The White House "shake up" continues with news that Press Secretary Scott McClellan has resigned, but McClellan's fate was sealed three years ago when he categorically denied any White House involvement in the Plame leak. The result was a frustrating relationship with the media, a tenure of pathological deflection, and a reputation is tatters. Today we write the political obituary for a lonely man.
McClellan's resignation, after only that of Chief of Staff Andrew Card, represents the most significant outward change in the White House staff so far. As Press Secretary, McClellan was the voice and face of Bush's policies. He was also the guy who had to tell America, with a straight face, that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had nothing to do with the leaking of classified information that led to the blowing of Valerie Plame's cover. And THAT was Scotty Mac's undoing.
The Press Secretary's job used to be to distribute information about policy and the various activities of the White House staff. It was strictly an informational position. That changed with the introduction of television cameras in the briefing room and we all know how people react to the sight of TV cameras. Both the Secretary and the media changed their posture and the daily briefings became the political equivalent of Improv Olympics with the two sides riffing off each other and spinning their various positions.
The Plame matter took the issue of spin, certainly nothing new in the briefing room, to a new level though. The cover of a covert agent being blown is serious business, despite the cackling nonsense from conservatives who deride Plame's role in the CIA (by the way, pundits and political hacks don't get to decide if an agent is covert, the Agency does. Can we stop arguing about her status now?). It's clear that SOMEONE divulged to the media that Joe Wilson's wife was in the CIA. Whether on purpose or not (and I find it hard to believe it wasn't), that compromised security and damaged Plame's career. Everyone knows that, including the White House, which is why we only heard that the President "declassified" parts of the related NIA with Plame's identity last week. The blowing of her cover is a political landmine, if not an actual crime. If it wasn't a big deal, then Bush would have said he declassified the information the day Robert Novak's column naming Plame hit the stands and we could have avoided this whole mess.
But, it was left to the Press Secretary to assure the public the White House had NOTHING to do with it. He went as far as saying he'd spoken personally with Libby and Rove about the matter and could absolutely deny they were involved.
Years later and millions of dollars in investigating spent, we now know that's not true. Libby, and by most accounts Rove, were involved in divulging Plame's identity. Sure, nobody has been charged with the crime of mishandling classified information, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. It's like saying a murder didn't occur if you can't find the killer. You still have a dead body.
And so McClellan's reputation is in tatters. Given that he'd been hung out to dry on such a high profile lie, everything he said to the press had become suspect. Was he lying? Did he really have all the information? Is he in the loop? Who knows? All we know is he was the instrument through which the administration pushed its bullshit. To just spout off statements that are seemingly unconnected to the facts leaves Scotty Mac as a man with political tourettes. It's hilarious and deeply, deeply sad at the same time in that everyone laughs at his outbursts but nobody wants to hang with him.