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The second-term spokesman

The dust-up over Karl Rove’s role in the Valerie Plame leak affair has the usually docile White House press corps smelling blood. Reporters on Monday again hammered Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, as he continued to refuse to explain why he had insisted last year that Rove had nothing to do with the leak. “You all in this room know me well,” he said, pleading for understanding. “I’d love to be able to talk to you about this at some point, but not while the investigation is continuing.”

The issue has become personally uncomfortable for the usually unflappable McClellan, who rarely strays from the faithful recitation of the carefully managed White House press line. But in 2003, when the question came up of whether three senior White House officials, including Rove, had been involved in the leak, he put his own credibility on the line in dismissing the allegations. “I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this,” he told reporters.

Since the weekend revelations that Rove did indeed speak with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about the issue, McClellan has deflected any questions by insisting that he cannot talk about an ongoing criminal investigation. He has refused even to comment on whether George W. Bush, president, still has confidence in Rove, his top political advisor, but insisted yesterday that “just because I’m not commenting about a continuing investigation doesn’t mean you should read anything into it”.

It was left to Helen Thomas, the doyenne of the Washington press corps and usually the toughest of McClellan’s interrogators, to throw a rare softball. “Has Karl Rove apologised to you?” she asked. McClellan would not comment.

Hard knocks

Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve governor who last month took over as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, is often mentioned as a possible successor to Fed chairman Alan Greenspan.

No one doubts Bernanke’s academic pedigree or monetary policy acumen. But one of the marks against him, apart from the fact he has only just started a new and important job, is his lack of political experience. Greenspan had long involvement in Republican circles before he was appointed to the Fed.

But before the new CEA chairman gave his maiden speech in the new job at the American Enterprise Institute on Monday, AEI director Chris DeMuth stressed that Bernanke was not “just another professor come to Washington”.

Rather, he said, Bernanke had learnt the art of politics in New Jersey’s school of hard knocks before joining the Fed and now the administration.

“I was a member of the school board in Montgomery, New Jersey, for six years,” Bernanke replied. “I can assure you it was far more stressful than this job.”

Her two cents

Laura Bush didn’t hold back on Monday when Today Show anchor Katie Couric asked her if she wanted her husband to name a woman to replace Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

“Sure, I would really like for him to name another woman,” the First Lady said from near Cape Town, during a trip across Africa.

She went on to say that whether it is a man or a woman, she knows her husband “will pick somebody who has a lot of integrity and strength”.

Her comments came as a surprise at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Asked about them a few hours later at the White House, the president said: “I get her advice all the time. I didn’t realise she put this advice in the press.”

Then, as if to keep the peace, he added, “We’re definitely considering people from all walks of life.”

Look under T

The mobile phone has become the ultimate status symbol for Afghans in the past four years. Even the Taliban’s shadowy spokesman is only a phone call away.

Afghanistan’s 600,000 cellular users can now let their fingers do the walking following the publication of the country’s first Yellow Pages by the Mohseni siblings – an enterprising family who returned to their native country from Australia to establish a mini media empire.

The debut edition is a bit thin: many of its 200 listings are taken by the plethora of international non-governmental organisations, United Nations agencies and embassies whose signboards and plaques fill the walls and roadsides of Kabul and which were given free listings. There are no entries under Swimming Pool Cleaners or Chiropractors. But if you want to hire a car for a wedding, get rid of a land mine or buy dried fruit, well, it’s all in the book.

Wajma Mohseni says she’s confident the directory will fill up as Afghans catch on to the idea. By the time the second edition hits the streets, the increasingly media-savvy Taliban may even have taken out an ad.

Keepsake

Alastair Ross Goobey received a special memento on his final day as chairman of the International Corporate Governance Network.

The former Hermes fund manager hosted the ICGN’s annual conference in London last week and was thrilled that Michael Oxley turned up to deliver a keynote address, despite the terrorist-induced chaos.

Oxley is, of course, (in)famous for helping to steer through the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation, designed to clean up corporate America. The law has been abbreviated to SOx – and Oxley told delegates that he was regularly asked by awestruck fans to autograph pairs of socks.

Hence Ross Goobey departed as ICGN chairman proudly clutching a white pair adorned with the Oxley scribble: “Socks in the City”.

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