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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

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

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

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12:47 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President was pleased to be joined this morning by congressional leaders, September 11th Commission members, and some families of victims of the September 11th attacks as he signed into law the most far-reaching intelligence reforms in nearly 60 years. The President's most solemn responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. And the reforms he signed into law today build upon the significant steps we have already taken since September 11th to defeat the terrorists and make America safer. We continue to act on multiple fronts to better protect the American people and making sure we have the best possible intelligence is vital in our efforts to win this global struggle against terrorism.

And with that, I would be glad to take your questions.

Q Is the President surprised by the frustration of Senator Lott and other Republican senators about Secretary Rumsfeld?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President is focused on working closely with Senator -- with Secretary Rumsfeld to win the war on terrorism. That's where his focus is. Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a great job, leading our efforts at the Department of Defense to win the war on terrorism and to help bring about a free and peaceful Iraq. And the President is focused on working closely with him on those matters.

Q Does the President -- is he interested in talking to Senator Lott, Senator McCain and others about why they are coming out now and speaking about --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we visit with congressional leaders all the time. The President is going to remain focused on working on our nation's priorities, and working with his Cabinet to address those priorities.

Q Has he talked with any of the senators about this, that you know of?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Would he like to see this public criticism end?

MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, I think that the President understands that members of Congress have their own views that they express from time to time. We'll continue working closely with them on our shared priorities.

Q Even somebody like General Schwarzkopf had significant criticism; said he was angry, actually, over the armor.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I told you what our view was. The President believes Secretary Rumsfeld is a -- someone who is an important member of our team and someone who is helping us to move forward as we defeat the ideology of hatred that leads to terrorism. And he is instrumental in our efforts during this time of war we are in.

Q What kind of person is he looking for to head this new intelligence operation? Does he have anyone in mind? Or is anyone -- are they vetting a lot of people?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are moving forward on implementing the reforms that the President signed into law today. This legislation just recently passed. I think there is a window of some six months where many of these provisions will be implemented. The Director of National Intelligence was something the President strongly supported. He wanted to make sure we had a Director of National Intelligence with full budget authority to oversee the budgets of the intelligence community. And that's what this legislation provides. We will move as quickly as possible to put in place a Director of National Intelligence.

Q Has he got anyone in mind? I know you can't --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into who, but, of course, we're already --

Q Has he started the search?

MR. McCLELLAN: Of course, we're already looking at that position.

Q The President gets a daily briefing from either the CIA Director or someone deputized by the CIA Director to physically show the President what the latest intel is. Is the President thinking of having this new National Director of Intelligence, who will outrank the CIA Director, have that person become the person who actually does it? Because the President said today in his remarks, he said, this person is going to be my principal advisor for intelligence matters.

MR. McCLELLAN: This person will be the President's principal advisor for intelligence matters. In terms of the actual legislation, we're looking at all the details of the legislation. It was a lengthy piece of legislation. And in terms of the presidential daily brief, the President will make a decision about who provides him with that information.

Q Does the President -- is the President considering making this person the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think these are all issues that we're looking at, but we have nothing to announce at this point.

Steve.

Q Are you considering doubling aid to the Palestinians?

MR. McCLELLAN: The united -- well, you're talking -- you're referring to some of the news reports today?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear when Prime Minister Blair was here that he is committed to helping the Palestinians as they move forward on holding elections and building the institutions necessary for a viable democratic state to emerge. We just recently announced $20 million in assistance that we're going to be providing to the Palestinians. We will remain in contact with others and encourage them to be supportive of the efforts going on in the Middle East. We have a very unique opportunity before us.

But the recent discussions that took place were not focused on actual donors -- it wasn't a donors meeting, per se. But it was talking about ways that we can move forward to support the Palestinians as they hold elections. And that's the first step in the process, and then move forward on building the institutions necessary for a democratic state to emerge. The United States is the largest contributor to the Palestinians. I believe we contribute some $200 million a year through the United Nations relief efforts, as well as the USAID -- and their efforts to support projects in the Palestinian areas.

