Yesterday, we looked at faux-journalist "Jeff Gannon's" assiduous work at planting administration propaganda during White House press briefings. His "questioning" of then-Press Secretary Scott McClellan seems to have been focused quite specifically on the story line --- which we now know to be wholly false --- as being propagated by Office of the Vice President. In retrospect, it leads one to wonder just what Gannon's relationship to the OVP might have been.
On the other side of the coin, the real journalist, Helen Thomas, seemed to be cutting quite close to the bone when she opened the White House press briefing with questions about the CIA leak on Monday, September 29, 2003. An unnamed "senior administration offical" in the WashPost the day before had said that two administration officials had mentioned Mrs. Wilson’s CIA link with at least six Washington journalists, and shouldn’t have done so.
After – or during – this press briefing, things started happening even faster; the DOJ requested the FBI to investigate the leak, Bob Novak made a defensive television appearance on Crossfire, and DOJ notified the CIA that its Counterespionage division had also requested an investigation.
The briefing itself shows White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan aggressively trying to evade even a direct denial that the White House was involved, though he opened with the now-quite-dubious "The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing."
Here's how Thomas's line of inquiry began and continued that morning...
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there --- I've seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who "anonymous" was, it would make my life a whole lot easier. But –
Q Does he think it didn't come from here?
MR. McCLELLAN: But we've made it very clear that anyone --- anyone --- who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.
Q Does he doubt it came from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Does he doubt?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's been no information that has been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement.
Q Will the President move aggressively to see if such a transgression has occurred in the White House? Will he ask top White House officials to sign statements saying that they did not give the information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, if someone leaked classified information of this nature, the appropriate agency to look into it would be the Department of Justice. So the Department of Justice is the one that would look in matters like this.
Q You're saying the White House won't take a proactive role?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have any specific information to bring to my attention suggesting White House involvement?
Q If you would ---
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen any.
Q Would you not want to know whether someone had leaked information of this kind?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has been --- I spoke for him earlier today --- the President believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter. And it should be –
Q So why doesn't he want ---
MR. McCLELLAN: --- pursued to the fullest extent –
Q Right, so why –
MR. McCLELLAN: --- by the appropriate agency. And the appropriate agency is the Department of Justice.
Q Why wouldn't he proactively do that, ask people on the staff to say that they had not leaked anything?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information to suggest White House involvement? I saw a media report that said "senior administration officials." That's an anonymous source that could include a lot of people. I've seen a lot of "senior administration officials" in media stories.
Q Would they know --- to the White House?
Q Scott, when you say that it should be pursued by the Justice Department --- Justice has not said whether it actually is conducting an investigation. Does the President want the Justice Department to investigate this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: If someone leaked classified information of the nature that has been reported, absolutely, the President would want it to be looked into. And the Justice Department would be the appropriate agency to do so.
Q And do you know that they are doing this?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a question you need to ask the Department of Justice. My understanding is that if something like this happened and it was referred to the Department of Justice, then the Department of Justice would look to see whether or not there is enough information to pursue it further. But those are questions you need to ask the Department of Justice.
Q But, Scott, something like this did happen, right? Bob Novak had information he should not have had, that he was not authorized to have. So something –
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, all I can tell you is what I've seen in the media reports. And I've seen different statements in the media reports from, the CIA hasn't confirmed or denied that this was a covert agent for the CIA; I've seen media reports to suggest that it was referred to the Department of Justice, and that --- and comments the Department of Justice would look into it.
Q So the President of the United States doesn't know whether or not this classified information was divulged, and he is only getting his information by reading the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q He does not know whether or not the classified information was divulged here, and he's only getting his information from the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we don't know --- we don't have any information that's been brought to our attention beyond what we've seen in the media reports. I've made that clear.
Q All right. Let me just follow up. You said this morning, "The President knows" that Karl Rove wasn't involved. How does he know that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion, backing away from that. And I said it is simply not true. So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've said that it's not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove –
Q But how does ---
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into conversations that the President has with advisors or staff or anything of that nature; that's not my practice.
Q But the President has a factual basis for knowing that Karl Rove –
MR. McCLELLAN: I said it publicly. I said that ---
Q But I'm not asking what you said, I'm asking if the President has a factual basis for saying --- for your statement that he knows Karl Rove –
MR. McCLELLAN: He's aware of what I've said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.
Q Does he know whether or not the Vice President's Chief of Staff, Lewis Libby –
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have any specific information to bring to my attention --- like I said, there has been nothing that's been brought to our attention. You asked me earlier if we were looking into it, there is nothing that's been brought to our attention beyond the media reports. But if someone did something like this, it needs to be looked at by the Department of Justice, they're the appropriate agency charged with looking into matters like this –
Q Well, you do know that they are looking at it, don't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: --- and so they're the ones that should do that.
Q They're telling reporters that they're looking at it; haven't they told you that they're looking at it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there you have it. There you have it.
Q Haven't they told you? Haven't you asked?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've seen the media reports. There has been no requests made of us at this time.
Q But, Scott, it gets to the question if you know, if the President knows that Karl Rove was not involved, then maybe you can tell us more about what the President specifically is doing to get to the bottom of this, or what has he ordered to be done within the White House to get to the bottom of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President wants anyone, anyone who has information relating to this to report that information to the appropriate agency, the Department of Justice. That's what the President wants, and I've been very clear about that.
Q Is the President convinced that there was no White House involvement in this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if I could get "anonymous" to 'fess up, that would make my life a whole lot easier.
Q That's not the question. That's not the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: But there has been nothing --- there has been absolutely ---
Q Does the President ---
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm answering that.
Q Scott, does he know --- is he convinced that no one in the White House was involved with this?
MR. McCLELLAN: There has been absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement. All we've seen is what is in the media reports. The media reports cite "senior administration official," or "senior administration officials."
Q But they're wrong, as far as you're concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I haven't seen anything before that. That's why it's appropriate for the Department of Justice, if something like this happened, to look into it.
Q Those media reports are wrong, as far as the White House is concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have nothing beyond those media reports to suggest there is White House involvement.
Q And the President is pretty passive on this, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's been no specific information brought to my attention to suggest ---
Q He's not doing anything proactive?
Q Let me just --- let me follow up on one of the –
MR. McCLELLAN: He's making it clear that this is a serious --- through his spokesman, me --- that this is a serious matter, and if someone did this, it should be looked into and it should be pursued to the fullest extent.
Q But has he ordered an investigation inside the White House? If he thinks it's that serious, wouldn't you do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information, Helen, to bring to my attention?
Q No. Are you ---
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have specific information, bring it to my attention.
Q Scott, you are answering questions out there for a few days on media reports. I just wonder, isn't there an internal investigation going on to find out what's happened?
[and so on . . .]