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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 17, 2004

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

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12:38 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin with one announcement. The President today is announcing his intention to appoint Harriet Miers to be Counsel to the President. She will fill the position held by Judge Gonzales once he is confirmed by the Senate.

The following is a statement by the President: "Harriet Miers is a trusted advisor on whom I've long relied for straightforward advice. Harriet has the keen judgment and discerning intellect necessary to be an outstanding counsel. She is a talented lawyer whose great integrity, legal scholarship and grace have long marked her as one of America's finest lawyers. I have deep respect for Harriet and look forward to her continued counsel in this new role."

And that's all I have to begin with, so I will go straight to questions.

Q A question for you on the President's appointment of Margaret Spellings for education. She is a strong advocate of abstinence-only programs for sex education in schools. Is there something to be said for a program that also teaches contraception in case children were to fall off the abstinence wagon, they would know how to arm themselves --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think she's a strong advocate for the President's agenda, as are other members of this team. And she is someone the President, as you heard him say, has full trust in her abilities.

In terms of that question, I think if you looked at what we have pursued, we have said that funding for abstinence education at least -- ought to be on at least equal footing with other education programs. And so that's what we've pursued in this administration.

Q She has said that she believes the message we should be sending to children in middle and high school is one of abstinence, and abstinence only.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's something the President has long talked about, and it's a -- there are some efforts that are proven to work and send the right message to our children. And so that's something the President has talked about, going back to his days as governor.

Q But if you try to reduce teenage pregnancies and everything else that the President is trying to reduce, is it not worthwhile to talk to children and teach them about contraception, in case in some occasion --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are programs there, John. That's why I said that funding ought to be at least on the same level as other programs.

Q Right, but she's an advocate of, again, programs that teach only abstinence and not about contraception.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is an advocate of abstinence education programs because he wants to focus on what works. And we know that they have proven results of working to teach -- send the right message to our children.

Q Let me ask you more simply; what's the problem of teaching abstinence and contraception, just as a method of teaching these kids what's available out there just in case --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've answered this question; I think I've been through it. And the President's views are very clear on it, as well -- I just expressed them.

Q Yes, but I just asked you the question about is there not value in teaching both?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, go back and look at what we've said on this matter and what I just expressed.

Terry, go ahead.

Q I'm going to shift gears. President Putin has spoken to the Russian military leadership and said that Russia will be testing new nuclear missile systems which, he said, "will be the systems of the kind that other nuclear powers do not and will not have in the near future." What is the administration's assessment of what he's talking about? And isn't that a rather threatening thing to say?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our view is that this is not something that we look at as new. We are very well aware of their longstanding modernization efforts for their military. I might point out that we have a very good relationship with Russia. The President and President Putin have worked very closely together to establish that relationship. And they have worked together to move beyond some of the issues of the past and develop an agreement to significantly reduce our nuclear arsenals. And that's, I think, what is most important.

But I think -- what I took from these comments, it is something that they have talked about before, and that's modernization of their military. We are allies now in the global war on terrorism.

Q So modernization of the nuclear component of the military is okay with this President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, that it's something that -- we don't view it as something that is new. It's something that we are well aware of, that they were working on some modernization efforts for their military.

Q And it seems that one of the points of the modernization effort is to evade missile defense systems, that that's one of the things that these new missiles will be able to do. The President is okay with that? He doesn't --

MR. McCLELLAN: We have a very different relationship than we did during the Cold War. And we are working together to significantly reduce our nuclear arsenals. There is -- we both recognize the need to no longer have that size of a nuclear arsenal, and that's what we're working together on to reduce.

Q Can I ask a more general question, then? You said a couple of times that there's a new relationship and a good relationship with the Russian Federation and that President Bush specifically has a good relationship with President Putin. What's it getting the United States if Putin is crushing the free media, if he's not building down nuclear arsenals, but building them up, and if he's opposing the United States --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, he's reducing nuclear arsenals. That's what we agreed to do. But let me point out to you that the fact that we do have a good relationship enables us to speak very directly to our Russian friends about those issues. And the President has spoken directly to them about areas when we have concerns, one of which you mentioned right at the top there.

Q But this is not an area of concern?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, I checked here, and it was something that was not viewed as new to us.

Go ahead, Jim.

Q What response do you have, what reaction do you have to the parts of the memo that Director Goss sent to employees at the CIA?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question?

