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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 17, 2006

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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1:25 P.M. EST

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I have one announcement to begin with. The President will host Polish President Kaczynski at the White House on February 9th. President Kaczynski is making his first visit to the White House since he assumed the presidency of Poland on December 23rd. Poland is among America's closest friends and allies, and a leading strategic partner in the cause of freedom. The two Presidents will discuss reform and democracy in Eastern Europe, energy security, NATO and assistance to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan.

And with that, I'll just jump right to your questions. John.

Q Scott, this NSA intercept program, was it effective and did it lead to any kind of progress in the war on terror? Or has it been, as some people have suggested, a program that has flooded the zone so much with intelligence, a lot of which is useless, that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Who has suggested that?

Q It was suggested in some reporting today.

MR. McCLELLAN: Who is it? Anonymous sources, okay. Let's make that clear.

Q Anonymous sources have suggested, according to several reports --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a report --

Q Can I finish my question before you start your answer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: But I just want to clarify that up front.

Q Did it flood the zone with so much useless information that it resulted in a waste of resources, time and talent?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to a report that draws an incomplete picture based on anonymous sources. And I think it's clear in that report that some of those sources have no direct knowledge of the authorization or the program. The authorization is a vital tool in the war on terrorism. The second-highest ranking intelligence officer in the United States government and the former head of the National Security Agency spoke to reporters about this just a few weeks ago, and he made it very clear that this authorization has been successful to prevent attacks from happening.

It is absolutely a vital tool in the war on terrorism. The American people expect the President to do everything within his lawful power to prevent attacks from happening. We saw what happened on September 11th. We know that the enemy, the terrorists continue to want to inflict harm on the American people, and inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th. That's why this President is fully committed to doing everything within his lawful power to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. And we're going to continue using every tool at our disposal to meet that important objective.

Q Any idea what percentage of wheat to chaff would be in a program like this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Any idea what the percentage of wheat to chaff would be in a program like this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've never thought about it in those terms. This program --

Q I mean, obviously, you're going to collect an awful lot of intelligence. Any idea how much is useful?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what the head of -- the former head of the National Security Agency said, General Hayden, in a briefing with reporters -- and remember this was an on-the-record briefing by our second-highest ranking intelligence official for --

Q Yes, I was here for that.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- for reporters. And you're talking about a report that, again, is based on anonymous sources, some of which clearly appear to have no direct knowledge of the authorization, and it clearly is an incomplete picture. The second-highest --

Q No, I'm just asking --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- ranking intelligence official made it very clear that there is information that we have gained in this program that we would not otherwise have had.

And what we've got to do, John -- what the 9/11 Commission pointed out was that there was a failure to connect the dots before the attacks of September 11th. What we've got to do is connect the dots to prevent attacks from happening. And that's exactly what we're doing. We're doing that through the Patriot Act. We're doing it through this authorization. And we're doing it through other means by working cooperatively with international partners around the globe to gather intelligence.

In the war on terrorism, gathering intelligence is critical. And the intelligence we're talking about under this authorization is very limited and targeted at international communications involving known al Qaeda members or members of an affiliated terrorist organization.

Q But let me go back to the question I asked you before your response, and that is, do you have any idea -- just as matter of process and practice -- how much is substantive information versus how much is just sort of noise coming --

MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm not going to do is get into discussing operational activities from this podium. General Hayden made it very clear that the existence of this program is harmful to our national security -- and that it harms our national security simply by talking about it.

It was disclosed, an unauthorized disclosure, and it has caused harm to our nation's security. But what I would do is point back to what General Hayden said, the person who was overseeing the implementation of this authorization, and he talked about how this has been successful in helping to prevent attacks. And that's what's important to look at. If it helps prevent one attack, it's a useful tool.

Q So despite how much information might come over the transom, if you can prevent one attack through this program, the whole thing is worth it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not saying that that's -- he said it has been successful in preventing attacks -- the plural is what General Hayden used. And I think you ought to look back at exactly what he said.

Q Scott, what does a "link" mean? The President said essentially what you just said, too: this program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. Could that include journalists, scholars? You know, these lawsuits today from journalists and scholars who believe they, too, might be swept up in that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that are based on no evidence whatsoever.

Q No evidence whatsoever. So explain what a "link" is? I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me back up.

