WASHINGTON: New revelations about Karl Rove's involvement in the outing of a CIA operative put intense pressure on the White House last week to make good on guarantees that it would fire anyone implicated in the scandal.
But no one felt the pressure like White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who had the unenviable task of reconciling to the press apparently contradictory statements made previously by him and his boss.
"He has been placed in one of the worst possible positions, in which it's quite obvious he was not told the facts before he went out earlier," said Jody Powell, press secretary for President Jimmy Carter and chairman and CEO of Powell Tate. "The worst thing that you can do to a spokesman is send them out there without knowing what the actual facts are."
Nonetheless, Powell said, McClellan did as well as could be expected.
In 2003, the White House denied any involvement by Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, in the leaking of Valerie Plame's work with the CIA. But it was revealed last week that Time reporter Matthew Cooper had told his editor that Rove was his source.
In his daily press briefings last week, McClellan cited the ongoing criminal investigation as a reason not to discuss the matter.
But Powell said there would be nothing inappropriate about the White House approaching the special prosecutor for permission to address the issue.
"You can go to a prosecutor and say, 'Look, we have a very serious credibility issue here,
and we need to speak to it,' and he's not going to say 'no,'" Powell said.
Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at The George Washington University and a former Nixon official, said: "There are several ways that you handle stories like this. For the press secretary, it's best to have a bomb shelter."