Q The question is, critics are suggesting that it means he's trying to tell people at the CIA they have to fall in line with the President's policies, though the memo also suggests the opposite, and I just wonder what the reaction is here. Have you seen the memo? Has the President talked to --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're referring to an email -- I have seen the email, and it says a lot more than what you just referred to, and I think what you referred to is something that is misconstrued, first of all. The role of the CIA is intelligence gathering, intelligence analysis, and intelligence dissemination. It is to provide the policymakers with the best possible intelligence; it's not to set policy. The role of the policymakers is not to get involved in the intelligence side of things either. So, really, the role of the CIA is to provide unvarnished facts and objective analysis to the decision-makers. And I did read that email, and some people have misconstrued exactly what it says, as you pointed out.

Q Now, what is your sense of why it was necessary to issue an email that tells people that, we're in the business of supplying intelligence, not deciding policy, which seems, on the face of it, to be a pretty obvious statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

Q Why would the Director -- why did the Director feel it necessary to do such a thing? Are there things that have happened in the past few weeks that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think a couple of reasons probably. One, you have a Director in place who is committed to intelligence reform, and committed to making sure we're doing everything we can to strengthen and improve our intelligence-gathering capabilities. That's one of the main reasons the President appointed Director Goss to that position. And in that respect, you have someone who is determined to move forward on reform. And any time you have reform, you have change.

And I think part of the reason he sent out the email, as he discussed in it, was to let the personnel at the CIA know that he will keep them apprised as changes are made. That was one of the things he talked about in that email. And we have great confidence in his leadership abilities and his ability to address these issues.

Q You said there was a second factor. Is there another factor?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I was saying I think the second part of the fact that you have a new leader in place, number one, so he's sending an email to all the personnel there. And, number two, that you have some changes that will be made. I think that's to be expected when you have a new leader in place.

Q And Michael Scheuer, the man who wrote a book initially named only as Anonymous, did give a number of interviews and has since given interviews under his own name in which he was critical of administration policy on the war on terrorism. Is that part of this and is there something bigger here that points to the need to tell people at the CIA not to be thinking in a political fashion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, you might want to direct some of those questions to the CIA. There are some rules and procedures that they have in place. And I think he talked about some of those rules and procedures in his email, just so everybody was clear about what they are and what to expect as they move forward with a new Director of Central Intelligence in place.

Q But does the White House see that as part of the -- one of the contributing factors here and the need to send out a memo to tell people exactly what the policy is?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there is a lot of -- we can go back to the campaign -- there was a lot of media coverage from anonymous sources talking about intelligence matters and talking about classified information in some instances. I think information is classified for a reason, particularly at the CIA; it goes to our national security interest. The CIA has a vital role to play in our nation's security, and the men and women at the CIA, the career officials over there are doing an outstanding job to protect the American people. They work round the clock to make sure they're doing everything they can to protect the American people.

Q So let me just clarify. You seem to be suggesting that there was a sense that there was some leaks of information from the CIA that were -- that became part of the political debate because they were critical of policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm just pointing out some of the facts from the campaign period. When I looked at the email, I viewed it for the reasons that I stated a minute ago, as to why he sent that out; because you have a new director in place. There's some changes that are being made by that new director, whether it comes to organization or personnel or other issues.

Q Why shouldn't people, though, see this as an effort to tell people at the CIA, if you disagree, keep your mouth shut?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not at all what he was saying. And if you look at the email, he said what the direction from the President was to him when he took over as the Director of Central Intelligence. He said the President's direction was very clear: the intelligence community must do all it can to keep Americans safe, both here and abroad. And we appreciate all the work that the men and women of the CIA are doing. He also went in to say in that email that: "We do not make policy, though we do inform those who make it. We avoid political involvement, especially political partisanship." So you have to look at the entire email. It's exactly what he said.

Certainly, one of the roles of the CIA is to help implement decisions once they are made by the policymakers. Let me point to a recent example. Afghanistan is a good example. The decision was made to go into Afghanistan and remove the Taliban from power, and dismantle the al Qaeda network in Afghanistan and take away their safe haven. And the CIA certainly played an important role in carrying out some operations there once that decision was made. It is also their role to make sure they provide the policymakers with the best possible intelligence.

Q But does the President think that the CIA has worked at cross purposes with this administration during the past four years?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, David, all I can point back to is some of the articles that came out, or the media coverage during the campaign. They were from anonymous sources. I can't point to anybody in specific. I mean, that's some of what your role is to do.

Q But enough of it was ample evidence to the President that there were enough people within the CIA working at cross purposes?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think Jim was asking a specific question about some issues that came up during that time period.

