WASHINGTON - Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recounts the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame Wilson.
"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released yesterday. "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."
The excerpt, posted on the website of publisher PublicAffairs Books, renews questions about what went on and how much Bush and Cheney knew about the leak. For years, it was McClellan's job to field - and often duck - those types of questions.
Now that he's spurring them, answers are equally hard to find.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said it wasn't clear what McClellan meant in the excerpt. "The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information," she said.
McClellan turned down interview requests yesterday.
Plame Wilson said the White House quietly outed her to reporters. Plame Wilson and her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador, said the leak was retribution for his public criticism of the Iraq war. The accusation dogged the administration and made Plame Wilson a cause célèbre among many Democrats.
The excerpt from McClellan's book, "What Happened," which isn't due until April, doesn't detail how Bush and Cheney were involved or reveal what happened behind the scenes.
In the fall of 2003, after authorities began investigating the leak, McClellan told reporters he'd personally spoken to Rove, who was Bush's top political adviser, and Libby, who was Cheney's chief of staff.
"They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved," McClellan said at the time.
Both men, however, were involved. Rove was one of the sources for the newspaper column that identified Plame Wilson. Libby also spoke to reporters about the CIA officer and was convicted of lying about those discussions.
In a CNN interview earlier this year, McClellan made no suggestion that Bush knew that either Libby or Rove was involved in the leak. McClellan said his statements were what he and the president "believed to be true at the time based on assurances that we were both given."