Former Press Secretary Takes on the President

By: From Politico.com
By: From Politico.com

Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan writes in a surprisingly scathing memoir to be published next week that President Bush “veered terribly off course,” was not “open and forthright on Iraq,” and took a “permanent campaign approach” to governing at the expense of candor and competence.

Among the most explosive revelations in the 341-page book, titled “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception."

• McClellan charges that Bush relied on “propaganda” to sell the war.

• He says the White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war.

• He admits that some of his own assertions from the briefing room podium turned out to be “badly misguided.”

• The longtime Bush loyalist also suggests that two top aides held a secret West Wing meeting to get their story straight about the CIA leak case at a time when federal prosecutors were after them — and McClellan was continuing to defend them despite mounting evidence they had not given him all the facts.

• McClellan asserts that the aides — Karl Rove, the president’s senior adviser, and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff — “had at best misled” him about their role in the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity.

President Bush is said to be "puzzled" by McClellan's revelations in the book, and some in the White House say he apparently left the White House job "disgruntled."

A few reporters were offered advance copies of the book, with the restriction that their stories not appear until Sunday, the day before the official publication date. Politico declined and purchased “What Happened” at a Washington bookstore. The eagerly awaited book, while recounting many fond memories of Bush and describing him as “authentic” and “sincere,” is harsher than reporters and White House officials had expected.

McClellan was one of the president’s earliest and most loyal political aides, and most of his friends had expected him to take a few swipes at his former colleague in order to sell books but also to paint a largely affectionate portrait. Instead, McClellan’s tone is often harsh. He writes, for example, that after Hurricane Katrina, the White House “spent most of the first week in a state of denial,” and he blames Rove for suggesting the photo of the president comfortably observing the disaster during an Air Force One flyover. McClellan says he and counselor to the president Dan Bartlett had opposed the idea and thought it had been scrapped.

“One of the worst disasters in our nation’s history became one of the biggest disasters in Bush’s presidency. Katrina and the botched federal response to it would largely come to define Bush’s second term,” he writes. “And the perception of this catastrophe was made worse by previous decisions President Bush had made, including, first and foremost, the failure to be open and forthright on Iraq and rushing to war with inadequate planning and preparation for its aftermath.”

McClellan, who turned 40 in February, was press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006. An Austin native from a political family, he began working as a gubernatorial spokesman for then-Gov. Bush in early 1999, was traveling press secretary for the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign and was chief deputy to Press Secretary Ari Fleischer at the beginning of Bush’s first term.

“I still like and admire President Bush,” McClellan writes. “But he and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war. … In this regard, he was terribly ill-served by his top advisers, especially those involved directly in national security.”


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