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Ex-Press Aide McClellan Blasts Bush on Iraq


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Noah Adams.

Today, the White House called former press secretary Scott McClellan disgruntled, and that is because two years after leaving the Bush administration, McClellan is speaking for himself. He's published a book titled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception." In the memoir, McClellan writes that he passed false information to the press after being lied to by Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. He also assails the White House for the overall case it made for the war in Iraq.

NPR's Don Gonyea has the report.

DON GONYEA: Scott McClellan took over as President Bush's spokesman in July of 2003, three months after the start of the Iraq War, and at a moment when the White House case for the war was coming under a closer scrutiny. Part of that scrutiny was a disputed CIA report which led to the leaking of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Scott McClellan had to deal with the widespread belief that the leak came from someone inside the White House, either Karl Rove or Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Scooter Libby. Here's what McClellan said to reporters then.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (Former Press Secretary): I spoke with them so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt with that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you. That's exactly what I did.

GONYEA: Of course the subsequent investigation revealed that Libby and Rove did talk to reporters about Valeria Plame. Libby was later found guilty of charges related to the investigation of the leak. Rove was never charged. But in his book, McClellan now says he was misled by both of them and by Vice President Cheney. But the broader assault in his memoir is on the Bush White House in general and the man McClellan worked for going back to the time the president was governor of Texas - McClellan's home state.

McClellan says the Bush White House was dishonest in the way it sold the war, relying not on truth but on, quote, "a political propaganda campaign." McClellan now says the war was unnecessary and a blunder sold to the country in a way that ruled out any other option. Karl Rove, who left the White House last August, had this reaction to the book on Fox News's "Hannity and Colmes" program.

Mr. KARL ROVE (Former White House Deputy Chief of Staff): First of all, this just doesn't like Scott. It really doesn't, not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time. Second of all, it sounds like somebody else. It sounds like a left wing blogger. Second of all, you're right. If he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about him. And frankly, I don't remember him speaking up about these things. I don't remember a single word.

GONYEA: In his book, McClellan also criticizes the press for not being tough enough during the run-up to the war. That comment and the overall tone of the book surprised Cox Newspaper's correspondent Ken Herman, who has known McClellan since Herman covered the Texas State House.

Mr. KEN HERMAN (Cox Newspaper): It's the fascinating thing about this. There's not much criticism in here that we have not heard from a never-ending and growing selection of books about this topic. What's fascinating is who we are hearing it from. And not only is it fascinating that we're hearing it from Scott; it's hard for me to imagine anyone else as intimate with the president and this presidency will write a book like this.

GONYEA: Today, the current White House press secretary, Dana Perino, released this statement. Quote: "Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him before, during, and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew." Perino said the president himself would not comment because he had, quote, "more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers."

When McClellan left the White House in 2006, President Bush lavished praise on his outgoing press secretary, looking forward to a time way down the road when they'd sit in rocking chairs on the porch and reminisce. It's a scene that now seems highly unlikely.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.