WASHINGTON — Scott McClellan, President Bush’s former press secretary, told the House Judiciary Committee on Friday that he had been unfairly vilified by Bush supporters for his recent book criticizing former White House colleagues over the Iraq war and their involvement in leaking the identity of an intelligence officer.
Mr. McClellan, however, offered little new information in his testimony on those issues beyond what he wrote in the book, “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception” (Public Affairs), which was published in May and last week topped the nonfiction best-seller list in The New York Times.
In the book, Mr. McClellan says senior White House officials misled the nation about the reasons for invading Iraq and maneuvered him into lying to the public about their roles in the leak case.
The book, a kind of mea culpa, has generated a rich discussion about the obligations of political loyalty, and Mr. McClellan’s appearance Friday on Capitol Hill provided another stage for that debate. The man who once regularly and seemingly by rote defended Mr. Bush from the White House press room podium was attacked by the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, who grilled Mr. McClellan as ferociously as any reporter had in his three years as press secretary.
Committee Democrats, on the other hand, were much gentler, treating Mr. McClellan as if he were an author promoting a book during in an interview.
In his opening statement, Mr. McClellan said that in contemporary Washington politics, “vicious attacks, distortions, political spin become accepted.” He added that “there is no more recent example of this unsavory side of politics than the initial reaction to my book,” in which he said his motives for writing it were unfairly attacked.
He said that he wrote the book out of loyalty to the “ideals of candor, transparency and integrity,” which he said should outweigh “loyalty to an individual officeholder.”
A few minutes later, Mr. Smith said that with his book, Mr. McClellan had raised the question of why he went from “a loyal and trusted staff member to an embittered person who makes biting accusations.” He added, “Scott McClellan alone will have to wrestle with whether it was worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver.”
Mr. McClellan has seemed especially angry about having been ordered by senior White House officials to tell reporters that I. Lewis Libby Jr., the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, had no role in leaking the name of the intelligence operative, Valerie Wilson. Mr. Libby was subsequently convicted of lying and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the leak.
At the Friday hearing, called as part of the Congressional investigation into the C.I.A. leak, Mr. McClellan recalled being ordered by Andrew Card, then the White House chief of staff, to publicly declare that Mr. Libby, known as Scooter, had not been involved in disclosing Ms. Wilson’s identity to reporters.
“I was reluctant to do it,” Mr. McClellan told the committee. “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
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