Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, scheduled for Friday, has some Republican insiders worried.
McClellan is expected to talk about his charges—made in his new book and in media interviews—that President Bush ordered the 2003 leak of portions of a classified intelligence document in order to discredit Iraq war critics. The committee members are also expected to quiz McClellan about the inner workings of the White House and what McClellan calls Bush's lack of candor about the need for the Iraq invasion.
White House officials are trying to play down the hearing. Spokesman Tony Fratto told the Wall Street Journal that "congressional Democrats will look for any bright, shiny object to divert attention from their embarrassing lack of accomplishment over the past two years."
But other GOP strategists say McClellan's experience could underscore one of the weak points of the West Wing—the conversion of the press secretary's job, at least under McClellan, into what some call a propagandist. "The press secretary has become the mouthpiece and not the fact checker," says a former senior adviser to a Republican president.
In the past, he added, the press secretary played a dual role of serving the president by putting the best face on news developments regarding his or her boss, and, on the other hand, also recognizing the need to provide a healthy amount of unbiased information to the public through the media. "They didn't let him [McClellan] see things for himself. They just told him what to say," the former adviser says.
And he doubts that McClellan had the walk-in-anytime Oval Office access that the best of his predecessors had, such as Marlin Fitzwater, who served Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Mike McCurry, who served Bill Clinton.
—Kenneth T. Walsh