WHITE HOUSE REGULAR NEWS BRIEFINGJULY 11, 2005SPEAKER: SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY
MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone.
I want to begin with a statement by the president.
On July 11th, we remember the tragic loss of lives in Srebrenica 10 years ago.The mass murder of nearly 8,000 men and boys was Europe’s worst massacre of civilians since World War II and a grim reminder that there are evil people who will kill the innocent without conscience or mercy.
This horrific event remains a source of pain for people in the Balkan region and for all those who believe in freedom and the dignity of human life.I join all Americans in sending our deepest condolences and expressions of sympathy on this solemn occasion.
The United States supports the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the families of those who suffered, as they commemorate this terrible chapter in history.
We grieve for their loss and applaud the strength and courage of those who have returned to Srebrenica to rebuild their lives.
We also remain committed to ensuring that those responsible for these crimes face justice; most notably, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.
I appreciate all the individuals who are advancing reconciliation and a strong European future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A modern, democratic Balkan region is an essential element in a Europe that is unified, free and at peace.
As we work to make the world more peaceful, we share a common faith in the value of freedom, the sanctity of life and the triumph of good over evil.
May God bless the people of the Balkan region and the souls of the departed.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
QUESTION: Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in a leak of the name of a CIA operative?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked related to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point.
And as I’ve previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it.
The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren’t going to comment on it while it is ongoing.
QUESTION: I actually wasn’t talking about any investigation.
But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak to the press about information. I just wanted to know: Is that still his position?
MCCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that’s why I said that our policy continues to be that we’re not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium.
The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium.
MCCLELLAN: And so that’s why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation — or questions related to it.
QUESTION: Scott, if I could point out: Contradictory to that statement, on September 29th of 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one to have said that if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired.And then, on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation, when the president made his comments that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved, so why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you’ve suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, We’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation?
MCCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. And that’s something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow.And that’s why we’re continuing to follow that approach and that policy.Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And, at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
QUESTION: So could I just ask: When did you change your mind to say that it was OK to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it’s not?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry’s question at the beginning. There came a point, when the investigation got under way, when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be — or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing.I think that’s the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: Scott, can I ask you this: Did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MCCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to a ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don’t think you should read anything into it other than: We’re going to continue not to comment on it while it’s ongoing.
QUESTION: Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003, when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliot Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this ?
QUESTION: Do you stand by that statement?
MCCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that, as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation, we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time as well.
QUESTION: Scott, this is ridiculous. The notion that you’re going to stand before us, after having commented with that level of detail, and tell people watching this that somehow you’ve decided not to talk.You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium or not?
MCCLELLAN: I’m well aware, like you, of what was previously said. And I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation…
QUESTION: (inaudible) when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?
MCCLELLAN: If you’ll let me finish.
QUESTION: No, you’re not finishing. You’re not saying anything.You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn’t he?
MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
QUESTION: Do you think people will accept that, what you’re saying today?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’ve responded to the question.
QUESTION: You’re in a bad spot here, Scott…(LAUGHTER)… because after the investigation began — after the criminal investigation was under way — you said, October 10th, 2003, I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby. As I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this, from that podium. That’s after the criminal investigation began.
Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation.
MCCLELLAN: No, that’s not a correct characterization. And I think you are well aware of that.We know each other very well. And it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation.
And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this. Because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.
I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I’m just not going to do that.
QUESTION: So you’re now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore and since then you haven’t.
MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation and I’m just not going to respond to them.
QUESTION: When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you pin down a date?
MCCLELLAN: Back in that time period.
QUESTION: Well, then the president commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.
QUESTION: Well, we are going to keep asking them.When did the president learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson’s wife in the decision to send him to Africa?
MCCLELLAN: I’ve responded to the questions.
QUESTION: When did the president learn that Karl Rove had been…
MCCLELLAN: I’ve responded to your questions.
QUESTION: After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved will be let go?
MCCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.
QUESTION: Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the deputy chief of staff, here?
MCCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it’s ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.
QUESTION: Scott, there’s a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action…
QUESTION: Can I finish, please?
MCCLELLAN: I’ll come back to you in a minute.
QUESTION: Scott, (inaudible) president spoke about war on terrorism and, also, according to India Globe report there is bombings in London and also bombings in India. And at both places, Al Qaida was involved.
According to the India Globe and press reports, Pakistani television said that Osama bin Laden is now alive and they had spoken with him. And his group is (inaudible) terrorism around the globe is concerned.
Well, now, the major bombings after 9/11 took place in London and (inaudible) fighting against terrorism is concerned.
Where do we stand now? Really, where do we go from London as far as terrorism is concerned? How far can we go after Osama bin Laden now to catch him, because he’s still in Pakistan?
