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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 30, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:35 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Welcome. Hope you all had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend. No announcements. Questions. Terry.

Q Can you tell us what the United States' reaction is to Iran saying that they're willing to come back without preconditions to the EU3 talks?

MR. SNOW: I'd say we're glad they're going back to the EU3 talks and we hope that they produce productive results. We've always been clear on the end state, which is that we want Iran to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities, and we wish them success.

Q Do we think this is a breakthrough of any type, or can you measure it yet?

MR. SNOW: Trust but verify. We'll just have to wait and see.

Q Why did the President pick a man who is so contemptible of the public servants in Washington to be his Domestic Advisor -- saying, "People in Washington are morally repugnant, cheating, shifty human beings"? Why would he pick such a man to be a Domestic Advisor?

MR. SNOW: You meant contemptuous, as opposed to contemptible, I think.

Q Pure contempt.

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not sure it's pure contempt. I know Karl Zinsmeister pretty well, and he is somebody who expresses himself with a certain amount of piquancy -- you're perhaps familiar with that, aren't you, Helen? And so, as a consequence, from time to time he's going to say -- he'll have some sharp elbows.

Q If this is his attitude toward public servants --

MR. SNOW: No, I don't think it's his attitude toward public servants -- it may have been toward the press. Just kidding. No, I -- look, if you look at the bulk of what Karl Zinsmeister has done at The American Enterprise and elsewhere, I think you're going to find somebody who's done some pretty meaty and interesting research on a variety of topics. The reason he's being brought in is that he's --

Q Do you agree with his assessment of Washington?

MR. SNOW: I'm not -- there's one sentence the guy wrote, and perhaps you may recall -- yes?

Q Arrogant, morally repugnant, cheating, shifty -- come on.

MR. SNOW: That's a lot in one sentence, isn't it? He just packed it right in.

Jim.

Q So what is the attitude toward --

MR. SNOW: The attitude is we're glad to have a guy on board who has breadth of knowledge, who has breadth of interest and of experience, and is going to bring --

Q No tolerance for other human beings.

MR. SNOW: Helen, tell you what, why don't you get to know Karl, because I think you're going to find out that to judge somebody --

Q Bring him on. (Laughter.)

MR. SNOW: -- on the basis of one sentence is probably a little unfair.

Q How could it be unfair?

MR. SNOW: He'll charm you.

Q I don't want to get in the way of this. (Laughter.) Let me ask you about this morning's statement and announcement of the President's choice for the new Treasury Secretary. The President called it a hopeful time, and listed some economic statistics that makes the administration's case for the economy being in good shape. If the economy is humming along so well, why the need for a change?

MR. SNOW: Because the outgoing Treasury Secretary, John Snow, had made it clear that he wanted to move on. So if you have somebody who is vacating -- if you've got somebody vacating the office, you need to fill it.

Q So if he didn't want to leave, he would still be serving, it would have been fine with the President if he rode it right on out to the end of the term?

MR. SNOW: I am not going to try to prejudge that because I honestly don't know the answer. But it's pretty clear, and I think many people in the room had gotten wind of it, the Treasury Secretary was eager to leave and move on to something else. I honestly can't tell you, Jim -- you're asking me a hypothetical question for which I don't have an answer, and I'm not sure there is an answer.

Q So Washington's most repeated rumor, that the administration wanted Secretary Snow to go, was sort of baseless and just --

MR. SNOW: Again, I just -- you're asking a guy who has jumped in midstream, and I can't give you any kind of answer on that.

Q One more question on this. Mr. Paulson.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q I can certainly understand, looking at his record, why the White House would want to have him. Why do you think he wanted the job, two-and-a-half years left in an administration that's got some political difficulty right now? Why do you think Paulson wanted the job?

MR. SNOW: I don't know why anybody would come into an administration at this particular point -- (laughter) -- leave relatively more lucrative employment. (Laughter.) I'll tell you why, it's because -- all I can do is give you the reasons that I came in -- I suspect they're the same for him, but I'll let him answer it -- which is, it's stimulating, it's important, it's exciting, and it's unlike any kind of job that you'll ever have for the rest of your life. That's my view of this job. I have a feeling his is quite similar, but you'll probably have to ask Hank Paulson about it.

