They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved.
--Scott McClellan, personally vouching Karl Rove and Scooter Libby's non-involvement in the Valerie Plame affair, October 2003.
Whether it outing Valerie Plame was a crime or not is beside the point in Scott McClellan's case. He didn't say that they weren't involved in a crime; he said that they weren't involved in the situation whatsoever. And the thing about being the White House Press Secretary is this: your highest qualification for the job is your credibility.
Fact is, McClellan has some explaining to do in this case. We now KNOW that Rove and Libby were involved (again, this is not a debate about whether they committed a crime; that's not the issue for McClellan). It's highly possible, even likely, that he didn't intend to lie...he was almost certainly just passing on Rove and Libby's denials when he vouched for them. If that's the case, he needs to say so.
It may be true that he's been advised not to comment on an ongoing legal investigation. Legally, that may be appropriate. But is it really appropriate politically? And leaving legal AND political concerns aside, is it appropriate for the WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY to refuse to comment on statements he made that (knowingly or not) turned out to be false? This puts him in a real pickle...what do you do when legal obligations are interfering with your ability to do your job?
And even if you like Scott McClellan--by all accounts most of the White House Press Corps likes him a lot, personally--you surely can see how this is a very serious handicap to him professionally. One more time for the record: credibility is the most important element in the White House Press Secretary's job. It's even more important than being a good public speaker. If he's made statements in the past that have turned out to be false, and he's unable to comment about those comments, it is not unfair for the press to take issue with his credibility. Indeed, it's only natural that they do so. How can they print anything he says without adding the caveat that it might turn out to be false? Unless and until he explains the previous slip-ups, the other things he said can't necessarily be taken at face value.