"From Today’s Press Briefing"
QUESTION: Scott, the president seemed to raise the bar and add a qualifier today when discussing whether or not anybody would be dismissed for in the leak of a CIA’s officer’s name, in which he said that if someone is found to have committed a crime they would not longer work in this administration.
QUESTION: That’s never been part of the standard before; why is that added now?
MCCLELLAN: No, I disagree. I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commit a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration.
Now, the president talked about how it’s important for us to learn all the facts. We don’t know all the facts. It’s important for us to learn all the facts. We don’t know all the facts. And it’s important that we not prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
We need to let the investigation continue. And investigators are the ones who are in the best position to gather all the facts and draw the conclusions. And that point, we will be more than happy to talk about it, as I’ve indicated last week.
The president directed the White House to cooperate fully, and that’s what we’ve been doing. We want to know what the facts are. We want to see this come to a successful conclusion. And that’s the way we’ve been working for quite some time now; ever since the beginning of this investigation we have been following the president’s direction to cooperate fully with it so that the investigators can get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: But you had said, though, that anyone involved in this would no longer be in this administration. You didn’t say anybody who committed a crime. You said in September 2003 anyone involved in this would no longer be in the administration.
MCCLELLAN: Yes, we’ve been through these issues over the course of the last week and I know well what was said previously. You heard from the president today. And I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.
And I think that’s something you may be trying to do here.
QUESTION: Does the president equate the word leaking to a crime, as best you know in his mind? Just the use of the word leaking, does he see that as a criminal standard?
And is the only threshold for firing someone involved being charged with a crime?
MCCLELLAN: Well, we all serve at the pleasure of the president in this White House. The president — you heard what he had to say on the matter. He was asked a specific question and you heard his response.
QUESTION: Is leaking, in your judgment of his interpretation, a crime…
MCCLELLAN: I’ll leave it at what the president said.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) problem. Two years and he can’t call Rove in and find out what the hell’s going on?
Why is it so difficult to find out the facts that cost thousands, millions of dollars, two years and it tied up how many lawyers? All he’s got to do is call him in.
MCCLELLAN: You just heard from the president. He said he doesn’t all the facts. I don’t know all the facts.
MCCLELLAN: We want to know what the facts are because…
QUESTION: Why doesn’t he ask him?
MCCLELLAN: I’ll tell you why. Because there’s an investigation that is continuing at this point. And the appropriate people to handle these issues are the ones who are overseeing that investigation. There’s a special prosecutor that has been appointed. And it’s important that we let all the facts come out. And then at that point, we’ll be glad to talk about it. But we shouldn’t be getting into…
QUESTION: But you talked about it to reporters.
MCCLELLAN: We shouldn’t be getting into prejudging the outcome.
QUESTION: So we don’t know all the facts but we know some of the facts: for example, Matt Cooper says he did speak to Karl Rove and Lewis Libby about these issues.
So given the fact that you had previously stood at that podium and said these men did not discuss Valerie Plame or a CIA agent’s identity in any way, does the White House have a credibility problem?
MCCLELLAN: No. You just answered your own question when you said, We don’t know all the facts. And I would encourage everyone not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
QUESTION: But on the specifics, you made statements that have proven to be untrue.
MCCLELLAN: Let me answer your question because you asked a very specific question. The president has great faith in the American people and their judgment. The president is the one who directed the White House to cooperate fully in this investigation with those who are overseeing the investigation. And that’s exactly what we have been doing.
The president believes it’s important to let the investigators do their work. And at that point, once they have come to a conclusion, then we will be more than happy to talk about it.
The president wants to see them get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. I share that view as well. We want to know what the facts and the investigators are the ones who are pulling those facts and then drawing conclusions.
QUESTION: Given the new formulation, if somebody committed a crime, would that be a crime as determined by an indictment or a crime as determined by a conviction?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’m not going to add to what the president said. You heard his remarks. And I think I’ve been through this issues over the course of the last week. I don’t know that there’s really much more to add at this point.
QUESTION: But the importance is, the question of would — if it is the latter — the strategy be to run out the clock?
MCCLELLAN: I indicated to you earlier that everyone here serves at the pleasure of the president. And the White House has been working to cooperate fully with the investigators. That was the direction that the president set; that’s what we’ve been doing. We hope that they come to a conclusion soon.
QUESTION: Going back to the president’s statements from earlier, If someone committed a crime they will not longer work in my administration, it makes me go back to the question I asked you last Wednesday: Is there regret from this administration of what it has done to the Wilson family with the CIA leak?
And I talked to Mr. Wilson prior to going into the East Room and he, basically, said the American people deserve an apology. And that his family was, basically, collateral damage in a bigger picture.
MCCLELLAN: All these questions are getting into prejudging the outcome of the investigation, and we’re not going to do that.
