For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2007
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:13 P.M. EST
MR. SNOW: All right, let me begin with a quick readout of a couple of main -- do we have audio on? Is this the mic up? Okay.
Just a quick readout on the President's meeting with the co-chairs on the Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors, and also the Interagency Task Force. The President met with Secretary Shalala and Senator Dole, and not only thanked them for their service, but there's a theme running through the meetings, which is that he wants to make sure that for people who are in service, that there is a seamless transition for those who are wounded when they return home, or actually the moment they enter the Department of Defense health care system. At some point, there's a transition to V.A., and at a later juncture, a transition to life after V.A. And he wants to make sure that all of those are seamless and that the needs are taken care of and that the government's duties and responsibilities are taken care of fully at every step along the process.
Senator Dole certainly has experience in the system. Secretary Shalala, not merely by virtue of running HHS, but she's also been involved in ongoing health care efforts in Florida. She did mention, also, that I believe it's now four straight generations of her family have been in military service, including a nephew who is deploying to Iraq.
Meanwhile, the Interagency Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes, that's the interagency task force that's being chaired by Secretary Nicholson. Part of what they're doing is taking a look right now at addressing problems as they become apparent throughout the system, and dealing with them, and also serving both as a resource and an agent of action for the Commission on Care for the Wounded Warriors.
Let me also note that at 4:00 p.m. today, Secretary Gates and Chief of Staff Pete Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, are going to be holding a briefing at the Pentagon, also, about some ongoing efforts in their own operation dealing with Walter Reed and Bethesda.
Q It seems this will probably run into a question of money, of whether there's enough money available. Is the President prepared to offer an emergency budget request to take --
MR. SNOW: We've got a supplemental coming up. I don't want to try to prejudice exactly what's -- we're going to figure out a way to meet the needs of those who have served.
Q Secretary Nicholson seemed to think that everything was pretty much okay, that these were isolated incidents -- when he was talking outside. Is that the President's take, too?
MR. SNOW: The President's take is isolated or not, you need to deal with them. What we want to have is a system that fails no one who has served. So, you know, I mean, there is certainly plenty of evidence that this has been a health care system that has had a good record of success. But on the other hand, we've had some documented failures of late, and you've got to address those. So at this point the emphasis is not only on making sure that there's a high standard of care, but it's applied to everybody.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One, yesterday, Secretary Rice (inaudible) the global human rights (inaudible) at State Department. And she had already sent a stern warning for a number of countries, like Burma and North Korea and China, as far as human rights violations are concerned. And Saudi Arabia and the Iranians are also now standing and asking -- calling on the U.S. to do something. And as far as human rights violations are concerned, this time, again U.S. is absent from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is really run by the violators of human rights. So where are we heading now, as far as global human rights are concerned?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, that last part, Goyal?
Q The U.N. Human Rights Council --
MR. SNOW: No, I understand the Human Rights Commission, yes.
Q This has been run now by the violators of human rights. And the U.S. is again absent from this council, this (inaudible).
MR. SNOW: Well, I think our commitment to human rights is well documented, and we continue to believe that everybody has not only -- we believe in the dignity of all human life, and what we're trying to do is to extend the borders of democracy. You've got a freedom agenda that at the core of that is a firm and fixed belief in human rights. And the President also believes strongly in having the United Nations live up to the obligations under the universal declaration of human rights and applying to such situations as Darfur and around the world. So I think the President's record is clear on that.
Q A second. Former House Speaker, Mr. Newt Gingrich, he was speaking at CPAC and he said that U.S. is rewarding North Korea (inaudible) -- and maybe Iran is next on the -- and why are we rewarding the countries that we have been against this nuclear program?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think there have been -- again, I don't want to -- I did not hear Newt's speech, so I don't know precisely how he framed it and I don't know if that's an exact characterization of the argument or a paraphrase. But let me say of our position, it is based entirely on what the North Koreans do. If you take a look at what Chris Hill was saying yesterday, it was very obvious that the desire here is not to hand out goodies regardless of what the North Koreans do; instead there's got to be a very real commitment for us to shut down Yongbyon, and then also to take down any capacity for enriching uranium or plutonium and accounting for all those materials and dispensing of them.
