For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 25, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Crawford Middle School
2:41 P.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, good afternoon. I know you all have had an interesting day so far. The President had his usual briefings this morning. He was briefed on the latest developments regarding the tragic plane crashes in Russia. He also received an update on the response and recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley.
The President also received an initial briefing on the report by the independent panel appointed by Secretary Rumsfeld to look into detainee operations. And I expect he will participate in more detailed briefings in the days ahead on the Schlesinger report as well as other reports relating to the ongoing investigations into Abu Ghraib and detainee issues.
He also spent some time working around the ranch. More recently, he has been spending time working on his convention speech. And that's what I have for the President's day. I'm here to answer whatever questions you have left.
Q Why didn't the President invite former Senator Cleland in today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Why didn't the President invite former Senator Cleland into the ranch today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was a representative for the campaign that was there to meet Representative Cleland. And you all heard from both of those individuals.
Q How would you characterize or respond to what happened today here in Crawford with Senator Cleland?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Kerry says that he wants to talk about the issues. Today's political stunt is an interesting way of showing it. If Senator Kerry was serious about focusing on the issues, he would join the President in calling for a stop to all these ads by these shadowy groups. The President has focused on the issues and his agenda, and he's focused on the clear choices that the American people face. He has done that throughout the campaign. It appears that Senator Kerry is really just trying to divert attention from his out-of-the-mainstream record and his out-of-the-mainstream views. And I think that's what you're seeing more of today.
Q Scott, the newest claim seems to be a contradiction. Mr. Patterson told us that the campaign wrote the letter that he delivered -- attempted to deliver today, and was faxed to the White House. And in that letter, it says that there should be no double speak, standard for our right to speech. We all earned it, and that the President called him to thank him. Does the President believe that all veterans have the right to speak out, or does he believe that all of these ads should be off the air?
MR. McCLELLAN: Senator Kerry has -- Senator Kerry's campaign has made that very comment. And I think he was speaking as a veteran -- Commissioner Patterson was speaking as one of those veterans. In terms of the letter, itself, you might want to ask the campaign about it. I'm sure they'd be glad to talk to you more about it.
Q Does the President believe that all veterans have the right to speak?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes this campaign should be focused on the issues, and it should be focused on the differences that face the voters. Senator Kerry says that's what he wants this campaign to be about, yet today's political stunt was just the latest example that he really isn't interested in talking about the issues. He doesn't want to talk about his record. He doesn't want to talk about his out-of-the-mainstream views. And that's what you're seeing more of today.
Q But Scott, isn't the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go to Ben, thanks. I know we want to have a back and forth between you two, but I'll try to get around to everybody else.
Q Why did he choose Jerry Patterson? Patterson says he hadn't been involved in the campaign at all, and Patterson is also --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I'm sure the campaign would be glad to talk to you more about some of the arrangements for today. He was here representing the campaign and speaking on behalf of veterans who support the President.
Q If Ben Ginsberg had nothing to do with the Swift Boat veterans group, why did he resign?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was stated very clearly in his letter. He talked about how he strongly supported the President's reelection efforts, yet he did not want to be a distraction to the campaign and be a distraction to the issues that are before us. This was a decision that he made. Ben Ginsberg is someone who is an expert on election laws. And I know a lot of people go to him to talk to him. And we respect his decision.
Q Scott, you say it's a political stunt. But wasn't the Bush campaign party to this stunt by issuing its own letter to be given to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we have continued to do, Jill, is to call on Senator Kerry to join us in condemning all of these ads by these shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money. There shouldn't be a double standard. There should be one standard, and the President has been on the receiving end of more than $63 million in negative attacks from these shadowy groups. He knows what it's like. He has seen what these groups have done. There's a bigger issue involved here, and that's why we continue to call on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all of this activity and all of these ads. Senator Kerry's moment of truth keeps coming and going, yet he continues to refuse to join us in calling for a stop to all of these ads by these shadowy groups.
Q Scott, you described Patterson as a representative of the campaign. He was out there praising the most recent Swift Boat ads, calling it a very telling ad. Presumably that's at odds with what the President thinks.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he was speaking as a veteran, Dana. And it articulates it in his letter. The President is going to continue to focus on the future and focus on his agenda for moving America forward.
Q He wasn't representing the campaign.
MR. McCLELLAN: He was speaking as a veteran, and the campaign helped coordinate today's activities. I'm sure they'll be glad to talk to you more about that.
