For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
The White House
October 1, 2003
Press Briefing by Scott McClellanThe James S. Brady Briefing Room
[excerpts on White House leak investigation]
Q: Scott, when did the President first find out that someone in his administration had outed an undercover CIA official? What was his reaction? What did he do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, there's an allegation that that has happened, at this point.
Q: It was an undercover official who has now been exposed; that's fact, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I'm sorry -- an allegation that a senior administration official did that, that's what I'm referring to.
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."
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
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.
Q: But I mean, isn't one of the questions here whether or not people knew that she was undercover and went ahead and disclosed that to a journalist, or whether they were --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that is part of the investigation and part of the issue that the career Justice Department officials will look at as they move forward on this investigation.
Q: Now, the other side of this, of course, is that the conversation -- senior administration officials, not White House -- suggested that they were trying to belittle Joe Wilson's credentials by saying, he didn't get the job because he deserved it, he got it because his wife works at the CIA. Is there a concern about that side of the issue, regardless of whether or not classified information --
MR. McCLELLAN: Repeat the last part -- the last part of your question?
Q: Is there concern about the fact that some senior administration official somewhere suggested that he only got the job because his wife worked at the CIA -- which is apart from the classified aspect.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think the issue before us is the classified aspect of things. Your specific question is, was there concern that news reports said that he may have -- or suggested that he may have gotten the job because his wife worked at the CIA? Is that what you're asking?
Q: Yes. I'm asking if there's any concern now about that -- an effort that appears to be, if it was not an intentional leak of classified information, it was, one could argue, an attempt to belittle his credentials by saying he got the job because of his wife. And I'm just saying, is there a concern about that, as well as the classified?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't condone any such activity and, you know, I have not seen any information brought to our attention to suggest that.
Q: Scott, with agents possibly hours or days from either showing up at the White House or making phone calls, has the White House developed any rules of engagement between staffers and contacts with agents? Do the staffers have to report contacts first to the legal Counsel's Office, or do they just start answering questions? What are the rules here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, what has been asked of us at this point is simply to preserve information. And that's exactly what White House staff has been directed to do and we expect all White House staff to do. That's the issue here. The Justice Department hasn't asked us anything beyond that, at this point.
Q: I understand.
MR. McCLELLAN: I am sure that we will receive additional requests from them and we will cooperate fully at that point --
Q: -- think that somebody here is thinking about the next day or the next --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- when we do.
Q: -- this afternoon or tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, making sure that information is preserved. I mean, the White House already is required to preserve and maintain a great deal of information. A lot of our information is already retained. I mean, the phone calls that you make to my office, that information is retained.
Q: On that point, could I quickly follow up? This is in no way to suggest any responsibility --
MR. McCLELLAN: On a piece of paper, Terry. (Laughter.) The message.
Q: -- trying to get a sense of how widespread certain information might have been within the White House, if -- the possibility. In going back through your records and anyone else you've come in contact with, have you come upon any documents that are covered by the "relevance" that either mention the Ambassador, mention his wife and her role at the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you asking if I, personally, have?
Q: Yes, if you've come across anything in your email or anything that's come across --
MR. McCLELLAN: I was traveling most of yesterday, so -- got back about 10:00 p.m. last night.
Q: Did anyone come to you and say they found -- here's this document that came through their email?
MR. McCLELLAN: Come to me? Well, first of all, if they have questions, the Counsel's Office is ready to answer the questions. If they have information related to the investigation, we made it very clear that we want that information reported to the Department of Justice. I'm sure that staffers are -- that feel they need to are going back and making sure that those records are maintained. That's what we expect.
Q: I'm just trying to get a sense if anybody, any sense of the scope. Just news clips about Joe Wilson's -- that might have been emailed around the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, but at this point, staff has been directed to preserve the information and make sure they maintain that information. They haven't been asked to do anything. Like, they haven't been asked to give it to anybody or anything beyond what the President has made clear, that if they have information relevant to the investigation, anybody -- not only in the administration, but outside the administration -- should report that information to the Department of Justice, particularly people who are citing White House officials as being involved in news reports -- if they have relevant information, they should report that to the Department of Justice.
Q: Does "preserve it" mean just do not delete it? Or does "preserve it" mean actually, proactively, go back and look to see if you have anything that's relevant?
MR. McCLELLAN: It means preserve it and maintain it, make sure you do not get rid of that information if it's relevant to the Department of Justice request.
Q: Scott, the President used the words, "come forward," yesterday. Does he not want anybody to 'fess up to him or to Andy Card or somebody --
MR. McCLELLAN: To the Department of Justice. To the Department of Justice.
