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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 10, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

     listen Listen to the Briefing

12:50 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  I want to give you a summary of the President's day and give you a preview of some of the important events that are going to take place tomorrow morning to commemorate the exact moment, three months ago tomorrow morning, when the attack on our country took place.

The President this morning had an intelligence briefing from the CIA, then he participated and received a briefing from the FBI.  He later convened a meeting of the National Security Council.

Later this afternoon, in one of the ceremonial joys that comes with the job, the President will take part in a photo opportunity with the University of Minnesota 2001 NCAA Championship Men's Wrestling Team.

Q    That's one of the great joys of this job?  (Laughter.)


Q    One of the others is meeting with the winners of the World Series, I understand.  (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER:  Speaking of wrestling, questions come later, Helen.

This evening, the President will take part in the lighting of the Menorah here at the White House, which will be the first time -- we are advised -- in presidential history that a President will have a lighting of a Menorah as an event in the Residence of the White House.  And then will have a Hanukkah reception later today.

Tomorrow, the President, as you know, has asked countries from around the world to take part in a commemoration at exactly 8:46 a.m. tomorrow morning, eastern time, to mark the three month anniversary of the attack against our country.  The worldwide reaction to the President's request has been very strong.

Here at the White House, the President will have an event in the East Room, where the National Anthem will be played.  And more than 70 nations around the world will also be participating in this event, and this is spread far and wide around the world, including Muslim nations, including Mideast nations.  And around the United States there will be similar events.

The President will launch the initiative, as I indicated, at 8:46 a.m. in the East Room.  There will also be events at the Pentagon, at Ground Zero in New York, the billboard at Times Square will have a patriotic message at 8:46 a.m. tomorrow morning; there will be other, a long list of states and communities across the country that are participating -- including NASA will hold a special event in space, where the United States and Russia will play the National Anthems of our two nations to commemorate the attack.  And it's a real sign of how the world stands united against the terrorists who have done this to freedom-loving people everywhere.

Q    Will the President make remarks?

MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will have remarks tomorrow morning, as well, to commemorate the attack.  And then the President will depart for the Citadel, where he'll have different type of remarks, talking about the future of America's military and the future threats that lie ahead.

Q    Did you say the American Anthem will be played in the other countries, too?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Different countries will play their anthems, but you can anticipate events at American embassies around the world, where our anthem will be played around the world.  And, basically, it's one of these times where, as you know, people say, I remember exactly what I was doing the moment I heard.

Well, of course, that's 8:46 a.m. eastern time, that would be 5:46 a.m., California time; it will be 1:46 p.m. in the afternoon, in certain non-nations, et cetera.  So around the world, at the moment that people first heard, the President has asked these nations to do that, to stand as one world against terror.

Q    Ari, can you give us the latest on the release of this bin Laden tape?  Can you tell us more about the tape, and what the nature of the debate is inside the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER:  There is no update from what I indicated this morning. No decision has been made at this moment about the release of the tape. What I indicated this morning is there are, in the President's opinion, many good reasons why the tape should be made public.  There are also reasons that are being reflected on about why it should not be made public. The good reasons include the President's desire to be forthright, to share information publicly with the country, so people can see things in their own eyes and form their own conclusions.  People will be able to see Osama bin Laden speak in Arabic and, as I indicated, form their own judgments about the things that he has said on this tape.

On the other hand, there is also always the issue about intelligence information and always a care not to compromise any intelligence information.  This administration previously has said that we don't have an interest in giving Osama bin Laden air time.  Although, as I indicated earlier today as well, this tape is of a different nature from the pre-packaged propaganda that came out earlier.  This really is a different type of tape.

Q    Ari, if I can just follow on that.  Besides the desire to share information, doesn't the President believe that, in fact, this tape makes it abundantly clear that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks, and that was the most compelling reason for the nation and the world to see it?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as Secretary Wolfowitz said yesterday, and as Vice President Cheney said yesterday, there's no question that the tapes backup what you all know and have heard repeatedly for months now, and what the world knows, which is that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda network were behind this attack, and the tape clearly shows that.

