RE: President Bush authorized the leak
McClellan Bobs and Weaves, But Certainly Doesn't Leak
By Josh Marshall - April 7, 2006, 11:33 AM
This morning's White House gaggle, started at 10 AM ...
QUESTION: Did the President authorize the leak of intelligence information?
Scott McClellan: Terry, there is an ongoing legal proceeding, and our policy has been that we're not going to comment on it while it's ongoing. And that remains our policy. You will recall, if you go back to that time period that you are referencing, that we did declassify information relating to the -- in the National Intelligence Estimate, to provide that information to the public. That was provided on July 18th, I believe was the day, of 2003.
QUESTION: And since you put it in a context, is this the same information that Mr. Libby cites in his affidavit?
Scott McClellan: That's a question relating to an ongoing legal proceeding and, as you know, I can't get into commenting on that. We want to make sure that there is due process, that there is a fair trial, and that we don't do anything to jeopardize an ongoing legal proceeding.
They're going to be -- this is not the first filing that has been made in this legal proceeding. There will be additional filings, I'm sure, going forward. And I hope you can appreciate the policy -- the position that we've taken, which is that we're going to let that legal proceeding continue. And we're not going to comment on it while it's ongoing.
But I did want to remind you about that time period. You were here -- were you here? Yes, you were back right about that time. You and I started about the same time, if I recall, in our current positions -- well, it was going on at that time. There was a lot of debate and discussion going on about the intelligence that was part of the basis for going to war in Iraq. And we felt it was in the public interest to declassify information in the National Intelligence Estimate that was important to that discussion, and that's what we did at that time.
QUESTION: The President has been very critical of leakers on a number of subjects throughout his time. And if this information is true, that the President authorized the dissemination of this information, does he feel that it's appropriate for him to unilaterally -- and I know he has the legal authority to declassify information -- but it, to some people, gives an appearance that he may not have followed all of the procedures -- by letting other Cabinet members know, by letting the CIA Director know, things like that.
Scott McClellan: Again, that's asking about a question that is mentioned in this latest filing by Mr. Fitzgerald. And I can't get into confirming those issues because it's relating to an ongoing legal proceeding. But I think it's important -- I mean, you pointed out one aspect of this -- step back from the legal proceeding that's going on. You pointed out one important fact, the President has the authority to declassify the information.
And you also talked about leaks. The President has been critical about the leaking of classified information. And that view has not changed. Leaking classified information that could compromise our nation's security is a very serious matter. The President would never authorize disclosure of information that could compromise our nation's security. Remember, at the time -- go back to the time -- the National Intelligence Estimate is the collective judgment of our intelligence community. And there was a lot of debate going on about the intelligence at the time.
We went through a declassification process to provide that information to the public. We briefed you all on that information at that point in time, the portion of the National Intelligence Estimate that was made available publicly. There was nothing in that that was declassified that could compromise our nation's security. It was some historical context about some of the intelligence that was used in making the decision to go to war in Iraq.
QUESTION: So no harm done, is what you're saying?
Scott McClellan: Now the disclosing, the unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to a program like the terrorist surveillance program is harmful to our nation's security. It provides the enemy our play book, and the enemy can adapt and adjust when they learn about our tactics. And General Hayden has talked about how that is harmful to our nation's security. Others in the administration have talked about how that has been harmful to our nation's security. So there's a distinction --
QUESTION: So you're specifically saying no harm done --
Scott McClellan: -- there's a distinction between declassifying information that is in the public interest and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that could compromise our nation's security.
John, go ahead.
QUESTION: Scott, on March the 30th, I believe, last Thursday, Mr. Libby was spotted at the White House Mess. It just seems unusual that he would be coming back to the White House in this situation. Any ideas why he --
Scott McClellan: I don't know anything about that. I don't think so.
QUESTION: You don't think what?
Scott McClellan: I don't think he was here.
QUESTION: What would you do if I --
Scott McClellan: You spotted him?
QUESTION: I have a pretty good source I trust that did.
Scott McClellan: I'll check into it, John, but I don't think that's --
QUESTION: Alan Greenspan was here Thursday, March the 30th.
Scott McClellan: I don't think so, but I'll check. I'll check. I wasn't camped out at the Mess.
QUESTION: Scott, you raise an interesting point about the July 18th declassification of the NIE. A number of us had requested the NIE be declassified starting in -- sometime in mid June. Can you tell us by what date the actual declassification process of that executive summary had been completed? Because, obviously, given the discussion that's underway now, the date at which it was declassified is important.
