Former White House press secretary Scott McClellan blamed President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for efforts to mislead the public about the role of White House aides in leaking the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Plame maintains in a lawsuit that the White House quietly outed her to reporters as retribution for her husband's criticism of the Iraq war.
She accused Bush administration officials of playing dirty tricks to get even with its critics, an accusation that dogged the administration and made Plame a cause celebre among many Democrats.
In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, McClellan recounted the 2003 news conference in which he told reporters that aides Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby were "not involved" in the leak.
"There was one problem. It was not true," McClellan wrote, a brief excerpt released on Tuesday said. "I had unknowingly passed along false information. And five of the highest ranking officials in the administration were involved in my doing so: Rove, Libby, the vice president, the president's chief of staff, and the president himself."
The excerpt, posted on the Web site of publisher PublicAffairs, renewed questions about what went on in the White House and how much Bush and Cheney knew about the leak. For years, it was McClellan's job to field, and often avoid, those types of questions.
Now that he is spurring them, answers are equally hard to come by.
White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said on Tuesday it was not clear what McClellan meant in the excerpt.
"The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information," she said.
Plame issued a statement saying the opposite.
"I am outraged to learn that former White House press secretary Scott McClellan confirms that he was sent out to lie to the press corps," Plame said. "Even more shocking, McClellan confirms that not only Karl Rove and Scooter Libby told him to lie but Vice President Cheney, presidential Chief of Staff Andrew Card and President Bush also ordered McClellan to issue his misleading statement."
McClellan turned down interview requests.
McClellan's book, titled What Happened, is not due out until April and the excerpt released on Tuesday was merely a teaser. It does not get into detail about how Bush and Cheney were involved or reveal what happened behind the scenes.
Yet the teaser provided enough material for administration critics.
"Just when you think the credibility of this White House can't get any lower, another shoe drops," Democratic Senator Charles Schumer said. "If the Bush administration won't even tell the truth to its official spokesman, how can the American people expect to be told the truth either?"