Thursday, December 15, 2005

McClellan Battles Reporters Over Bush Backing DeLay

By E&P Staff

Published: December 15, 2005 4:45 PM ET

NEW YORK You could see these questions coming a mile away. After months of refusing to comment on the Plame/CIA probe, and the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- saying he did not want to "prejudge" an "ongoing investigation" -- President Bush on Wednesday night unabashedly told Fox News' Brit Hume that he believed Rep. Tom DeLay was not guilty of charges against him.

This sparked a storm of questioning at the daily briefing on Thursday by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, with NBCs David Gregory leading the way, accusing the administration of being "hypocritical” and "inconsistent" on this matter, "ad nauseum."

McClellan fired back, denying the charge and suggesting that the newsman was getting "all dramatic about it."

The relevant part of the transcript follows.

*

Q Scott, the President told Brit Hume that he thought that Tom DeLay is not guilty, even though the prosecution is obviously ongoing. What does the President feel about Scooter Libby? Does he feel that Mr. Libby --

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the President was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were. 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. And so I'm just not going to have anything further to say. But we've had a policy in place for a long time regarding the Fitzgerald investigation.

Q Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you've heard me say before that we're not going to talk about it further while it's ongoing.

Q Well, if it's prejudging the Fitzgerald investigation, isn't it prejudging the Texas investigation with regard to Congressman DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've answered your question.

Q Can I follow up on that"? Is the President at all concerned that his opinion on this being expressed publicly could influence a potential jury pool, could influence public opinion on this in an improper way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in this instance he was just responding to a question that was asked about Congressman DeLay, about Leader DeLay, and in terms of the issue that Peter brings up, I think that we've had a policy in place, going back to 2003, and that's a White House policy.

Q But that policy has been based in part, in the leak investigation and other things, on the idea that it is simply wrong for a President to prejudge a criminal matter, particularly when it's under indictment or trial stage. Why would he --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's one -- this is an ongoing investigation regarding possible administration officials. So I think there are some differences here.

Q There are lots of times when you don't comment on any sort of legal --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are also legal matters that we have commented on, as well. And certainly there are legal matters when it goes to Saddam Hussein.

Q So the President is inconsistent?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, David, we put a policy in place regarding this investigation --

Q But it's hypocritical. You have a policy for some investigations and not others, when it's a political ally who you need to get work done?

MR. McCLELLAN: Call it presidential prerogative; he responded to that question. But the White House established a policy --

Q Doesn't it raise questions about his credibility that he's going to weigh in on some matters and not others, and we're just supposed to sit back and wait for him to decide what he wants to comment on and influence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman DeLay's matter is an ongoing legal proceeding --

Q As is the Fitzgerald investigation --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Fitzgerald investigation is --

Q -- As you've told us ad nauseam from the podium.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an ongoing investigation, as well.

Q How can you not -- how can you say there's differences between the two, and we're supposed to buy that? There's no differences. The President decided to weigh in on one, and not the other.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are differences.

Q And the public is supposed to accept the fact that he's got no comment on the conduct of senior officials of the White House, but when it's a political ally over on the Hill who's got to help him get work done, then he's happy to try to influence that legal process.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. Not at all. You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q I do have a question about White House ethics guidelines --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people understand.

Q No, they don't. And the only thing that's dramatic is the inconsistency of the policy and you trying to defend it.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the policy has been in place since 2003.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q I have a question about White House ethics guidelines which is outside the scope of the Fitzgerald investigation. I'm not talking about criminal offense. Last week, Robert Novak, in a public speech, said that reporters should be asking the President who the anonymous source is because he believes he knows. And my question is, was it ethical to change the grounds of dismissal from "anyone involved" in the disclosure of classified information, to "anyone convicted" in the disclosure of classified information? And if the President did not take action privately, is it ethical for him not to have done anything?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I've indicated, our policy hasn't changed on this matter

LINK

White House policy is the same:

We will answer what we please and nothing more.

We will comment on what we please and nothing else.

Now, go Cheney yourselves.

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