For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 25, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with one update and a couple comments. Acting FEMA Director Chief Paulison will be conducting a briefing at 3:30 p.m. today to talk about the latest on the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma and Florida's response efforts there.
The President participated in a hurricane briefing this morning with Secretary Chertoff and others. We continue to work in support of the state of Florida as they respond in the aftermath of the storm. Florida was well-prepared and positioned to respond to the storm. The state is doing a great job. Unfortunately, they have had to deal with many such hurricanes in the past. The damage assessments are ongoing. There are a few million Floridians who are without power. That is a priority for the state. We have worked to make sure that important emergency supplies are in the affected regions, so that people are getting those, from food, water and ice, to generators to help with the electricity. Disaster medical assistance teams are in the affected areas. Our priority, obviously, first and foremost, is on saving any lives that need to be saved.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions for today.
Q Scott, the President's speech today, was that part of an effort of the White House to refocus the message on Iraq somewhat, to kind of confront head on the U.S. casualties?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, today's speech was what I previously indicated to you all. It is one in a series of speeches that the President is going to continue to give on the global war on terrorism. The President believes it's important to talk to the American people about the stakes involved and the nature of the enemy. We remain in a -- we remain engaged in a global war on terrorism, and Iraq is the central front in that war on terrorism. And that's why he was giving that speech. This is something that we have planned as part of a series of speeches to talk to the American people about what is our top priority, and that is winning the war on terrorism.
Q But the language seemed to be a little bit changed, to emphasize U.S. sacrifice more than --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some updated developments regarding Iraq, in terms of the election. The President commended the Iraqi people for moving forward on the political process and passing a constitution. Now they'll be moving forward on elections in December to elect a permanent representative government. And there was updated language on Syria, with the recent development from the Mehlis report. But this speech is similar to ones that he has been giving recently to talk in detail about the enemy that we're up against. It's a sophisticated and determined enemy that has no regard for innocent human life, and that wants to spread a hateful and murderous ideology.
Q Is he going to mention the specific U.S. casualty figure, which is right now on the verge of 2,000?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he talked about the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform in the global war on terrorism. There has been tremendous sacrifice in Afghanistan and Iraq to make the world freer and more peaceful. The sacrifice that our fallen have made is laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren. And we will always honor their loss, and we will always honor their sacrifice. We mourn the loss of each and every member of our Armed Forces that makes the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.
Q Scott, a couple of years ago, you told us that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove had nothing to do with the CIA leak. It appears that you may have gotten bad information before you made that statement. Now, today, we learn through extrapolation that when the Vice President said in September of 2003 that he didn't know who said Joe Wilson to Niger to investigate the claims that Iraq was trying to buy yellow cake, that he was not speaking the truth. My question is: Can we be confident that when we hear statements from the White House in public that they are truthful?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can because you know that our relationship is built on trust, and I have earned that trust with you all. As you pointed out, you pointed back to some past comments that I gave and I've talked to you about the assurances that I received on that.
In terms of the investigation, it is an ongoing investigation. The policy of this White House has been to carry out the direction of the President, which is to cooperate fully with the special prosecutor. That means not commenting on it publicly from here at the White House. There is a lot of speculation that is going on right now. There are many facts that are not known. The work of the special prosecutor continues, and we look forward to him successfully concluding his investigation.
Q But in terms of public trust, if it is true that Scooter Libby learned of Valerie Plame's identity from Vice President Cheney in June of 2003, would that not mean then that the Vice President made a false statement three months later when he said he didn't know who sent Wilson to Niger?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate that. A couple of things. One, the question you bring up is relating to a matter that is under investigation. And secondly, as I pointed out, there is a great deal of speculation that is going on right now, and I would urge you not to engage in that speculation. But certainly, you are pursuing this story as you should. We will wait to see what the special prosecutor does and learn more about the facts at that point.
Q Are you not commenting on whether this report is accurate or not? Will you comment?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not going to comment because it's relating to an ongoing investigation; the story that you're referencing relates to an ongoing investigation.
