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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 5, 2008
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:39 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning -- afternoon. One quick announcement. President Bush wanted to thank Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of Veterans Affairs James Peake today for participating in a groundbreaking of the National Intrepid Center of Excellence. This Center is a state-of-the-art facility that will treat American troops and veterans who are suffering from traumatic brain injury and psychological health issues. The project is being funded by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which provides assistance to our nation's military heroes who have been critically injured in the performance of duties.
The National Intrepid Center of Excellence should be complete by the end of 2009 and will provide intensive outpatient evaluation, advanced diagnostics, initial treatment plans and treatment modalities, and long-term follow-up care for patients. The Center expects to facilitate maximum recovery for warriors and families so that they can return to duty or to function within their home communities. And the President was very pleased that they went up and did that today.
Q Does the President have a clear picture of what happened to the British and American diplomats in Zimbabwe?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that information is still coming in. We believe that the -- we're thankful that they appear to be safe. But we are outraged by this deplorable act. And while this incident has been resolved, it won't be forgotten, and the State Department will continue to talk to the Zimbabweans and make sure that they know how -- just how displeased President Bush is.
Q Is there any recourse that the United States has? I mean, other than expressing displeasure?
MS. PERINO: I don't know of any at the moment, so let me refer you to the State Department for any immediate reaction on whatever the Ambassador is doing there on the ground.
Q And is it your understanding the diplomats were not harmed or -- were they mistreated?
MS. PERINO: I don't have any other reports except for news reports that I've seen. So let me refer you to the State Department, who has a direct line of communication with them.
Q On the same topic, do we know what happened? And Zimbabwe says that they were -- the diplomats were spies.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that that's probably an outrageous claim. I don't know why they were stopped. But again, let me refer you to the State Department. They have a direct line of communication with the Ambassador there.
Q And do you have anything to say about the Tsvangirai arrest?
MS. PERINO: As we said yesterday, it was absolutely horrible, and we are pleased that he was released. But he never should have been detained in the first place. And Zimbabwe is a very sad story of a country that used to be one that was a shining jewel in Africa and one that was an exporter of food. And now they have people who are dependent on NGOs. And then Mugabe takes the next step of cutting off their food. And we just find it just deplorable, outrageous, sad. And the fact that Mugabe then left his country in the middle of this crisis, much of what he caused, and went to Rome for a food conference is obscene.
Q The State Department has already said that it will take its protest over the detention of the diplomats to the Security Council. Are there, though, any other steps that can be taken, such as expelling the Zimbabwe ambassador?
MS. PERINO: I think that given that this has just happened, let me refer you to the State Department, who is considering what they can to do. Remember we are the chair of the U.N. Security Council this month.
Q Dana, maybe -- it's been a couple of hours since the Senate report came out, so I just wanted to give you a chance on camera to talk a little bit about Senate Democrats -- I know Republicans are disagreeing on the Hill -- but Senate Democrats are alleging that it's not that intelligence was wrong, but that the administration maybe exaggerated some intelligence and maybe left out some key caveats about that intelligence in the run-up to the war. And I wonder, for your reaction, especially since Scott McClellan -- it's not just Democrats, but Scott McClellan made a similar claim in his book.
MS. PERINO: Well, one, I would say that the issue of pre-war intelligence on Iraq has been thoroughly reviewed over the years by the Congress, as well as the independent WMD Commission. The majority report today is a selective view. And as you just said, the minority, the Republicans, have their own report, and I would encourage everyone to look at that as well. Senator Bond has a press conference that is probably underway as I speak. And so make sure you take a look at that.
The administration's statements on Iraq were based on the very same intelligence that was given to the Congress, and they came to the same conclusions, as did other countries around the world. The issue about Iraq's WMD ultimately turned out to be false, and we have fully admitted that. We regret it. And we have also taken steps to make sure that we can correct it for -- in the future.
So for example, one of the things that the WMD Commission recommended was the creation of a -- we'll call it the Director of National Intelligence. They wanted somebody to oversee and coordinate amongst the intelligence agencies. Congress supported it, the President supported it, and we were able to stand that up. And it is now -- first run by General Hayden, who now runs the CIA, but now run by General Mike McConnell, who was able to improve the process of how we gather intel and how that intel is presented to the President.
For example, they have improved the way that they talk about the confidence level in both the judgments that they are making and the sources that they are talking to. Policymakers, because of this improved process, get an improved product, a more fulsome product, and we have a better service that's good for the President, that's good for the America people. And I would just remind you, President Bush and other administration officials repeated declarations -- and it says this in the report -- repeated declarations that were substantiated by the intelligence community that turned out to be wrong. That does not mean that anybody purposefully lied.
Q Senator Rockefeller also specifically said today, he used the word "catastrophe" and said that if the administration had been more careful with the intelligence, we may have been able to avoid this catastrophe, talking about the war in Iraq. How do you react to a statement like that?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I think that the President and administration officials and the Congress were all working from the same intelligence and acting on the same information. And when the intelligence community tells you this -- gives you information, you have an obligation to look at it.