Jessica.

Q When was the President first briefed about the events in Haditha?

MR. SNOW: When a Time reporter first made the call. Time began asking questions about it. He was briefed by Steve Hadley at the time and began asking questions then.

Q And then, after that, what's been his personal involvement in --

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to get into his personal involvement. I think it's safe to -- look, this is a Department of Defense issue. But I'll tell you, here's a safe characterization --

Q Has he taken a personal interest in this?

MR. SNOW: Well, of course. I think anybody who has heard the story has a personal interest in it. It's impossible not to.

But the President also is allowing the chain of command to do what it's supposed to do within the Department of Defense, which is to complete an investigation. The Marines are taking an active and aggressive role in this. And I had been told and was assured earlier today when I called about that when this comes out, all the details will be made available to the public. So we'll have a picture of what happened.

Steve.

Q Do you have any tick-tock on the policy pick? When did the President reach out to him?

MR. SNOW: Yes, the tick-tock is the two of them met on the 20th of May and there was a conversation, and Hank Paulson accepted the job a day later. That was subject to clearance. It does take time, especially for a Senate-confirmable position, to complete those, so it did take time to get some of those clearances wrapped up.

Q So that's why there's been no announcement between May 21st and --

MR. SNOW: Correct.

Q Well, on that point, it's well-known that the White House senses that the President is not getting enough credit for good economic facts. Why does he need a guy like Hank Paulson now?

MR. SNOW: Well, you don't bring in a Treasury Secretary as a PR man, you bring in the Treasury Secretary as being one of your key economic aides. I'll just repeat what he said -- although he does say he's a chief spokesman, he also says "a leading force on the economic team." You want somebody who's capable. And I think you can agree that the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Group would probably fall into that category, somebody who is familiar with the workings of the economy and how to keep it humming along.

Q Right, but I mean, the reality is, as the President pointed out, he does need a PR guy. He needs somebody to be able to sell it. He needs that on a number of fronts right now. So what does this change mean? Why does he need --

MR. SNOW: What this -- well, you missed the earlier question, which is he's coming --

Q I'm sorry --

MR. SNOW: Well, no, no, no. It's in response to filling a vacancy. What you do in a situation like this is that you reach out and try to get the best person you can get. Now, judging from the early returns, you've got Democrats and Republicans all thinking it's a sensational choice. You look for the best man for the job, and I think the President feels that he got that.

Q This is not a real good ideological match for the President. Does he specifically want that now? Does he want somebody who's going to disagree with him on a number of fronts -- global warming, other areas -- that Paulson will certainly not shy away from bringing to the table?

MR. SNOW: As someone who has disagreed with the President in a prior life, let me explain -- the President is not afraid to have people who disagree with him. He does want people who are going to be loyal and carry out his policies. But the important thing is to try to assemble a group of people who are smart, who are experienced, who are dedicated, who are loyal; who can take a problem and turn it at a different angle so you examine it at every angle, you're not simply taking one point of view, and therefore, entertaining different points of view, try to come up with the most sensible policy possible.

Q This is year six. You were brought in in year six; so was he. There's been a lot of changes around here. Certainly not --

MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to speak for years one through five. I'm just telling you that what's going on right now is -- let me just say, my experience from my first day here is that debates are wide open, they're wide-ranging, and opinions, even those that disagree with the President, are aired, and people discuss them. And that's one of the really stimulating things about working here. And I think Hank Paulson is certainly going to be able to express his views on these issues.

Carl.

Q I'm a little bit confused on the tick-tock. You said that the job was offered to Mr. Paulson on May 20th, and they accepted the process on the 21st.

MR. SNOW: That is correct.

Q So we're talking more than a week ago. The President last week, when he was asked if he was -- how he was going to deal with Mr. Snow, said, well, I guess -- he said, he's going to offer his resignation to me, and then went on to say he's a -- good job. This was something that was in play obviously before that, so in terms of its filling a vacancy, which is how you characterized it a minute ago, it wasn't a vacancy, it was switching a person, wasn't it?