So the goals remain the same. And if you take a look at the way in which the six-party talks are structured, you have at the beginning a 60-day window. The first thing they've got to do is they've got to close down Yongbyon and they've got to allow IAEA inspectors back -- that is a key element. And beyond that there are things that they may become eligible for in the fullness of time, but they have to engage in actions. They have to earn it. And that remains -- that's one of the reasons why we think it -- secondly, you also now have within the six-party talks -- it's not two-party talks, it's not the United States and North Korea. The attempt to isolate the United States or even to isolate other partners within the six-party talks is not going to work. There's a unified front here in dealing with the North Koreans. And that's one of the reasons we feel confident of the diplomatic approach and hopeful that the North Koreans will live up to their obligations.
Q Tony, have there been any discussions, either with the President or among staff members, about a pardon for Scooter Libby?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of any. And let me just say that -- all of this conversation/speculation about a pardon, I know, makes for interesting speculation, but it's just that. Right now Scooter Libby and his attorneys have made it clear that they're going to try to get a re-trial; if they don't get that, they're going to get an appeal. And we really haven't been commenting on any aspect of it.
As we pointed out before, there is a process, you know, and it's available to anybody who has been convicted in the United States.
Q I've been looking at some of Mark Knoller's carefully culled statistics, and it seems to suggest that the President, relative to other Presidents in recent history -- with the exception of his father -- is stingy when it comes to giving out pardons.
MR. SNOW: I think I would use the term "careful."
Q What does --
MR. SNOW: Because a pardon is not a goodie. And I think it's important, so I would hesitate to use a term like "stingy." But I think it's something that's taken very carefully. You've got -- the general process is an application will go to the pardon attorney, that could be forwarded to the Department of Justice, which in turn would make a recommendation to the White House. These are not things that are treated blithely.
Q But what do you think -- both as governor and as President -- what do you think it tells us about the President's approach to the concept of pardons, pardons that he's given relatively fewer than other Presidents --
MR. SNOW: I think it means that he takes the process very seriously and he wants to make sure that in his judgment, anybody who receives one, that it's warranted. But, again, I would caution against any speculation in this case.
Q Can I have one more follow-up?
MR. SNOW: Yes, please.
Q I want to know, after the verdict yesterday, because the Vice President's top aide has been convicted of perjury, I think it's a natural question is, think about motive, it raises questions about protecting the Vice President. Does the President feel that any statement/further explanation/discussion with the American people is necessary at this point, outside of the legal proceedings?
MR. SNOW: At this point, we are -- our view is that you have an ongoing legal proceeding, and we're very wary of saying anything that may prejudice the rights of Scooter Libby as he proceeds to seek a retrial or an appeal.
Q And the questions that are raised among --
MR. SNOW: Well, a lot of questions -- again, you've asked a very -- you've asked a general question about questions. It's difficult for me to --
Q I'm asking about the very many people in this country who, after yesterday, are perhaps looking at this in a different way than they were before, now that there's been a verdict rendered, and that perhaps the President -- and it speaks to so many issues about the administration -- that perhaps the President wants to -- feels like something is necessary.
MR. SNOW: Well, again, what you're asking -- if you want to try to identify issues, I think there has been an attempt to try to use this as a great big wheelbarrow in which to dump a whole series of unrelated issues and say, "Ah-ha." And it is what it is; it's a case involving Scooter Libby and his recollections, and we're just not going to comment further on it.
Q It doesn't provide any greater insight into the way the administration was addressing critics --
MR. SNOW: If you want insight into the way the administration addresses trouble, I would have you take a look at what's happened with Walter Reed in the last two weeks.
Q Tony, has the President yet spoken to the Vice President about the Scooter Libby verdict? Have they discussed it? And what are his thoughts, to those who say this leaves a cloud over the White House, over the Vice President, in particular?