Q Can I follow on that? Have you ever traced whether the American money actually got to the Palestinian people, or did it all get into Yasser Arafat's bank account?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some new leaders that are in place now, and the Palestinians will be choosing the new leadership soon in elections. But the Finance Minister is someone that's committed to openness and transparency, and he's someone that has the budget posted on their website so everybody can see where that money is going.

And it's important that there are leaders in place that are committed to putting in place the institutions necessary for democracy to emerge, and for a Palestinian state to emerge. And part of that is openness and transparency and fighting corruption. Another part of it is fighting terrorism, and putting in place a unified security structure to protect the Palestinian people.

Q The past money, I was talking about; all the millions we gave in the past.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know you've asked about that before. And I don't have any information on that, Connie.

Go ahead.

Q Is it your feeling that the legislation the President signed today is ambivalent about whether or not the DNI actually gives the daily briefing -- because some members of the 9/11 Commission say, it was their intent that the person in this position have the President's ear every day.

MR. McCLELLAN: Wendell, this legislation just passed, and was just signed into law today, and so we're going -- we have established a group to look at all the provisions within the legislation. We'll be looking at all these issues as we move forward on implementing the legislation. This is important legislation. You heard directly from the President earlier today. He said that the Director of National Intelligence is going to be the principal intelligence advisor to him. And the President will make decisions in due course about those matters.

Q Will the President have signed the legislation without knowing whether he --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's not try to -- I'm trying not to jump ahead here. The President will make decisions in due course. We're looking at all these issues. That's the way I would describe it for right now.

Q So it's the President's belief then that it's his call to make about whether the DNI actually --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think any President makes the decisions about who provides him with his daily morning briefings. This President reinstituted having the Director of Central Intelligence lead that briefing along with other briefers that participate in that, as well. That was a change from the previous administration.

Q Go ahead, Goyal.

MR. McCLELLAN: Scott, first of all, party was last night great, thanks to the President and First Lady. My question is here that as we approach with the holidays and first -- New Year and Christmas, there's another tape from Osama bin Laden. But this time the message is on the Internet -- tape was not delivered. And if the color code has been changed, or where do we stand as far as the holidays are concerned, terrorism and Osama bin Laden?

MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to analyze the recent audiotape. Our intelligence community continues to look at it to see if there's any information that we can glean from it that would -- or any actionable intelligence that we can move on. In terms of the tape, the intelligence community yesterday said with a high degree of confidence that they believe it was authentic. It is a reminder that we are at war on terrorism. And we will continue to pursue all those members of al Qaeda who seek to do harm to America. And they will be defeated. We will prevail in this struggle of ideologies. And the terrorists will be defeated.

Q One more. Yesterday, Mr. Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the U.N. met with Secretary Powell at the State Department. In the past, Mr. Annan criticized the U.S. on the war in Iraq. This time he was in favor of the elections in Iraq. My question is, the President have much trust or faith or confidence he has now in Mr. Kofi Annan as far as the investigation and the scandal on oil-for-food?

MR. McCLELLAN: He had good meetings here with Secretary Powell, as well as Dr. Rice, as you mentioned. We continue to work very closely with Secretary General Annan on a number of issues that will help make the world a better and safer place. They talked about issues relating to Sudan, to Haiti, to Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas. And those were good discussions. And we will continue working closely with the Secretary General.

In terms of the issue of the oil-for-food program, I think we've made our views very clear, that it needs to be a full investigation and a transparent investigation. We want the facts to be known, that it's important that everything be done in a very open manner.

Let me keep going. Ken, go ahead.

Q Scott, the bill that the President signed today was based heavily on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. That commission also recommended that Congress reform its own oversight procedures over homeland security by establishing permanent committees that had real oversight authority. That hasn't happened yet. Does the President think it's time for that to happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've expressed our view on that, and expressed our view that Congress has to act on those matters. And we would welcome steps in that direction. We have already acted on 36 of 41 of the recommendations in one way or another prior to this legislation being signed into law today. And we will continue to move forward on ways to better protect the American people. And that's what this legislation does. Making sure we have the best possible intelligence is critical as we move forward to win the war on terrorism. But Congress -- there are a couple recommendations, as you point, out that Congress has to address.

