November 2 Press Gaggle

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THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

Internal Transcript November 2, 2005

PRESS GAGGLE

BY

SCOTT McCLELLAN

James S. Brady Briefing Room

9:53 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everyone. The President had breakfast with some of the congressional leadership: Senator Frist, Senator McConnell, Speaker Hastert and Congressman Blunt. This was kind of a follow on meeting to the discussion they had last week. They talked about important congressional priorities that need to get done by the end of this year. They talked about the importance of moving forward on the reconciliation packages and making sure that we’re pushing the envelope to provide as much savings as possible.

And they talked about the spending bills that are going through Congress. I think some of the leaders brought up the possibility of across-the-board cuts, which the President has said he’s very much open to, as well. The President is committed to moving forward on our priorities and exercising spending restraint as we do so.

They talked about avian flu, and the President talked about the emergency package that he sent up yesterday, which includes liability protection, and the importance of getting that done as soon as possible. The President talked about Judge Alito and reiterated the importance of moving forward quickly on his confirmation. And they talked about the importance of getting the Patriot Act renewed, as well, to make sure that our law enforcement has the tools they need so that they continue protecting the American people from terrorist attacks here at home.

Then following that, the President had his usual briefings. He’s got a National Security Council meeting going on, then he’ll be meeting with his Secretary of Defense. He’s going to be taping his radio address this morning, since we’re leaving on the trip. And –

Q Subject?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll tell you on Friday; I don’t want to get too far out there.

And then the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to hosting their Royal Highnesses here at the White House this afternoon, and you all have the general schedule for that. And Mrs. Bush’s office will also be providing additional details today.

Steve Hadley will be briefing at 2:45 p.m. today, on the upcoming trip and taking the questions that you have. Then State is briefing at 12:30 p.m.

And Judge Alito is meeting with seven senators today. He’s already met with 10 senators, he’s meeting with seven today. One of those senators was in the group — one of the groups that he met with earlier in the week, so it will be 16 senators that he’s met with by the end of the day.

And I think that’s what I’ve got to begin with.

Q Scott, what did the White House make of what happened in the Senate yesterday?

MR. McCLELLAN: What did we make of it? Do you have a question about it?

Q Yes, what do you make of it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Senators talked about it.

Q I’m just wondering what you all think — what you all think.

MR. McCLELLAN: They talked about it yesterday.

Q I’m just wondering what you all think of it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if Democrats want to talk about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed and the intelligence, they might want to start with looking at the previous administration and their own statements that they’ve made.

Q Was it a stunt, as some Republicans have suggested?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard Democrats — some Democratic leaders saying that they wanted to look at how the intelligence was used. The intelligence — how the intelligence was used was all part of the public record –

Q It’s not –

MR. McCLELLAN: — and it goes back to the previous administration and it goes back to Democratic leaders. I mean, they might want to look at how the previous administration and Democratic leaders — you know, Senator Reid may want to look at how the previous administration and Democratic leaders, such as himself, used the intelligence to come to the same conclusion that Saddam Hussein and his regime were a threat.

Q Do you see this as the — sort of the first shot in the midterm elections, that Democrats are going to continue to try to derail your agenda, are they going to be a thorn in your — more of a thorn in your side here than they have been?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that’s — what I’m saying is that, you know, if they want to talk about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed and — we’ll be glad to talk about that. Removing Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime was the right thing to do. His regime was a destabilizing force in a dangerous part of the world.

Q But take a look at the political angle of it here. You can’t ignore that.

MR. McCLELLAN: You can do the political analysis. That seems to be something you’re very interested in this morning.

Let’s go to — you know, the discussion, if they want to talk about — that Democratic leaders claim they want to talk about.

Q Well, let me just ask it another way, forgetting the word “political.” What about — what does this say about the climate in Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has talked about the climate in Washington.

Q But I’m asking you now, in context of this.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not — if you want to do the political analysis of that, that’s fine. I mean, let’s talk about the issue that was brought up yesterday.

Q I didn’t use the word “political.”

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I know, I mean, I think — I’d be interested more in focusing on the issue that was raised yesterday. If they want to raise that, they need to start by looking at their own comments and their own conclusions and their own votes and how they used the intelligence to come to those conclusions.

Q Look, the result of this was a bipartisan committee now that’s going to look into what caused us to go to war –

MR. McCLELLAN: There already is — there already was a bipartisan committee that looked at it.

