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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
August 3, 2007

Press Briefing by Scott Stanzel
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:33 P.M. EDT

MR. STANZEL: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have anything off the top, so I'll take your questions.

Q The President just now when he was at the FBI said -- in asking Congress to stay until they finish the FISA bill said, "We've worked hard and in good faith with the Democrats to find a solution, but we are not going to put our national security at risk." Can you explain what that means? Is he going to compel Congress to stay? Is there something administratively that the White House can do if they don't complete a bill that he likes?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I don't think that will actually even be an issue. It's clear that Republicans in Congress are committed to staying here until we modernize our FISA laws. The President said very clearly that if the DNI says that the proposal that is offered does not close the gaps in our intelligence gathering, he will veto it. So that is the test for the President and we need to make sure that that gap is closed prior to the August recess.

So I don't think we'll get to a point where the President would need to compel Congress to stay here, because it's very clear that leaders in Congress do want to get this done, and Republican leaders have said that they're committed to staying here until it does get done.

Q So is he willing to do that? Is he willing to compel Congress if it comes to that?

MR. STANZEL: That's a hypothetical, but this is serious business and the President treats it as such. But I just don't think we'll get to that point.

Q And the second thing, is there an administrative solution -- I know it's hypothetical at this point, but is there some administrative solution out there?

MR. STANZEL: There is, and I would refer you to your Constitution on that; but there is.

Q I mean to FISA. Is there something the administration can do unilaterally if Congress --

MR. STANZEL: No, the law needs to be changed. It's outdated, it was created in 1978, it didn't take into account the changes in modern communications technology and it definitely needs to be updated.

Q Do you expect it to be resolved today?

MR. STANZEL: I'm not going to make those predictions. Obviously, predicting what Congress does on a set timeline is a difficult thing to do. But I will say that it's an important matter and we hope and expect that leaders will stay here in Washington to get this done before they leave town.

Q The President can obey the law, can't he?

MR. STANZEL: And he always does, Helen.

Q (Inaudible) two years, only one request has been turned down for surveillance. What's the big problem?

MR. STANZEL: The issue --

Q There are thousands of lawyers in this town who could go right down to the court and get a warrant. Why do you have to --

MR. STANZEL: That means that someone has to -- in 1978, when they created this law, protecting the civil liberties of foreign residents is not an issue. We need to be able to gather the intelligence of foreign targets in foreign lands. That's important. The law in 1978 did not contemplate changes in our communications technology. So being able to target someone in a foreign land, target them and try to understand who they may be calling, what they may be plotting or planning is very important. And waiting around to get a court order is not keeping up with instant communications that we have today -- and that's not something that --

Q Do we have the right to intervene in a sovereign country and wiretap their --

MR. STANZEL: In 1978, actually, that was codified into law, that our procedures are in place --

Q Then what's the problem?

MR. STANZEL: Because communications technologies have changed.

Q So what?

MR. STANZEL: Well, that's the most important thing. That's the most important thing here, Helen.

Q I think (inaudible) more important than the President (inaudible) the law.

MR. STANZEL: In 1978 you may have not been able to sit in that chair with a BlackBerry. Today you can. In 1978, you may not have been able to sit in that chair in the front row with a cell phone. Now you can. Those are changes in communications technology, and the law needs to keep up with that.

Q Speaking of breaking the law, did the House Minority Leader, John Boehner, illegally disclose classified information in an interview this week when he described the secret court decision that necessitated this whole process?

MR. STANZEL: Congressman Boehner is focused on the goal of modernizing the FISA law. It needs to be modernized. He knows what is at stake. It's very important to him as a leader in Congress that members stay here to get that completed. But I'm not going to speculate about what he talked about from here.

Q When did the President first ask Congress for this change, and why is it coming right up unto the 11th hour, as Congress is approaching an established deadline for recess?

MR. STANZEL: These conversations first began in earnest in April. They've been going on even prior to that. But the DNI in April sent Congress a proposal -- I believe it was 66 pages -- about changes that needed to be made to the FISA law. It became clear in the discussions with leaders in Congress they weren't going to be able to get all of those changes made. So last Friday, a week ago, a proposal was sent from the DNI. I believe that was an 11 page proposal. It was tremendously scaled back, a bare minimum of what he needed in order to protect the American people. So that's where the discussions have gone at this point.

They had expressed interest -- leaders in Congress had expressed interest in addressing this problem prior to leaving, so that's where we are today.

Q And the release that they sent out last night, just before midnight, saying that he doesn't want to do it, but he will offer to go ahead and have every instance of surveillance taken to the FISA court after the fact, after the surveillance began -- was that part of the 66 pages and part of the 11 pages?

MR. STANZEL: It was part of their offer last night. I would refer you to them, in terms of their conversations and how they transpired over time.

Q But that's new as of last night?

MR. STANZEL: That is new. And I will just read from his statement from last night. "However, to acknowledge the interests of all, I can agree to a procedure that provides for court review after needed collection has begun of our procedures for gathering foreign intelligence through classified methods directed at foreigners located overseas." He strongly prefers that this not be the case, but he's prepared to take those additional steps to keep the confidence of members of Congress and the American people that these processes have been subject to court approval.

