WASHINGTON - Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan blames President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of a CIA operative.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, "What Happened," McClellan recounts the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak involving operative Valerie Plame.
"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan writes, according to a brief excerpt released Tuesday. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest-ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff and the president himself."
Bush's chief of staff at the time was Andrew H. Card Jr.
The excerpt, posted on the website of publisher PublicAffairs, renews questions about what went on in the West Wing and how much Bush and Cheney knew about the leak.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said it wasn't clear what McClellan meant in the excerpt. "The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information," she said.
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Plame maintains the White House quietly outed her to reporters. Plame and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, said the leak was retribution for his public criticism of the Iraq war.
Since that news conference, however, the official White House stance has shifted and it has been difficult to get a clear picture of what happened behind closed doors around the time of the leak.
McClellan's flat denials gave way to a steady drumbeat of "no comment." And Bush's original pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak became a promise to fire anyone who "committed a crime."
McClellan turned down interview requests Tuesday.
Bush most recently addressed the issue in July after commuting the 30-month prison term of Libby, the only one charged in the case. He acknowledged that some in the White House were involved in the leak.
© 2007 Associated Press