Q Senator Roberts has suppressed any further action by his own committee to find out where it all began, why, who made the policy, and why we’re in a war.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ll look at what the — the intelligence the U.N. used, the intelligence their allies used, intelligence that Congress used –

Q You know that we have not had those answers. Do you agree with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Look at the Robb-Silberman commission report.

Q It wasn’t enough. Obviously, it wasn’t –

MR. McCLELLAN: It wasn’t?

Q No.

MR. McCLELLAN: It was a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats.

Q Absolutely not. Didn’t go to policy. None of these things are –

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it looked at the intelligence.

Q Why did they finally agree to a bipartisan group, then, to look into this whole business?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not –

Q Roberts has been sitting on the intelligence policy –

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen — Helen, they’ve already — they’ve had phase one and phase two, and Senator Roberts would greatly dispute the way you’re characterizing things.

Q He’s absolutely clamped down on going further. He had promised this report, and it’s not come out.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Roberts disagrees — Senator Roberts disagrees with your characterization. He stated so publicly.

Q He doesn’t disagree. He knows darn well the business is unfinished.

MR. McCLELLAN: You should look at what he said.

Q Would you be specific about the ways in which the White House has cooperated with this part of the investigation to date?

MR. McCLELLAN: With this part of the investigation?

Q With this phase of the report, with the White House’s involvement in pre-war intelligence. There are claims that the White House has stymied –

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that if you’re talking about phase two and how the intelligence was used, that’s all part of the public record.

Q So there is more information that the Democrats say they’ve requested or that the committee has requested that the White House has –

MR. McCLELLAN: We were pleased to work closely with the Senate Intelligence Committee previously.

Q Has it been ongoing? They say it has been stopped since July.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should ask Senator Roberts. He disputed the characterizations.

Q From the podium would you tell us, then, that the White House is –

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at Senator Roberts’ comments –

Q — saying that, when –

Q Wait, Scott, you’re not — is the White House fully cooperating with this and willing to continue to fully cooperate?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that if they’re talking about phase two and how the intelligence was used to draw the conclusion that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a threat, that’s all part of the public record.

Q No, that isn’t the part.

Q So you’re saying they have to base their report on what’s already in the public record?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m not saying that at all. But I’m getting — Senator Roberts disputed the way Democrats were characterizing the status of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s work.

Q But you could make it clear that the White House is interested in being transparent by saying right now, we’re happy to cooperate in any way.

MR. McCLELLAN: We have been. We have been.

Go ahead.

Q You’re not –

Q Thank you, Scott. Turning to the meeting this morning, did the President discuss with congressional leaders –

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, I’m taking the issue on directly. I’m glad to.

Q Look, Roberts says he’s going to have another report.

Q — did the President discuss with congressional leaders rescissions at all in the budget or possibly –

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q Rescissions, his list of cuts, was that discussed this morning at the meeting of congressional leaders?

MR. McCLELLAN: Whose list of cuts?

Q The President’s list — the rescissions for spending bills that have been passed already that the administration wants to delay and the Congress has an up and down vote on

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve sent — you know, we have proposed a package of rescissions that Josh Bolten talked about the other day, and so, yes, they talked about the overall efforts to move forward and provide significant savings during the budget process.

Q Is that list is public now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q Is that list — has Josh –

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can look at what we put out Friday from that briefing.

Go ahead, Mark.

Q Scott, is the U.S. holding al Qaeda captives at a secret base in Eastern Europe or elsewhere?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to get into discussing specific intelligence activities. I will say that the President’s most important responsibility is to protect the American people. It’s a responsibility he takes very seriously. We are engaged in a global war on terrorism, and a global war against Islamic militants who are determined to attack America and kill innocent men, women and children, and we are going to continue to go after terrorist leaders who seek to do us harm, and do all in our power to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. That’s what this President is doing. He’s charged his administration and his team to make sure that we’re doing all we can to protect the American people, and save lives.

And as we do so, we will do consistent with our legal obligations.

Q The President often says that when we capture an al Qaeda person, we are bringing them to justice. Is that the case?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when you talk about capturing al Qaeda terrorists, you’re not only talking about bringing them to justice, you’re talking about being able to get important intelligence that can help us prevent attacks from happening in the first place. I think some of the people that you’re probably referencing, talking about, are people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad and Ramzi Binalshibh and Abu Zubaydah — terrorist leaders who are responsible for killing thousands of Americans and many others in the civilized world that are innocent people.

