McClellan, impeachment and Congress
The Real News Network’s Senior Editor Paul Jay interviews Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda, on the Former White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan, upholding the Constitution, and the right to impeachment. In McClellan’s latest book he alleges that the Bush administration intentionally distorted facts to push the Iraq war agenda. He also suggests that other top officials were involved in leaking the identity of former CIA agent, Valerie Plame. McClellan will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Friday.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary to President George W. Bush, appears before the House Judiciary Committee. In his recently published book, What Happened, McClellan charges that the Bush administration systematically distorted facts to push the Iraq War agenda. He also alleges that top people in the offices of the president and the vice president were involved in leaking the identity of former CIA agent Valerie Plame.
TV NEWS HOST: —explosive new tell-all book and what it says about the president and the war in Iraq.
TV NEWS HOST: For punch and for brevity, just skimming the chapter titles may tell you everything: Selling the War, Deniability, Triumph and Illusion, Revelation and Humiliation, and Out of Touch. Our fifth story on the countdown, the book by former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, perhaps the most extraordinary collection of revelations about a sitting president since John Dean was sworn in before the Ervin Committee in 1973.
To discuss the broader implications of McClellan’s allegations, we are joined by Bruce Fein, founder of the American Freedom Agenda. He served in the US Justice Department under President Reagan and was an advisor to Congressman Ron Paul. Thanks for joining us, Bruce.
BRUCE FEIN, AMERICAN FREEDOM AGENDA: Delighted to be here.
JAY: So if you were sitting in this, on the committee hearings, and you had a chance to ask Scott McClellan questions, what would you ask? And, also, why should we care about this anyway?
FEIN: Well, we can answer in reverse order. Why do we care? It’s because, as George Schultz, former secretary of state, said, "Honesty is the coin of the realm in any democracy." We need to know whether the government and the president and vice president systematically lied or misrepresented critical facts about our foreign policy to the American people to mislead Congress and the American people to think and be diverted from, perhaps, wrongdoing or miscalculation. And I remind many of those viewers that in the articles of impeachment that were voted against Richard Nixon by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974, they recited his lies to the American people as part of impeachable offenses, because a core element of self-government, government by the consent of the governed, is having the people know what their government is doing and why. If they’re being lied to, they’re then voting and their political loyalties are based upon a false representation of the facts.
JAY: So if you were at these hearings, what would you ask Scott?
FEIN: Well, I would ask Scott McClellan, "Was the president and the vice president, in your judgment, involved in a systematic effort, an intentional effort to misrepresent and inflate and distort facts that had been presented to them by their own administration to advance a political agenda. For instance, you note, Mr. McClellan, in your book that President Bush thought only through war could you have a transformative effect on the world—that’s the only way a president, in some sense, could leave a mark on history. Is it your judgment that President Bush may have inflated and distorted the evidence of weapons of mass destruction or association with al-Qaeda in Iraq because he wanted to conjure up a reason to invade to transform the Middle East for his own political benefit, despite the fact that the American people and Congress would be totally ignorant of what the real motivation was?"
JAY: And does McClellan in his book and other statements give evidence that is the case?
FEIN: It’s more inferential, if you will, than not direct testimony. He concedes that at some of the highest levels of meetings he was excluded. But surely he was around long enough to know a modus operandi, if you will. In the law of evidence, if there’s a repeated pattern of occurrences, misrepresentations, lies, distortions, which is what he accounts, largely, in his book—.
JAY: But if he answers that question you just posed, and if anyone—and we’re taping this interview, just so everyone knows, just before the actual hearings—but if this question does get asked, and if he answers in the affirmative, then what? I mean, that sounds impeachable.
FEIN: Well, it certainly does, and it suggests the committee then would have a justification of either issuing a subpoena or interrogatories to President Bush and saying under oath, "What is your answer?" It’s not unprecedented that presidents answer questions when their honesty comes under a cloud. For instance, I was in Washington when then-president Gerald Ford testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee about his pardon of President Nixon, because there had been suspicions that there was a quid pro quo—Nixon would resign if Ford agreed that he would pardon him in advance. So the sky will not fall if the president himself, either through an affidavit or through direct testimony explained, "No, I was attempting to portray what I understood the facts to be."
JAY: But what else would you ask McClellan?
FEIN: I would ask McClellan whether or not he believed that it was the intent and purpose of the executive branch under Bush to try to advance a political agenda by misinformation, disinformation, really disowning their obligation of honesty and openness, and whether or not classified information was made classified to conceal political embarrassment or effect, rather than national security—a clear abuse. For example, Scott McClellan does write in his book that he was dumbfounded when the president unilaterally declassified information relating to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so it could be leaked to discredit Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame. If that kind of manipulation of classified information is underway, that in my judgment is, again, an impeachable offense and effort to use secrecy to warp and distort the democratic oversight process of Congress and the American people.
JAY: What else does McClellan say about the Plame affair?
FEIN: Well, one of the things that distressed him was that the president at the outset said, "If any of my officials have been involved in the leak"—he didn’t say it had to be criminal—"they will not serve in this administration. I will fire them." And then, when it was disclosed that Karl Rove, even though not indicted, did concede, maybe inadvertently, that he was involved in leaking Valerie Plame’s name, nothing happened and he was promoted. And that again showed the insincerity of President Bush in promising to bring a clearly ethical, squeaky-clean administration to the White House, and then having it fall apart without any qualms whatsoever.
JAY: In McClellan’s book and what he’s expected to say, are there things he could say that could lead to either reopening the Libby case or beginning a new case against Rove?
FEIN: Remember, under the Constitution there’s a prohibition against double jeopardy. Mr. Libby has been tried. He’s been convicted. He’s had his sentence commuted. He may be pardoned later on. So you can’t go and retry a second trial, if you will, of an individual for the same wrongdoing. Now, of course, Karl Rove has never been indicted at all. I don’t know whether the statute of limitations, which in perjury is typically five years, would have elapsed by this particular time, but he wouldn’t confront a constitutional bar to reinvestigating the Karl Rove situation. But I think it would be difficult politically, simply because Mr. Fitzgerald was the one—he was the special prosecutor who indicted Libby—did not indict Karl Rove. He’s not been claimed of worked his judgment for political purposes, and to come and reexamine or second-guess what he has done would be a hard, uphill battle.
JAY: How explosive is his testimony likely to be? Nothing McClellan is saying in his testimony is actually new. It’s in the book and, frankly, through many other sources people have known about the manipulation of intelligence on Iraq, the Plame affair is more or less known. Is this McClellan testimony start a kind of process in the Congress that needs to be followed through? Or can it be more or less ignored?
FEIN: If we go back historically and see how some witnesses’ testimony have then escalated in a different way, the most pertinent analogy to me is John Dean. He came forth, and although he had more dramatic testimony, I think, than Scott McClellan, it really wasn’t a home run until we had the presidential tapes. And although Dean didn’t know about the tapes, his testimony led to other recollections, and Alex Butterfield disclosed the tapes. And then we know what happened thereafter, with Nixon’s resignation. So it really is up to Congress. If they don’t follow up by going up the food chain, so to speak, from McClellan, I don’t think it’s going to be much more than what we’ve already known about the cynical attitude of this Bush administration towards truth and oversight.
JAY: So it really comes down to the leadership of the Democratic Party. In the next part of our interview, we’ll discuss the role of the leadership of the Democratic Party, the question of impeachment, and where does Barack Obama stand on this. Please join us for the next part of our interview with Bruce Fein.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.