Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Literary Mash-up (McClellan, Meet Melville)

Herman Melville's Bartleby fills in for White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
July 11, 2005.

QUESTION: Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in a leak of the name of a CIA operative?

BARTLEBY: I would rather not talk about any investigation.

QUESTION: I actually wasn’t talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak to the press about information. I just wanted to know: Is that still his position?

[No answer.]

QUESTION: Bartleby, if I could point out: Contradictory to that statement, on September 29th of 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one to have said that if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then, on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation, when the president made his comments that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved, so why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you’ve suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation?

BARTLEBY: I would prefer not.

QUESTION: So could I just ask: When did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it’s not?

BARTLEBY: At present I prefer to give no answer.

QUESTION: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?

BARTLEBY: At present I prefer to give no answer.

QUESTION: Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003, when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliot Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this? Do you stand by that statement?

[Bartleby moved not a limb.]

QUESTION: Bartleby, this is ridiculous. The notion that you’re going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail, and tell people watching this that somehow you’ve decided not to talk. You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?

BARTLEBY: At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable

QUESTION: (inaudible) when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?

QUESTION: You’re not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn’t he?

BARTLEBY: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.

QUESTION: Do you think people will accept that, what you’re saying today?

BARTLEBY: Do you not see the reason for yourself?

QUESTION: You’re in a bad spot here, Bartleby…
… because after the investigation began — after the criminal investigation was under way — you said, October 10th, 2003, I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this, from that podium. That’s after the criminal investigation began.

Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation.

BARTLEBY: I'd prefer to be left alone here.

QUESTION: So you’re now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore and since then you haven’t.

BARTLEBY: I'd prefer not to comment.

QUESTION: When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Bartleby? Can you pin down a date?

BARTLEBY: I know you—and I want nothing to say to you.

QUESTION: Well, then the president commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?

BARTLEBY: I have given up commenting.

QUESTION: Well, we are going to keep asking them. When did the president learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson’s wife in the decision to send him to Africa?

BARTLEBY: I’ve given up commenting.

QUESTION: When did the president learn that Karl Rove had been…

BARTLEBY: I’d prefer not to comment.

QUESTION: After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved will be let go?

BARTLEBY: I'd prefer not to quit you.

QUESTION: Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff, here?

BARTLEBY: No; I would prefer not to make any change.

QUESTION: Bartleby, there’s a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action…

BARTLEBY: (inaudible)

QUESTION: Bartleby, I think you’re getting this barrage today in part because it is now clear that 21 months ago you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstrably false.

Now, are you concerned that in setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?

BARTLEBY: There is too much confinement about that.

QUESTION: Bartleby, at this point are we to consider what you said previously, when you were talking about this — that you’re still standing by that or are those all inoperative at this point?

BARTLEBY: Not at all. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite about that. I like to be stationary.

QUESTION: Are you standing by what you said previously?

BARTLEBY: I would prefer to be doing something else.

QUESTION: When the leak investigation is completed, does the president believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what transpired inside the White House at the time?

BARTLEBY: No, I would not like a clerkship; but I am not particular.

QUESTION: In your dealings with the special counsel, have you consulted a personal attorney?

BARTLEBY: Again, I prefer not to say anything further. I expressed all I’m going to say on this matter from this podium.

[He silently retired into his hermitage.]

"Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," Herman Melville, 1853.
"FULL TEXT: July 11 White House Briefing," White House Regular News Briefing, July 11, 2005. Speaker: Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary, as published at thinkprogress.org.


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