Scott McClellan: Understood, but I think that that is a question that's trying to go back to the issues being brought up in this legal proceeding, and I'm not going to do that.
QUESTION: Scott, you were the one who raised the tactic, you declassified the document, and then it was released on July 18th. The relevant question here --
Scott McClellan: That's all public record. I'm just reminding -- I'm just reminding people in this room -- many of you covered us at that time, including yourself, some others didn't cover us during that time.
QUESTION: The important question is here, separate and apart from the case is, at what point was that considered to be a declassified document? Well, I'm just discussing the executive summary -- because I know at a number of times a number of us asked for it and were told that we couldn't have it because it was classified.
Scott McClellan: Right. That doesn't change what I just said.
QUESTION: That's right. At some moment there must have been a -- when things are declassified there's usually a stamp put on it, a date written on it, you know, "declassified as of" -- you've seen this many times. Could you find out for us what the date is of that declassification?
Scott McClellan: No, David, because you're asking me that in the context of the legal proceeding.
QUESTION: Also, to follow David's question, there's another issue there, which is, you make the point that the NIE was declassified for all of us -- and it's difficult to get to this issue without talking in the context of the trial -- but it would appear that for some of us, the information was provided privately earlier. So is the President comfortable with declassifying information and providing it to reporters on a private basis, earlier? The dates don't jive. There's a 10-day span between when the information was provided from Scooter Libby to Judy Miller --
Scott McClellan: You know I'm not going to get into commenting on it. There's no way I can comment --
QUESTION: I don't know of any way --
Scott McClellan: -- there's no way I can comment on that question without getting into issues relating to --
QUESTION: -- I don't know of any other way to ask the question.
Scott McClellan: Hang on, hang on. There's no way I can get into that without discussing issues relating to an ongoing legal proceeding. And I think you will appreciate that a policy has been established -- I didn't establish it, but I'm obligated to adhere to that policy.
QUESTION: I'm not sure what you mean by that, "a policy has been established"?
Scott McClellan: About not discussing an ongoing legal proceeding.
QUESTION: About not discussing ongoing legal proceeding.
Scott McClellan: That's right.
QUESTION: Okay. But you understand the question I'm trying to get to?
QUESTION: Who established it?
QUESTION: Before we even deal with that --
Scott McClellan: -- back to October 2003, and this has been in place for a long time by the White House.
QUESTION: You make the point that the information was provided to the press, generally, on July 18th. You say -- and you do it specifically, it seems to me, to say the President wanted the public aware of this and felt that it would not compromise national security.
Scott McClellan: It was in the public interest, because the debate that was going on at the time --
QUESTION: Ten days before that -- 10 days before that, this information was provided to another reporter, privately. So is the President comfortable with declassifying information and slipping it to a reporter before the rest of us are told?
Scott McClellan: Again, I think it was Kelly -- it may have been Terry when I was -- I think Kelly brought up the President's views on the leaking of classified information. And those views remain --
QUESTION: I'm not talking about --
Scott McClellan: -- those views remain the same.
QUESTION: I'm not suggesting --
Scott McClellan: No, no, understood.
QUESTION: I'm not suggesting a leak --
Scott McClellan: But you're trying to get into this issue that is being brought up in the context of the legal proceeding. I can't do that.
Go ahead, Martha.
QUESTION: I don't understand why you think David's question about the date you decided to declassify this has something to do with the legal proceedings. You're the one who is saying the public -- you wanted the public to know these facts in the NIE, that it was released July 18th. He's just --
Scott McClellan: Because it's an issue that's referred to in the filing by Mr. Fitzgerald --
QUESTION: Okay, purely let me talk about --
Scott McClellan: -- which go and look at. And that's what his question is getting at.
QUESTION: Well, okay, my question is getting at, then, the public disclosure of this. At what time did you decide on the public disclosure of this?
Scott McClellan: It was disclosed publicly on July 18, 2003.
QUESTION: Yes, but when did you start thinking, or when did you do the stamp about when that would be released? Was it before July 18th? When did you decide you wanted to release that to the public?
Scott McClellan: Well, you can go back and look. Look at the briefings. It went through a declassification process. And I think we talked about that, Martha.
QUESTION: When did that declassification process start?
Scott McClellan: It doesn't change what I just said to David.
Helen, go ahead.
QUESTION: But when did it start? When did the declassification process start to release it to the public on a broad scale?
