Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Oh shit. Christy was right, what a gaggle. Let’s get started, and I’m not going through today’s gaggle in the order in which the questions were asked because I want to lead off with Helen Thomas.

What did the president know and when did he know it?

Q Did the President know that Joe Wilson was married to a CIA agent before Novak revealed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this goes to — go back and look at previous comments, but this goes to an ongoing legal proceeding, and I would encourage you —

Q Did he know? It’s a simple question.

MR. McCLELLAN: — I would encourage you to go and look at the filing that was made just the other night, because Mr. Fitzgerald touches on that subject in the filing.

Q You mean the President did not know?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I can’t get into discussing an ongoing legal proceeding, and that’s a question relating to the ongoing legal proceeding.

Q I think it’s a very simple, important question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Matt, did you have something?

Obsession continues, click Read More…

From Holden:

OK, here we go.

When was the NIE “declassified”?

Q Back when the NIE was released on July 18, 2003, you were asked that day when that had been actually declassified. And you said in that gaggle that it had been declassified that day. And if that’s the case, then when the information was passed on to the reporter 10 days earlier, then it was still classified at that time.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you’re referring — a couple of things. First of all, it was publicly released that day, so that’s when a portion of the National Intelligence Estimate that we were making available to the public was released. The second part of your question is referring to an ongoing legal proceeding, and referring to a filing in that legal proceeding. We have had a policy in place, going back to the October time period of 2003, that we are not going to comment on an ongoing investigation or an ongoing legal proceeding. That policy remains unchanged.


There was a lot of debate going on about the pre-war intelligence that was used in the lead up to the decision to go into Iraq and remove a brutal tyrant from his position of power. There were irresponsible and unfounded accusations being made against the administration, suggesting that we had manipulated or misused that intelligence. That was flat-out false. The National Intelligence Estimate was a document that was provided to members of Congress. It is the collective judgment of the intelligence community. And because of the public debate that was going on and some of the wild accusations that were flying around at the time, we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified, be declassified. And that’s exactly what we did.

Q 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, when — the question was, “When was it actually declassified?” And you said, “It was officially declassified today.”

If it had been officially declassified on July 18, 2003, then 10 days before, when the information was given out, it was still classified at the time.

MR. 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’m obligated to adhere to that policy.

Q But answer the question, it’s a factual question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but you can’t separate that question from the legal proceeding —

Q Was it declassified that day —

MR. McCLELLAN: — because of 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 —

Q Those were your comments.

MR. McCLELLAN: — that was when it was publicly released at the time. I haven’t looked back at exactly what was said at that time.

Q Well, 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?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you’re asking me to get into the timing. I’m not backing away from anything that was said previously — that’s when the document was released, so that’s when it officially —

Q They don’t say “released.” They say “declassify.”

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, Jim. Let me tell you. That’s when it was officially released. 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.

Q But if you were —

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, secondly, the question you’re going to, again, relates to the timing of when certain information was declassified —

Q I’m not going to that question —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but there’s no way you can separate that question out from the ongoing legal proceeding —

Q Scott, you are very careful with your words here. I think if you wanted to say “released,” you would have said “released.” You said, “declassified.”


Q Well, what does that tell —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s when the information was released publicly.

Q Scott, did you not know —

MR. McCLELLAN: But there was —

Q That’s not what —

MR. McCLELLAN: Now, for the National Intelligence Estimate, Jim, it did go through a declassification process; you are correct. And the information was carefully looked at by the intelligence community before the portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were made available to the public —

Q But, Scott, you said, “declassified.” If it’s declassified on that day, it wasn’t declassified before. 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 officially declassified.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’d be glad to take a look at exactly what I said, and I’ll do that.

Q You didn’t say — I mean, we’ve got that here —

MR. McCLELLAN: I can’t do that here in this room right now, but I’ll be glad to take a look at it —

Q Then why are you saying you’re not backing up from anything if you —

MR. 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.

Q 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?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s when it was made available to the public. So it’s officially —

Q When was it officially declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: — 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.

Q Okay. When was it officially declassified?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the timing of when information may have been declassified, that gets into a question relating to the legal proceeding in a filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald earlier this week.

Q What were you referring to on July 18th, then? Was that the official release, or official declassification?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that’s what I’ll have to check. I’ll have to go back and look. But my sense is, and my recollection is — while we’re sitting here talking about it is — I was referring to the fact that was when it was officially declassified for the public.

