Washington — The Bush White House, long accused by outside critics of misrepresenting the facts to make the case for war in Iraq and other matters, has launched a personal counterattack against harsh accusations of "deception" from a longtime insider who worked closely with the president.
White House aides past and present are strongly dismissing the words of Scott McClellan, who served as President George W. Bush's press secretary and has now written a book accusing Bush of misleading the public about the war and more.
With the discipline of a White House team that is nothing if not decidedly on-message during crisis, Bush aides have stepped forward to say, this isn't the Scott McClellan whom they recall. In their full-bore, personal attack on the author, whom Bush once embraced as valued friend, they are confronting potentially damaging new pages in another chapter of the soon-retiring president's legacy.
As Bush's party fights to retain control of the White House, the Bush administration also faces the challenge of refuting embarrassing new, inside accounts about an administration that was intent on waging a war that the presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, supports and will have to defend in the November election.
"It is sad," said current White House press secretary Dana Perino, dismissing McClellan on Wednesday as "disgruntled about his experience at the White House. ... This is not the Scott we knew."
The president was "surprised" by the book's claims, Perino said.
"He is puzzled," Perino said of Bush, "and he doesn't recognize this as the Scott McClellan that he hired and confided in and worked with for so many years."
"For him to do this now strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional," Fran Townsend, former head of the White House-based counterterrorism office, told CNN.
Dan Bartlett, former counselor to the president, said in an interview on CNN: "There is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew."
McClellan followed Bush from Texas, having worked in the governor's office from 1999, and served as traveling spokesman in two presidential campaigns and as White House press secretary from 2003 to 2006.
McClellan and others were quietly eased out during a second term house-cleaning that ultimately removed all of the highest profile Texans from the Bush administration - from Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and Dan Bartlett at the White House to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales.
But McClellan maintains that he wrote the book - "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception" - "not to settle scores or enhance my own role." Rather, McClellan wrote, events at the White House, principally the leaking of a CIA operative's identity and misleading information that the administration promoted as the rationale for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, prompted him to write the tell-all tale.
"I was caught up in the deception that followed," he wrote of the White House's denials about having any hand in the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity after her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, criticized the administration for allegedly manipulating pre-war intelligence.