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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 9, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:24 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin with a statement.
The President has invited Republican members of the Judiciary Committee to the White House this afternoon to discuss the troubling developments related to the confirmation of the President's nominee to the 4th Circuit from California, Dennis Shedd.
Yesterday, Senator Leahy failed to uphold his commitment to Senator Strom Thurmond, the longest-serving member of the United States Senate, to hold a vote on Dennis Shedd before the end of the year. This promise had been made to Senator Thurmond on several occasions. Senator Thurmond yesterday said that he has never been treated in such a fashion in his 48 years in the United States Senate.
There is strong bipartisan support for Dennis Shedd both on the committee and on the floor of the Senate. The votes are there to confirm him. Judge Shedd has been rated well-qualified by the American Bar Association; he was unanimously confirmed to be a district judge 12 years ago and his reversal rate is less than 1 percent. Judge Shedd served in the United States Senate, including Chief Counsel and Staff Director for the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10 years.
The Senate has confirmed only 50 percent of President Bush's appeals court nominees in these first two years. In the past three administrations, the Senate has confirmed 90 percent of the President's appeals court nominees during the same period of time. Additionally, this Senate has forced more of the President's nominees to wait a year for action than in the past 50 years combined.
Nominees deserve to be treated with dignity; senators deserve to have their commitments upheld; and the American people deserve better, especially when there is a vacancy crisis in the United States courts.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Why isn't he inviting Democrats, as well, to the meeting this afternoon? Wouldn't that help actually get something done, if he could talk to Leahy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the problem lies on that side, and the President is going to talk to Republicans about how to find solutions to it.
Q Has he thought about talking to Senator Leahy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Senator Leahy expressed his message yesterday, when he failed to uphold a commitment that he, himself, made to Senator Thurmond. And so the President looks forward to having Senator Thurmond and the others down here today to talk about this.
Q Has the President talked to Leahy once about this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think this is a question of the President talking to the Chairman of the Committee. This is a question of the Chairman of the Committee doing what he told Senator Thurmond that he would do.
Q What did he tell him?
MR. FLEISCHER: He said that he would have a vote this year. And I think this is why Senator Thurmond, who is 100 years old, who is in his last days in the Senate, as the Senate gets ready to recess, feels as strongly about it as he does. Mr. Shedd is from South Carolina, and I think that Senator Thurmond has seen a lot in his time in the Senate and he said this is one of the worst.
Q He's never seen anything like this before, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he'll speak for himself.
Q He's probably seen this happen before, though.
MR. FLEISCHER: He speaks for himself on this.
Q One question, Ari, about -- I know you were asked at the gaggle this morning about the CIA report related to Saddam Hussein and terrorism. Related to that, do you think it's -- do you think you can share a little more with the American people what's on the President's mind with regard to what is a pretty big question, the unknown related to Saddam Hussein and his biological and chemical weapons status, whether he might use that against American troops should a decision be made to go into combat? What's the policy or the plan to deal with that? It's a pretty scary prospect, I think, for a lot of people.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the very fact that you raise a valid issue is another reason why Saddam Hussein presents such a threat to the world, because the very fact that people say he has these weapons, he may use these weapons -- despite the fact that he denies he has them -- suggests that blackmail is something the United States has to consider. The fact that he might do this means the United States has to limit what it does to prevent him from harming people is a fact that Saddam Hussein counts on to hold the world at abeyance. And that's why the President feels so strongly it is important to -- for the world to continue to pressure Saddam Hussein to disarm.
As for the specifics, David, as you know the President said in his speech that he is basically giving advice to Saddam Hussein's military not to listen to Saddam Hussein if they are told by Saddam Hussein to use these weapons. But, of course, the military is trained, the military is ready, the military is able to deal with such threats. The President hopes it won't come to that point.
Q But if I can just follow on that -- but should the American people -- don't they deserve a little bit more information to deal with what is the biggest unknown and the most menacing unknown of combat?
MR. FLEISCHER: What type of information are you suggesting?
