Editor's note: Tonight on AC360° we have Anderson's interview with Scott McClellan. You can read the entire transcript here, but note: this is a rush transcript, there are typos and abbreviations. No need to point each one out!
Anderson Cooper: TODAY THE WHITE HOUSE SEEMS TO HAVE A NEW TALKING POINT OUT ABOUT YOU. FOR DAYS IT'S JUST KINDA BEEN.. WE'RE PUZZLED, SCRATCHING OUR HEADS, THIS IS NOT THE SCOTT WE KNEW. TODAY, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESPERSON DANA PERINO HAD SOMETHING ELSE TO SAY LET'S LISTEN...
"And our central objection to the book is that it is not based in fact and I think that one of ther reasons we are puzzled and surprised and saddened by it is because...the...charge, the loaded charge in the book...is that the president and his senior advisors purposefully misled people in to war and we sent our young men and women knowing something we weren't telling the american people. That is not true."
Anderson Cooper: HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT IT IS TRUE?
Scott McClellan: Uh..First of all I have a lot of fineness for Dana Perino. I actually hired her and brought her on the staff when she was deputy press secretary. Returning to the comments she made today the White House is now suggesting that they deliberately misled the American people, and that is actually not what i say in the book. I said that it was not deliberate or conscious.
AC: SO THEY'RE ACTUALLY ATTACKING YOU FOR SOMETHING THAT YOU HAVEN'T ACTUALLY SAID IN THE BOOK.
SM: That's right. I think she said today... she has not read the book, and i would encourage her to read the book to see wehre I'm coming from. I think she knows me very well and knows that what I do say is sincere.
AC: YOU DO TALK A LOT ABOUT DECEPTION IN THE BOOK THOUGH, YOU DON'T SAY THAT THEY OUT AND OUT LIED. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
SM: Well, there may not be a lot of difference in terms of both are very problematic in the end in their own right.
AC: SO WHY NOT SAY THAT THE WHITE HOUSE LIED?
SM: Well, here's why...because what happens in Washington DC today is you have a lot of good people that come there for the right reasons to make a difference, but they get caught up in this permanent campaign culture where it's all about manipulating the narrative to their advantage. It's about spin and political manipulation. And I think it's time for us to get beyond that because I think what's happening is that there's this partisan warfare breaking out in the last fifteen years that has really been a deservice to the American people. But what happens when that permanent campaign mentality gets transferred to issues of war and piece then it becomes particularly troubling because we went and sold... oversold the case...to the American people on the war. And... not only that, but the emphasis was more on the weapons of mass destruction than really the driving motivation behind the decision to go to war, which was the president's desire to transform the middle east through the spread of democracy. An idealistic vision. A vision that I clinged to when I was press secretary. It was something that was hopeful...
AC: YOU SAID THAT THAT'S THE PRESIDENT'S REAL MOTIVATION. THAT THIS DESIRE TO SPREAD DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST. HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY KNOW THAT?
SM: Because when I became press secretary and before I became press secretary I started to sense that on meetings with him...
AC: WHAT DO YOU MEAN SENSE IT?
SM: Well from his own comments...When he would speak before the republican governor's association in private and talk about... he talks about it very passionately... it's sincere, it's authentic. He really believes that Iraq could be the linchpin for transforming the middle east. And we don't know what history will say 30..40..50 years from now. But I would sit in on world leader meetings with him where he would look at those world leaders and talk....there's nothing he talks more passionately about.
AC: SO YOU'RE SAYING THAT'S WHAT'S IN HIS MIND... THAT'S WHAT'S IN HIS HEART BUT THEY HAD TO SELL IT A DIFFERENT WAY...
SM: Well yes, and I think even Paul Wolfowitz even said that...and I reference his comments in the book when he told a reporter that what everybody decided that the chief rational should be ...uh...was the weapons of mass destruction case. And what happened was ... we took intelligence of high confidence, intelligence medium confidence, and low confidence, package it all together ... and then.. made it sound more urgent more grave and more threatening than it really was in the end.
AC: HERE'S WHAT YOU SAID IN 2006, JUST A FEW WEEKS BEFORE YOU STEPPED DOWN AS PRESS SECRETARY.