Q: He doesn't want to know --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is investigating this, they're the appropriate agency. As I have said earlier in the week, that is where information should be reported.
Q: First, have any investigators yet contacted any members of the White House staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Any members -- all they've asked us to do at this point is what's in the letter.
Q: No investigators have come, there haven't been any specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might ask the Department of Justice if they tried -- I'm not aware of any such contacts, beyond contacts they've had with the Counsel's Office to say, we're going to be sending this letter, this is under investigation, and then the letter sent -- follow-up letter sent yesterday afternoon.
Q: Okay. To follow up on what Terry was asking about earlier, what changed between July 14th and yesterday that accounts for the President not having spoken out then, where he is speaking out on this now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, for the very reason I've already said, and the very reason I said back in July, is that there was an anonymous source making allegations -- I'm not even sure when it was specifically -- an allegation was specifically made that it was a White House person involved in this. But the process was followed. There is a process for if --
Q: But that remains the case now.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and there is discussion -- again, I think there was a news report several days later, after the initial article, suggesting that classified information had been leaked and citing senior administration officials. Again, the appropriate way for this to be handled is the way it was. The CIA looked at this, made some determinations, sent some information to the Department of Justice. And that's what the President expects to happen.
Q: But isn't the underlying question --
MR. McCLELLAN: And as soon as the Justice Department contacted us and said that an investigation is underway, and then the President was informed, he made it very clear that he expects the White House to cooperate fully.
Q: But the question remains, if he feels so strongly about this, why was there nothing earlier? Why was there nothing in July and August?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because there was no information -- there was no information brought to our attention beyond an anonymous source in media reports to suggest that there was White House involvement, that's why.
Q: There's also been some suggestion that White House aides may have pointed reporters toward that story after it was published, toward the name --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, here we go. I mean, this is -- I understand that this is the way Washington, D.C. operates, and all of the sudden --
Q: Well, let me --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the first allegation, well, maybe it was shaky, and then they go to the next allegation and then the next allegation --
Q: But that's the real issue.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that's not --
Q: You want to knock it down, clearly, but that's the real issue.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the real issue here is that this President --
Q: Did the President think there was anything wrong with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: The real issue here is that this President thinks the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest. And the President does not condone the kind of activity you talked about.
Q: He does not condone the -- people pointing reporters toward classified information that's been released; he would not condone that either? Is that what you're saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't condone the activity that you're suggesting, absolutely he does not.
Q: Scott, long-term intelligence experts, former CIA employees who have now become a talking head class, if you will, say beyond the problem with the leak, itself, is the contacts that Mr. Wilson's wife may have had.
Can you tell us what type of investigation is underway to look into either protecting those kind of contacts, or actually an investigation into whether or not any of her contacts may have been compromised because of this leak?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might want to direct those questions to the CIA.
Q: Are you aware of any investigation along those lines? Are you confident --
MR. McCLELLAN: You mean of the CIA looking back and seeing if anything --
Q: -- presumably someone here --
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to talk to the CIA.
Q: Presumably someone here in the White House would have asked someone at the CIA to say, hey, are your people okay by this? Are you aware of that happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to talk to the CIA about those questions, if they've gone back and made those determinations.
Q: And if I can follow. Is there any need for Attorney General Ashcroft, given his relationship with Karl Rove and others, to recuse himself in this investigation at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said earlier, those are determinations that the Department of Justice will make. The Department of Justice publicly said that they had not ruled anything out. I mean, remember, this investigation has just gotten underway and there are career Justice Department officials and FBI officials who are looking into this, who are part of the investigation. It's being addressed by the career professionals at the Department of Justice and FBI. And the President responded to that issue yesterday, as well.
Q: Ambassador Wilson is meeting today on the Hill with congressional Democrats. Does the White House consider him an honest broker in this?
Q: That was canceled.
MR. McCLELLAN: I did see those reports. You know, I think that I will leave it to you to raise those issues and to look at that. That's part of the job of you all in the media, to look at and make determinations about -- or to at least present it to the public in the way that you determine best.
Q: Scott, the Republican Party has launched an offensive, impugning Mr. Wilson's credibility. Does the President condone that?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is focused on getting to the bottom of this. We need to get to the bottom of this. There is a lot of back and forth that goes on here in Washington, D.C. The President is most interested in determining what happened and getting to the bottom of this investigation. There have been some serious allegations made and we need to get to the bottom of it.
Q: And given that they're so serious --
MR. McCLELLAN: I may come back to you later, because we've already -- I'm going to try to keep going through everybody.
