According to the White House, when the President authorized Scooter Libby to leak the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) to reporters “sometime before July 8, 2003 — it was declassified. But on July 18, 2003, Scott McClellan was asked when the NIE was declassified. McClellan said, “It was officially declassified today.”
Today, the White House press corps pounded McClellan about the glaring inconsistency. Watch it:
QUESTION: I understand the reason why you thought it needed to be declassified, because of the debate at the time. The question was: When was it declassified? And you were asked that day — the question was: When was it actually declassified. And you said: It was officially declassified today.
If it had been officially declassified on July 18th, 2003, then 10 days before, when the information was given out, it was still classified at the time.
MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re going back to an assertion that is made in a filing related to an ongoing legal proceeding when you talk about the second part of your question. There is no way for me to separate that question and talk about this issue without discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. And I can’t do that.
We have a policy that’s been established. And I’ve obligated to adhere to that policy.
MCCLELLAN: Yes, but you can’t separate that question from the legal proceeding…
QUESTION: Was it declassified…
MCCLELLAN: … because of the one of the assertions that was made in the filing.
Well, you can go back and look at comments that were made at that time. That was when it was publicly released at the time. I have not looked back at exactly what was said at that time…
QUESTION: So let’s be really clear about this. It says right here, on July 18th, When was it actually declassified?
Mr. McClellan, answer: ‘It was officially declassified today.’
Is that correct?
MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re asking me to get into the timing I’m not backing away from anything that was said previously. That is when the document was released so that’s when it officially…
QUESTION: They don’t say released. They say declassified.
MCCLELLAN: I know. Let me tell you, that’s when it was officially released. And so I think that’s what I was referring to at the time.
I’d have to go back and look at the specific comments, but I’m not changing anything that was said previously. So let me make that clear.
Now, secondly, the question you’re going to, again, relates to the timing of when certain information was declassified.
QUESTION: I’m not going to that question.
MCCLELLAN: Well, but there is no way to separate that question out from the ongoing legal proceeding. QUESTION: You are very careful with your words here. I think if you wanted to say released, you would have said released. You said declassified.
MCCLELLAN: OK. That is when the information was released publicly.
QUESTION: Did you not know…
MCCLELLAN: Now, for the national intelligence estimate, it did go through a declassification process; you are correct. And information was carefully looked at by the intelligence community before the portions of the national intelligence estimate were made available to the public.
QUESTION: It’s declassified on that day. It wasn’t declassified before.
QUESTION: And you’re saying you’re sticking to — you’re not taking back anything you said before and what you said that day is it was…
MCCLELLAN: I’d be glad to take a look at exactly what I said and I’ll do that. I can’t do that here in this room right now, but I’ll be glad to take a look at it.
QUESTION: Then why are you saying you’re not backing off…
MCCLELLAN: Well, what I’m saying is that — I think what I was referring to is the fact that that was when it was made available to the public. So all that information is officially declassified at that point.
QUESTION: Then why are you saying you won’t back off anything you said before if, in fact, we have transcripts here where you say that’s when it was officially declassified? Are you still saying that’s when it was officially declassified?
MCCLELLAN: That’s when it was made available to the public, so it’s officially declassified at that point. I think we’re talking past each other a little bit.
I’ll have to go back and look at the specific transcript, and I’ll be glad to do that. And we can talk about it further later.