The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 13, 2001

Press Gaggle
Ari Fleischer
the James S. Brady Briefing Room

10:03 A.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good morning, gagglers, and thank you for allowing me to come to briefing room to do this under our normal rules:  no TV, no radio, but this of course is all on the record.  And I will be briefing today on camera at 2:30 p.m.

     This morning, the President arrived in the Oval Office at approximately 7:10 a.m.  He made a series of phone calls to world leaders, including Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, Lord Robertson of NATO, and Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. All four expressed their condolences and deepest sympathies to the people of the United States over this terrorist attack.  And all four told the President that they stand united with the people of the United States in combatting terrorism.

     The President later today will be making a phone call to Mayor Giuliani.  He will also, late morning -- we'll get you an exact time as soon as we can -- depart for a local hospital for a private visit to meet with the families of people who are in the hospital here, and to thank the many doctors and nurses who have saved lives at these hospitals.

     The President will also, this afternoon at -- is it 3:30 p.m. -- 3:30 p.m., I believe, is the meeting with members of Congress from the regions that have been affected -- here at the Pentagon, up in New York City -- by the terrorist acts.

     Also, the President is declaring today that tomorrow should be a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance.  The President tomorrow will attend a prayer service in Washington, D.C.  The President is calling on Americans during their lunch hours today -- he will call on them at tomorrow's Day of Prayer and Remembrance to take time during their lunch hour to attend prayer services at churches, synagogues, mosques, other places of their choosing, to pray for our nation, to pray for the families of those who were victimized by this act of terrorism.

     I'm happy to take questions.

     Q    When the President made these phone calls, what was the purpose? I mean, you said they expressed condolences, but he called them.  Did he call them for some reason?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is continuing, and will continue, to make phone calls around the world as part of his effort to assemble an international coalition that stands united to combat terrorism.

     Q    And did they agree to join a coalition?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They have all said that they will stand united with the United States to fight terrorism.

     Q    What are we asking them to exactly do?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's the words I've used, Helen.  I'm not going to get more specific than that.

     Q    Why?  What do you want in a coalition?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Because that's the tenor of the conversation that they're having.

     Q    But is a coalition just a rhetorical agreement, we don't like terrorism?  Or are you looking for more significant support of any type -- militarily, economically, joining in some kind of sanctions regime, anything?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It is more than rhetorical, but I'm not prepared to go beyond that.  It is an expression of world support, and world condemnation -- just as with NATO's action.  This is unprecedented, that NATO would say an attack on one nation is an attack on all.  NATO has not invoked its Article 5 clause before.

     Q    But that has a legal implication.  I mean, that implies action. The NATO action --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I know where the questions are going, what you're after.  But when it comes to action, you're asking me to predict or to indicate publicly any future events, and I'm not going to do that.

     Q    No, we're not asking you that.  We're asking, is the United States asking these countries for military help or for any other kind of help?

     Q    For basing rights?  For money?  Anything like that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to go beyond that, what I've said, to address any specifics.

     Q    Why shouldn't we know, though?  I mean, what's the difference?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Because these are conversations between the President and foreign leaders, and the President does not share every aspect of every sentence he has with foreign leaders.

     Q    Ari, when you say "coalition", it does mean something, it seems, more than just standing shoulder to shoulder.  I mean, no one likes terrorism.  Every nation formally condemns terrorism.  Nobody stands up in the United Nations and says,  hooray for terrorism.  What does "coalition" mean, when the President is seeking to build it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Coalition means that the world stands united, and they are sending a signal to those who have carried out this act that the world is united with the United States.

     Q    Does it envision common action?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Listen, I know what you're asking.  I'm just not going to go beyond that.

     Q    You know what we're asking, but you're telling us you're not going to answer it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, what I'm saying is that I'm not going to discuss every sentence of the President's conversations with foreign leaders.

     Q    We're not asking you to do that.  We're asking, what are we asking of them?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm describing it as I've described it.  I'm not going to go beyond that.