MR. SNOW: Kathleen, you've asked me in a different way to answer the same question I didn't answer with Jim. Let me make it clear. The Vice President and the President have confidential conversations. They don't share them with us. Did it come up? I don't know. I can guess. It's a pretty hot topic today. But not having absolute confirmation, I'm just not going to tell you "yes" or "no." But, furthermore, they don't share their conversations with us. So I cannot tell you what they talk about. They don't pass it on to us. It's one of the reasons why I think there's so much trust, and also closeness between the two.
Q But, again, Tony, what do you say to those who say this leaves a cloud hanging over the White House, and in particular the Vice President?
MR. SNOW: How?
Q It's their words. I'm just --
MR. SNOW: I know, but it's -- see, the use of terms like "cloud" -- because this has come up before -- is, what does that mean? There's an attempt to impugn ability, or -- this White House takes very seriously its obligations to the American people. And you've got a President who has made it clear after the elections that he is going to be aggressive and he is going to be bold in dealing with the problems that the American people face.
You take a look at the State of the Union address -- immigration reform, energy, with environmental impacts. You've got education. You've got health care. These are issues that Americans care about, and care about deeply. And he is not only talking to Congress, but working with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
No doubt those things are going to come up today in the meeting with the leadership of the House and Senate when they come over. In addition, on the war on terror, similarly, there is a real determination to figure out a way forward that is going to lead to success.
It's okay, I know -- cell phone violation.
Q The kid's home alone. The kid's home alone.
MR. SNOW: Oh, my goodness, more important. Well, if you have to go out there to have a conversation, we'll let you come back.
Q Has anyone reached out to Scooter Libby yet?
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I'm not aware of anybody.
Q Excuse me, may I have a question?
MR. SNOW: Sure.
Q And by the way, we hope your physical exam went well yesterday.
MR. SNOW: It -- yes. Although, I set off the radioactivity detectors all day yesterday. (Laughter.)
Q You did?
Q We can understand why.
MR. SNOW: I had a PET scan, so they fill you up with this nuclear stuff, so you could -- I mean, you could hear me -- literally, my staff could hear me down the hall because all the things would start beeping. (Laughter.)
Q We always thought you were radioactive, Tony. (Laughter.)
Q What is your analysis of the fact that so many conservatives and Republicans are calling for a pardon, whereas the Democrats are --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to analyze it, Connie. People have strong feelings about this on both sides.
Q In light of some of the comments that your predecessor, Scott McClellan, said to me last night, do you feel Scott was deliberately misled by --
MR. SNOW: You know, I wasn't here, and I'm not going to get into it. I just -- I'm an incompetent witness on that.
Q Does the President believe that the trial showed that members of his administration leaked classified information?
MR. SNOW: I'm not -- I don't think the President is going to get into the business of trying to characterize it. The one thing that he has said all along is that you need to allow the system to work, and he has confidence in our system of justice.
Q And does he stand by his statement that anyone involved in leaking classified information will no longer work here?
MR. SNOW: Again, I think what we have to do is just take a look -- first, what you are trying to do is to draw me into a conversation about matters that may not have been at trial, but certainly are not appropriate to comment on at this juncture.
Q But you won't just repeat the standard that anyone who leaked is gone?
MR. SNOW: Again, I'm telling you that I'm staying away from characterizations of things that may arise in court.
Q Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan yesterday said that there's a possibility of a recession by the end of the year. This contrasts considerably with what the President's economic advisors and even this current Fed Chairman have forecast. Are you at all revisiting the basis of your economic outlook?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Okay. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I hope that was a crisp enough response. (Laughter.)
Q I have an unrelated follow-up.
MR. SNOW: Okay, go ahead.
Q And it does relate to the Libby verdict yesterday. The President has said that he expects everyone on his staff to uphold the highest ethical standards. Does the President believe that everyone involved in this has upheld the highest ethical standards?
MR. SNOW: Again, look, I'm not going to go back and sort of re-litigate it, but he does insist on the highest ethical standards in this White House.
