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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 8, 2004

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

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1:53 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me begin with giving you a quick readout of the President's meeting with His Majesty King Mohammed of Morocco. The President was pleased to welcome His Majesty King Mohammed to the White House today. They had a good discussion in the Oval Office. And following that, they continued their discussion in the Residence over lunch.

The President and King Mohammed were pleased to discuss our excellent state of bilateral relations, including making the most of the upcoming free trade agreement that was recently signed with Morocco. The President emphasized to the King his desire to see the free trade agreement ratified this year. The two leaders also spent a good bit of time talking about the global war on terrorism, and our cooperation in those efforts.

They talked about the progress that we've been making in Iraq and Afghanistan and moving forward on elections and addressing the security situation in those countries. We certainly appreciate the commitments from Morocco to help support the Iraqi people as they move forward on improving the security situation and building a free and peaceful society. The leaders also discussed the Middle East peace process, and they also discussed the issue of the Western Sahara. And that's what I've got for the readout from the meeting at this point. We certainly thank His Majesty King Mohammed for his leadership and appreciate Morocco's close friendship with the United States.

And with that, I'll go to your questions.

Q Does the President think that the violence in Iraq has affected the alerts in this country, raised the antipathy and hostility?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would look at it that way, Helen. Certainly, in terms of the situation in Iraq, you're seeing that Iraq is moving forward and making great progress toward building a free and peaceful future. And we've always said that as they move forward on the elections and move forward on sovereignty, that you would see the terrorists in the country and others who are opposed to freedom and democracy seek to derail that process. And there are certainly challenges and difficulties that remain in Iraq when it comes to addressing the security situation.

But I think you see strong commitments and statements from the leadership in Iraq. The Prime Minister and others have made strong statements that they are determined to crack down on those who are seeking to derail a better future for the Iraqi people. And you're seeing action by the security forces there, the Iraqi security forces, to go after those who seek to spread violence in their country.

Q But there are indications, though, that the Islamics now have bigger cause, because of Iraq, and it has endangered our country more.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, the terrorist threat has been building for quite some time. All you need to do is go back and look at the attacks that have taken place over the past decade. This was a threat that was emerging and building well before we came into office.

And then September 11th came, and it changed the whole equation, when on that day, as the President said, war was declared on the United States. And the best way to win the war on terrorism and defeat the terrorists is to go after them, where they are, so that we prevent them from carrying out their attacks in the first place. This President will continue waging the war on terrorism on the offensive. And maybe there's a fundamental disagreement here about how you carry out that war on terrorism. Some would argue it's primarily a law enforcement matter. The President disagrees. It's being fought on many fronts, and you win it by going on the offensive. That's exactly what we are doing.

Q Do you think you're winning?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, we're making tremendous progress, but there is much more to do to win the war on terrorism and defeat terrorism. We are dismantling and disrupting the al Qaeda network. We have certainly brought top leaders to justice. There are more that we continue to pursue.

And when I talk about the war on terrorism, I'm talking about how this is fought on many different fronts. Look at what we've accomplished in Libya. That was a significant development that makes the world a safer place. Libya has renounced its weapons of mass destruction program and dismantled and disrupted -- and dismantled its weapons programs. That's a significant development.

September 11th taught us that we must confront threats before it's too late and that's exactly what we're doing.

Q Does the President have anything to say about the unsealing of the indictment against Ken Lay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Bill, I don't think it's appropriate for the White House to discuss any specific criminal case. However, I'm more than happy to talk to you about this administration's commitment to cracking down on wrongdoing. One of the President's top priorities is to crack down on corporate wrongdoing and strengthen corporate accountability. And we have a record of accomplishment in that area.

This President has worked to go after those wrongdoers and directed his administration to pursue those who are dishonest in the boardroom. The President has made it very clear that we will not tolerate dishonesty in the boardroom.

This administration worked to uncover abuses and scandals in the corporate arena, and certainly the President's concern is with those workers and other people who have been harmed by corporate wrongdoing. And that's where his focus will continue to be.

Q But this particular alleged corporate wrongdoer was a personal friend of the President's, who the President addressed as "Kenny, boy," who raised a lot of money for the President in the 2000 election cycle, who offered corporate jets to the President for travel in Texas. He did know him well. Does he --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you seem to want to be fairly selective there, because let me point out that he was someone who supported Democrats and Republicans, alike, including the President, as you pointed out.