Q Given the fact that the Vice President did say publicly in September of 2003 that he never knew about Joe Wilson or who sent him, as John points out, and now there appears to be information to contradict that, how do you explain that contradiction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there's an ongoing investigation. There are many facts that are not known. I would encourage you not to engage in speculation. And on top of that, if there's any additional information that the Vice President's Office wants to provide you, you can direct questions there. But the policy of this White House has been not to comment on this investigation while it's ongoing. And it has been that way for some time.
Q Does that mean that if you had information that could help clear this up and perhaps make it look like something other than what it is, which is a contradiction, would you provide that, or would you hold that just because you don't want to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I said -- I mean, if you want to ask any more from the Vice President's Office, you're welcome to do that, but --
Q Have you done that?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- our policy has been that this is an ongoing investigation, we're not going to comment on it. The special prosecutor is the one that has been gathering the facts related to it. But just because I'm not commenting on it doesn't mean you should read anything into that one way or the other.
Q Have you attempted to clarify it with the Vice President's Office?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is an ongoing investigation, and what the President directed us to do was to cooperate fully with the special prosecutor. And so, as part of doing that, we've been carrying out the President's direction from the White House. That means -- we're not doing that ourselves, the special prosecutor is doing that.
Q So that's, no, you have not sought clarification?
MR. McCLELLAN: So, no -- no.
Q Does Vice President always tell the truth to the American people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q The President then stands by the Vice President's account in September of --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a -- frankly, I think it's a ridiculous question, Terry, because --
Q Well, no, we now have reports that there are documents that directly contradict the public statement of the Vice President of the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: Reports. The Vice President, like the President, is a straightforward, plainspoken person.
Q One other question on Vice President Cheney. Has he met with Senator McCain and asked Senator McCain to exempt the CIA from the amendment that Senator McCain is attaching that is the so-called "anti-torture" amendment? Does the administration want to exempt the CIA from the restrictions --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as a member of the -- as the leader of the United States Senate, the Vice President engages in conversations with members of the Senate on a regular basis. In terms of the issue you bring up, I think we've made our views known through a statement of administration policy.
In terms of the broader issue that some of the news reports raise, I think the President has made our position very clear. We do not condone torture, nor would he ever authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to abide by our laws and our treaty obligations, and that's what we do. That is our policy.
Q And the Senate is moving to pass a law that would affirm, confirm, and enforce that commitment. Does the administration want the CIA exempted from that law?
MR. McCLELLAN: And we've stated our views on that amendment. The House passed a different version of the Department of Defense spending legislation. The Senate included some language on that. We'll be working with congressional leaders as they move forward to pass that legislation.
Q I don't get it. Is that a yes or a no?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into discussions that we're having with congressional leaders about how to move forward on the legislation.
Q You've already said the President is going to veto anything that would exempt us from torture. You have -- this White House demeans --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not correct, that's --
Q -- you demean all Americans when you support torture. And your answer is so fuzzy --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, our answer is very clear, and that's flat-out wrong what you're suggesting, because this President has made it very clear what our policy is --
Q Didn't you say that he would veto any part of that legislation of defense spending?
MR. McCLELLAN: We did express our views on that legislation, but it is not the way you characterized it, because there are laws and treaty obligations that are on the books. We adhere to those laws and treaty obligations.
Q No, you don't. You are supporting torture.
MR. McCLELLAN: You are wrong. This is a -- the United States is a country that --
Q Is the story in the paper today wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- believes in adhering to our laws and our values. And we do. And this President believes in abiding by our laws and our treaty obligations.
Q Why do we keep reading about torture then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you'll let me respond, I will. The President has made it very clear that he does not condone torture, nor would he ever authorize the use of torture --
Q Condone it, but does he allow it?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and our policy is to comply with our laws and our treaty obligations. That's what we expect everyone to do. If there are ever instances of wrongdoing, we investigate and we follow through and hold people accountable.
Q That's not the point. He should --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is.