Q: According to the chronology you outlined yesterday, there was this, approximately an 11-hour time lag between the time the Counsel's Office was notified by Justice on Monday night and the memo and messages went out to staffers to be -- some Democrats, such as Senator Schumer, have jumped on that time lag and been very critical of it.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what do they say?
Q: He said that this illustrates -- this illustrates the need for a special prosecutor, that a special prosecutor would never have allowed that. I understand what you said yesterday, that you were prepared to move immediately -- "you," the Counsel's Office was prepared to move immediately and you were told by Justice, no, tomorrow morning is okay.
But Schumer and other people are saying that a special prosecutor never would have allowed that. Who in the Counsel's Office got the call Monday night? And who did they then notify?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'll leave it that the Counsel's Office was contacted by the Department of Justice -- I'm not getting into all the names -- at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Monday evening. I mean, the White House staff was not notified at that point because they said, it's fine to notify them tomorrow morning.
So I don't think -- you know, it wasn't known amongst the White House staff that there was an investigation underway until the next morning.
Q: Who was notified? Did the person in the Counsel's Office who got the call, call Mr. Gonzales --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can expect that the Chief of Staff would have been notified.
Q: The Chief of Staff was notified. And did he -- did he then send the information to anyone else?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it was -- the President was informed of the investigation the next morning.
Q: So nobody else -- it went from the Counsel's Office to the Chief of Staff on Monday night, and --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I know. What I just told you is what I know. I don't know beyond that. But I know that the White House staff was not contacted. It went to Counsel's Office and I think Counsel, appropriately so, would inform the Chief of Staff at that point.
Q: Scott, two quick questions, if I may, to a less serious one --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, do we want to stay on this subject? Does anybody have some --
Q: Yes, could you just lay out --
MR. McCLELLAN: All right. Let me stay on this subject so we can go through some more hypotheticals. (Laughter.)
Q: To get away from hypotheticals, would you lay out the details of what Counsel Gonzales has now told White House staff they must preserve? I mean, it's a rather detailed --
MR. McCLELLAN: You have it all in the memos. You have it in the memo -- we released those two memos. I didn't bring them with me to read through that. But it was very specific information that was sent to us yesterday afternoon from the Department of Justice.
All right, who has a hypothetical? (Laughter.) No, you've already had one. We'll come back -- we'll try to get back to people later.
Q: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: You have a hypothetical? (Laughter.) I asked for a hypothetical. No, no. (Laughter.)
Q: I'm no Bob Novak, but my feelings are really hurt that nobody leaked anything to me. (Laughter.)
Has the White House asked George Tenet or anyone else at the CIA why they would send a partisan, like Ambassador Wilson, on this mission? And because he is so partisan --
MR. McCLELLAN: Has who asked? Has who asked anybody?
Q: Has the White House asked George Tenet or anyone at the CIA why they would send a partisan like Ambassador Wilson on this mission? He's proven himself to be partisan, and does that cast doubt on the report that he filed in this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think we've kind of been through this issue already. I don't know of any such conversations. Certainly, I don't think it's my position to get into speculating about someone's motives. I think that is a role for you in the media to determine how to follow.
Q: Isn't the White House the least bit curious --
MR. McCLELLAN: And how to -- and how to present it to the public.
Q: -- about how the process was, that Ambassador Wilson was chosen to go on this very important mission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen the news coverage, just like you have. I've seen the issues that have been raised, and, again, I think that that's best left for you in the media to determine, not me from this podium.
Q: Scott, this is not hypothetical at all. You say the issue is leaking classified information. So my question is did Karl Rove or any others in the White House talk with reporters, not leak classified information, but talk with reporters about Mr. Wilson's wife and her CIA status after the initial report by Robert Novak?
MR. McCLELLAN: After his initial report? Again, you're -- now the issue is changing. The issue was --
Q: No --
MR. McCLELLAN: The issue is, did someone leak classified information. That's a serious matter.
Q: Right. But if someone --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's being investigated. Do people talk about what's in the news? That's a whole a different -- that's on a different --
Q: There is talk about a woman who's still undercover.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I just made clear --
Q: I believe --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just made clear that -- well, was it reported that, one, was that what was reported in the article?
Q: I'm just asking, did --
MR. McCLELLAN: Was that what was reported in the article?
Q: She was an undercover operative.
MR. McCLELLAN: In the original article?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was reported "operative" in the Novak column.
Q: Operative by definition --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was reported -- and he said, you shouldn't use the word "operative." I think the word was "operative." So, I don't know that it said -- I don't --
Q: My question is pretty straightforward. Did Karl Rove or others have conversations with reporters about Mrs. Wilson?
MR. McCLELLAN: In what way?
Q: And her CIA status.
