White House

McClellan: Cheney's role in CIA officer's outing suspicious

WASHINGTON — Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told lawmakers Friday that the White House remains under a "cloud of suspicion" for its conduct in the Valerie Plame affair but that the administration refuses to disclose any more information.

"The continuing cloud of suspicion over the White House is not something I can remove because I know only one part of the story," he told the House Judiciary Committee. "Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an end.

"Sadly, they remain silent."

The White House largely brushed aside his testimony.

"I think Scott has probably told everyone everything he doesn't know, so I don't know if anyone should expect him to say anything new today," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.

McClellan, President Bush's press secretary from 2003 to 2006, offered no new specifics on any involvement of Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney.

"I do not know whether a crime was committed by any of the administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters," said McClellan, who became a vocal administration critic when his book, "What Happened," was published recently, "nor do I know if there was an attempt by any person or persons to engage in a cover-up during the investigation."

Administration officials leaked the identity of Plame, a former CIA officer, in 2003 after her husband, Joseph Wilson, raised serious questions about the administration's claims that officials in Niger were trying to sell yellowcake uranium to Iraq, then ruled by Saddam Hussein.

Committee Democrats, led by Chairman John Conyers of Michigan, grilled McClellan hard Friday on any Bush or Cheney link to the leak.

McClellan described how White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card had said that the president and vice president wanted the press secretary to tell the public that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was then Cheney's chief of staff, wasn't involved in the matter.

Libby and top Bush adviser Karl Rove had discussed Plame's status with reporters.

Conyers on Friday saw a need for further investigation, saying, "Mr. McClellan's revelations highlight acts that may constitute illegal obstruction of justice beyond that for which Scooter Libby was convicted."

Libby was found guilty of obstruction, perjury and lying to the FBI, but Bush commuted the two-and-a-half-year sentence.

McClellan described how he got on the phone with Libby "and asked him point blank: Were you involved in this in any way? And he assured me in unequivocal terms that he was not, meaning the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity to any reporters."

McClellan then relayed that information to the news media.

As the Plame affair unfolded, the White House said that anyone who'd leaked classified information would be fired, a position that Bush reiterated in 2004. Two years later, however, Bush said that leakers would be dismissed only if they'd committed crimes.

Changing that view and commuting Libby's sentence "does undermine our system of justice," McClellan said.

"Do you think either or both of them (Bush or Cheney) knew about the leak and had any role in causing the leak to happen?" Conyers asked. "Or knew that Mr. Libby was involved in the leak when they helped get you to falsely vouch for him?"

McClellan said, "I do not think the president in any way had knowledge about it, based on my conversations with him back at that time, when he said that Karl Rove had not been involved in it."

McClellan clearly had suspicions about Rove's honesty, and was wary of Cheney. "In terms of the vice president, I do not know," he said. "There is a lot of suspicion there."

The hearing was largely a partisan affair. Democrats often questioned McClellan like prosecutors and praised what they called his candor. Republicans countered that McClellan was a treacherous turncoat.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee's top Republican, labeled McClellan "self-serving." He looked squarely at the former Bush spokesman and told McClellan that he "alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out his president and friends for a few pieces of silver."

Smith maintained that McClellan "will have to confront whether he was manipulated by extremely biased editors with a partisan agenda, and finally, sooner or later, he will have to answer to his own conscience."