CNN's Roberts again buoyed McClellan: "I think that he is a truth-teller"

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

CNN's John Roberts -- after acknowledging that he would likely get "in trouble in the liberal blogs" for saying it -- said of outgoing White House press secretary Scott McClellan: "I think that he is a truth-teller." This is the second time Roberts has praised McClellan as a "truth-teller."

Commenting on White House press secretary Scott McClellan's April 19 announcement that he will resign, CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts -- after acknowledging that he would likely get "in trouble in the liberal blogs" for saying it -- said of McClellan: "I think that he is a truth-teller." This is the second time Roberts has praised McClellan as a "truth-teller." As Media Matters for America documented, Roberts -- then with CBS -- described him using that exact term in November 2005.

From the April 19 edition of CNN International's Your World Today:

ROBERTS: Scott McClellan is always everybody's favorite punching bag. And here's something that's gotten me in trouble in the liberal blogs before, but I'll say it again: He is a decent person, I think that he is a truth-teller -- you know, that whole thing with, you know, did [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove tell him the truth and did [former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis"] "Scooter" Libby tell him the truth a few years ago? You know, I think that, basically, Scott was the victim of that.

Roberts was again referring to McClellan's October 7, 2003, claim that Rove and Libby were "not involved" in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Both Rove and Libby were later found to have been intimately involved in the leak -- Rove was the source for Plame's identity for Time reporter Matt Cooper and nationally syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, and Libby was indicted for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his role in the leak. A variety of media outlets, such as The Washington Post, simply asserted that Rove and Libby gave McClellan false information -- implicitly rejecting the other possibility, that McClellan knew at the time that what he was saying wasn't true -- but providing no evidence to support this claim. And McClellan, when confronted to explain why his 2003 statement was wrong, would refuse to answer, claiming that he was not able to comment on an ongoing investigation.

When court papers, released on April 6, pertaining to the investigation into Libby indicated that President Bush authorized Libby to disclose to the media selected portions of the classified 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's alleged weapons programs, reporters questioned McClellan as to when the NIE was actually declassified. According to the court papers, Bush authorized its partial disclosure on July 8, 2003. McClellan, however, claimed on July 18, 2003, that the NIE was "officially declassified today." When challenged by a reporter at an April 7, 2006, press briefing, McClellan claimed that it was officially declassified on July 18, 2003, then claimed he could not discuss the "timing of when the information may have been declassified," and then claimed again that it was officially declassified on July 18 -- seemingly drawing a distinction between "officially declassified" and "declassified," which he did not explain:

QUESTION: Then why are you saying you won't back off anything you said before if, in fact, we have transcripts here where you say that's when it was officially declassified? Are you still saying that's when it was officially declassified [July 18, 2003]?

McCLELLAN: That's when it was made available to the public. So it's officially --

QUESTION: When was it officially declassified?

McCLELLAN: -- so it's officially declassified at that point. I think we're talking past each other a little bit. I'll have to go back and look at the specific transcript -- and I'll be glad to do that -- and we can talk about it further later.

QUESTION: OK. When was it officially declassified?

McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the timing of when information may have been declassified, that gets into a question relating to the legal proceeding in a filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald earlier this week.

QUESTION: What were you referring to on July 18th, then? Was that the official release, or official declassification?

McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I'll have to check. I'll have to go back and look. But my sense is, and my recollection is -- while we're sitting here talking about it is -- I was referring to the fact that was when it was officially declassified for the public.

As recently as April 12, McClellan, rather then telling "the truth," told the White House press corps nothing regarding reports that Bush may have been aware that trailers discovered in Iraq were not mobile biological weapons labs prior to describing them as such in 2003. When asked when the president was aware that U.S. intelligence officials determined the trailers were not for weapons production, McClellan replied: "I'm looking into that matter." When pressed by ABC News White House correspondent Jessica Yellin on whether Bush was aware of the intelligence report, McClellan went to great lengths not to answer her questions -- including attacking her for ABC's coverage of the controversy and demanding an apology from her:

YELLIN: So was the president made aware of the fact --

McCLELLAN: And are you all going to apologize?

YELLIN: Was the president made aware of the faxed field report?

McCLELLAN: Are you all going to apologize for that?

YELLIN: Was the president aware of the faxed field report?

McCLELLAN: Is that a correct statement?

YELLIN: Scott, was the president made aware of the field report that was faxed?

McCLELLAN: Jessica, I just told you, I've asked the intelligence community what they based this paper on. I can't tell you what they based their paper on. You have to. We're not an intelligence-gathering agency.

YELLIN: No, but was the field report faxed --

McCLELLAN: The president made his comments based on this white paper that was publicly released by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the arm of the -- which is an arm of the Pentagon --

YELLIN: -- the question is, was he aware of this report on May 27?

McCLELLAN: I just told you -- you shouldn't make any assumptions, but you should go and ask the intelligence community what was this based on. I can't tell you what they based that on. They're the intelligence-gathering agency.

YELLIN: You can tell us if the president had this information. Did he have this information?

McCLELLAN: Jessica, this -- I just saw this report. I'll come back with more information if there is. But this is reckless reporting. And for you all to go on the air this morning and make such a charge is irresponsible --

[...]

McCLELLAN: Hang on. Are you saying that the president went out there and said something that he knew was not true? That's what you said on ABC News --

YELLIN: I didn't say anything on ABC News --

McCLELLAN: ABC News said that this morning. And is ABC News going to apologize for making that assertion?

YELLIN: My question is, are you denying that there was --

McCLELLAN: You haven't answered my question. Are you going to apologize for that?

YELLIN: -- contrary information?

McCLELLAN: I just did, Jessica. I just answered that very question.

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