Reporting on the potential consequences for White House senior adviser Karl Rove related to his apparent leaking the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame to the press, ABC News Washington correspondent Jake Tapper again misrepresented pledges by President Bush and his administration to fire anyone responsible for leaking the agent's identity. Tapper falsely contradicted assertions by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that the White House had promised to fire "anybody who was involved in the leak," not just those found to have committed a crime.
From the July 14 edition of ABC's World News Tonight:
TAPPER: Today, for the first time since Karl Rove was named as a reporter's source, Wilson called upon the president to fire him.
WILSON (clip): But for the president to honor his word, that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak.
TAPPER: But the president never said he would fire "anybody involved in the leak." For him, it has been all about the law.
But, as Wilson noted, White House promises to fire those responsible for the leak were not dependent upon whether the leakers violated the law, as Media Matters for America has documented. During a September 29, 2003, press briefing, White House press secretary Scott McClellan pledged that the leaker, once discovered, would be dismissed. At no time did McClellan make this pledge contingent on whether the leakers did anything illegal:
McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing.
McCLELLAN: The president has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.
McClellan reiterated this point, moments later:
Q: You continue to talk about the severity of this and if anyone has any information they should go forward to the Justice Department. But can you tell us, since it's so severe, would someone or a group of persons, lose their job in the White House?
McCLELLAN: At a minimum.
The following day, Bush echoed McClellan's statement by promising to take "action" against the leaker:
Q: Yesterday we were told that Karl Rove had no role in it --
Q: -- have you talked to Karl and do you have confidence in him --
BUSH: Listen, I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action.
Tapper previously selectively quoted the White House to suggest that Bush pledged only to fire those found to have broken the law. He also misrepresented the federal law that forbids revealing the identity of a covert agent, claiming that Rove would have had to have identified Plame by name in order to have violated the law.