VIDEO: SM: There are people out there making irresponsible accusations that intelligence was manipulated or that intelligence was misused. There's been no evidence to back that up whatsoever
AC: NOW HERE'S WHAT YOU SAY IN THE BOOK... YOU WRITE THAT THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION..AND I QUOTE, "MAKE THE WMD THREAT AND THE IRAQI CONNECTION TO TERRORISM APPEAR JUST A LITTLE MORE CERTAIN...USING INNUENDO AND IMPLICATION TO ENCOURAGE AMERICANS TO BELIEVE AS FACT SOME THINGS THAT WERE UNCLEAR OR POSSIBLY FALSE." THAT SOUNDS LIKE INTELLIGENCE BEING MANIPULATED AND BEING MISUSED. NO?
SM: Well upon reflection I was wrong. There are a couple of issues here. The intelligence comittee and other have gone in and looked at how the intelligence was used by policy makers or whether or not there was pressure on the intelligence analysts to change the intelligence. What they have not done is.. or at least not report yet is gone in and looked at how the policy makers used that intelligence to sell war to the American people, and there's a distinction here...
AC: YOU SAY UPON REFLECTION YOU REALIZED YOU WERE WRONG, BUT I MEAN THAT WAS THREE YEARS INTO YOUR TERM. THAT WAS RIGHT BEFORE YOU ALMOST LEFT...YOU ALREADY HAD A LOT OF DOUBTS... HOW COULD YOU SELL IT SO FORCEFULLY... ALMOST SO ANGRILY, WHEN IN TRUTH, ACCORDING TO YOUR BOOK, YOU WERE HAVING DOUBTS.
SM: Well, uh, I was having doubts about the build-up to the war, and then when after the war I clung to the hope that we could transform the Middle East. That Iraq would become this free democracy. Maybe someday it will...uh... but the point is you get caught up in that White House bubble and some of the larger perspective is obsucred. You don't see those larger perspect....
AC: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN THAT YOU GET CAUGHT UP IN THE WHITE HOUSE BUBBLE. IT'S NOT A BUNKER! YOU GOT INTERNET ACCESS, YOU GOT NEWSPAPERS...
SM: Well there's a little bit of a bunker mentality because you're there, you have this great affection for the person you're working for and it's hard to step back from all of that and really reflect... I mean you got a bunch of people around you that you're working with..
AC: BUT I MEAN YOU'RE THE PRESSER. YOU READ THE NEWSPAPER EVERYDAY. IN THE BOOK YOU WRITE ABOUT HOW PRESIDENT BUSH TURNS OFF TELEVISION BECAUSE HE DOESN'T WANT TO SEE THE NEWS...BUT IT WAS YOUR JOB TO SEE WHAT EVERYONE WAS WRITING, AND INTERACTING WITH THE PRESS ALL DAY. IT'S NOT LIKE YOU DIND'T HAVE ACCESS TO DIFFERENT POINTS OF VIEW. HOW COULD YOU DISCOUNT THEM?
SM: Well at that time period that you referenced that .... at that last 10 months as press secreatry... I talk about in the book how I was become increasingly disillusioned there in that time period because when I found out that I have been knowingly lied to by Karl Rove, Scotter Libby, in the Valerie Plane leak episode and passed along false information based on their assurances two years prior to that saying that they were involved...
AC: BUT WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT YOU THAT YOU ONLY GET DISILLUSIONED WHEN THEY LIE TO YOU, BUT WHEN THEY'RE LYING TO EVERYONE ELSE AND YOU'RE A PART OF IT THAT'S OK.
SM: Well again, that's the whole atmosphere there. We're caught up in this whole Washington game that we're all trying to advocate for the president trying to shape the narrative to our advantage.... and you know.. it is inherently deceptive. Most of it is incidental or harmless. But when it gets transferred into these issues of war and peace then it becomes more troubling... and that's what, when I look back and when through this book.. and it was a long process going through it.. thinking about and reflecting about and challenging my own assumptions and interpretations and coming to those conclusions.
AC: HERE'S WHAT ARI FLESCHER SAID TO ME TWO DAYS AGO...TAKE A LOOK.