Q -- come out flatly and say he was against torture.
MR. McCLELLAN: He has.
Q The President didn't say when the troops might come home. Do the elections in December offer you an opportunity to take another look at this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, part of our strategy is to support the Iraqi people as they move forward on their political process. Another part of our strategy is to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. The President outlined our strategy today and the progress that we're making on that strategy. It's important that we continue to support the Iraqi people as they take steps to build a lasting democracy. And they took another important step just recently when they voted in large numbers. The preliminary information from the Iraqi election commission was some 63 percent; we'll see what those final tallies are, but I think it's clear to everyone that were a large number of Iraqis that participated, including a significant number of Sunnis. And the numbers were well above what they were in January. So that's a very positive and encouraging sign. And as we move forward on the political process, that will help defeat the terrorists who seek to prevent democracy from taking hold.
There is important progress being made. As the President pointed out, there are difficulties and challenges that remain. And that's why the international community must continue to stand firmly behind the Iraqi people as they move forward on elections in December, and as they continue to move forward on building a brighter future.
Q So after those elections in December you might be able to look at bringing the troops home?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the President doesn't believe in artificial time lines. It will be based on circumstances on the ground. As we stand up Iraqi forces, we will stand down coalition and American forces. The commanders on the ground have recently briefed the American people and the members of Congress about the progress that were making on that strategy. It's a very clearly defined strategy. It's a strategy for success and victory in Iraq. And the Iraqi people are showing through their courage and determination that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future, and we're going to continue to support them as they move forward on that.
One other thing. It was a good indication in the recent elections that the level of violence was down from where it was in -- around the January elections.
Q Scott, last week there was a story in The New York Daily News, I think, that you -- the question is accuracy -- a question about -- or a story about the President dressing down Karl Rove. So it would not be inconsistent if you thought that The New York Times story was inaccurate for you to say that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to have further comment on an ongoing investigation, and I indicated that at that time, as well.
Q Can you give us -- I have to ask -- do you know if the Vice President talked to the President about Plame, or if the President may have talked to Tenet, himself, about Plame?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I appreciate the question, and it's relating to an ongoing investigation. You need to direct questions to the special prosecutor.
Q But can you clear this up, though? You said that the Vice President always was truthful with the American people; yet here we have the appearance of an untruthful statement, based on this reported memo.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a ridiculous suggestion in the first place, John. That's what I was responding to.
Q Scott, two quick questions. Remembering Miss Rosa Parks. Then in 1955 it was like Mahatma Ghandi in South Africa, same thing happened to him. And during her time, there was very little or not many immigrants in the U.S., but today we have millions of immigrants from all over the globe. What message do you think President will have today as far as civil rights moments --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President just spoke about her passing a short time ago in his remarks to the spouses of our military officers from all the branches of our military. And the President talked about what a remarkable women she was, and how courageous she was. She is someone who changed America for the better. She is an inspiration to generations, and we mourn her passing.
Q Second question is on the -- now again, most of Indian-American community thankful to the President for initiating -- or did initiate the Diwali Festival of Lights at the White House. Now it will be next Wednesday, November 1st, when millions across India and America will -- Indians will be celebrating the festival around the globe, including at the White House here. What they are saying in the Indian American community, really, just like President initiates prayers with other groups here in the White House, like Muslims and Jews, and all that, that they are requesting him, please, to the President, this time, that if he can take a few moments and be there at part of the White House Festival of Lights on Wednesday, November 1st.
MR. McCLELLAN: On Wednesday, November 1st? Well, we'll update you on the President's schedule later this week.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Scott, does the President have any reaction to the Court of Appeals order ending, in effect, the long investigation of former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't talked to him about it. I think that that was a matter relating to a previous administration, and we'll let others talk about that.
