For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 30, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Okay, I've got two things for you -- I said I would have the radio address preview and tomorrow's commencement address. In this week's radio address the President will outline several important legislative matters pending in front of Congress and note the dwindling number of days they have left in session to get this work done.
He will call on them to pass a war supplemental that focuses on the needs of our military; to support our military families by passing an extension of the GI Bill that makes it easier for our troops to transfer unused education benefits to their spouses and children; ensure that our intelligence professionals have the tools to monitor terrorist communications effectively and quickly -- that's the FISA law; approve the Colombia free trade agreement, which would open a growing market for American goods, services and crops; confirm nominees to important government positions, including Steve Preston, who the President nominated to be the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; pass legislation to modernize the Federal Housing Administration; reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to ensure they focus on their housing mission; and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to refinance sub-prime loans. And at a time when Americans are concerned about gas prices, Congress needs to pass legislation to expand domestic energy production.
Tomorrow night the President will travel to Greenville, South Carolina to deliver the commencement address at Furman University. It is a speech that calls on students to help build a culture of responsibility. It will reflect on how he went into public service because he was concerned about the culture and how he is heartened by the progress that has been made, especially in the young people who are embracing bedrock values of faith and family. He will talk about the importance of service to others, including volunteering and military service and being a part of the faith-based communities; contributing to the civic and economic life of the country by voting and public engagement and entrepreneurship; and being accountable to your family and to yourself -- parenting, strengthening the family and living lives of integrity.
Q Congressman Wexler has called on Scott McClellan to testify before Congress, and Congressman Conyers says that he has directed his committee staff to reach out to Mr. McClellan to make arrangements for him to talk to the committee. Does the White House have any objection to this kind of conversation?
MS. PERINO: I checked on it for you. The White House Counsel's Office takes these things when we have a formal request. We don't have a formal request yet. When we get one, that's when we look at the request, weigh it fully -- as we do with all the others -- and it's just not a decision that we would make prior to getting a formal request.
Q Could the White House block him from testifying if he wanted to testify? Or how does that work?
MS. PERINO: Conceivably?
MS. PERINO: Hypothetically -- which I'm not supposed to answer hypotheticals -- (laughter) -- yes, I think so. The law would allow for that, but by saying that I'm not suggesting that that's what would happen or not happen.
Q Has President Bush read this -- read McClellan's book or does he have any intention to, to sort of find out what this is all about?
MS. PERINO: Well, he's been regularly briefed. I think he's read a lot of the articles about it, but I don't anticipate -- he may or may not read the book. I don't know, we haven't talked about that.
Q You haven't bought it for him?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Has he expressed any kind of feeling about it?
MS. PERINO: Sure, as I talked to you about all week long -- I know I haven't been here for you, but we were out on the road -- (laughter.)
Q I'm trying to make a living myself. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: We've been out on the road; I've missed the podium greatly. But as I said all along, that the President expressed disappointment and sadness at the situation, surprise by the charges that he has read about that are in the book.
And we've known for a while that this is what the tone of the book would be. Of course last November we knew because of the excerpt that came out, and then more recently, as with all manuscripts, the White House Counsel's Office has an opportunity to look at manuscripts for any possible classified information or any means for executive privilege to be asserted. None of them were in this case. So we've known for a little bit of time that this was coming.
Q This morning you said that this wasn't about the messenger, it was about the message.
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q But isn't it precisely about the messenger, because those criticisms that Scott raises in his book -- they've been out there -- usually they come out of the mouths of Democrats -- but they've been out there. So isn't it precisely --
MS. PERINO: That doesn't make them true.
Q But what I'm saying, though, isn't it the fact that a former member of the inner circle is saying them that it adds some degree of legitimacy; it's not just dismissible by saying, well, those are Democrats and they're our political opponents?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe -- no, and I don't think that any time that we have argued about this that we've argued just about the messenger when it comes to Democrats either. We argue about it on the merits. And our central objection to the book to the book is that it is not based in fact.
And I think that one of the reasons we are puzzled and surprised and disappointed and saddened by it is because the charge, the loaded charge, in the book is that the President and his senior advisors purposefully misled people into war, and that we sent our young men and women into war, knowing something that we weren't telling the American people.
That is not true. And several independent non-partisan reviews have been done about pre-war intelligence. Is it true that WMD wasn't found? Of course it was. And we admitted that. We have said over and over that the intelligence was wrong. And we have worked very hard at President Bush's direction to change the way the intelligence community works together. But what hurts us is the suggestion that we purposefully sent men and women to war without acknowledging the consequences.
