WASHINGTON – White House officials say Scott McClellan's bombshell book criticizing the Bush administration's approach to Iraq is "flat-out wrong" on the facts, and they are pretty disappointed with the former White House press secretary.
A senior administration official told FOX News that McClellan didn't say anything new on Thursday, when he announced he gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt on Iraq, but he shouldn't have.
"Scott McClellan's assertions on the case for going into Iraq are just flat-out wrong and not supported by the facts," the official said. "It's just the same unsubstantiated stuff people reported on based on his book."
McClellen said he has come to believe the war was a mistake but still doesn't think the president lied to oversell the threat from Iraq. "He came to convince himself of that," McClellan, who was deputy press secretary during the lead-up to the war, said of Bush.
"My beliefs were different then. I believed the president when he talked about the grave and gathering danger from Iraq," McClellan told NBC's "Today" show.
Disappointment is palpable among former and current White House officials, who say the Bush administration acted toward Iraq according to the facts that it had at the time.
"It was not the United States of America alone that believed that he had weapons of mass destruction that he was hiding. The story is there for everyone to see, you can't now transplant yourself into the present and say we should have know what we in fact did not know in 2001 and 2002. The record on weapons of mass destruction was one that appeared to be very clear," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at a news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Stockholm, where she is attending an international conference on Iraq.
"I am not going to comment on a book that I haven't read, but what I will say is that the concern about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq was the fundamental reason" for going to war, she added.
Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked closely with McClellan, told FOX News he was "heart-broken" by the book's allegations.
"Scott and I had breakfast about a year and half and he told me it was going to be a good book for the president. But something changed in the last six months. I talked to him two days ago and he said an editor had tweaked it. These are Scott's words and Scott has to stand by them," he said.
Fleischer added that McClellan never suggested that he disagreed with the president when he was working in the White House.
"Scott and I were shoulder to shoulder. He helped get me ready for the briefings. Never once did he have any misgivings about the build-up to the war. That's why I find it so hard to understand what made him change 180 degrees," he said.
McClellan said he isn't accusing administration officials of "deliberate or conscious" lies to the American people, but said they were so wrapped up in trying to shape the story to their advantage that they ignored facts that didn't fit the views they were promoting.
McClellan said he expected the angry response from White House insiders that his book has generated. As the book — "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception" — vaulted to No. 1 on Amazon.com's best-seller list Wednesday, Republican critics dismissed him as a turncoat, a sellout and a disgruntled former employee.
McClellan said he wrote the book in hopes of changing the "permanent campaign culture" of Washington — which he said he and Bush had hoped to change from the White House but instead "got caught up in."
"I'm disappointed that things didn't turn out the way we all hoped they would turn out," McClellan said. "We all had high hopes coming in."
Former White House counselor Dan Bartlett said McClellan's book does the opposite of what McClellan said his intentions were.
"It's these very type of books that don't change (the culture in Washington). They put fuel on the fire. He's doing some bit of revisionist history. ... He knew better than most what these books can do, find their own legacy at the expense of the president. He forced this upon us. I'm done with books for a while," Bartlett told FOX News.