Courtesy of Think Progress, below is the first part of today's press conference with White House spokesman Scott McClellan (video here courtesy of Crooks & Liars).
You'll note that the press is uncharacteristically tenacious with regard to the Karl Rove investigation. Which is good. As one reporter points out, McClellan's earlier testimony from 2003 (that Rove had nothing to do with the whole Wilson/Plame national security breach) is "demonstrably false." Yet he refuses to revise or stand by his earlier claims, repeatedly telling the frustrated reporters that the White House had been urged by the prosecutor to not speak of anything surrounding the case.
What I wanna know is this: What comes next?
Let's be honest here: who reads press conference transcripts? Nobody, that's who. If these reporters -- tenacious as they are today -- don't write articles reflecting the stonewall and its troubling elements (that the government, even the president, are public servants and are accountable to the people...that, as one reporter pointed out, it's difficult to believe anything coming out of this spokesman's mouth as long as his "demonstrably false" comment remains unrefuted and unaddressed), given the rapid fire and unpredictable nature of the news cycle, there's every chance that this scandal will just fade into obscurity.
Read it for yourself and then watch for tonight's TV and tomorrow's newspaper reports. If it's just another day of Page A21 blandness: "the president's spokesman, advised by the prosecutor to do so, was unable to comment on the case involving Karl Rove..." then all this sound and fury will indeed signal nothing.
And what kind of message would THAT send to the kids? For god's sake think of the children.
QUESTION: Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in a leak of the name of a CIA operative?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked related 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.
QUESTION: I actually wasn’t talking about any investigation.
But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak to the press about information. I just wanted to know: Is that still his position?
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.
MCCLELLAN: 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.
QUESTION: Scott, if I could point out: Contradictory to that statement, on September 29th of 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one to have said that 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, when the president made his comments 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?
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. And 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.
QUESTION: So could I just ask: When did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it’s not?
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 under way, when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be — 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.
QUESTION: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MCCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to a ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don’t think you should read anything into it other than: We’re going to continue not to comment on it while it’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003, when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliot Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this ?
QUESTION: Do you stand by that statement?
MCCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that, as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation, we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time as well.
QUESTION: Scott, this is ridiculous. The notion that you’re going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail, and tell people watching this that somehow you’ve decided not to talk.
You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?
MCCLELLAN: I’m well aware, like you, of what was previously said. And I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation…
QUESTION: (inaudible) when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?
MCCLELLAN: If you’ll let me finish.
QUESTION: No, you’re not finishing. You’re not saying anything.
You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn’t he?
MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
QUESTION: Do you think people will accept that, what you’re saying today?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’ve responded to the question.
QUESTION: You’re in a bad spot here, Scott…
… because after the investigation began — after the criminal investigation was under way — you said, October 10th, 2003, I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this, from that podium. That’s after the criminal investigation began.
Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation.
MCCLELLAN: No, that’s not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that.
We know each other very well. And it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation.
And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this. Because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.
I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I’m just not going to do that.
QUESTION: So you’re now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore and since then you haven’t.
MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and I’m just not going to respond to them.
QUESTION: When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you pin down a date?
MCCLELLAN: Back in that time period.
QUESTION: Well, then the president commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.
QUESTION: Well, we are going to keep asking them.
When did the president learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson’s wife in the decision to send him to Africa?
MCCLELLAN: I’ve responded to the questions.
QUESTION: When did the president learn that Karl Rove had been…
MCCLELLAN: I’ve responded to your questions.
QUESTION: After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved will be let go?
MCCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.
QUESTION: Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff, here?
MCCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it’s ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.
QUESTION: Scott, there’s a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action…
QUESTION: Can I finish, please?
MCCLELLAN: I’ll come back to you in a minute.
Evan Derkacz is a New York-based writer and contributor to AlterNet.