Q I'm asking --

MR. McCLELLAN: But, no, the President has great appreciation for the job that the men and women at the CIA do to help protect the American people. They play a vital role in our nation's security.

Q But let me follow up on a point that Jim made. Particularly after what seems to be a fairly egregious intelligence failure about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, what message does it send when the Republican -- the new Republican head of the CIA tells people that we're here to support the President? Does that not send a message --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, he was not talking about advocacy one way or the other, David. Let's be very clear on that matter. What he was talking about is what their mission is. Their mission is to inform the policymakers. Their role is to provide the unvarnished facts and the objective analysis to the policymakers, so that the policymakers can make decisions that are in the best interest of the American people.

And one of the things that you bring up is intelligence related to Iraq. And one of the issues that the independent commission that the President appointed and is meeting with later today, by the way, is looking at is the intelligence related to Iraq so that we can make sure that our intelligence community is providing the best possible intelligence to the decision-makers.

Q So the President sees the CIA Director as restoring proper balance to the CIA --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, there are rules and procedures at all agencies. There are rules and procedures at the CIA. I don't think it's my place to talk about those. Those are set over past practice --

Q Does the President believe that Porter Goss is --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and by the Director of Central Intelligence.

Q -- restoring balance, is he restoring a balanced --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes Director Goss is doing a great job in working to implement important reforms and changes to make sure that the policymakers are getting the best possible intelligence. There are two distinct function in the executive branch, and I think that's how we should look at this that we're talking about in this discussion. There is the intelligence-gathering analysis and dissemination. And that is distinct from the policymaking apparatus. It is not the role of the intelligence community to set policy, and it is not the role of the policymakers to try and influence the outcome of the intelligence. We want the facts from the intelligence community.

Q What are some of those articles you're -- was one of them the missing explosives --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I don't think I need to go and get into those articles; everybody was there and covered those articles. I was just pointing out a fact.

Q Do you think the articles were intended to try to throw the election toward Kerry?

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't tell you that. I don't know where those articles disseminated from, who the anonymous officials were.

Q Does the President believe that there were CIA leaks during the campaign designed to help Senator Kerry and hurt his campaign?

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't speak to that. There were anonymous sources on some issues that you bring up relating to intelligence and national security matters. I don't know -- I don't know where those originated from, so I can't speak to that. But what I can speak to is what we're working to do and what our shared objective is, which is to protect the American people.

Q Al Jazeera in the Middle East is -- that Mrs. Margaret Hassan was beheaded -- 30-year humanitarian worker. The question is that U.N. workers and other innocent civilians are now afraid to work and go in Iraq. And al Jazeera -- everything Saddam Hussein -- everything -- I'm sorry, this Osama bin Laden or terrorists bring out all the tapes, al Jazeera is the only one that show publicly and it seems to me that they have connection with the terrorists and Osama bin Laden. So what message President has for the civilians in Iraq and the future of U.N. workers?

MR. McCLELLAN: That a free and peaceful future is on its way. We're there to help the Iraqi people realize that future.

I would point out that the international community joins together in condemning that barbaric act in the strongest possible terms. It shows the true nature of the terrorists. They have no regard for innocent civilian life. She was there to provide help to the Iraqi people. She was an aid worker who dedicated her life to helping the Iraqi people, helping those in need in that country. And the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who are trying to derail the transition to a democratic and peaceful future will be defeated. They are being defeated as we speak. We've seen what has happened in Fallujah. We see the progress that is being made against those who are trying to wreak violence in Mosul and other areas.

Q Just a little question. Are you still looking for Osama bin Laden? Because -- on WTOP Radio 15 -- going on in Pakistan and according to the News 15, they said that intelligence officials here and in Pakistan are saying that -- and some of the top officials in the Musharraf government are sympathizers to Osama bin Laden and they tip off whenever U.S. is about to catch Osama bin Laden, they tip off him and then he runs away --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we are continuing to pursue him and he will be brought to justice. We are also continuing to move forward on dismantling and destroying the al Qaeda network, and we have made great progress over the course of the last few years. But there is more to do. And we continue to stay on the offensive. We also continue to work to advance freedom in the world, because that's the way you'll ultimately defeat the ideology of hatred that leads to terrorism.