MCCLELLAN: What occurred in London is a grim reminder that we are at war on terrorism. We are waging a comprehensive war on terrorism.
You heard the president talk earlier today to the FBI personnel and others who were at Quantico. And the president talked about our global war on terrorism. He talked about our strategy for taking the fight to the enemy, staying on the offensive, and working to spread freedom and democracy to defeat the ideology of hatred that terrorists espouse.
And the president pointed back to the 20th century. He pointed out that in World War II, freedom prevailed over fascism and Nazism. And in the Cold War, freedom prevailed over communism.
MCCLELLAN: Freedom is a powerful force for defeating an ideology such as the one that the terrorists espouse. And that’s why it’s so important to continue working to advance freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East. And that’s what we will continue to do.
And the president also talked about the great progress we’ve made at home to protect the home front.
The families and friends of those who lost their lives in London continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. We know what it’s like to be attacked on our own soil.
And that’s why the president made a decision that we were going to take the fight to the enemy to try to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And that’s exactly what we are doing.
But we’re also going to work with the free world to support the advance of freedom and democracy in a dangerous region of the world. For too long we ignored what was going on in the Middle East. We accepted and tolerated dictatorships in exchange for peace and stability, and we got neither.
As the president said, free nations are peaceful societies. And that’s why it’s so important that we continue to support the advance of freedom, because that’s how you ultimately defeat the ideology of hatred and oppression that terrorists espouse.
QUESTION: Does the president continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?
MCCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you’ve heard my response on this.
QUESTION: So you’re not going to respond as to whether or not the president has confidence in his deputy chief of staff?
MCCLELLAN: You’re asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation, and I would not read anything into it other then I’m simply going to comment on an ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: Has there been any change, or is there a plan for Mr. Rove’s portfolio to be altered in any way?
MCCLELLAN: Again, you have my response to these questions. QUESTION: A secret British memo says plans under way for a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq early next year. Does the president agree with those plans? And even though he doesn’t want to give an exit date…
MCCLELLAN: Who has a plan? I’m sorry.
QUESTION: A secret British memo says plans are under way for a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq early next year. Does the president agree with those plans? And even though he doesn’t want to give an exit date, is there White House and Pentagon pressure to draw down U.S. troop levels in Iraq as soon as possible?
MCCLELLAN: I think you’re referring to reports of a British memo talking about a reduction in troop forces.
First of all, the military always plans for all contingencies. And that’s something our military is always looking at: What are the various contingencies and how do we meet our commitments and complete the mission?
The president’s made it clear that we are going to complete the mission and then our troops will return home with the honor that they deserve.
The president always looks to his commanders on the ground to make assessments in terms of what troops level are needed.
And the commanders on the ground will have the troops that they need to complete the mission. But the commanders have said that that will be based on the conditions on the ground; it will be based on circumstances on the ground. So you’re always looking at the circumstances on the ground.
Now, one part of our strategy for the victory in Iraq is to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. As we stand up the Iraqi forces, we will stand down coalition and American forces.
And the president talked about that again today. That’s part of our two-track strategy for succeeding in Iraq.
And what you’re seeing now is that the number of Iraqi forces that are trained and equipped continues to go up. They are the largest contingent providing for security in Iraq. And we continue to expand those forces.
But not only are we expanding the numbers, we’re strengthening their capability. And the commanders have talked about that as well.
So there’s good progress being made there. The president referenced some of that in this remarks today.
QUESTION: There’s a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it.
Newsweek put out a story, an e-mail saying that Karl Rove passed national security information on to a reporter that outed a CIA officer. Now, are you saying that the president is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action and that if he did you still would not necessarily abide by that; that the president is free to respond to news reports, regardless of whether there’s an investigation or not.
So are you saying that he’s not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the president has previously spoken to this.
This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation.
MCCLELLAN: No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the president of the United States.
And we’re just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.
QUESTION: But you acknowledged that he is free, as president of the United States, to take whatever action he wants to in response to a credible report that a member of his staff leaked information. He is free to take action if he wants to.
MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I’ve responded to it.
QUESTION: Since President William Howard Taft became chief justice after his presidency, you would not rule out the president’s nominating former law school professor Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court, would you? And if you wouldn’t, we can report that President Clinton is under consideration, can’t we?
MCCLELLAN: Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard that name suggested. I know there are a lot of names being suggested out there and you know that I’m not going to get into speculating about any particular names.
QUESTION: Considering the widespread interest and the absolutely frantic Democrat reaction to Karl Rove’s excellent speech to conservatives last month, does the president hope that Karl will give a lot more speeches?
MCCLELLAN: He continues to give speeches.
