As I predicted yesterday, Scott McClellan tried to defend President Bush's most damning previous statement about wiretapping by parsing what the President said as only referring to the Patriot Act. Here's the transcript from his press briefing:
Q Scott, in April of 2004, President Bush delivered remarks on the Patriot Act, and he said at that time, "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it require -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." Was the President being completely forthcoming when he made that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was talking about in the context of the Patriot Act.
Q And in terms of the American people, though, when he says "nothing has changed" --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would have to look back at the remarks there, but you're clearly talking about it in the context, as you pointed out, of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is another vital tool. That's why the Senate needs to move forward and get that reauthorized now. We cannot let that expire -- not for a single moment, because the terrorist threat is not going to expire. Those tools have helped us disrupt plots and prevent attacks and break up terrorist cells. We need those tools for our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we urge the Senate to stop the delaying tactics by the minority of senators, to stop their delaying tactics, to stop filibustering, stop blocking this legislation and get it passed.
Q So you don't see it as misleading in any way when the President says, "nothing has changed"?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to look back at something that is in relation to the Patriot Act. And it's in relation to the Patriot Act --
Q But he's talking about wiretaps --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I'll be glad to take a look at his comments. I think you're taking them out -- I think the suggestion that you're making, I reject that suggestion. And I'll be glad to take a look at those comments.
Here's a similar White House defense reported by the Boston Globe:
The White House said the president's comments -- two years after approving the domestic surveillance program -- applied to the kind of roving wiretaps the Patriot Act allows for law enforcement, not eavesdropping for foreign intelligence.
It's crucial not to get bogged down in semantic debates about whether or not Bush's words technically pertained only to the Patriot Act. That's arguable, but it's also irrelevant. What's important is that President Bush said "a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so" at a time when the United States was engaging in domestic wiretaps without court orders. His statement was certain to leave a misleading impression with the public.