Video: Ari Flescher: Fact is...Scott was deputy press secretary at the time.. in 2002. His jurisdiction was over health and human services.. the justice department. He wouldn't have been in the position to hear some of the sensitive things that he's now writing about
AC: HE'S TALKING ABOUT THE RUN-UP TO THE WAR...NOW A SPECIFIC EXAMPLE... PAGE 144.. YOU WRITE, "SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL WAS APPARENTLY THE ONLY ADVISER WHO EVEN TRIED TO RAISE DOUBTS ABOUT THE WISDOM OF WAR. THE REST OF THE FOREIGN POLICY TEAM SEM TO BE PREOCCUPIED WITH REGIME CHANGE OR, IN THE CASE OF CONDI RICE, SEEMINGLY MORE INTERESTED IN ACCOMODATING THE PRESIDENT'S INSTINCTS AND IDEAS THAN IN QUESTIONING THEM OR EDUCATING HIM." IT'S A LOT OF "APPARENTLIES" AND "SEEMS"... DO YOU KNOW THIS FROM FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE?
SM: Yes I was working around those individuals and I actually ...Ari kind of tries to paint it into black and white terms... when I was deputy press secratary..
AC: HE'S THE FORMER SPOKESMAN... HE'S SPINNING...
SM: Hah.. that's right.. Yeah that's what happens too much in Washinton DC. Which is part of my point... but when I was deputy press secretary... I would fill in for Ari from time to time, and in fact I ...
AC: SO YOU SAY YOU WERE IN THESE MEETINGS...
SM: Yes, I participated in the White House-Iraq Group meetings when he was gone. He was gone for 10 days on his wedding. There were other times I filled in for him, travelled with the Presdient and participated in world leader meetings... and so I was there... The White House-Iraq Group... for your viewers who might want to know... was this group set up specifically for the marketing or selling of the war to the American people.
AC: SO WMD, THAT WAS ABOUT MARKETING AND MANIPULATION?
SM: well yes, now the overall strategy for that was developed over the course of the summer leading into the fall and i wasn't involved in those meetings. but I did become involved in meetings at that group continued, as we accelerated the buildup to the war.
AC: YOU'RE NOT SAYING THEY DIDN'T BELIEVE THERE WERE WMD. THEY BELIEVED, YOU BELIEVED THERE WERE WMD. BUT THE DECISION TO FOCUS ON IT, THE DECISION TO SELL THAT AS THE REASON TO GO TO WAR, THAT'S WHAT YOU'RE SAYING WAS MANIPULATION.
SM: my point is that we weren't as open and forthright as we should have been. we should have embraced a high level of openness and forthrightness in addition to that, and then the expectations wouldn't have gotten so out of whack, we wouldn't have gotten into the problem we came to later when the president's credibility starting really falling because we weren't open and forthright and then he couldn't admit any mistakes. Now, I know the president. And I talk about this in the book. I give a very vivid example of him looking through the crystal ball. If he knew, now he'll never be able to say this and I understand why, I think most people would, its human nature. And by the way, one of the people I’m hardest on in this book is myself. I point out my own flaws during this process.
AC: I DONT KNOW ABOUT THAT. YOU DO SAY WE A LOT, YOU DONT SEEM TO BE TAKING PERSONAL - SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'RE PORTRAYING YOURSELF AS A VICTIM. DO YOU THINK YOU'RE A VICTIM?
SM: well at times I think I may have been, but I also put myself in that situation so I have to accept responsibility for it. I should have known better. But I was a young press secretary at the time.
AC: DO YOU THINK YOU OWE AN APOLOGY TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE? I MEAN THE AMERICAN PEOPLE, THE PRESS, THE PEOPLE WATCH YOU ON THAT PODIUM AND THINK YOU'RE TELLING THE TRUTH AND THINK YOUR JOB IS TO INFORM PEOPLE. BUT EVERYTHING YOU'RE WRITING ABOUT, IT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE THAT'S THE WAY YOU SAW YOUR JOB. IN FACT IT SEEMED LIKE DISINFORMATION.