     Q    What we're trying to establish is that what you all are discussing in these things, without any reference to specifics of any sort, is beyond the level of just expressions --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The only way to answer that is to get into specifics.

     Q    -- expressions of emotional support.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The only way to answer that is to get into specifics.

     Q    Well, without doing the specifics.  Presumably you all would like to have -- if you need them, ever --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Listen, this is -- I don't know if you want to spend all of your time on this and this topic, because I'm not going to go beyond that.

     Q    Isn't that something the nation needs, right now, is specifics, when everyone, including people here in the White House, are rattled from this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Actually I think, April, that the nation completely understands the need for the President and our planners to be able to protect our nation, to carry out the nation's mission in a manner that is not shared in all aspects publicly.

     Q    But, Ari, the words of war continue to be floated around, and a lot of people are wondering when and how.  And they're looking to the White House for specifics, and to see so this situation won't happen again.  What can you give to the American public to reassure them, in your conversations with these other nations, that you are working to secure the security of the American public?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As the President said yesterday, the United States will use all our resources to conquer this enemy.  But if the press corps is asking for anybody in government to list what specific actions the United States is going to take in the future --

     Q    We're not asking that.  We're not asking that.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- of that nature, I think the American people are content to let the government go about its business, so that we can do exactly what the President said.

     Q    Can you say, Ari, why the U.S. sees it so important to sort of have this international consensus to fight terrorism?  Is it the magnitude of the situation?  Is it that beyond going after those responsible, deemed responsible for the attacks, we're looking at taking this opportunity to do more of a worldwide assault on terrorism?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the best explanation of it, Kelly, comes from the United Nations.  In the Security Council resolution that they passed, the United Nations declared that this attack on the United States is a threat to international peace and security.  And I think it is comforting for Americans and for all nations around the world to know that nations around the world are joining in coalition with the United States to combat terrorism.

     Q    Just one last question.  A coalition meant -- the same thing recalls President Bush #1, who formed a coalition to go into the Persian Gulf -- to start a war in the Persian Gulf.  That brings something to our minds; is that what you're talking about?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, what you're trying to get me --

     Q    You know, they were never reticent in saying they were trying to get Russia on board, and other countries, and so forth.  What's the big deal?  Why the secrecy?  We're not asking what they're going to do.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Because, Helen, what you're really asking me to do is indicate, does this mean the United States and nations around the world are engaged in military planning?  And I'm not going to discuss anything that deals with military planning.

     Q    You're not?

     Q    So it does deal with military planning?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Jim?

     Q    Yes, two questions for you.  One, have you learned anything else about the Pennsylvania flight, which holds, it seems, some promise of yielding things since it didn't hit a target.  Have you learned anything else about that?  What brought it down, any clues from that?

     And, second, I'm a little confused -- you seemed to suggest yesterday that you were confident that the terrorist plan had been completed.  Yet, there seem to be concerns elsewhere in government that there is a danger of follow-on attacks.  And I'm not clear what the administration believes the state of play is.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, I indicated that the action up in New York that was executed on that day appeared to be completed from that day's events, and that the risk was reduced.  And as the President indicated, there is still risk to our country, although it was at a reduced level at that point.

     So the President, in his remarks yesterday, did warn the American people that we need to still remain vigilant in the fight against terrorism.  And clearly the fact that it took place is a warning sign to all of us, and the country will continue to be vigilant, but --

     Q    But the FAA warned airlines and the security directors yesterday that there was a risk of follow-on attacks, and gave a great deal of specifics on that front, seeming to suggest that, in fact, we believe the opposite of what you seem to be suggesting, which is that there is a continuing risk, and that they have not yet completed their plans.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, I indicated the risk has been reduced.  I didn't say it has gone away.

     Q    Okay.  Now, what about Pennsylvania?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Oh, anything on that is going to come from the Attorney General or the appropriate law enforcement agencies.