Q -- is it somebody trying to find a link?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the frivolous lawsuits that you reference do nothing to help enhance civil liberties or protect the American people. And that's what those are. In terms of this authorization, again, it is a vital tool and it is limited and it is aimed at what you just referred to: communications -- international communications involving known al Qaeda members or people affiliated with al Qaeda -- or people that are affiliated with al Qaeda-related organizations.

Q But what's "affiliated"? Can you give us a general idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it to what General Hayden and the Attorney General have already said, that for matters of talking further about --

Q Are they training in a camp --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Are they in touch with them or are they training in a camp?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's the way I described it. It's exactly what I mean when I say it.

Q And why do you think these lawsuits are so frivolous?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are terrorists -- and remember, this is a global war on terrorism that we're engaged in. People after September 11th -- the President spoke to the American people after September 11th and said that as time goes on, people are going to -- some people may tend to forget. He will not forget what happened on September 11th, when some 3,000 lives were lost here. We know that al Qaeda and other terrorists want to inflict even greater harm on the American people, and that's why we must continue acting on all fronts and doing everything we can to connect the dots, to gather the intelligence to connect the dots.

If you're not talking to a known al Qaeda member or a member of an affiliated organization, you don't have to worry about this. The head of the NSA, or former head of the NSA talked about that in a briefing to reporters, about how limited this is and what it is aimed at. And that is the authorization that the President made after the attacks of September 11th.

Q So if journalists or scholars are speaking to someone who may have some link, trying to gather information for stories, should they worry about --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're talking about people that are members of al Qaeda or an affiliated organization, and that's what this is aimed at.

Q So if journalists are, they should worry about --

MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I don't know. If you've got something specific to bring to my attention, please do so. I don't have anything more on that.

Q Russia and China say they do not favor U.N. sanctions on Iran, but they prefer a return to the talks. Would you support a return to the talks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, there were discussions in London just yesterday. It involved the European 3, China, Russia and the United States. This was an informal discussion, is the way that I would describe it and I think the way that others have described it. It was a way to exchange views. What all parties agreed was that the regime's actions raise serious issues and that it should return to the suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activity. They all agreed on that.

All parties also agreed that there should be an emergency meeting of the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that will be on February 2nd -- February 2nd and 3rd, I think is when it's scheduled for. The Europeans are the ones who called for this extraordinary meeting. We had been supporting their efforts. And so what we'll continue to do is discuss the next steps with the Europeans and Russia and China and others as we move closer to the board meeting and at the board meeting.

But I think everybody in the international community understands the importance of making sure Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. As Foreign Secretary Straw talked about yesterday, this is an issue of confidence, this is about the behavior of the regime in Iran. It has a long history of concealing its activities from the international community. That's why it needs to show confidence to the international community that it can be trusted, that it is not developing nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program.

Q Does that worry you, Russia and China expressing at this point their opposition to sanctions, rather than waiting --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's a discussion that's ongoing and we'll continue to talk about these issues leading up to the board meeting. I think our views are very clear. The views of the Europeans are very clear. And we'll continue visiting with those on the way forward.

Q You kept saying "lawful." It's true the President -- there is a law that permits the President to get a warrant and wiretap. But he has not been doing that; he's been breaking the law. Al Gore said he broke the law. The ACLU is filing a suit. Why does he break the law? I mean, he has the means and the tools to do what --

MR. McCLELLAN: I reject that wholeheartedly, Helen. The legal justification has been spelled out by the Department of Justice.

In terms of Al Gore's comments, I think his hypocrisy knows no bounds. It was the Clinton administration that used warrantless physical searches. An example is what they did in the case of Aldrich Ames. And it was the Deputy Attorney General under the Clinton administration that testified before Congress and said, "First, the Department of Justice believes and the case law supports that the President has inherent authority" -- inherent authority -- "to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General." This is testimony, public testimony before the House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

I would also point out that a former associate Attorney General under the Clinton administration said that every President since FISA's passage has asserted that he retained inherent power to go beyond the Act's terms -- under President Clinton -- and he pointed to the Deputy Attorney General's comments that I just referenced. So --

Q Then you welcome a core test on whether this is really legal or not.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's going to be a Judiciary Committee hearing and the Attorney General has indicated he looks forward to going before the Judiciary Committee and discussing the legal justification for this. We have already spelled that legal justification out for people to look at. And he looks forward to talking to the Judiciary Committee and testifying on these matters.