He was traveling this weekend talking about the importance of strengthening Social Security. And he’s continued to go out and give speeches.
Let me back up, though. You brought up the Supreme Court, and I would like to update you in terms of where we are in terms of consultations with the Senate, because the White House consultations have been wide and deep with the United States Senate.
I think you heard Senator Hatch yesterday talk about how in his 29 years in the United States Senate he has not seen anything like this when it comes to the level of consultation that is going on. It is unprecedented, in his words — and he’s certainly been around the Senate for a long time — to see the type of consultations that go on. But we have reached out to more than 60 senators now and we have actively consulted with most of those. We are continuing those outreach calls and meetings to listen to what senators have to say and hear what their views are.
The president has reached out himself.
MCCLELLAN: The president looks forward to meting tomorrow with four distinguished leaders in the Senate. He will be listening to what their views are. The president is not prejudging anything. He wants to hear what their views are and hear what they have to say as we move forward on a Supreme Court nominee.
The president welcomes people suggesting names. That’s part of the consultation process. But not only are we going to consult before the nomination is made, but we’ll continue to consult once the nomination is made.
We’ve also consulted with more than half of the Democratic Conference in the United States Senate. We’ve spoken with every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And we are continuing that outreach as we speak. A number of White House staffers have been reaching out to individual members, and the president is going to be sitting down and meeting with those four leaders tomorrow.
QUESTION: What does he think of Specter suggesting O’Connor as chief?
MCCLELLAN: There are going to be a lot of suggestions made. I’m just not going to get into speculating about potential nominees.
The president takes this responsibility very seriously, and that’s why he is going through a deliberate and thorough process. That’s why he has instructed us to reach out to senators and get their views and hear what they have to say about a potential nominee.
The president hopes that we can move forward in a dignified and civilized way. You heard him express that. It’s important to elevate the discourse as we move forward.
The American people want this nomination process to be something that we can all be proud of. And the president is going to select a nominee who meets the criteria that he outlined. That is someone of high intellect, someone of integrity, someone of great legal ability, and someone who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws and not try to make law from the bench.
QUESTION: Will the president discuss his names with Democrats as well and get their thoughts on his names?
QUESTION: Scott, what was the president’s interaction today with Karl Rove? Did they discuss this current situation?
And understanding that Karl Rove was the architect of the president’s reelection (OFF-MIKE) how important is Karl Rove to this administration?
MCCLELLAN: Again, this is coming at it from…
MCCLELLAN: This is still coming at the same question relating to reports about an ongoing investigation. And I think I’ve responded to…
QUESTION: Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this administration?
MCCLELLAN: Do you have questions on another topic?
QUESTION: No, no, no, no. Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this current administration?
MCCLELLAN: I appreciate the question. I think I’ve responded.
QUESTION: Is the president going to make any outreach to conservative groups on the Supreme Court nominee and listen to their point of view at all?
MCCLELLAN: Well, we are listening to what others have to say, not only the United States Senate, but outside as well. And there are a lot of people expressing their views right now.
MCCLELLAN: I wouldn’t try to label anything.
QUESTION: Scott, I think you’re getting this barrage today in part because it is now clear that 21 months ago you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstrably false.
Now, are you concerned that in setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’m going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time.
You and everybody in this room — or most people in this room, I should say — know me very well, and they know the type of person that I am. And I’m confident in our relationship that we have.
But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that’s once the investigation is complete. I’m not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.
QUESTION: Scott, at this point are we to consider what you said previously, when you were talking about this — that you’re still standing by that or are those all inoperative at this point? MCCLELLAN: Again, you’re still trying to come at this from a different angle, and I’ve responded to it.
QUESTION: Are you standing by what you said previously?
MCCLELLAN: You’ve heard my response.
QUESTION: The six-party talks are finally to be resumed on coming July 27th. The United States policy has been to demand complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapons by North Korea to ensure nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
QUESTION: If North Korea does not agree with that, what would happen to the six-party talks?
MCCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we are pleased that North Korea is coming back to the talks. The five parties put a proposal on the table, and we believe it’s now time to make progress on what we outlined.
MCCLELLAN: It’s important for North Korea to return to the talks prepared to talk in a serious way about how to move forward on that proposal.
The goal is not for North Korea to come back to the talks. The goal is a denuclearized peninsula. That’s a goal that we all share.
And we need to make progress toward that goal. That’s why it’s important that when North Korea comes back that they are prepared to respond to the proposal and move forward in a serious way to make progress toward that goal.
In the discussions recently with North Korea, they have expressed a commitment to a denuclearized peninsula, in making progress toward that goal. These meetings or this upcoming six-party talks is a way to move forward toward that goal. And we want to move forward in a serious way.