Q Scott —

Q Can I just — one more here. In terms of releasing information and leaks, you know the President has been highly critical of people who leak —

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.


Q Scott, I’ve got a couple of things here. First, did you have any personal knowledge on July 18th — when you answered the question that started off this round of questions — did you have any personal knowledge of discussions between the President and the Vice President about declassifying portions of the NIE?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s a question that gets into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding, and I just can’t do that because the policy of this White House is that we are not going to comment on it while it’s ongoing. So I’m adhering to that policy, and I would hope that you could appreciate that.

Q You’ve at times at this podium told us that you had had assurances from people and that’s caused you a lot of trouble, from this podium. Are you saying that that statement was true at the time that you knew it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of — which statement are you referring to?

Q That on July 18th it was officially declassified.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that question was asked at the beginning and I think what I was referring to is this is when it’s now being made available to the public, so it’s officially declassified at that point.

Q That’s not what you said, though, we know that —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll have to take a look at it. No, I think that’s what I was referring to.

Q There is a distinction, though —

MR. McCLELLAN: Deb, hold on. I’ll be glad to take a look at it, and we can talk about it. I’m around all day.

Q We’re trying to give you an opportunity here, and —

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t gone back and looked at every single word that was said at the time. But, again, based on what Deb just said, my recollection is that I was referring to the fact that, yes, it’s officially declassified today.

Q All right, let’s talk about the

What about the President’s lies?

Q — not just classified material. He has said in the fall of 2003, “I’ve constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks.” Now, whether the argument from the administration is he declassified this, so it wasn’t classified information — I know you’re not going the get to the legal issues here — but he has criticized people who leak, not just classified information. And there were clearly leaks coming out of this White House —

MR. McCLELLAN: What was the context of my comments — about leaking of classified information, I believe.

Q He was asked about leaking classified information, but the President said, “I’ve constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks.” Not just classified information. He says “particularly leaks.”

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think that’s why it’s important to draw a distinction here. Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest, is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious. And there is a distinction.

Now, there are Democrats out there that fail to recognize that distinction, or refuse to recognize that distinction. They are simply engaging in crass politics. Let’s make clear what the distinction is.

Q He said, “displeasure with leaks,” not just classified leaks, though, Scott.

Q Scott, can I follow on that for a second. Because in December of 2003, to follow on this, he says, “If there’s a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is.” Now, is there a question — we’re not talking about legality here — while he’s saying that, according to the court filing — which I know you can’t get into the specifics of — but as he’s saying it, he certainly is aware who would have allowed the information to be disseminated. So, at best, isn’t the statement “If there’s a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is” — at best, isn’t that just inconsistent, if not misleading?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. That’s referring to the leaking of classified information.

Q Only the leaking of classified information. He doesn’t —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in the context of what that question was responding to —

Q So what about if it’s a political? And if it’s in political — if there’s a political purpose to it, then it’s fine?


Q My only question is looking ahead, when he then says, “I want to know who the leaker” was — doesn’t he know, since he authorized the disclosure of the information?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, go back and look at the filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald, because Mr. Fitzgerald talks about that very issue in his filing and contradicts what you’re suggesting.

Q I’m not suggesting — this has nothing to do with Valerie Plame, nothing to do with it.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that’s what the question was about.


Q Can I just go back to this original statement that the President said about, “I constantly express my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information” — leaving the impression he doesn’t like any leaks. Can you give us an idea how the President feels about leaking information, since if this information —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we have to draw distinctions here, and what specifically you’re referring to. I mean, if people are going out there talking about a potential policy decision-making process that is still in development and that the President hasn’t come to a decision on, then that’s not helpful information, and of course we’d look down on something like that.

Q But otherwise, if it’s helpful to you and it’s declassified, leaks are okay?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, if it’s in the public interest.

Q Leaks are okay?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is that the issue here is the National Intelligence Estimate —

Q No, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about leaks.

MR. McCLELLAN: — and the declassifying of the National Intelligence Estimate.

Q I’m talking about a statement the President made in the fall of 2003.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to try to draw a broad conclusion, or make a broad statement. If you’ve got specific instances you want to refer to —

Q No, you seem to be saying it’s bad to leak classified information that will hurt the country —

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give you a specific instance —

Q — but it’s not bad to leak declassified.

MR. McCLELLAN: A specific instance is the leaking of classified information that could harm sources and methods, or put them at risk, or harm our nation’s security. One is the terrorist surveillance program.

