For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 4, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
Listen to the Briefing
3:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Before I begin the briefing, I just want to, for
a few brief moments, introduce you to Secretary of Health and Human Services
Tommy Thompson, and Dr. Scott Lillibridge, also of the Department of Health and
Human Services, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control. They want to just
share a little information to follow up an announcement that was made earlier
today by officials in the state of Florida, at a news conference that concluded
just a little time ago.
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Thank you very much, Ari. And let me, as Ari indicated, just bring you up to date with the information that we have concerning the incident that took place in the state of Florida, and also following up on the information that the state of Florida has released within the last hour.
The Centers for Disease Control has just confirmed the diagnosis of anthrax in a patient in a Florida hospital. Based on what we know at this point, it appears it is an isolated case.
I want to make sure that everybody understands that anthrax is not contagious
and is not communicable, which means it does not spread from person to person.
If it is caught early enough, it can be prevented and treated with antibiotics.
The Centers for Disease Control has a ready supply, and if our investigation
shows anyone else needs treatment, they will be notified and treated.
Our public health reporting system worked in a very timely fashion, as I indicated in my testimony yesterday. Florida public health officials promptly notified their state health department, who then notified the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI. And officials are aggressively investigating the individual's schedule for the last two weeks and the source of the infection.
I want everybody to understand that sporadic cases of anthrax do occur in the United States. The most recent one was within the past year in the state of Texas. And there was a case in Florida in 1974. The last reported case that we know of was within the last year -- was earlier in Texas.
The rapid identification of this case in Florida certainly may be a result of the heightened level of disease monitoring being done by the public health and medical community. This is the disease monitoring system in action and it is working. People need to understand that our public health system is on heightened alert, so we may have more public reports of what appears to be isolated cases. We will be responding very aggressively.
But I want to point out once again that this is an isolated case, and it's not contagious.
Q Mr. Secretary, given what we know, is there any reason to believe this is a result of terrorism?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It appears that this is just an isolated case. There's no evidence of terrorism -- at this --
Q Mr. Secretary, do we know if this particular individual had contact with raw wool? Was he a gardener, working in the ground?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We have the FBI and we have dispatched, as I said yesterday in the testimony, as soon as we heard anything suspicious, we have our CDC officials there, on the ground. And they are going to go through -- the last couple weeks, go to the restaurants. He traveled to North Carolina. We've also dispatched people from CDC to North Carolina, to the communities that he was there. We're checking with his neighbors. We're investigating with the FBI all known places and all the things that he might have ingested.
Q Mr. Secretary, what are some of the sources that could cause such an infection?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: That's why the doctor is here.
And do you want to answer that?
DR. LILLIBRIDGE: Sure. Sporadic cases may occur from contact with wool, animal products, hides, that sort of thing. And occasionally we don't know the context of these. These are sporadic, episodic things that happen from time to time.
Q But how sporadic? You just named two cases last year in Texas and then Florida in 1974. That's two --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: They're very rare. It's very rare.
Q So this is the third since 1974?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We don't know that, but this is a confirmed, and at this point in time, it's an isolated case. And there is no other indications anybody else has got anthrax.
Q Do you know if he happened to work around wool or any of the products that might have --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We don't know that at this point in time. That's entirely possible. We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week. But as far as wool or other things, it's entirely possible. We haven't got all of the investigations done. And we're doing a tremendous extensive job of investigating everything.
Q How did you find out about it? Did he go into the hospital --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: He went to the hospital. He went into the hospital on the first of October, and is still in the hospital. And they took a test, and just the way the system works -- it went up through the state laboratory. It went up to the state health department, who contacted us, and they confirmed anthrax, and we reconfirmed it through our CDC --
Q Do you automatically test for anthrax, or how did they make the distinction?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Well, we sent in the sample, and luckily there was -- not luckily, but that's the way it works, the system works. And this individual that was at the health department has just been educated at the CDC department in Atlanta.
Q Mr. Secretary, do we know, was this inhalation anthrax? Was this fellow a hunter?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It appears at this point in time it's inhalation.