MR. SNOW: No, he said, he's not talked to me about resignation. That does not mean that there were not other discussions. I mean, it was artfully worded. But on the other hand, the one thing you do not want to do in a situation like this is to start speculating about changes before the changes are ready to be made. Those do have impacts on markets, and you have to be responsible and cautious in the way you deal with them. Again, at that point, Hank Paulson -- you've got to make sure that you've got all the clearances taken care of.

Q Tony, two questions. After meeting with the President, Prime Minister Tony Blair, he went to give a -- statement or speech at Georgetown University last week, where he was talking about reforming of the United Nations Security Council, and he said that India should be on -- should get a seat, because China has it, and therefore should India, the largest democracy in the world. What I'm asking is if this issue came here with the President, did the President discuss --

MR. SNOW: It was not discussed -- at the meeting I attended, it was not discussed.

Q How the President feel about this and his own --

MR. SNOW: They did not discuss it. I can't tell you what the President's views are about India's membership on the P5.

Q On Indonesia, there was a big -- tens of thousands died and of course, 200 million are -- what do you think the United States is doing --

MR. SNOW: Well, Dana gave a full readout on that. If somebody wants to pull me a fact sheet, or I'd actually just direct you back to the gaggle, because Dana gave a readout on all that this morning.

Q Tony, the President met last night with King Abdullah of Jordan, and I wonder, did the King push him at all to have more direct talks with Iran?

MR. SNOW: It was a private dinner and we've got no readout for you on that.

Q Why was that not put on the schedule, or why didn't you alert anyone?

MR. SNOW: Again, it's a private dinner and I'm not in a position to give any kind of a readout on it.

Q Tony, now that Secretary Snow is leaving, what happens to the issue of simplifying the tax code? He never came up with recommendations after the commission gave their report. And the President didn't give a deadline. Does this now fall on the new Secretary of Treasury, once that person is confirmed?

MR. SNOW: I suspect it does, but I don't have a clear answer for you, April. I'll try to find out.

Q Well, let me ask you this. Even though Secretary Snow will be staying around for a couple of weeks, could we expect that he might possibly be the one to complete this?

MR. SNOW: I really don't know anything about timing on that. It's clearly an issue of interest to the President. It's clearly an issue of interest to millions and millions of Americans who find it mind-numbing to try to do their own taxes. So tax simplification is something that's widely popular, but sometimes is politically contentious. I honestly don't know where we stand in the process, and I'll try to find out.

Q This was a priority of the President, and you would have thought by being a priority he would have a deadline and he would have done it, or he would do it before he walked out the door.

MR. SNOW: Again, I'll try to get an answer for you.

Q On the briefing of the President about Haditha, you said Steve Hadley briefed him after Time had called asking questions about it. Was that a briefing by Steve Hadley that was already planned, or did he brief him because Time called up with questions?

MR. SNOW: Rather than get -- I won't overstep, I'll have to find -- I've given you the guidance I got, and I will try to find out specifically. My guess -- well, I just don't know.

Q You had said that the Treasury Secretary is a key economic advisor, not a PR guy. The economy is doing so well. Can you name a specific policy that the new Treasury Secretary will advise on?

MR. SNOW: Number one, you've got -- let's let the Treasury Secretary be confirmed before we start talking about policies that will be pursued. That would be presumptuous. And number two, as I've said a number of times, I'm not going to engage in market-moving speculation from the podium. Obviously, a number of issues will arise during Senate confirmation, and we'll have to see what they say, but the most important thing is he's going to be the point man for the President's economic policies.

Mark.

Q Tony, I just wanted to come back to Iran one more time. Is there going to be anything different about these negotiations, any change in the administration strategy, and any reason to expect a different outcome than the last time?

MR. SNOW: The first thing we've got to do is get a change on Iranian behavior. There have been a number of occasions where the Iranians have signaled some willingness to negotiate, and then they pulled the rug out. We saw it most recently last week, when there was conversation about two party negotiations simply about Iraq, where we had empowered our Ambassador, Zal Khalilzad, to speak with the Iranians, and the Iranians bailed out on it. So they have to demonstrate not only good faith in negotiations, but good behavior, and we haven't seen any of that yet.

Les.

Q Yes, Tony, two questions. First, since seven of 9/11 skyjackers used Virginia drivers licenses as a form of ID, how does the President feel about the Maryland legislature refusing to require that license applicants provide a valid Social Security number?

