- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2008

Scott McClellan’s most explosive charges about the Iraq war are based not on any new evidence but rather on his reading of books and magazine articles after leaving the White House and on a period of “reflection.”

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, Mr. McClellan repeated his statement from his book that President Bush misled the country into war, but he also repeated that his main source for this was Bob Woodward’s 2004 book “Plan of Attack.”

The eighth chapter of Mr. McClellan’s book is titled, “Selling the War,” and in it, the Texas native relies on Mr. Woodward’s book to argue that in late 2001, “Bush had already made the decision to go to war - even if he convinced himself it might still be avoided.”

Mr. McClellan also wrote that after leaving the White House, he “learned” that “war was inevitable given the course of action the president set from the beginning.” He learned of this, he wrote, “upon reflection.”

During his “Meet the Press” interview, the 40-year-old former Bush administration press secretary said he thought Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, should have been fired when Mr. Bush learned that Mr. Rove had spoken to reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame.

“I think the president should have stood by his word and that meant Karl should have left,” Mr. McClellan said.

Mr. McClellan admits he felt burned by Mr. Rove and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff. He said both men assured him they were not involved in the leak, and he repeated those assurances to reporters.

Neither Mr. Rove’s lawyer nor White House press secretary Dana Perino had any comment Sunday about the talk-show remarks.

Mr. McClellan also defended his portrait of Mr. Bush as “too stubborn to change and grow” but also admitted that he should have voiced his doubts and questions about the march to war in 2002 and 2003.

This charge has been given great authority because of Mr. McClellan’s former status as a White House insider. But a close reading of his book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” shows that he reveals no new information about the president’s motives. Mr. McClellan was deputy press secretary from the day Mr. Bush took office in January 2001 and press secretary from July 2003 to April 2006.

“This book is about the existential journey of Scott McClellan, which is a boring topic,” said Peter Wehner, former head of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives.

“He makes sweeping claims but doesn’t marshal the evidence to back them up,” said Mr. Wehner, who was at one point a deputy to Mr. Rove and said he had read the book ahead of today’s release date. “There’s nothing from an evidentiary perspective. It’s simply a kind of opinion piece.”

In his “Meet the Press” interview,” Mr. McClellan made no effort to bolster the sourcing for the most serious charge in his book, that the president based the case for war on possible weapons of mass destruction only to hide his true motivation: the introduction of “coercive democracy” in the Middle East.

Mr. McClellan said he realized that Mr. Bush had made up his mind in late 2001 to invade Iraq based on “when the president did interviews with Bob Woodward for his book,” plus his inferences based on hearing “the president talk in world leader meetings after I became press secretary about how passionately he cared about spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East.”

He defended that approach, analogizing himself to “the legendary British economist John Maynard Keynes who used to be accused of frequently changing his positions. When one accuser attacked him, he responded, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?’ And when I was able to step out of that White House bubble,” he could think the same way, he said.

The White House and many of Mr. McClellan’s former colleagues have honed in on this issue in the days after several newspapers, including The Washington Times, obtained copies of the book on Tuesday night, several days in advance of its official release.

Mrs. Perino said Friday that the White House’s “central objection” to Mr. McClellan’s book centers on the claim that the Bush administration “misled” the nation to war.

“He’s suggesting that we purposely misled,” Mrs. Perino said. “There is no new evidence of that.”

Reed Dickens, one of Mr. McClellan’s former deputies, said he found his former boss’ book “pathetic in substance.”

“He didn’t have any damning evidence or quotes or conversation. I was flipping through the book, waiting to find something damning, and there wasn’t really anything,” Mr. Dickens said Friday night on “Larry King Live.”

Dan Bartlett, the president’s former counselor, has also repeatedly said on TV that there are no new facts presented in the book.

Paul Mirengoff, a Washington lawyer who writes for the conservative Powerline blog, on Thursday noted that Mr. McClellan’s book “is devoid of footnotes, endnotes and supporting documentation.”

In his “Meet the Press” interview, Mr. McClellan said that he “knew that this book was going to spur a reaction.”

But while saying he still has personal affection for the president, Mr. McClellan did not step back from his charge that Mr. Bush has engaged in “self-deception” and is “too stubborn to grow and change.”

“It is a true reflection of this president,” he said.

Pressed repeatedly by “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert, Mr. McClellan said that the “most important lesson” he has learned is that “it’s important to speak up at the time.”

“I was young, and I probably should have spoken up,” Mr. McClellan said.

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