Q Is the President going to contact congressional leaders, or has he already, perhaps --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've already made our views clear on it, and now those are matters for Congress to address.

Q But it hasn't happened yet, so what can the President do now to make it --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress is out of session right now, so I don't think anything can happen immediately on it. But they can continue to discuss it. And I think members of Congress have expressed an interest in moving forward on those areas.

Suzanne, go ahead.

Q That was my question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Sarah, go ahead.

Q Thank you. Scott, an aide to General Tommy Franks says the President discussed the DNI job with the General when he was here to receive the Medal of Freedom. The aide says the President didn't twist Franks's arms very much, that the General doesn't consider the door slammed shut, but only slightly ajar. Will the President try a little bit more arm-twisting? And is the General the President's choice for DNI?

MR. McCLELLAN: I know you're not asking me to play the Washington, D.C. personnel speculation game. (Laughter.)

Oliver, go ahead.

Q Scott, does the White House have any concerns about the -- Israeli military sales to China?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have long expressed our concerns about the sale of defense equipment and technology to China. We continue to raise those concerns with our friends and allies and others, and look for them to take a responsible approach to arms sales to China. We appreciated the decision by Israel in 2000 to cancel the sale of an airborne early warning radar to China, and we will continue to discuss with our -- Israeli and European leaders these issues. Our objective is to ensure the safety and protection of U.S. and coalition forces and our civilian populations. We believe Israel and European Union members share this fundamental concern and will make the right decisions.

Go ahead, Mark.

Q The DNI nomination and also the pending homeland nomination. Does what happened with the Kerik nomination give the inside track to the folks who have already been through the vetting process, and already hold senior administration posts?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's getting into speculation of personnel matters, and I wouldn't look at it that way at all. The President will appoint the person who he believes is the best person for each of those positions. Those two positions are critical in our government, and the President will move -- is moving forward already on both of them. And we'll move as quickly as we can to fill those positions.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, what did the President think of Mankiw's economic forecast, or the part that was released, that released at 12:15 p.m.?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are seeing sustained growth and job creation in America because of the President's policies. And the forecast released today demonstrates the strength of our economy going forward. We just completed a White House Conference on the Economy to talk about how we build upon the President's policies to keep our economy moving forward, and how we address the challenges our economy continues to face. I thought that was a very good discussion of how we can move forward to implement the President's pro-growth policies and build upon the steps we've already taken to get our economy growing stronger. Our economy has been through a lot over the last few years, and we've overcome a lot of obstacles. But there is more to do. There are still parts of America that struggle. And the President will remain focused on putting in place the pro-growth, pro-job policies that build upon what we've already done.

Q Why was the report -- normally, this report comes out around the time the budget comes out, and it's almost two months early, or six weeks -- eight weeks early now. Is this any link to Mankiw finishing up his duties and going on to Harvard?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, other administrations, at times, have released it prior to the actual economic report coming out. If you will recall from last year, there was discussion about this. But the economic forecast is based on data, essentially, through November, I think, or through December 3rd -- up to December 3rd, I believe. And we want to make sure you had that data when it was available.

There was some confusion last year where our economic forecast was being compared to outside economic forecasts that had data from -- had data that was based on information from two or three months later than what our forecast was based on. You'll remember we went through this at the podium and had a lot of interesting discussion about it.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, since page one of this morning's Washington Times reports a federal grand jury investigation -- they're investigating Mark Rich's role in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal -- why isn't it time for the President to nudge the U.S. Attorney for the seventh district of New York to complete the criminal investigation of Bill Clinton's pardon-gate nearly four years ago, and his pardoning Rich, the fugitive? And I have a follow up.

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, those are matters for the proper authorities to handle, not the White House.