Q Well, then, excuse me, the fact that he hasn't taken any action against anyone, does that, indeed, mean that everyone has acted ethically --
MR. SNOW: Again, you're going to ask me to re-litigate the case. There was only one person on trial yesterday.
Q Thank you, Tony, two questions. The President, in his addressing the American Legion yesterday, talked about the importance of both diplomacy and the need for a robust military strategy in Iraq. And my question: What is the single most important factor in leaving behind, when the U.S. military does leave, an Iraq that will not erupt into a conflagration of terrorist activity?
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what was the most important -- I thought there were two options there; you gave me one. Is there a second part?
Q When they leave behind -- when the U.S. military forces -- what is the most important to assure that Iraq will not erupt into a conflagration of terrorist activity, what is the most important --
MR. SNOW: I don't know. I mean, that's an awfully broad -- are you angling for something? Help me out here; I want to be able to help you.
The fact is that the business of creating peace in Iraq is enormously complex. If you take a look at the way forward, there is a military component, there's a diplomatic component, including a regional component. There's political reconciliation, there's economic development, sectarian reconciliation.
So all those pieces are essential. I'm not sure that you can bracket out one and say it, alone, is important -- because you pull out one of those lights and the entire edifice can collapse.
Q Tony, a second one. As the President's chief media advisor, can you tell us, Tony, do you honestly believe that the bulk of the American people will conclude that real justice exists in the United States if Scooter Libby goes to prison, while Sandy Berger doesn't?
MR. SNOW: Oh, my goodness. Thank you, Les.
Q You just want to evade -- that's newsworthy.
MR. SNOW: If you wish to characterize the non-answer of a crazy question as an evasion, I will plead guilty. (Laughter.)
Q You think it's crazy?
MR. SNOW: Because what you're asking me to do is to come up with a global analysis of people's assessment on the character of the system of justice based on two things that have not happened.
Q Well, he -- Berger is still not -- he's still out, he's not going to prison.
MR. SNOW: As I said -- he's not gone to prison. Again, you're posing -- you're asking me to get people to -- let me put it this way: I don't think a lot of people are sitting around their dinner tables, saying, let's think about these two things -- wow, honey, we really think about the system of justice; pass the mashed potatoes. (Laughter.)
Q You think there's no injustice if Berger goes loose and he goes to prison?
MR. SNOW: I think it's a wonderful thing to ponder, and I'll ponder it.
Q That's all?
MR. SNOW: Yes, that is all.
Q Okay, thank you.
Q Tony, the President said yesterday that the upcoming security conference in Baghdad would be a test for both Iran and Syria. Iran has now said it's definitely attending. Do you have anything specific in mind, in terms of how Iran would pass that test? Anything specific you're looking for at this conference?
MR. SNOW: No, again, as we've made clear all along, the purpose of this conference is to deal with issues of Iraq. And the Iraqis are running the conference, and we are happy to be participants. But I want to guard against the notion that somehow we are -- there's a temptation to turn something like that into an expectation that there's going to be a bilateral conversation about unrelated matters, and that sort of stuff. This is an opportunity for the parties there to be constructive in dealing with Iraq.
Now there are any number of things that may come to mind, but rather than have me serve as the person who tries to do the interpretation of that -- I don't have a clear interpretation of precisely what they had in mind.
Q Of what the President had in mind when he said --
MR. SNOW: Let me give you some options. Number one, to be helpful. Iran needs to make sure that there is no more exporting into Iraq of people who are committing acts of terror and also weapons that are being used to kill Americans and Iraqis and others within Iraq in an effort to disrupt the government. There are a number of things that the Iranians can do to demonstrate their bona fides as good neighbors. And we hope they'll do it.
Q Thanks, Tony. Does the President believe that the crimes that Scooter Libby was convicted of yesterday -- obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI and two counts of lying to a grand jury -- are serious crimes?
MR. SNOW: Yes, they're serious crimes. But, again, I'm not going to -- you asked me the description of those crimes. I'm not going to characterize the issues of Mr. Libby's case for the obvious reasons.
