A former White House press secretary has accused President George W. Bush of misleading the public over a CIA leak which blew the cover of one of their spies and rocked the US administration.
Scott McClellan, who was Bush’s chief spokesman between 2003-2006, says in an excerpt from his upcoming book that he unknowingly gave wrong information about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame in 2003.
He told reporters in October 2003 that top White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis “Scooter” Libby were not involved in leaking her name to the media.
“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,” McClellan says in the book, according to a short excerpt on the website of his publisher, PublicAffairs.
“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,” he writes.
In “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and What’s Wrong with Washington” due to published on April 21, McClellan goes on to name Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as among the officials responsible for allowing him to disseminate false information.
“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, and the president himself,” he writes. Andrew Card was Bush’s chief of staff at the time.
A White House spokesman on Wednesday refuted McClellan’s allegations, when asked whether Bush had asked his former aide to lie to reporters.
“The president has not and would not, ever, give his spokespeople inaccurate information” to pass on to reporters, Tony Fratto said.
But he declined to comment further on whether Bush did not know what was going on then or on McClellan’s motivation in writing in accusing the administration.
After a probe into the affair, Libby was convicted earlier this year of lying to FBI investigators, perjury and obstructing justice. He was not charged with leaking Plame’s name.
Bush then commuted his sentence, ruling that Cheney’s former aide did not have to serve a two-and-a-half year jail term, although he still had to pay a hefty fine of 250,000 dollars and spend two years on probation.
Bush critics say Plame’s name was leaked to the media in July 2003 by White House officials to avenge criticism of the US administration’s rationale for the war in Iraq by her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Wilson, a former US ambassador to Gabon, was sent to Niger in February 2002 to investigate claims Saddam tried to buy uranium for nuclear bombs but concluded it was doubtful such transfers took place.
He wrote a July 2003 opinion piece in The New York Times criticizing Bush’s case for war against Iraq.
Plame has always contended that White House officials deliberately leaked her name to the media to ruin her career, and punish her husband for his actions.