Democrats treated former White House spokesman Scott McClellan's congressional testimony Friday as a road map to scandal in the White House, Republicans saw it as a farce and Mr. McClellan himself used it as a chance to push his book.
Nine times Mr. McClellan said he has a "suspicion" of serious wrongdoing at the White House, particularly on the part of Vice President Dick Cheney, whose former chief of staff was convicted of obstruction of justice for trying to cover up the leak of a CIA operative's identity.
"The continuing cloud of suspicion over the White House is not something I can remove, because I only know one part of the story," he told the House Judiciary Committee. "Only those who know the underlying truth can bring this to an end. Sadly, they remain silent."
Last month Mr. McClellan published his book, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," and was quickly invited to testify as part of the committee's ongoing investigation into White House efforts to out covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Her identity was leaked to reporters after Mrs. Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson, had questioned intelligence Mr. Bush had used in his 2003 State of the Union speech making the case that Iraq had sought nuclear materials from Niger.
But Mr. McClellan was unable to finger any specific wrongdoing, and would not give the Democrats what many of them sought: ammunition for impeaching President Bush.
"I do not support impeachment, based on what I know," Mr. McClellan said in three hours of testimony.
Still, he also would not acquiesce to Republicans who accused him of grandstanding for a paycheck, saying he stands by his harsh criticism of Mr. Bush as having failed to live up to his own principles.
In particular, he said Mr. Bush should have stuck by his pledge to hold White House employees accountable if they were involved with the Plame leak, and criticized the president for commuting the sentence of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former chief of staff for Mr. Cheney.
"It was special treatment. It does undermine our system of justice, in my view," he said.
Under questioning from Democrats he was unable to name anyone who specifically engaged in deception in the run-up to the Iraq war, instead blaming the style of Washington politics for the problems.
He also disappointed Democrats who pumped him for information on the firing of U.S. attorneys, on attacks of Sen. John Kerry's war record during the 2004 presidential campaign and on why the president doesn't attend funerals of troops killed in battle.
But Democrats said the implication of the testimony was clear to them.
"Mr. Cheney is the only one left, the only likely suspect to have ordered the leak," said Rep. Robert Wexler, Florida Democrat, citing to a note obtained during the legal proceedings against Mr. Libby. "The vice president's own hand betrays him and Libby and implicates the president of the United States. These facts and your testimony, Mr. McClellan, are more than enough, in my view, to open up impeachment hearings."
The White House was dismissive.
"I think Scott has probably told everyone everything he doesn't know, so I don't know if anyone should expect them to see anything new today," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
And Republicans on the committee were brutal.
"Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver," said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the committee's ranking Republican.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, said Mr. McClellan's claim to be trying to improve the system rang hollow since he waited more than a year after he left the White House, and until nearly the end of the Bush administration, before publishing.
"I think even you would admit that you could have affected the outcome of this administration had you, say, published this book a year earlier," Mr. Issa said.
Rep. Ric Keller, Florida Republican, questioned why, in a book about broken politics, Mr. McClellan included speculation about whether Mr. Bush used cocaine three decades ago.
"Do you recall if you've ever used illegal drugs?" Mr. Keller asked.
"Yes, and I haven't," McClellan replied.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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