McClellan: White House still avoids scrutiny in Plame affair

McClatchy NewspapersJune 20, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says he has little if anything new to say about the Valerie Plame affair and the White House role in the matter.

"I do not know whether a crime was committed by any of the administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters," McClellan told the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning. Plame, a former CIA agent, had her identity revealed by administration officials--the committee wants to know if President Bush or Vice President Cheney were involved.

MCClellan would not say. "Nor do I know if there was an attempt by any person or persons to engage in a coverup during the investigation," he says. "I do know that it was wrong to reveal her identity, because it compromised the effectiveness of a covert official for political reasons."

He left open the notion that the full story is not yet known, though.

"Despite assurances that the administration would discuss the matter once the Special Counsel had completed his work," McClellan said, "the White House has sought to avoid public scrutiny and accountability.

"The continuing cloud of suspicion over the White House is not something I can remove," he said, "because I know only one party of the story. Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an end. Sadly, they remain silent."

He devoted just a few sentences in his two and a half page teext to the Plame affair.

"I regret that I played a role, however unintentionally, in relaying false information to the public about it," he says.

McClellan, who has been peddling his book, "What Happened," about the White House, will face sharp grilling from committee members this morning.

But Republicans already signaled they are skeptical of whatever he may say. "It's hard to take Mr. McClellan or this hearing serious," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the panel's top Republican.

"Despite the book's innuendo, a three-year independent criminal investigation found that no White House officials leaked Valerie Plame's name to the media in violation of the law," Smith said.

But Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., saw some of the revelations in McClellan's book--notably that Bush knew about the release of classified information--as reasons to probe White House activity further.

"Mr. McClellan's revelations highlight acts that may constitute illegal obstruction of justice beyond that for which Scooter Libby was convicted," Conyers said. Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, was found giulty of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI, but Bush commuted the two and a half year sentence.

Conyers tried to make a case showing how Cheney was involved, and displayed handwritten notes from Cheney from the Libby trial showing the vice president's concern.

Conyers also complained about a lack of administration cooperation with his committee, saying that "To truly get to the bottom of this matter, we will need far more cooperation by the administration and the Justice Department."

He wants interview reports of Bush and Cheney, as well as other White House officials.

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