Q Speaker Hastert earlier today said he was confident that the national intelligence director would have full budget authority. Does the President believe that that budget should remain classified, that budget figure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think we've expressed that previously in our statements of administration policy, that we shouldn't be given up things that our enemies could use against us. But the President is strongly committed to passing intelligence reform as quickly as possible. He views it as reform that builds upon the many steps we've already taken to better protect the American people and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And we are working very closely with congressional leaders to pass a bill that includes a strong national intelligence director.

Q Hastert said that was the sticking point. How close are you to that bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the discussions continue. We believe there's progress that has been made over the last few days, and we'll continue working closely with members of Congress to get it done. I think Speaker Hastert also, this morning, expressed that it was his intention to try to get it done this week.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q A few Middle East questions. Do you have any comment on the fact that Al Jazeera and the others are continually showing the footage of this Marine incident in Fallujah, but they won't show the execution of Margaret Hassan, claiming that that's too violent?

MR. McCLELLAN: Al Jazeera?

Q Yes, the discrepancy of the fact that anything bad that Americans do gets lots of coverage --

MR. McCLELLAN: And we've expressed concern about Al Jazeera's coverage and we continue to have some concerns that we've expressed.

Q A follow-up on that?

Q I have two more.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q U.S. News have a very strong report on alleged cooperation between Syrian and Iranian-sponsored terrorism, Hezbollah and so forth. Anything new on Syria, on their cooperation or lack of cooperation on the anti-terrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any current update beyond what we've said recently.

Q And the last thing, the report today about the oil-for-food, U.N. oil-for-food money going to pay terrorists --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's an investigation going on at the United Nations. Congress is also looking into the matter. We look forward to seeing the results of those investigations. It is a serious matter, and hopefully the United Nations will continue to do everything they can to also cooperate with the congressional investigation into this matter.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, the Associated Press quotes Charles Hammon (sp), who is a senior defense analyst with Janes Consultancy Group in Britain as saying this: In a combat infantry soldier's training, he is always taught that his enemy is most dangerous when he's severely wounded. "If the injured man makes even the slightest move, in my estimation, they would be justified in shooting him." And my question -- first of two -- does the President, as Commander-in-Chief, agree or disagree, given the death of one of our Marines this week by a booby-trapped insurgent's body?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, Les, this is probably going to a question about a matter that's under investigation, and we need to let that investigation proceed. It's not appropriate for me to comment further on that matter.

Q Since one of the President's fellow guests at tomorrow's Clinton festivities in Little Rock is Whoopie Goldberg, can you assure us that the President will not be giving Bill Clinton a pardon for "pardongate"?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, let me just say that the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to attending the dedication ceremony tomorrow. It is -- it will be a happy and historic occasion, and the President will be making some remarks there. This is to honor President Clinton and his service to the nation, and he -- and the President looks forward to attending that dedication.

Mark, go ahead.

Q Scott, I just wanted to follow up. Does the President have any thoughts about attending what is really shaping up as a Democratic jamboree?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that all Presidents join together in tribute to one of their own. And this is certainly a President that Americans came to admire, and the President looks forward to being there to participate in this dedication on a special occasion.

Q He was pretty effusive in his praise of President Clinton when he was here for the painting unveiling. Is he likely to have similar remarks tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: You will hear more from the President. I think they will be very kind words about this special time for him.

Q Kofi Annan, in September, he said that the war in Iraq is an illegal war. If it's an illegal war, then the 100,000 who have died there, according to the Johns Hopkins School, are victims of war crimes. Now, the President is going to Canada later this year, and the largest circulation newspaper in Canada yesterday wrote a column, printed a column titled "Should Canada Indict Bush?" -- raising question of a war crimes prosecution. They have a war crimes law in Canada. And I'm wondering, has the general counsel --

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have a question, or is this just a statement of opinion?

Q It's a question. Has the White House Counsel looked at the President's legal exposure to a war crimes prosecution?

MR. McCLELLAN: Russ, I think that it's a ridiculous question that you bring up. You were out on the Nader campaign, I think, at the time when this issue came up, and we addressed it at that time. And I'm not going to go back through it again.

Q I have a question about the deficit. After the election, there were dozens of news stories quoting people on Wall Street saying, we really want the President to do something serious about the deficit. He should at least halve it. I'm wondering if the President saw those articles, and if he intends in the next few weeks to send a concrete message to Wall Street that he is serious about the deficit.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he is very serious about cutting the deficit. That's why he outlined a plan in his budget to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And one of the key topics that was discussed this morning in his breakfast with the bipartisan leaders was making sure that we hold the line on spending, that we show fiscal discipline as we move forward on the budget. We have a budget that we're still working to pass from this year. The President urged them to get it done this week. And one of the key messages he emphasized was fiscal responsibility. It's also something he emphasized about the second term. As we move forward, we need to continue to show fiscal discipline. The President is strongly committed to that effort.

