‘Gannon’ Interview: No Plame Subpoena, No Tie to White House, He Says

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By: Joe Strupp

In a lengthy, wide-ranging interview with E&P today, former White House reporter Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James D. Guckert, revealed that, contrary to many media reports, he has not been subpoenaed in the Valerie Plame/CIA case.

He also threw into question media accounts suggesting that he had seen a classified CIA document critical to the Plame case, saying he had made references to the ?internal memo,? but adding, ?I never said I had it or had seen it.? But when asked if he had in fact seen it, he declined to say.

Gannon/Guckert earlier this week resigned his reporting position for Talon News, a Web site run by a Republican activist.

In the interview with E&P, Guckert also:

? explicitly denied ties to White House officials,and claimed he had met Karl Rove just once, at a party;

? said that the presidential press conference two weeks ago that brought him to public attention was not the first he had attended, but rather the fourth, and that he?d managed to ask President Bush a question once before; and

? acknowledged he had been turned down for a Capitol Hill press pass not once but multiple times.

Guckert quit earlier this week after bloggers revealed that he had been reporting from the White House under an alias. They also alleged that he might have been ?planted? by White House operatives to provide a positive spin for the administration, and they showed that he had helped set up several sexually oriented Web sites. His connections to the Plame case have now gained increasing attention.

Although Press Secretary Scott McClellan and others at the White House knew that Gannon was not his real name, they always referred to him by that name, he said in the interview. “My professional name is Jeff Gannon, and that is what people called me,? he explained, adding, in an odd reference, ?It is like Kirk Douglas, they do not refer to him when they meet him by his real name.”

Guckert said he was 47 years old, had never been married, and has no children. He revealed that he’d used the Gannon name since 2001 and vowed to keep using it. “Absolutely; it is my professional name,? he said. ?I would be throwing away all of the things I built up over the past few years if I stopped using it.”

Following are other highlights from the interview.

On the Plame probe

Guckert said that contrary to many press reports, he was never subpoenaed by the special prosecutor and has never testified before a grand jury in the case. But he said he was interviewed by two FBI agents in his home for about 90 minutes last year.

“I answered their questions truthfully and honestly, but I would prefer not to say more,? he said. ?I assume the information was routed back and that is why I was not called to testify.”

Although he hinted that he had not seen a classified CIA document after all, he added, “I am not going to speak to that. It goes to something of a nature I do not want to discuss.”

On presidential press conferences

Guckert first attended a presidential press conference in April 2003, he said, just weeks after starting with Talon News. He also attended another, for which he cannot recall the date, prior to the late-January conference that brought him to public attention. “I was also once at a Rose Garden briefing after the announcement of the interim government in Iraq,? he said. ?It was impromptu. I thought [Bush] had pointed at me, but he was really pointing at someone else. But I shouted out a question, and he answered it.”

Guckert said that standing in close proximity to the President required no additional security checks that he knew of. “They might have done something, but I don?t know what it was,” he said. “More people actually get into them than the briefings. A lot of people go just because they can.”

Connections to White House staff

When asked if anyone in the White House staff or leadership planted, offered, or suggested questions to ask, Guckert said “absolutely not.” He said, “I only met Karl Rove once, at the media Christmas party at the White House in 2003. I was waiting in line for my ‘grip and grin’ [photo] with the president and he passed by. I introduced myself to him, he said hello, and he moved on.?

He said he also attended the 2004 Christmas party.

Asked if he had any other social connection to Rove or Press Secretary Scott McClellan, he said, “absolutely not. … The only connection I had with Scott McClellan was when he got married and I sent him a card and left it at the press office for him.” He said he gave no gift to McClellan.

He said he couldn?t understand why anyone would feel that letting him in to the presidential press conferences and briefings under an alias, and with questionable journalistic credentials, suggested a security breakdown. “If I am a Republican shill,? he said, ?wouldn?t you think I am the least amount of a threat to the president?”

On how he got access to daily White House briefings

Gannon said he began attending White House press briefings in March 2003, very shortly after he joined Talon News, which is run by a Republican activist.

“I requested clearance each day via an e-mail to the White House Press office the night before. I gave them my professional name, my legal name, my social security number, my address and phone number, and the news service where I worked,” he said. “I assumed that there was some kind of cursory check that they do, but did not know what. They never asked me for more information.” He said he usually went to press briefings there ?at least once a week,” or more.