Q Do you know if he was a hunter?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We don't know that. We know he was an outdoorsman, so it's entirely possible that he was --
Q Mr. Secretary, can you tell us the city, or the town in Florida?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It was near Palm Beach. He actually lived in -- it's right here --
Q While you're looking, could you tell us his age and --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Sixty-three years of age, and he was of British descent, and --
Q What's the prognosis? Will he recover?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: That, I can't tell you. He's from Lantana, Florida.
Q What are you advising the public health officials in that area and citizens in that area to do?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We are advising everybody to, if they have severe respiratory ailments, to go see their doctor.
Q What are the symptoms that he's presented?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We also have all of our EIS, our CDC people, that need to be there investigating, they're going to go to all the hospitals and emergency wards, and check everything out.
Q What kind of symptoms should people look for? What symptoms did he present?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It's severe respiratory -- upper respiratory problems that you would have.
Q Mr. Secretary, are you reevaluating whether civilians should try to start taking anthrax medication? And would there be enough available to even have enough --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: There's enough available. We have an ample supply and I want everybody to know that -- we have plenty of supply, and we have enough antibiotics to treat 2 million people for 60 days. And we have also contacted the pharmaceutical companies, not just today, but have throughout our planning process, and there is plenty of supply available. So people should not go out and do anything different than what they're doing. This is an isolated case, and it's not contagious.
Q Mr. Secretary, how likely is it that there have been other anthrax cases in the past year, say, that just simply haven't been diagnosed?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: It's entirely possible.
Q Possible or likely or --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Would you say it's probable?
DR. LILLIBRIDGE: It's possible. As you heighten surveillance, you'll get more.
Q Could we just ask one other question? When was the last documented case of anthrax in North Carolina? Could you check that?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: I don't -- well, we certainly will be checking all of that and getting information out as it goes on.
Q Mr. Secretary, can you be certain that it's an isolated case?
Q Can you explain why he was drinking from a stream? (Laughter.) Is that a reason -- should we know that? Why are you giving us that detail?
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Just because he was an outdoorsman, and there is a possibility that -- there are all kinds of possibilities --
Q Can you contract it that way, is why she's asking -- can you contract anthrax by drinking unboiled water --
SECRETARY THOMPSON: We don't know yet.
Q Is he a British citizen, sir?
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
SECRETARY THOMPSON: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Any additional information will be made available by either the CDC or the HHS.
Q We need the doctor's name.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I'm sorry. That was Dr. Scott Lillibridge.
Q Could you tell us if he was a British citizen? Because he said he was of British descent.
MR. FLEISCHER: Don't have that, Connie. All right. Let me let you know about the President's day today.
Q Is he an MD or PhD?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to look that up. I couldn't tell you. You may want to just check with HHS.
Q Ari, just one follow on that? The President was briefed -- can you tell us who briefed the President about this, and when?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- I'm going to give you information about the President's day, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. I want to begin with a statement by the President, and this pertains to the plane crash into the Black Sea.
This is a statement by the President: I was deeply saddened to learn today of
the crash of a Siberian Airlines passenger aircraft, flying from Tel Aviv to
Novosibirsk. My heartfelt sympathies and those of the American people are with
the people of Israel and Russia, and the families of the many victims of this
Earlier today, the President spoke with the Emir of Bahrain on the phone. That was early this morning. The President and the Emir discussed the campaign against terrorism and the situation throughout the region. The Emir expressed his sympathy and condolences for the victims of the attack on our country on September 11th, and the President thanked the Emir for his strong support and help in the campaign, and in hosting U.S. forces, including headquarters for the 5th Fleet, which is located in Bahrain.
The President also this morning spoke with President Kwasniewski of Poland. It was a warm phone call and the President thanked the Polish President for Poland's cooperation in the campaign against terrorism, and for Poland's support of the American people. The support includes political support, including working with other Central and East European nations, information-sharing, working on financial control of terrorists' assets, as well.