Q And so far the administration has not been told by Congress -- the Democratic leadership in Congress -- that they will accept that?

MR STANZEL: You know, discussions are happening. That's an up-to-the-minute thing, and we can try to keep you posted as those go along today, but not that I'm aware of.

Q Scott, what Congressman Boehner said is not announce -- said he didn't want to speculate. It's not a matter of speculation. He spilled the beans on some details that hadn't been out before. Was this damaging or was it not damaging?

MR. STANZEL: Well, it's not for me to make a judgment from here. That's an issue for the intelligence community to make a judgment about. So it's not for me to make an assessment from here at the podium about a classified matter that I couldn't speak about from here. So I'm not indicating one way or another about the subject, whether it was accurate, whether the story was accurate, or whether or not the information in the story was classified or not. That's not a judgment that I can make from here.

Q Are you saying that an intelligence assessment of what he said is underway?

MR. STANZEL: You would have to ask the intelligence community that. That's not something that I can tell you.

Q Scott, can you talk about the ruling about the portions of the seizure into William Jefferson's office were considered unconstitutional? Was this heavy-handedness by the Department of Justice?

MR. STANZEL: April, that's an ongoing -- a subject of ongoing litigation. Obviously, it's an important issue that's gathered a lot of attention here in Washington, D.C. But because it's a matter of ongoing litigation, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to talk about it from here.

Q There seems to be a consistent pattern with DOJ that when they do something it's excessive or a little bit more than what's called for. What do you say to that? For this to be --

MR. STANZEL: Because all of this is in the context of that ongoing litigation, I'm just not going to be at liberty to pontificate about it.

Q But you have to say something. I mean, this is --

MR. STANZEL: No, I actually don't. (Laughter.)

Q Okay, one point, Scott. I hear you, but I mean, doesn't this go back, it harkens back to everything everyone is talking about, DOJ under the leadership of Alberto Gonzales? I mean, was this heavy-handedness? It's a consistent pattern -- is there a consistent patter of heavy-handedness in this department under this President?

MR. STANZEL: The third time is not a charm, April. I'm going to avoid that question.

Q Can you -- there are ongoing efforts at the U.N. and elsewhere to forge a sort of post-Kyoto protocol arrangement. There are talks in Bali in, I think, December. Can you fit this September conference on climate change in the broader spectrum of ongoing climate talks?

MR. STANZEL: Yes. We feel that this effort is intended to aid the U.N. process that is ongoing. We're pleased to have the support of the Secretary General and the head of the U.N. CCC. We expect the results in 2008 from these major economies to contribute to the global agreement under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change by 2009. So we think it can enhance that process.

Q Scott, some environmentalists are saying that this Washington Conference on Global Warming is actually an effort to deflect international pressure for the United States to accept mandatory greenhouse emissions gas caps, something the President has refused to do. Can you respond to that at all?

MR. STANZEL: This is an effort -- we have always said that we think that this issue should be addressed with developing nations, with the countries that are involved today, that the President invited to this conference. There are 13 entities that were invited -- 13 major economies, I should say, and the U.N. were invited. We think it's an opportunity for those nations and those countries to come together to talk about what we can do in the post-2012 environment to address greenhouse gas emissions; what we can do to advance new technologies to help those developing nations reduce their emissions and help us all have a cleaner environment with a healthy economy.

So, no, this is an effort to help supplement the ongoing efforts in other places around the world.

Q Can we go back to the FISA proposal? A lot of Democrats and, frankly, even some Republicans, have voiced skepticism about Attorney General Gonzales' credibility. Why is it necessary that he sign off on these intercepts?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I would put it this way, Mark. In 1978, when this law was created, it was very important that there be civilian oversight over the intelligence community. I think that's important. So the Attorney General, one of his duties as a function has been involved with this from that point. And we have added the DNI to that approval process, because those were some interests of members of Congress.

If because some people have partisan ill will towards the Attorney General that they want to completely strip out civilian oversight of the intelligence community, we think that that is a really short-sighted way to look at this law. We think it is important that the Attorney General, who is there to help protect the civil liberties of Americans, be involved. And that is why we've taken the approach that we have.

Q And it is that much more cumbersome to go to a member of the FISA court than it is to go to Attorney General Gonzales?

MR. STANZEL: To get pre-approval for those types of things, yes, that is cumbersome.

Q Even though the court was set up specifically for this purpose, and the Attorney General has lots of other duties?

MR. STANZEL: Again, let's go back to what was created in 1978. It wasn't created to have court approval prior to gathering foreign intelligence about people who are in foreign lands. That was never part of the deal. So why should we add it in now? Why do some Democratic leaders want to codify the very problem we're trying to alleviate?

Q Scott, the legislation the President signed today, given the White House assertion that you've already acted on -- what is it -- 37 or 39 of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, what was the point?

MR. STANZEL: What was the point in this legislation? We think that it does build upon the efforts that we have had ongoing already. Obviously, you know we've created a Department of Homeland Security, the largest reorganization of our federal government since World War II. We have the Patriot Act. We've significantly reformed our intelligence gathering capabilities. We've created a Director of National Intelligence.