Q Scott, let me just follow on the criticism of Al Gore, who, as Helen notes, called the spying program a dangerous over-reach; said that it should be looked into by a special counsel; said later that this may even be an impeachable offense. At the same time you've got Senator Hilary Clinton calling this administration one of the worst in U.S. history, comparing your Republican-controlled House to a plantation where dissenting voices are squelched.

How do you respond to what seem to be --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're combining two things. Let me address the first one --

Q Right, but I mean, they're combined in a sense that they go to how the party is governing, how the President is governing --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just talked about Al Gore's comments and I said Al Gore's hypocrisy knows no bounds. If he is going to be the voice of the Democratic Party on national security matters, we welcome it, we look forward to the discussion. I think the American people clearly understand the importance of what we're trying to do to protect them and prevent attacks from happening. And that's why this authorization is so vital.

In terms of the comments you referenced from Senator Clinton, I think that they were out of bounds.

Q Well, what's going on here, do you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q I mean, where is this coming from? You've got two of the most high-profile Democrats saying these things; what do you think they're up to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we know one tends to like or enjoy grabbing headlines. The other one sounds like that the political season may be starting early.

Q So you think Gore is going to run again; is that -- (laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll let you figure that one out. (Laughter.)

Q Scott, two questions. One, this week Pakistan had a very strong stern warning against the U.S. and thousands demonstrated in Pakistan against alleged U.S. action, as far as missile is concerned. And also I understand that Pakistan's Prime Minister will be here next week, and he's also carrying the same message. What they are saying in information ministry of Pakistan that U.S. acted on wrong information. My question is then why they're not getting the right information to the U.S., so U.S. can catch those terrorists and including Osama bin Laden? And what message you think President will have for the Prime Minister?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple things. The President looks forward to visiting with Prime Minister Aziz when he is here in Washington. We put out an announcement on that just recently. In fact, former President Bush just completed a trip to Pakistan, and the Vice President was there -- I believe it was in December, when he focused on the ongoing relief efforts related to the earthquake.

The United States is providing extraordinary assistance to those who were victims of this terrible earthquake. And we are continuing to provide assistance. We made a commitment of some more than $500 million in resources to help the people in Pakistan recover and to get them the assistance that they needed in the immediate aftermath. Our military has been playing an important role in that. Private contributions have been significant going to those relief organizations to help. I know in December we had more than a thousand U.S. personnel in Pakistan helping directly with the relief and reconstruction efforts.

In terms of the war on terrorism, Pakistan is a key ally in the global war on terrorism. We work very closely with Pakistan to go after al Qaeda. And we will continue to pursue al Qaeda terrorists wherever they are; they will be brought to justice. The President has pointed out that we have already brought to justice in one way or another some three-quarters of the known leaders within al Qaeda. There are others that we continue to pursue and they will be brought to justice.

Q Second question is that now First Lady is touring the Nigerian coast first elected woman in the continent of Africa. Now, Africa has a woman Prime Minister, President; India had a Prime Minister; Pakistan, Prime Minister; Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. And why -- when does he think the U.S. will have the first elected woman President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I saw Secretary Rice. She just returned from the trip earlier this morning -- but I'll avoid going there because I think she's made her views clear. I have my personal thoughts about what a great job she would do.

Q Do you think President supports a woman President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I tell you, it was an extraordinary event that took place in Liberia yesterday. This was the first woman President of a nation in Africa, and I know Mrs. Bush was honored to be there. Secretary Rice was honored to be there, she talked about it was a remarkable event and they are making important progress in Liberia. We remember where we were just a few years ago in Liberia, and if you look at where they are today, they're moving forward on a stable democracy.

Q The ACLU and its fellow litigants want the NSA program stopped. To date, has the White House received any demand or request from a Democratic congressional leader, member of the Judicial Committee or Intelligence Committee asking that the program be stopped? And, if not, why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've seen some press releases; I don't know if we've heard directly along those lines, I'd have to check on individual conversations, Carl. But what I can tell you is what we have already said. This is a limited program. It is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days. There are strict guidelines in place for going about implementing this authorization, that are thoroughly reviewed by top legal officials at the Department of Justice, at the National Security Agency. The Inspector General at the National Security Agency is involved in the oversight of this authorization as well.

