see the legitimate if faulty intelligence they had relied on."
Mary Matalin: "Scooter didn't do anything. And his personal record and service are impeccable. How do you make sense of a system where a security principal admits to stuffing classified docs in his pants and says, 'I'm sorry,' and a guy who is rebutting a demonstrable partisan liar is going through this madness?"
Rush Limbaugh: "The trial was not about manipulating intelligence. It was not about discrediting war critics. The idea that any administration is supposed to sit around and let people lie about it? Poor old Joe Wilson! Poor old left-winger, Berkeley, sixties-retread Joe Wilson is not supposed to be criticized. He's above it because he was criticizing the war. He's just one guy and the Bush administration is mounting an effort against him. Why, that's a crime!"
Fred Barnes: "It was a minor case. He really didn't seriously impede the investigation. He's been a loyal and effective member of this administration. [The president] has every reason to pardon him ... It'll happen on Jan. 19, 2009 -- or maybe Jan. 20, 2009."
White House press secretary Tony Snow refused to discuss the prospect of a pardon for Libby today. "We never comment on pardons," he said.