There’s blood on the floor of the James S. Brady Briefing Room today.
Q Let me just follow up on an aspect of this and try it again here. On October 7, 2003, you were asked about a couple of the key players here, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, as well as another administration official who has not figured in the investigation, so far as we know. And you said the following, “There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made, and that’s exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals,” including Rove and Libby. “They’re good individuals, they’re important members of our White House team, and that’s why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.” You were wrong then, weren’t you?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, it’s not a question of whether or not I’d like to talk more about this. I think I’ve indicated to you all that I’d be glad to talk about this once this process is complete, and I look forward to that opportunity. But, again, we have been directed by the White House Counsel’s Office not to discuss this matter or respond to questions about it.
Q That was a public representation that was made to the American people.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. We can have this conversation, but let me respond.
Q No, no, no, because it’s such an artful dodge. Whether there’s a question of legality —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree with you.
Q Whether there’s a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s accurate.
Q So aside from the question of legality here, you were wrong, weren’t you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, if I were to get into commenting from this podium while this legal proceeding continues, I might be prejudicing the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial. And I’m just not going to do that. I know very —
Q You speak for the President. Your credibility and his credibility is not on criminal trial. But it may very well be on trial with the American public, don’t you agree?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m very confident in the relationship that we have in this room, and the trust that has been established between us. This relationship —
Q See those cameras? It’s not about us. It’s about what the American people —
MR. McCLELLAN: This relationship is built on trust, and you know very well that I have worked hard to earn the trust of the people in this room, and I think I’ve earned it —
Q Is the President — let me just follow up on one more thing.
MR. McCLELLAN: — and I think I’ve earned it with the American people.
Q Does the President think that Karl Rove did anything wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it would be good for you to allow me the opportunity to respond to your questions without jumping in. I’m glad to do that. I look forward to the opportunity —
Q I haven’t heard a response.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I have been responding to you, David, and there’s no need — you’re a good reporter, there’s no need to be rude or disrespectful. We can have a conversation and respond to these questions, if you’ll just give me the opportunity to respond. I’m glad to do that.
Q In the year 2000, the President said the following: “In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal, but what is right; not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves.” Doesn’t the American public deserve some answers from this President about the role of his Vice President in this story and what he knew and when he knew it, and how he feels about the conduct of his administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people deserve a White House that is committed to doing their work. We are focused on the priorities of the American people. As the President indicated Friday, we’ve got a job to do, and we’re going to do it.
Q Scott, let me follow up on what David was asking. You say we know you — and we do — but we can’t vouch for you; that’s not our job. And I wonder, do you really think after —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second. Let me just interject there. I think there are many people in this room I see expressing their own commentary on TV all the time — not just reporting. You do a job to report the news, as well, but many people in this room also go on the air and express their views and their commentary. And I’ve worked with many of you for quite some time now.
Q I didn’t follow that. I can’t go on TV and say, “America believes Scott McClellan.” That’s not my role.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you go on TV, though, and engage in commentary about views and things that are expressed here at the White House.
Q Right. But what I can’t do is carry your water for you. And I wonder —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not asking you to.
Q Well, there — yes you are.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m just asking you to speak to who I am. And you know who I am.
Q There’s been a wound to your credibility here. A falsehood, wittingly or unwittingly, was told from this podium. And do you really believe that the American people should wait until the conclusion of all of this process and just take on trust everything that comes from that podium now, without the explanation and the answer that you say you want to get —
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of facts that still are not known in this investigation and in this legal proceeding that is ongoing. We also have to work under the presumption of innocence in our legal system. And, again, the reason I can’t comment further is because if we were to get into that, we could be prejudicing the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial hearing.
But let me step back for a second, too, because part of my job is to be an advocate for the President, and I’m going to vigorously defend his decisions and his policies, and help him to advance his agenda. But I’ve another important responsibility, as well — it’s something that we all, I think and hope, share in this room — that is to make sure that the American people get an accurate account of what’s going on here in Washington, D.C. And I work hard to meet both those responsibilities.
Q But don’t you think, Scott, that that second part of your job has been damaged, your credibility has been damaged by this?
MR. McCLELLAN: For me to even respond to that question would force me to talk about an ongoing investigation and legal proceeding, and we’ve been directed not to do that.
Q On October 7, 2003, the President said about the CIA leak investigation, “I want to know the truth. That’s why I’ve instructed the staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators.” Last Friday the special prosecutor said that he has been unable to find out the truth because of Lewis Libby’s obstruction of the investigation. Does the President wish that Mr. Libby tell the truth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that is making a presumption. Under our legal system —
Q But does the President wish that Libby tell the truth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Under — the President directed everybody in the White House to cooperate fully with the special counsel. That’s what he expects. The White House has been cooperating fully with the special counsel, and we will continue to do so. In terms of the individual you bring up, there is a presumption of innocence. And we’re going to work under that presumption. We want there to be a fair and impartial hearing; I’m sure others do, as well. Maybe some don’t, but that’s the way that our legal system is set up. And so we need to let that legal process continue.
And Libby’s replacements? Indictment bait.
Q Scott, can you address the message that was sent today by the Vice President, who in the midst of this indictment, appoints to replace Scooter Libby somebody who, himself, was mentioned in the indictment, and is very much in the mold of Scooter Libby, and who has been a —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what your suggestion is, if you’re presuming something or not.
Q Well, there was an announcement —
MR. McCLELLAN: These are two individuals that have served the Vice President very well since 2001. And the Vice President selected them because he values their judgment and their insight, and looks to their experience as people that could fill these two positions.
Q But what does that say to the people who — in both parties, who have said that this indictment and other issues that have arisen show the need for a change, and maybe some fresh faces here in the White House, and here is somebody who —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Vice President is the one who tapped these two individuals to serve in his positions. I don’t know if you’re asking a broader question about staff change. The President — it’s always the President’s prerogative to have a team in place that will help him meet his needs and his goals and carry out his agenda.
Q Are you saying that Mr. Addington was not in the indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Was Mr. Addington not one of the players mentioned in the indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: You’d have to ask the special counsel those questions.
What about Justice Sloppy Seconds?
Q Scott, on the subject of rude, my apologies for my unfortunate choice of words this morning to you, but I think the question bears asking again, and that is that the President said repeatedly when he nominated Harriet Miers that she is the best person for the job. Does that in any way indicate that while Sam Alito may be well-qualified for the Supreme Court, he is not, as was described of Harriet Miers, the best person?
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s extremely well-qualified. When the President selected Harriet Miers, he was taking into consideration what members of the Senate had said, that he should look outside the court. But we recognize now that in the culture of today’s confirmation process, it is very difficult to nominate someone who comes from outside the court and has little public record on constitutional issues to be confirmed. That’s something we recognize.
Q The other thing is, when announcing Harriet Miers and in supporting her nomination, the President repeatedly made a virtue of her lack of judicial experience, made a virtue of the idea that she was someone outside the judicial monastery. Now, when we hear you talk about Sam Alito, all we hear about is the virtue of experience. So which is —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Harriet Miers — we felt Harriet Miers was very well-qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court. But I think I just answered your question in the previous response I gave you.
Q — why did the President think John Roberts and Harriet Miers were better choices than Judge Alito to replace Justice O’Connor?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think you can look at it that way. Judge Alito is someone that the President interviewed when Justice O’Connor announced that she was going to be retiring. He is someone they interviewed, he met with at length. The President has always been very impressed by Judge Alito because of what he said in his remarks about him today. And the President was pleased to nominate him to the bench.
Q He determined twice that there were people better than him.