MR. McCLELLAN: There's an investigation going on in asking everybody to preserve any information they would have related to some of the issues you bring up. I'm not -- there's been no information brought to our attention to suggest that anyone leaked classified information, and the President certainly doesn't condone the leaking, or the tactics you're suggesting.
Q: You seem to be suggesting that perhaps they had conversations, but weren't leaking classified information.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's an investigation going on to pull
together all the information. But the issue is, did someone leak classified information? That's a serious issue. And I just made it -- I made it clear early, you brought up Karl's name. Let's be very clear. I thought -- I said it was a ridiculous suggestion, I said it's simply not true that he was involved in leaking classified information, and -- nor, did he condone that kind of activity. This has been answered, and now we're trying to get in a whole bunch of issues, separate and apart from that.
Q: Did your conversation with Rove include whether or not he had tried to highlight that story for reporters?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Did your conversation with Rove include asking him whether or not he had tried to highlight that story for reporters, the Novak story?
MR. McCLELLAN: I made it very clear -- I have spoken with him. I have spoken with him. I made it very clear that it's not true that he was involved in the leaking of classified information or that he condoned some of what you're suggesting.
Q: No, but did he -- did he participate in that? Because then it would make sense that he said, she's fair game now, if it was after the fact. Did you ask him whether or not he participated in that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the individual who said that has already backed away from other previous comments.
Q: I'm asking what you asked Rove.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I made it very clear that the issue was regarding the leaking of classified information. And the issue was -- and someone asked about condoning that information. I made it very clear that he didn't condone that kind of activity and was not involved in that kind of activity.
Q: Just to be clear, whether Rove condoned it or not, he did -- he also did not participate in that type of activity, as far as you're aware? Is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: There is an investigation going on to pull together all that information. I've answered this question. And you can ask it a million different ways, but my response is still going to be the same.
Q: Are you saying that it's okay to discuss some -- a leak --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to try to keep going around to other people, but go ahead.
Q: Are you saying that after the fact, after such a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, now we're getting into -- well, let me put it in perspective. Now we're getting into issues such as, did anyone talk about what was in the news, what was reported in the paper, things of that nature. That can go down a whole lot of different roads. And that's why I think it's important to let the investigation take place. And the investigation is specifically about potential leak of classified information. And you're asking me to try to determine information that's going to be pulled together by the Department of Justice. They --
Q: I'm just asking --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the request, or the information that we've been asked to preserve and maintain was spelled out in the letter from the Department of Justice, and that's the information that could be related to those topics and those areas. And so we expect all White House staff to follow the directive from the President to cooperate fully in preserving and maintaining that information.
Q: What I'm asking very specifically is, is it okay, in the President's view, to discuss -- for a staffer to discuss, after the fact, classified information --
MR. McCLELLAN: That is such a broad question, about is it okay to discuss news articles. I mean, news articles are discussed all the time.
Q: A news article that contains a piece of classified information that is leaked -- is it okay to discuss after the fact that kind of --
MR. McCLELLAN: A news article that reported information?
Q: Classified information.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not -- and again, I'll have to go back and check, but I'm not sure that the article, the original article said anything about classified information or said specifically, "undercover." I may be wrong -- I think it did say "operative."
Q: It didn't say --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the columnist made it clear he probably shouldn't use that word, because his understanding was that she was, indeed, an analyst. So those are the facts.
Now, you're asking me to go back and try to talk to everybody throughout the White House, did anybody talk about this article? I'm just not in a position to be able to do that. I think that's the position for -- that those issues will be addressed by the Department of Justice in the investigation.
Q: I'm not asking you that. I'm just asking, as a matter of policy, does the President draw a distinction between a leak of classified information --
MR. McCLELLAN: And talking about news articles?
Q: -- which includes --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I want to be clear what you're asking. In talking about news articles?
Q: Peddling them.
Q: A specific news article that contained a piece of classified information. Is that okay in the President's view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Was it known that that information was classified?
Q: Well, as a matter of policy --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's an important question. Was it known that information was classified information?
Q: The article certainly identified Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. That fact presumably was not known --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the columnist said that it was his understanding that that individual was an analyst.
Q: -- we don't know what he --
MR. McCLELLAN: But did the article say, "classified information," though? I mean, there are all sorts of "ifs" and "buts" in that question that would be difficult for me to answer from this podium. I think that's for -- the Department of Justice is looking at all this.