Now, is intelligence always going to be 100 percent right in the future? It can't be. It's just not the nature of the way that that works. But I do think that we have improved the process so much that it is unlikely that it could ever happen again.
Q Dana, following on that, in the release from the Senate Democrats, their message -- the first sentence says that this report confirms former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's account of how the Bush administration led the nation to war through a propaganda campaign. What's your reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: Scott, by his very own admission, wasn't there at the time. He was the Deputy Press Secretary for Domestic Affairs. He has said, as I understand it, that looking back, even though he wasn't there, reading Bob Woodward's book, this is how he came to his conclusion.
So I think that the Senate Democrats and the Republicans took a lot of -- look, I don't know how well this report would stand up in terms of the processes. I know that the Republicans on Capitol Hill have a lot of beef with how it was taken -- how it was done.
And so, when it comes to Scott, I would just remind you that he was the Deputy Press Secretary for Domestic Affairs. He said that upon reflection, looking back at how the war was packaged -- and that's his words -- he disagrees with that. That's fine, that's his opinion. It doesn't change the fact that the information that the President has, the information he was given by the intelligence community -- he based that on the facts that he was given; he based his decisions based on the facts that he was given, and a political judgment. The fact that the intelligence turned out to be wrong on WMD does not mean that anyone purposefully lied. And that is the insinuation by some on Capitol Hill, and by a former colleague. And that's why we were so saddened and disappointed and hurt by his words.
Q But you understand the differences they're making, that they think that the claims -- understanding that the intelligence was wrong -- but that the claims went far beyond what the intelligence community was giving the White House, and that it ignored significant dissent within the intelligence community -- the White House.
MS. PERINO: That dissent, amongst experts within the intelligence community at some levels, did not reach the President. The process that I just talked about, in terms of how we've improved the process, would hopefully make sure that now that we have this different levels of confidence, so that the President now knows if there is dissent amongst them. And that is all now coordinated by the Director of National Intelligence -- Mike McConnell in this case.
So we've fixed the problems, in terms of the intelligence, but no one lied. And I think that's sort of the point of all this. These issues have been looked at many times. And I would also remind you that everyone who has looked at this has not come to the conclusion, except for people who are not basing things on the facts, that there was political interference or that there was some sort of pressure put on people to give us information that we wanted for purposes of just going to war. We acted on the information that we had.
And the President has repeated this -- the Vice President, other administration officials. And I think that this is just another example of rehashing this old issue, which is fine. If people want to spend their time doing that, that's up to them. But we have changed the process, and it's much more improved. And that's good for the President -- not just this President, but any future President as well.
Q Can I follow on that? With all due respect, press secretaries are authorized to speak for a President. Scott spoke on the war issues, even before -- that happened before he was Press Secretary, just as you're speaking to the intelligence process and how it was reformed before you became Press Secretary. And I was unaware that Scott was limited to domestic affairs. I think those of us that covered him felt that we could go to him on all matter of --
MS. PERINO: Let me be a little bit more precise. The issue is, if I could just -- I'll delve a little bit more into the detail of it -- is that -- it's the question of -- and I served as the Deputy as well. I didn't sit in on national security meetings as the Deputy Press Secretary when I dealt with domestic affairs, and neither did Scott. That's my only point on that. In terms of looking back at issues of 2001 and 2002 and 2003, when intelligence was reviewed, those are the places where he wasn't. And he says that in his book and he's said it in interviews since.
Q But the heart of the question, though, is, does the President feel, even if it's not 100 percent, that the intelligence that he's getting today is not subject to the second-guessing that this report is coming out with now, on the insufficiency of the intelligence at a crucial time?
MS. PERINO: I think he thinks it is a much improved product, based on the improved processes that have been put in place, where the Director of National Intelligence can find out if there's dissent amongst intelligence professionals, or experts who are out there who might disagree. If you have someone at the CIA who is disagreeing with somebody at NCTC, that is something that maybe before these new processes wouldn't have bubbled up so that everybody could know that there was a concern, that maybe somebody had questions about a key judgment.
So I think that adding that level of -- what is the confidence level of not just the judgments, but also of the sources, is an important way to improve the process and make sure that the President is getting an improved product. And again, I would say that that's not just for this President. President Bush has fundamentally reformed the intelligence community that will serve the next President and future Presidents very well.
Q A follow-up from yesterday. Do you have anything on an agreement between Cheney and Olmert on a military aid package that includes F-35 stealth fighter jets in 2012 --
MS. PERINO: Did you say Cheney and Olmert?
Q -- and missile defense cooperation?
MS. PERINO: Did you say Cheney and Olmert? No, I don't have anything on that. No, I don't.
Q Did he meet with Cheney?
MS. PERINO: He did meeting with the Vice President. I believe they had dinner on Tuesday night. I don't know if that came up. I'd refer you to his office for more.
Q The Zimbabwe situation -- earlier at one point in this back-and-forth said that the diplomats who were detained had spoken up at an opposition rally in Zimbabwe.
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q You don't know?
MS. PERINO: I don't know if that's true or not.
Q Okay. And on the Iraq intelligence report, you've said a couple times in the past week or so that the entire world had the same intelligence on Iraq. Given the significant dissent even inside the United States intelligence community on a lot of key issues, how can that be true?
