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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 30, 2003

Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

2:22 P.M. CST

MR. DUFFY: The President today began with his regular morning briefings. And later in the day, as some of you may have noticed, he gave an interview to Ken Walsh for his book, just so you all know. And then he was working on the ranch throughout the day. And I have no further updates to his schedule.

I do have an announcement for his schedule on Monday, January 5th. He will be traveling to St. Louis, Missouri, to make remarks on the No Child Left Behind Act, and to attend a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception. And he is getting regular updates on the BSE situation as necessary, as well as homeland security issues and the ongoing orange alert.

And with that, I'll be happy to answer questions.

Q Did the President ask for or approve Ashcroft recusing himself from the leak investigation?

MR. DUFFY: The President was informed of the decision by staff near noon today. His reaction is the same today as it was yesterday, that he wants to get to the bottom of this. He said in September that he welcomes this investigation and has absolute confidence in the ability of the Justice Department to do a good job. He has directed the people of his administration, as he said on September 30th, to cooperate fully with the investigation. And no one more than the President of the United States wants to get to the bottom of this.

Q Do you know whether he asked Ashcroft to do this, or whether he pre-approved it?

MR. DUFFY: The Justice Department made its decision independently, which is exactly the way it should be. As the Deputy Attorney General mentioned, the Justice Department, as a courtesy, informed the White House this morning. The White House was not consulted on the decision, which, again, is exactly the way it should be.

Q Do you know whether this signals we're entering some new phase, intense phase in the investigation? Does this tell us anything about the status or the state of the investigation?

MR. DUFFY: That would be a good question for the Justice Department.

Q What more can you tell us about Baker's plans to brief the President on his mission to Asia?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any further updates at this point. He gets back later today, I believe. And I assume when we have updates on that, we'll let you know.

Q What brought on the decision today to have a special prosecutor?

MR. DUFFY: That would be a question you need to direct to the Justice Department.

Q When the Justice Department informed the White House, did they simply inform them of the facts, or did they give any back up reasoning for Ashcroft recusing himself?

MR. DUFFY: My understanding is that they -- the White House was informed of the decision.

Q With no back up reason?

MR. DUFFY: I will have to see what I can do on that.

Q Yesterday you were asked about U.S. policy vis a vis Iran, and you said that there was no change in policy as a result of Iran's acceptance of international aid. Secretary Powell gave an interview yesterday, and was quoted as seeing those results as encouraging, and said that this was a -- there are things happening, and we should be open to the possibility of dialogue. Did Secretary Powell discuss that view with the President, and can you explain your response yesterday?

MR. DUFFY: The U.S. has a clear and consistent policy towards Iran, and that policy has not changed. We have made clear to the Iranian government on many occasions our grave concerns regarding its support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and others of its activities. The Iranians are well aware of the steps, and we look to them to overcome these concerns.

I would remind you that on July 12th, 2002, the President himself said that the future of Iran will be decided by the people of Iran. There's a long history of friendship between the American people and the people of Iran. As Iran's people move towards a future defined by greater freedom, greater tolerance, they will have no better friend than the United States of America. That was the President's view in July, and that policy has not changed.

Q Secretary Powell referenced recent events, including the decision to allow surprise inspections of the nuclear plants. Does this President share the Secretary's view that recent developments are encouraging and warrant being open to greater dialogue with Iran?

MR. DUFFY: I don't think I'm going to go any further than what I've said on that, which is that our policy remains that we're willing to engage with Iran on specific issues of mutual concern in an appropriate manner, if and when the President decides it is in the interests of the United States to do so.

Q Is Secretary Powell out there by himself on this one?

MR. DUFFY: Secretary Powell was expressing the views that the President spent -- the views that the President has expressed, that the future of Iran will be decided by the people of Iran.

Q Can I follow up on that? Could you confirm or knock down reports out of the Middle East that the President may go to Libya next year?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on the President's schedule at this time.

Q Can you assure us he's not going this week, though?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on the President's schedule.

Q That was a joke.

Q About the notification on Attorney General Ashcroft's decision. Is this the first time the White House has been notified from the Justice Department about a step in this investigation, and if not, what are the updates the White House gets from Justice about the investigation? Can you characterize them daily, weekly, anything?

MR. DUFFY: I'll have to see what I can do on that.

Q Did you say earlier that it was a courtesy, it was done as a courtesy?


Q Today's economic indicators trend. We have the -- consumer confidence was down, the manufacturing index in Chicago was down, existing home sales were down. What is the White House interpretation of that data?

MR. DUFFY: Well, we'll continue to look at all the economic indicators as they come in. Other economic indicators have been positive -- obviously the 8.2 percent growth in the third quarter, the fact that the economy has produced near 300,000 jobs, the fact that retailers are seeing signs of the tax relief working and the American people actually spending the tax relief that was passed.

So the economic indicators need to be viewed in the larger context of the overall economic recovery. It's something that the President remains very focused on, and that he will continue to work towards more job creation and making sure that this recovery takes root.

Q Yesterday we asked you about whether or not the government has made any overtures to President Musharraf since he survived the second of two assassination attempts on -- against him in 11 days. It just would stagger our minds if the United States government hadn't done anything to reach out to the man. I know you would be offended if the circumstances were reversed. (Laughter.) Could you tell us about any overtures whatsoever, from the United States government to President Musharraf since Christmas day?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on calls with world leaders and the President.

Q My question wasn't limited to the President.

Q My question yesterday was, did he call him? And the answer is, no, he did not? Is that different than, you don't know?

MR. DUFFY: I don't have any updates on calls with world leaders that the President had.

Q My question wasn't limited to the President, it was limited to the United States government. Have there been any overtures to this man since this second assassination attempt in 11 days?

MR. DUFFY: We'll have to get back to you on that, Jim.

Q Would you please?

MR. DUFFY: I will.

Q If we could just follow up on the same subject matter. We asked yesterday, did he call or did he not call? That should be a fairly easy thing to be able to assert, you know, a "yes" or "no" answer. We're not getting a "yes" or "no" answer. Should we read something into that?

MR. DUFFY: No, let me get back to you on that. I will promptly.

Q Can you post that or let all of us know?

MR. DUFFY: I will.

Q And the same question yesterday about who was out there at the ranch. You were going to look into other --

MR. DUFFY: Friends and family and senior staff.

Q How is he going to spend New Year's? Don't say, with friends and family and senior staff. (Laughter.)

Q And Barney.

Q Just any color? If you don't have anything now, that's fine, but any color stuff at all on how he's going to spend New Year's would be great.

MR. DUFFY: And just for a programming note, I'm not going to gaggle tomorrow, on New Year's Eve. And if we have updates to the schedule, we will get them to you as soon as we can.

Thanks, everybody.

END 2:36 P.M. CST

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