Q Well, is that all the President had to say?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's how I would describe the relationship, and I think it's an accurate way to describe the relationship.

Q Does President Bush consider Ken Lay a personal friend? And did the White House have any communication with the Justice Department leading up to the indictment?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. This is a Justice Department matter, and we expect the Justice Department to do their job when it comes to cracking down on corporate wrongdoing. In terms of the question you asked about Mr. Lay, the President has already addressed that, and he described it the way I did, as well.

Q A number of Democrats since the announcement this morning have come out screaming "politics." They say since there's no specific information about a threat, that the administration is doing this to distract attention away from the pick of Senator Edwards --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that I'd describe it as no specific information about a threat, because you heard directly from Governor Ridge how we have continued to receive credible reporting of intelligence over the last several weeks, and certainly since the last time Governor Ridge went to the public and informed them about what the current threat status is, which was just prior to the Memorial Day weekend. But --

Q Well, what would you say to these Democrats who came out to -- let me go quickly -- they're citing this announcement today, some are also citing this New Republic article that says the administration is somehow pressuring Pakistan to get Osama bin Laden in time for the Democratic Convention.

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I wouldn't put a lot of stock in that article. This is a publication that certainly opposes our views. But in terms of what you're asking about Democrats, let me point out that our most important responsibility is to protect the American people. And when we receive credible information of this nature that shows that al Qaeda is continuing to work to carry out a large-scale attack against the American people, it's important to keep the American people informed about that intelligence that we are receiving. And that's exactly what we're doing.

But let me point out even more broadly, we believe it's important to share information appropriately when it comes to the terrorist threat that we face. And that's exactly what this administration has done for quite some time. I would remind you that Governor Ridge first went out prior to the Memorial Day weekend and talked about how we're in an increased period of risk as we head into the summer and fall period, where there are a number of high-profile, symbolic events that are coming up -- certainly look at the conventions.

We have briefed the campaigns, both campaigns, the Kerry-Edwards campaign, as well as the Bush-Cheney campaign, about the security measures that are being put in place for those conventions in New York and Boston. We've also been briefing members of Congress on this threat status that we are in. And we've talked to -- and Governor Ridge certainly went out and talked to the American people about the protective measures that we have been putting in place every day since September 11th and the progress that we have made.

Remember, this war on terrorism continues. We're making great progress, but al Qaeda is still determined to harm the American people. They only have to be right once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time, and the American public can help. They can help us disrupt potential attacks. And that's why it's important to keep them informed.

Q That's why I asked. I mean, it would be a pretty serious allegation to say a President of the United States is manipulating such information for political gain. I was wondering what would you say to those Democrats who are saying --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen specifically who said what. But what I would say is that we have an obligation, regardless of the time of year or what year we are in, to protect the American people and keep them informed about what we are doing to provide for their safety and security. And when we receive credible information like we have regarding the increased risk we face, we believe it's important to keep the American people informed.

This isn't the first time that we've talked to the American people about this issue. But this is an update to the American people. And it is also important to update them on the protective measures that we have put in place and the ramped up security measures that we have put in place in certain areas of the country where terrorists might want to strike.

Q Scott, when you say, when we have this information we like to make it public, two days ago this was information that was reaching the higher levels of this government and the Vice President summoned the director of the CIA, the FBI and the heads of the intelligence committees to talk about this here at the White House. What was the thinking behind that? Why did the Vice President want to do that? And why, if that information was known for two days, why not make it public?

MR. McCLELLAN: Why did we summon congressional leaders to the White House?

Q To get a briefing by the Vice President?

MR. McCLELLAN: That was part of our process of sharing information in an appropriate way. And that's why Governor Ridge went out today to talk to the American people to update them on what he previously told them a few weeks ago, prior to the Memorial Day weekend.

Q Why did the Vice President want to bring them to the White House to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it was just the Vice President. I think the White House, and the President and others felt it's important that we keep Congress informed about these developments. It's important that we keep governors informed. Secretary Ridge has been doing that. It's important that we keep local authorities informed. It's important that we keep law enforcement informed.

