McClellan takes the stand

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.

Published June 20, 2008 11:25PM (EDT)

Scott McClellan found himself in an unfamiliar position on Friday. There were reporters hanging on his words, and lights and cameras focused on him, but he was criticizing the Bush administration, not defending it.

McClellan, the former White House press secretary, came back to national attention recently when the contents of his tell-all book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," leaked, showing he'd become a strong critic of the Bush administration since he left it in 2006. And because of those criticisms, the House Judiciary Committee called him to testify to see if he could shed any light on certain subjects, especially the leak of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

As my friend Steve Benen notes, there wasn't much new information revealed during McClellan's testimony. (Not too surprising -- the man did just write a book, after all, and presumably the juiciest bits are in there.) But there were some very interesting moments.

In one example, asked whether he thought former Bush advisor Karl Rove could be trusted to testify truthfully if he ever does appear, McClellan said he didn't think so. "[B]ased on my own experience, I could not say that I would," McClellan said. "I have some concerns about that."

McClellan also repeated his accusation that the Bush administration hadn't been forthright about the case for war in Iraq. "It's public record that they were ignoring caveats and ignoring contradictory intelligence," McClellan said. And he said Scooter Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied when McClellan asked him if he was involved in the disclosure of Plame's name. Libby, as readers of this blog will almost certainly recall, was convicted of lying to investigators about the leak, but his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

Some of the most memorable moments came courtesy of the committee's Republicans, who treated McClellan as if he were the equivalent of the man who betrayed Jesus Christ. Literally.

"Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver," Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texan who's the ranking member on the committee, said. (In the New Testament, Judas Iscariot is paid thirty pieces of silver to betray Jesus.)

And Iowa Rep. Steve King tried to make an argument that McClellan should have kept quiet for the sake of national security. But -- seeming to realize he had no leg to stand on -- King fumbled the question. "Does [the president] have to, then, put the next press secretary into a cubicle and slide press releases to him under the door for fear that he'll be coming -- either write a book or come before the Judiciary Committee... and divulge information that I believe was at least, from a national security -- not national security, but from the integrity standpoint, could you not have taken some of this to the grave with you and done this country a favor?" King asked.

Update: In its original version, this post incorrectly referred to King as John King, who is a Republican congressman from New York. It's been corrected.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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