And so there are strict guidelines in place, it's carefully reviewed and the President believes very strongly that we have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people, but we also must do so in a way that protects people's civil liberties. And we can do both. And that's what he's committed to doing.

Q And a short time ago you said that --

MR. McCLELLAN: But I would point out -- well, I would point out that there are a number of congressional briefings that took place over the last few years, more than a dozen. And Congresswoman Harman said that this is an essential program; this is essential to our national security, and that its disclosure has been harmful.

Q Right. You did just say a moment ago that we will continue using every available tool. I guess the basic question is, you have not received any formal request or demand from a Democrat on the Hill saying "stop this"? You keep --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to double-check. I haven't heard of any, but I'd have to double-check that, Carl. I've not checked on that. Like I said, I've heard some comments and I've seen some releases, but I haven't heard any -- I haven't seen anything specifically along those lines.

Q Scott, you said that the United States is working carefully with Pakistan in going after al Qaeda. And Pakistani officials say at least maybe four or five top al Qaeda perhaps were hit in the air strike last week. Is there any expression of regret to the tens of thousands of Pakistanis who took to the streets over the weekend saying that there were civilians, there were children who were also killed in that attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, first of all, Pakistan is a valued ally in the war on terrorism and we work very closely with Pakistan. I'm not going to get into discussing any operational activities or alleged operational activities relating to the ongoing war on terrorism. I never have from this podium.

We are engaged in a war on terrorism against a deadly and determined enemy, an enemy that continues to target innocent civilians. In this war, we go out of our way to target the enemy, to target the terrorists, those who want to do harm to innocent civilians in Pakistan, in that region, in the United States. We work very hard to minimize the loss of civilians. And we go out of our way to minimize civilian loss.

The enemy, as I said, targets innocent civilians. That's the difference. They target innocent civilians. We help innocent civilians. That's what we've been doing in Pakistan through our relief and reconstruction support in the aftermath of the earthquakes, and that's what we will continue to do. So I think our views are very clear, and our philosophy and principles are very clear, too. And they stand in stark contrast to the terrorists, the al Qaeda people that are operating in that region that want to harm innocent people in Pakistan, that want to harm innocent people in the United States.

Q Has the administration acknowledged the air strike?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've seen the reports. I'm aware of the reports. I don't have any additional information for you.

Q Another topic, if you would. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others sent a letter to the President today regarding Abramoff, asking for the President make public any contacts that he had with Abramoff, as well as senior administration officials; and any kind of benefits or access that they may have gained from this connection. They said, "The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale." Is there any plan for the President or the administration to make that information available?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this President expects everybody in his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards. I've already talked to you all about this matter. If you have anything specific to bring to my attention, please do. But, remember, this is a guy who has admitted wrongdoing. He's being brought to justice by the Justice Department under this administration. And he's also someone where he and/or his clients contributed to both Democrats and Republicans. So I think that needs to be put in context, as well.

Q So would the White House be open to complying with the Democrats' request to go ahead and provide that kind of information, the contacts Abramoff had with senior staff, that type of thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there.

Q Can you be more specific about the contacts with the senior staff? You said you were going to get back to us on that. Can you give us --

MR. McCLELLAN: I did check. There were a few staff-level meetings. As I indicated there were -- I think I previously indicated that he attended three Hanukkah receptions at the White House. It is actually only two Hanukkah receptions that he attended.

Q And the years?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was the earlier years, earlier 2000 -- early in the 2000 time period. I can double-check that. And so that's --

Q Specific staff? You were going to get back to us on the specific staff --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, my understanding from the check that we did was that there are just a few staff-level meetings in addition to those.

Q Who was in the staff meetings?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get into discussing staff-level meetings.

Q Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you got something to bring to my attention, Elisabeth, I'll be glad to look into it. If you've got something specific, I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q Did he meet with Karl Rove, for example?

MR. McCLELLAN: We don't -- we don't ever tend to get into those staff-level meetings.

Q Scott, the more serious indictment in Al Gore's rather lengthy -- and, I think, well thought-out and well worked out speech yesterday -- was not so much the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Indictment of his hypocrisy.