Q    Ari, if this tape was found in a private residence in Jalalabad, what are the implications for compromising intelligence methods and sources?  And is it not more of a political decision -- you're making a calculation of would this play in your favor, or could it be viewed in the Arab world as White House propaganda?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, in terms of the finding of it, you state accurately where it was found.  But that doesn't indicate every step along the way.  And so there are still things that are sensitive that will just be assessed.  And that's part of what is going on.  There's going to be an assessment made to make certain that if it can be released, it's going to be released in a way that can serve both the public needs and the needs of intelligence and the needs of defense and others to make certain that nothing is being done in any way to compromise anything.

Q    And what about those political concerns, though, that this could be seen in some areas of the world as just an attempt at White House spin, that they might think that the tape was doctored, not authentic.  Are you concerned about that?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, if the decision is made to release it, the tape will speak for itself and people will come to the conclusions they come to. We can't control every conclusion people reach; but the President's approach is wherever it does not compromise security, it's best to share information with the country and with the world.

But, again, this is all being carefully reviewed.

Q    You said the world stands together on the war in Afghanistan. And that's true, the President had been on the phone since September 12th, lining up allies and friends.  This would not be true if he decides, as some of his advisors want, to go into Iraq, Somalia, every other country they've named on their target list.  Would the United States still move unilaterally if it did not have U.N. and key ally backing?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, I'm just not going to speculate about anything hypothetical of that nature.

Q    Well, I think it's very valid.  It's a very valid question, because the U.N. has come out -- the U.N. Secretary General has come out and said he would not support it, and France and Britain, apparently, are not supporting.  I think we ought to know whether we'd have allies --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, it's a hypothetical and I don't think anybody is in a position to tell you who will do what for something that is not defined.

Q    It's not so hypothetical with all your advisors calling for widening the war every day.

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not sure our advisors are calling for widening the war every day.

Q    Ari, just to follow on John's point.  Since bin Laden knows, because we're telling him, that this tape come from a private home in Jalalabad, and yet you're saying there are still security concerns.  Does that mean it's a copy, or concern about al Qaeda being able to trace who might have copied it?

MR. FLEISCHER:  One, I would not necessarily draw any conclusions that bin Laden knows because we're telling him -- I'm not sure how good the reception is in his caves these days.  (Laughter.)

But it just -- any time there is information that comes from a battle region, that is obtained, there are just issues involving protecting people who were there, who have knowledge about how it was obtained.  It's just an eye toward making certain that things are done -- as I indicated, this is a classic issue of striking the right balance between sharing information as much as possible with the public, and protecting intelligence concerns. That's always a bit of a balancing and that's what you're watching right now, in the government.  That balancing is taking place.

Q    Does that mean that the government is sort of torn between security officials and political officials?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I don't think it's quite fair to say "torn," no. I think what you're watching is T's getting crossed, I's being dotted, to make certain that there are no security issues that could be at stake.  And once that is determined, then I think there is a desire to be forthright.

Q    Ari, there are reports that the President is opposed to releasing the tape.  Is that correct?  And is there a time table for making the decision?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President's position is just as I indicated. He understands that there is this balance.  The President wants to share as much as possible with the country, to be as forthright as possible, and to let people come to their own judgments by seeing things for themselves.

The President also wants to make certain that the ability to see things in the future is in no way impaired as a result of sharing something now.  So this is -- just as I said, the President understands that balance and his security people are taking a look, crossing T's and dotting I's to make certain that if it were released there would be no security implications.

Q    Is there a time table?  Did they discuss it at the NSC meeting this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't think it's going to take a whole lot of time. I can't guarantee you it's going to be today, but I really don't think this is going to be with us for days.  I think this is something that people are taking a careful look at and once those conclusions are reached, the appropriate people wherever will tell you nay or yea, it will be released, or it will not be released.

Q    This was discussed this morning at the NSC meeting?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, it was.

Q    Ari, could you just give us a little more on when it was found, when it came into your possession?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm going to hesitate to do that until a few more of the items are being reviewed.  And then I think if the decision is made to release it, you'll get a lot of the background information, as much as possible, at the time of the release.