The FBI sends out weekly bulletins to law enforcement on these very matters, to let them know steps that they can take or let them know information that they should be aware of. This is the new environment that we live in, in post-September 11th. We have made significant strides in our steps to better protect the homeland, from creating the Department of Homeland Security, where you now have all 22 agencies with their primary mission being to defeat the terrorists and protect the American people.

We revamped and reformed the FBI. We're continuing to do that. Their number one priority now is protecting the American people against terrorist attacks. They are working every day to disrupt plots from happening in the first place. And the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, as well, where we have improved intelligence gathering and sharing, so that we can provide law enforcement officials at all levels with the information they need to where they might be able to prevent attacks from happening in the first place, as well.

But I repeat to you, terrorists only have to be right once; we have to be right 100 percent of the time.

Q I understand that. Why the secrecy, then, surrounding Tuesday night's meeting?

MR. McCLELLAN: Governor Ridge was planning to go to talk to the American people today and update them on the status of the alert, or the status of the threat that we face.

Q And then one more question. You said there is specific information but, in fact, when Ridge was asked about this today --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not as to place, time or location. But the intelligence that we are receiving is credible information that points to what Governor Ridge said, which was that we know that credible reporting now indicates that al Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.

Q Yes, and that's a very general statement, if you will, and an alarming one. But, specifically, if you say specific information, that's something very different. And Governor -- Secretary Ridge was asked about that today, if there's been specific information about a target on either one of the conventions, and he said, no.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. That's right. And I said that earlier today, as well. When you asked me this morning, I said that there is no specific or precise information as to time, place, or location. But we know that al Qaeda likes to inflict mass harm. And certainly these high-profile, symbolic events provide an opportunity that they would like to -- where they might like to carry out an attack. And the intelligence that we've received, as Governor Ridge pointed out, points to their intentions to try and disrupt the democratic process here in this country.

We saw what happened in Madrid; we've seen through arrests in England and Jordan and Italy, additional information about their intentions, as well.

Q Scott, a report coming out of Congress tomorrow will say that the reported meeting between Mohammed Atta and a top Iraqi official in Prague likely never took place. That's been one of the underpinnings of the administration's contentions that there were high-level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. Particularly, Vice President Cheney has said this repeatedly. Given that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at what he said most recently. In terms of the report, look, let's --

Q Given that conclusion --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- we look forward to seeing the report. We haven't seen it at this point. It hasn't been released publicly. I understand there are --

Q Senator Levin is putting this out today, so -- but anyway --

MR. McCLELLAN: I find -- Dick, I find it interesting that some members are talking about this report publicly, before it's released. I think that says something right there. I recognize this is an election year, as well, but I think it says something when members are talking about it prior to its release in this manner.

Q Well, the question is, given that conclusion by this bipartisan panel, will the administration continue to talk about these high-level contacts, of which this has always been one piece of the evidence.

MR. McCLELLAN: And you should look back at what the Vice President said most recently on that, because I think you didn't characterize his most recent comments accurately --

Q What did he say?

MR. McCLELLAN: But in terms of the contacts, we've -- all you need to do is go back and look at what Secretary Powell outlined before the United Nations and the Commission pointed out those same high-level contacts, going back over the last decade.

Q Scott, two questions. Can you illumine us on the situation of Corporal Hassoun? Do you know anything about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any more. The State Department, a short time ago, announced that he is at the embassy in Beirut, but they don't have any more information than that at this point. In terms of his military status, those are issues you ought to direct to the Pentagon. But that's the latest that we know.

Q The second question, on Vice President Cheney. The situation with his doctor who was legally addicted to painkillers -- or semi-legally -- how does that affect the assessment over the years when this doctor was saying that --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President's office has addressed that and you ought to talk to them further.

Q Well, why --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you ought to talk to the Vice President's office about that further. They've been talking about that publicly.

Q They've been talking about the fact that he's no longer their doctor.

MR. McCLELLAN: And they've also put out a statement addressing that. Remember, he has a team of doctors, I might point out.

