McClellan: WH Wanted Him To Stay Silent

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, speaking out for the first time since publication of his searing memoir, told NBC's "Today" show on Thursday that he erroneously believed what President Bush was saying about the war but now is answering a higher loyalty: “a loyalty to the truth.”

“The White House would prefer that I not talk openly about my experiences,” he said in a lengthy, at time combative interview with anchor Meredith Viera. “These words didn’t come to me easy. … I’m disappointed that things didn’t turn out the way we all hoped they would.”

He added: “I have a higher loyalty than my loyalty necessary to my past work. That's a loyalty to the truth."

McClellan said he "believed" what Bush was saying about the war — and the president did, too. “I trusted the president's foreign policy team and I believed the president when he talked about the grave and gathering danger from Iraq,” McClellan said. “I believe he believed it was a grave danger, too. He convinced himself of that. When the administration was talking about Iraq, it was talked about as a problem that needed to be addressed. After Sept. 11, it was talked about as a grave danger. You get caught up in the White House bubble, you get caught up in the affection for the man you're serving and defer.”

Asked if he’ll ever talk to the president again, McClellan said: “I don’t know. I certainly don’t expect it any time soon. I know this is a tough book for some people to accept.”

McClellan’s book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” has provoked a furious counterattack from his former colleagues, who call it “sad,” “puzzling” and “pathetic.”

McClellan accused Vice President Cheney of failing his boss. “In a number of ways, he has not served the president well,” McClellan said. “Part of it is the secrecy and compartmentalization … in the White House.”

And McClellan said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, when she was White House national security adviser, gave in too often to Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“I felt that too often she was too accommodating … of the other strong personalities on the foreign policy team … and too deferential to those individuals,” he said.

Former presidential counselor Dan Bartlett, following McClellan on “Today,” said McClellan had used “very inflammatory words” like “propaganda,” with “not a lot of evidence.”

“He never communicated to us that he had these personal misgivings,” Bartlett said. “There’s not a lot of specific evidence about the most explosive charges.”

Bartlett said the book is “fundamentally wrong” and says he would not personally have participated in a propaganda effort.

McClellan said that even at the time, he thought that the country was “rushing into” the Iraq war. But McClellan said he was he was caught up in “the post-9/11 mentality” and so accepted what the president was saying. 

 

"I was in doubt, like a lot of Americans," McClellan said. "I felt like we were rushing into this. But because of my position and my affection for the president and my belief and trust in he and his advisers, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Looking back on it, reflecting on it now, I don't think I should have. ... The expectations later came back to haunt us, because they were out of whack.”

McClellan said his mission had been to write “openly and honestly about what I lived and learned.”

“The larger message has been lost in the mix of the original reaction to it,” he said. &lduo;I believe it’s important to look back and reflect on my experience and talk to people about what I learned and what we can learn from it.”

McClellan says the book’s “larger message” is the problems with the “permanent campaign culture.” He said that’s the opposite of what he expected when he came to Washington after serving then-Governor Bush in Texas.

“I had all this great hope that we were going to come to Washington and change it,” McClellan recalled. “He talked about being a uniter, not a divider. … And then we got to Washington and I think we got caught up in playing the Washington game the way it’s played today.”

“These are good and well-intentioned people,” McClellan added.

Asked bluntly if Bush had let him down, McClellan said: “I grew increasingly disillusioned.”

McClellan added: “There’s no one I’m harder on in the book, I don’t think, than myself.” He says he blames himself “for putting myself in the position” of passing on information about the CIA leak case that turned out to be inaccurate.

As part of a sophisticated media counterattack by Bush allies, McClellan’s predecessor Ari Fleischer asked on ABC’s “Good Morning America”: “Which Scott is the real one?”

“This is heartbreaking to me,” Fleischer said. “This makes me wonder if Scott ever believed the things he said from the podium.”

Fleischer said that for McClellan to now “turn tail and say these things … makes you question his convictions … either now, or when he stood at the podium.”

On the question of how much information was available to McClellan in the White House, Fleischer said: “It’s not loop or no loop. It’s whether Scott meant the things he said.”

Bartlett, asked if McClellan is still his friend, said: “He is.”

McClellan is to appear Thursday night on MSNBC’s “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” and Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with Tim Russert