Q Scott, a two-part. The Army Times reports that the U.S. Border Patrol is now getting help from the Army to slow illegal immigration, and that armored vehicles from a reconnaissance squadron based in Fort Lewis, Washington, were stationed along a 20-mile stretch between Columbus, New Mexico, and Playas, watching for illegal immigrants. And my question: Why is the Commander-in-Chief using the U.S. Army, after telling us that 2,000 new Border Patrol agents approved by Congress for this year weren't needed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the President just signed legislation that added a significant number of Border Patrol agents to help with our security along the border region.
Q But he approves the use of the Army?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we need to continue to take steps to strengthen our borders and make sure that we enforce our borders. The President made that very clear in remarks last week. In terms of any support you're talking about from military, I think those are questions you need to direct to Northern Command. I'm not aware of any specific matters like that.
Q Reported in the Army Times.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, I understand, and that's why I said direct it to the Northern Command to talk about if they're providing any technological support in those efforts. We have a Northern Command that is responsible for homeland security from the military standpoint.
Q Sure. New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and 31 other members of the House issued this statement yesterday: "We have a Supreme Court nominee who won't even say if she supports a 40-year-old Supreme Court decision affirming women's right to access birth control, and it is important the President tells the nation whether or not he opposes birth control, too." And my question: Can you clarify whether or not he opposes birth control, too? Yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think the President has made his views known on this issue.
Q Why don't you just clarify, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: And what the focus has been from this administration is on promoting abstinence programs, that that ought to be on the same level as the education funding for teen contraception programs. And that's what the President's position has been, and I've stated to that previously. You've asked this question before. I disagree with the statement that was made regarding Harriet Miers. She is going to be going before the Senate Judiciary Committee in less than two weeks. She looks forward to answering their questions. And I think that people should not try to rush to judgment on it.
Q Scott, where is the FEMA briefing being held?
MR. McCLELLAN: At FEMA Headquarters, I believe.
Q Q Okay. Going back to John's question about truthfulness, you replied our relationship is based on trust and we all think that you are truthful to us. So in light of that, if we go back to that October 2003 question, in reply to which you said that you'd spoken with Scooter Libby and Karl Rove and they'd assured you that they were not involved in this, aren't you sort of mad as all get out that you were set up, hung out to dry?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the question. It's another question relating to an ongoing investigation. Again, there is a lot of speculation. There are many facts that simply are not known at this point to the larger public -- they're facts that the President doesn't know, they're facts that I don't know. The special prosecutor is continuing to move forward on this investigation; let's let him do his work.
Q She asked you, aren't you unhappy that you had to come out and tell us that.
MR. McCLELLAN: She was asking me a question about an ongoing investigation and --
Q Those are facts you would know.
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the relationship that you and I have in this room --
Q Well, we want your credibility to be intact.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think it is.
Q A Treasury spokesman yesterday said that Secretary Snow wouldn't necessarily have recommendations ready to the President by the end of the year. And I just wondered if the administration is concerned about yet another delay in getting these --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I'd look at it that way. The Secretary of Treasury, Secretary Snow, indicated in the Cabinet meeting yesterday that was held here at the White House, that the tax reform panel is going to be sending him a report by November 1st; that was the timetable that was set up. He will be reviewing those recommendations. He's going to give those recommendations careful consideration, and then he'll be forwarding on recommendations to the President for his consideration.
This is a high priority. There are areas where we can simplify and reform our tax code to make it fairer and more conducive to economic growth. That's what the President is committed to doing, and we look forward to seeing what the Treasury Secretary says once he issues that report to the President.
Q And with respect to the McCain amendment, you said a moment ago the President would never authorize torture. But if a bill passes with that exemption included in it, and if the President were to sign a bill with that exemption, the President would no longer need to authorize --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has made it pretty clear that we do not torture, and he would not authorize or condone the use of torture. He has made that very clear in public remarks when the question has come up. We are a country that is based on laws and is based on values. So it's not just laws you look at, but you look at our values. And one of the values that we believe strongly in is human dignity, and that's what we've worked to promote throughout the world. And one of the values that we hold strongly is the universal right of all people to live in freedom, and we have made great progress in the last few years to advance freedom and promote human dignity throughout the world. So I think you have to look at this in the larger context of what America stands for and what we do. And our men and women in uniform uphold those laws and values. If there are a few individuals that don't, then they are held to account. We show through our actions that we do not tolerate people who abuse our laws or our values.