     Q    Ari, to defend himself against criticism that this represents prima facie the greatest all-time intelligence failure, the CIA director has said, in essence, we failed to prevent this attack, but there are many terrorist attacks that we have successfully prevented.  Will we ever get any details about those successful efforts of the CIA?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't know.  I would have to talk to the CIA about that and see what information can be provided.

     Q    A follow up on that, Ari?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Have you tried to get that yourself, directly?

     Q    Not from CIA.  But it seems to me that if this is just the most recent in a string of attacks, some of which were very soon preceding it, that we ought to have details about them.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay.  I'll try to see if there's anything available on that.

     Q    Does the President have full confidence in the CIA director?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, he does.

     Q    Ari, what specifically is the White House seeking from Congress in terms of latitude for action?  Is the $20 billion going to be enough?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The administration is very pleased with the action taken by the Congress, and the President is gratified to Democrats and Republicans who passed that measure, that provides substantial help and flexibility as the government plans for how to help people and take in the appropriate actions.

     Q    Yes, but there have been reports that the White House is seeking something more specific, some kind of permission, short of a declaration of war, for the White House to take action.  Are you doing that?  And could you at least be specific about that matter?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I indicated yesterday that the administration is of course talking to Congress about the appropriate measure here.  And there have been discussions with Congress about a joint resolution, which the administration views as another show of unity by the Congress with the administration in combatting terrorism.  There is no question that Congress believes that the President has the authority to act in his self-defense, act in the self-defense of the United States.  And we are talking to Congress about appropriate language.

     Q     You don't need any additional congressional authorization to take any sort of military action?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as I've said, Jim, the administration is gratified by Congress's show of unity and we're going to continue to work with Congress on the appropriate language and the show of unity.

     But, also, as previous Presidents have maintained, and President Bush does, that under the Constitution the President, of course, has the authority as Commander in Chief to act to protect our nation.

     Q    As a matter of practical reality, last time Congress authorized use of force at a large scale was the Gulf War, and that authorization was made conditional on the administration showing congressional leaders certain things -- that diplomatic efforts had been exhausted, et cetera.

     Should Congress be playing a role, as it did then, in deciding what and when should happen?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, Congress has a vital role to play in this.  And as the President expressed to the members of Congress yesterday in the meeting, that we stand together and we are going to work very closely, the White House and the Congress.  And we will continue to provide information to the Congress; the President will continue to talk very closely with the leadership of the Congress in both parties.

     You know, I almost hesitate at times like this to even say "both parties," it just is so remarkable how in the leadership meeting there were no parties in that room -- there were just American citizens in that room who were elected representatives of the people.

     I hope I've answered that question with a specificity on the joint resolution, but also about the constitutional authority vested in the President.

     Q     Will you seek any specific authorization from Congress before taking military action?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, the President is gratified by the actions of the Congress to show unity.  But as all administrations before have said, this President says, the Constitution vested that authority in the President.  But beyond that, it's speculation.

     Q     But the administration asked for this joint resolution, is that right, asked Congress to work on this --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, and, Kelly, this is classic as you work with the Hill and you have meetings.  We really have been working this together with the Hill.  I'm not really sure where anybody begins and ends when you're working closely together on something where you really are so united.

     Q     Ari, what is the administration's position on possible implementation of sky marshals on every U.S. flight?  And, secondly, Terry's colleague yesterday reported that some of the people in the Pentagon were a little bit skeptical about your comments yesterday that the White House and Air Force One were targets of attack, given that the plane had come from the south.  What do you make of that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And who are these people?

     Q     Well, I don't know, they weren't my sources.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I wouldn't have said it if it wasn't true.

     Q     Can you confirm the substance of that threat that was telephoned in, the words, Air Force One is next, and using code words?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, I can; that's correct.

     Q     Ari, the sky marshals question?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay, I'm sorry.  On the sky marshal question, check with transportation, but measures are being taken to protect passengers on the flights.

     Q     But would the White House keep open to the possibility of having a sky marshal on every flight?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The White House is working with the Department of Transportation, as the Department of Transportation implements its safety plans.  And of course the White House is going to support whatever steps are needed to protect safety.