Q Scott, you say you're making progress against the war on terrorism and you're arresting members of al Qaeda. Why is it that al Qaeda seems -- continues to be a great threat for the U.S., even when President Bush says this country is more secure than ever?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because that's the nature of the terrorists. They have no regard for innocent human life. They want to -- they fear freedom. They fear what is going on in Afghanistan and Iraq. They hate what the United States of America stands for, which is freedom and liberties for all. And they want to continue to harm innocent civilians. They want to -- this is a, as the President talked about, a struggle of ideologies. Theirs is based on oppression and tyranny; ours is based on freedom and hope. They thrive where there is hatred and fear. And we are making great progress, but it is a war that continues. They declared war on us September 11th when they killed some 3,000 innocent American men and women, and children even. And the way to win the war on terrorism is to continue going after them and continue staying after them, on the offensive. And that's what we're doing.

But we know that they seek to reconstitute themselves and continue to seek to carry out attacks on innocent civilians and on Americans. And the intelligence that we're receiving is credible information that points to this activity.

Q Scott, the RNC research has just quoted Senator Edwards on MSNBC as saying, "I think it's an enormous mistake to fly the Confederate flag. It ought to be taken down" -- which would ban the state flag of Mississippi and require removal of thousands of Confederate war memorials in front of courthouses all over the South. And my first question: Does the President believe that this should be done, or that Senator Edwards is wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, Les, this is a campaign season. Certainly the records --

Q Does the President think --

MR. McCLELLAN: The records of the candidates are something that are perfectly legitimate to discuss. Their public statements are something that are perfectly legitimate to discuss. And changing positions are certainly things that are discussed during a campaign that voters look at, as well. There are clear choices in this election. This election is between the Senator from Massachusetts and the President of the United States, and their visions for the future. There are clear differences, there are clear philosophical differences. And we will continue to talk about those differences, and the President looks forward to a spirited discussion of the issues. And that's what he will continue to do.

As far as responding to past comments the candidates have made, I mean, those candidates need to explain themselves.

Q Does the President -- Senator Kerry has just announced that he believes that life begins at the instant of conception, just as he has expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage. And my question: Does the President believe that Senator Kerry's so often voting against his expressed convictions is a credibility gap similar to the contrast between those awful things Kerry said about Senator Edwards during the primary campaign and what he's saying now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think this issue has been discussed between the campaigns. It's been discussed. There are clear differences --

Q Yes, but your opinion --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it's not the first time we've heard the Senator from Massachusetts say one thing one day and another thing the next.

Q Good. Good. Thank you.

Q Scott, yesterday the President said that he more or less predicted that he would win the South in the November election because he shares the values of the people in the South and, extrapolating on that, the values of the American people. Kerry and Edwards yesterday said they shared the values of the American people and will bring those values back into American society. Would you mind detailing exactly -- explaining what the President's values are vis--vis the values of Kerry and Edwards, and how they differ?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can look at the records, first and foremost. The values that the President shares with the American people are something that he has held for his life. They are ingrained in his philosophy and the principles which govern him. And certainly you hear the President often talking about the values of making sure the American people can keep more of their hard-earned money, the values of personal responsibility, the values of promoting freedom, the values of America's leadership role in the world, and the importance of supporting our troops when they are engaged in this ongoing war on terrorism. And you heard directly from the President yesterday on this issue.

These are values that the American people share with the President of the United States and that's why he feels the way he does about the election.

Q How does that contrast then to whatever values Kerry --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the campaign released a new ad today talking about some of those very differences and you might want to look at that.

Q Time Magazine has what amounts to an embedded reporter with the Iraqi insurgency. Do you think this is appropriate for a reporter to be doing essentially public relations work for people who are shooting at our troops?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the specifics about that. That's the first I've heard of that matter. But I don't put myself in the place of trying to be the media critic.

Certainly when it comes to the situation involving the former regime elements and the foreign terrorists who are in Iraq, that remains an ongoing priority for the multinational forces as well as the Iraqi leadership. They know that that's the number one priority moving forward to elections, is to address the security threats and improve the security situation. And they are firmly committed to doing that, and firmly committed to doing that with Iraqi security forces, because those people are seeking to derail a brighter future for the Iraqi people, do not represent the Iraqi people.

Q I have two questions. Do you have any reaction to Mr. Baradei's statement in Israel yesterday that it should also open its facilities to create a sense of credibility in the region and for the U.S. request that there should be no nuclear weapons in that region at all? That's my first question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, our views are very well known when it comes to the Nonproliferation Treaty and people's adherence to it, and it's a universal. And we believe it should be applied universally.

Q Israel?