SM: I was sincere at the time. Now, looking back and reflecting on that I have a different perspective on it–
AC: WELL NO, IS THAT REALLY TRUE? BECAUSE ON SOME OF THE HURRICANE KATRINA STUFF, YOU WRITE THAT YOUR JOB WAS TO NOT FOCUS, NOT ALLOW CRITICISM TO HIT THE WHITE HOUSE OR THE FEDERAL GOVT, BUT TO REDIRECT IT TO LOCAL AND STATE. I MEAN, THAT WASN'T SINCERE. THAT WAS A DESIRE TO JUST DEFLECT. DEFLECT, DEFLECT. WHEN YOU KNEW THE WHITE HOUSE-
SM: I wouldn't have said it exactly like that, but there was a breakdown at all levels of government. And I said that from the podium when I was there.
AC: BUT THOSE COMMENTS WERE NOT SINCERE.
SM: that there was a breakdown at all levels of government? That was sincere. When I said that at the time, that all levels of government failed in their responsibility. But the federal government should have taken more responsibility. because to the American people, I think the fed government is the failsafe backstop to all that and when people are overwhelmed at the local and state level it's important for the federal government to come in quickly and assert their responsibility, and we didn't.
AC: I WANT TO PLAY A KATRINA BITE -
THERE YOU'RE TRYING TO GET PEOPLE TO TALK TO FEMA. BUT ELSEWHERE IN THE BOOK, YOU TALK ABOUT SEEING YOUR JOB AS DEFLECTING BLAME FROM THE WHITE HOUSE ON KATRINA.
SM: well that's what happens in the whole atmosphere of the Washington game. sometimes you do try to deflect blame and responsibility. but I’ve said-
AC: WELL THAT'S NOT SINCERE.
SM: I think that, I’m not saying that everybody who goes out and does that in Washington dc isn't sincere. I mean that implies that they're sinister or deliberately doing this. I think they just get caught up in the whole Washington game and that's what happens. and that's why I’m saying we must change this, we need to move Washington beyond this, and that's why I hope my book in some small way will contribute to doing that.
AC: BUT ISN'T THAT A COPOUT TO JUST SAY I GOT CAUGHT UP IN THE WASHINGTON GAME? THERE ARE FOLKS WHO STAND UP AND RESIGN ON PRINCIPLE AND SAY YOU KNOW, THIS IS NOT RIGHT. EVERY DAY IN MY JOB I THINK AM I, IS WHAT I'M DOING FAIR? IS IT THE WAY I'M PORTRAYING THINGS ACCURATE? AM I SHOWING ANY BIAS? ARE THE PEOPLE AROUND ME SHOWING BIAS? THESE ARE DAILY CONSIDERATIONS. DID YOU NOT HAVE THOSE DAILY CONSIDERATIONS? DID YOU NOT REFLECT, READ THROUGH THE TRANSCRIPTS OF STUFF YOU SAID AND SAID YOU KNOW WHAT, I'M ACTUALLY JUST DEFLECTING BLAME ONTO THE LOCAL AND STATE GOVERNMENT WHO DESERVE PLENTY OF BLAME GOD KNOWS IN HURRICANE KATRINA, BUT WE DESERVE SOME BLAME TOO.
SM: yeah and we did accept some responsibility at the time. we probably should have accepted more responsibility. but no, I would disagree with you to some extent in what you're saying, because it's just the way we all are idealistic, and we go to Washington and we think we are there to make a positive difference. but then what happens is you get caught up in the spin and manipulation and you lose sight of the larger perspective on things.
AC: SO YOU, IN YOUR MIND, WHEN YOU'RE IN THAT BUBBLE, OR BUNKER AS YOU SAID, YOU CAN JUSTIFY EVERYTHING YOU'RE DOING BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE YOUR POSITION IS RIGHT AND YOU'RE FIGHTING OFF, EVERYONE ELSE IS PLAYING PARTISAN POLITICS BUT WHEN YOU'RE IN THE BUBBLE, YOU BELIEVE WHAT YOU'RE DOING IS REALLY RIGHT.
SM: no, you're engaged and you have your partisan hat on. and that's the problem. that's the problem, that we're all focused on trying to manipulate the narrative to our advantage and we lose sight of the importance of how we can work together through deliberation and compromise.