Q Well, how specifically we plan to deal with the potential that the CIA is talking about of a terrorist strike launched away from troops, or using his weapons of mass destruction against troops and how we would try to counteract it, and what might follow.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, on the question of what we would do specifically from a military point of view, I think the military would be somewhat reluctant to describe every tactic they would take, because that would be information that an enemy would want to know. In order to hone an attack or have a more effective attack, they would, of course, want to know what defenses are available to those who might be attacked. So there are some limits on what can be said about that publicly, and I think people understand that.
But this is why in the President's speech he cited -- and the President raised this himself when he said there is no easy or risk-free course of action. Some argue we should wait, and the President said, that's the riskiest of all options. The longer we wait, the stronger and bolder Saddam Hussein will become. And the President has said that an Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. This is a reflection on how serious we take the threat from Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, one thing the President did not say was what Secretary Tenet said -- Director Tenet said in that letter, and that is that Saddam has drawn a line against weapons of mass destruction, and there's a low probability that he will use them unless he sees a threat coming from the U.S., unless he is cornered. Does the President agree with that assessment, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, of course, has this information from the CIA and uses this in all his analysis, and he has no quarrels with what he has received from the CIA. It goes into the full context of all the information he receives about the threat that Saddam Hussein poses, and the threat that he presents. And the point that I make to you on that is that, when you talk about the probabilities, as the President said in his own speech last night, or two nights ago, he said, "We can wait and hope that Saddam does not give weapons to terrorists or develop a nuclear weapon to blackmail the world, but I am convinced that that is a hope against all evidence. As Americans, we want peace, we work and sacrifice for peace. But there can be no peace if our security depends on the will and whims of a ruthless and aggressive dictator."
And that's the problem, Ron, that this issue presents -- that the only person who has sure knowledge of whether Saddam Hussein will use those weapons is Saddam Hussein. And you have to be aware of the fact that to suggest that as a result of unknowns, the President cannot defend the American people -- that relies on us trusting Saddam Hussein, and being willing to say that since Saddam Hussein is the only one who knows whether he'll use those weapons, we can't act or should not act, because we'll rely on his will and whim.
Q So even though in one part of the CIA Director's memo, where he clearly says there's a low probability that Saddam will strike unless he's cornered, the President, as he says in the speech, believes he's not going to risk one life on Saddam Hussein's word?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think -- you also have to report what the rest of the statement was from the Director, because it wasn't just that truncated part of it. It was, in full fashion, the Director of the CIA had more to say than that. He went on to say that "there is no question that the likelihood of Saddam using WMD" -- weapons of mass destruction -- "against the United States and its allies in the region for blackmail, deterrence, or otherwise, rose as he continues to build his arsenal. His past use of WMD against civilian and military targets shows that he produces those weapons to use, and not just deter."
So that's the full context of what the Director said. And let me put it to you this way: Another way to look at this is if Saddam Hussein holds a gun to your head even while he denies that he actually owns a gun, how safe should you feel?
Q I was going down the same road as Ron. I'm just wondering how you get this difference of opinion out there. Obviously, it's a national intelligence estimate. They're both working off of the same intelligence. How is it the President says, on the one hand, during his speech on Monday that at any given moment, this could happen, where the Deputy Director of the CIA reports the probability of that is low?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, keep in mind, too, and to be precise and to be accurate for both, when the President said at any given moment it could happen, he is referring to the transfer of weapons to terrorist organizations.
Q -- what the Deputy Director was saying.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think his quote actually is, as you see, about Saddam Hussein, Iraq using them himself.
Q I read that as engaging in terrorist activities.
MR. FLEISCHER: The quote in the letter that's been public now since last night is, "My judgment would be that the probability of him initiating an attack," and then he goes on to describe it, initiating --
Q -- saying anything about the transfer --
MR. FLEISCHER: The difference is him initiating versus the transfer. But the point the President is making on all of this, it depends on Saddam Hussein's decisions. And the trust, therefore, has to fall to Saddam Hussein not to use what he has.
And another way to look at this, I think, to keep this in the context of what is known, is what was the probability that Saddam Hussein would invade Iran? He did. What was the probability of Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait? He did. What was the probability of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against his own people? He did. There are some things that are clearly known from history that we have to learn from, lest we make mistakes, to protect the American people into the future.
