‘What Happened,’ Congressman?

Column by Chris Graham

I don’t know that I disagree entirely with what Bob Goodlatte had to say about former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last week about his knowledge of the Bush administration’s role in myriad questionable activities.

“I have to say that I don’t think there’s anything enlightening to be gained from your testimony today,” said Goodlatte, R-Sixth District, who is a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Of course, I don’t know that Goodlatte is saying that for the same reason that I am. I just finished McClellan’s book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, and I don’t know that his testimony to the folks at Judish could have been any more telling than what he related in those 326 pages.

The story starts and ends with those infamous 16 words regarding the tale that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium that somehow (as if we don’t know how) got inserted in the president’s State of the Union address. The details of that story are already pretty well played out, but McClellan had something very valuable to add to what we know. See, he was the one tasked with the responsibility of publicly defending Karl Rove and Scooter Libby against allegations that they were involved in the leak of a CIA operative’s name to reporters in an effort directed from the top levels of the administration to discredit a vocal critic, and as it turns out, he was the most upset of all of us when we all found out that in fact Rove and Libby had been the leakers.

According to McClellan, Libby and Rove had asserted to him personally that they had not been involved in the leak, and President Bush himself backed them up on that – despite the fact that the president had quietly declassified a document that was later used as a source of information in the leaks.

It is precisely here that McClellan, a Bush loyalist who had worked for the leader of the free world dating back to his days in the Texas governor’s mansion, had his break with W.

“In the days following the revelation of the (National Intelligence Estimate) declassification, I reached my personal breaking point,” McClellan wrote in What Happened. “The secret declassification undermined what the president had repeatedly said and what I had echoed just as often. I don’t believe President Bush intended to mislead me or senior advisers like Condi (Rice, now the secretary of state on the Bush Cabinet). But his secret actions meant that we had been deceived, intentionally or not. It was a painful revelation for me.”

It’s not a painful revelation for me to point where I’m breaking with Goodlatte on the McClellan testimony bit from last week. According to a report on buzzflash.com, Goodlatte asked McClellan to estimate the number of television shows on which he had appeared in connection with the book, we have to guess to make some point about how McClellan might stand to gain personally from going public with his story.

Not for nothing, but maybe if Bobby had used his seat on the Judish Committee to press the administration on the leaks, I don’t know, five years ago, Scott McClellan wouldn’t have had to write a book that had him balancing congressional testimony with a run of TV appearances.

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