From the Chicago Tribune:
WASHINGTON — The Bush White House, long accused by outside critics of misrepresenting the facts to make the case for war in Iraq and other matters, has launched a personal counterattack against harsh accusations of “deception” from a longtime insider who worked closely with the president.
White House aides past and present are strongly dismissing the words of Scott McClellan, who served as President George W. Bush’s press secretary and now has written a book accusing Bush of misleading the public about the war and more.
With the discipline of a White House team that is nothing if not on-message during a crisis, Bush aides have stepped forward to say this isn’t the Scott McClellan they recall. In their full-bore, personal attack on the author, whom Bush once embraced as a valued friend, they are confronting potentially damaging new pages in another chapter of the soon-retiring president’s legacy.
“It is sad,” said current White House press secretary Dana Perino, dismissing McClellan on Wednesday as “disgruntled about his experience at the White House. … This is not the Scott we knew.”
The president was “surprised” by the book’s claims, Perino said.
“He is puzzled,” she said of Bush, “and he doesn’t recognize this as the Scott McClellan that he hired and confided in and worked with for so many years.”
“For him to do this now strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional,” Fran Townsend, former head of the White House-based counterterrorism office, told CNN.
Dan Bartlett, former counselor to the president, said in an interview on CNN: “There is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew.”
McClellan and others were quietly eased out during a second term housecleaning that ultimately removed all of the highest-profile Texans from the Bush administration—from Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and Dan Bartlett at the White House to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales.
But McClellan maintains that he wrote the book—”What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception”—”not to settle scores or enhance my own role.” Rather, McClellan wrote, events at the White House, principally the leaking of a CIA operative’s identity and misleading information that the administration promoted as the rationale for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, prompted him to write the tell-all.
“I was caught up in the deception that followed,” he wrote of the White House’s denials about having any hand in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity after her husband, Joseph Wilson, criticized the administration for allegedly manipulating prewar intelligence.
Ari Fleischer, who served as Bush’s first press secretary, echoed the White House’s suggestion that this is not the Scott McClellan he remembers. Yet in an interview with Fox News, Fleischer also voiced some sympathy for the task that McClellan faced.
“He got dealt a deck of cards that were very tough,” Fleischer said. “He was the press secretary at a time when the war in Iraq started to go very badly, he had issues inside with staffers who deceived him. There are some legit issues that Scott raises, but the point he makes about the president and the war in Iraq, that’s just the part I don’t understand.”
Perino said Bush would have no public comment about the book.
The book “has been described to the president,” she said. “I do not expect a comment from him on it—he has more pressing matters than to spend time commenting on books by former staffers.”