The other thing, and let me just draw this to the general nature of intelligence information, sometimes it is the very fact of intelligence information that the only way of surely knowing anything is to know it in the past because it's too late and the damage has been done. You always have to remember, particularly with a country like Iraq, that they engage in deception and they engage in a great bit of planning to deploy in a way that we will never know. And so intelligence is limited in what it can tell you with certainty. The risks, however, as the President said, when dealing with Saddam Hussein and his history and his abilities, are such that the American people face a growing threat.
Q The President hasn't held a news conference since last July. He's held two this year. Isn't that a long time? I mean, with all due respect to you, Ari, you're a very good spokesman, I suppose, for the White House -- (laughter) --
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep going, Helen. (Laughter.)
Q -- really would like to question the President, all of the statements he's made. And it can only come from him.
Q Hear, hear.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, your views on this are well-known, and you've articulated them --
Q Well, that isn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I understand the press's views on this. Let me take that.
Q I hope it's the consensus in this room that reporters want to question the President.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I say, your views, the press's views on this are well-known. The President continues to take a great many questions from reporters in numerous different forums --
Q It isn't the same thing.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- and I understand that you would like him to take questions in the form of a news conference. I assure you we take a look at this often, and --
Q And say no. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: And say no.
Q Helen's right. And I have a question -- how much does oil have to do with the assessment of the threat from Saddam Hussein? President Bush didn't mention it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I follow your question.
Q Well, you keep talking about blackmail. You're talking about blackmailing the region to get control of the oil supplies. How significant is that in the President's thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: I see. Well, if you take a look at what the President said when he went to the United Nations, and what Congress said when it passed the Iraq Liberation Act for regime change in 1998, that issue is not in play.
The issue is the enforcement of the United Nations resolutions urging -- calling on Iraq to make certain that they disarm, that they cease the development of weapons of mass destruction, they cease the hostility towards its neighbors, the repression of minorities. And Congress stated similar positions in 1998. Those are the factors, Terry, that threaten the peace.
Q But when you talk about the potential -- the very real potential that if he gets a nuclear weapon he'll be able to blackmail the world, what would we be concerned that he wants, that he would demand?
MR. FLEISCHER: Think if Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons at the time he invaded Iran, or the time he invaded Kuwait. If he had invaded Kuwait in possession of nuclear weapons, think how much harder it would have been to put the coalition together to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. If he has them, he knows that that calculation changes and changes dramatically.
And the risk with Saddam Hussein is, while others may have nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein has a military history of invading his neighbors, using the military tools he has to accomplish through force what cannot and should not be accomplished, that is the takeover of others. And that's why the U.N., as part of its resolution cited the need for him to cease his hostility toward his neighbors.
Q But if his neighbors didn't have so much oil -- there are countries in Africa which invade each other and we don't get involved -- most security analysts take a look at it and say oil is a central aspect to the nation's security. And Saddam Hussein getting control of the world's oil supplies -- are you saying oil is not at all a factor in the President's thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you take a look at what the United Nations voted for, what the Congress voted for, what President Clinton signed, and what President Bush supports, that is not a factor.
Q So oil is not a factor?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is not a factor. This is about preserving the peace and saving the lives of Americans. And it's also -- a factor that is new is what took place on September 11th, and the awakening here that we are vulnerable to attacks on our own soil, now, and that Saddam Hussein, if he links up with terrorists, has an interest in harming us.
Q So the stability of oil prices is not a national security or an economic matter -- how can you say that it's not a factor? I just don't understand that.
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is about any potential use of military force. And this is about saving the lives of American people.
Q Saddam Hussein's oil reserves are not at all a factor in any of the geopolitical calculations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the question as I took it was about whether or not this is a factor in what makes us --
Q -- on a broader question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the reasons are exactly as the President stated. Now, there are implications as a result of any action that will have effects on the economy. And no one can predict what those will or will not be. The past history, at least in 1991, shows that the projections and the predictions were dire and were wrong, but I think it's impossible to state what the impact will be if this comes to pass.
Q But the White House doesn't have anybody looking at what those implications would be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's impossible to state with any precision what that effect might be. But the question as I took it -- get back to cause and motive for why we are considering military action.