We think that efforts by members of Congress to address our ongoing and evolving security needs are productive. That's why the President, who did have reservations about this legislation -- there were some things in the legislation that we initially objected to, we voiced our concerns about. We were pleased that members of Congress did work with us to address those concerns about things like the intelligence budget, or having the Transportation Security Agency having flexibility in managing their workforce. Those issues were addressed throughout the process, and that's why the President was able to sign it into law today.

Q The impetus for this legislation was the Democrats' feeling that you were not doing enough to protect the homeland, not doing enough to inspect cargo, not doing enough to implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. So are you basically conceding their concerns by signing the legislation?

MR. STANZEL: Actually, if we're talking about implementing the provisions of the 9/11 Commission recommendations, they said that the intelligence oversight capabilities of Congress was dysfunctional. And probably one of the most important recommendations they had -- there were a couple separate recommendations -- was for Congress to reform itself and reform its oversight capabilities. We're disappointed that Congress hasn't done that yet. We have moved forward, as you said, on 37 of the 39 recommendations. There are a couple outstanding that we take a different approach upon, because they deal with disclosure of intelligence budget issues. We don't think that's the right approach. But we think we have made significant progress towards implementing those recommendations.

Q And one final note. Congressman Hamilton says even with this legislation, you will only achieve roughly 80 percent of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Why the disparity?

MR. STANZEL: I don't know what he's specifically referring to, but certainly two of the big ones that are outstanding is Congress's reform of itself, which it has neglected to do until this point.

Q What will the President do if Congress adjourns tonight?

MR. STANZEL: Well, I just don't think that's going to be an issue, here's why, because my understanding of congressional rules it takes a motion to adjourn, and there are going to be people that are opposed to that motion to adjourn. And further, I can't imagine --

Q Meaning Republicans?

MR. STANZEL: Correct. And I can't imagine leaders in Congress simply wanting to say, you know what, I'd rather leave town; let's take up this issue later -- because the Director of National Intelligence has said we are at risk; we are in a heightened threat environment. So it's important for us to act on these important changes to the FISA modernization -- FISA law, excuse me.

Q He said he would not compel Congress, if they did --

MR. STANZEL: It's all hypothetical that we won't get to. I might want to play in the NBA, but I don't think I'm going to be able to do that.

Q I guess the question is, are Americans -- is it the White House position that Americans are at increased risk as long as FISA is not changed?

MR. STANZEL: Correct. And that's the urgency here.

Q But you're saying that the President -- you're not saying that the President would compel Congress --

MR. STANZEL: What I'm saying is that is three or four or five steps down the road, and I don't think we're ever going to get to step two.

Q Scott, two questions. One, as two leaders, President Bush and President Karzai from Afghanistan meet at Camp David this weekend, President Karzai has already said that there is a terrorism across the border from Pakistan into his country, and now his own people are also blaming, that al Qaedas are getting together in his country. Now there is a governor from Baluchistan, Pakistan side of Baluchistan here in town, and he was speaking at CSIS, and Asia Society, and (inaudible) and everywhere in town, (inaudible) that he has brought with him. What he's blaming is that --

MR. STANZEL: -- your question?

Q The question is that he says that when he was asking where is Osama bin Laden, he asked the CIA, they know where is Osama bin Laden, because they are the one who (inaudible.) But also he said that terrorism is coming into his country from Afghanistan. So where do we stand when these two great leaders meet this weekend as far as terrorism in Afghanistan is concerned?

MR. STANZEL: Well, certainly we're concerned about terrorism in Afghanistan. We're concerned about it in Pakistan. We're concerned about it in the tribal areas. The National Intelligence Estimate had some -- provided some information on that. Certainly we have indicated that the agreement in the federally administrated tribal areas was not working. With respect to Osama bin Laden, rest assured if there was knowledge of where he was, action would be taken.

Q Second, quickly, as far as if President is aware of or worried about that so many reports are coming from China, prison labor makes cheap Chinese goods are coming to the U.S. now, tires and food and other items. Is anybody worried about those, if anybody have told China, or what is the future of these trade between the two countries?

MR. STANZEL: Well, certainly the United States Trade Representative and even folks in other departments like the Department of Agriculture, as it deals with agriculture exports and imports, they're always monitoring these issues, Goyal. So we keep a close eye on them.

Olivier.

Q Scott, ahead of that same meeting, is the President satisfied that the NATO military operation and the U.S. military operation are doing enough to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan?

MR. STANZEL: That's an issue that I think highlights the great difference between the United States and its allies in prosecuting the war on terror, and the people that we're going against, which is people who specifically target innocent civilians, women and children, for kidnapping, killing, capturing. And I think you can -- you've heard from the Defense Department repeatedly that we've lost -- we mourn every loss of innocent life, and we do more than has ever been done before to avoid that unfortunate situation.

Q Allowing that we do more than anyone has ever done before, is the President satisfied that we're doing as well as we can on this?

MR. STANZEL: He is absolutely satisfied that our military does everything in its power to avoid innocent loss of life.

Q Thank you.

MR. STANZEL: Thank you.

END 12:52 P.M. EDT