For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 24, 2002
Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Texas State Technical College
7:40 P.M. CDT
(In progress) --
Q Before we go any further, is this going to be embargoed until we get the statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is -- I'm just trying to fill you in.
Q What was the reaction in Washington to the news conference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President had the information prior to the news conference because Director Mueller informed him. And the President was relieved. He was pleased to watch it and to see what Chief Moose said and all the other law enforcement officers said. And he's especially relieved for the community, because now their lives can go back to normal.
We'll have a -
Q When did he get the call from Mueller?
MR. FLEISCHER: He talked to him twice aboard the airplane. Well, he talked to him once, as I said -
Q When did he get the news?
MR. FLEISCHER: The hard news?
MR. FLEISCHER: Shortly before the news conference.
Q Aboard Air Force One?
MR. FLEISCHER: Aboard Air Force One.
Q Were each of these calls --
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. The President, aboard the helicopter, on his way to the ranch, called Chief Moose. He just got off the phone with Chief Moose. He told him, congratulations --
Q This is just now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. On the helicopter, the President spoke to Chief Moose. He told him, "Congratulations to your -- to you and the entire task force. You have lifted a shadow of fear from many families. You've done a great job. And I'm confident in the men and women of law enforcement. God bless you, and may God bless the victims." And we'll have the statement for you, just as soon as logistics allow it, we will have the statement distributed.
Q Lifted the shadow of fear from many families, is that the operative quote?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lifted the shadow of fear from many families.
Q Ari, there seems to have been suggestion that this John Allen Muhammed, or whatever his name is, he had expressed some comments after September 11th, and he converted to Muslim, the fact that the military -- does the President have any thoughts about sort of any, you know, connection to the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm not at liberty to get into any of the purported statements by any of the individuals. This is still a law enforcement, sensitive matter, so I still have to be restrained.
Q Is there any evidence that there's any ties between these suspects -- we can call them suspects now -- and the -- and al Qaeda, or any other international terrorist group?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, there has been nothing that has been brought to my attention that would suggest that, but the investigation is continuing.
Q Ari, on another subject, President Fox today said he had sympathies for the French and Russian argument on the U.N. resolution, and he declined to back what the French and the Russians want to do. Will the President try to change his mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't heard that, so I would hesitate to comment on it. But of course the President looks forward to talking to all members of the Security Council that he'll see at APEC. But he'll have other conversations with President Fox, too. So they'll -- I'm sure the topic of Iraq is going to come up in the President's conversations with the President of Mexico.
Q Has the President been told why these guys did what they did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, Ron -- one, I don't know the answer to that. But two, anything like that would still be law enforcement sensitive.
Q Ari, is this -- I mean the President asking or being briefed this regularly, up to the minute -- I mean this was a big law enforcement case, and obviously a lot of people killed, put a lot of people in fear, but is this unusual? Did this particular incident strike him as different than other --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, yes, I mean, this gripped the nation. This gripped the nation and affected everybody, not just here in the community, where family's lives were turned outside out, but across America. And the President wanted to stay very close on top of it. As you know, he directed the federal government to dedicate a massive amount of resources to this. And the President is pleased that the federal government was able to help.
It's also, I think, from the President's point of view, and this is one of the points he was making in the message to Chief Moose about congratulations to law enforcement, this has been a wonderful collaborative effort between state, local and federal authorities. They worked well together and they got the job done.
Q Now that this is done, and these guys are safely locked away, can you tell us if there was a concerted effort for the President not to speak --
MR. FLEISCHER: From the beginning, the President's focus was on empowering law enforcement to catch the killer. And one of the messages that he heard from law enforcement was, one of the last things you do is give a killer a sense of empowerment, and to thinking that if he kills more people, he'll be able to start communicating with the President of the United States. That is, in the opinion of the law enforcement experts, the exact wrong path to take.
So the President was guided by a desire to listen to law enforcement experts, to be circumspect, so that the killer could be caught, first and foremost. That was a factor.
Q Was this advice passed on by Mueller, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: By the FBI.
Q When did he make the decision to speak out, or what prompted him to speak out the other day?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think everybodyne understood, the President of the United States cannot remain silent. So there were occasions when the President spoke.
Q Generally he avoided the issue, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was circumspect. The last thing you want is for a killer to think that they have the power to communicate with the President. It was also important, once contact had been established with Chief Moose and the killer, not to interrupt that contact.
Q Was that advice, do you know, general to all sort of serial killer cases, or particularly in this case the advice was --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, that's the advice he got here. I can't speak more broadly.
Anything else? Okay, we'll get you the statement. Oh, wait a minute, I've got it here.
This is a statement by the President. The entire nation is grateful to all of the local, state and federal law enforcement officials who have worked with such great urgency and with so little rest to solve the sniper case. Their efforts resulted in the apprehension of those considered suspects in the sniper shootings.
We are all so grateful to the citizens who kept their eyes open and provided information to the police. We will keep the victims and their families and friends in our thoughts and prayers. The hunt for a merciless killer has been difficult, and America greatly appreciates all the good men and women who fight crime and uphold justice across this great country. Statement by the President.
And that will be emailed out tonight.
Q So that takes care of all our business here, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, sir.