Q Ari, three pieces of legislation that the White House described as important are stuck right now -- terrorism insurance, the energy bill, and the homeland security bill in the Senate. Has the President, himself, been involved in speaking to any members this week on those bills? And if not, does he have any plans for meetings this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at the various phone calls he makes -- I don't track them minute by minute -- to see. But, of course, on the flight yesterday and on the flight the day before, the President talked with the members of Congress who accompanied him about the legislative calendar and what was realistic, what Congress may or may not be able to achieve in the little while it has left.
I began by talking about judges, for example, and -- just belabor the point for just one moment -- the reason I bring this up is when you take a look at what has happened in the Congress, particularly this year on the appropriation bills in the Senate, and the budget in the Senate, and on judges in the Senate, it is not a record to be proud of. It's a record of inaction.
On the judges, in President Reagan's first two years, 98 percent of all his judicial nominees were confirmed; President Bush's first two years, 93 percent; President Clinton's first two years, 90 percent. Now it's 63 percent for President Bush.
On the circuit court judges, a higher level of courts, 95 percent for the first two years of President Reagan; 96 percent for the first two years of President Bush; 86 percent for the first two years of President Clinton; and 43 percent for this President Bush.
No budget in the Senate, no appropriation bills have been sent to the President. It has not been a strong year for the Congress this year.
Q I wasn't really asking about the judges. Do you expect any of these bills at this point, any progress on terrorism insurance or energy or the homeland security bill in the Senate? Any progress to report at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is hopeful, but we'll just have to wait and see. It's hard to say what Congress will or will not get done.
As I've said many times before from this podium, as Congress gets ready to adjourn, it does have a history of accelerating action, that the deadline of Congress leaving forces decisions to be made, conferences to conclude. The absence of a deadline often means that Congress will continue to talk without action. The President hopes that they will. The items that the President has called on the Congress to pass are the job-creating impact of terrorism insurance, the need for other appropriation bills to be passed, without busting the budget, holding the line on spending.
Welfare reform remains an important issue that is still mired in the Senate. The welfare authorization expires this year. Welfare, when it was passed in 1996, has led to the improvement in lives of millions of our fellow citizens. It would be a shame if that legislation expired. And there are health care items, including the patient bill of rights, that have gotten mired into disputes in the Congress and have gone nowhere, that the President wishes could get passed.
The energy conference continues to meet. We'll see ultimately if they're able to reach agreement. The terrorism insurance discussions continue. As I've said before, that is something that is probably one of the closer issues to getting resolved. Homeland security is pending in the Senate, as well, and I think there's just no guess what's going to happen with that.
Q Do you have something on the election bill --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President looks forward to signing the election reform bill as soon as it's passed and sent to him. He thinks it's a solid piece of legislation. He looks forward to signing it.
Q Ari, a Washington Post editorial on Sunday strongly criticized the President for what they termed "averting his gaze from the defaming of Islam and the gross distortions which they attributed to the Reverend Franklin Graham, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, and to Pat Robertson. And my question is, does the President agree with the Washington Post's claim that these three are, "defaming with great distortions," so that the Washington Post editors are better informed on comparative religion than these three Baptist Church leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm not familiar with the specific quotes you cited, so --
Q You didn't read the Washington Post on Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was, as you know, not in Washington on Sunday, I was traveling with the President. So forgive me if I missed an editorial.
Q You'll take it. All right. (Laughter.)
Q Falwell called Mohammed a terrorist, the prophet Mohammed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Assuming, of course, that that's an accurate quote -- I haven't read it, myself -- the President's views on Islam are well-known. The President has said many times in his visits to mosques and his visits with Muslim leaders and his invitations for Muslim leaders to come here, as an important signal of America's openness and welcoming of Muslims, that Islam is a religion of peace.
Q And so he will disagree publicly with these three church leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know the President's position, it is exactly as I stated --
Q Why can't you say whether he repudiates their remarks or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Simply because I'm not aware of specifically what they've said, David. But there should be no --
Q The remarks have been out there for some time and are pretty well documented.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't -- I have a long pattern, as you know, if I haven't seen the remarks, I always want to make certain that everything I'm hearing is accurate. But there should be no misunderstanding, you've all seen it with your own eyes, you've traveled on the trips the President has taken to these mosques and to these visits. It's a very important part of America's openness and tradition of tolerance.