Q -- not so much the NSA wiretapping, but that as a part of an overall shift by the Bush administration, in the context of 9/11, to really increase and enhance the power of the executive, and to put to the side the role of the U.S. Congress. It was really a change in the way this republic works, is what Al Gore seemed to be getting at in his speech, and that the NSA wiretapping, the extraordinary measures which have been implemented for the duration of a war on terror -- which as far as we know will have no end -- has changed the way this republic has worked.

What do you say to that indictment of the measures that have been taken by the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, maybe he has a misunderstanding of the kind of war that we're engaged in. Let me remind people: We were attacked on September 11th in New York and Washington, and some 3,000 innocent people lost their lives. This President's number one responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. He is going to do everything within his lawful power to protect Americans.

If he wants to be the voice for Democrats on this debate over national security, we welcome it. The American people clearly have shown that they want us to do everything within our lawful power to save their lives and to prevent another attack from happening. We've been fortunate since September 11th that there has not been another attack. We know that the enemy wants to inflict even greater damage on America than they did on September 11th.

And this President made a solemn pledge to the American people that as long as he was President he was going to do everything within his lawful power to prevent something like that from happening again. This is a deadly, determined enemy. We've got to continue working to connect the dots. We've got to continue to stay focused on going after them and staying on the offensive, and we've also got to work to undermine their ideology, based on hatred, by spreading democracy and hope. And that's exactly what we are going to continue to do.

This program, as I pointed out, is carefully reviewed approximately every 45 days to look at its value and determine whether or not it needs to continue. It has been a vital tool in our efforts to save lives and prevent attacks. All you have to do is listen to what our top intelligence officials have said about it.

Q Secondly, Walter Cronkite, the noted CBS anchor, former anchor has landed apparently in the same position as John Murtha, saying that we should withdraw our troops from Iraq. Does the President feel as Lyndon Johnson felt in the early 1970s, when Cronkite made his statements at that time that he has lost the support of middle America in this --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the American people clearly understand the importance of winning in Iraq. And we have a clear strategy to prevail in Iraq. And that's what the President has been talking to the American people about. People want our troops to come home, and the way to get our troops home is to be successful.

And I think if we look at recent comments from a videotape of al Qaeda's number two man, Zawahiri, it only underscores the importance of winning in Iraq, and it underscores that the terrorists recognize the stakes involved there. They know that when we are successful in Iraq, it will be a major blow to their ambitions. Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, and that's why it's so critical that we continue moving forward on our strategy for victory. And that's exactly what we'll do. Withdrawal would be a disaster.

Q The Supreme Court ruling on Oregon assisted suicide -- does the administration have any reaction to losing this one in the high court?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I have expressed our disappointment. I know the Department of Justice is reviewing the decision. We are disappointed at the decision. The President remains fully committed to building a culture of life, a culture of life that is built on valuing life at all stages. And that's the President's commitment.

Q Do you think the Supreme Court has thrown open the door for similar laws to spread to other states?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this ruling just came down, so we'll let the Department of Justice review it, and then we'll be able to talk further about it at that point. But the President has strongly advocated building a culture of life in America, and he's going to continue working to do that.

Q I have a two-part. Since the state of Florida has held ownership of the Florida Keys Flagler Bridge since 1935, South Florida's congressional delegation and Miami's mayor and Florida's governor are wondering why 15 refugees from Cuba who landed at that bridge were sent back to Cuba. And my question: Since Ramon Sanchez of the Democracy Movement is into his 11th day of a hunger strike in protest, when will the President announce a review of this policy?

(Phone rings.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Time is up on your question. (Laughter.)

I think our policy is very clear when it comes to Cubans coming to the United States. And we expect that policy to be followed in the way it was spelled out, the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, that is.

Q WCBS.com in New York quotes Senator Hillary Clinton telling the Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network yesterday, "When you look at how the House of Representatives has been run, it's been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about." She went on to say, "I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country." And my question is, does the White House believe that this, from a Clinton, was more or less offensive than the Al Gore hypocrisy outburst?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they were, and I think they were way out of line. I indicated earlier in response to David Gregory's question.

Q Scott, it appears that the new President-elect of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, desires a distribution of wealth in Chile. Is the President concerned that there is another left-of-center leader in South America, and does he plan to establish a closer relationship with Chile and the rest of Latin America?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect that we're going to have a statement on the elections there once they're certified. We, obviously, will congratulate the winner. I would point out that -- you're referring to, and it appears that she has won the election, and we certainly offer our congratulations. But I think we'll have a statement once everything is official and certified on that very matter. She comes from the same party as President Lagos. The President has had a very good relationship with President Lagos, and looks forward to continuing to build on that relationship with the new President.