QUESTION: By the way, there are reports that the United States would offer some new incentives to North Korea. Will you tell us, what is the contents of the…
MCCLELLAN: I think any such impression is wrong.
We have put a proposal on the table along with the other four parties in the talks. That is a proposal that was — it’s a serious proposal. It was put on the table by the five parties for North Korea to consider and respond to.
Now North Korea is committed to coming back to the talks with a date certain. And when they come back later this month, we want them to be prepared to talk in a serious way about how to move forward on that proposal.
That’s the proposal that is on the table. It was a proposal that was outlined to North Korea in the last round of talks over a year ago by the other five parties.
QUESTION: When the leak investigation is completed, does the president believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what transpired inside the White House at the time?
MCCLELLAN: This is an investigation being overseen by a special prosecutor.
MCCLELLAN: And I think those are questions best directed to the special prosecutor.
Again, this is an ongoing matter. I’m just not going to get into commenting on it further at this time.
At the appropriate time, when it’s complete, then I’ll be glad to talk about it at that point.
QUESTION: Have you or the White House considered whether that would be optimal to release as much information and make it as open…
MCCLELLAN: It’s the same type of question. You’re asking me to comment on an ongoing investigation and I’m not going to do that.
QUESTION: I’d like you to talk about the communications strategies just a little bit there.
MCCLELLAN: Understood. The president directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and that’s what he expects people in the White House to do.
QUESTION: And he would like to do that when it is concluded, cooperate fully with…
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’ve already responded.
QUESTION: Scott, who in the investigation made this request of the White House not to comment further about the investigation? Was it Mr. Fitzgerald? Did he make a request of you specifically?
MCCLELLAN: You can direct those questions to the special prosecutors. I think probably more than one individual who’s involved in overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it’s ongoing.
I think we all want to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. The president wants to see the prosecutors get to the bottom of this matter. And the way to help them do that is to not get into commenting on it while it is ongoing.
QUESTION: Was the request made of you or of whom in the White House?
MCCLELLAN: I already responded to these questions. QUESTION: According to today’s Gallup poll, 62 percent of the American people believe that a terrorist attack like the one we saw in London could happen here.
In the president’s speech today, we haven’t heard anything new. What is the plan, exactly, to protect the American people?
MCCLELLAN: It’s exactly what he outlined in this remarks earlier today. It’s a comprehensive strategy. We are working on multiple fronts to protect the American people.
As he said, the best way to defend the American people is to stay on the offense and take the fight to the enemy. And that’s exactly what we are doing.
You see, the terrorists have been carrying out attacks for years. They felt that the civilized world would only respond in a very limited way.
We saw the attacks back in ’83 on the Marine barracks in Lebanon. We saw the attack on the World Trade Center back in 1993. We saw the attacks on our embassies back in ’98. They certainly carried out attacks in other parts of the civilized world as well.
The president saw the attacks of September 11th and said: We are going to take the fight to the enemy.
MCCLELLAN: We’re going to wage a comprehensive war and we are going to see it through. The enemy will be defeated.
And the way we will ultimately defeat the enemy is to defeat their hateful ideology. And you do that by spreading freedom because free societies, as the president said.
QUESTION: In your dealings with the special counsel, have you consulted a personal attorney?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’m just not going to say anything further. I expressed all I’m going to say on this matter from this podium.
QUESTION: How does the uncertainty over Chief Justice Rehnquist affect the president’s selection of replacement for Justice O’Connor?
MCCLELLAN: How does the speculation about another vacancy…
QUESTION: The uncertainty about Chief Justice Rehnquist affect the process?
MCCLELLAN: Well, the president is moving forward to fill the vacancy. He spent time on his trip looking over the background materials of potential nominees and some of their key rulings or decisions.
The president has been talking with senior staff. I know he visited with Andy Card about it on the trip as well. And talking to them about potential nominees in the process for moving forward to name a nominee.
We are prepared for additional vacancies if they would occur. This is something that we have prepared for for quite some time at the White House. But I’m not aware of any announcement that’s been made on an additional vacancy at this point.
QUESTION: Scott, on Voting Rights reauthorization, I understand the president is for Voting Rights reauthorization, but he still wants to study portions of it.It sounds kind of contradictory. Could you explain what that means?
MCCLELLAN: Sure. As you point out, it’s up for reauthorization in 2006. The president does support reauthorization. That process is getting under way in Congress. And as it works its way through Congress, the White House will look at and consider any improvements to strengthen it.And that’s really where it stands at this point.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) can strengthen it, what tweak is he thinking of right now?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think that’s something we’ll look at.There are suggestions that, sure, people are going to make as we move forward and we’ll look at and consider those suggestions.
The president also met with the Congressional Black Caucus and said he would take their views into account as we move forward as well.