McClellan tells panel of suspicion in Plame case

Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, testifying Friday before the House Judiciary Committee, said he was suspicious of Lewis “Scooter” Libby's denial that he had leaked the name of a CIA agent but had no choice but to go along with it.

McClellan's testimony came shortly after his author's tour for “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception,” the memoir that created a stir in Washington when it was published last month.

McClellan told the panel that former White House chief of staff Andrew Card asked him to publicly exonerate Libby from involvement in the case, as McClellan had done for White House counselor Karl Rove. Libby was then chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney.

“I was reluctant to do it,” McClellan said. “I got on the phone with Scooter Libby and asked him point-blank: ‘Were you involved in this in any way?' And he assured me in unequivocal terms that he was not.”

Libby was later convicted of lying to investigators about his role in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame in an effort to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, a critic of the Bush administration's reasons for invading Iraq. Libby was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but his sentence was commuted by President Bush.

In opening remarks before the committee, McClellan repeated the charge in his book that the White House had tilted the evidence to convince the public of the need for war in Iraq. “It's public record that they were ignoring caveats and ignoring contradictory intelligence,” he said.

“I do not know whether a crime was committed by any of the administration officials who revealed Valerie Plame's identity to reporters,” he said. “Nor do I know if there was an attempt by any person or persons to engage in a cover-up during the investigation. I do know that it was wrong to reveal her identity, because it compromised the effectiveness of a covert official for political reasons. I regret that I played a role, however unintentionally, in relaying false information to the public about it.”

He was particularly biting about Rove, saying that he doubted Rove would tell the truth to the committee, which has asked him to testify about his role in the Plame leak.

McClellan was lionized by some representatives – Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., called his sentiments “noble” – but attacked by others as a disgruntled ex-employee who was out to settle scores.

Republicans expressed disdain for McClellan's motives, suggesting that he had disclosed secrets for maximum book sales rather than policy goals.