Q Was he speaking for the campaign though, today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Was he speaking for the campaign today?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was speaking as a veteran. And the letter was signed by seven veterans.
Q It was drafted by the campaign --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q It was drafted by the campaign.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you can talk to the campaign about all those details. I'm sure they'd be glad to talk to you about it.
Q Just going back to the Ginsberg question. You remember Mark Racicot said that there is absolutely nothing, nada, no connection whatsoever between the President's reelection effort and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. How would you characterize today the relationship between the President's reelection effort and the Swift Boat --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's the chairman of the campaign, and I think he characterized it very accurately.
Q Even though -- given what we know about Mr. Ginsberg?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what -- again, let's look at the double standing that -- the double standard that has been emerging here. Let's look at the revolving door between the Kerry campaign and these 527 groups that have been attacking the President for more than a year. It seems, in Senator Kerry's mind, that there are those 527s that are aligned with him that are okay, and then there is those 527s that are opposed to him, which all of a sudden now he says they should stop their ads. So let's have one standard. He should join us, condemn all these ads, and help put an end to it.
Q Does the President still believe that when he signed the McCain-Feingold that 527s would be banned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we wanted to get rid of the soft money influence in the campaigns. That was part of the McCain -- part of the purpose of the McCain-Feingold bill. And, yes, he thought that we would get rid of this kind of activity by signing those campaign finance reforms into law. And what you've seen is a loophole that groups are exploiting.
Q So when you say it's a double standard and a revolving door at the Kerry campaign, does that mean that it's all right for Bush-Cheney campaign people to be involved in the 527s?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, if you look at the -- look at the revolving door. I encourage you to look at what the campaign has put out recently. The campaign showed the revolving door between personnel and strategists from the Kerry campaign and the 527 groups. The President has made it very clear that he condemns all of these ads, and he condemns all of this activity that is going on by these shadowy groups. And he has called for a stop to all of them, and he's called on Senator Kerry to join him in calling for a stop to all of them. And I think you will see much more -- you will see -- if you look at the Kerry campaign, you will see that revolving door that really has not been reported at great length.
Q Is there any coordination between --
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the campaign has made that very clear.
Go ahead, Deb.
Q Scott, Commissioner Patterson's --
MR. McCLELLAN: By the way, I welcome all of you who have showed up for the final day here in Crawford as we head off to New Mexico tomorrow. I wasn't singling you out.
Q I won't take it personally. Commissioner Patterson said that Senator Cleland would not give him the letter for the President. Did you ever get a copy of the letter for the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, say that -- I couldn't hear you.
Q Patterson said he tried to get Senator Cleland to give him the letter that Senator Cleland --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's my understanding. And I think Commissioner Patterson had a letter to give to him, as well.
Q Did you actually get a copy of Senator Cleland's letter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Back to the double standard. Ben Ginsberg had been the National Counsel to the Bush campaign. What's the apples to apples example of the Kerry campaign, of an official in the Kerry campaign connecting to a 527?
MR. McCLELLAN: The campaign has put out a lot of information on that, and you ought to get that -- you ought to get that whole sheet of information -- from the former campaign manager to campaign strategists that are involved in both campaign activity and involved in these 527 groups.
Q He's a former -- he's a former campaign official. This is the national --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know. Like I said, there's a --
Q This is the current national council.
MR. McCLELLAN: The campaign will be glad to give you all this information. They have a whole sheet of information. I'm not citing just that one example. There's plenty more examples of the revolving door between the Kerry campaign and the 527 groups.
Q Is there any real apples to apples. You're asserting there's a double standard. Is there anything --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the campaign put out this information just the other day. Go and look -- I don't have that sheet right in front of me, but they -- it was a lengthy sheet showing all the revolving door between the Kerry campaign and the 527s.
Go ahead, Pete.
Q Regarding Ginsberg, has he had any contact with the White House regarding any of the 527s, including Swift Boats?
MR. McCLELLAN: Any -- any of the Swift Boats?
Q Has Ginsberg --
MR. McCLELLAN: We didn't -- it wasn't until yesterday that we were aware that he was representing and proving legal services to this organization.
Q So you, of course, have no information about any contact he might have had with anybody at the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Regarding what kind of contact, Pete? I don't know -- I don't know what you're trying to suggest, but I'm trying to understand your question.
Q Regarding the Swift Boat groups or any of the 527s.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's why I just said, yesterday was the first we became aware that he was representing and providing legal services to this organization.
