On Meet the Press yesterday, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan weighs in on an interesting and important issue: what the president promised the public when it came to firing anyone in his administration who leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the media.
This gets into parsing and such. But let's go back to the transcripts.
On Sept. 30, 2003, President Bush said, "if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of. ...If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."
Those are vague promises. But at the same time McClellan was more definitive.
On September 28, 2003, McClellan told reporters, “the President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.”
Note the difference. Bush's promises of action are vague: He will take appropriate action; the person will be taken care of. Bush's definitions of the offense are quite specific: leaking classified information; violating the law.
McClellan is more broad: any involvement, the person is gone.
But then, in June 2004, the president was asked "given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?
Responded the president, "That's up to -- "
Continued the reporter, "and, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?"
"Yes," said the president. "And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts."
This gets murky, allies of the White House say. The reporter mischaracterized the president's pledge -- firing anyone who leaked the agent's name. But the president agreed with this mistaken characterization.
It gets even trickier when you consider the fact that Karl Rove insists that he never precisely leaked Plame's name itself. (Rather, he seems to have confirmed that he'd heard that former Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, not that he named her. With the cover of such weasel words indictments are dodged.)
Then in July 2005, the president said, "if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration."
Democrats pounced, saying the president had moved the bar.
And McClellan apparently agrees.
McClellan told Tim Russert (watch HERE) that in his view, the president's promise was broad, and Rove should have been fired.
"I think he should have stood by his word," McClellan said. "I think the president should have stood by the word that we said, which was that if you were involved in this in any way, then you would no longer be in this administration. And Karl was involved in it. That would be a tough decision. I don't know if any there was any crime committed. I say I just don't know that at the book...but we had higher standards at the White House. The president said he was going to restore honor and integrity, he said we were going to set the highest of standards. We didn't live up to that. When it became known that his top adviser had been involved, then the bar was moved, and the bar was moved to 'if anyone was indicted' then they would no longer be here."