AC: I THINK THAT WILL SHOCK PEOPLE BECAUSE YOU'RE ACTUALLY A CIVIL SERVANT. YOU'RE A CIVIL SERVANT. YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO BE A POLITICAL PARTISAN.
SM: well, we are, the elected leaders represent their parties to some extent. too much these days, is one of the points I make is that it's too much about party and too little about party. and we need to put the country first and put the party lower.
AC: WHEN PEOPLE SEE YOU AT THE PODIUM OR DANA PERINO OR ANYONE SPEAKING FROM THE WH PODIUM, SHOULD THEY BELIEVE WHAT THEY SAY? DO YOU BELIEVE WHAT THE WH SPOKESPERSON SAYS?
SM: well I don’t think you can put a blanket over everything and say that all of it's that way, but you do have to look through. you've done a good job of it in the past and continue to do a good job with keeping them honest when you look at some of those issues.
AC: NOW YOU'RE JUST TRYING TO BUTTER ME UP.
SM: actually I say it in the book too. not you specifically but I mention it as one of the areas where the media is doing a good job. and I mention some of the changes we need to look at to improve the situation–
AC: SHOULD PEOPLE LOOK AT EVERYTHING THAT COMES OUT OF THE WH PODIUM WITH A GRAIN OF SALT?
SM: well unfortunately I think too many people today do look at Washington and say all they're giving us is spin and manipulation, and they're not working together to get things done.
AC: I HAVE TO SAY AFTER READING THE BOOK, AND I HAVE READ THE WHOLE BOOK, IT MAKES ME I MEAN NOT ONLY TRIPLE OR DOUBLE THINK, BUT DOUBT EVERYTHING THAT'S BEING SAID BY ANY POLITICIAN OR ANY SPOKESPERSON WHATSOEVER.
SM: well that's your job anyway–
AC: RIGHT AND I ALWAYS HAVE. BUT IF I'M A CITIZEN, I SUDDENLY THINK, THESE PEOPLE ARE JUST LYING.
SM: well that's why we need to move beyond this. and that's why i offer ways to do that by talking about embracing candor and honesty at a high level by appointing a deputy chief of staff for governing the white house. no one can do more to set the right tone than the president. he has the biggest bully pulpit and if the pres is committed to embracing a high level of openness and honesty, then we can move washington beyond this partisan warfare that has been so destructive.
AC: THERE'S IRONY IN THE WAY THE WH IS ATTACKING YOU. IT'S GOT TO BE PAINFUL IRONY FOR YOU. BUT IT'S EXACTLY THE WAY YOU ATTACKED OTHERS FOR WRITING BOOKS. WHEN RICHARD CLARKE CAME OUT WITH HIS BOOK, THE EXACT SAME COULD BE SAID ABOUT YOU WORD FOR WORD.
SM: and it has been said about me by the wh.
AC: NOT QUITE AS ELOQUENTLY.
SM: thank you. those were the talking points at the time and like i said, i was caught up in that game. i actually saw dick clarke last night here in nyc and we had a brief conversation and i expressed my regret for what i did back then. a lot of people are out there are the white house and allies, former colleagues, are talking about my motivations and talking about the content and they haven't even read the book themselves. now you have, you had a chance to do that and others had a chance to do that, but i think when people look through the book and read it they're going to see my sincerity in the book based on my upbringing and based on my committment to public service and making a positive difference.
AC: WHEN POLITICO.COM IS REPORTING THAT BOB DOLE SENT YOU AN EMAIL, I KNOW YOU GOT THE EMAIL. PART OF THE EMAIL READS "THERE ARE MISERABLE CREATURES LIKE YOU IN EVERY ADMIN, WHO DONT HAVE THE GUTS TO SPEAK UP OR QUIT IF THERE ARE DISAGREEMENTS WITH THE BOSS OR COLLEAGUES... NO, YOUR TYPE SOAKS UP THE BENEFITS OF POWER, REVELS IN THE LIMELIGHT FOR YEARS, THEN QUITS, AND SPURRED ON BY GREED, CASHES IN WITH A SCATHING CRITIQUE."
SM: they are. and i have great respect for senator dole, he's a great public servant and someone who has served in the military as well and someone who actually did try to work across the aisle with democratic leaders at times, back before things got so bitterly partisan in washington dc. but i would encourage him to see what i say in the book before he makes those comments.