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of specific questions about Israel, you need to direct those to the government of Israel. But we've made our views very well known. Our view is the universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Q Do you want Israel to open its facilities for inspection, as the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, if you have questions about Israel and those matters, you need to talk to the government of Israel.

Q Second question. Do you think that the recent escalation in violence in Gaza is helping your efforts to activate the road map and the withdrawal from Gaza? Yesterday, there were about 10 people killed in Gaza --

MR. McCLELLAN: Certainly violence never helps move forward on the road map. But we do have a unique opportunity before us to get the road map moving again with the proposal that was put forward by Prime Minister Sharon. It was a bold proposal and it can help us get moving again on the road map. And we need to see from the Palestinians a commitment to have a unified security structure in place so that they can create the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to exist.

This President remains firmly committed to moving forward on the road map and getting to the two-state vision of Israel and Palestine living side by side.

Q Did the President and the Moroccan King discuss the human rights situation in Morocco?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I'm glad you brought that up. I should have pointed out that the President did offer praise for the reforms that His Majesty the King has undertaken in Morocco. Certainly, Morocco has undertaken some important reforms to protect the rights of women and children, moving forward on their family law. And we appreciate those efforts to move forward on reform.

Q How important is issue -- human rights issues when it comes to the relations between the U.S. and Arab countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have good relations with many of those countries. And those are issues that the President always raises both publicly and privately. You've heard him raise it, whether it's at the G8 summit or whether it's in bilateral meetings with leaders from some of those countries.

That's why the President has put forward the Broader Middle East Initiative, to support calls for reform from within the region, calls for moving forward on democratic reforms. And we will continue to work to do that.

The G8 summit put out a strong statement supporting those efforts as well. And so we will continue to move forward on those efforts. And some countries will move quicker than others. We recognize sometimes it takes some time to get to where the ideal vision is.

Q On Secretary Ridge's warnings today --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back here and then I'll come back to you.

Q Scott, could you say whether Ken Lay had any input into formulation of a Bush energy policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of people, I think, people that we talked to regarding the energy policy. And if you want to see what the energy policy was that we proposed, it's available to you publicly. You can go look at what we proposed.

Q Yes, I realize that. But wouldn't it be -- given the indictment now, wouldn't it be in the interest of assuring the public of the integrity of the process by which you came to the formulation of the policy --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, if you remember, that working group that helped develop the energy policy was made up of people from within the administration and there is a constitutional separation of powers issue involved here, and the Supreme Court recently spoke to this and recognized the importance of the President being able to receive unvarnished advice from his staff and advisors. And that's an important principle.

Q Yes, I realize that, Scott. But wouldn't it be politically appropriate to at least indicate what advice, if any, Mr. Lay had given, given that --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that you can see -- you can see our energy policy, we put forward a comprehensive energy policy. What our focus is on now is getting Congress to pass that energy policy so that we can address these rising gas prices and we don't have to do this every single year, come and try to address these problems that come up on a yearly basis.

Q On Ridge's security warnings, can the President today guarantee Americans that no terrorist attack can upset the U.S. elections this November, that they will go ahead as planned?

MR. McCLELLAN: Ann, I don't think anyone can make guarantees. But the full intention is to move forward and hold those elections. I don't know specific information related to election day or any other of the high profile events that we have coming up. What we can guarantee to the American people is that we will continue to take strong steps to make sure that we are doing a better job every day of protecting the homeland and enhancing protective measures in certain areas of the country. And we will

continue waging the war on terrorism, on the offensive, to defeat the terrorists. That's what we will continue to do.

These are threats that we need to take seriously, and that's why it's important to keep the American people informed.

Q Two days ago, Austrian President Thomas Klestil died in office. Can you tell us who is going to represent the U.S. government --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the latest list of the delegation. I know that's something we were working on; I have not seen an update on that. Certainly, the President earlier today expressed his deepest condolences to the people of Austria on his passing.

Q Is the White House considering sending Governor Schwarzenegger as a representative of --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll put that delegation list out soon, I'm sure. I just haven't seen it. I think that will be coming out of the State Department.

Q When do you think it will be out?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. I just haven't checked the latest status on that. I know that that's something that the State Department was working on and should be putting out, I would expect, any time now, if they haven't already.

Q Thanks, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 2:22 P.M. EDT