Q Presuming that the President wants our federal air marshals to be effective on board planes, why hasn't he fired Federal Air Marshal Service Director Thomas Quinn for refusing to allow air marshals to dress undercover rather than in mandated suits, which led a passenger on a flight from Chicago to Miami announce, "Oh, I see we have air marshals on board"? Isn't the President concerned about --

MR. McCLELLAN: I see you have a strong opinion on this matter. I think that you might want to go to the Department of Homeland Security and ask for their views on these matters.

Q I want to know what the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President puts in place a Department of Homeland Security and other people to implement the policies that they feel are best for the government and -- on matters like this.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, Clark Ervin's recess appointment as Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security expired last week. How does the White House view his performance during the past two years as Inspector General? And also, will he be re-nominated to that post?

MR. McCLELLAN: We appreciate the job that he has done. His term did expire recently. And the -- there is an acting person in that position right now. I believe it was his deputy. And we will move forward in a timely manner to name someone to permanently fill that seat.

Q Will he be considered for that nomination?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get into speculating about who might be nominated.

Go ahead.

Q How would you define the President's relationship with Vladimir Putin right now? And have they discussed the very volatile situation in the Ukraine?

MR. McCLELLAN: They have a very good relationship, first of all. The President and President Putin have worked closely together on a number of our shared priorities, from the war on terrorism to other issues. And the President met with him recently in Santiago, and has met with him on a number of occasions prior to that. And they also speak by phone from time-to-time.

In terms of the Ukraine, I think we've made our views very well-known. We believe that the will of the people should be reflected in Ukraine and that it should be a peaceful, democratic process as we move forward. I noticed some inflammatory comments coming out of one of the candidates, and that's unfortunate. We continue to urge that they move forward in a calm and peaceful and democratic manner and allow the will of the people to be reflected in the election.

Q In January, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld appeared on "Meet the Press" where he gave an assessment of military preparedness where he said that our capabilities have deteriorated so badly during the 1990s that it would take from six to ten years to rebuild it. Don't you find it somewhat hypocritical that the people that were in the Senate leadership during that time -- that is McCain and Lott and others -- are criticizing Secretary Rumsfeld? It was done on their watch. Don't you find -- you have been very careful not to criticize those members of Congress who --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back to what I said previously a week ago or so. Secretary Rumsfeld cares deeply about our men and women in uniform, and I think that's reflected by the way he goes and visits directly with those who serve, particularly those in combat zones. That's what the President expects. And we appreciate the fact that he is someone who follows up to address those concerns.

I think you've seen the Defense Department work to make sure that we're getting everything we need to our troops on the ground and on the front lines. The President believes we need to make sure they have all the resources and equipment they need to do their job. And the Department of Defense shares that commitment.

And we will continue to work closely, together, to make sure we are doing everything we can to support our men and women on the front lines. We have great appreciation for the job that they're doing in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere around the world to help make America more secure and make the world a safer place.

Secretary Rumsfeld has done a great job during the first four years. The President recently asked him to continue his service as we head into a second term. The President is pleased that he agreed to continue serving. These are very challenging times that we face for our military. And there are many who are serving and sacrificing to help us meet the challenges that we face.

The war on terrorism -- winning the war on terrorism is our top priority, and staying on the offensive and going after the terrorists and bringing them to justice is key to winning the war on terrorism. We must also continue to advance freedom and democracy to defeat the ideology of hatred that leads to terrorism. But Secretary Rumsfeld is someone who shares the President's commitment to building a safer and better world and a more secure America. And we appreciate the job he's doing.