AC: WHY DIDN'T YOU QUIT ON PRINCIPLE? WHY DIDN'T YOU GO TO ARI FLEISCHER WHEN HE WAS YOUR BOSS AND EXPRESS DOUBTS?
SM: well first of all, at that time period like i said i was giving the admin the benefit of the doubt in the buildup to the iraq war and the decision to go to war. like a lot of americans were, i was concerned about the rush to war, whether we needed to do it. i was concerned about the necessity to some extent, to some extent. because i'm a person from a moral standpoint that believes we should not be going to war unless it's absolutely necessary. but when i really started to become disillusioned with things was when i found out that karl rove and scooter libby, basically right before media reports were going to show it, that they had knowingly misled me, that i had been misled by those individuals.
AC: YOU TALK ABOUT ON–
SM: and i did at that time start to think about resigning and by the time of april '06 i was ready to move on, after i learned about the president having secretly declassified parts of the national intel estimate. something that we had decried for years.
AC: RIGHT, SELECTIVE LEAKING.
SM: it's something i had said on his behalf, something he had said himself–
AC: SO HOW DOES IT WORK? THE ATTACK ON RICHARD CLARKE, THOSE WERE THE TALKING POINTS FOR THE DAY. DOES SOMEONE TYPE UP THE TALKING POINTS? WE USED TO DO A TALKING POINTS SEGMENT WHICH WAS KIND OF DECONSTRUCTING YOUR COMMENTS AND IT WAS VERY CLEAR WHAT YOUR TALKING POINTS WERE BECAUSE YOU WOULD STICK TO THEM OVER AND OVER AGAIN. BUT SO YOU JUST SAY, THERE'S A MEETING IN THE MORNING, COME UP, OK THIS IS WHAT WE'RE GOING TO SAY, AND YOU JUST GO UP AND JUST PARROT IT?
SM: you see the way it's being regurgitated now. i wouldn't say just parrot it. i mean it depends on the circumstances and what the issue is, because you deal with a multitude of issues at any one time. there are a lot of issues where you didn't necessarily need talking points. there were some issues where we did develop talking points in the instance of dick clarke and so forth. we talked about it internally and i was out there giving the response on behalf of the white house and on behalf of the president. that was my job to do that as his spokesman.
AC: HERE'S ANOTHER LINE BEING USED AGAINST YOU– HINTS THAT YOU DIDN'T WRITE THIS BOOK, THAT SOME CLEVER EDITOR TWEAKED IT AND YOU'RE JUST GOING ALONG WITH IT. DID YOU WRITE THE BOOK? DID AN EDITOR TWEAK IT?
SM: yes i wrote it. ari's still got his spin hat on right now. it's not accurate what he was saying in terms of our conversation. that was before any reports of the book had come out. he had just touched base with me. i consider ari a friend. and we had a conversation. he had written a book and he was wanting to know how things went, what it might say, and i kind of gave him, i said it's a tough book. but i believe i've gotten to the truth from my perspective in this book. and he was asking questions about it and what i referred to was the normal editing process that anybody goes through when they write a book. you know, the ironic part about this is that it was ari the one that initially planted the seed in my head, you might want to consider writing a book about your experiences.
AC: GEORGE TENET WROTE A BOOK AND GOT A 4 MILLION DOLLAR ADVANCE. HOW MUCH OF AN ADVANCE DID YOU GET?
SM: well there's actually an article in the nyt today that talks about public affairs, my publisher.
AC: AND THEY SAY THEY DONT GIVE ADVANCES MORE THAN SIX FIGURES.
SM: 16;11:46 that's correct, that's an accurate account of things.
AC: SO YOU DIDN'T GET MORE THAN SIX FIGURES.
SM: well i'm not going to get specifically into it but when people say he's out there to make a profit, 1 they dont know me or my upbringing and my reasoning- they haven't had a chance to read the book. and 2, they dont know public affairs and the kind of publisher that they are.
