Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Weaselpalooza at The White House

I guess the price you pay when there's a three-day weekend is that it gives White House Press Secretary Scott "The Lyin' King" McClellan more time to come up with slippery answers for the next full press briefing.

The latest edition of Weaselpalooza was yesterday afternoon. Here's McClellan really lowering the bar on how America needs to behave relative to terrorists or Iraqi insurgents:
Q: Scott, you said that the United States is working carefully with Pakistan in going after al Qaeda. And Pakistani officials say at least maybe four or five top al Qaeda perhaps were hit in the air strike last week. Is there any expression of regret to the tens of thousands of Pakistanis who took to the streets over the weekend saying that there were civilians, there were children who were also killed in that attack?

McClellan: Well, as I said, first of all, Pakistan is a valued ally in the war on terrorism and we work very closely with Pakistan. I'm not going to get into discussing any operational activities or alleged operational activities relating to the ongoing war on terrorism. I never have from this podium.

We are engaged in a war on terrorism against a deadly and determined enemy, an enemy that continues to target innocent civilians. In this war, we go out of our way to target the enemy, to target the terrorists, those who want to do harm to innocent civilians in Pakistan, in that region, in the United States. We work very hard to minimize the loss of civilians. And we go out of our way to minimize civilian loss.

The enemy, as I said, targets innocent civilians. That's the difference. They target innocent civilians. We help innocent civilians. That's what we've been doing in Pakistan through our relief and reconstruction support in the aftermath of the earthquakes, and that's what we will continue to do. So I think our views are very clear, and our philosophy and principles are very clear, too. And they stand in stark contrast to the terrorists, the al Qaeda people that are operating in that region that want to harm innocent people in Pakistan, that want to harm innocent people in the United States.
Aaahhhhh... So, in other words, while we kill innocent people, we don't do it with the same intent of people like Osama bin Laden. I feel better now.

But here comes the really good part. The press is on McClellan like a dirty shirt, asking him about the Jack Abramoff-White House link and how the Republican party's mega lobbyist got privileged access to the West Wing:
Q: Another topic, if you would. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others sent a letter to the President today regarding Abramoff, asking for the President make public any contacts that he had with Abramoff, as well as senior administration officials; and any kind of benefits or access that they may have gained from this connection. They said, "The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale." Is there any plan for the President or the administration to make that information available?

McClellan: Well, this President expects everybody in his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards. I've already talked to you all about this matter. If you have anything specific to bring to my attention, please do. But, remember, this is a guy who has admitted wrongdoing. He's being brought to justice by the Justice Department under this administration. And he's also someone where he and/or his clients contributed to both Democrats and Republicans. So I think that needs to be put in context, as well.

Q: So would the White House be open to complying with the Democrats' request to go ahead and provide that kind of information, the contacts Abramoff had with senior staff, that type of thing?

McClellan: Well, I've already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there.

Q: Can you be more specific about the contacts with the senior staff? You said you were going to get back to us on that. Can you give us --

McClellan: I did check. There were a few staff-level meetings. As I indicated there were -- I think I previously indicated that he attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House. It is actually only two Hanukkah receptions that he attended.

Q: And the years?

McClellan: I think it was the earlier years, earlier 2000 -- early in the 2000 time period. I can double-check that. And so that's --

Q: Specific staff? You were going to get back to us on the specific staff --

McClellan: Yes, my understanding from the check that we did was that there are just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those.

Q: Who was in the staff meetings?

McClellan: I don't get into discussing staff-level meetings.

Q: Why not?

McClellan: Well, if you got something to bring to my attention, Elisabeth, I'll be glad to look into it. If you've got something specific, I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q: Did he meet with Karl Rove, for example?

McClellan: We don't -- we don't ever tend to get into those staff-level meetings.
Scottie gets a break here while one of the Jeff Gannon wannabees in the crowd asks a couple of softball questions. But then the real press comes back again – and they do not let McClellan off the hook easily.
Q: Scott, what was the subject matter when Jack Abramoff met with staff here?

McClellan: I'm sorry?

Q: What was the subject --

McClellan: I just indicated earlier to Elisabeth's questions that we just don't get into discussing White House staff-level meetings. We never really have.

Q: Can you say who Mr. Abramoff was representing when he came in here?

McClellan: No. Again, we don't get into discussing staff-level meetings. If you have something specific to bring to my attention, I'll be glad to try to look into that. But I'm not aware of anything specific that you have.