The President noted that now, more than ever, we must work together for the goals of what President Bush discussed in his speech in Warsaw on June 15th, a Europe whole, free and at peace. That is essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
Following that, as you know, the President traveled to the State Department to announce a new package of humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan. He had a lunch meeting with various members of Congress to discuss working together with Congress on vital issues in the domestic agenda. He also went to the Department of Labor where he announced a new package of assistance for dislocated American workers.
And the President, later this afternoon, will be meeting with the Emir of Qatar to discuss the strong cooperation that we have received from our good friend in the region, and to reaffirm the strong U.S.-Qatar relations.
And that is my update for the day. I'd be happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, does the President believe that the crash of the Russian airliner was an accident?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, we are in the process of working with officials in the appropriate nations to ascertain all information that is available, but it's too soon to say. There are no conclusions that have been reached.
Q Has he talked to Putin about this yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not, no.
Q The British government today released a 20-page document outlining some of the evidence against bin Laden. Is there any reason that the British government released this kind of report as opposed to the United States government? And there was some suggestion from Secretary Powell at one point that the government might or might not. Why is this coming out of the British government?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't speak for other governments; I can't give you an answer to that.
Q Did we review it? Did we have an early copy of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know the answer to that question.
Q Was the White House aware that the British government was going to release this evidence?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know the first I heard of it was when it was on its web page. So I don't know the answer to that question.
Q Did the President or anybody have a problem with that being released?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't --
Q You went to great lengths not to --
MR. FLEISCHER: As far as I understand it, the document does not contain any classified information. It's a good, strong look back at the activities that have been done by the al Qaeda organization, Osama bin Laden.
Q It does include new information. It does include information that's not been in the public --
Q Going back to the anthrax, yes -- was the President, he's obviously been informed. When was he informed, who informed him? Can you give us some of those details on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was informed this morning, and it was part of his -- I think he may have been informed by Dr. Rice.
Q Yes, Ari. Is there any plan now for the United States to release a document similar to the one released by the British? And if they're releasing a document that they say was cleared by the U.S., why aren't we releasing one?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of that statement that they say it was cleared by the U.S. I just indicated that I don't have any information on that topic.
Q Do you have any information that the U.S. is planning to release a similar document?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no change in anything I've indicated to you previously about the United States' dissemination of information about this.
Q Okay. And on the other point, of evidence, apparently we are now sharing evidence with Pakistan. I thought earlier indications were that the U.S. thought it wasn't necessary to share any information with Pakistan.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure where you were led to that conclusion. As I've indicated many times here, the United States will continue to talk with its allies and share information as we consult.
MR. FLEISCHER: A lot of information.
Q Ari, speaking of Pakistan, does the U.S. think it's good for the Pakistanis to continue to have at least diplomatic relations with the Taliban, or would the U.S. prefer that country to sever ties?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, prior to this, as evidence of how oppressive the Taliban regime is, only three nations in the world had relations. Two of those three have now severed ties. Pakistan, as a free nation, does as it sees fit.
Q Is the administration, though, I mean, is it sort of feeling that at some point, to totally alienate the Taliban, that the Pakistanis should sever ties with --
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no comment beyond that.
Q Ari, any particular reason why Secretary Thompson made the announcement here instead of at HHS?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the reason is, he actually was here for another meeting, and so there was a practicality to it as well. But it's important to share information with the American people, and that's what you can expect. I think one of the things, as the President has said, as the nation goes through all the effects of everything from September 11th is, keep the public informed. And we've talked about this before -- the best way for our nation to win this war is through the forthright sharing of information. And that's important.
Q Well, in that spirit, can you share the evidence against bin Laden? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: In addition to the steps that Secretary Thompson outlined specifically, from public health officials in Florida, is the administration taking any actions elsewhere in the country, within the military, that you can share to deal with a possible anthrax outbreak?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I would be careful on your words when you say "outbreak," --
Q I said "possible."