Q    One of the things that happened at the beginning, many countries and many governments said they wanted to see concrete proof.  If this tape is not made public, let's say for the whole world to watch, will it be shown to individual governments, so whoever has a doubt can verify for themselves?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I have not heard anything on that topic.  I would say that, although on the premise of your question, that appears to be an old issue that was dealt with quite some time ago.  I don't really know of any people left in the world who question whether or not Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda were responsible for this.

Q    Well, can you tell us, Ari, obviously it's a sensitive issue. How many people, in your understanding, have watched the tape in the administration, and did they do that as a group -- outside of intelligence analysts who might be going over it and over it and over it -- when it comes to Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, the President, did they watch that as a group, in a National Security Council meeting?  Are there copies floating around?  Have you personally seen it?  At what level did the transcripts of it get distributed?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to discuss what was done in a literal sense at National Security Council meetings.  I think it's fair to say that it's been seen by a small number of people.  And I've read the transcript of it.

Q    And in the decision making process, is there a recommendation sitting on the President's desk, or is he awaiting a recommendation from the National Security Council?

MR. FLEISCHER:  It's exactly as I indicated to Randy.  The President understands that on an issue like this there is a balance.  I think I've indicated to you the President's overall approach is to share information with the country.  He wants to make certain that this balance is proper. And some of the people who are focused on that are doing their work as we speak.  And that's why I indicate that as soon as we have something to report, we'll report it.  And I can't give you any guarantees of what the timing of that will be.  But once the timing is known, we will share it.

Q    Can you tell us a little more about the President's meeting with the Jewish leaders this afternoon?  Who might they be?  And also something about what is happening with General Zinni over in Israel?

MR. FLEISCHER:  The President this afternoon will be meeting with a bipartisan group of leaders of several of the major Jewish organizations across the country.  They are here, of course, with the Hanukkah celebration underway.  And then they will join the President this evening. So he'll have some meetings with them, and then they'll be there for the lighting of the Menorah and for a reception later.

Q    The nature of the meetings, and also about Zinni?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Oh, I think they're going to discuss the situation in the Middle East, the peace efforts in the Middle East.  That typically is what occupies most of the time at meetings like this.

And with General Zinni, General Zinni remains in the region.  I know there was a report earlier, that I do not believe is accurate, about General Zinni leaving the region.  He remains in the region, dedicated to finding a way to bring the parties together to achieve some type of security discussions.

Q    Ari, you said -- getting back to the video, you said that this was different from the pre-packaged propaganda from before.  So does that leave us to believe that there is no coding in this, and there is no suspicion of coding?  The White House feels it's okay, at least if you do give it to the public?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think, April, reading between the lines, you can infer that that's something that the people who are paid professionals to make those judgments will review and are reviewing.  And that's part of the final assessment.  If the decision is made to provide the tape, I think that will answer that question for itself, to the best it can be answered.

Q    Ari, a follow-up then.  If it's not the prepackaged propaganda from before, that was deemed to have coding in it.  If this one is not like that, how can it not be pre-packaged propaganda?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, first I don't know that anybody deemed it to have coding in it before.  It was a clear worry that it may have had coding before.  But the difference is -- if this was the same pre-packaged propaganda it already had been provided by the people who did it to outlets in the Middle East, probably al Jazeera, where it would have already been played.

And so this is just a different nature tape.  This is not -- this is a more spontaneous conversation by all appearances.  It's not Osama bin Laden speaking with his wall to the back of a cave, getting a message to his followers, for example.

Q    Wearing military garb and things of that nature?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I read the transcript, so I don't really know what he was wearing in it.  But --

Q    -- Someone here has seen the tape?


Q    He was not wearing military --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I think if the tape is released, you'll see that with your own eyes.

Q    The Social Security commission is reporting tomorrow, and it seems pretty clear that Congress doesn't want to take up that issue next year.  Is that okay with the President if they wait until after the election year?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President has said on that that he would very much like to see a debate this year on Social Security.  The President thinks it serves the nation well for politicians in both parties to talk this year about personal accounts and what contribution they can make to Social Security.

The exact timing of when Congress may be able to move Social Security legislation is clearly up in the air.  There are many in Congress who do not think it can happen before the election.  Obviously, with the Senate not yet even taking action on energy or on the stimulus, on trade promotion authority, on faith-based legislation, the armies of compassion initiative -- there are many things the Senate has yet to do.  This will be one more item to put on the Senate's plate.