MR. SNOW: I have no idea. I'm not sure the President has been following that particular issue, but thank you for calling it to our attention.

Q How does the former Texas governor that you work for feel about the news this morning that in parts of Texas the speed limit has been increased to 80 miles an hour?

MR. SNOW: You know, that one hasn't come up either. But I would thank you. Those are two greatly --

Q Have you ever been motoring in West Texas, and did you keep it under 60?

MR. SNOW: I have not been motoring in West Texas, but I have a feeling -- we do believe that states have the authority to raise the speed limits, and I think that they do it in a way that they think is safe, sane and secure.

Q So you support this? You support --

MR. SNOW: No, I'm simply saying that states have the right to do it. That is a statement of fact.

Q What can we expect on the immigration speech coming up on Thursday? Will the President be making any suggestions on how the two chambers might bridge the wide gaps?

MR. SNOW: I think what the President is going to do, once again, is to reiterate the five principles he laid out in his speech before the nation, and encourage Congress to approach this in a comprehensive manner. That, in and of itself, does provide a basis for both sides to negotiate. So what you will see is the President, now, taking the next step. We have always said, let's wait until the Senate gets a bill done. Now the Senate has a bill done. It's time to figure out ways -- you're absolutely right -- to get both houses to work together, but to do it in a comprehensive manner.

Q But no specific new ideas, just a --

MR. SNOW: Well, no, I don't think -- I mean, the ideas right now are pretty substantial as it is.

Q And what about a timetable for reconciliation? Is this something he wants done in the next few months --

MR. SNOW: Rather than trying to impose timetables on Congress, I think it's safe to say that discussions with members of Congress, members of both houses, leadership of both houses made it clear to the President that they hope this is done before Election Day.

Q Two rather non-earthshaking questions. Sorry a group of us were late, but we were locked out --

MR. SNOW: I know. We actually held up because we knew a lot of you were trapped out there.

Q Can you illuminate us, tell us what's going on outside? Or are we --

MR. SNOW: There was a dangerous package -- there was fear of a dangerous package, which tends to happen this time of year.

Q Clear now?

MR. SNOW: I certainly hope so. Yes, I think so.

Q And also I just wondered if you're now a Maryland safe boater?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I passed my Maryland boating test before getting out on my boat in Maryland over the weekend.

Q Okay, great.

Q Can you give us a readout on the President's meeting this morning with the Iraq experts?

MR. SNOW: Yes. Oh, my goodness, I forgot to bring the list. But actually -- do you have the list, Fred? Yes, it was an interesting meeting. What you ended up having was -- I've got all the names but one written down here. We had Wayne Downing, Barry McCaffrey, Michael Vickers, Amir Taheri, Fouad Ajami and Raad Alkadiri. And you had a combination there of military men and also scholars who are students of Iraq. And it was an interesting discussion that touched upon cultural issues, on political issues, on the state of affairs in Iraq. You had a number of people who've been there recently, General McCaffrey having returned just last month from his latest visit. Fouad Ajami last year had the occasion to sit down and speak with the Ayatollah Sistani, Ali al Sistani.

The President wanted to hear about that. And what he really wanted first was to get their honest opinions -- and, again, these were honest opinions -- about how things are going in Iraq, about the status and viability of the government, and what the United States needs to do on the way forward. The one thing that was of mutual agreement is that, number one, this is an important enterprise, and number two, that we can and will win it. But those are sort of the general outlines of the conversation.

Q Tony, General McCaffrey has been somewhat critical of not only troop deployments in Iraq, but also the leadership of Secretary Rumsfeld. Was that subject raised in the meeting?

MR. SNOW: No. And what's also interesting -- because I spoke with the General a couple of weeks ago, he dropped by my office and spoke, and he's put together a paper, portions of which have been published -- at this point, he's not ventilating any agreements or disagreements with the Secretary of Defense. He's actually highly complimentary of what's going on there. But he also has some practical concerns, especially as regards to --

Q -- today?

MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?

Q Has he read the papers today, if he's complimentary --

MR. SNOW: I'll get to your question, because it's a good one to take up, but permit me to finish -- because I do like the question, Helen.

