The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 28, 2003

Press Gaggle by Dan Bartlett
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Baghdad, Iraq

7:24 P.M. EST

MR. BARTLETT: -- (in progress) -- issues, try to describe this as best as possible.

Q You're on the record, right, Dan?

MR. BARTLETT: Whatever the regular gaggle rules are.

Q Yes, that's right.

MR. BARTLETT: They are? All right. You've got to remind the guest gaggler here.

Q A guest gaggler.

MR. BARTLETT: That's right. The basic program right now is for the President, upon arrival, will go to a chow hall right there near the airport, where there will be approximately 600 troops, mostly made up of the 1st Armored Division, but there will be others, and we'll get you more details once we have them.

Q They will be what?

MR. BARTLETT: The 1st Armored Division.

Q Where are they based?

MR. BARTLETT: In Baghdad. In and around Baghdad, is essentially where these troops are coming from.

Q This is at the airport proper, right?

MR. BARTLETT: Correct.

Q He doesn't leave the base, right?

MR. BARTLETT: He will not be far from the base.

Q You said the chow hall was near the airport?

MR. BARTLETT: That's correct. It's actually technically on the airport property, right adjacent to it, I'm not sure, but essentially in that area.

Q Now will he be -- when he comes out -- I mean, will Bremer be up talking or something? Is it going to be a surprise announcement?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, we'll see. The troops do not know he's coming. Bremer and General Sanchez are right now the planned speakers.

Q Did you get Sanchez' first name?

MR. BARTLETT: Ricardo.

Q Who are the planned speakers, Dan?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, Bremer and Sanchez are the two scheduled speakers. They're supposed to be reading a statement from the President, as they typically do on an occasion such as this.

Q Is it a proclamation, or a special statement --

MR. BARTLETT: A special statement, yes, we do. The President is going to pinch hit for them, come in and do it in person.

Q So they'll be a little --

MR. BARTLETT: Well, we'll see, we'll see. Again, look, I mean, you all know how difficult it is to move a President. But you will see it -- and, again, I know they've told you, but it is absolutely critical when we land that you do not open your windows. It is particularly -- as we land and when we're on the ground, we want no light emanating from the plane. We will not be pulling up to a terminal, we will not be pulling up -- we'll probably just be stopping at the end of the runway. It's just important that we move quickly, do not open up the windows to illuminate any light.

Q That raises another question. We're not going in as Air Force One. We're not flying as Air Force One?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, I'm not going to be able to go into all the security measures that are being taken and how we are flying, but it's safe to say that is correct. People on the ground do not know that this is Air Force One that's landing.

The plan then is for the President to speak to the troops. He will then go to the chow line, grab some chow, sit down with some troops, eat Thanksgiving supper with the troops. He will then work the room for a considerable period of time, meeting and greeting with as many troops as possible.

He will then go to a different building, which will probably be a short motorcade, and he will meet with a few members of the Governing Council. I will get you the names later on that, any numbers and those things, and get you -- and I'll do readout of that meeting when we're back on the plane.

Q Are we not going into that meeting?

MR. BARTLETT: It's a private meeting.

Q So we're going to be behind, back in the chow hall for the first --

MR. ATKISS: You might be in the vehicles, might be waiting in the vehicles.

Q Is it possible to shoot the building?

MR. BARTLETT: I'll find out.

Q Or shoot him going in, or something?

MR. BARTLETT: Right, I'll find out.

Q -- some kind of building on television.

Q When are his remarks -- when do we --

MR. BARTLETT: Right at the top.

Q Oh, good. Good, okay.

Q Are you going to put a still out of that meeting?

MR. BARTLETT: Definitely. And I don't know, I might be able to bring the stills in, but I'm going to check on that. But I know the camera issue.

Q No way we can come in and shoot the spray at the top?

MR. BARTLETT: Let me find out. Then the President will meet with the command staff. And this is basically General Sanchez, General Dempsey. Dempsey is the commander in charge of Baghdad. Command staff, meet and greet with those gentlemen and ladies. And that will conclude the program. He'll return to the plane and fly out.

Q What are Sanchez's exact responsibilities?

MR. BARTLETT: He's in charge of everything on the ground in Iraq. He's the commanding officer for Iraq. He reports directly to Abizaid. Dempsey is in charge of Baghdad.

Q On the ground --

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. BARTLETT: I will have to get it for you.

Q What's your -- how long do you think we're going to be there, from the time we're wheels down to wheels up? What's your expected program time?