Q Well, you just said they're serious crimes. Are they so serious as to preclude the possibility of a presidential pardon?
MR. SNOW: Anybody in the United States of America who has been convicted can apply for a pardon. I am not going to characterize one way or another what happens in this case when it comes to a pardon, because it's inappropriate.
Q But can you tell me, has anything changed between yesterday, before the verdict was announced, and today, after the verdict has been announced, in terms of Vice President Cheney's stature in the White House? Has his relationship changed in any way with President Bush?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q Tony, Secretary Shalala seemed to suggest that she heard a certain anger in President Bush's voice about the Walter Reed issue. Do you describe him as feeling angry? And do you have a sense of who the other seven people on this commission may turn out to be?
MR. SNOW: I have a sense, but let's wait until the commission is fully appointed. As I've noted earlier, when it comes to putting this together, you get recommendations. And the President asked both Secretary Shalala and Senator Dole for their ideas, as well. You have to take a look through a list, then you go through a vetting process. It takes a little bit of time. You want to make sure you have the right people.
Whether it's anger -- there's certainly passion in it. The President has made no secret how deeply he feels a sense of affection and admiration for those who have been serving in all of our Armed Services. And he wants to make sure that we make good on our obligations to them. And he made it very clear, he doesn't want anybody sugarcoating the situation. He wants to find out what the facts are, and he wants people to come up with sensible solutions to the problems, and he wants to get them enacted as swiftly and effectively as possible.
And that is why you've got a three-layered approach. You've got the Department of Defense looking at Washington-area facilities -- Bethesda and Walter Reed -- you have the interagency task force taking a broader look. We're concentrating at this juncture on the war on terror and the people who are coming back. And then the commission, with Senator Dole and Secretary Shalala taking an even broader look at the entire system to make sure that there are no discontinuities from people from the time they leave the theater of battle to the time they enter the Defense Department health care system, to the time they go into the V.A., for the rest of their lives, we want to make sure that there's continuity of service so that people do not fall in the cracks.
Q Tony, is there any internal machinery, so to speak, here at the White House, that is still investigating the Plame matter and the leak of her name?
MR. SNOW: Investigating? In what --
Q Still looking into -- I just -- (inaudible) -- the White House looked into it?
MR. SNOW: No, I think that's why you have -- that's why you have -- and the solution was to find a special council.
Q So nobody in the White House is --
MR. SNOW: Do we have a Plame task force? No.
Q And, Tony, in retrospect, does the President feel it was wise to appoint a special prosecutor in this case? And is he satisfied with Patrick Fitzgerald's work?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to characterize. The President has said that he appreciates the diligence and professionalism of Mr. Fitzgerald. We're not going to get into the business of second-guessing.
Q Had he to do over again, would he --
MR. SNOW: I don't ask him those questions, and I doubt he -- look, the emphasis on this White House is to figure out what the tasks are before you and to deal with them, and looking forward. So that's kind of one of those questions that maybe, sometime in the dim and distant future, he'll be talking about. But I've heard no conversation about it.
Q Tony, a question not about the legal process, but about a previous White House statement. In 2003, this White House made it very clear that neither Scooter Libby nor Karl Rove was involved in the leak. Does that public denial need to be corrected?
MR. SNOW: Again, you're asking me things that predate me, and I'm not going to try to get into parsing it.
Q Well, in that respect, though, then why did the President change the grounds of dismissal for "anyone involved" to "anyone convicted"? And would it be accurate --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure that there has been a change, Paula. I just --
Q Well, there's a difference between "anyone involved" and "anyone convicted," isn't there? I mean, you can act unethically, but not be proven to have acted --
MR. SNOW: Well again, you've bundled a whole lot of things -- a lot of presumptions into a question, and I'm not sure I accept any of them.
Q But what is the policy? Is it "anyone involved," or "anyone convicted"?
MR. SNOW: You know, I'm going to let the President's words stand.
Q But they were different words.
MR. SNOW: I don't think so. The words have been pretty consistent.
END 12:38 P.M. EST