Ex-WH Press Secretary Critiques Book

ari fleischer couric interview
Scott McClellan was President Bush's second press secretary … and earlier was a deputy to the first, Ari Fleischer, who served from 2001 to 2003. CBS News anchor Katie Couric spoke with Fleischer about McClellan's explosive new book.

Couric: Ari, what do you think of this book and the charges made in it?

Fleischer: Well I'm stumped and I'm stunned by it, Katie. Because never did Scott ever come to me privately and express any of these thoughts. Neither did he harbor any hesitation when he was the press secretary, so I really don't know led to this new revelation.

Couric: Well, does that mean he didn't necessarily have these feelings, and perhaps was too timid to express them?

Fleischer: Or some of it came up very recently in the last several months and I'm looking forward to hearing from Scott, why - what could have led him to change 180 degrees so dramatically.

Couric: A lot of people seem to saying in response to this book that this doesn't sound like the Scott McClellan they knew. Let's take a listen...

(From video) Former deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove said: "This doesn't sound like Scott. It really doesn't. Not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time."

And former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said in an interview today: "He's like a fundamentally different person than all of us knew."

"The voice that comes out of the book is certainly not Scott McClellan's," said Trent Duffy, who served as McClellan's deputy.

Couric: With all due respect, Ari, it sounds like all of you are operating out of the same playbook. Did you get together and discuss how to respond to this?

Fleischer: No, I think it's just that we all worked shoulder to shoulder with Scott for so long. And we never heard Scott talk about manipulation, talk about propaganda. And I did talk to Scott yesterday, Katie, and Scott told me that his editor did tweak, in Scott's word, a lot of the writing - especially in the last few months. And so I'm curious to hear, when Scott does his interviews, does he use the word manipulation, will he say propaganda, is he comfortable ... orally - matching what he's written in this book?

Couric: Members of the administration always said there were definitely weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Not that there were reports of weapons, not that people believed there were weapons. Looking back on it, wasn't that a mistake?

Fleischer: Katie, if the CIA tells you there are definitely weapons of mass destruction, all you can do is repeat what they tell you. I think we would have looked funny and suspicious of we had said something other than we had been told. Why aren't you leveling with the American people? Why aren't you telling ... everything the CIA is telling you? That's the most troubling part to me. The CIA was wrong about what Saddam had. I hope now they're right about Iran is doing or not doing. That to me is the troubling issue.

Couric: As you well know, the president has very low approval ratings at this juncture. How do you think this will affect the way he is viewed by the American people?

Fleischer: Well, I'm sorry to say I think the president's numbers are baked into the cake, and this book won't change the numbers one way or the other. All those who dislike him already dislike him, and the few people - the 30 percent left that approve his job - I think they're pretty unshakable and nothing's gonna change that.