MS. PERINO: Okay, well, maybe "entire world" was probably a little bit too strong, or too broad. But clearly, other governments that looked at the same intelligence that we had came to the same conclusions. I don't think that's in dispute.
Q Follow on Zimbabwe?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q Is there a concern for the opposition leader's safety? And in the Rose Garden, when the President had his press conference last, he said that neighboring countries should get involved. Is he satisfied with how neighboring countries have been reacting with Zimbabwe since he made those statements, putting them basically on notice?
MS. PERINO: Well, your first question was, is his safety in danger --
Q Is the White House concerned --
MS. PERINO: Are we concerned about his safety. I think anytime someone is needlessly and unquestionably detained for several hours without any cause, that is a concern for somebody's safety. Now, whether he was physically harmed, I don't know, and I'm sure that he can speak for himself on that. But yes, we are concerned about his safety. We also are mostly concerned about Zimbabweans across the board -- one, because they are hungry and they are living in a situation that is just so deplorable and so unnecessary. This was a country that had risen so high and has just been brought down crashing to the ground, and it's -- that's a horrible situation. And it's not good for their neighbors -- not just for the humanitarian conditions and the concerns that we have, but certainly it is not good for any of Zimbabwe's neighbors to have such unrest and just sadness and horrible, deplorable conditions, violence, people wanting to leave the country so that they can just find a job to get something to eat.
And so the leaders that are the neighbors of Zimbabwe do have an obligation to try to help. And I won't characterize whether or not the President thinks they've done enough. I think clearly the situation is still a matter of unrest. And people went to the polls, they had a chance to vote, and we would want them to have their vote recognized and for there to be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.
I think the most important thing right now is to allow for the run-off to happen in a way that doesn't have any political interference by the ruling party and allows the opposition to have their rallies and to campaign just like you would in any other democracy.
Back to you.
Q Yes, thanks. The UAE just announced that they're going to send an ambassador to Baghdad for the first time --
MS. PERINO: Great.
Q -- since Saddam was removed. This has been a really big, top issue for this administration -- Vice President Cheney brought it up, et cetera. Do you have a reaction to the UAE decision, and what's your message to other Arab countries?
MS. PERINO: We absolutely appreciate what the UAE has decided to do today. To say that they are going to be able to send an ambassador to Iraq says a lot of things -- one, about Iraq. It says that it has improved enough that the UAE feels that it can take this step. But it also says something about Iraq and its neighbors, and hopefully getting back on a path to normal and good relations with its neighbors in the region, and it's very exciting for Iraq to be able to be recognized in this way. And we hope that other countries would follow suit soon.
Q On the story in The Independent about the deal allegedly between the U.S. and Iraq, The Independent says that details of the deal were leaked to them. I'm sure you've seen The Independent's story --
MS. PERINO: I don't know, I haven't seen it.
Q You've not seen the story in The Independent?
MS. PERINO: I've not seen The Independent, I don't think.
MS. PERINO: I've read about ten other papers today, but not The Independent. (Laughter.)
Q Two questions, thank you. President have any comments about Obama, Senator Obama history yesterday by winning a major party nomination? And also, he is calling on a tougher sanctions and also to be tough on -- as far as fighting against terrorism?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think the first part of your question was, does the President have anything to say. And as I said yesterday, the President absolutely congratulates him and took a moment to recognize what a historic achievement it is for -- not only for him, but for African Americans and for all of America. So, yes, the President recognized that.
And when it comes to his policies that he will prescribe for future foreign policy if he is elected President, which we don't think he will be -- we think it will be John McCain -- but we'll leave that to him to describe.
Q And second, as far as -- are you concerned or somebody in this building or elsewhere that now, according to the human rights organizations and press reports, in New York Chinese consulate officials involved against peaceful Chinese demonstrations because they hired their own people to attack peaceful demonstrations who are demonstrating against China? And now he admits --
MS. PERINO: Are you referring to the State Department report from yesterday?
Q No, it's a -- he admits to the --
MS. PERINO: I haven't seen their report. I know that the State Department put out their statement yesterday on human trafficking, but I don't know of a recent report by a human rights organization.
Q It's not trafficking, it's a consulate general official admits in New York that he involved in the --
MS. PERINO: Can we look into it and get back to you? Because I haven't seen his words, so I don't want to comment on them without that.
Q Dana, I think just in the last few minutes some news broke that maybe some top Air Force officials have been asked to resign -- the Secretary of the Air Force, the Air Force Chief of Staff. Is the White House playing a role in that? Can you tell us anything about that, why that happened?
MS. PERINO: I will let DOD make an announcement, but I would say that the White House has not played any role in that upcoming announcement.
Q But you've been briefed on it, informed, the President is aware?
MS. PERINO: Yes. If I'm aware, I think he's aware. (Laughter.)
Q So generally though, what is the nature of --
MS. PERINO: I'd have to let DOD make a personnel announcement about DOD personnel. It would not be appropriate to do it from here.
Q How long has he been aware of this?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that really matters.
Q Yes it does.
Q Thank you.
END 12:57 P.M. EDT