Q: What got him in the door here? How did he qualify for meetings here?

McClellan: Again, I checked on this. What I was asked is to go and check on this, and I did. And there were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, and then a few staff-level meetings on top of that. And that's the way I would describe it.

Now, what I can't do is go and say with absolute certainty that he did not have any other visits. We did a check at your request and what I have learned from that request is exactly what I am telling you.

Q: Was it senior staff, at that level?

McClellan: I'm sorry?

Q: Would you qualify it as senior staff that he met with here?

McClellan: I'm just saying staff-level meetings is the way I would describe it. And if you have anything specific, I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q: Well, we're counting on you for the specifics --

McClellan: Well, if there's any reason for me to check into it, please bring it to my attention.

Q: He's pled guilty to some serious charges.

McClellan: And so are you insinuating something?

Q: We're just trying to find out the facts.

McClellan: Well, if you've got something to bring to my attention, do so, and then I'll be glad to look into it.

Q: Scott, that's not a fair burden to place on us. This is a guy who is a tainted lobbyist, and he has connections -- we want to know -- with whom in the White House. You shouldn't demand that we give you something specific to go check it out. I mean, this guy is radioactive in Washington. And he knows guys like Karl Rove. So did he meet with him or not?

McClellan: I know of nothing that --

Q: Don't put it on us to bring something specific. It's a specific question about a specific individual.

Q: Can you tell us if he met with Karl Rove?

McClellan: Because we don't discuss staff-level meetings --

Q: Of course you do, whenever you want to discuss staff-level meetings. And if Karl Rove, who has ties to Ralph Reed, which he does, we want to know if he has ties to Jack Abramoff, and if they met --

McClellan: Well, I can answer that.

Q: Oh, great. Well, before you said --

McClellan: No, I mean, about if he knows -- yes, he knows -- he knows Mr. Abramoff. They are both former heads of the College Republicans. That's how they got to know each other way back, I think it was in the early '80s. And my understanding is that Karl would describe it as more of a casual relationship, than a business relationship. That's what he has said.

But if you've got specific matters that I need to look into, it's my point that I think it's your obligation to bring that to my attention and I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q: Well, I don't --

McClellan: There's been no --

Q: -- no, no, but I don't think it's our obligation to do anything. If we want to know whether there was pending business that Abramoff represented to members of the staff here at the White House, what do we need --

McClellan: There's been no suggestion of anything like that out of this White House.

Q: -- some kind of an affidavit to bring you to --

McClellan: There's been no suggestion of anything like this in this White House.

Q: I'm just asking. I'm not suggesting.

McClellan: No, you're insinuating. Go ahead.
I'm thinking McClellan's unwillingness to "discuss staff-level meetings" is the New Year's version of him not answering questions about "an ongoing investigation." There's another short break while McClellan catches his breath before David Gregory of NBC News brings it again – except Gregory invokes why the White House has discussed operational stuff like this before and now suddenly will not.
Q: Can I one -- just one follow-up, Scott, because I think just to refresh your memory, when the whole Enron scandal came up, and there were questions about Ken Lay's ties to President Bush, this White House -- and you may have even worked on this -- under your predecessor provided specific information on White House meetings between Ken Lay and senior staff. So when you say you don't normally release that --

McClellan: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure that that's -- I think that that was relating to other matters, and relating to phone calls, or something of that matter. I'll have to take a look at that, but I think that you're a little bit off on that, that there are some differences here in what we're talking about.

But my only point is to you, David, is that there are people that have been charged with wrongdoing. That doesn't, in and of itself, implicate anyone else. And I don't think getting into discussion about this -- discussing this, is fair to anybody beyond responding to what your question was.

As a general matter, there were just a few staff level meetings and a couple of holiday receptions, is what I've been able to learn. Again, I can't say with absolute certainty that that is everything, but that's what I looked into, and that's what we were able to learn. And if there's something specific that you've got of concern, bring that to my attention, I'll be glad to look into it. I don't think it's fair, otherwise, to go down that road.
For those of you who think the daily press briefing and McClellan's constant bobbing and weaving is much ado about nothing, please remember that this daily meeting is the primary conduit by which information gets from the White House to the American people. McClellan's daily lying and misleading doesn't just keep the truth from the press – it keeps the truth from us as well.