After the White House complained about a “subheadline” in today’s New York Times — which read “White House Role Was Wider Than It Said” — Dana Perino announced that the paper would “retract that headline, and they are going to run a correction tomorrow.”
At today’s press briefing, the White House press corps bombarded Perino with at least 20 questions on the issue of whether the White House had previously acknowledged the involvement of other staffers in the destruction of the CIA tapes. Perino argued the Times story was “saying that I had misled the American public on this. And I have not. There is nothing I have said that has been contradictory.” Watch it:
Perino may not have been contradictory, but she has been evasive, repeatedly refusing to address the White House’s role. For example, when asked on Dec. 7 whether there was “any White House involvement in approving or commenting upon” the tapes destruction, Perino responded that she “couldn’t answer”:
Q: Was there any White House involvement in approving or commenting upon their destruction?
MS. PERINO: As I said, the President has no recollection knowing about the tapes or about their destruction, and so I can’t answer the follow-up.
In today’s briefing, CNN’s Ed Henry pointed out that the White House has privately been telling reporters that it was urging the CIA not to destroy the tapes:
In fact, right after the story first broke, people within the administration did say privately that, in fact, Harriet Miers had told the CIA not to destroy the tapes, and that that suggested that the White House, in fact, was saying, Don’t destroy. Now, this New York Times story is saying four people in the president’s or vice president’s inner circle actually talked to the CIA about it. So that does suggest a wider role.
Perino countered that she is “not accountable for all the anonymous sources that you turn up.” And yet, the media pursues anonymous sources because Perino continues to be evasive about the role of White House staffers in the destruction of the tapes.
UPDATE: Steve Benen writes that the White House response is missing the big picture: “After we learned about the torture tapes, the official White House line was that Bush’s lawyers urged the CIA not to destroy the videos. … And now the NYT has spoken to some officials who insist Bush’s lawyers actually did the opposite.”
UPDATE II: Dan Froomkin suggests, “The best indicator of how seriously this White House is involved in a political scandal may be how emphatically it refuses to comment.”