Former Press Secretary Scott McClellan appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman to hawk his book, What Happened. Once again, Letterman proved that late night comedians have more testicular fortitude than any of the pundit class or corporate media for voicing what is overwhelmingly the public pulse on the Bush administration.
LETTERMAN: My feeling about Cheney--and also Bush, but especially Cheney—is he just couldn't care less about Americans. And that the same is true of George Bush. And all they really want to do is somehow kiss up to the oil people so they can get some great annuity when they're out of office. "There you go, Dick, nice job. There’s a couple of billion for your troubles." ( applause ) I mean, he pretty much put Halliburton in business, and the outsourcing of the military resources to private mercenary groups, and so forth. Is there any humanity in either of these guys?
McCLELLAN: Look, I still have personal affection for the President. I can't speak to the Vice President's thinking that well because he's someone that keeps things to himself and he believes in doing it his way, and he doesn't care what anybody else thinks. He is going to do the way he feels is best—and that’s not always in the best interest of this country, as we’ve seen.
LETTERMAN: You told me backstage you thought he was a goon.
Full transcripts below the fold:
LETTERMAN: You were supposed to be here last week and there was lightning and bad weather, you couldn't get out of Washington DC, you got here late and I'm happy you came back.
McCLELLAN: I'm glad to be here.
LETTERMAN: Are you tired--I mean, the book is number one on the bestseller list--are you tired of going on shows like this to try and talk up the book?
McCLELLAN: Some of the other shows, not your show. I'm glad to be here tonight.
LETTERMAN: That raises an interesting question: do people, now knowing about the book, do they have the correct impression of the book, or do they have an impression of a small part of the book?
McCLELLAN: I think they're starting to get impression, the larger message in the book, which is really about changing the way Washington governs for the better and making sure we don't repeat some of the mistakes that we did over the last few years. That's really the larger message. The initial reaction was what you would expect, to some extent. It got a little more vitriolic and personal than I expected from some of my former colleagues.
LETTERMAN: Now looking back on the reaction, was this something you're sorry you included, or you had planned to include or happy you included it, that part of the book?
McCLELLAN: Which part of the book?
LETTERMAN: The part where you sort of assailing your former bosses, the administration.
McCLELLAN: No, I feel very good about what I wrote. It's me speaking for myself now candidly, talking about what happened, how things got off course and what we can learn from that, so that I feel good about, and I hope it encourages more people to do the same because we need that for history's sake.
LETTERMAN: See, I look around, and everything you just said there, and what coalesces in my mind is we're just screwed. Are we just screwed? Honestly, I get the feeling that we're screwed. Do you have that feeling?
McCLELLAN: I'm an optimistic guy. I think things are going to change. It's just a matter of time. I really feel that way.
LETTERMAN: Do you...I know you had a relationship with the President before he was the President. What can you tell us about the guy? How does he feel? I mean, it looks to me...If I was doing the job he's doing or the job he I think he's doing, I wouldn't go to work.
McCLELLAN: I felt that way at some times. Look at that Mark Wahlberg script you showed...give me a second, give me a second.
LETTERMAN: Does he have a sense of ‘oh man, I'm in trouble' or things are fine? What is his position on the way things are now?
McCLELLAN: It's amazing. He doesn't spend a lot of time reflecting. I think he should spend more time reflecting, but he really believes history is going to vindicate him. He really, sincerely believes that 30, 40, 50 years from now things are going to be viewed a lot differently.
LETTERMAN: That everything that he has been responsible for will somehow turn-and if it does happen that there is peace and there's a government that's a representative democracy, well, then, he will have been a genius, for God's sake. Now, what are the odds of that?
McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see, history-- ( applause ) ( laughter ) history--.
LETTERMAN: I'm sorry but--
McCLELLAN: History does tend to reward success more so than candor. We'll have to see. I don't think any of us know how it will turn out 50 years from now. But it doesn't change what I wrote in the book. We made some serious mistakes and need to learn from that and not repeat those.
LETTERMAN:...And misled, actually. Misled to get us into the war in Iraq. Going into Afghanistan, that seemed like the thing to do at the time, right?
McCLELLAN: Absolutely. We were attacked by al Qaeda, and they were being harbored by the Taliban there. It was the right thing to do. The foreign policy team was highly regarded after that. And I think people got caught up in that post-9/11 environment and gave the administration the benefit of the doubt. I did. I was wondering why we were rushing into this war in Iraq. But as the same time, like a lot of Americans, I gave the administration and this foreign policy team the benefit of the doubt.
LETTERMAN: Obviously, we know something had to be done, so I think people would rather have action than no action. Cheney had a role in presenting the Iraq proposition, didn't he? Wasn't he always sort of pro-invasion? Even before Afghanistan...