The President will welcome the debate -- also given the fact that we now have a recession and a war, that also could change the calendar for Social Security.

Q    What was your reaction when you read this transcript?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think that, again, this validates and verifies everything that has been said all along about who was responsible for the attack.  And Secretary Wolfowitz, on a show, I think he used the word "disgusting" to see a person be pleased with the taking of innocent lives, is a real sign of what the President calls "evil," can be personified in this one person.  And we feel that what we are doing is absolutely the right thing to do to bring justice to people who would do this to our country and smile about it.

Q    Ari, was there any discussion of follow-up attacks on this tape? You say he takes credit or brags about September 11th and shows that he had prior knowledge of the events of September 11th.  Is there any discussion at all about follow-up attacks?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't believe so, John.

Q    Ari, getting back to the -- you touched briefly on the speech the President is going to give tomorrow.  Getting back on that, is that more of a conceptual speech about where he sees the military going, is there going to be some new policy on the present situation?

MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's speech tomorrow at the Citadel will be an interesting follow-up to a speech that he gave there in the fall of 1999.  The speech also, of course, coincides with the three-month anniversary of the attack on our country.

We are distributing this afternoon the exact text of a speech from 1999, and in it you will see that his '99 remarks contain many of the seeds of the actions he has taken today to defend our country.  In those 1999 remarks he talked about that if any nation sponsors terrorism, the reaction of the United States to that nation that harbors or sponsors terrorism will be devastating.

And, if you recall, on September 11th of this year, when the President returned to the Oval Office and gave the speech to the nation, he said for the first time as President that nations that harbor terrorists will receive the same fate as the terrorists.  And the seeds of that were contained in the Citadel address.

The President also in that address talked the need to move beyond the ABM treaty, the need to unilaterally reduce the number of offensive weapons.  What you see is a series of promises made as a candidate that have been promises kept as a President.

In his remarks tomorrow, the President will flesh out a little more detail about the role of the military in 21st century wars and what it means to fight terrorism and how it's important to have a military ready, able to do so.

Q    Any policy or --

MR. FLEISCHER:  I would leave it as I left it with you.  I think you'll all want to be there, but I'm not going that far on it.

Q    On the economic stimulus package, over the weekend, Senator Lott indicated that this week pretty much could be the make or break week for that.  I wondered if the White House agrees with his assessment on that, as well as the fact that if it doesn't happen this year, he suggests revisiting it next year.

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, Senator Lott gave a real indication that he thinks the time has come for the Senate to complete its work.  And he does so with good reason.  It was 48 days ago that the House of Representatives passed the stimulus legislation.  The Senate has yet to act on it.  It was 132 days ago that the House of Representatives passed legislation to make America less energy dependent on foreign nations.  It's been 149 days since the House of Representatives passed legislation to help lower-income Americans, people who are suffering in poverty, to have more help and more resources through what the President calls his armies of compassion initiative.

On all these measures, the Senate has yet to act.  So I can understand why Senator Lott said that.  This is a test of the Senate.  This is a test of the Senate leadership and a real test of whether or not they are able to govern the Senate.

Q    -- in terms of the regular process in the Senate that hasn't been working, so another group of negotiators have formed to try to work this through.  On Friday, the lead negotiator, House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas ended -- or just walked out abruptly from having meetings on Friday or Saturday.  Does the White House at all consider this obstructionist?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think Congressman Thomas returned to California, as members often do over the weekend.  And that followed a statement by Senator Daschle in which he indicated that in order to pass a stimulus he would create a relatively new procedure in where they'd have to have two-thirds of the votes of all the Democrats in the Senate to pass a stimulus.  And I think that is a formula for gridlock, for partisanship and for inaction.  And I think Congressman Thomas is known for trying to create action and for trying to get results.  And so I think that when they return this week, it's an important test to see whether or not members of Congress can work together to get it done.

Q    Ari, let me follow on Ron's question for a second.  You said that given the fact that we're at war and recession, that might change the schedule for Social Security.  Can you say why the President is concerned about each of those, separately, delaying action on Social Security in the near future?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Clearly, when you take a look at the backlog that's building up in the Senate, it does suggest that there could be calendar problems.  Now, if the Congress were able to proceed on the legislation, that would change everything.  But there are other events that have intervened, but as I indicated, the President would welcome a debate all year long on Social Security.