Q Has he -- the McCain amendment?
Q -- presidential authorization be required if he signs a law that exempts --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has already -- there are a couple of directions that he gave, and one of the directions was that we do not torture, and that applies to the entire United States government.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Scott, just to try to put a finer point on it, is what you were trying to signal in a couple of your earlier responses is that, perhaps, your -- as you wait to see where this CIA leak investigation is going, are you waiting to see if you were dealt truthfully -- dealt with truthfully?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm just saying what I said earlier. There are a lot of facts that I don't know, and the special prosecutor is looking into all these matters. There are facts the President does not know. And let's let him complete his work.
Q So at this point, you can tell us that you don't know for a fact that you were dealt with truthfully when you came out here in October --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just not going to comment any further, thanks.
Q Scott, you said several times that we should wait and see what facts the prosecutor develops. Is the White House expecting to get a report on what the prosecutor determines? Should the public assume that those facts will come out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about that last week. It's up to the special prosecutor to determine how to proceed. What we have done is work to support his investigation, and that's what we will continue to do, at the direction of the President.
Q You were talking about the support for terrorists -- Iraqi insurgency. But how about the government of Iran and its interference to Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: And it's what? Interference -- is that what you said? Okay, interference in Iraq. Well, the President talked about Iran and Syria both in his remarks today. Those are two countries that are trending in the wrong direction from the rest of the broader Middle East. There is great progress that we're seeing over the last few years in the Middle East to advance freedom and democracy and peace. Those are two countries that remain sponsors of terrorism. And we have a number of concerns with both countries. We have a serious concern when it comes to Iran's intentions with its nuclear program. That's why we've been supporting the European efforts to get Iran back to the negotiating table and to act in good faith. They have a long history of hiding their activities from the international community and not abiding by their obligations.
We expect both Iran and Syria to contribute in a positive way to developments in the broader Middle East, and to work in support of their neighbors, not to try to undermine their efforts.
Q Scott, can I follow up on that, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: You may.
Q To what extent is the administration satisfied by the lead or the role that the French have played in the aftermath of the Hariri investigation? And what outreach has there been from the White House to other leaders in the region to get them to weigh in on this? And has there been a level of satisfaction with their statements?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a United Nations Security Council meeting that is going on today to talk about Syria, and to get an update on the Mehlis investigation that you bring up. But there is a larger picture here that we need to look at when it comes to Syria. It's Syria's behavior. They are out of step with the rest of the Middle East. They are trending in the wrong direction. We remain concerned about their behavior when it comes to its support of terrorism. We remain concerned about their behavior when it comes to allowing terrorists to transit through Syrian territory to go in and carry out attacks on innocent civilians in Iraq. We remain concerned about Syria's support for groups that want to undermine the Middle East peace process.
And there is another report that is coming out, as well, from Mr. Larsen, on implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. That is a resolution that we worked very closely with the French on. The French and the United States both have concerns, and the larger international community, about Syria's behavior. We're now working through diplomatic channels to move forward on a resolution to send a clear signal to Syria about what it needs to do when it comes to the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. It is unacceptable that Syria has not been cooperating fully with that investigation. It is a criminal investigation that continues. The international community cannot tolerate such behavior. And the President made it clear today the United Nations must act to hold Syria accountable.
Q So is the U.S. and France -- are the U.S. and France synced up this time around as they were on 1559? And what about outreach to other leaders in the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working very closely with the French. I mean, those are discussions that continue, and with other countries and members of the United Nations Security Council. This is the beginning of the diplomatic process to move forward on this issue. And the President has made it very clear also that there needs to be a ministerial level meeting at the Security Council to talk about this. It is a very serious matter. And this is one large concern we have with Syria. There are other concerns. It needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed at the ministerial level about how to proceed forward, to hold them accountable,
END 1:33 P.M. EDT