Q Yes, but the troops haven't had what they've needed, and they didn't start getting it until --

Q You say that Rumsfeld cares about soldiers. You say that he's doing a tremendous job. But why the flippant comment, then, from Rumsfeld to the soldiers, when not only that, some of the critics of the White House are saying, why hasn't this President at least slapped his hand -- if he's doing such a tremendous job he's going to keep him, but just slap his hand for those comments. And they're saying, maybe the President espouses what he's saying; that's why he's not slapping his hand.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me tell you about the President's views. The President made his views very clear in the Oval Office when he was asked about this matter. And he said, I can understand why the soldier who asked the question asked the question; if I were there, I would want to ask the same question. Our troops are leading the way to --

Q But it's the remark, it's about Rumsfeld's remark, not the question --

MR. McCLELLAN: Our troops are leading the way to make America more secure and to make the world a better place. They're on the front lines, serving and sacrificing in defense of freedom, and in defense of protecting everything that we value here in America. And we appreciate the job that they're doing.

The President visits with our troops on a regular basis. And the first thing that he always asks them is, are you getting everything you need; do you have what you need to carry out your mission? And when they bring up concerns to the President, our President turns to our military leaders and says, make sure you address this. And we expect them to follow up and address that.

I think you can see, by the actions that we've taken, through the $87 billion supplemental that was passed last year, and something that was discussed some during the campaign, it shows the President's and this administration's commitment to making sure our troops are getting everything they need to do their job in Iraq. And we're moving forward on another supplemental now, to make sure they continue to get what they need, moving forward.

Q But, Scott, you're not addressing the issue of the remark. And that's the main reason why people are asking right now for him to step down. Yes, we know that the military was underfunded; we heard that in the debate with John Kerry, saying -- not underfunded, but understaffed, less equipment than they needed. What about this flippant remark?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed this issue.

Q You're addressing the issue of equipment. You're not addressing how the President feels about that flippant remark. Will there be a slap on this man's wrist, what, and stay in the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. This has been asked, and we've gone through it, and it's been addressed.

Q -- Turkey today, and the historic decision by EU to accept partial negotiations. And where are we at on Cyprus after this decision?

MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome the European Union's decision to begin accession talks with Turkey on October 3rd. Turkey's full integration into the European Union will be good for Europe and the world. The announcement of accession talks brings this step closer than ever, and you heard the President talk about this when we were in Turkey not too long ago.

Turkey's 150 years of experience with groundbreaking reforms to build a secular democracy in a predominantly Muslim society provide examples for all those in the broader Middle East and beyond striving for freedom, prosperity and justice. And we congratulate Prime Minister Erdogan and his government and the European Council for their visionary leadership.

Q On Cyprus -- any new initiatives, do you plan to do anything?

MR. McCLELLAN: We fully support the Secretary General's efforts to forge a Cyprus settlement, and we concur with his assessment that the Cyprus settlement plan he tabled in March, and which Turkish Cypriots accepted, remains on the table unchanged. That's our view.

Q If the troops had what they needed, why was there a crash program to provide more armor only in the wake of the embarrassing public question?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that was addressed earlier this week in a Pentagon briefing when the people who are in charge of making sure that those contracts are being carried out talked about it. They talked about it earlier this week, Bill. And they talked about how --

Q It didn't happen until the Secretary was embarrassed in public.

MR. McCLELLAN: They talked about how -- well, first of all, the Department of Defense has been through this. They've explained that very matter to you. I don't think I need to go back through it from this podium. I know you want to continue to engage in this, but they've addressed this matter. And I think you know that.

Go ahead, back here.

Q Scott, how concerned is the White House about the 30 percent shortfall in National Guard recruiting this past year, and the need to raise the cash incentives to sign up $10,000, $15,000?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the head of the National Guard addressed that issue. And when I talk about our men and women in uniform who are serving and sacrificing, that includes all of our men and women in uniform. Those in the National Guard are doing an outstanding job in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, and we appreciate all that they do. In terms of those issues, the National Guard is working to address them. They're taking steps to increase their recruiting efforts.

Q How much concern, though, does that cause the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the --

Q The recruiting shortfall.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's something that we're already looking at and always discussing with our military leaders to make sure that those recruitment and retention efforts are -- that we're meeting our recruitment and retention efforts. But I think the Lieutenant General briefed on that subject yesterday and talked about the steps that they were taking going forward.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:14 P.M. EST