Really, Scott McClellan had to know that Monday’s press briefing was going to be rough. This was the first chance that the press had to ask about the “shocking” revelation that Karl Rove leaked the identiy of a CIA operative. One would think that the White House should’ve been prepared for questions about rove, and could’ve come up with a better answer than “we are not going to comment about an ongoing criminal investigation.” Especially since they have commented on this in the past.
Anyway, McLellan was grilled hard through the press briefing. Here’s an example:
Q Does the President stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked relating to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I’ve previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren’t going to comment on it while it is ongoing.
Q Excuse me, but I wasn’t actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the President said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak, to press of information. And I just want to know, is that still his position?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that’s why I said that our policy continues to be that we’re not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium. The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium. And so that’s why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation, or questions related to it.
Q Scott, if I could — if I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29th, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you’ve suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, ‘We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation’?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. That’s something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. And that’s why we’re continuing to follow that approach and that policy.
Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
Q So could I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was okay to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it’s not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry’s question at the beginning. There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their — or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing. I think that’s the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.