This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," May 28, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: Let's get right to it now. We start with the story everyone is talking about tonight. President Bush thrown under the bus by his own former press secretary. Scott McClellan has written a book that takes direct aim at the administration he worked for, calling — well, the book rather is called "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House, and Washington's Culture of Deception."
McClellan calls the Iraq war a, quote, "serious strategic blunder" and says President Bush was given bad advice from the beginning.
Minutes ago, a new reaction from the White House — Dana Perino, White House spokesperson, saying the president was puzzled and did not recognize the same Scott McClellan he hired and worked for so many years going back to the state of Texas.
Ari Fleischer is Scott McClellan's old boss and a former White House spokesperson.
Ari, good evening to you — from Hartford, Connecticut. You called Scott McClellan last night. What did you ask him?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER W.H. PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I did. Actually it was before the story broke about the book. So, it was a social call and Scott brought up the book. We talked about it and he told me he thought it was going to be an honest, brutal, I mean honest, blunt book — he didn't say brutal. And I'm not sure I thought it was going to be as bad as it sounds like it is.
HEMMER: What do you mean?
FLEISCHER: From what I'm hearing from reporters are telling me, this is a very tough book on President Bush. And that's what leaves me really just kind of heartbroken that Scott could do this, because Scott never once, Bill, ever came to me privately and expressed any misgivings or doubts about what we were doing, the lead up to the war in Iraq. And certainly, when he took the podium, he himself seemed to have his heart in it. He never said anything at the time that would make someone think he had doubts.
So, how now does Scott come to these conclusions? I don't know. It's a different Scott from the Scott I knew.
HEMMER: Seven hours ago, we spoke about this, Ari, and you said you were stumped. Do you still think that now?
FLEISCHER: I am stumped. I'm still stumped. I really don't know how and why Scott has come to this. And you know, especially, I was even thinking — after Scott left the White House, he continued to support the president and the war and defend the president. That was about a year ago, I remember watching him on TV doing that. So, I don't know what has changed for Scott. I wish I did know.
HEMMER: I mentioned what Dana Perino relayed on Air Force One on the way back from Colorado minutes ago. Earlier today, she said this, she said, "Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad — this is not the Scott we knew."
Did you know him to be disgruntled at any point during the White House service there?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think Scott got dealt some very bad card at the time that he was there. He had had a very tough job and a much more difficult times than I did.
HEMMER: How so?
FLEISCHER: I think the whole issue about whether Karl and Scooter told Scott the truth about the Valerie Plame matter hunts Scott still and justifiable so. But that doesn't and shouldn't give Scott license to say things about the president, particularly accusing the president of propagandizing the war, manipulating information, in a lead-up to what he called the unjust war.
That to me is where Scott has written things that make no sense, are not consistent with anything Scott ever said publicly or privately. And if Scott harbored these doubts, Bill, he should not have accepted the job as press secretary.
HEMMER: Wow. He shouldn't have gone to the podium then you say.
FLEISCHER: Well, you don't take the podium if your heart is not in it. And that's true for whatever White House, whatever party you work for. It's too difficult a job and your honesty is too important. If you don't believe it, don't say it, don't take the job.
HEMMER: From what you know when he left that position, was he in good standings with his relationship with the president?
FLEISCHER: Absolutely. In fact, one of the things the president said to Scott that we talked about yesterday was how the president said he's looking forward to sitting down on the front porch swinging in Crawford with Scott. I asked him about that yesterday and Scott didn't sound like he thought he's ever going to sit on that swing.
HEMMER: So, no bad blood, huh? At least from the time you understood it.
FLEISCHER: No. I think Scott was magnanimous when he was asked to leave at a time that was earlier than Scott had intended to leave. And Scott was magnanimous about it, I think. But since then, Scott has a lot of second thoughts.
HEMMER: Ari, do you think that this kind of book that's a headline for this week, or is this the kind of thing that lingers during a hot campaign season?
FLEISCHER: No, this is a very Washington and people who follow Washington issue. People tend to read these types of books. But, you know, what's interesting, Bill, is TV shows, for example, millions watch the news at night, you know, a great selling book only sells about 100,000.
So, it's kind of going to be a self-contained story that won't last long.
HEMMER: It's going to be on network news throughout the morning, tomorrow and the day after that. I mean, in that sense it lingers.
FLEISCHER: Well, it's plenty — it's plenty hot for a day or two, but still, I keep coming back to the issue of — is it accurate, is it right. And this is where I think Scott's reflections are really just off. I think the things that he accuses the president of are just things that I'd just never saw or witnessed myself.
We were wrong about whether Saddam had a WMD but that didn't mean the president manipulated anything. And Scott uses the very same words that the far-left uses and I find that troubling because I find it inaccurate.
HEMMER: Ari Fleischer, thank you for your time.
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