McCLELLAN: That's true...
LETTERMAN: He wanted to go into Iraq first?
McCLELLAN: The Vice President, the Secretary of Defense, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and some other what you would call neoconservative thinkers, thinking we can go in and transform Iraq and that will transform the rest of the Middle East into a thriving democracy...
LETTERMAN: Has anything that has happened, do you believe, anything that has happened in Iraq-- and these numbers are staggering, 5,000 American men and women killed in combat-- and untold hundreds of thousands, perhaps, of Iraqis killed-- has any of that, any of that that has happened, helped make this country safer, do you believe?
McCLELLAN: I don't think you can say that today. Maybe ultimately it will, but at this point, I think that verdict is still out. You talk about the irrevocable consequences and I was often with the President at his side when he would be visiting the troops or the families of the fallen and our troops have done everything they have been called on to do and more...
McCLELLAN: And they have been there longer than they should have had to be. Maybe after this administration, we can come to a consensus and find a way to bring this to a responsible and successful end.
LETTERMAN: Were you able to voice any of these concerns while the strategy was unfolding, and while the kind of-- the campaign to get people behind the idea of invading Iraq, were you able to tell anybody?
McCLELLAN: Well, no, once the policy is decided by the president-I was Deputy Press Secretary at the time so my role was a little bit limited in the buildup to the war. I took over after we had invaded Iraq as Press Secretary. But this is not an administration that wanted-- once a policy is decided, the President expects everyone to march in lockstep and follow and help implement that policy and not question it. He welcomes the questioning before the policy is decided but this policy was decided just a couple of months after we went into Afghanistan, after 9/11.
LETTERMAN: Cheney, is he-- is he a goon? ( laughter ) I don't mean that to be like a smart-ass. He seems like he might be a goon.
McCLELLAN: He is quite an interesting guy. He has a very dark view of the world and he certainly believes that some of the means justify the ends. And this president showed him too much deference, I think, in terms of carrying out policy, whether detainee policy or energy policies or policies relating to the war itself.
LETTERMAN: In deferring to Cheney, was it because he's intellectually lazy? Is that why he would defer to Cheney?
McCLELLAN: Well, there certainly is a little bit of a lack of intellectual curiosity on the part of the President. He is a gut instinct player. He doesn't like to sit around and discuss policy. He likes to govern from the gut and make decisions and go from there. That's something I talk about in the book as well.
LETTERMAN: Was it on your watch that Cheney shot his hunting buddy?
McCLELLAN: It was, and it sprayed me, too.
LETTERMAN: What is that like? I don't think you have to go back to Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the last time a vice president shot somebody.
McCLELLAN: It was something I never could have predicted when I became Press Secretary. You go down a list of things and that was not one of them on it.
LETTERMAN: Was he forthcoming with you?
McCLELLAN: No, he wasn't. The Vice President prefers that in terms of the press, well, just "no comment." He doesn't have much regard for the press corps. I was actually advocating, ‘we have to get the information out now to the national press corps', do a phone call -- he was down in Corpus Christi and he took my advice and then called Corpus Christi Caller-Times and gave it to them on their website and said the national press corps could find it there. And for three days, I had to go out there and take my own bullets from that before he went on TV and clarified it.
LETTERMAN: Did the people in the press that you talked to everyday, do they like you? Do they have respect for you?
McCLELLAN: Actually, when I went through the very difficult period when it was... turned out in the Valerie Plame leak episode that something I had said was false-unknowingly so, I had been misled by two advisers to the President-- some of the press corps were my strongest defenders during that time. The White House Counsel had said you cannot comment, it's an ongoing investigation, and the press corps actually stood up on TV and said, ‘He's a straight shooter. His credibility is unquestioned.' And so I appreciated that. It shows the relationship that we had.
LETTERMAN: My feeling about Cheney--and also Bush, but especially Cheney-is he just couldn't care less about Americans. And that the same is true of George Bush. And all they really want to do is somehow kiss up to the oil people so they can get some great annuity when they're out of office. "There you go, Dick, nice job. There's a couple of billion for your troubles." ( applause ) I mean, he pretty much put Halliburton in business, and the outsourcing of the military resources to private mercenary groups, and so forth. Is there any humanity in either of these guys?
McCLELLAN: Look, I still have personal affection for the President. I can't speak to the Vice President's thinking that well because he's someone that keeps things to himself and he believes in doing it his way, and he doesn't care what anybody else thinks. He is going to do the way he feels is best-and that's not always in the best interest of this country, as we've seen.
LETTERMAN: You told me backstage you thought he was a goon. We'll be right back with Scott McClellan.