Scott McClellan: I'm not getting into any time lines.
QUESTION: The President denounced leaking in a couple of statements, and so forth, once at a news conference. He knew the truth. He allowed this charade to go on.
Scott McClellan: What do you mean "he knew the truth"?
QUESTION: He knew who had leaked --
Scott McClellan: That's not what the filing says. Go back and look at the filing. That's absolutely false.
QUESTION: I'm not asking about the filing. He knew who was doing the leaking. He knew why he declassified.
Scott McClellan: No, that is -- the leaking of what? That is absolutely false, Helen. That is absolutely false.
QUESTION: You mean he declassified this --
Scott McClellan: You're implying Valerie Plame's --
QUESTION: Why did he declassify this document more than just the -- he wanted somebody --
Scott McClellan: The reasons that portions of the NIE were declassified were the reasons I stated.
QUESTION: He knew about the exposure of a CIA agent --
Scott McClellan: Go back and look at the filing. Look at what Mr. Fitzgerald says in his filing.
QUESTION: I'm asking why did the President --
Scott McClellan: Mr. Fitzgerald in a filing -- Mr. Fitzgerald in his own words in his filing contradicts what you just said.
QUESTION: In his own --
Scott McClellan: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- in his own domain, he didn't ask anyone why?
Scott McClellan: Ann, go ahead.
QUESTION: To whom has President Bush delegated authority to declassify information, in general? The Vice President --
Scott McClellan: There's an executive order from March of 2003 that that's the most recent executive order on classification issues, and you might want to take a look at that.
QUESTION: Can I get a copy from you, please?
Scott McClellan: Yes, it's on our website, too.
QUESTION: And so the Vice President --
Scott McClellan: I think the latter part of March, 2003.
QUESTION: Thank you. And Vice President Cheney --
Scott McClellan: A couple more questions, then we've got to go to the week ahead. I've got to go to this roundtable.
QUESTION: Vice President Cheney is on that list?
Scott McClellan: But I'll be back. I know you all are looking forward to it, like I am. (Laughter.) Go ahead.
QUESTION: Vice President Cheney is on the list of people who have the authority to declassify?
Scott McClellan: Well, talk to -- you can talk to the Vice President's Office, but that's -- the executive order talks about the classification issues. But about his specific issues, talk to his office. There are some constitutional separation of powers issues involved there.
QUESTION: Should NIEs be declassified for political purposes?
Scott McClellan: For the public interest, is what I said, that the reason why the National -- portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were declassified. It was very much in the public interest. Peter, I think what you have to do is balance the public interest with protecting national security information. And at that point in time, what was disclosed in the National Intelligence Estimate provided important historical context for the public debate that was going on about the intelligence. And so that's why --
QUESTION: Why couldn't --
Scott McClellan: -- that's why it went through a process, and there was nothing in there that was being disclosed that would have compromised national security.
QUESTION: You know that your critics are saying this is done for political purposes -- Congresswoman Harman and others?
Scott McClellan: Well, and I talked about the distinction that is involved here. And Democrats who refuse to acknowledge that distinction are simply engaging in crass politics.
QUESTION: Why shouldn't someone assume that the NIE --
Scott McClellan: I've got to go to the week ahead. I'll be back. I'll go to the week ahead.
QUESTION: Get back to me.
QUESTION: In crass what?
Scott McClellan: Two of you. In crass politics.
Monday, April 10th, the President will make remarks on the global war on terrorism here in Washington. The focus will be on Iraq.
On Tuesday, we will be traveling. The President will visit the Lutheran Senior Service at Heisinger Bluffs in Jefferson City, Missouri. And he will participate in a conversation on the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Then we will go to Des Moines, and the President will visit the Wesley Acres Senior Center. And he'll make -- following that visit, he'll make a statement on the Medicare prescription drug benefit. Then that evening, he -- or that afternoon; I don't have the exact times, we'll get that to you later -- he attends Iowans for Nussle Reception in Des Moines.
Then on Wednesday, we'll be at the White House. The President, as we've already announced, will welcome the President of Ghana here and have a meeting with him. And he will make remarks on the Medicare prescription drug benefit in Annandale, Virginia.
On Thursday, the President will make remarks to Small Business Week Conference in Washington. And then he will depart for Camp David, where he will remain until Sunday. I think much of the larger Bush family will be coming to Camp David to celebrate Easter with the President and Mrs. Bush.
All right. See you all this afternoon.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
-President Barack Obama, 1st Inaugural address