MR. BARTLETT: Is it two, or two-and-a-half?

MR. ATKISS: It's 5:30 p.m., local, to 8:05 p.m. local.

Q Five-thirty p.m. to 8:05 p.m.?


Q So two-and-a-half, roughly?

MR. BARTLETT: Yes. And the big question you all have on this is that right now the standard protocol on this is going to be, is no reporting while we're on the ground. The local press there will not have the capability to report until the President is wheels up. So this is an embargoed event until then. Now, if that is compromised, we will make every effort we can to accommodate you, to make sure that you can match and work at the same time. We're going to have some hard lines there and some things. But as of right now --

Q We're not going to be able to report this first. If we're wheels up, and they're free to go --

MR. BARTLETT: They will not be free to go.

Q Can we send in our copy to our desk, and tell them to hang on to it until they hear from us on the plane?

MR. BARTLETT: Let me check on that.

Q In other words, we need to know when it can go out --

MR. BARTLETT: Wheels up, wheels up is when it --

Q Wheels up it can go?

Q We have to be able to send in our stuff, so they'll know that this happened.

Q What we'd like to do is send it to them, have them hold it until they hear from us on the plane, probably through a wire call. Does that make sense?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, let me run a trap on that.

Q So we're not going to be -- Andy said yesterday that we would be allowed -- given a phone when we get off the plane and allowed to call.

MR. BARTLETT: But it will not be for reporting purposes. I mean, it will not be -- it will all be on an embargoed basis, if that's the case.

Q Well, we need to clear that up. I mean, we need to -- everybody needs to understand very clearly what the rules are.

MR. BARTLETT: This is for -- this is not for -- I mean, look, I understand what you're trying to accomplish. I would love to be able to accommodate you, as much as possible. But we're on the ground for two hours, and if this thing starts reporting immediately as he hits the ground -- security situations have to be understood. This is in everyone's interest that we do this in a way that is the most, you know, secure way possible.

Q If we don't send in our stories while we're on the ground, what's the alternative?

MR. BARTLETT: To call it in from the plane.

Q Well, if that's the case, we're all going to need --

MR. BARTLETT: Or we can leave you behind. I'm joking. (Laughter.)

Q I'm staying.

MR. BARTLETT: Are you?

Q Yes. I have to. I've got to get these tapes out --

MR. BARTLETT: Well, we're going to have some -- Greg Jenkins --

Q I know Greg.

MR. BARTLETT: Okay, he's going to be there, and --

Q It's just more of a logistical problem, getting that stuff fed out. It can't be during the photos.


Q Since you're talking about phone use, and that would take forever --

MR. BARTLETT: I understand.

Q -- if we could file embargoed, or if there was a way --

MR. BARTLETT: I understand. Now to get to -- any more logistical questions like this?

Q If we end up having to do it from the plane, we can't do it like a normal wire call, because we've all written separate stories. We're all going to need to be able to call our desks individually, and everybody -- every desk would have to hold the story until we then make a separate wire call, saying that you can pull the trigger. I mean, otherwise --

Q Yes. I was going to say, there would be a competitive disadvantage if somebody gets -- okay, you go first, and then you go first, and then you --

Q That's all I'm saying. It's going to take a while.

Q So that's why it would be better to let us dump our stuff while we're on the ground, tell the desk to hold it, and then we do a wire call once we're off the ground, say, it's okay to release it now.

MR. BARTLETT: All right. Let me see what we can do.

Q That's the easiest -- obviously, we're not going to screw everything up, get it out early.

MR. BARTLETT: It's in your own interest. It's in all of our own interests not to.

Q That's probably the easiest thing to do.

Q So can you tell us about the secrecy of this?

Q Let me just say one other thing. I will need to do a TV pool call at the same time, because they're not going to get the tapes for God knows how long, because they're going to have to be driven back to Baghdad proper and fed and all that sort of thing.

MR. BARTLETT: Who would you call?

Q I would call the pool line, the same time that they're calling from the plane, to say, run their stories, I would call the pool line, and basically give them the story and tell them the tapes would be on the way. Because I don't want to get on the pool line while we're on the ground, because it will be five networks and too [expletive deleted] many people to call.

MR. BARTLETT: That's what I'm worried about, is that, they'll call in, somebody says, hey, we've got this, and somebody calls that, and then competitive --

Q That's why I would need to do it from the plane, which I ordinarily wouldn't do.