Paula, go ahead.

Q Back to deficit and cutting it in half over the next four or five years, does the President still believe there's room in the budget to do that and also make all the tax cuts permanent?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. In fact, it's in our budget.

Q And also, with respect to a report over the weekend that four former heads of clandestine operations had offered to speak with Porter Goss on their perspective as far as their own experience in the agency, the fact that Porter Goss declined a meeting with them -- I know you said this morning, well, that's a matter of management style and a question of management, but isn't it actually a question of information-sharing? And I thought one of the concerns in the past had been -- that there had not been adequate information-sharing among the agencies. And is this sending a message that he -- that perhaps Porter does not see the value of what they, four former heads have to offer in their experiences?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't view it that way, and I think that the personnel matters, you need to direct to the CIA. Those are decisions and matters that they make.

Q It's information-sharing, it's not a personnel --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't view it that -- I don't view it the same way that you are in the way you characterize it.

Q What does the President hope to accomplish during his visit to Canada? And will he address Parliament?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the meeting was just -- or the visit was just announced yesterday. The President looks forward to going to Canada. I don't think we've worked out all the modalities of the visit. But the President will be talking about this more soon, I'm sure. And we can talk about it more, as well. But he looks forward to visiting with the Prime Minister.

Q Do you consider -- or does the President consider this more a cosmetic, friendly-type visit? Or are there specific objectives that they are looking to take away --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, he views it as a substantive discussion of important priorities that we both share.

Q Scott, there's a sort of raft of stories out today suggesting that the change in complexion of the second-term Cabinet is designed to the give the President more affirmation than challenge from his Cabinet members. Is that the intent?

MR. McCLELLAN: More -- I'm sorry more affirmation?

Q More affirmation of his initiatives than challenge from the Cabinet members themselves. Is that the intent? Are these simply the most talented people the President could find? Or was he making --

MR. McCLELLAN: His intent is to put the best person in each of these positions. And I think we discussed some of this yesterday in terms of how the President views the Cabinet and their role in the administration. The President talked about at this press conference about the type of people he looks for in his team. And he talked about how it was important that he has strong-minded people with broad experience who will come in and tell him what he needs to know, whether it's something that's positive or something that's negative. He wants to hear all sides of issues. And that's the best way to make decisions. And he talked about that in his press conference right after the election.

Q I wanted to follow up on Connie's question about the Fallujah incident. She mentioned Al Jazeera and their editorial policy, but I'd like to point out that MSNBC has been running that footage four times an

hour for the last two days. Now, is the administration or the Pentagon reconsidering embedding reporters with American troops?

MR. McCLELLAN: Considering what?

Q Reconsidering the policy of embedding --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any -- no, I don't know of any change. That's a Department of Defense decision.

Q How can American troops be expected to make life-and-death decisions when they have to worry about the camera that's at their back, portraying them to the world and the American public as somehow committing some kind of wrongdoing there?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think generally speaking, journalists understand the importance of what is going on, and they are careful about the way they proceed in reporting the news when there are ongoing operations. So that's a general comment. I can't speak to every specific incident, but the military worked very carefully with the media in carrying out this policy of including reporters in some of those operations that they carry out.

Go ahead, Sarah.

Q Thank you. Scott, Secretary Rumsfeld is concerned about security and the financing of terrorist organization in the Americas. Will these issues be discussed on the President's South American trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, security is something that will be on the agenda at APEC. You're going to have a briefing here very shortly talking about the upcoming meetings. The President will be traveling there to demonstrate our strong commitment to engagement with the Asia-Pacific region. APEC represents nearly half of the world's population; 60 percent of world GDP, and nearly half of world trade. The President looks forward to going there and working with other leaders on concrete steps that we can take to accelerate trade liberalization and trade facilitation in order to move to the goals of APEC, which call for free and open trade in the region.

On the security front, we also are going to work to build on the commitments made last year in the Bangkok goals, to take specific actions to dismantle terrorist groups, eliminate the danger of weapons of mass destruction, and confront other direct security threats to the economies of the region. So that is an important part of the agenda. And obviously, he'll have some bilateral meetings that our briefers will be discussing here shortly, as well.

Thank you.

END 1:10 P.M. EST