WASHINGTON — Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan defended his bombshell book about the Bush administration on Thursday, saying he didn't speak up against the overselling of war in Iraq at the time because he, like other Americans, gave the president the benefit of the doubt.
"You're in a bubble atmosphere," McClellan said. "And sometimes because of your affection for the person you're working for and your belief in that person, you sometimes lose perspective on some of the larger truths out there. It's hard to step back from that."
The book, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception, is a scathing critique of the Bush presidency that vaulted this week to the top of the bestseller lists. It has prompted many of McClellan's oldest friends and colleagues to brand him, among other things, a turncoat and a fraud.
In hindsight, McClellan says he came to view the war as a mistake by a president and advisers swept up in a grand plan of seeding democracy in the Middle East by overturning Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime. McClellan says Bush and his aides became so convinced of the need for war that they ignored or downplayed intelligence that didn't fit their argument for it.
But McClellan, who had worked for Bush since he was Texas governor and was deputy press secretary during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion, said any misgivings he had were offset by affection for the president and respect for his foreign policy team.
Republican critics dismissed him as a sellout and a disgruntled former employee. The White House called the book puzzling and sad.
Former White House counselor Dan Bartlett offered an immediate rebuke to McClellan's allegations of prowar propaganda.
"I would not personally participate in a process in which we are misleading the American people, and that's the part that I think is hurting so many of his former colleagues," Bartlett said. "To think that he is making such a striking allegation against his former colleagues, to me, is beyond the pale."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Bush was honest about the reasons for the war and remains convinced that toppling Hussein was right and necessary.