Go ahead.

Q That doesn’t answer the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: You bet it does. I’ve told the American people exactly what I’ve said and I –

Q That’s not bringing them to justice. Torture is not justice –

MR. McCLELLAN: — I think they think it answers it.

Q Excuse me. Was the — at the meeting this morning, was there discussion of the shutdown of the Senate yesterday? Was that a big –

MR. McCLELLAN: Only — no. It was only a brief discussion, is my understanding.

Q It would be unfair to call it strategizing between the White House and –

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it’s a follow on to the meeting — the previous meeting where they were talking about important congressional priorities and the congressional calendar for the remainder of the year. That’s really where the focus was.

Q And following up on the question about more documents forthcoming, which the Democrats believe should be the case, they’re specifically saying that the Vice President and Scooter Libby had a hand in preventing certain documents from reaching the Senate. I wonder if you might comment on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: What documents are you talking about?

Q That’s — I guess that’s yet to be seen. But they claim there was information withheld, and Scooter Libby and the Vice President played a role in this.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re referring to.

Go ahead.

Q After his meeting with the President on Monday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was asked whether the Italian government had provided the United States with intelligence on alleged Iraqi purchases of uranium, or from Niger. Berlusconi replied, “Bush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.” Does the White House stand by that statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Stand by what — say the statement again.

Q Berlusconi replied — he replied in Italian, this is a translation, “Bush, himself, confirmed to me that the U.S.A. did not have any information from Italian agencies.”

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to that. You’ve got to go back and look at exactly what I said.

Q So your answer is, “yes”?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry? I addressed that question yesterday. I responded to it.

Q So the answer is, “yes”?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, if you’re talking about — because there have been some Italian reports about a meeting that took place here at the White House, and I pointed out yesterday that there were no documents provided relating to Niger and uranium at that meeting, much less –

Q Not just –

MR. McCLELLAN: — much less was it even discussed.

Q — no, not just at the meeting –

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of going back to the issue of Niger and uranium, I mean, we briefed on that and we talked about the basis for the statement in the remarks. And it was based on the National Intelligence Estimates and the British intelligence.

Go ahead.

Q I know the President has spoken about the tone in Washington before, but yesterday was particularly harsh, when Senator Frist said he took this personally, that it was a slap in the face to him. Senator Reid said he was exasperated when he was asked, did you ever work — did you work with Frist on this? He said, why would I ever work with him? Does the President specifically have something to say about that kind of –

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the Senate can talk about their procedures in those matters.

Q If he doesn’t –

MR. McCLELLAN: Let’s go to — let’s go the issue that was brought up, and that’s what I’d be glad to talk about.

Q Can you just reiterate, then, the President’s take on the tone in Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I mean, he’s talked about the tone in Washington. And you’re looking in the context of this. And I think we ought to go to the issue that was brought up yesterday and talk about that.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, who here is monitoring the Libby court proceedings?

MR. McCLELLAN: Who here is monitoring?

Q Is it the Counsel’s Office?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Counsel’s Office is the lead, in terms of making sure we’re doing our part to cooperate with the special counsel and the ongoing investigation and legal proceedings.

Q To what extent –

MR. McCLELLAN: They have been and they continue to be.

Q To what extent are they and you concerned that people from the Vice President’s office and others here at the White House are going to be called to testify after he pleads not guilty?

MR. McCLELLAN: You’ll have to direct questions to the special counsel.

Q No, that’s not the special counsel.

MR. McCLELLAN: It’s a question relating to the investigation. I’ve already told you our response on those questions.

Q Well, it’s — it goes to your concern about whether people from here are going to be called testify –

MR. McCLELLAN: This is an ongoing investigation and legal proceeding, which I’ve already stated what our policy is on that.

Go ahead, Ann.

Q Isn’t your statement in error when you say that the previous administration came to the same conclusion? The previous administration did not come to the same conclusion –

MR. McCLELLAN: I said the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein –

Q — to intervene militarily.

MR. McCLELLAN: — that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a threat.

Q But they didn’t go to war.

Q But isn’t the point of the –

MR. McCLELLAN: You want to talk about their comments? Let’s talk about their comments.

Q But the point of what they raised yesterday is the President’s decision to move militarily into Iraq. Are you saying –

MR. McCLELLAN: There’s no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. His regime “threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region, and the security of all the rest of us” — President Clinton, remarks to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Pentagon staff, February 17, 1998.

