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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Manchester, New Hampshire
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Happy Friday, happy four days before the election to everybody.
Let me talk a little bit about the first event. The President does have a new speech, it is a unique speech. The President will be talking about our strategy to win the war on terrorism, and he will talk about where we get our strength and resolve to prevail. He'll talk about what inspires us as a nation. And in the speech he will reflect on experience and moments that we have shared during this time of challenge. He'll really be speaking to the character of our nation and the leadership needed to see us through to victory.
And he'll be talking about people that he's met and how they have inspired us as a nation, and inspired him as a leader. There are going to be some families of victims of September 11th that will be in attendance. These are some of the people that are scheduled to be in attendance: David Beamer, the father of Todd Beamer, who was on board American Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania; Jimmy Boyle, the father of Michael Boyle, who was a firefighter who gave his life at the World Trade Center; Arlene Howard, the mother of George Howard, who was the Port Authority Officer killed at the World Trade Center, whose badge she gave to the President; Cheryl McGuinness, the wife of Tom McGuinness, one of the pilots of American Airlines Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center.
So that's what he'll be focusing on in his first speech today. And those are some of the individuals; we can get you other individuals that will be there as well, that will be present.
Q Pretty clearly here the approach over this last several days is to talk about issues involving security, it's a dominant theme in the stump speech we heard yesterday, it's the focus today. Does the President think that's a winning strategy in persuading undecided voters to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the number one priority for the President is the safety and security of the American people. It is the most solemn obligation a President has. And we have faced some real challenges together over the course of the last four years; and together we are overcoming those challenges. And that's why he'll talk about some of these examples in his remarks of those who inspire us and give us the strength and resolve to see this war on terrorism through to victory.
Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention, he taped his radio address before he left and had his usual briefings this morning. The radio address will really focus on the big choices facing the American people on Tuesday. And, obviously, the war on terrorism is first and foremost.
Q Scott, Schilling and Halliburton -- is Schilling showing up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Schilling versus Halliburton? (Laughter.)
Q Is Schilling not showing up now? And are you concerned about the timing of the Halliburton disclosure, expanded investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think Halliburton affected the World Series. (Laughter.)
Q Two-part question, two topics.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, obviously, Curt Schilling put out a statement. We greatly appreciate his strong support for the President and wish him the best. I mean, in his statement he cited some of his orders from his doctor about his injury.
Q Are you concerned about the timing of this Halliburton probe expanding now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, one, you ought to talk to the Department of Justice or the FBI about any specific matters they're looking into, because I don't have knowledge of those issues. But let me just say a couple of things.
One, the Department of Defense has the responsibility for these contracting matters. There are clear guidelines and procedures in place when it comes to contracts. And if there is wrongdoing, the President expects it to be investigated fully and dealt with.
Q I'm asking you about the political timing. Is the President concerned this comes four days before the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that -- I know you all always look at it in that context. I'm not -- that's not the way I'm looking at this. That's why I pointed out what I just did. I mean that, one, these are contracting matters that are the responsibility of the Department of Defense. The President has always said if there is wrongdoing involved, he expects it to be pursued to the fullest. And that's what we've made clear previously and that's what I'm making clear again today.
Q Point taken. You were less than thrilled about the timing of The New York Times story.
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people -- we have great faith in the American people to see through all the issues that are out there and make the right decision.
Q ABC ran some tape of the seals still being on that bunker when U.S. troops got there, suggesting the explosives were still in there. What do you think?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, you know, it's premature to draw conclusions because the facts are not known. We seized or destroyed -- our troops seized or destroyed already more than 400,000 tons of munitions. Securing and destroying these kind of munitions was a priority for our troops. The Department of Defense released a satellite image showing trucks at the facility within days after the inspectors left. That shows that there was activity going on there in early March.
It's not known what kind of explosives these were that you were talking about. It's a real possibility that these munitions were -- or these explosives were part of the munitions that were destroyed. The facts are not known. And as the President said, in Ms. Keen's interview with him yesterday, he said, Senator Kerry has shown that he will attack for political gain, without knowing the facts. He puts politics above the facts. And it is irresponsible for Senator Kerry to draw conclusions without knowing the facts. These are wild accusations that he has made, and they just demonstrate that he will say anything for his own political advantage.
Q What part of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, you have --
Q Were these munitions that were destroyed by U.S. troops? Is that what you're saying? Or U.S. forces, these munitions were destroyed --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a real possibility. We don't know the facts. There is new information that has come to light in recent days and continues to come to light. But the facts are still not know.
Q There are facts known now, which is that these pictures show IAEA-sealed explosives. The IAEA people say that they only sealed HMX, and that these look like their seals. So will the President acknowledge those facts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think others have suggested that it does not appear to be HMX.
MR. McCLELLAN: So it's not clear what the facts are. Just some of the media coverage. I can go back and look at some of the media coverage. But you have some experts questioning this whole issue, because as I said, we've seized or destroyed more than 400,000 tons of munitions. That shows that securing and destroying these munitions was a priority for our troops. You have experts saying that this issue is "absurd," or "bogus." Yet Senator Kerry is the one who is jumping to conclusions without knowing the facts. And I think that's a real issue in this campaign --
Q Does the President believe this is absurd and bogus?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- a real issue in this campaign. And in terms of the video that you're referencing, again, it's a very real possibility that those explosives could have been part of what was destroyed by our troops, because we know that our troops made it a priority because of how much they have already destroyed. They've destroyed a large volume of munitions since the beginning of the war in Iraq. I think that you are looking at -- you're trying to attempt to draw some conclusions based on this videotape, and I'm not sure that you can draw those conclusions from that videotape.