Q Congressman McDermott has announced in Seattle that the President "is trying to bring himself all the power to become an emperor." Louis Farrakhan has announced in Detroit "our President is a threat to world peace." And singer Harry Belafonte has announced in San Diego that Secretary Colin Powell is "a racial sellout." And my question is, does the President believe that these announcements were as much a mistake as ABC, CBS and NBC refusing to telecast his address to the nation -- (laughter) -- like Fox and CNN did? And shouldn't Fox and CNN now be given front-row seats in this room and at presidential news conferences, since they're obviously more interested in the presidency, those networks. (Laughter.) I don't blame these correspondents. It wasn't their fault, but those networks are less interested than Fox and CNN; isn't that true, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: How did you get your second-row seat, Les?
Q It was vacant.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, let's see. So you've gone from, let's see, this is the second question now, into a bank shot, into a speech. Let me -- I'm not sure where you ended, so I don't know where to began.
Q Well, you can give a little of both, on McDermott and the rest, and then on these networks that don't cover the President. But CNN and Fox did. Don't they deserve --
Q Congress Daily also covered this. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: These are judgments that news organizations make. They exercise their own discretion as they see fit. And I think it's entirely appropriate that the final decision about what is news is made by the people who write the news for a living.
Q More people listen to Fox and CNN than to these other networks, didn't they, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, one thing, I should have mentioned to you when I was talking about the list of what's pending, the faith-based legislation also is very important legislation that still has a fighting chance in the Congress. And the President would very much like to see the Senate conclude its work on faith-based.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the extent of the monitoring the administration is going to be doing, going forward on the labor -- the contract negotiations? And will there be a specific focus on monitoring of safety of workers as they go back to work?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Let me walk you through a little bit procedurally on how this works. As you know, a temporary restraining order was agreed to by a judge last night. The next step is an injunction. If an injunction is issued, the parties then, under the law, would be required to continue to work with the federal mediator that is on the scene toward a solution for the labor dispute. After 60 days, if no agreement's been reached, the board would be required to issue a second report to the President that includes the current positions of the parties involved, efforts which have been made for the settlement, a statement by each party of its position, and a statement of the employers' last offer of settlement.
At that point, between 61 and 75 days, the National Labor Relations Board will conduct a secret ballot of the ILWU employees on the PMA's last offer of settlement. The NLRB would be required to certify the results to the Attorney General no less than five days thereafter. At the end of the 80-day period of legal injunction, the legal injunction is discharged. If the dispute is unresolved and if the employees have rejected the last final offer in a secret ballot, the parties become free to engage in work stoppages again.
The bottom line is, the federal government has taken the most meaningful and authoritative action it can, and that was the action the President took last night to protect America's economy and to protect people's jobs. At this point, it is really up to management and labor to enter into an agreement. The federal government will be there as a helping hand, but it is up to the parties to resolve a dispute.
And nobody should be under any illusions at the end of 80 days that the federal government can step in and solve the problem. This is a worker-management dispute at a very fundamental level. We are going to be helpful. Labor will be on the scene. The mediator is available. But it remains important for the strength of the economy, for labor and management to use this cooling-off period that the President has provided to get an agreement.
Q -- will there be a monitoring by the administration of the situation? Does this administration have a hands-off --
MR. FLEISCHER: We will, of course, continue to monitor and to be helpful. But fundamentally, in our free market country, and in a country that respects the rights of workers, workers and management have to resolve the dispute. The federal government will continue to be helpful, but it remains the parties' responsibilities to enter into an agreement. The government cannot do it for them.
Q Ari, I have two questions for you. I assume that when the President meets with the Republican senators today, he will also bring up the case of Estrada, is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know what happens in the meeting if other specific judges come up. But it's possible.
Q It is reported the President is going to keep this nomination alive. It seems to be dead in the water.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, fundamentally, it is up to the majority party in the Senate to schedule votes. And the long and short of it is the failure to act on the President's nominations means that there are courtrooms that have no judges. That is a hard way to serve justice in our country, or to serve people who expect to go to trial and have speedy trials without having to wait inordinate amount of times because there aren't enough judges to hear the cases.