But he's been complimentary of the men and women who are doing the fighting. And as a result -- and, also, some of the developments he sees on the ground. General McCaffrey, he had some disagreements about what happened in the immediate aftermath in the spring of 2003, but I think you're going to find that he's been quite supportive.

Now, Helen, as to your question, nobody expects the war is going to be easy, and one of the things that is very obvious is that the President takes this very seriously, and so do the people in that room. You had a number of former military officers who do not take lightly the loss of life, or property, or anything else in Iraq. And it's, frankly, one of the points, I suppose, of pride in the United States of America that we really do care about this. We care not only about our people, but also the people in Iraq, and that did come up.

Q So why is the killing going on?

MR. SNOW: Because it's a war, and unfortunately, that's what happens in wars. If there were some -- if there were some way --

Q Why does he think we're going to win?

MR. SNOW: Because -- a couple of things. The President has faith in the power of freedom, not only as an idea, but also as a guiding principle. He also has faith in the men and women who are doing the fighting. Anybody who saw the speech that he gave yesterday at Arlington understands that he not only has faith, but a deep respect and admiration. He gets choked up every time he talks about it, because these are young men and women -- like the group at West Point -- these are all people who decided that they would go to the U.S. Military Academy after September 11th, 2001, knowing that it would be a time of war, possible peril to them, and they did it.

Q But Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.

MR. SNOW: Are we going to just hopscotch across these? I mean, the point here, Helen, is real simple.

Q You're making points that --

MR. SNOW: I'm not making points about --

Q We all know they're serving with great faith. The problem is, this killing goes on for three years and the President still cannot give a basic reason why we're there.

MR. SNOW: Yes, he can, and he's made it many times.

Ed.

Q Can I ask you a quick question on -- did the Attorney General ever directly tell the President that he was threatening to resign over the Jefferson raid?

MR. SNOW: I don't believe so, but -- in fact, no, he didn't. That much I've been -- yes.

Q Was it conveyed to the President through Justice officials? And how serious of a threat do you think this was? I mean, it got a lot of attention --

MR. SNOW: I think it's -- what happened was that there were some tense moments in negotiations between House negotiators and people at the Department of Justice. And it looked like there was going to be a stalemate over the simple issue of who gets the documents. Both sides were citing either the Constitution or their obligations under the Constitution as the reason they should get the documents. So you had this to-and-fro about it.

And if somebody had tried to force that decision into a narrow timetable, he might have gotten a stalemate. The President realized that the only way out of that -- and there was some inkling in the conversations that neither side wanted that -- so both sides were looking for some way to be able to step back. And what the President did -- and I've told you this before -- is he flipped the incentives around. Suddenly, by putting the documents under the control of the Solicitor General, he took that issue off the table.

And then the two sides have said, we are going to need to figure out a way to do this, because it's probably not the last time a member of Congress will be investigated. Therefore, they need to come up with some way of being able to put into hands of prosecutors relevant evidence, and, at the same time, also make sure that the speech and debate clause privileges for the House and Senate are honored by the Department of Justice and by all branches of government.

So now all of a sudden they've got a shared interest in trying to figure this thing out. Not being a lawyer, I don't know how it works out. But I do know now you have bright and tenacious legal minds working together, rather than at odds with one another. And I think that's a critical difference.

Q Just one other follow-up on Carl about Secretary Snow. When the President was asked, when he was standing next to Prime Minister Blair, and millions of people watching, he was telling the American people that "I've got no indication the Secretary is going to resign" --

MR. SNOW: No, no. Here's -- "No, he has not talked to me about resignation." I mean, it was very carefully worded, but, again, what you didn't want to have, I think, is it appearing at a time when you don't have -- when you haven't finished doing your clearances for the Treasury -- the person you want to fill that position. You don't want to have chaos in the markets. It was --

Q He's already offered it to somebody, he's got to have had -- I mean, you offer these positions all the time and wait for FBI background searches that sometimes take a long time. I mean, the Supreme Court nominees take six weeks, but you still announce to the public when you pick somebody.

