In a December 15 Washington Post article, Jonathan Weisman wrote that Bush's recent statement that he believes Tom DeLay is innocent was an "apparent inconsistency," with how the White House has "deflected questions" about the CIA leak investigation "by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations." Similarly, Fox News' Major Garrett purported to identify the "difference" in how the White House handled questions about the DeLay and Plame investigations. In fact, in both cases the administration made a premature statement presuming that a White House ally was innocent before an investigation was launched.
Both a December 15 report by Fox News correspondent Major Garrett and a December 16 Washington Post article by staff writer Jonathan Weisman mischaracterized as an aberration President Bush's recent statement that "I do" believe former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) is innocent of money laundering charges. Weisman wrote that Bush's statement was an "apparent inconsistency," when compared with how the White House has "deflected questions" about the CIA leak investigation "by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations." On Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Garrett similarly purported to identify the "difference" in how the White House handled questions about the DeLay and Plame investigations. In fact, the Bush administration's initial responses to the two investigations were completely consistent: In each case, the administration made a premature statement presuming that a White House ally was innocent before an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing had taken place. Moreover, in the CIA leak investigation case, administration officials continued to comment on the proceedings when they deemed it in their interests to do so, despite the administration's official position that it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
Weisman noted that in a December 14 interview on Special Report, Bush declared that he believes DeLay is innocent of the charges on which he has been indicted in Texas. But Weisman then relied upon White House press secretary Scott McClellan to falsely report that Bush's comment about DeLay is inconsistent with how the administration has handled questions about the Justice Department's investigation into the outing of former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame:
During an interview Wednesday on the Fox News Channel, Bush was asked whether he believes DeLay is innocent of the charges of money laundering and conspiracy that led to his indictment in Texas and resignation from the House Republican leadership in September. "Yes, I do," the president replied.
That response pushed the White House on the defensive yesterday. Administration officials have repeatedly deflected questions about other legal probes -- especially Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's inquiry into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name -- by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the apparent inconsistency a "presidential prerogative."
"The president was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were," McClellan said. "We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the president chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged."
On the December 15 broadcast of Special Report, Garrett similarly framed the purported "difference" between how the White House handled questions related to the DeLay and Plame cases:
GARRETT: In an interview yesterday with Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume, the president declined to discuss Travis County [Texas] Prosecutor Ronnie Earle, but offered this opinion of DeLay's legal status.
[begin video clip]
BUSH: I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more -- the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair.
HUME: Do you believe he's innocent?
BUSH: DeLay? Yes, I do.
[end video clip]
GARRETT: The White House has refused to comment on the ongoing Valerie Plame investigation, including this week's statement from columnist Robert Novak that he's, quote, "confident," unquote, the president knows who leaked Plame's identity while she was a CIA operative.
SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER (D-NY) [clip]: If the president can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to Mr. DeLay, he can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to the Plame affair.
GARRETT: The president's spokesman said the White House will continue to say nothing about the Plame investigation. He then tried to explain the DeLay difference.
[begin video clip]
McCLELLAN: We put a policy in place regarding this investigation.
DAVID GREGORY [NBC News chief White House correspondent]: You have a policy for some investigations and not others when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?
McCLELLAN: Call it, presidential prerogative.
[end video clip]
In fact, much like Bush suggesting DeLay is innocent, it was McClellan himself -- in an October 7, 2003, press briefing -- who prematurely stated that both I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House senior adviser Karl Rove were "not involved" in outing Plame. Two years after McClellan's declaration, Libby was indicted on charges of perjury, obstruction, and making false statements about conversations he had about Plame with reporters, while it also became firmly established that Rove discussed Plame with reporters prior to her identity being publicly disclosed by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak. Rove reportedly remains under investigation in the case.
Further, while the administration has repeatedly maintained in recent months that administration officials are not free to comment on the CIA leak investigation, they have apparently done so when they have considered it in their best interests. For example, the Associated Press noted in a November 20 report that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld denied he was the source who first disclosed Plame's identity to Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward. Woodward is reportedly the first journalist to have learned that Plame worked for the CIA. The AP also reported that an aide to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice similarly denied that Rice first mentioned Plame to Woodward, and that "[a] person familiar with the investigation has said that Vice President Dick Cheney was not the unidentified source who told Woodward about Plame's CIA status."
As Think Progress has documented, in an October 18 press briefing, McClellan stated that "our policy is not to comment on an investigation while it's ongoing," including answering "any question relating to it." However, McClellan then responded to a question related to the CIA leak investigation: When questioned as to whether Bush and Cheney had been asked to appear before Fitzgerald a second time, McClellan answered that they had not.
From Bush's December 14 interview on Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Do you hope and expect that Tom DeLay will return to be a majority leader?
BUSH: Yes. At least, I don't know whether I can expect that. I hope that he will.
BUSH: 'Cause, I like him -- and plus, I -- when he's over there, we get our votes through the House. We had a remarkable success of legislative victories -- a remarkable string of legislative victories. We've cut the taxes, which has yielded a strong economic growth and vitality. We've had an energy bill that began to put America on its way to independence. I say began, there's a lot more work to be done there. We've had some good legal reforms. We've had strong support for our troops in combat. We've had a good record. We were for Medicare, I mean, there's a string of successes, and I give Tom a lot of credit for it. The speaker [Dennis Hastert (R-IL)] gets credit, but Tom gets a lot of credit, too.
HUME: You know a thing or two about Texas politics. What is your judgment of the prosecutor in the case, Ronnie Earle?
BUSH: I'm not going to go there, simply because I want -- I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more -- the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair.
HUME: Do you just -- Do you believe he's innocent?
BUSH: DeLay? Yes, I do.
From McClellan's October 7, 2003, press briefing:
QUESTION: Scott, you have said that you, personally, went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, and Elliot Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that, and can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked?
McCLELLAN: Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved [in leaking Plame's identity]. I had no doubt of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you, and that's exactly what I did.