Q I would like to go back to the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq for a moment. Senator Graham said that his purpose in releasing or publicizing this portion that would be classified was to draw attention to the judgement of the estimate that the likelihood of Saddam using weapons of mass destruction in a terrorist attack against the United States actually was increased substantially if we attack him. Given that you said twice now, I believe, that the President doesn't dispute anything that's in that National Intelligence Estimate, doesn't this argue for a very different approach to dealing with the problems of disarming him?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Ken, this is why the President himself brought that up; prior to Senator Graham saying it, the President himself bought it up in his speech two nights ago. The President raised that very issue and talked about it. But again, the underpinning of that is that the United States can and shall be blackmailed by Iraq. And the United States cannot and will not be blackmailed by Iraq.
Q One more in this area. Knight Ridder had a story yesterday quoting several unnamed intelligence analysts saying that they have been pressured -- that they and others have been pressured to bring their intelligence estimates in line with administration policy on Iraq. Does the President have any concerns about this? Can you respond to those -- that story?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, given the questioning here, you would think that that is just not the case. It's without basis or premise. And I think it is fair to say it clearly is. The CIA is fortunate to be led by a leader like George Tenet, somebody who has served as a Democratic staffer as the Staff Director of the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He served under President Clinton as the head of the CIA, and now he serves his country by also serving under President Bush as the head of the CIA. I think that should be comforting to the American people to know that the President has chosen somebody without regard to their party, but because he thinks they serve their country.
Q Ari, has the President had his conversation with President Chirac? And also, how would you characterize the situation with the U.N. Security Council and its efforts to get a resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: The answer to your first question is no. It will take place shortly, and I'll try to give you a report following it. And the characterizations with the Security Council, the conversations are continuing. There are additional meetings with the P-5, and I think you can anticipate these conversations will still be ongoing.
Q Ari, I hate to beat this issue of the National Intelligence Estimate, but if I can summarize, what I think you've been saying is the President's come to the conclusion that Saddam Hussein is unpredictable, and he said as much in the Boston speech on Friday, and then repeated a version of that on Monday. If you read that sentence of the Tenet letter that is, as you say, just one in a broader sentence, what you get is a CIA view that, in fact, he's been more predictable on the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States and its allies. That's why he can assign a low probability to it. I guess where we're all headed is has the President heard that sentence and basically decided that his own assessment of the risk posed by Saddam is different from the one that's in the NIE?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, they're one and the same, as Director Tenet said. Director Tenet has said that there is a similar approach, and it's based on the analysis that has been provided to the President. But the assessment the President makes is based on a variety of factors. The President walked through those factors in his speech on Monday. It's based on the possibility of Saddam Hussein using his biological and chemical weapons against the United States or our allies or our interests in the region. It's based on Saddam Hussein linking up with terrorists who would leave no fingerprints on Iraqi weapons as they delivered them to America's shores or to Americans abroad.
And so there's a variety of circumstances that go into it. And as the Director has said, in his own statement, there's no question the likelihood of Saddam using WMD against the United States or our allies in the region for blackmail, deterrence or otherwise grows as his arsenal continues to build.
And, again, I make this point because I think this gets at the definition or the nature of intelligence information -- if you accept the premise that there is only one person who knows for certain whether Iraq intends to use those weapons, and if that one person is Saddam Hussein, how much of a chance can the United States take that Saddam Hussein will not use those weapons, when he has used his weapons before against Iran, Kuwait, he's launched Scud missiles as Saudi Arabia and at Israel, and he's used chemical weapons against his own people? He has the means and he has the history. And the President has the President has the responsibility to protect the country.
Q Ari, the House vote coming tomorrow on the Iraq resolution, are you satisfied that you're going to get the signal that you wanted to send the world?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the strong likelihood is the House tomorrow will send a very strong signal to the world, to our allies and to the American people that we stand as one; the country speaks with a strong, united voice; and many people, Democrat and Republican alike, deserve praise for their actions.
Q Is the President had time to listen to any of the debate? I know ahead of time he was saying that he expected it to be important and well-reasoned debate. Does he think so?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's keeping up with it pretty closely. He's paying attention to the things that are being said. He's regularly briefed on the status of events and he understands how important a moment this is for the Congress.
Q -- satisfied that the tone of it is what he expected?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard him say anything that would lead me to conclude otherwise.
