Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Revenge of a duped Bush flunky

On the eve of your big holiday meal, here's an appetizer:

Presumably there are more onerous jobs in America than being George W. Bush's press secretary, but at least your average gravedigger or toll-booth worker isn't viewed by millions of his fellow citizens as a falsehood-peddling flunky who sold his integrity in the service of misplaced loyalty.

Such is Scott McClellan's fate, which explains why the former Bush spokesman is now trying to settle a few scores - with Bush himself, and other major players in this perpetually dissembling administration.

We've known for awhile that McClellan was trotted out, back in 2003, to falsely assure Americans that nobody in the White House had leaked Valerie Plame's confidential CIA status to the media (in retaliation for her husband's criticisms of Bush's case for war). McClellan told the press that he had checked with Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, and that both men had pleaded innocent to any involvement in the leak.

Court testimony later revealed that both men had lied to McClellan. And now, in a memoir scheduled for publication next April, McClellan is seeking to cleanse himself. He's hardly the first ex-Bushie to assail the administration (Paul O'Neil, Matthew Dowd, and George Tenet come to mind), and, once again, we are left to wonder why these people didn't blow the whistle a lot sooner. Nevertheless, here we have an erstwhile loyalist seeking to remove the knife that had been embedded in his back. It's yet another ignominious moment for this waning regime.

The book excerpt released by McClellan's publisher reads thusly:

The most powerful leader in the world had called upon me to speak on his behalf and help restore credibility he lost amid the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. So I stood at the White house briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice President, the President’s chief of staff (Andrew Card), and the President himself.

Well. Apparently McClellan isn't still basking in the praise that was heaped upon him, by the president himself, when he left his job in April 2006. On the South Lawn, Bush told his departing flak: "Scott, job well done."

Valerie Plame is now the party more likely to be applauding Scott for a job well done, because his memoir might wind up aiding her lawsuit against the Bush team. She has issued this statement: "...McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps and the American public about two senior White House officials, Karl Rove and I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby who deliberately and recklessly revealed my identity as a covert CIA operations officer...Unfortunately, President Bush's commutation of Scooter Libby's felony sentence has short-circuited justice...Vice President Cheney in particular knew that Scooter Libby was involved because he had ordered and directed his actions. McClellan's revelations provide important support for our civil suit against those who violated our national security and maliciously destroyed my career."

The McClellan book excerpt prompts new questions. For starters, who among those people had snowed McClellan - and the public - while knowing all along that the cover story was a lie?

And what about Bush himself? McClellan told CNN last March that, to the best of his knowledge, Bush had also come to believe the false information, "based on the assurances that we were both given." In other words, he has long been saying that Bush didn't deliberately lie to him - and there's no indication that his memoir will say anything different. Some liberal bloggers therefore believe that this whole story is overblown and that McClellan is playing the journalists for suckers.

I disagree. Even if Bush was merely a clueless conveyor of the lie rather than an architect of the lie, what does that say about his executive skills? How thoroughly did he question Cheney and Rove and Libby before he bought into the lie? And doesn't it appear he was less than enraged about being duped, as evidenced by his failure to honor his own promise to fire any and all leakers? (By the way, poor McClellan was trotted out to make that promise. Here he is, on Sept. 29, 2003: "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.")

We don't yet know whether McClellan pursues these points in his memoir, because the italicized passage above is the sum total of what his publisher has released thus far. It's hardly ideal that info-merchants can dribble out these historical nuggets in the pursuit of sales and profit, but perhaps, on Thanksgiving eve, we can at least be thankful for this:

Sooner or later, through fair means or foul, the truth will out.