Q But he makes a number of charges, and not all of them are that direct. For instance, he says the President engages in "self-deception." And that's not something that may be willful, but it still has significant consequences.
MS. PERINO: I think it's an outrageous claim. I've been here myself for a long time, almost as long -- I've known the President not as long as Scott has, but quite a long time. This is a President who is -- I've never witnessed any self-deception at all. I think it's an absurd claim. And it's such a loaded charge. And you're right, when it comes from somebody like Scott, who was a close friend of many of us here at the White House, those of us who fully supported him before, during and after he was press secretary are disappointed by this and saddened by it. We certainly wish him well. We harbor no ill feelings towards him. We just are really disappointed, and we're going to combat the central premise of the book.
And I don't -- again, when you say that it's different because it's coming from him and not the Democrats -- I've always argued about this on the merits, so regardless of where untruths come from, we're going to push back on them.
Q One more. Just in terms of sort of the ongoing battle for public opinion, people who have been in the middle and can dismiss a lot of criticism because they'll say it's politically motivated, they're looking at this and saying, now, hang on a second, this is different because you have a member of the inner circle. So it seems as though this would affect sort of the general sense of the public about the presidency.
MS. PERINO: I think that's giving this book a lot more weight than it actually carries.
Q Can we just talk about what isn't true in the book? I mean, you go to the part about weapons of mass destruction and the big threat wasn't great and gathering as the White House said. And you said that's not true? Was there no exaggeration? Was there no hiding? Was there no spinning about the war?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. But did we communicate about the war? Yes. And I would point you to the President's speeches -- all the speeches that the President made leading up to it; he made several comprehensive speeches making the case for why Saddam Hussein was a threat, which was, based on the intelligence that we had -- and not only the United States had, but that's what the world had. And in addition to that he talks about -- in his speech especially on February 26, 2003, when he spoke to AEI; it was before I was a part of the press office, so I would encourage you to go back and look at it, as I've had to do myself -- where he talks about that the benefit to a free Iraq would be to the Iraqi people and also to the region, and establishing a change in the Middle East when it comes to freedom and justice and democracy.
Q But the order of what was talked about at the time in the buildup to the war was largely about weapons of mass destruction.
MS. PERINO: I think that that was -- well, I think you could go back, you could weigh it -- you know, I'm looking at it, what I have seen is a comprehensive case for confronting Saddam Hussein, and that's what the United Nations of course was talking about, specifically weapons of mass destruction. But there was also a gathering threat in terms of the nexus of working -- for example, paying suicide bombers, paying families of suicide bombers.
And you know better than anyone, Martha, about the buildup to this, the reaction to this. The problem that we have is this --
Q There were no suicide bombers in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: But paying them in the Palestinian Territories and in Israel. That's something that Saddam Hussein himself said.
Q Just a general question, then, Dana. I mean, one of the things he talks about is spinning, exaggeration, I mean, what goes on at the podium -- which is an indictment of you, as well. Do you think there's no spinning?
MS. PERINO: You know, it's a term that I don't necessarily use. I come out here, I answer your questions, I answer them to the best of my ability based on the information and the facts that I have.
Q Define your job for me. I know Scott in the book says that his job -- he believed his job was to advance the agenda of the President of the United States.
MS. PERINO: Sure it is. That's part of it. And my job is to be his spokesperson. But I also, as many of you in this room know -- especially you -- that I work very hard on behalf of the press as well. I defend the press, I advocate for the press and I make sure that all of you have answers as quickly as possible to the best of my ability every single day -- Saturdays and Sundays included.
Q In the book it reports that there came a time when the administration ignored contrary evidence and went ahead with the evidence that it did have on weapons of mass destruction. Isn't that demonstrably true now that the -- once the administration said that our intelligence is wrong?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't necessarily think so. Again, I wasn't here, but I would point you to -- at least three that I can think of -- independent reviews of pre-war intelligence and the decision to go to war that all came to the conclusion that nobody purposefully misled anybody in this endeavor.
Q When you say that we've known for a little while that this was coming, was the manuscript well circulated within the --
MS. PERINO: No, it was close -- it was tightly held. And in fact I haven't read the whole thing myself.
Q But when you said "we knew," who was "we"? Was it the Counsel's Office?
MS. PERINO: The Counsel's Office is the recipient of the manuscript.
Q Was the President aware? Was the Chief of Staff --
MS. PERINO: As I said, he was briefed about it by members of senior staff who were aware of it, but it was very tightly held thing. It was not circulated and of course I think you can know that it was pretty tightly held from our end because we didn't get -- we didn't give any reporters or anyone else outside the information or the manuscript.