Q But he didn’t take us to war.

Q But isn’t the specific issue –

MR. McCLELLAN: The conclusion they came to was that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat and a destabilizing force in a dangerous part of the world.

Q But he didn’t take us to war.

Q But the specific issue is weapons of mass destruction.

Q But the question was whether the United States –

MR. McCLELLAN: You asked me about a statement I made, and I just backed up the statement that I made.

Q But the specific issue is weapons of mass destruction, and that is — that is the intelligence having to do with that. And the Democrats are saying that is what they’ve been deprived of, an investigation of. And so my question is, given what happened in the Senate –

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry — what did the Robb-Silberman commission do all their work on?

Q Well, the Democrats claim that that was extremely incomplete.

MR. McCLELLAN: A bipartisan group of Democrats and Republicans — and Charles Robb co-chaired it.

Q They claim it’s incomplete. My question to you is, given what the Democrats did yesterday, it goes beyond, it would seem, what you’re citing as statements. Therefore, my question is, what is the reaction of the White House –

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just pointed out the intelligence that everybody had — the United Nations, the Congress, our allies.

Go ahead.

Q Could you explain to me, please, why the United States would — or the White House would oppose the McCain amendment, or carve out an exemption for the CIA to not torture or mistreat detainees unless we’re actually torturing or detaining –

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I’ve already talked about that, and answered it just a week ago. Same thing that I said then.

Q So don’t you think it looks — it looks bad to the rest of the world to say we need an exemption –

MR. McCLELLAN: There are laws and treaty obligations that we are obligated to adhere to, and we do.

Q What about other countries that, obviously — some countries don’t extradite prisoners if they’re worried that they might face the death penalty here or elsewhere — and also be tortured? Do you think there’s going to be a problem with European countries not handing over detainees once they have them, or engaging in –

MR. McCLELLAN: You want to ask about specific cases, I’m glad to look into those.

Q Kind of a housekeeping question. You repeatedly say that you’ve been instructed not to comment on the CIA leaks case, because there’s an ongoing investigation. Can we infer from that that when Fitzgerald announces his investigation is completed you will be in a position to comment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I said I’d be glad to talk more about it after it’s come to a conclusion.

Q Well, would that mark the conclusion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Would what?

Q The end of the Fitzgerald investigation.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there’s an investigation and legal proceeding. And the comments I make –

Q So now you’re adding court cases.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Bob, I think any time there’s been a legal matter going on, we’ve said, that’s a legal matter.

Q No, what you said is, you can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think what I said last — and look what I said –

Q So you’ve added the words, “legal proceeding.”

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, now there is a legal proceeding.

Q So you’re adding the words, “legal proceeding,” to the formulation.

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not — any time there is a legal proceeding such as that, we don’t discuss it. I mean, I think you can look back at –

Q Because –

MR. McCLELLAN: Because it’s a legal matter, and it’s before the courts.

Q The world is crawling with legal matters that the White House comments on all the time. What sets this apart?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there are legal matters that occur all the time that we do not comment on, because they’re ongoing legal matters that are before the courts. Remember, numerous times we’ve referred stuff to the Justice Department because it’s an ongoing legal proceeding.

Q What is the concern of the White House, they’re not commenting?

MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly what I said. Maybe you want to go back and look at my remarks, but we don’t want to prejudice the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial.

Q Okay, because your remarks earlier had suggested that you didn’t want to influence an investigation that was ongoing.

MR. McCLELLAN: We don’t want to do that, either. We want to do our part to continue to cooperate, and that’s what we will do.

Q One more question, if I might, about the meeting this morning. Based on your past statements, I assume that delay of the implementation of the prescription drug bill is still off the table and was not discussed.

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. In fact, we’re making good progress on the outreach efforts to America’s seniors. The sign up period will be beginning in a matter of just a couple of weeks, and then they will start realizing — they will start receiving those benefits, and significant savings on their prescription drugs beginning in January.

Q And rescinding parts of the highway bill was not discussed either this morning?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll have to check, John. I wasn’t at the breakfast, but I got a general readout that I gave you, and I’d have to check on that specific — I don’t believe so, but I’d have to double-check.

All right, Steve will see you all this afternoon. I’ll be around if you need anything else, as well.

END 10:12 A.M. EST