Q On the Senate side, apparently the thing is going to slip to next week. Does he think that, for example, Senator Byrd is being obstructionist here, and that that's sending the wrong signal?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not make the scheduling decisions for the Senate. These are matters that the Senate Democratic leadership has to deal with on their own, to determine when something can come to the floor or not come to the floor. The President will be looking for the final result in the Senate.
But I do want to underscore, the President does think the Congress is fulfilling its responsibility and doing it well. The Congress serves our democracy well when they ask tough questions, when they hold a debate, when there's an informed debate. And no matter what side of this debate people come down on, the President will respect them for exercising their role in our democratic system.
Q Ari, two questions. The New York Times this week published a letter from Theodore Sorenson, a former legal counsel to President John F. Kennedy, in which he said that the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm well aware of what he said, Russell. I'm well aware.
Q -- the question is, is it possible that the United States now endorses for other countries a policy of presidential assassination, the very epitome of terrorism, after our own tragic experience with that despicable act? And he asks whether the President has reprimanded you. Has the President reprimanded you?
MR. FLEISCHER: As far as that is concerned, on the policy, as you know -- I think you were here when I said on the record that that is not -- and people heard it the day I said it -- that is not a statement of administration policy.
Q But did the President reprimand you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I have made the views clear of what the White House is on this.
Q Second question. The President has called both North Korea and Iraq two parts of an axis of evil. He says they both have weapons of mass destruction. He says they both threaten their neighbors. He says that both leaders -- he compares them to Stalin. So, other than the oil that Iraq controls, what's the difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Between North Korea and Iraq? How many of Iraq's -- how many of North Korea's neighbors have they invaded lately?
Q Well, there was the one.
MR. FLEISCHER: I said lately. And I said by the current -- and also, of course, by the current leader. Saddam Hussein has ordered the Iraqi military to attack Iran. Saddam Hussein ordered the --
Q -- when he was our guy, right? On the attack on Iran.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you have some disputes with the policies that were in place in 1979, you're welcome to bring those up with leaders who were here in 1979. Saddam Hussein ordered his military to attack Iran. Saddam Hussein ordered his military to attack Kuwait. Saddam Hussein launched the missiles at Saudi Arabia and at Israel. It's a very different matter, and a very different leader.
Q Ari, what's the assessment now of who was behind this attack on the Marines in Kuwait?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to gather information about it. We are exploring the concerns that it is tied to al Qaeda, and we cannot rule that out.
Q What al Qaeda fingerprints do you see here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, anything of this nature gets into our ability to learn things from abroad, and I'm not at liberty to go into every detail about how we can do that. But it's an accurate statement that we have concerns about ties to al Qaeda and we have not ruled that out.
Q Ari, a question about the speech in Cincinnati. He said that -- referred to a very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year. Is he talking about Abu Zarqawi, who was implicated in the millennium plot in Jordan?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think -- let me take a look at the nature of that information and see if that's something that I'm at liberty to give to you.
Q Can I just ask a follow-up? Regardless of who that person was, it seemed that he laid that out as evidence of something, as evidence that this was an example of Iraq providing support for a member of al Qaeda or some other terrorist organization. Was he insinuating that there was something going on there beyond medical treatment, or is that alone --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President laid it out exactly as he said it. But as part of a large, voluminous body of evidence of Saddam Hussein being too close for comfort with his activities with terrorists around the world.
And, again, the nature of intelligence is we don't have every bit of information about every action taken. And, of course, Iraq would not want us to know if it was in league with terrorists, and so they would do things that would make it harder for us to find that out, wouldn't they? And so, the President said it just as he said it; he didn't go beyond that.
Q Ari, I just want to make sure that we understand what you're saying about the National Intelligence Estimate. The CIA seemed to be saying that a U.S. military action would encourage him to use weapons he wouldn't otherwise use at the moment, if only for fear of confirming that he has them. You seem to be saying that that judgment is merely a short-term one; that, as time goes on, as he builds up weapons, he would be more likely to use them. So you're saying that their judgment that he would be more likely to use them is short-term, and how short term?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me cite for you the two principals who have spoken on this who I think are authoritative on the matter. One is George Tenet, the head of the CIA. As he said, there is no question that the likelihood of Saddam using weapons of mass destruction against the United States or our allies in the region for blackmail, deterrence or otherwise grows as Saddam Hussein's arsenal continues to build. It grows.