Q Does the President believe this issue is absurd and bogus?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I was pointing out -- I mean, I was pointing out that people were saying that the facts are not known, and that you have to look at the facts -- there's a wild charge been made here that it wasn't a priority for our military. It was a priority for our military to secure and destroy munitions, and that is documented by the fact that they have already destroyed or secured more than 400,000 tons of munitions.
Q And you're suggesting that the munitions -- that the high explosives tagged by the IAEA that have been photographed as having been there when the 101st arrived could then have been destroyed by American troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a real possibility. We don't know the facts. There is new information still coming to light, but we still don't know all the facts. And for someone to draw conclusions without knowing the facts, it shows their reckless disregard. It shows their reckless disregard.
Q Scott, the Pentagon has said that they're looking into this matter. Do you have any sense of the time line and when they might be able to come forward with some conclusions?
MR. McCLELLAN: I know they've continued to look into the matter. That's why they put out the image from the satellite photo yesterday of the trucks that were at the facility just after the inspectors left. And that shows that there was activity going on there. Ambassador Bremer was on the "Today Show" this morning, and he talked about how it's premature to draw conclusions. The facts are not known. And he pointed out how after the troops were already there, to move such a large quantity of explosives would have taken scores of trucks. And there have been no reports that any such activity was seen.
Q The former chief weapons inspector, David Kay, said that, to him, it looked like that white powder was HMX. Are you disagreeing with his assessment?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there's others that have said they're not sure what's in those boxes. It's not clear, it's not clear what's in those boxes. And there are others that question what's in those boxes. But, regardless, it also --
Q I'm sorry, who questioned that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen some of the media reporting, and I'll go back and look at the media reporting and pull that for you.* And the military, I mean, they haven't said that it's clear what was in those boxes, other than it's some type of explosives. But it leads to the possibility, if our troops were there and found those munitions, it's certainly a possibility that those munitions were part of what was destroyed, because we know that they destroyed a large volume of munitions that they found in Iraq at the -- these munitions were spread throughout the country.
Q Did they keep records of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Now you're drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts, and I don't think you can do that.
Q I'm saying David Kay reached the conclusion.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I'm saying. You cannot draw the conclusions without knowing all the facts, and the facts are still unclear.
Q Wouldn't we stipulate that David Kay is not just some casual observer, but somebody who actually knows intimately about operations on the ground, particularly during the time --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Ambassador Bremer is someone who knew about operations on the ground as well, because he was --
Q Was he conducting weapons inspections?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- he was there, and he was very well aware of what was going on there. Our military was very well aware of that, and they have not come out -- the military has not been able to confirm what, exactly, this video shows.
Q One quick question. The President -- does the President want to see Israel guarantee Arafat's return after he is treated in Paris?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, right now, I think that -- you know, our focus has been on making sure he gets the medical care he needs. I mean, we want to make sure that he gets the medical care he needs. Obviously, the President expressed our concern for his health. I don't know that that's been an issue that's been raised by Israel at this point, publicly. I haven't heard that. I mean, I'll be glad to look into it if they --
Q What about the United States government?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the first thing right now is that he's getting the medical attention that he needs. And that's we'll continue to monitor the situation. If there's -- if something comes to light like that, we'll talk about it at that point.
Q Scott, very quickly, on the tone of the speech today, are we entering a period where the President is trying to take the volume down, ask Americans to be a little more reflective, and does that hold through election day now?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't necessarily say that. I mean, he'll continue to talk about the clear choices. I'm just saying that this speech is -- it's a new one, it's different from some of the ones you've heard recently, and that the focus is on really what I said, not on Senator Kerry.
Q We had a 3.7 percent growth number, lower than the 4.2 forecast. No doubt the other side is going to seize on that as evidence that your policies haven't worked.
MR. McCLELLAN: What, the economy is growing, and that it's higher than it was the previous quarter? The economy -- today's numbers are another indication that the economy is moving forward and continues to grow stronger. The pro-growth policies that this President has pursued are working. And the last thing we need to do is turn away from those policies and raise taxes. That would stifle economic growth and job creation that we're seeing.
More than 1.9 million jobs created over the last year, an unemployment rate that is below the '70s, '80s and '90s; is down to 5.4 percent. There's more to do to keep our economy growing. We're in a changing economy and we need to make sure workers have the skills to fill the high-growth, high-paying jobs that are being created. And we need to continue to pursue the pro-growth policies that the President has outlined.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 10:16 A.M. EDT
CNN reported, "'That's either HMX or RDX,' Kay said, referring to the types of explosives. 'I don't know of anything else in al Qaqaa that was in that form.'" "But Michael Lysobey, a former U.N. weapons inspector, said it was unclear from the videotape whether the barrels contained the high-grade explosives."
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