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Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan says George W. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove arranged a private meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby in 2005 when the two men were under mounting suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson.
Calling the scene "one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss," McClellan writes in his new memoir that "in 2005, during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, [the meeting] sticks vividly in my mind. ...
"Following [a meeting in Chief of Staff Andy Card's office], Scooter Libby was walking to the entryway as he prepared to depart when Karl turned to get his attention. 'You have time to visit?' Karl asked. 'Yeah,' replied Libby."
In the new book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and the Culture of Washington Deception, McClellan doesn't offer substantive evidence that Rove and Libby used the meeting in 2005 to coordinate their cover stories.
"I have no idea what they discussed, but it seemed suspicious for these two, whom I had never noticed spending any one-on-one time together, to go behind closed doors and visit privately," McClellan writes.
"At least one of them, Rove, it was publicly known at the time, had at best misled me by not sharing relevant information, and credible rumors were spreading that the other, Libby, had done at least as much," McClellan said. "I don't know what they discussed, but what would any knowledgeable person reasonably and logically conclude was the topic?"
For more than a year in three separate appearances before a federal grand jury, Rove had insisted he was not a source for columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, two journalists who were told about Plame's CIA identity when it was still secret.
On July 14, 2003, Novak wrote the first story exposing Plame's CIA identity in the context of discrediting her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had challenged Bush's bogus claims that Iraq had purchased yellowcake uranium from Niger.
Rove told the grand jury that he first learned that Plame worked for the CIA when he read it in Novak's column, according to Rove's attorney Robert Luskin. But the truth was Rove had been an unnamed source for both Novak and Cooper.
Press secretary McClellan was dragged into the middle of the Plame controversy in September 2003, after the CIA – angered by the blowing of Plame's cover – got the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into the leaking of her classified identity.
It fell to McClellan to steer reporters – and the public – away from suspicions that Bush's inner circle was implicated in exposing an undercover CIA officer, an act that Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, once had likened to treason.
In early fall 2003, the White House tried to make it appear that the younger George Bush held the same standards.
"The President has set high standards, the highest of standards, for people in his administration," McClellan said on Sept. 29, 2003. "If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration."
President Bush then announced that he was determined to get to the bottom of the matter.