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Former Bush aide defends book against criticism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former White House spokesman Scott McClellan, defending his book critical of President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, said on Thursday he may have made a mistake by not speaking out sooner.

Under fire for what former White House colleagues see as a betrayal of the Bush administration, McClellan said on NBC’s “Today” show that, at the time, he had misgivings about the war and felt the administration was rushing into it. In the end, however, he said he trusted Bush and his advisers.

The “Today” show interview was the first for the former White House spokesman since news of his book, “What Happened -- Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception,” hit the capital.

As Bush’s press secretary from 2003 to 2006, McClellan defended the war to the media. But in his book he accused the White House of shading the truth and conducting a political propaganda campaign in making the case to go to war in Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein.

“I gave them the benefit of the doubt just like a lot of Americans,” McClellan said. “Looking back and reflecting on it now, I don’t think I should have.”

McClellan said he was unsure if Bush would ever speak to him again.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I certainly don’t expect it any time soon. I know this is a tough book for many people to accept.”

The cover of the soon-to-be-released memoir written by White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan is shown on May 28, 2008. REUTERS/Larry Downing

In explaining his reasons for writing the book, McClellan said he came to Washington with the Bush administration with hopes of changing the political culture.

“The larger message has been sort of lost in the mix ...,” he said. “The White House would prefer I not speak out openly and honestly about my experiences, but I believe there is a larger purpose.

“... We got to Washington and I think we got caught up in playing the Washington game the way it is being played today.”

McClellan said he hoped writing the book would “help move us beyond the destruction partisan warfare of the past 15 years.”

The White House reacted to the book by saying the president was puzzled and disappointed by it.

Speaking at a news conference in Stockholm ahead of an international conference on Iraq, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she had not read McClellan’s book but added that removing Saddam was “the right thing to do.”

McClellan’s book portrays Rice as skilled at protecting her reputation.

A number of former Bush aides have made similar comments about the book.

Dan Bartlett, who served as White House counsellor, said on the NBC “Today” show McClellan was wrong about Iraq.

“I think his allegation saying that there was an effort to shade the truth that propaganda was used to sell the war to the American people is patently false,” he said.

Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Bill Trott