The President believes very much that one of the reasons he won the presidency was because he took a bold position on Social Security.  And he sent America a signal that he knew that Social Security would not be there for younger workers unless politicians faced up to the music and took action to protect a  system that's going broke.

Q    If I could follow, what about the recession?  Is he concerned that there be less support for his privatization ideas, given the current state of the economy?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Clearly, at a time when Congress can't even pass a stimulus to get us out of a recession, it does raise questions about whether Congress -- if Congress, particularly the Senate, cannot solve a problem that's here with us today, it does make you wonder if the Senate is able to solve a problem that really won't be with us in a direct way until some 20, 30 years from now, when young people want to retire.

Ann, did you have a question before?

Q    Before we --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Your name is not Ann.  Ann, you had a follow-up earlier.

Q    I did.  Tomorrow's travel schedule makes it impossible to cover the Citadel and the morning event.  If you could look into that.

MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay.  We'll work with you on that and see what we can do.

Q    Back on the tape for a second.  A couple administration officials said yesterday that the tape suggests some of these hijackers didn't know they were going to die.  Information was pretty fuzzy; can you elaborate on that at all?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me withhold on that.  Again, there is information that is on those tapes that, again, shows the world just how evil Osama bin Laden is, and how he claims piety while leading people to deaths that they very well were not aware of.

Q    Does he mock the hijackers?

Q    Do you assume that the tape that was put out, that we know about so far, was leaked?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, Helen --

Q    And was it leaked by the government?  And so then why are you so upset -- what is the big deliberation

MR. FLEISCHER:  If you can provide me a list of who leaks in this government, I'd be very grateful to you.

Q    What is the deliberation about putting it out officially when you know it's out and you're quite happy?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, I can't tell you who is behind some of those things.  I can assure you, as you know, working with this White House, that is not the manner in which the White House does its business.

We have to face the reality when something is in the papers like that --

Q    Are you upset that it's out?  Are you upset it was leaked?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that's always the preference of White Houses, particularly this White House, to allow a deliberative process to take place quietly, so that if the President and the National Security Council decide to release a tape, it could have been released.  Things of this nature, obviously, suggest that people want to talk about it before this question of balance has been addressed, on how to protect intelligence information --

Q    So it was not put out by the government, itself?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I can't speak for the entire government.  It certainly was not put out by the White House.   And the White House was not pleased about that.

Q    Can I follow on a related point?  Ari, are you and the President not concerned about the perception that the White House is getting a little heavy-handed with regard to the flow of information?  After all, the National Security Advisor cautioned the major broadcast networks and cable networks about airing al Jazeera tapes of bin Laden.  Now, here's a new tape that the government is all too happy to talk about and you're characterizing it here in a way that is consistent -- but the truth is, you're telling it to us in terms of what's on the tape and, yet, there's a lot of deliberation and we're not getting the tape.

I mean, are you not worried about that perception?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, we are.  I think that's a legitimate point.  And that's why I said that people are reviewing the tape and assessing it.  And I think you can safely assume that if the decision is made to release it, that the assessment will have been that this is such a different nature tape from the pre-packaged tapes that we earlier discussed, that releasing it will not present the same issues that were presented in the other tapes that Dr. Rice called the networks about.

So, yes, people are concerned about that, and that's part of the assessment.

Q    Was there a question about the authenticity of this tape and how did the administration address that?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm going to withhold on some of this until a decision is made about whether or not it will be released.  And then I think you can get a lot more answers to those type questions.  But until then, I think it's best just to allow the people who are doing their work to do their work.

Q    On Social Security, you said that there -- the President believes there should be discussion over the next year about this issue?  Or were you -- because that's what you said at the beginning of this year, as well.

MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.  The President welcomes the debate on Social Security.  The President believes very strongly in the fact that Social Security must be there for our current seniors with no changes whatsoever.  For people who are nearing retirement, the Social Security system should not be changed whatsoever.  It works very well for people who are retired and who are nearing retirement and they've made commitments and planes based on the existing system, which will still be solvent for their lifetime.  No changes should be made.