Q Any word yet on whether the President plans to endorse the recommendations the White House task force on Puerto Rico in his State of the Union address?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a little early to get into talking about the State of the Union at this point.

Q If the President believes that he has authority under the Constitution for the warrantless wiretapping program, why is it limited?

MR. McCLELLAN: Previous administrations have cited similar authority, and they've talked about the inherent authority.

Q Why is it limited?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because the President believes very strongly that we need to have a good balance between protecting the American people and protecting civil liberties. And I would point you back to what the Deputy Director of National Intelligence said in his briefing to reporters when he talked about the responsibility of the National Security Agency in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th. And he specifically referred to this balancing that goes on when you're talking about these issues. And he talked about how we are making people feel free again by protecting them from further attacks. That's not the exact quote, but it's along those lines.

Q But if you believe that you don't need a warrant, why seek one at all in other cases?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of tools at our disposal. And we do use the FISA court to seek warrants, as well. That is a vital tool. We've talked about that before. The President talked about it, and we make use of that tool. There are a number of tools at our disposal. And as I indicated, the President is going to continue using every lawful tool at his disposal to do what we can to connect the dots and save lives by preventing attacks from happening in the first place.

Q So if you do use it in some cases, why not use it in the other cases, if you can use it retroactively?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q If you use FISA in some cases, why not use it --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was actually a briefing that took place on this. And the Deputy Director of National Intelligence talked about how FISA was created for a different purpose. FISA was created for longer-term monitoring. And he talked about how this is an authorization that is aimed at detection and prevention. It is for a shorter period of time. It's for a different need. FISA was created in a different time period to address different threats that we faced. But it is a tool that we use, as well, and it's an important one. And so I think you have to have an understanding of the nature of the enemy that we face, and the fact that this is an enemy that is determined to strike us again.

Q So when you're saying FISA is out of date, and wouldn't the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said it's a vital tool. I said we make use of FISA, too.

Q You said it's from another time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q You said it was from another time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I said the original intent of FISA was for a different purpose than what we are talking about in the instance of the NSA authorization.

Q Scott, is there any tension right now between President Bush and President Putin in how to deal with Iran? They don't seem to be on the same page --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think President Putin, the other day, indicated that the positions of the Europeans and the United States are very similar, or something along those lines; we're very close in that. I think that all of us have a common objective, and that is to make sure that the regime in Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Everybody recognizes the seriousness of the threat. This is a regime that has defied the international community, that has thumbed its nose at the international community and the obligations that it is supposed to be abiding by, and the agreements that it makes. It has not acted in good faith in the negotiations.

This is about the regime's behavior. That's where our focus is. We all share the concern and a common objective, and we'll continue talking with Russia and the Europeans and others about the way forward here.

Q Does the President -- can the President visit India without visiting Pakistan? Doesn't he have to show that he's not tilting towards one county?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't made any announcements on any trips that we have.

Q Scott, what was the subject matter when Jack Abramoff met with staff here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q What was the subject --

MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated earlier to Elisabeth's questions that we just don't get into discussing White House staff-level meetings. We never really have.

Q Can you say who Mr. Abramoff was representing when he came in here?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, we don't get into discussing staff-level meetings. If you have something specific to bring to my attention, I'll be glad to try to look into that. But I'm not aware of anything specific that you have.

Q What got him in the door here? How did he qualify for meetings here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I checked on this. What I was asked is to go and check on this, and I did. And there were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, and then a few staff-level meetings on top of that. And that's the way I would describe it.

Now, what I can't do is go and say with absolute certainty that he did not have any other visits. We did a check at your request and what I have learned from that request is exactly what I am telling you.

Q Was it senior staff, at that level?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Would you qualify it as senior staff that he met with here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just saying staff-level meetings is the way I would describe it. And if you have anything specific, I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q Well, we're counting on you for the specifics --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there's any reason for me to check into it, please bring it to my attention.

Q He's pled guilty to some serious charges.

MR. McCLELLAN: And so are you insinuating something?

Q We're just trying to find out the facts.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you've got something to bring to my attention, do so, and then I'll be glad to look into it.