MR. BARTLETT: Okay, we'll set that up. As far as more generally, the President -- the first conversation about this trip took place approximately five or six weeks ago, the concept of visiting the troops during the holidays. The President instructed him to do some due diligence on the logistics of this. Joe Hagin, the Deputy Chief of Staff, has been the one who has been spearheading this trip.

The President went to the next level of committing to do the trip during the Asia trip, when he told them. You know, there are certain amount of people you have to include in planning something like this. So they went to the next level of due diligence. He made a final call this morning on a -- he really committed -- he had two, kind of, final opportunities to make a decision. One was while he was in Las Vegas, he gave a final approval which required another level of planning. And then made the final, final approval this morning, when he was on a CIVITS call this morning with the Chief of Staff and the Vice President and Dr. Rice.

Q (Inaudible) -- phone call?


Q That was on a call this morning with the Vice President and Condi?


Q Is that one of the televised --

MR. BARTLETT: Yes. Video conference.

Q Secure video?

MR. BARTLETT: Secure video.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. BARTLETT: The Vice President, the Chief of Staff, Dr. Rice, the President.

Q What do you call that?


Q What's CIVITS?

MR. BARTLETT: Secure video conference call. That's the way he does his briefing, intel briefing.

Q No, I know. I'm just wondering about the acronym.


Q That was this morning?

MR. BARTLETT: That was this morning.

Q Secretary Powell and Rumsfeld weren't involved in today's discussion -- at least the final, final call?

MR. BARTLETT: No. Now, obviously Secretary Rumsfeld knows, as do the -- General Abizaid, General Sanchez, and Ambassador Bremer. But very few outside of those command structure know or knew about the logistics. In all of this, to this point now, it's still a conditional trip. If this breaks while we're in the air, we're turning around. So it's -- that's why we've gone to -- through the measures we have to ensure the safety and security of the President and those traveling with him. And we also thought it would be a unique opportunity to surprise the troops.

The President generally believes that this is a unique opportunity to thank the troops firsthand who are on the front lines in this critical mission, and to do so at a time when many Americans are gathering around their tables and joining family and friends to reflect on all the things we cherish as a country. But they'll also be thinking about those who are serving overseas and in harm's way. And the President is honored to be able to bring the good wishes and prayers of the American people directly to the troops in the field.

So he's excited about the trip. He's looking forward to it. His parents don't know. They're going to learn about it this morning.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. BARTLETT: No, they're supposed to get there tomorrow morning, or wherever, this morning. The girls were told a few hours before he left.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. BARTLETT: Mrs. Bush has known longer than them. I don't know specifically when she was told. But she -- so it's been a handful of people.

Q We understood she didn't know until this morning.

MR. BARTLETT: That's probably -- that wouldn't be a surprise.

Q So you're unclear on when Mrs. Bush was told?

MR. BARTLETT: I need to find specifically, but, I mean, it was before the girls. But --

Q But today?

MR. BARTLETT: It might have been yesterday, but I'll verify that.

Q (Inaudible) -- just a couple of hours before the girls?

MR. BARTLETT: Yes, late, early afternoon.

Q What was that that was asked?

Q The girls were told separately.

MR. BARTLETT: Again, I'm not going to be able to go into details about the security arrangements that have been provided. But the President encountered and witnessed traffic for the first time in three years on the way to the airport in an unmarked vehicle. So that was a little amusing to those who were riding with him.

Q What did he say about it?


Q Did he have a funny line about it?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, there's a dispute over what he said. So I have to get -- I have to reconcile that. But basically he was --

Q Clean it up and give it to us, would you?


Q Clean it up and give it to us, would you? (Laughter.)

Q How long was the motorcade, can you say that?

MR. BARTLETT: About the same length as it was as ours. I mean, you know, typical time from the ranch.

Q No, no, no, I mean, how long -- was it, like, three cars?

MR. BARTLETT: I can't go into details about it. But it was unmarked vehicles. It was not obvious. Trust me.

Q We wouldn't have known from looking at it?

MR. BARTLETT: If you were sitting outside the ranch waiting for the President, you would not have known the President had just left.

Q Even if you saw him go by?

Q I take it his Secret Service detail there, with the exception of a few people, were not told either?

MR. BARTLETT: Added for protection, we'll be on the ground.

Q (Inaudible).

MR. BARTLETT: It will be added for protection.

Q No, no, no, I'm saying, at the ranch, his detail that's working --

MR. BARTLETT: Again, I'm not going to be able to go into details of who was told and who was not told about his movements.

Q (Inaudible) -- how long is it to the airport? Thirty miles? (Inaudible).