But for younger workers, they're in a totally different boat.  They are paying a lifetime of high taxes for a system that is unlikely to be there when they retire.  And the President thinks that the sooner the politicians are able to face up to it and deal with the seriousness of Social Security's impending bankruptcy, the better.

Having said that, the President understands also that there is a real issue about the time when it can proceed in the Congress.  He'll listen to members of Congress on this and see what the exact timing will be.

Q    What I'm wondering is -- I know the position, but I'm wondering why, given that we're now running up debt again and will be for the next few years, according to the President's own advisors, why isn't he insisting on action next year?  Is it possibly because you think the issue will hurt Republicans in the fall?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, as I indicated, the President very much believes that the reason he won the White House is because he took a strong stand on Social Security.

Q    Ari, the Saudi Interior Minister today made a statement saying he didn't really believe that Osama bin Laden was fully in control of al Qaeda, but rather that probably independent groups, that what happened September 11th may have been focused on an apparatus here within the United States, that was where the real danger really lies.  What does the White House think about this?

And, secondly, regarding the tape, why do we believe Osama bin Laden, even if he does take credit for this?  Wouldn't he take credit for this, given his profile, even though he had no fore knowledge of that at all? Why the difference now?

MR. FLEISCHER:  On the second point, again, I don't think there are very many people left in the world who don't accept the fact that Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda organization were behind this.

On your first point, on the statements made by the Saudis, you know, I think, frankly, that underscores -- regardless of what his role is, we have a very strong sense of what his role is as the head of al Qaeda.  But regardless of what any title that anybody around the world puts on it, the United States has always said this is about much more than Osama bin Laden. This is about the entire al Qaeda network, all his top lieutenants, the Taliban harboring him and others that practice terrorism around the world.

Q    The New York times reports, "The White House was out-maneuvered by Chairwoman Berry."  And the Washington Post reports this was "a clear defiance of Bush administration officials."  And my first part of a two-part questions, whose idea was it to have attorney Peter Kirsanow sworn-in Thursday afternoon and sent over to be so utterly humiliated that he said, I am disappointed and chagrinned.  That surely wasn't your idea, was it, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Les, I think that when you follow the rule of the law, there is no humiliation in following the law.  The law must be observed and obeyed, and that's what this administration is committed to, particularly on an issue as important as civil rights.

The Department of Justice has filed a suit in this matter.  That was done on Friday.  And this will most likely end up in court.  And the administration is confident that its position will prevail.

Q    If this incredible chairwomen so defies and insults the executive branch, why won't the President send U.S. Marshals to the next meeting, since there is no reason to believe she won't defy the judicial branch as she has defied the executive, with Johnny Cochran as her lawyer, to spread it out forever?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, this is an important matter.  This is an issue in which the administration is going to proceed seriously and diligently, because it involves important issues, beyond the Civil Rights Commission, about when terms expire.  And no one, for any political reasons or motives, should be able to say, I will put somebody in place of a presidential appointment beyond this expiration date because my cause tells me to.  We are a nation of laws, and that is why this matter is now going to a court, as the Department of Justice has proceeded.

Q    The Supreme Court apparently won't overturn a lower court ruling about voluntary prayer in school.  Is the administration comfortable with the level of voluntary prayer in school?  And are you still pressing for your faith-based initiative?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Connie, as you know, there's a practice the President does not comment on each and every court decision.  But it has been the President's longstanding policy to support the voluntary right of students to pray in school.

On the faith-based initiative, yes, the administration is continuing to proceed, and continuing to have discussions with the Senate.  As I mentioned, the House of Representatives, with its very small margin in the House, was able to -- in a nice bipartisan vote -- actually pass it 149 days ago.  The Senate has not been able to take action.  But there are some individual senators, Senator Lieberman and others, who are working very productively to try to make that happen.

I think this also will be another question of whether the Senate leadership has an interest in allowing legislation to proceed, or whether they would prefer to block legislation, even legislation that has support from important Democrats.

Q    Which Jewish organizations are going to be represented at the Menorah --

MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me see if we can't have a list.  I didn't bring it with me.