Q Understood, but that’s not the issue here.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is part of the issue, because that’s —

Q It’s part of the issue, but not the part of the issue I’m trying to get to.

MR. McCLELLAN: — that’s exactly what the President is referring to when he’s talking about leaking of classified information. That’s exactly the kind of information he’s talking about.

Q I know he is, but what I’m saying is the President expressed displeasure about leaks, not just classified leaks, but displeasure —

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, he’s talked about that in the past.

Q So he has displeasure about leaks, even of declassified material?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you have to look at what specific instance are you talking about.

Q Well, you won’t talk about the specific instance we want to talk about —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just gave you an example.

Q — so, in general —

MR. McCLELLAN: I just gave you an example.

Q — if you leak something, he has no problems as long as it’s not classified?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not what I said, Martha. What I said is what I said, and you ought to listen to what I said, not try to put words in my mouth.

Q No, I’m not.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think you can go back — if you’ve got a specific instance of a leak, bring it up.

Q Did he have a specific instance when he said his displeasure about leaks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was being asked about classified information being disclosed.

Q “I constantly express my displeasure with leaks, particularly classified leaks.”

MR. McCLELLAN: That was in the context of people leaking classified information. But, sure, this is a town — I mean, this is a town where that happens a lot. And a lot of those are not helpful things to have happen. But you’re asking me to make a broad statement, and I’m not going to do that.

It all depends on what the definition of “leak” is.

Q You seem to be trying to come up with a definition of the word “leak”, which is that if it’s not classified, and it’s not endangering national security by revealing it, then therefore it’s not a leak. Is that a —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it’s in the public interest, and leaking classified information that involves sensitive national intelligence regarding our security.

Attack of the Lumpers!

Q Is there a bit of an appearance problem for this White House when the President speaks so strongly against leaking? When the Counsel’s Office orders ethics classes? And then today you’re talking about effectively good leaks and bad leaks, that —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you’re trying to lump a lot of things in there, and I don’t think I would do that, in terms of ethics classes. I mean, those are ongoing throughout the time period we’re here in this administration. So let’s not lump things together.

Q But there were some that were ordered specifically —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s not lump those things together.

Q There were some that were ordered specifically —

MR. McCLELLAN: You’re lumping things.

Q I’m lumping only because the timing of the last public lumping was —

Q Lumper. (Laughter.)


Q Scott, one related.

MR. McCLELLAN: One related. You all on the front row have had multiple questions.

Q I’ve got one related.

Q I’ve got one —

MR. McCLELLAN: See, you’re encouraging others to do this.

Q There’s lumpers up there. (Laughter.)

Wew! And now, Your Daily Les.

Q I have a two-part. Chairman Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a May 18th hearing to examine whether the Department of Homeland Security guidelines on screening employees and issuing security clearances are adequate. And my first part, does the President support this examination, which was brought on by former Time Magazine editor and U.S. Department of Homeland Security press officer Brian Doyle’s arrest on seven counts of using a computer to try to seduce a child?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me first address the issue you brought up, the arrest. There are very serious allegations that have been made against this individual. The allegations, in our view, are repulsive and disgusting. And if they are true, we cannot express enough outrage at what occurred. That is a matter that is now being handled through the legal process.

Q Scott, you’re commenting on an ongoing legal proceeding. (Laughter.)

Q Scott, a follow up —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m not. I’m not getting into specifics about it. It’s despicable act that is alleged.

Q Yes. This morning’s Washington Post reports that three people reported —

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, wait, Les, you didn’t let me finish the question, someone jumped in here.

Q Oh, sure, I’m sorry.


Q This morning’s Washington Post reports that three people reported that between 1999 and 2001, that Doyle was caught viewing pornography on Time Magazine’s computers, for which he faced discipline. But Time bureau colleagues circulated a letter in his defense. And what is the President’s reaction to this and to the Time bureau chief’s refusal to reply to calls from The Post asking for some comment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, Les, I didn’t hear — you were going on for so long, and I was finishing on my question. I missed exactly what you were saying. I don’t know if I can get into responding to something that I haven’t seen.

Q Well, what was his reaction — what is the President’s reaction —

MR. McCLELLAN: Reaction to?

Q Reaction to the fact that this — Time Magazine’s computers for which he faced discipline, but Time bureau colleagues circulated a letter in his defense?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know the facts here, Les, about what you’re referring to. I’d have to look into it.

Now, Matt —

Q It was in The Post — you read that paper.