Sound and Fury

The latest White House press briefing by Scott McClellan is really a masterpiece of the art of nothing-saying. A sample:

Terry, there is a process in place that was followed. The CIA has a process to look at classified information if it is leaked, and they followed a process and that process has moved forward. And the Department of Justice is looking into it. I don’t know the specific time period, but the process was followed, and the President expects the process to be followed, and that process was followed, and that what the President expects, because leaking classified information is a very serious matter.
Q That’s what I’m asking about. He said that — I want to know what he’s done about it. This story broke in July. Did he know in July that an undercover CIA official had been outed and that the person who outed that undercover CIA official attributed it to senior administration officials?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there — no, I understand what you’re saying. But I think there are certain assumptions you’re still making in your remarks. The Department of Justice is looking into this to determine what you’re saying about the potential leak of classified information concerning an undercover CIA agent. And there have been some news reports that I saw back to that period, some that have been cited recently, talking about how some of this information may have been well-known within the D.C. community.
Q Fair enough. But when did the President know it?
MR. McCLELLAN: But, see, that’s what I just told you, Terry. The process is in place, and it followed that process. I don’t know, in answer to your first part of your question. But the President expects the process to be followed for something like this, and it was. The CIA followed the process and information has been provided to the Department of Justice. The Department of Justice is looking into it. But, remember, back in July, when this issue came up and I was asked about it, it was an anonymous source in the newspaper. There are plenty of anonymous sources in news reports on a daily basis, and we could spend all our time trying to track down the information from those anonymous sources. But we want to be able to focus on the people’s business —
Q Right. But you were asked about it in July —
MR. McCLELLAN: And I made it very clear back there in July, too, that there was no information beyond the media reports with anonymous sources to suggest any White House involvement. But the process was followed, and that’s what’s important. The President believes it’s important that the process was followed, because the President believes the leak of — the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter.
Q Fair enough. If you get a chance, if you could establish for us when it came to the President’s —
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, that was back in July and I —
Q Is that not knowable? That’s knowable, right? It’s checkable?
MR. McCLELLAN: — just don’t know. I looked into it and I just don’t know.
Q Do you know if anyone has yet come forward to offer any information to the Department of Justice about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the Department of Justice about that. They’re the ones who are doing this investigation and they would be the appropriate ones to ask that question.
Q Would you know? Would you know? Are you trying to stay away from it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t have any reason — I don’t have any reason to. That’s the Department of Justice, that’s their role, and the criminal division over there.
Q Scott, in the past, the Justice Department has used polygraph examinations in sensitive leak investigations. The President has said he expects full cooperation. If I work at the White House and down the road in this investigation the Justice Department came to me and said, we want you to submit to a polygraph investigation, the President would expect the answer to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the hypothetical, but that is a hypothetical and that is not where the process is. The process is that the Justice Department has asked the White House to preserve any and all material related to the specific information they put in their letter. And that’s —
Q Well, let’s set that specific hypothetical aside. If an FBI agent or the Justice — somebody on the Justice Department team made a request of a White House official that is consistent with past practices in a similar investigation, would the President expect someone on his staff to comply with that request?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has directed the White House to cooperate fully, that message was sent as soon as he learned of the investigation. He made it clear to White House Counsel, and White House Counsel made it clear to senior staff the other day — that was the President — at the President’s direction. We will cooperate fully with the investigation and make sure that we preserve the integrity of the investigation. So that’s where things are right now.
Q Ambassador Wilson says that he was told by a reporter that Karl Rove said, “Wilson’s wife is fair game.” I know you’ve spoken with Karl, does he deny that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q Does he deny that he ever used those words, “Wilson’s wife is fair game”?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, the issue here, and this came up earlier, the issue here is whether or not someone leaked classified information. That is a serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest. I have seen comments from Mr. Wilson. And I have seen him back away from those comments later. It seems to be, he said one thing previously about Karl Rove, and then he backed away from it. And now he’s saying other things. There’s a changing of the issue here all of a sudden. The issue here is did someone leak classified information, and, if so, who was that person, and then the appropriate action should be taken.
Q You have said previously from the podium that these types of accusations against Karl are “ridiculous.”
Q On the very line that Ambassador Wilson says that Karl used, “Wilson’s wife is fair game,” is that wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ve just said, he has said a lot of things and then backed away from what —
Q Scott, I want to know —
MR. McCLELLAN: — and then backed away from what he said. So I think part of your role is to do some further questioning there.
Q I’m asking you, that’s why we’re asking, to make sure — I mean, we don’t want to continue to report something that’s inaccurate.
MR. McCLELLAN: If Mr. Wilson — well, he made some comments earlier and then he backed away from them, and those comments were reported previously.
Q Does Karl deny that he said that?
MR. McCLELLAN: What were the words again?
Q “Wilson’s wife is fair game.”
MR. McCLELLAN: And who did he say it to?
Q To a reporter that then repeated it to Wilson.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is — the issue here — what is the issue here? Did someone leak classified information? Is that the issue?
Q It could be about changing the tone, too.
MR. McCLELLAN: All of a sudden now, we’re trying to change the topic in this room.
Q There’s a legal issue, there’s an ethical issue, too. Going after a man’s wife is unethical.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make it very clear. As I said previously, he was not involved, and that allegation is not true in terms of leaking classified information, nor would he condone it. So let me be very clear. But I’m not going to — we’re not going to go down every single allegation that someone makes. That’s just — we can do that all day long. Let’s stay focused on what the issue is here.
Q You said the issue here was whether someone leaked classified information. As I understand the applicable laws here, isn’t the real issue whether someone knowingly leaked classified information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, you may — I may stand corrected on that, you’ll have to look at the law. I’m not going to play a lawyer from here. But the leaking of — I’ll go back to what I have said and what the President has said, and what he has always said, that the leaking of classified information is a serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest extent. And the Department of Justice is doing that now.