Q    You mentioned the backlog in the Senate a couple of times today. In his weekly congressional meetings with the leaders from the Hill, does the President look Senator Tom Daschle in the eye and mention each of these items?  And, if so, what does Daschle tell the President in response?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think Senator Daschle clearly understands the President's message.  Senator Daschle has a difficult job.  The Senate has very small margins, and it's not easy to be the Majority Leader. Nevertheless, it is the job of the leadership, at the end of the day, to bring people together and get agreements reached.  Senator Dole was a real master of it.  Senator Lott excelled at it.

But at the end of the day, after all the shouting was done, the leaders were able to say to the senators, you've had your say and now it's time to serve your people and forge agreements.  And that's a real test of Senate leadership.  The time has come now to see whether the Senate is capable of getting that done, because that is why the country sent people to this town -- because at the end of the day, after the arguing is done, to reach compromises and make agreements.  The President is helping that.

Q    Does the President still have a good working relationship with Senator Daschle?

MR. FLEISCHER:  He does.

Q    Would you go to Wendell?  I'd be very interested in his question, I really would.  Ari, please go to Wendell, will you?  (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not aware that Wendell has a spokesman, Les.

Q    I just think it would be nice to hear him.

MR. FLEISCHER:  Dick, and then Wendell, by popular demand.

Q    Is there any concerning in revealing the videotape that releasing it might compromise any potential criminal activity or trial of bin Laden, or anybody connected with al Qaeda?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I have not heard that.

Q    Newsweek reports that the government has foiled an attack by an al Qaeda sleeper cell after the September 11th attacks.  the President has said that government actions have prevented additional attacks.  Are these one and the same?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm aware of the report.  I cannot offer you definitive confirmation of it.  But it would not surprise me if that was the case.  As we talked about on numerous occasions, particularly at a time when the government issues a general alert to law enforcement agencies, sometimes there's no way of knowing whether or not, as a result of that, somebody who was going to launch an attack pulled back at the last minute and did not attack as a result of the fact that they believed they could no longer get away with it or that their attack would not have been successful.

So that is entirely possible.  That's one of the reasons that the Attorney General has worked so diligently to take the actions he's taken, and that we're grateful to the Congress for passing the anti-terrorist legislation they have, which has given the law enforcement community the tools they need to conduct this war against terror.

Q    What's the President done personally to advance the nominations, to secure the confirmations of Otto Reich and Eugene Scalia?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, that is something that the President has talked about with Senate leaders, about the need to allow him to put his team in place.  I'd have to look back and see which precise meeting, Wendell, I don't know if that took place at last week's meeting or one of the previous meetings.  And as a result of the messages that have been carried to the Senate leaders from the Congressional Relations Office, the Senate clearly understands the importance of passing out the President's nominees.

Q    Ari, you reiterated Secretary Wolfowitz's reaction to the videotape.  Can you tell us on a similar level what the President's reaction to it was, upon viewing it?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the President's reaction was this -- shows everything that we've always known, that Osama bin Laden was behind attacks against our country and what an evil man anybody could be to be satisfied and find joy in the killing of thousands of innocents.

Q    Was he similarly disgusted, as Secretary Wolfowitz was?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't know anybody who didn't share that view.

Q    Ari, Marine sources at Camp Rhino have indicated that they'd like to get Mr. Walker out of that camp as soon as possible.  Have plans been -- has he either been moved, or have plans been made to move him?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Anything involving movement of Mr. Walker would be a question for DOD.

Q    Is DOD the decision-maker on what to do with him?  Or who will be?

MR. FLEISCHER:  What to do with him?  Well, I think it's fair to say that DOD and others are ascertaining what the facts are and the circumstances of his case.

Q    Who is going to decide whether he goes --

MR. FLEISCHER:  To what location where he'll be --

Q    No, whether he's going to be tried for treason, or is this a Justice Department issue at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think right now it's still is in the fact-gathering process.  And then I think that will be a determination made probably by DOD and DOJ.  I couldn't -- I'd have to do a little more digging on the legalities of it.  That's also a matter for lawyers, but that's the likely place.

Q    The President, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, does he have an opinion -- is he leaning -- you say how he's leaning on the tape; how is he leaning on the Walker case?

MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I'm not going to give you any indications --

Q         Thank you.

END                              1:27 P.M. EST

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