WASHINGTON - President Bush broke his promise to the country by refusing to fire aide Karl Rove for leaking a CIA agent's identity, Scott McClellan, who was the president's chief spokesman for almost three years, said yesterday.
"I think the president should have stood by his word, and that meant Karl should have left," McClellan said in a broadcast interview about his new tell-all book, a scathing rebuke of the White House under Bush's leadership.
McClellan now acknowledges he felt burned by Rove, Bush's top political adviser, and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff.
He said Rove and Libby assured him they were not involved in leaking CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, and he repeated those assurances to reporters.
Both men had discussed Plame's identity with reporters, as confirmed in a later criminal investigation. Rove's lawyer has maintained Rove never volunteered that information or actively sought to have it published. Libby resigned from office, but Rove remained and eventually stepped down on his own terms in August 2007.
"I think the president should have stood by the word that we said, which was that if you were involved in this in any way, then you would no longer be in this administration. And Karl was involved in it," McClellan said on NBC's
Meet the Press.
White House press secretary Dana Perino declined comment yesterday, as did Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin.
The White House had said in 2003 that anyone who leaked classified information in the case would be dismissed. Bush reiterated that promise in June 2004.
By July 2005, Bush qualified his position, saying he would fire anyone for leaking classified information if that person had "committed a crime."
Rove was never charged with a crime.
McClellan writes in his book that Bush backpedaled to protect Rove, a point he repeated in the interview.
"We had higher standards at the White House," McClellan said. "The president said he was going to restore honor and integrity. He said we were going to set the highest of standards. We didn't live up to that. When it became known that his top adviser had been involved, then the bar was moved."
On other topics from his book, McClellan said:
He was part of a White House effort to shade the truth about the case for war in Iraq. "I was part of this propaganda campaign, absolutely," he said.
His tone for the book changed and grew sharper as he wrote it, and he reached conclusions different from those anticipated.
He expected the fierce reaction he has received from critics.