Q Do you know whether anybody contacted Scott McClellan about the content?
MS. PERINO: I don't know for sure, but I don't believe so.*
Q Dana, you've used words like "sad" and "disgruntled" when talking about Scott and the book. Do you have a sense of his motivation after a few days of this back and forth about --
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- I won't question his motivations. He's free to have his opinions and he's free to have a look back at his period. I think one of the reasons I think it's sad is for those of who worked with him and saw how much he loved being press secretary, and how much he loved being a part of the back and forth in this room, and how much he delved into policy and tried to understand it as best as he possibly could, that to realize now that he looks back and looks so unfavorably upon his time at the White House -- I think that's one of the things that's really sad.
I mean, all of us are moderately talented people made very special because of an opportunity, and, you know, you can choose to use that opportunity in any way that you wish, and he's chosen this path. It's not a path that I will choose, that many others have not chosen. But I think that this is quite a unique circumstance, and I think that's one of the reasons it's sad. He's obviously very displeased and discontented with his time here.
Q How about the idea of somebody from the inner circle writing a book, whether it's a Republican President, a Democratic President -- is this bad for the overall Office of the President if the President has to worry about somebody in his inner circle perhaps using something that is said in a meeting for a book?
MS. PERINO: I think there's something to be said for that. I think that one of the things that you have in any organization -- be it your news organizations when you have editorial meetings or here at the White House, but especially here at the White House -- that you want to have some level of trust that when you speak up, that it's going to be held in confidence; when you push back on something, that that is held as -- in confidence. And if it's not, I do think that that's difficult for people necessarily. But I don't know of anybody at the White House who is sitting around a room thinking, oh my gosh, is he taking notes and going to report on this later? I think that is one of the reasons, when I say we were so surprised -- and not just puzzled, in terms of surprise -- at the tone of this book, of the language that he chooses to use; that's what is so disappointing and surprising to us.
Q Are you surprised he might vote for Obama?
MS. PERINO: I really don't care who he votes for.
Q Sorry you're on the hot seat on this, and excuse me if you've already been asked this at some point, but if you -- have you harbored any doubts about the war, and if you did, would you speak up, and would you resign?
MS. PERINO: Well, frankly, Connie, this isn't about me. Whether or not I -- what I care -- what I think on any issue is of no interest to any of you -- maybe until I leave and write a book -- (laughter.) But my job -- any press secretary's job is to articulate the President's positions and message, and answer your questions. And that's what any press secretary is supposed to do. So I'll continue to do it for the next seven months, or for however long he'll have me here.
Q But if you have a crisis of conscience, what is --
MS. PERINO: Have I had a crisis of conscience?
Q And if so, what is your obligation --
MS. PERINO: No, I have not. But I think that if I feel the need to speak up at any of the number of meetings that I have, or my -- if I need to step through the open door that the President has provided for me, I will do so without any concern about my future. And I have -- you have to be confident in going out -- coming up here every day, and I am. I have no crisis of confidence.
Q Well, let's just broaden it. If a staff member has doubts, do they have an obligation, any staff member, to speak up --
MS. PERINO: They have to all make that decision on their own.
Anybody else on this?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go here to Jim. You had one this morning.
Q Is there -- has the White House gotten involved in the Fulbright situation with the students in the --
MS. PERINO: In the Palestinian Territories? I saw that report this morning. Obviously we want people in the Middle East, students in the Middle East, to be able to come to America. The President thinks it's critically important to have that type of exchange, cultural exchange, between American students and the Palestinian students or Middle Eastern students. And in fact it's one of the things he talked about in the World Economic Forum speech just a couple of weeks ago when we were in Egypt.
It's something that he has asked Secretary Rice and Secretary Spellings to specifically concentrate on, and Ambassador Hughes when she was here. And we have made strides. But I think Hamas obviously has made it very difficult for students to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves, like the Fulbright scholarships. I don't specifically have information from the White House, and I'll have to refer you to the State Department for anything more on that.
Q Dana -- and I'm sorry if it was addressed this morning; I apologize --
MS. PERINO: It's okay.
Q -- does the White House have any response or further response to the allegations of the Commerce Department computer being hacked into while in China? Have you talked with any agencies involved, or with China?
MS. PERINO: I would refer you to the Department of Commerce on that. I don't have anything specifically here. I know that they are looking into the matter over there, and for security reasons we don't comment on particular matters that are being investigated.