     Q     Ari, the threat -- go back to the threat, please.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Randy's question, and then we're going to wrap this up, because we're going to keep this to gaggle rules.  Randy's question was asking me to confirm the report about Air Force One as a target, using code words, and I confirmed that.

     Q     Why couldn't you confirm that yesterday, when we were all asking you -- yesterday we asked you a thousand times what evidence you had and you weren't able to give us that information?  Is there a reason you couldn't?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I was not the one who gave it to the press.  It's in the press today, but it's the press today and throughout all of this I have to find the right balance in this White House -- and you all have seen this before, being helpful to you all, which is my job, and also sharing information in a way that provides the information best.  So that's why, Ron.

     Q     You have gone a lot farther, Ari.  The people here at the White House had gone a lot farther in providing information now, than the Attorney General, who said he couldn't provide this information out of need to protect the ongoing probe.  Why is the White House -- you and Karl Rove, as quoted in the New York Times today -- are you worried about the President's image, in terms of trying to defend, keeping him out of Washington and when the Attorney General is saying that we can't reveal this information?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We haven't revealed any of the sources or methods.

     Q     But you're providing far more detail about it now than he was, or willing to.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm just not going to reveal any -- believe me, I understand sources and methods and I'm not indicating anything of that nature.

     Q     What are you confirming?

     Q     Did someone call and say Air --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Air Force One is a target.

     Q     Did they say, "Air Force One is next"?  I think the Times is saying, "Air Force One is next."

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think it was, Air Force One is a target.

     Q     And did they refer to it by its code name?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, they did.

     Q     Can I just ask one other thing on the plane that eventually hit the Pentagon?  Do you have any sense of the flight plan, of where the plane flew over?  Did it fly around the White House before actually hitting the Pentagon?  You talked about that plane, believing it was originally intended for the White House, did it ever -- believe it sort of turned around, I think, and flown over the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It was on a flight path directly for the White House and it hit the Pentagon, instead.

     Q     Did it fly over the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have that specific information.

     Q     When you say that it was on a flight path for the White House, do you mean that if it had not hit the Pentagon and had continued across the river it would have hit the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.

     Q     Ari, how can you say it's on a flight path to the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Now you're getting to sources.

     Q     Well, I mean, what do you know?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  (Laughter.)  You're getting into sources and methods.

     Q     Ari, were you able to find out yesterday about religious leaders?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  On the religious leaders question, the President has been praying every day.  And tomorrow, at the prayer service here in Washington, the President will be joined by a group of leading religious leaders.  We'll have more information on that for you a little bit later today.

     Q     The minister that's coming in today, through the First Lady, is it going to be opened up to the other --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The minister that's coming in today?

     Q     Yes, we understand through CBS, that she's having a minister in for her staffers, for the women who were shaken in her office.  Are other staff here going to be talking to that minister for comfort?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me check with the First Lady's office on that. Officials here at the White House have been notified that counseling services are available and have been available.

     One second, let me try to help you on some other information here. Other briefings today by Cabinet Secretaries, and we're going to continue at the agency level to provide you with all the information that is possible.  Secretary Mineta -- and this is tentative, but let me share this -- Secretary Mineta is scheduled to brief now, at 10:00 a.m.; Secretary Powell at 11:30 a.m.; Secretary Wolfowitz at noon; General Ashcroft at 12:30 p.m.  And at 2:00 p.m., Army Brigadier General Clyde Vaughn, Director of Military Support briefing on military support activities to civilian authorities in the New York and D.C. area.

     I'm going to do my best every morning to provide the briefing information to you.

     Q     Ari, there have been several reports about harassment against Arab Americans and mosques being shot at.  Does the President have any response to that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He does.  The President believes very strongly that all Americans must be mindful of the rights of Arab Americans and Muslims. They are law abiding Americans and we stand united as one nation in fighting terrorism.

     Thank you, everybody.

                           END                  10:23 A.M. EDT

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