Former White House spokesman: Bush used 'propaganda' to sell war
Update: Bush 'didn't remember' whether he'd tried cocaine, McClellan writes
In a new tell-all memoir on sale next week, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan writes that President Bush depended on propaganda to sell the Iraq war to the American public, The Politico reports.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, McClellan also reveals new details about allegations regarding Bush's former drug use that shadowed his 2000 campaign.
McClellan tracks Bush's penchant for self-deception back to an overheard incident on the campaign trail in 1999 when the then-governor was dogged by reports of possible cocaine use in his younger days.
The book recounts an evening in a hotel suite "somewhere in the Midwest." Bush was on the phone with a supporter and motioned for McClellan to have a seat.
"'The media won't let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors,' I heard Bush say. 'You know, the truth is I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day, and I just don't remember.'"
"I remember thinking to myself, How can that be?" McClellan wrote. "How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn't make a lot of sense."
Bush, according to McClellan, "isn't the kind of person to flat-out lie."
"So I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true, and that, deep down, he knew was not true," McClellan wrote. "And his reason for doing so is fairly obvious — political convenience."
In the years that followed, McClellan "would come to believe that sometimes he convinces himself to believe what suits his needs at the moment." McClellan likened it to a witness who resorts to "I do not recall."
McClellan's "surprisingly scathing" and "often harsh" What Happened: Inside the Bush White House... also contains, as Mike Allen writes for Politico, other standout revelations such as:
Bush and his aides "confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war";
Some of McClellan's assertions before the White House press corps were, in retrospect, "badly misguided";
Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby "had at best misled" McClellan about their roles in the notorious CIA leak case, even as McClellan publicly defended them;
The White House was in a "state of denial" during the first week after the Hurricane Katrina disaster;
Bush was "steamed" about his top economic adviser telling The Wall Street Journal that a possible Iraq war could cost as much as $200 billion. "He shouldn't be talking about that," said Bush, according to McClellan;
The press was "probably too deferential to the White House" when it came to public discourse over the choice to go to invade Iraq. McClellan also says the "White House press corps went too easy on the administration," reports Allen.
Despite the book's criticisms of the administration he once worked for, McClellan writes, "I still like and admire President Bush," reserving most of his rancor for Bush's top advisers, especially Karl Rove.
Excerpts from the Politico article, available in full at this link, follow...
The book begins with McClellan's statement to the press that he had talked with Rove and Libby and that they had assured him they "were not involved in ... the leaking of classified information." ...
"[President Bush] too had been deceived, and therefore became unwittingly involved in deceiving me. But the top White House officials who knew the truth – including Rove, Libby, and possibly Vice President Cheney – allowed me, even encouraged me, to repeat a lie."
McClellan also suggests that Libby and Rove secretly colluded to get their stories straight at a time when federal investigators were hot on the Plame case. "There is only one moment during the leak episode that I am reluctant to discuss," he writes. "It was in 2005 during a time when attention was focusing on Rove and Libby, and it 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.
"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. ... 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."