An apology from the president? Or perhaps a distancing?<$NoAd$>
We all know how John Ashcroft declassified a memo that he used to try to embarrass Commissioner Jamie Gorelick during his testimony before the 9/11 Commission a while back.
Since then he’s had the Justice Department declassify thirty or so more documents to embarrass Gorelick, which he’s had posted on the Justice Department website as “supplementary material“.
Then today after the president completed his testimony, there was this exchange with Scott McClellan …
QUESTION: Some Republicans on Capitol Hill believe that the work of the 9/11 commission won’t be complete until and unless Jamie Gorelick testifies before the commission on her role in building the wall between intelligence and law enforcement. Is that an opinion shared by the White House?
MCCLELLAN: Look, the president, I think even at the beginning of the meeting, he made some brief remarks. He didn’t have a prepared opening statement or anything like that, but certainly made some opening remarks at the beginning.
And essentially I think he thanked them for the work that they’re doing, talked about how he appreciated what they were doing, and that their work is very important to what we are doing to protect the American people.
And I think that the president looks at this and doesn’t believe that there ought to be finger-pointing. We ought to all be working together, to learn the lessons of September 11th and make sure that we are doing everything that we can to protect the homeland and win the war on terrorism. That’s the way he looks at it.
QUESTION: The Justice Department keeps releasing documents, they released another — they declassified 30 pages yesterday, that reinforced the idea that…
MCCLELLAN: I think the president…
QUESTION: … Commissioner Gorelick has more than she could…
MCCLELLAN: No, I understand. That’s what the Justice Department did; we were not involved in it. I think the president was disappointed about that.
QUESTION: The president was disappointed in the Justice Department releasing those documents?
MCCLELLAN: Putting that on their Web site, yes.
MCCLELLAN: He actually expressed that to the commission as well.
QUESTION: But did he talk to…
QUESTION: How about to Ashcroft?
QUESTION: Yes, to General Ashcroft?
MCCLELLAN: I think it’s been communicated to the Justice Department.
QUESTION: So why was he disappointed…
MCCLELLAN: Well, like I said, it’s what I said at the beginning. The president does not believe we ought to be pointing fingers during this time period. We ought to be working together to help the commission complete its work. This is very important work that they are doing that will help us in our efforts to carry out the president’s most solemn responsibility, which is to protect the American people.
[later in the briefing]
QUESTION: What you said about the Justice Department and the president’s displeasure is pretty remarkable. Can you tell us, who conveyed his displeasure to the Justice Department and how? And has the president or anyone at the White House, Judge Gonzales, asked for any kind of accountability on how the Justice Department would have released these documents…
MCCLELLAN: I don’t think so on that, but it’s been communicated, I believe, at the staff level.
QUESTION: Judge Gonzales or…
MCCLELLAN: It’s been communicated at the staff level. I think I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Was anyone at the White House aware of those documents or involved in their release at all?
MCCLELLAN: I’m sorry? No, we weren’t involved in that decision.
MCCLELLAN: Well, actually, I addressed that earlier, I think twice.
QUESTION: Are you upset over the fact that the Justice Department did this without coordinating with the White House?
MCCLELLAN: I think he’s disappointed that it was, that that information was placed on their Web site like that.
QUESTION: You mean without clearing it with the White House first? Is that part of it?
MCCLELLAN: I don’t know if I — I think I’m looking more at what happened and what was put up on the Web site. I don’t know about what you’re asking. QUESTION: What’s the concern? I mean, obviously the president had a concern if he mentioned it to the commission. What is the concern?
MCCLELLAN: I’m sorry? What is the concern? Like I said, he very much appreciates the work that the 9/11 commission is doing. He appreciates the work that all the members on the commission are doing. Their work is very important. He believes that we should all be working together to help the commission complete its work and not pointing fingers at one another.
I think I’ll just leave it where I did.
I certainly don’t take this necessarily at face value. But, certainly, something happened here.