Q: Scott, you said that the first the White House Counsel's Office was notified of the investigation was Monday night. Attorney General Ashcroft said yesterday that the investigation was launched Friday, and that prior to that, there was a certain amount of legal activity that went -- involved before they decided to launch the investigation. What contacts were there between the White House Counsel's Office during that period of time and after the Sunday report --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, keep in mind that our Counsel's Office on a lot of issues is in contact with the Department of Justice. What I said, that the first contact about the investigation -- as far as I know, and I've checked on this -- was when the Counsel's Office was contacted by the Department of Justice Monday evening.
Q: So during this period of time, this sort of 48 hours between when The Washington Post reported that an investigation was under consideration and that Monday night, there was no contact between the White House Counsel's Office and the Department of Justice concerning the scope or whether there was going to be an investigation on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: To the best of my knowledge. To the best of my knowledge, that's correct.
Q: I have another issue. Are we still -- do you want to stay on this?
Q: I have a --
MR. McCLELLAN: On another issue? The same issue, anybody? Bill. Hypothetical?
Q: No, no hypothetical. Does this investigation extend to former administration officials, as well, people who worked in the White House who might not work here now?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might direct that to the Department of Justice. What they've asked us to -- all White House staffers to maintain their information. There are records that are maintained from former White House staffers that were here. So, I mean, there's a lot of information that we have to maintain anyway. Some of this goes above and beyond that, but those records that we have to maintain are always maintained. So if that's the question you're asking, I think --
MR. McCLELLAN: This issue?
Q: This issue.
MR. McCLELLAN: Paula, not this issue? Paula, John, and -- well, I'll come back to you if I can at the end, John.
Paula, go ahead.
Q: The President has been going around the country in his speeches talking about the corporate accountability issue and how important it is to be held accountable from the top down. And I still -- I still don't understand why, when this information came out and it was made public in mid-July, why the President didn't feel it was his responsibility to ask his staff if they were involved in this? His inner-circle staff, who would have had access to the information.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me see if I can try to help you understand. First of all, back in July when this issue came up, I was asked about it. I pointed out that it was an anonymous source that was being cited in news reports, that there was no information beyond the media reports to suggest that the White House was involved in any way in what was -- the questions that were raised at that time.
There is a process that the administration has in place to address the leak of classified information. Make no mistake about it, the President has always held the view that the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And the process was followed. And the CIA reported information to the Department of Justice. That's what the President expects to happen. It did happen. Now there's an investigation going on to determine whether or not classified information was leaked.
Q: But prior to that process, the President didn't believe that he had any personal obligation to ask the staff --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President expects the leaking of classified information to be taken seriously. We did not have any information beyond an anonymous source in media reports to suggest White House involvement. We could go through the paper, probably on a daily basis, look at anonymous sources, look at allegations that are made against the administration and try to track down that information. But we would be doing a severe disservice to the American people, because we are staying focused on their business and the highest priorities that are going on in here.
I know there is a -- there sometimes is the media frenzy that happens around an issue like this. We are going to do everything we can, at the direction of the President, to cooperate fully with this investigation. But we are also remembering that we are here to serve the American people, and there are important priorities that need to be addressed and we're going to continue focusing on those important priorities.
Q: I want to set aside the issue of classified information, or leaking classified information for a minute -- a lawyer might call this a state of mind question. Back when Joe Wilson's op-ed came out in The New York Times criticizing the administration, and when he went public and started giving TV interviews, saying that he thought that you were exaggerating the intelligence and twisting the intelligence -- you have communications strategy meetings all the time, in part to decide proactively what you want to say about the President's agenda, but in part, to decide how to respond to people who are criticizing you. Do you recall ever being part of a meeting or meetings in which you said, this guy is getting in our face, we need to rebut him, or we need to find our friends to rebut him?
Sometimes you do it from the podium. Sometimes you seek friends and allies in Congress. Sometimes, say the Republican National Committee --
MR. McCLELLAN: John, like anybody else in the White House, I'll go back through all my records -- I'm making sure that I maintain them, too, and see if there's any information that's related to this investigation. If I find any --
Q: I'm not asking --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know. But if I -- but if there's information that was requested of -- or requested, that we maintain relating to Mr. Wilson's trip. One, we addressed the issue of when we became aware of that, of the trip, which was this summer when it was reported. But, you know, like anybody else in this -- hopefully, like anybody else in this White House, I'm going to do exactly what has been requested that we do and directed by the President of the United States.
Q: That's a Justice Department issue. I'm asking you, as someone who sits in this room everyday, was there ever a conversation or meetings where this -- you know, there was a big political debate going on then, as you well know -- that this guy's kicking us, and we need to respond and rebut?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I remember is addressing the issue of the trip, and when we learned about that. That's what I remember. But I'm going to go back through my records like everybody else and see if there's anything else that may be indirectly or directly relevant to what the Justice Department has asked.