On those days, he said, “I would go to the guard gate and show my driver’s license with my legal name, and they looked me up on the computer and let me in.” He said he would receive a day pass, which has no name — Gannon or Guckert — on it. He said he sought the permanent “hard pass” when he first wanted to cover the White House, but after finding out he needed a congressional press pass — which he?d been denied — to get that far, he utilized only the day passes. ?I made several attempts to get a congressional pass, and each time they said ‘no.’ They were concerned with the Talon News business model,? he said. ?They didn’t feel that we fit the criteria.”

On his name change

He began using the Gannon name in 2001, while working in Pennsylvania to help a friend with a start-up business in auto repair, one of several jobs he said he’d had outside of journalism prior to coming to Washington.

“I was projecting out into the future at that time that I was going to be a journalist,” he said. “I wanted to have a better name that is not difficult to spell or pronounce. For a little while, it protected my family from people who disagreed with me going after my family, but that was just a side consideration. I really wanted an easier name because people have gotten it wrong all of my life.”

When asked what he would say to those who believe this reason is not credible, and that more likely he is hiding something in his past, Gannon said “they’re wrong.” He also said he never legally changed it because he did not believe it was necessary: “I have thought of doing that, but never got around to it. It was not on the top of the list.”

On joining Talon News

He said he had been writing op-ed pieces since 2001, when he was in Pennsylvania, and that he had them submitted to several Web sites and “advocacy groups,” including MichNews and Frontiers of Freedom. He said he could not think of any others. “I wrote about 20 or 30, over several years,” he said, “on subjects like Trent Lott and other conservative issues.” (An E&P search of online archives at MichNews turned up no articles by Gannon, and a Google search turned up no Gannon articles at either MichNews or Frontiers of Freedom.)

He said he came across Talon News while researching and liked its approach. The Texas Republican activist who runs it also manages the site GOPUSA.

“I had submitted my writings to Talon and saw they were looking for people to write news, and it was something I was interested in. I moved to Washington after Sept. 11, 2001, because I was so affected by [the attacks].” Guckert said he first went to work for Talon News in February 2003 after writing several test stories for them, becoming a stringer at first and later a full-time salaried reporter.

“I asked them if I could go and cover the White House, and they said I could try. Ari Fleischer was the press secretary then, and he went precisely row by row, so I was skipped over many times in the beginning. I don’t recall when I finally got to be called on. McClellan came in and did it differently; he skipped around a lot.?

He said that when he first joined Talon, ?it was a lean organization and I was compensated on a stringer basis.” He would not say how much he made as a stringer or a full-time reporter. Did he receive money from other sources? No, he said, he lived off savings during his stringer stretch. “As time went on,? he said, ?my salary increased.”

On setting up sex sites

“They were done through a private company I was involved with doing Web site development about five years ago,” Guckert said. He said the company was Bedrock Corporation of Delaware. He would not identify the clients who asked him to create the sites. “The sites were never hosted, and nothing was ever posted to the sites,” he said.

Asked how he felt working on sites with names like hotmilitarystud.com, militaryescorts.com, and militaryescortsm4m.com, he said, “we did not discriminate on content.”

Even if they didn?t go live, how did he justify developing two Web sites for what appear to be male escort services? Isn’t that illegal? “I don?t know that to be true,? he said. ?If they had wanted to go forward with it, it would have been a consideration to determine if it was legal or illegal. That would have been looked into.”

He said he had also set up a Web site for his church, but he wouldn?t identify it.

On resigning this week

“It was my decision to leave,? he said, ?and I left on good terms. They were very supportive of me, and it was only after members of my family contacted me about being harassed that I decided to leave.”

Guckert claimed that his family began being harassed a week ago. Asked how this was possible, when his real name didn?t even surface until late Monday, he held to the view that “it was out there a week ago, and that is when it started. My mother and my brother and his wife in Pennsylvania were being harassed with phone calls and threats.”

When asked how he felt about Talon and GOPUSA removing his stories from their sites, and what that might suggest about him, he said, “That bothers me sometimes. I stand behind everything I wrote, and if people disagree with it that is okay. But this is part of this invasion of examining every single thing in my life.”

On the future

“Even though it has been very painful,? he said of the current uproar, ?lots of opportunities have come forward journalistically. Once all of this blows over, I think it might actually help that I have gotten this attention.” He would not cite specific examples of any new opportunities. He cited Dick Morris as an example of someone whose travails, and brash political views, helped launch a media career.

Guckert said he had recently contacted legal representation “for quite a few things,” referring to the Plame case and the controversy over his White House access, but he would not elaborate. “I have always had an attorney on retainer, and now I believe I will have to put him to work,” he said.

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