Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

If it’s Monday, the it must be time for another slap-fight between Little Scottie and David Gregory.

Q Scott, this is the vision, but I’m asking you a question about reality on the ground. And part of that reality — you talk about the strategy for war. There’s a new book out by Bernard Trainor and by Mike Gordon of The New York Times, where they’ve looked at the actual combat phase of the war — the President says that’s been over for a long time now.

But, specifically, it makes the case — through interviews and other classified materials — that essentially commanders on the ground had a sense that the enemy was not what war planners thought it was, they could see the insurgency coming, and that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and even General Franks simply didn’t listen, that there were missed signals, missed opportunities to get at this insurgency at the very start.

What’s your response to that? Are they right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me correct you, first of all, because our troops remain engaged in fighting.


Let me correct you in some comments that you threw into your question there, because I think that’s wrong and it leaves the wrong impression for the American people.

Secondly, in terms of looking back and talking about what actions were taken during the lead-up to the war and after the war — and we’ve talked repeatedly about that. I think we’ve expressed our views very clearly. And people can judge for themselves by looking at the facts and seeing what the situation was.


Q So what’s your response to the charges in this book?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that we’ve made our views very clear on those very issues —

Q Well, then, spell them out again. There are some specific points here. The President has said that he was surprised that Iraqi troops melted back, sort of fell back and melted to create an insurgency. He says that he always listens to commanders on the ground — well, here are specific instances, a specific case being made that in fact this administration did not listen to commanders on the ground —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not true.

Q — and dropped the ball when it had an opportunity to kill this insurgency before it began. True or untrue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our commanders on the ground are the ones who put the plan in place. And it’s important that we not try to let the political leaders from Washington manage the war. It’s important to let our military commanders, who are in the best position, to manage the war on terrorism and to carry out the war on terrorism. They’re the ones who are in the best position to call the shots.

And we made it very clear in the aftermath of the liberation of Iraq that some things happened that weren’t necessarily expected. There were other things that we had planned for that did happen. But some things, like the enemy leaving the battlefield, fleeing the battlefield quicker than we anticipated, only to come back and fight more at a later time. So you have to, again, be able to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground. But it’s important to look to our commanders on the ground to make the determinations about what needs to be done.

Q Did or did not Rumsfeld make critical errors in judgment that led to the growth of this insurgency?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, I don’t know how many times we’ve been over all these issues. If you want to do a book review, that’s your business.

Q It’s a pretty important question, it seems to me, instead of a flip answer. I think it’s an important question.

MR. McCLELLAN: It’s not a flip answer. We’ve been over it many times and —

Q I’m not doing a book review; I’d like to get the President’s view on a pretty serious account.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you know, we’ve expressed that view very many times and if you want to continue to jump in here, that’s your business. But he’s expressed his views quite clearly, David, and you know that as well as anyone because you’ve heard it a number of times from leaders in this administration — you’ve heard it from Secretary Rumsfeld, you’ve heard it from General Franks and you’ve heard it from others.

Q Today is a new day, new information. I’d like to hear it again. That’s appropriate —

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak to what’s in the book.

Q Oh, okay, well, you didn’t say that.

Just who are we fighting in Iraq?

Q Can I also just do one on the enemy? And will the President still define the enemy in the same way — Saddamists, rejectionists, terrorists — or is he looking more at sectarian violence, or do those fall into that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that the enemy clearly are the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who want to derail the transition to democracy and freedom.


Q What’s the biggest threat?

MR. McCLELLAN: The terrorists who want to continue to carry out attacks on innocent civilians, carry out attacks on forces. Clearly, we’re seeing images of violence and destruction, and that’s going to have an effect on what people are seeing, how people feel.

The President talked about —

Q But what —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, hang on. The President talked about this in his radio address, and he talked about how he can understand why Americans are concerned about the situation in Iraq.


And we made it very clear heading into this period that the terrorists and Saddam loyalists were going to do everything they could to try to derail that transition, that the violence wasn’t going to stop.


