WASHINGTON - If the nation doesn't trust the Bush White House, it's the president's and Dick Cheney's own fault, Bush's former spokesman told Congress Friday.
From life-and-death matters on down - the rationale for war, the leaking of classified information, Cheney's accidental shooting of a friend - the government's top two leaders undermined their credibility by 'packaging' their version of the truth, former press secretary Scott McClellan said.
He described the loss of trust as self-inflicted, telling the House Judiciary Committee that Bush and his administration failed to open up about White House mistakes.
The focus of the panel's hearing was the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, and McClellan said that was a good example of the administration damaging itself by backtracking on a pledge to be upfront.
'This White House promised or assured the American people that at some point when this was behind us they would talk publicly about it. And they have refused to,' McClellan said. 'And that's why I think more than any other reason we are here today and the suspicion still remains.'
The White House dismissed Friday's hearing as unenlightening and McClellan, the president's former top spokesman, as uninformed. Republicans on the committee accused him of writing about sensitive matters to make money, a reference to his recent book, 'What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception.'
'I think Scott has probably told everyone everything he doesn't know, so I don't know if anyone should expect him to say anything new today,' said White House spokesman Tony Fratto.
Fratto, who is Bush's deputy press secretary, came to the White House after McClellan left, apparently in good standing, in April 2006.
McClellan, considered an ultimate Bush loyalist until the book came out, worked for Bush when the future president was Texas governor, jumped to his presidential campaign and then followed him to Washington when he won.
On Friday, McClellan returned repeatedly to his theme that Bush, Cheney and others in the administration had done great damage to themselves - and by extension to aides like McClellan - by being less than truthful on a range of official matters.
'This is a very secretive White House,' McClellan said. 'There's some things that they would prefer not to be talked about.'
McClellan took aim at Bush's personal honesty when discussing the president's handling of allegations that he had long ago used cocaine.
In the book, McClellan recounts hearing Bush on the telephone telling a supporter that 'I honestly don't remember whether I tried it or not.'