Q Scott, that's not a fair burden to place on us. This is a guy who is a tainted lobbyist, and he has connections -- we want to know -- with whom in the White House. You shouldn't demand that we give you something specific to go check it out. I mean, this guy is radioactive in Washington. And he knows guys like Karl Rove. So did he meet with him or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: I know of nothing that --

Q Don't put it on us to bring something specific. It's a specific question about a specific individual.

Q Can you tell us if he met with Karl Rove?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because we don't discuss staff-level meetings --

Q Of course you do, whenever you want to discuss staff-level meetings. And if Karl Rove, who has ties to Ralph Reed, which he does, we want to know if he has ties to Jack Abramoff, and if they met --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can answer that.

Q Oh, great. Well, before you said --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, about if he knows -- yes, he knows -- he knows Mr. Abramoff. They are both former heads of the College Republicans. That's how they got to know each other way back, I think it was in the early '80s. And my understanding is that Karl would describe it as more of a casual relationship, than a business relationship. That's what he has said.

But if you've got specific matters that I need to look into, it's my point that I think it's your obligation to bring that to my attention and I'll be glad to take a look into it.

Q Well, I don't --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's been no --

Q -- no, no, but I don't think it's our obligation to do anything. If we want to know whether there was pending business that Abramoff represented to members of the staff here at the White House, what do we need --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's been no suggestion of anything like that out of this White House.

Q -- some kind of an affidavit to bring you to --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's been no suggestion of anything like this in this White House.

Q I'm just asking. I'm not suggesting.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're insinuating. Go ahead.

Q Scott, North Korea Leader Kim Jong-il is known to be now under an official visit to China, how would be the estimate --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information on that. I think those would be questions to direct to China.

Q Scott, on Iran -- the U.S. administration is considering to impose oil sanctions or oil embargo to Iran. Do you think it will be a useful tool to force Iran to forget its nuclear --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Will it be a useful tool to force Iran to forget its nuclear program?

MR. McCLELLAN: Repeat that, please?

Q If the U.S. administration is thinking to impose oil sanctions, oil --

Q Oil sanctions, oil embargo.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, thanks. Well, like I said, and like the President has indicated, we're not going to prejudge what may take place at the Security Council. The first step is to go forward with this board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. They passed a resolution last fall indicating that Iran was in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations, and that referral to -- under the statute of the board, that demands referral to the Security Council for further action. But we're not going to prejudge what that may be at this point. We're focused right now on the continuing discussions leading up to the board meeting.

Q Scott, my question is the U.S. government is considering that option or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Considering what option?

Q The oil sanctions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're not going to get into discussing what action may or may not be taken at this point. That's what we're discussing with the Europeans and others as we move forward.

Q Scott, are you relieved that Trent Lott is running again?

MR. McCLELLAN: Senator Lott has worked very closely with us to help make America safer and more prosperous. We appreciate all that he's done and he's someone we've worked very closely with. He's someone doing a great job representing the people of Mississippi. And the President will fully support him in his reelection and looks forward to continuing to work with him in the future.

Q Did he call him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks. No, I don't think they've had -- I don't think they've had a discussion.

Q Can I one -- just one follow-up, Scott, because I think just to refresh your memory, when the whole Enron scandal came up, and there were questions about Ken Lay's ties to President Bush, this White House -- and you may have even worked on this -- under your predecessor provided specific information on White House meetings between Ken Lay and senior staff. So when you say you don't normally release that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure -- I'm not sure that that's -- I think that that was relating to other matters, and relating to phone calls, or something of that matter. I'll have to take a look at that, but I think that you're a little bit off on that, that there are some differences here in what we're talking about.

But my only point is to you, David, is that there are people that have been charged with wrongdoing. That doesn't, in and of itself, implicate anyone else. And I don't think getting into discussion about this -- discussing this, is fair to anybody beyond responding to what your question was.

As a general matter, there were just a few staff level meetings and a couple of holiday receptions, is what I've been able to learn. Again, I can't say with absolute certainty that that is everything, but that's what I looked into, and that's what we were able to learn. And if there's something specific that you've got of concern, bring that to my attention, I'll be glad to look into it. I don't think it's fair, otherwise, to go down that road.

Thank you.

END 2:04 P.M. EST