Q Can you just define “terrorists”? Because commanders on the ground a long time said that is —

MR. McCLELLAN: Zarqawi and others —

Q Right. But you said that’s the biggest threat right now — it’s not sectarian violence, it’s — I mean, General Abizaid said the sectarian violence is a bigger threat than the insurgency —

MR. McCLELLAN: The sectarian violence is of concern. It is a concern right now. I’m not going to try to place myself in the position of being a commander on the ground — they’re the ones who are in the best position to tell you what the threats are.


So if I wasn’t clear, let me be clear. The terrorists — I’m not going to try to draw a distinction. The terrorists and Zarqawi and his lieutenants remain a threat — that’s why we’ve continued to go after them and sought to bring them to justice and we have brought many of his lieutenants to justice. The Saddam loyalists who want to return to the past of tyranny are a threat and that’s why we’re working to address those issues. The sectarian strife is a concern, it’s something that we have to take very seriously and we are taking very seriously. Everybody has to take it seriously.

Sticky Fingers

Q Scott, on Claude Allen, was there any indication from Claude Allen to anyone in this building that there was financial trouble at any time, maybe months prior to his departure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I’m aware of.

Q Well, according to a high-ranking Bush administration official, he allegedly was told by Claude Allen two months prior to Claude Allen’s departure that he needed to find other means of employment for financial purposes. So no one in this building had heard anything, but some other people outside of this building heard that.

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said, not that I’m aware of. I don’t know who you’re specifically referring to. It’s hard for me to address an anonymous source.

Q Can I follow up on that?

Q Had anyone seen anything different in Claude Allen, in the two months prior to his departure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me just lay out the facts for you, April. Maybe that’s the best way to start here.

[Scottie sez Allen told Andy Card and Harriet Miers he had been busted in January, but it was all a misunderstanding. They trusted him because he had been through a background check. Shortly afterward Allen said he wanted to quit so he could “spend more time with his family” — snip!]

Q Well, I’m trying to put the pieces together on a couple of things. One, why was he visibly absent from the Coretta Scott King funeral? Also that was on February 7th, I believe. February 6th he was missing from the African American —

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that had anything to do with anything you’re talking about. There was a very small number of staff that actually traveled on that day, and certainly when it came to the President, we had two Presidents traveling on that day on Air Force One —

Q — African Americans from this administration were missing. Secretary Rice was missing from the African American event, because she had just gotten back from —

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that had anything to do with this.

Q — and he was missing from the event.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think it has anything to do with this matter.

Q How much of a pay cut did he take when he left HHS to come to the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know. I imagine that’s public record.

Q Scott, if I can just follow this. Does the President feel duped by Claude Allen? You said before, they gave him the benefit of the doubt. Is that still the case?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if it’s true, you heard what the President said the other day, that he told something to Andy and Harriet that simply is not true.

Q And could you just clarify what it was that he told Andy and Harriet? You said there was an incident that took place. How did he describe that incident? What did he say took place?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we knew was that he had been apprehended by security personnel at the store, and that they had made a report to the police. And that’s what we knew. I think I said what he specifically referred to, that it was a confusion over some credit cards when he was returning some merchandise.

Have you counted the White House silverware?

Q Is there any cause for an investigation at the White House, whether or not there was any kind of theft that went on while he was here? Or is there anybody who —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not aware of anything.

Would you discuss Libby if he were a common thief?

Q Scott, you gave us a tick-tock on the Claude Allen situation, and the President even spoke about it on Saturday. Can you tell us why you’ve elected to talk about this situation, but have refused comment on the Moussaoui trial or Scooter Libby’s case, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: I was asked a question about this specific matter in terms of the facts and what related to it. And in terms of legal issues that are ongoing before the courts, I don’t think we typically get into those matters.

What about Gale Abranorton?

Q And one quick one on Gale Norton’s resignation. When she was offering her resignation, was there any discussion at all of Jack Abramoff? Or was it just about wanting to spend more time with her family?

MR. McCLELLAN: It was for the reasons that she stated in her letter.

Q There was no discussion of Abramoff?