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House Opens Hearings on White House Manipulation of News Media

With echoes of the Watergate hearings, the House Judiciary Committee Friday opened hearings on whether the White House obstructed justice by impeding the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame and manipulated the media in making the case for going to war with Iraq.

Referring to former press secretary Scott McClellan, whose allegations about such malfeasance in his book What Happened prompted the hearings, Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) began by saying that when "credible and troubling allegations are made by a former administration official, we can deal with fact and not personal and partisan attacks."

But that did not appear to be the case. Ranking Republican Lamar Smith of Texas took no time in calling McClellan a "Judas," saying it was hard to take the hearing seriously and that it remained to be seen whether it was "worth selling out the president and his friends for a few pieces of silver."

Smith tried to make light of the proceedings, saying it was the committee's first Book of the Month Club meeting, and next time it should consider Ann Coulter's book, How to Talk to a Liberal If You Must.

McClellan's attorney attempted to object Lamar's characterizations, but was out of order. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) later made note of what he called Smith's "character assassination."

Smith responded to the Nadler characterization in an e-mail to B&C during the hearing. ""Character assassination’ sounds more like a review of the McClellan book. The motives behind someone’s actions are always important.  And in this case, Mr. McClellan’s motives are suspect.  If Mr. McClellan is going to offer personal opinions as testimony,  Members of Congress have every right to question his motives.” 

"On behalf of some members of the committee,” Nadler said. “let me apologize to you for the aspersions as to your motives instead of asking questions about the truth."

Conyers said that McClellan's revelations "may highlight acts that may constitute illegal obstruction of justice beyond that for which Scooter Libby was convicted." He added that it "seems clear that Mr. Libby, Andrew Card, the President and Vice President were involved in directing Mr. McClellan to falsely vouch for Mr. Libby despite Mr. McClellan's early reservations" about doing so.

McClellan said he did not think the president knew that he was being asked to mislead the media and the public about whether I. Lewis Libby and others had revealed Plame's name to reporters, but he said there remained questions about Vice President Dick Cheney’s role, questions only the administration could clear up.

McClellan said he could not remove the cloud over the White House because he only knows part of the story. "Sadly," he said, the administration remains silent.

Conyers has subpoenaed the attorney general for documents related to the Plame case that the administration has refused to give up.

McCllean said he was being loyal to candor and integrity by giving his side of the story, one that has been slammed by the White House. "I don't know if any crimes have been committed," he said, or whether there was an attempt at a cover up. But he said he knew it was wrong to reveal Plame's identity and said he regretted his role in relaying false information.

McClellan reiterated that the Iraq war was pushed on the American people via a political propaganda campaign that overstated intelligence, manipulated the media and marginalized criticism.

"It was a marketing or propaganda campaign...used to take the nation to war," he said. The case was overstated and overpackaged, he said, "ignoring caveats and ignoring contradictory intelligence."

The White House had not returned a call for comment at press time.