AC: YOU SAID YOU WERE UNCERTAIN ABOUT THE NECESSITY OF WAR AND THE NEW DOCTRINE OF PRE-EMPTION THAT WAS USED TO GO TO WAR. IF THAT IS TRUE, IF YOU REALLY WERE UNCERTAIN, HOW COULD YOU GET UP THERE EVERY DAY AND LIKE AN EMPTY VESSEL JUST POUR OUT THE THINGS THAT THEY WERE TELLING YOU TO SAY.
SM: i dont know if i'd use the word empty vessel per se. but when you're the spokesman, you dont get to pick and choose what issues you agree with or dont agree with. there are many issues, probably the vast majority of issues where i agreed with the president and i was strongly advocating for him. but then there are other issues where the president is the decision maker, he's the ultimate policy maker. and as a spokesman, you're there to advocate on his behalf. like i said, during that time, i was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. that benefit of the doubt was misplaced upon reflection.
AC: IN THE BOOK, MY YOUR OWN ADMISSION YOU SAY YOU DIDN'T HAVE ALL THE FACTS. AND YET IT SEEMED LIKE YOU HAD NO PROBLEM ACTING LIKE YOU HAD ALL THE FACTS.
SM: well i trusted the team that was around the president. and at times you have to believe the information you're given is true. and i think from their standpoint that they do sincerely believe it, but i think some of their thinking is misplaced.
AC: WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT THE BUSH WH THAT THEY WANTED A SPOKESMAN WHO DIDN'T HAVE ACCESS TO ALL THE FACTS, AND WASN'T GOING TO MAKE ANY NEWS OR GET IN FRONT OF THE PRESIDENT, AND IN ANY WAY WAS JUST THERE STONEWALLING.
SM: well not always the case with that. yes, there were certainly times when that was happening on some major issues. but you have briefings every day, a lot of them dont get that widely covered and you're talking about a lot of different policy issues but on some of these big issues, yeah there was this mentality yeah we should have a wall between the wh and the press. and a spokesman shouldn't be out there getting too far out in front of the president. you can understand that to an extent. but some people in the white house go to excessive limits about how much information they want to share not only with the press, but with the spokesman himself. and i talk about this in great detail in the book, about one of the problems.
i had a lot of access. i could go to the president any time i want. but there was also this compartmentalization in the white house where discussions were had between maybe the president and a few others and it wasn't in the policy briefings and it wasn't in the other meetings that i was attending and so you didn't know the real motivation behind some of those decisions in the end.
AC: WHEN PRES BUSH SAID BROWNIE YOU'RE DOING A HECK OF A JOB, DID HE BELIEVE IT?
SM: well we actually talked about that right after that. what happened was, we go down to, let's see, that was alabama on our first stop down to new orleans that first friday, i believe. and it had been arranged for the president to go and meet with some of the coast guard people who were doing an outstanding as you know, a remarkable job saving lives. and then the president was going to say a few words to the cameras. and mike brown happened to be there and walked right up next to him. and after that happened, the president kind of looked at us, well if you dont want me to say something, i got to pump morale up, and you put him right next to me and so the president was kind of, from his viewpoint, he had to say it, he was standing right next to him, he was trying to keep his morale up. in retrospect it was probably not a good thing to do.
AC: JUST A COUPLE FINAL THINGS. AS YOU KNOW, BECAUSE OF THIS BOOK YOU'VE BEEN CALLED ON BY ROBERT WEXLER TO TESTIFY BEFORE THE HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE ON BOTH SUBJECTS, BOTH VALERIE PLAME AND THE LEAD UP TO THE WAR. WOULD YOU DO THAT?
SM: well i'm glad to share my views. i haven't had any requests as far as i know at this point from the judiciary committee. but certainly on the valerie plame leak episode, everything i know is really in the book and is fully consistent with everything i said to the prosecutors.
AC: ARE YOU STILL A REPUBLICAN?
SM: well, you know there are things i like about the republicans, republican ideas, and there are democrat ideas i like. i haven't thought too far down the road. what i'm most focused on right now is looking at ways we can move beyond this partisan atmosphere and change washington.
AC: BECAUSE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU SAY IN THE BOOK AND WRITE ABOUT, IT DOES SOUND LIKE YOU'RE AN OBAMA SUPPORTER.