As the President said, "we could wait and hope that Saddam does not give weapons to terrorists or develop a nuclear weapon to blackmail the world, but I'm convinced that that is a hope against all evidence. As Americans, we want peace; we work and sacrifice for peace, but there can be no peace if our security depends on the will and whims of a ruthless and aggressive dictator."
Q You're saying that their conclusion that he would be more likely to use them under some circumstance is merely a short-term circumstance that would not hold for very long?
MR. FLEISCHER: They did not specify the precise timing. But, clearly, as the President has said, this is a growing problem and growing threat to the United States.
Q What's the administration's judgment about this time factor? I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I've seen nothing that puts a precise time definition on it.
Q Of course not --
MR. FLEISCHER: The last time we had something that we thought was a precise -- or one of the last times we had something that had a precise definition of time was when we thought he was years away from development of nuclear weapons, in 1991. But only after a war began and we were able to have other means of verification of what materials and what facilities he had were we able to determine that it was approximately a year or maybe six months away, which again, is a reflection on the fact that the nature of intelligence is not -- is dependent on scraps of information, on bits of information, and also requires us to see through or learn about efforts that are well hidden and designed to be hidden from us.
Q Thank you, Ari. On terrorism, in general, do you see any practical or philosophical correlation between international terrorism and this domestic terrorism that is going on around us here? And how concerned, personally, is the President about this situation? How much time is he putting into it?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, on the shootings in the area, the President yesterday raised this issue in his FBI briefing with the Attorney General. And he asked for information about what the federal government was doing to help. The information was provided to the President in specificity about the number of agents the FBI is providing on the group, replacement of the FBI agents in the various command posts, the helicopters that have been made available to the local law enforcement officials. The Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms has also been involved. The federal government is helping in the ballistic testing. And the President was pleased to hear that, and he directed the FBI to continue to do everything in its power to help local governments. It's clearly a concern.
Q Do you think one has triggered the other?
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, we still do not know. The federal government does not know and the local law enforcement community does not know who this is who is doing it. If they did, they probably would have him in custody by now. And I think that we just don't know. And there's an old adage, you don't know what you don't know. And I don't think anybody can leap to any conclusions or reach any conclusions about who this is. And don't interpret that to mean that we're open to the possibility that it is something connected to terrorism. We simply don't know.
Q Ari, the Secretary of State said yesterday on the Hill that passage of this resolution would help him in his diplomatic efforts before the Security Council. Has the President as a result of his conversations with other world leaders concluded that any world leaders are waiting for a signal from the Congress before they decide how to vote on the Security Council resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's no question that the world looks to the Congress, and the action that the Congress takes speaks volumes about what the American people think. And so a vote in the Congress will be something that the world looks at. I can't say with precision, when this is a matter before the United Nations, how much of a factor that will be. But it is important for the Congress to speak and represent the American people; that does send a signal to the world.
Q Daschle and Gephardt again today called for replacing Harvey Pitt at the SEC because they said he's set to weaken the board that oversees the accounting industry. What's your reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's an old, tired cry that, given the fact that the Securities and Exchange Commission has announced a record number of enforcement actions, has seized money from corporate officials who never should have had that money in the first place as a result of their shady transactions, and has taken that money back from those officials, I think that it's a political charge that has no merit and substance.
Q As you know, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has come out with a report in which they say the SEC was very lax in its enforcement and oversight of Enron. And as you know, since I brought this up before, one of the things they focused on was the market-to-market accounting method, which is used -- which was used to allow Enron to inflate its profits. Aren't you revisiting this issue at all? How can you say that it's an old, tired argument, when new facts have come out from this report?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think that they neglected to report on the successes that the Securities and Exchange Commission has had. And those successes are the record number of enforcement actions that have been taken, the indictments that have been brought, as well as the actions of the Justice Department, and the indictments have been brought against numerous corporate leaders who engaged in these type of transactions that deserve to be prosecuted. And now they stand a very good chance of going to prison.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:07 P.M. EDT
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