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 Home > News & Policies > July 2005

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 21, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

  • London Bombings
  • Leak Investigation
  • Supreme Court Nomination
  • North Korea
  • War on Terrorism
  • Unocal Takeover Bid
  • Patriot Act
  • Chinese Currency
  • Karen Hughes
  • Syrian Action in Iraq
  • 12:53 P.M. EDT

    MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me begin with something you all have been interested in today, the situation in London. This morning, it was probably around 8:30 a.m. this morning, the President was informed of the situation in London by Andy Card and Steve Hadley. This was toward the end of his intelligence briefing. We have continued to monitor the situation throughout the morning. The President has been kept informed about developments. Around 11:00 a.m. this morning, after he had returned from his remarks, Andy Card and Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, provided the President with an additional update about what is known and what Prime Minister Blair had said in his remarks.

    Our mass transit systems remain at a heightened state of alert. It was a step that we took two weeks ago out of an abundance of caution following the attacks that took place in London. There are additional security precautions that we put in place at that point. Those included more law enforcement personnel around those systems, bomb-detecting dog teams, increased video surveillance, and increased inspections. There is no plan, at this time, to change the alert level for our mass transit systems. Those systems remain at the orange level, or heightened state of alert.

    And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

    Q Did you say, Scott, in the 11:00 a.m. update, how clear of a picture did the President receive of what's happened in London?

    MR. McCLELLAN: It's basically what the British authorities have shared with you all publicly.

    Q You don't know anything more about -- it seems like a pretty fuzzy picture of what's going on.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, we have U.S. authorities and officials who have been working closely with British authorities over the course of the past two weeks. We have been in close coordination in assisting British authorities as they have moved forward since the attacks of two weeks ago, and that continues. We will continue to assist in any way we can.

    Q And I guess it's safe to assume, since you say there's no change in the alert status, there's no indication of anything unusual in the United States, any place you see?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are always taking any possible threats as seriously as possible. And that's why I said that we remain at a heightened state of alert out of an abundance of caution. And that was a step that we took more than two weeks ago. There's nothing additional that I have to share at this point. But we're constantly sharing information and staying in close contact with state and local authorities about information that we get.

    Q Why does Karl Rove still have security clearance and access to classified documents when he has been revealed as a leaker of a secret agent, according to Time magazine's correspondent?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is an investigation that continues, and I think the President has made it clear that we're not going to prejudge the outcome of that investigation.

    Q You already have the truth.

    MR. McCLELLAN: We're not going to prejudge the outcome of that investigation through --

    Q Does he have access to security documents?

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- through media reports. And these questions came up over the last week --

    Q Did he leak the name of a CIA agent?

    MR. McCLELLAN: As I was trying to tell you, these questions have been answered.

    Q No, they haven't.

    Q Let me ask --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, David.

    Q And they most certainly haven't. I think Helen is right, and the people watching us know that. And related to that, there are now --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me correct the record. We've said for quite some time that this was an ongoing investigation, and that we weren't going to comment on it, so let me just correct the record.

    Q If you want to make the record clear, then you also did make comments when a criminal investigation was underway, you saw fit to provide Karl Rove with a blanket statement of absolution. And that turned out to be no longer accurate --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and there were preferences expressed by those overseeing the investigation that we refrain from commenting on it while they're continuing to look at -- investigate it.

    Q White House officials have been very clear through their attorneys or through other leaks to make it known that it was essentially journalists who educated them about who Valerie Plame was, what she did, and her role in sending her husband to Niger. It has now come to light that in fact White House officials were aware, or at least had access to a State Department memo that the President's own Secretary of State at the time had with him when he was traveling on Air Force One to Africa, which indicated both who she was, what she did, and her role in the Niger trip. So did the White House, in fact, know about her through this memo, or not?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I thank you for wanting to proceed ahead with the investigation from this room, but I think that the appropriate place for that to happen is through those who are overseeing the investigation. The President directed us to cooperate fully, and that's exactly what we have been doing and continue to do.

    Q But you don't deny that attorneys for Rove and others in the White House are speaking about these matters, creating a lot of these questions, right, that you say you can't speak to?

    MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, we're not getting into talking about an ongoing investigation. That's what the President indicated, as well.

    Q Can I ask you something on a different topic?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

    Q Do you feel like you have the votes for John Roberts, for his confirmation today? I realize people are sort of waiting before they make judgment, but do you feel based on your own canvassing, that he's got it in the bag?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's way too early in the process to start trying to get into vote counting or anything of that nature. The President is pleased with the warm reception he is receiving from senators, both Democrats and Republicans. He continues to meet with senators today. Judge Roberts is visiting with, I think, an additional six senators today as part of his initial courtesy visits and as part of his consultations going forward. And I'm not going to try to get into the Washington game of vote counting or anything of that nature. It's the Senate's responsibility to move forward on the confirmation process. The President has called for a dignified and civil process, and the indications are that the Senate is inclined to move forward in that direction, and we appreciate that.