SM: well i'm actually, well some of what obama says, his overall message, is very similar to the one we ran on in 2000 about changing the way washington works and what i had so much hope in. but it's a very difficult thing to do. and i hope some of the obama staff will take a look at this and consider what they need to do if they become president. as well as senator mccain. i have a lot of respect for senator mccain. and he's–
AC: SO YOU HAVEN'T MADE UP YOUR MIND.
SM: no, i've not made a decision in terms of the presidential election. i'm someone who believes in centrist governing philosophy. and that's what the president believed in as govenor, but as president he moved too far to the right too often.
AC: THE PRESIDENT TOLD A CROWD IN SALT LAKE CITY, THE PRESIDENT TOLD A CROWD LAST NIGHT THAT HE WAS GOING TO WORK TO FORGIVE YOU. IS THERE SOMETHING YOU NEED TO BE FORGIVEN OF?
SM: no, there isn't. because i've never felt like i've seen things more clearly in my entire life than i have now. after going through this very long and rigorous process to try to get to the truth and understand the larger truths from my perspective. this is the truth from my perspective. i know the president is not going to be happy about this. the white house didn't want me to talk openly about these events and about my views on things. but we have to talk about this. if it takes talking about unpleasant truths to change washington, then so be it.
AC: SO WHAT WAS IT. WHEN YOU GOT OUT OF THE WH, YOU GOT OUT OF THIS BUBBLE YOU CALL IT, THIS BUNKER, AND STARTED TO SEE THINGS DIFFERENTLY. WAS THERE A MOMENT, SOME CATALYST, WAS THERE SOME ARTICLE YOU READ, SOME BLOG, SOMETHING THAT MADE YOU SUDDENLY SAY. AND WHENEVER THAT MOMENT HIT, DID YOU SUDDENLY SAY MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE?
SM: it was a whole work in process when i was going through writing the book and reflecting on things. you dont have a lot of time, you should make time, but sometimes it's hard to spend time reflecting. and this is a wh that doesn't like to look back. the president doesn't like to spend time reflecting. and that's understandable to some extent. but our elected leaders need to have more reflection in order to be able to learn from their mistakes. i think in many ways he's learned from his mistakes. he says knowing what he knows today, he would still make the same decision to go into iraq. i dont, i think he believes that, i think he's convinced himself to believe that, but i dont think it's true. i know him, and i know he's politically savvy enough to know that he would never make that same decision if he could have a crystal ball and see—
AC: YOU THINK IF HE, TO LOOK BACK HE WOULD NOT DO THE SAME THINGS AGAIN? HE WOULD NOT GO TO IRAQ?
SM: i think from a practical standpoint he couldnt' have done the same thing and i think he recognzies that. but at the same time—
AC: YOU THINK HE WOULD'VE GONE INTO IRAQ IN A DIFFERENT WAY OR JUST NOT GONE INTO IRAQ AT ALL?
SM: well, i think he would have had to have approached it in a differnet way, certainly. i think it was smart to confront Saddam Hussein but our options were either Saddam comes clean or we go to war. there are other ways we could have addressed that. Even Brent Scocroft, the President's father's national security advisor warned against going to war saying it wasn't necessary to go and remove Saddam Hussein from power before we went to war.
AC: LET ME PUT THAT QUESTION TO YOU THEN, IF YOU HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN, WOULD YOU BECOME THE SPOKESMAN? IF SO WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
SM: i don't know, i struggled–i spent a chapter on this, i struggled with whether or not i should move forward with becoming press secretary because of the secrecy and compartmentalization that exists in this white house and i wondered if i could do the job the way i wanted to.
AC: YOUR MOM SAID GO FOR IT, YOUR BROTHER SAID GO FOR IT—
SM: they all said you should do it, it's a great opportunity. and it was an amazing opportunity, opportunity of a lifetime and i've learned an awful lot this whole–the whole time there was a political education for me and then going back and reflecting on it, i've learned an awful lot more. and i hope that in some small way it might contribute to changing things here in Washington.
AC: IT'S A FASCINATING BOOK, IT'S OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE A HUGE BESTSELLER AND I'M SURE YOU'VE GOT A LOT OF TOUGH DAYS AHEAD BUT THANKS FOR BEING WITH US.
SM: thanks, Anderson. glad to be here