MR. FLEISCHER: -- because this is, as the Secretary just said, it appears to be an isolated case, which is exactly what the officials on the ground, the health officials in Florida who briefed the Florida press about this matter earlier today said.
But the Department of HHS has for years, as you heard Secretary Thompson say, has been working on preparation plans, and those plans include a training of local officials, and the Secretary just alluded to that, as well. So there are a series of protections that have been put into place.
Q Do you know of any specific threats concerning this kind of potential terrorist activity that the country has received?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing specifically that I'm aware of.
Q Just one more question on the anthrax. When Dr. Rice informed the President, did she know at the time that this was an isolated incident, or was it still cause for alarm several hours ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was the first report; and as always with first reports, you collect information to ascertain as fully as you can and as quickly as you can all the facts. And you just heard them from the Secretary.
Q When was the government able to determine that it was an isolated incident? An hour ago, 15 minutes ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: That information would be a question you need to address to the CDC to see precisely when they would make that determination.
Q Just for clarification then, when Dr. Rice informed the President, the administration was not aware that this could -- was just an -- or appeared to be just an isolated case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, all the facts as they were being developed were shared at various points throughout the day. So it's impossible to put an exact timetable on what information was developed when. It was shared over the course of the morning and into the afternoon.
Q Ari, can you give us some more details on this $320 million in aid? How is the food going to get into the right hands? How are you going to make sure it doesn't fall into the hands of the Taliban, et cetera?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, unfortunately, there is a history of working to get food to people who live in repressive regimes. And there is always a concern to make certain that the food is kept out of the hands of the Taliban who will deny it to their people, while getting it to the people who were suffering. And in this case, the United States government will work with world food programs, with the United Nations, to get food into the regions where it can do the most good.
Q Is the idea here to, aside from feeding the people, to win the hearts and minds of Afghans who might be willing to abandon the Taliban?
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points on that. One, the purpose is to feed people who are hungry. There is a grave humanitarian crisis shaping up in Afghanistan as a result of the actions of the Taliban. And as the President said in his remarks at the State Department, one of the great things about our nation that enables us to win wars and to be such a good people is that our nation has a good heart. And you're seeing that put into place when we help feed the people of Afghanistan.
But even before September 11th, the United States was Afghanistan's largest supplier of food, because it's the right thing to do, and it's the humanitarian thing to do. So the United States has always made that distinction between the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime.
Q You apparently now, judging from Dr. Rice's remarks, U.S. does, in fact, embrace a notion first mentioned by Tony Blair to go in and do something in a major way to help build and develop Afghanistan to end hunger and that sort of thing, once the chips fall where they may on whatever happens in the near future?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, to repeat what I've said many times, the United States is not engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan, but the United States will help those who seek a peaceful, economically-developing Afghanistan that's free from terrorism.
Q On the stimulus package, does the President believe that the $60 billion to $75 billion should be split evenly between corporate and individual as Senator Daschle and others have recommended, for it? And also in setting these parameters, does the President believe that House Leader Dick Armey's suggestion a $150-billion tax cut package would adversely affect the economy and increase long-term rates?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has already established his range. And so you know where the President stands. And the President is going to work with Congress to find the right mix and the right balance so that enough goes to stimulate investment on the demand side by getting it into the hands of consumers, while also providing enough to get in the hands of corporations and businesses that stimulates investment so they can keep their workers employed.
Q An unrelated question. On the U.S. package, would the President like to give a holiday for payroll taxes as a way of increasing the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The idea of a rebate is one of the ideas that is under consideration. And the President will take a good look at that.
Q Is he inclined to be in favor --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say what the ultimate shape of this package is going to be. The President announced the parameters yesterday; he gave the three principles about stimulating consumers, helping to provide incentives for businesses, as well as the placement of aid for displaced workers. So he's going to work with Congress on a series of things that fit that bill.