MR. BARTLETT: About 45 minutes.

Q Forty-five minutes. And he gets on his regular Air Force One plane?

MR. BARTLETT: He entered through the back of the plane. Those who were here, no pomp and circumstance. It was -- again, for security reasons, the President was moving in a way that he would not be detected.

Q But he came in the footman's entrance?

Q And the story was that an Air Force -- that the plane was going to be -- that some maintenance was going to be done on it?

MR. BARTLETT: I think most people are used to the fact that Air Force One takes off and lands occasionally while the President is here. But, like I said, the precautions were taken necessary to ensure that the President was not known to be on the plane.

Q Could you tell us anything else about how he was slipped out the gate so that people wouldn't notice? And was he under a blanket, wearing a hat?

MR. BARTLETT: You all saw him when he got on.

Q No, we didn't.

MR. BARTLETT: I think you all did.

Q We had to close the shades.

MR. BARTLETT: No, when he was on top of the stairs, when he looked back at you all.

Q With a cap, a coat, and wearing jeans?


Q Boots?


Q Denim shirt?

MR. BARTLETT: Just a button down shirt.

Q Like, flannel or --

Q What's he wearing for the troops, do you know? Is he wearing coat and tie?


Q (Inaudible) -- ever been looked at -- look back at presidential history, whether this happened before?

MR. BARTLETT: We were talking about, but I -- we don't have any recollection. But we haven't been able to do any research to verify the --

Q And is it appropriate for the President to be spirited away -- half the world away without anybody knowing about it?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, it is appropriate for the President to visit troops, particularly troops who are on the front lines of such a critical mission for the safety of the American people, and in a troubled part of the region. It is also appropriate that the President travel in a way that -- which his security and safety is not compromised. We recognize the role of the public's right to know the travels of the President. And that's why members of the media are on the trip and are here to document and record what takes place.

Q (Inaudible).

Q Is he going to talk to us on the way back?

MR. BARTLETT: (Inaudible).

Q Surely, he'll be in an expansive mood.

MR. BARTLETT: (Inaudible.)

Q Well, if we're not flying as Air Force One, going through some air space, it could be -- it might not be interpreted as a friendly --

MR. BARTLETT: You can ensure -- I can assure you that those type of contingencies have all been considered.

Q So are you saying there are no leer jet escorts?

MR. BARTLETT: I can't talk about specific security arrangements of the President on Air Force One.

Q Well, we had them when we flew over Baghdad -- Qatar.

MR. BARTLETT: I understand that.

Q It could be difficult to understand that they weren't (inaudible) with them, actually on the landing in Baghdad?

MR. BARTLETT: I understand your questions, but we'll give any details out as we're able to provide them.

Q Dan, can I ask something? Could we get a 30-second spray of us standing here talking to you, not for sound, but the picture?


* * * * *

Q What did the Vice President have to say?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know, haven't talked to him.

Q Are they going -- is Cheney anywhere special today during this trip? I mean, is he going to be at the White House?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Typically on a trip, when the President is overseas, as long as he's in the continental United States, it's fine. But I'm not -- to tell you the truth, I'm not sure where he's spending Thanksgiving, whether it's in Wyoming or in Washington.

Q He went home.


Q He went home.

Q (Inaudible) the senior staff, besides Secretary Card, Dr. Rice, (inaudible)?


Q Senior staff, that's it?

Q Is Condi on the trip?


Q Now, at some point, will you be able to tell us about fighter escorts and that sort of thing?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll try to give you as much as I can.

Q Because in the past, we've recorded that freely.


Q And one of the first things they're going to ask us is, was there a fighter escort? And it will be hard to explain why a secret this time was never secret on any previous trip.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A lot of different reasons: visibility, how we're coming in, how we came in that time, how we're doing it this time. A lot of different reasons.

Q Can we say there was other airborne security?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I don't think you can. I don't know the answer to that question.

Q What about, if the troops don't know he is coming, what did you do on the ground that added to security, without disclosing that a special visitor was about to arrive?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They were able to make the appropriate accommodations to make sure the President is secure.

Q By saying, we've got guys having Thanksgiving dinner, and we've got Bremer, and Sanchez is here, and so we need some security and so --

Q (Inaudible.)

* * * * *

MR. BARTLETT: Bartlett, yes.

Q All right, so what did he say in the car?


Q What do you think he said in the car?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, some remember being as a rhetorical -- you know, what is this? And he said he was setting himself up for (inaudible).

END 7:49 P.M. EST

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