CBS' Roberts: McClellan is a "truth-teller" and a "stand-up guy" with a "pretty good job"

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On the November 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts vouched for White House press secretary Scott McClellan -- after watching a video clip of ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran telling McClellan at an October 31 press briefing that it was not the job of the White House press corps to "vouch" for McClellan to the American people. During the briefing, Moran questioned McClellan about false statements McClellan made to the press about the involvement of White House officials in the alleged leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Despite McClellan's false statements, during the Reliable Sources segment, Roberts called the press secretary a "truth-teller" and a "stand-up guy" and noted that he and McClellan have "a pretty good working relationship."

Roberts's comments came in response to a question from host Howard Kurtz, who asked if Roberts believed that "Scott McClellan owes the press and the public an apology for his -- what turned out to be misleading denial in the CIA leak case." Referring to McClellan's October 7, 2003, claim that White House senior adviser Karl Rove and former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the alleged leak of Plame's identity, Kurtz stated: "We now know that's not true, since Libby has been indicted for lying about his conversations with Tim Russert and other journalists, and Rove has been implicated but not charged in the CIA leak as well. But McClellan now insists he can't comment on an ongoing investigation."

Roberts responded that "[o]bviously in October of 2003, he [McClellan] got some pretty bad information." Roberts said McClellan was not at fault for conveying that "bad information." Instead, Roberts said, "the ones at fault are the ones who gave him what now appears to be bad information."

Roberts then added that "McClellan could do what some people might think to be the honorable thing and say, 'I'm not going to take this any more, I'm going to quit.' " But, Roberts explained, McClellan "has got a pretty good job, by and large. He has got a mortgage, he has got a wife, probably a family coming down the road at some point, and I don't think he wants to give up a lucrative job like that."

From the November 6 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:

KURTZ: Two years ago, Scott McClellan flatly denied that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's name to the press. We now know that's not true, since Libby has been indicted for lying about his conversations with Tim Russert and other journalists, and Rove has been implicated but not charged in the CIA leak as well. But McClellan now insists he can't comment on an ongoing investigation, and that got tempers flaring at a briefing this week.

[begin video clip]

McCLELLAN: I know very --

DAVID GREGORY (NBC chief White House correspondent): You speak for the president. Your credibility and his credibility is not on criminal trial. But it may very well be on trial with the American public, don't you agree?

McCLELLAN: No, I'm very confident in the relationship that we have in this room, and the trust that has been established between us. This relationship --

GREGORY: See those cameras? It's not about us. It's about what the American people --

McCLELLAN: This relationship is built on trust, and you know very well that I have worked hard to earn the trust of the people in this room, and I think I've earned it --

[...]

MORAN: You say we know you -- and we do -- but we can't vouch for you; that's not our job. And I wonder, do you really think after --

McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second. Let me just interject there. I think there are many people in this room I see expressing their own commentary on TV all the time --

MORAN: I can't go on TV and say, "America believes Scott McClellan." That's not my role.

[end video clip]

KURTZ: Joining us now from Brazil, where he's covering President Bush on his trip to South America, CBS News chief White House correspondent John Roberts; here in Washington, Jill Zuckman, Capitol Hill correspondent for the Chicago Tribune; and Frank Sesno, CNN's special correspondent and professor of public policy and communications at George Mason University.

John Roberts, do you believe that Scott McClellan owes the press and the public an apology for his -- what turned out to be misleading denial in the CIA leak case?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, Howie, I may be one of the people in the minority, but I think that he's getting a really rough deal on this. You know, he doesn't go out and free-lance this stuff. He is given his talking points every morning. He is given his walking papers. And he goes out there, and he tries to faithfully articulate whatever it is that the White House tells him.

Obviously in October of 2003, he got some pretty bad information. Is it his fault that he conveyed that information? I don't think so. I think the people who are at fault are -- the ones at fault are the ones who gave him what now appears to be bad information.

Now, of course, McClellan could do what some people might think to be the honorable thing and say, "I'm not going to take this any more, I'm going to quit." But he has got a pretty good job by and large. He has got a mortgage, he has got a wife, probably a family coming down the road at some point, and I don't think he wants to give up a lucrative job like that.

So I think that Scott -- you know, I have known him for a number of years now. I have got a pretty good working relationship with him. I think that he is a truth-teller. I think he is a stand-up guy. And I just think that he was just told to carry somebody else's water, and it just turned out that that water was foul.

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