Q Ari, Secretary Ashcroft today said he was disappointed with the grandfather clause. He claims that the terrorism battle is going to take longer than the time the Congress wants to put --
MR. FLEISCHER: By the grandfather clause, I presume you're referring to the House antiterrorism bill that includes a sunset. Well, the President shares that concern. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that this war against terrorism is going to last beyond the sunset. And it's important that policymakers have a realistic understanding of what this different type of war will involve, and how long it will require giving the law enforcement agencies the tools they need so we can prevent further attacks on the country.
Q Will he get involved with the Congress in trying to increase the time or changing --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just made clear the President's position.
Q Can you spell out why the administration opposes notification of a court after grand jury information is shared with intelligence agencies? Why does the administration oppose the notification --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to Justice particularly on that. That's a matter much more legal than I can entertain.
Q Ari, Daschle says the worker assistance plan that the President announced today is not enough. Is this a limit, or is this just sort of a first step that the President is taking in terms of worker assistance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is the President's proposal. This is what the President believes is the best way to help workers get back on their feet and to help them as they go through any of the effects of unemployment, including loss of health care, since the attacks.
Q So he's open to other proposals, possibly, and maybe spending some more money, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as always, he will work with the Congress. But this is the President's proposal; this is what he calling on the Congress to pass. The President has announced that he believes it's important to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks, and to provide $3 billion worth of national emergency grants through the states so people can get health care, so they can get job-training. The President believes this is the best solution.
And also, the President said one thing that's very important, when he said it's important also that people in Congress don't start inventing or designing new systems, new-fangled notions. There are a series of existing protections that need to be beefed up, that need to be lengthened. But the existing provisions on the books have proved before capable of doing the job to help people who have lost their livelihood. And the President is confident they will do so again.
He also thinks it would be a mistake if people try to engage in a whole series of new government programs, new creations, while there are a series of existing ones that need to be strengthened.
Q Can I follow that?
Q Along those lines, is the President concerned about what the legislative process might do to any stimulus package, and of course, whether or not it can be done in three or four weeks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think everybody in Congress has said that they would like to get it done in that type of time frame. Congress typically adjourns sometime in the fall, and so the President will, obviously, work with the Congress. That is our system. But make no mistake; the President feels strongly about what the best package is.
Q Ari, are you saying this package the President put forward today should satisfy Democratic concerns about laid-off workers, and that therefore, the airline security bill should go forward without any further holdup?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President does think that the question of how to help people who have lost their jobs is best considered in the context of a stimulus bill and it should not be part or bogged down in an otherwise important aviation bill.
Q So this should reassure Democrats that the President is going to be faithful in addressing that thing so that the airport security should go ahead --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think the substance of what the President's proposing speaks for itself, that it's very important to help people who have lost their jobs so they can have an extended period of unemployment at a time like this. People who have lost their jobs, they right away get concerned about their health care, and the President is addressing that by providing $3 billion worth of grants so that people can get their COBRA coverage paid for.
But there's also a tendency at times, too, done by both parties, to turn everything into a Christmas tree and to start funding everything for everybody in all times and for all reasons. And throughout this, it's always important to protect taxpayer money while bringing help to those in need.
Q -- any indication the Democrats are satisfied by this in the first instance?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President announced just an hour or two ago, so I think it's important to let the Democrats think.
Q Democrats are saying -- they're saying it's a good first step, but one problem they have is the unemployment benefits. They could settle with just additional 13 weeks, but they're concerned about all 50 states. So what would the President's plan do for a worker not in a state that is hardest hit, but who is laid off because of the effects of the September 11th attack? That's the question they have.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the focus of the package is on those states that are impacted the most, and that's where there is the greatest amount of unemployment as a result of this. But keep in mind, of course, you're talking about an additional 13 weeks on top of an existing 26 weeks -- that's half a year, that's six months. So it's also premature on some of those questions.
Q Let me ask you a couple of questions about the asset-freezing. Why were the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad missing from your list of suspected terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're already covered on existing lists.
Q And have the Saudis complied with your request to freeze assets of 27 people and organizations?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to Treasury specifically for a case-by-case on all the various people that have been mentioned in the President's executive order from the Rose Garden. But suffice it to say the administration and the President are very satisfied with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia.