Q The other thing is, Ginsberg has a -- an attorney-client relationship with the campaign. Would the White House be willing to direct the campaign to waive that privilege if -- so that Ben --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should direct those questions to the campaign, Pete. I don't know what you're getting at.
Q Senator Kerry, today, called for Donald Rumsfeld's resignation again, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib prison report. Does the President have any response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think in terms of his comments, that's just the latest political attack from Senator Kerry. Again, he is showing he really does not want to talk about the issues and his record. He is more interested in saying what is the most politically beneficial thing to his campaign. And I think you're seeing that again today.
In terms of these recent reports, the President believes that those who committed the atrocities at Abu Ghraib should be punished. What occurred there was appalling and it was wrong. Such abuses run counter to our values, and they run counter to our laws. And we also repeatedly said it is important to take a broader look at detainee issues to look at what improvements might be needed to prevent something like what occurred at Abu Ghraib from ever happening again.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q On Russia for a minute, can you tell us what -- give us a little more detail on what kind of contacts you all have had with the Russians? And are -- is the U.S. sending any support or has there been any request for support?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, it is a terrible tragedy. Our deepest condolences go out to the families and the Russian people. According to what we know, there were no American citizens on either of the flights. The causes of the crash -- of the crashes remain under investigation by Russian authorities. And our understanding is that they have not found any indication of terrorist involvement or foul play at the present time. If they -- if Russian authorities were to request assistance, I am sure that we would be more than willing to provide assistance with the investigation.
Q But you're not aware of any at this time?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q Scott, do you have any reaction to the Vice President's speech yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've got a specific question about it?
Q Well, I mean, the President doesn't agree with it, so --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Vice President has talked about this issue on a number of occasions. He has made clear that the President is the one who sets the policy. He has made clear that he supports the President. And I think those are points that he reiterated yesterday in his remarks. I didn't view it as anything new, if you go back and look at what he has said previously on several occasions.
Q Did the President know he was going to make the speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I didn't view this as anything new. That's why I was making that point. The President believes marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman, and he feels strongly that we should protect the sanctity of marriage. It is an enduring institution in our country, and there are a few activist judges and local officials who are trying to redefine it without the voice of the people being heard. And the President views the constitutional process as the only alternative for the people's voice to be heard. In that process, the states would be the ones that would have the final say. People have the right to live their lives as they choose, but that does not mean that they should redefine an enduring institution, like marriage, for others.
Q Scott, has the President ever discussed this issue with the Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Has he what?
Q Has he ever discussed this issue with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that they've indicated that, both the President and the Vice President. They talk on a regular basis. So I -- that would mean they would discuss issues like this, as well.
Q Did you know -- I mean, did the President know that the Vice President was prepared to say this, if he was asked?
MR. McCLELLAN: When he said -- that's why I said, he's made these -- made similar comments on a number of occasions. I didn't view it as anything new yesterday.
Q Scott, you said -- we, yesterday, first became aware of Ginsberg's activities. Who -- how did you learn? Who told whom this information?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- double-check with the campaign. I think that they can probably give you a little bit more information on that.
Q But on your end --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it came from -- came from there first.
Q To who?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think since it started with the campaign, check with them, and you can find out who was told first and then other contacts that they had there, as well. But it was yesterday when we became aware that he was representing them and providing legal services to them.
Q Scott, why did Ginsberg resign to the President and not to the Chairman or the Manager of the campaign?
MR. McCLELLAN: Didn't you just -- I'm sorry. Why did he --
Q Why did he -- why did Mr. Ginsberg resign to the President rather than the Chairman of the campaign or its manager?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was the outside counsel to the President's campaign.
Q Then why won't you discuss his activities if he resigned to the President? Isn't it under the White House purview.
MR. McCLELLAN: Why don't I what?
Q Why don't you discuss his activities and how this came about? He resigned to the President, not to the campaign. This is a White House issue, that's my point.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, how it first came about and how we first became aware of it was through the campaign. So that's why I said you might want to go back there and start with -- start with the campaign.
Q Doesn't the White House legal counsel vet any of these people, since he resigned to the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Does the White House legal counsel vet any of the campaign people?
Q He resigned to the President of the United States, that's my point. So he feels somehow he's --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's the President's campaign, Bob. I don't -- I don't understand your point.
All right. See everybody on the plane in the morning.
END 2:58 P.M. CDT