Finally! Fifteen days after the Downing Street memo broke in a London Sunday Times story, eleven days after Representative John Conyers and 87 other congressmen wrote a letter to the White House asking for an explanation, and ten days after Knight Ridder wrote the first story on the British memo, some courageous reporter finally took the dive and asked the White House whether it disputed the veracity of the leaked memo.
After succesfully ducking the question for eight straight gaggles/briefings, the White House press secretary was forced to give an off-camera response yesterday. And what an amazing response it was. CNN.com reports:
Claims in a recently uncovered British memo that intelligence was “being fixed” to support the Iraq war as early as mid-2002 are “flat out wrong,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Monday.
“Flat-out wrong.” Good — that clears it up, right? Not exactly.
However, McClellan also said he had not seen the “specific memo,” only reports of what it contained.
So we’re back to playing this game again. It’s a familiar pattern we see from the White House when it comes up against information it doesn’t want to talk about: Deny through ignorance.
After former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill reported in his book that Bush planned an Iraq invasion long before 9/11, this is what McClellan said in response:
QUESTION: Scott, on the O’Neill book, did the former Treasury Secretary make false claims or accusations? And if so, what were they?
MCCLELLAN: David, you’ve heard me say repeatedly that we’re not in the business of doing book reviews.
[White House Press Gaggle, 1/12/04]
After Bob Woodward reported in his first of two books on the Bush administration that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s advice to Bush to pursue a diplomatic resolution to Iraq was ignored, McClellan said once again he hadn’t read the book:
MCCLELLAN: Yes, I think it’s what I expressed earlier. I haven’t read the book. The president has not read the book. From reading the excerpts, it appears to offer some interesting perspectives on recent history. And as time goes by and as we continue to reflect on history, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of other perspectives and insights offered, as well.
QUESTION: Well, is it true or not? I mean this is a very simple question.
MCCLELLAN: Well, I’m not up here to do book reviews. I’ll leave that to others that do that as a profession.
[White House Press Briefing, 11/18/02]
After when Bob Woodward’s second book reported that resources were diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq shortly after 9/11, the answer from the White House was predictable:
QUESTION: Scott, also in Woodward’s book about November 2001, he says in reports in his book that the president, talking about these contingency plans, told Rumsfeld not to bring — not to tell Tenet that they were doing this, or other members of the foreign policy team. Why keep Tenet out of the loop then in November…
MCCLELLAN: One, I have not seen the book at this point, so I can’t get into commenting on things that you’re bringing up at this point.
[White House Press Briefing, 4/16/04]
A charge so serious as that contained in the British memo alleging that the Bush administration fixed intelligence around its policy deserves a more proper response from the White House. McClellan should read the two-page memo and explain what he specifically disagrees with. I’d be happy to read it to him if he’d prefer.