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Corporate Responsibility

Excerpt from June 28, 2002 Press Briefing with
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Click here for the full transcript

Q: Ari, as you know, some Democrats say those measures don't go far enough, that it relies a little bit on self-policing. Case in point, those measures, would they have prevented WorldCom from potentially misaccounting for $3.8 billion? Just that, in and of itself, affected shareholders, not whether these officers had stock options connected to those profits.

How would the president's proposals prevent a company from, quote, "cooking the books"?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the things that Congress can do is pass the president's request. There's money in the supplemental right now for $20 million for the Securities and Exchange Commission to have another 100 enforcers of the law. And that's something the president has worked with Congress on. It's in the supplemental that's pending in the Congress, and that's action that can be taken so the Securities and Exchange Commission has even more resources to go after these bad apples. And the president supports that funding; he hopes Congress will be able to pass it.

And let me walk you through several of the president's other proposals on corporate responsibility.

Q: The president said today, the Justice Department will hold people accountable. Was he confirming that the Justice Department is looking into the WorldCom case?

And separately, can you confirm what's been in the papers today, that you're looking at even more initiatives for July?

MR. FLEISCHER: I will always allow the law enforcement agencies to describe their own law enforcement actions. I don't think the White House should get in the specifics of the law enforcement action. That's for the individual agency to detail.

The president will be giving a speech on July 12 in New York City about corporate governance. Again, the president spoke out about it today at his luncheon. And as those of you who travel with the president, you've heard him talk about it on a repeated basis, he will continue to say it, because he thinks it's important to hold corporate American responsible.

Q: What's the president's position on the Sarbanes legislation, which seems to be gaining ground in the Senate?

MR. FLEISCHER: The president shares the goal of the Sarbanes bill. He believes that we need more disclosure, we need better information, increased corporate responsibility and a crack down on corporate wrongdoing. He's pleased that Senator Sarbanes' bill calls for a stepped up enforcement by the SEC.

Q: Ari, besides giving a speech tomorrow and giving a speech in New York on July 9th, the president has the bully pulpit and he has convened many conferences for (inaudible) the White House about different issues. There is a crisis of confidence out that. Will he convene a White House conference on this issue?

MR. FLEISCHER: The president will continue to talk to the American people and to corporate leaders.

I can tell you there was a meeting the president had earlier this month with corporate leaders, to discuss getting them involved in Freedom Corps, having people who are involved in corporate America give their employees time to sign up for charitable work. And during that meeting -- it was an unrelated topic -- during that meeting the president called on these leading business leaders to exercise corporate responsibility, to make certain that their books were open and transparent and accurate, to make certain that their compensation packages were reasonable for the times.

Q: Aside from the speech that the president is going to be giving on corporate responsibility, his overall message, and aside from the 10-point plan which he already has proposed, does the president feel there are additional measures that need to be taken? Are you all considering anything else that's (OFF-MIKE) message?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would invite you, again, to the president's speech, and I think you'll hear from the president directly about what he thinks needs to be done, including whether anything additional.

But one important starting place for additional activity to be done that goes beyond what the president has publicly called for is, Congress to pass the supplemental which provides for 100 more enforcement agents for the Securities and Exchange Commission. It's one more good reason for Congress to pass that bill and get it to the president. It's called an emergency bill for a reason. And the fiscal year is almost over. Congress needs to pass that bill.

Q: Ari, given them the current firestorm over corporate fraud and corporate responsibility, has either the president or the vice president gone back to make sure that the accounting practices at Haliburton didn't violate any rules and didn't try to bend the rules? As you know, the SEC is looking into Haliburton, including the period in which the vice president was employed at Haliburton, and they've gone back to double-check to make sure nothing was wrong.

MR. FLEISCHER: Anything like that, we refer you to Haliburton. Haliburton can address those questions about any of their records.