Q The other list that the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are on, does it crack down as hard as the list that the President put out today?
MR. FLEISCHER: When you say, "crack down as hard," that's a hard distinction to make. I think the question is, is it effective.
Q Does it, for example, go after the banks that don't comply?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check that out, Ron. Talk to Treasury.
Q Going back to the Afghan relief a little bit. One way to feed Afghan refugees is via military aircraft of humanitarian Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs. Is the President in favor of doing that? Also, possibly setting up tent cities or other refugee camps in neighboring states, staffed perhaps by the military and other organizations?
MR. FLEISCHER: At this point, I'm not going to comment on some of the questions about means of delivery into Afghanistan. Obviously, anything involving that information could be misused by people who might hear what I say. So I'm going to be careful about how I indicate food aid is going to be brought into the people of Afghanistan.
Q The House leadership, the GOP leadership is coming over to meet with the President. Can you tell us what that meeting is about? Is it a follow-up to their meeting earlier with Mineta? And where is the President now on federalizing airline security?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a follow-on to a whole year-long series of meetings that the President is going to continue to have with members of Congress. He's having a group down tonight; he had a group over for lunch today. As you know, he met with the four leaders yesterday. He's going to continue to have different members of Congress down to talk to them -- that's how you make progress on many of these issues that you're asking me about. Will Congress agree, will Congress have other ideas -- the way you get Congress to agree is to listen to their ideas and bring people together.
Q And airline security personnel, is the President more open to that idea now?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the federalization question? The concerns of the President remain about putting all screeners on the federal payroll. And let me give you a for instance about one of the items of the President's concern, and that is, as you know, when somebody is put as a member of the federal civil service, it's virtually impossible to ever take any type of action or disciplinary action if their work is not up to standards. And the President thinks it's very important that in the case of the screeners and the workers, that the managers have the ability to make certain that their work is up to all relevant standards and can take disciplinary action if appropriate or if necessary.
So there are a host of issues that can involve diminishment of safety, as people are put on the federal payroll. And these are types of things that need to be worked out with the Congress.
Q But is the President willing to compromise on that, if that's what it takes to
get the airline security --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to -- let's just see what develops on the Hill.
Q Ari, in view of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Only two today, Les. (Laughter.)
Q In view of the President's gratitude to the many Americans who donated blood for the wounded at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, what is the White House reaction to the Harvard Crimson news report quoting a Harvard undergraduate organization leader named Clifford Alexander's email to all members, "On the Red Cross form you will be asked, are you a man who has had sexual contact with another man since 1973. This applies to many of you. You should lie." Since the AIDS tainted blood donations also killed Arthur Ashe, surely the White House deplores this statement urging such lying, don't you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm not familiar with that report.
Q I've got it right here. You can read this --
MR. FLEISCHER: You can keep it.
Q Right there. It's on the net. If this is true --
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have a follow-up?
Q Yes, I do, but if it's true, you deplore it, don't you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: What's your next question, Les?
Q Last Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, CNS reports that they videotaped President Clinton being confronted, interrupted and shouted out by a member of ACT-UP who said Mr. Clinton was a liar, responsible for his lover's death because Clinton never launched a Manhattan Project to conquer AIDS. Does the President -- the President doesn't agree with this charge against his predecessor, does he? And he deplores such behavior, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm also not familiar with that report.
Q Ari, after the statements President Bush made yesterday about the possibility of a Palestinian state, does he intend to speak to Yasser Arafat? I don't think he's had a conversation with him since he became President.
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, we keep you informed of all of the discussions that the President has, or wherever I can, with foreign leaders.
Q Back on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. How can you work through the U.N. food program and other NGOs when most of those organizations, if not all, have pulled their people out of Afghanistan? Reports from the region indicate there's nobody left. How do we work through those programs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think USAID, the Agency for International Development, and the State Department addressed many of those questions in the briefing they provided earlier today. So I want to refer you to that. They're the experts.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:12 P.M. EDT