MR. SNOW: But, you know, again, Hank Paulson, at that time, you don't announce somebody that hasn't been pre-cleared; you haven't finished the clearance process, you don't announce it, period. I mean, it's just not --

Q If not even announcing him, you could have at least -- you could have been direct and said, we're expecting --

MR. SNOW: With all due respect, I think there was some concern, again, about how something like that affects the markets. If you have uncertainty for an extended period of time, which would have been at that point four or five days, I think that is something that you've got to worry about and you've got to be responsible in dealing with it.

Q Tony, when was the President notified that there was a possibility that Congressman Jefferson's office could be raided?

MR. SNOW: The White House was not informed until the serving of the warrant was in progress. Nobody called up and said, this is going to happen. The White House was informed after the process had begun.

Q So now that brings another question. Shouldn't the President have been informed that this is going to happen, as he is the chief executive, as he is made aware of certain --

MR. SNOW: Well, it's a judgmental --

Q -- does that lead into an issue of abuse of power?

MR. SNOW: Run that by me again?

Q This led into an issue of abuse of power. Wouldn't you have thought in the Justice Department that this needs to be given to the --

MR. SNOW: You know what I would do, is I would refer that to the Justice Department for an answer, because you're asking these interesting and important state-of-mind questions that I'm not in a position to answer.

Q Well, was the Justice Department heavy-handed in doing this without asking the President for --

MR. SNOW: The Justice Department regularly conducts criminal investigations without consulting the President. It does hundreds of thousands per year --

Q With something of this level, something --

MR. SNOW: Again, I just -- I'm not going to get into -- that's a question you may direct to the Justice Department.

Q Tony, on his joint news availability with the British Prime Minister, the President said he regretted Abu Ghraib, and, yet, no one was killed at Abu Ghraib. And we are on the edge here, apparently, of seeing the worst massacre since My Lai back during the Vietnam years. What kind of damage control are you and the President getting ready to put forward? And the second part of the question is, did the discussion of Haditha come up at that experts meeting today?

MR. SNOW: Second question first, Haditha did not come up at the experts. You don't do damage control; what you try to do is find out what the facts are. And that's what's going on right now at the Department of Defense. And rather than trying to leap to any conclusion from the podium, let's all wait. We're all going to see this, and we'll all be able to draw conclusions and we'll all be able to learn from it. But I don't even want to get into discussing such things as damage control. I think it's all premature.

Q A follow-up. In addition to the President obviously being concerned and watching the outcome of the investigation -- and there are two, as we understand it, one for the possible killing, and two, about the possible coverup -- what is his personal mood as he talks to you and the other staff members? I mean, is this --

MR. SNOW: We have not -- Ken, we need to find out what the facts are. So there have not been any long talks about this particular thing. Everyone wants to find out what happened. I mean, that's the first thing, you want to find out what happened. And that's true for everybody. I mean, we've all seen sort of the same stuff leaking out. But keep in mind, you're getting little pieces here and little pieces there. We're going to get a full picture, and then my guess is that you'll get -- I'll be able to give you a pretty clear readout on where the President thinks we ought to go.

Q I wonder if you could clarify an answer to April about tax reform. You said that you suspect the President might be pursuing it, are you saying there's a possibility that --

MR. SNOW: No, I think I was just making a general comment about the President's -- his general stated support in the past for tax reform. I am not announcing any new policies or initiatives. She was referring to the general proposition that we ought to have a simpler tax code. And I think most people would agree with that. Not more, nor less.

Q The commission came out with recommendations --

MR. SNOW: I understand. I understand.

Q And he was supposed to make -- he was supposed to take action on those recommendations.

MR. SNOW: I understand.

Q And it has been deemed a priority by the President.

MR. SNOW: I understand.

Q So you still expect this --

MR. SNOW: I don't know. I really don't know. We will attach -- we'll do a bupkis list for today's press briefing, and if there is any specific timetable I can pass on to you about the proper disposition of this -- I think it is safe to say that there's a pretty crowded legislative calendar and I think we've got plenty to do between now and the end of the year.

Q Tony, do you have anything on the North Korea defectors coming to the United States recently?

MR. SNOW: No, I don't. And I apologize, but I'll have to look that up. I don't.

Q Thank you.

MR. SNOW: Okay, thank you, Steve.

END 1:05 P.M. EDT