Q But is it a concern to the White House that something like this --
MS. PERINO: Well, we are continually working to increase our capabilities to make sure that all of our information is safeguarded; that any cyber risk that is out there we take into account, and we are constantly trying to work on it. Other governments are, too, so we take that into account. We're always looking for ways to safeguard our systems and we'll continue to do so.
Q Dana, a question. Is the President satisfied with the response in the private sector to safeguard computer networks?
MS. PERINO: I've not heard him say otherwise. I don't know.
Q Well, certainly this is a major concern, particularly with the utilities.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that private sector corporations are probably just as concerned about their own information as we are here in the government.
Q But there have been reports that the private sector hasn't done anywhere near as much as the government has to safeguard --
MS. PERINO: I just don't -- I don't know.
Q If it were ever to be shown that a power failure like the one that hit the Northeast in 2003 was the result of a cyber attack, would the President consider that an act of war?
MS. PERINO: Wow, now that's a hypothetical I'm not going to answer.
Q Dana, I have a couple for you. One is do you have a reaction to the cluster bomb vote?
MS. PERINO: The one from yesterday -- or was it two days ago? I can't remember; it's been kind of a long week. Well, we are deeply concerned about the humanitarian impact, not only of just cluster munitions, but really the whole range of munitions that are used at war. It's a moral obligation to clean up, and we do so. You need to try to do everything you can to clean up after a conflict zone to make sure that there aren't innocent victims that are hurt with unexploded weapons that are lying around on the ground.
We've played an important role in it since 1993. We've spent more than $1.2 billion on such cleanup. No other country in the world comes close to that. We are strongly committed to working to address this problem. I would refer you to the State Department because I believe that they will be able to articulate for you some of the disagreements we may have with the tactics or the venue for addressing this problem.
Q And this morning you said you would assume that Prime Minister Olmert would be welcomed here next week. If he shows up at AIPAC at the event --
MS. PERINO: I would expect that if he comes to the AIPAC conference that the President would meet with him.
Q But it's not -- so it's not on his schedule? And would they meet at the White House, would they meet in another setting? What was the --
MS. PERINO: I don't think the President has any plans to be anywhere but the White House next week for any sort of meeting. So if he comes, it would be here at the White House.
Q Okay, but it's not on the schedule then as of right now?
MS. PERINO: Not that I know of.
Q Dana, two quick questions, please. One, as far as Scott is concerned, we all have known him very well and he was very close to the President, and the President is a loyal friend. And also he was like a family to him, and also he was close to everybody in the White House. What do you think have gone wrong? Do you think he was bitter about something, or maybe influenced from his Democratic mother, or something? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I think I'll just leave that one alone. What's your second question?
Q And second one is that, as far as terrorism is concerned in Afghanistan and on the Pakistan border, American NATO commander is now retiring, and what he said that what we expected from Pakistan was not done, and there is a long way to go as far as fighting terrorism. And now Pakistan has a new deal with the terrorists and that means they will withdraw their forces from the border. And here CIA Chief Michael Hayden said that we are defeating terrorism and al Qaeda --
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q So where do we stand now? Is President briefed on all this, where we stand now --
MS. PERINO: Yes. You might not have heard, the President this morning spoke to President Musharraf. That was followed on his meeting with Prime Minister Gilani in Sharm el Sheikh, which was just a couple of weeks ago. We are very concerned, but we believe that the Pakistanis are, as well, and that we need to continue to make sure that we can confront the terrorists there on the border.
Q Thank you.
Q Wait a minute, Dana -- Dana.
MS. PERINO: Okay, can we do one? It's decision time. (Laughter.)
Q I have one question that has nothing to do with your -- (laughter.) This morning The Washington Times published a statement by Marine Corps Sergeant Steven Pryor of Bowie, Maryland: "The photographs of unprofessional behavior by newly commissioned Air Force officers and President Bush on the front page of Thursday's edition are incredibly disappointing, clownish, and set a horrible example for everyone in the military." Will this Marine sergeant be punished for this statement, or not?
MS. PERINO: Certainly not. I think it's referring to the U.S. Air Force Academy commencement ceremony, and the President had a wonderful time with 1,012 cadets, personally acknowledging each of them.
Q You saw the pictures on the front --
MS. PERINO: It was a wonderful event.
END 1:03 P.M. EDT
* Scott McClellan submitted a copy of his book to the White House for a review in keeping with his obligations as an official holding a security clearance. Mr. McClellan met with legal staff from the National Security Council and White House Counsel's Office on May 2. The outcome of the review was discussed with the same kind of specificity that is the norm for this kind of material and subject matter. No edits or changes were requested and to the extent that he made any changes after the meeting it was his option and choice as the author.