QUESTION: But the president acknowledged that there was a problem and it could be a criminal problem. If he acknowledged that, isn’t there some sort of regret?
MCCLELLAN: It’s a criminal investigation. We don’t know all the facts to it.
QUESTION: Is there any regret from this White House that it has caused an American family who worked for this government the…
MCCLELLAN: I heard what you had to say and I’ve already answered it.
QUESTION: The president talked about if a crime were committed, but a year ago in Sea Island he also talked about — he denounced leaks out of this executive branch, other parts of Washington. He said leaks are wrong.
If it’s only a leak, will he take some appropriate action?
MCCLELLAN: I think you should look back at what the president said. Again, I would not read anything into it more than what he said.
The president has said for a long time that this is a very serious matter, and that’s why he directed the White House to cooperate fully so that investigators can get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: Scott, I just want to, sort of, go back over this. Insofar as you’re telling us that we should read anything new into the president’s comments today, should we then take that to mean that if there is criminal activity that person would be fired, but this does not render inoperative those things that the president has said yes or responded in the affirmative to in the past when asked, for instance, if he would fire somebody if they were involved in a leak?
MCCLELLAN: I wouldn’t read anything into it you said new. I wouldn’t read anything into it beyond what he said.
QUESTION: So the previous statements remain operative?
MCCLELLAN: Well, look, once the investigation is concluded, then we can talk about it at that point. But those are decisions for the president to make.
QUESTION: Scott, Jack Kelly of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act defines a covert agent as someone working undercover overseas. He notes Valerie Plame has manned a desk at the CIA headquarters since 1997. While Mark Steyn of the Chicago Sun-Times notes that Valerie’s husband conceded on CNN that she is not a clandestine officer and hasn’t been one for six years, so leaking her CIA connection did not endanger her life or compromise her mission.
And my question, and I have a follow-up: Would you or the president or Karl Rove disagree with these two nationally syndicated columnists?
MCCLELLAN: I think those are matters for the investigators to look at it, and I think I’ve said about all there is to say about it at this point.
QUESTION: Scott, with apologies for returning to this definitional issue that we seem to be dancing around, but what I’m having a hard time with is you’re telling us that there was nothing new in what the president said today, yet you have said before that the president would terminate somebody or somebody would not work here if they were involved with the issue.
The president seemed to set a higher bar today by saying that there was — if they were convicted of criminal action. Those are not the same thing on their face. And I’m trying to see whether or not you can tell us the standard has changed.
MCCLELLAN: I would say that I would not read anything into it more than what the president said, and that’s what I would encourage you to do. I think that you should not read anything into it more than that at this point.
And in terms of what was said previously, you can go back and look at everything in the context of what things were said at that point.
In terms of as we move forward, it’s best at this point that we just let the investigation continue and let them gather all the facts and come to their conclusions; then we can talk about it.
QUESTION: But the White House standard is the one the president enunciated today?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think I’ve addressed that question and said how you should view it.
QUESTION: Back in October, 2003, you did assure us that you’d spoken with Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Eliot Abrams. And they’d all assured you that they weren’t involved in any of this.
So with regard to Libby and Abrams, do you still stand by that?
MCCLELLAN: Last week, I think I assured you that I want to do everything I can to help the investigators get to the bottom of this.
I will be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete. I’ve been stating that position for a long time now and that’s where it stands.
QUESTION: So with regard to that, how concerned is the president and you that notwithstanding that you don’t want to talk about it, that Ken Mehlman and other senior Republicans are all over the airwaves doing just that?
MCCLELLAN: Well, you can direct those questions to the Republican National Committee.
QUESTION: Without asking about the content of the conversation, has the president asked Karl Rove to detail any involvement he might have had in any way?
MCCLELLAN: The president directed the White House to cooperate fully. This is a serious matter, as the president indicated. He doesn’t know all the facts. And we all want to know what the facts are.
He’ll be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete. And we hope that the investigators get to the bottom of it soon. And I think that’s the response to the question.
QUESTION: Has the prosecutor made any request to this White House that prevents the president from speaking to his top aides about any topic?
MCCLELLAN: You can ask the prosecutors those questions if they want to comment more on it.
QUESTION: Has anyone here in the White House been assigned with coordinating with the Republican National Committee and other Republican members of Congress speaking out about this issue on Karl Rove?
MCCLELLAN: I think I’ve addressed these issues. Some of this came up last week and again today.
QUESTION: Just wondered, Scott, on a personal, human note, how are you holding out? Are you enjoying this?
Seriously. And are you consulting with any of your predecessors who have also gone through crises, Mike Curry?
MCCLELLAN: There are so few things I enjoy more.
This is nothing personal. Everybody’s doing their job here, and I respect the job that you all are doing in this room. And I look forward to having a continuing constructive relationship with everybody in this room.