    Q So the White House won't count votes at any point?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we appreciate the warm reception that Judge Roberts has received from the Senate.

    Q Scott, was there discussion prior to today of possibly lowering the terror threat level here in the U.S.?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We're always looking at the threat level, and that is something we evaluate on a daily basis. And as I said, there is no change in the threat level for the mass transit systems. Now, that was just for the mass transit systems that we elevated it to a heightened state of alert, or the orange alert level.

    Q Is there any full meeting of the NSC planned for today, at any point?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President had a Security Council meeting earlier this morning, but that was to talk about the progress we're making in Iraq.

    Q And on the decision by the Senate last week not to increase the transportation funding for security in the transit lines, do you feel that there's an adequate level of funding to secure American transit lines?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Our Homeland -- our Secretary of Homeland Security spoke about that issue last week, and that remains our position. We have provided, I think it's some $250 million in money to the mass transit systems that you're referring to. We've provided an additional more than $8 billion in grants to states and local officials. And that's money or additional resources that they can direct toward the mass transit systems if they see best. What we want to -- as they see best.

    We want to make sure that resources are targeted toward the risks. And so it's a risk-based assessment that we believe should be used for those resources.

    Go ahead.

    Q The Secretary of Homeland Security stirred some controversy, I think it was last week, when he said that the risks are greater from an airplane than from mass transit. Has the second attack in London made people reconsider that perspective?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you ought to look at the full context of his remarks. I think he was talking in the context of the federal responsibility. Aviation security is solely a federal responsibility. The mass transit systems -- when you talk about subways and trains and things of that nature, that is a shared responsibility of local, state and federal authorities, and that's what he was talking about.

    Q But at a time when it's possible that mass transit is being targeted, is it something that you might need to reconsider in terms of where the federal dollars should go?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are dedicating a lot of resources toward mass transit systems, as well. I just pointed out what we've dedicated toward mass transit systems.

    Go ahead, Carl.

    Q Chinese official news is reporting an unnamed North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman as suggesting that if the U.S. were to normalize its relationships with North Korea, then there wouldn't be a need for them to have nuclear weapons program. What do you make of all that?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we look forward to the talks that will be continuing next week. The five parties put a proposal on the table and it's time to move forward on that proposal in a serious way. North Korea has indicated that they want to see a nuclear-free peninsula and that they are committed to making progress toward that goal in the six-party talks next week.

    North Korea needs to make a strategic decision to abandon its nuclear ambitions. If they make that decision, they can start to realize better relations with the international community and start to realize some of the benefits of coming into the international community. And they need to make the strategic decision.

    But no one should be coming into the talks with any preconditions. The talks next week will be centered on talking about how we move forward on the proposal that was outlined a year ago. That proposal, we believe, and other -- the other members to the talks believe addresses the concerns of all parties. And it is the way forward to getting to our shared goal of a nuclear-free peninsula.

    Q Does the administration then take this latest piece of information seriously? Or is this the type of stuff that in the past has come in advance of meetings?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, no one should come into the discussions with any preconditions. The place to talk about all the issues are in the six-party talks. And it's North Korea that needs to make the strategic decision to abandon their nuclear ambitions, and to work in a serious way to move forward toward the goal of a nuclear-free peninsula.

    Go ahead.

    Q Scott, the President talked about the war on terrorism --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Elaine.

    Q Thank you, Scott, I appreciate it. The President today talked about the war on terrorism and made remarks about how the ideologies are different. But since September of 2001, can you talk about the diplomatic outreach and how, in fact, Americans and people around the world can measure the progress on that front? Not just al Qaeda and rounding up terrorists --

    MR. McCLELLAN: On the diplomatic front? Well, there's a lot of cooperation among many countries in the global war on terrorism. There are some 90-plus countries that are part of the global war on terrorism. And we are coordinating and sharing information and working closely with many countries around the world, many countries in the civilized world that recognize this is an ideological struggle against terrorists who base their ideology on spreading hatred and fear. The terrorists want to intimidate us. They want to spread fear and chaos. They will not intimidate us. They want to shake our will. We will defeat them by continuing to stay on the offensive and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks; and by spreading freedom and democracy, as the President talked about in his remarks earlier today. And we continue to work with countries around the world on the diplomatic efforts, as well.

    You point out a very important aspect there. This is a war that is fought on multiple fronts, the diplomatic, the law enforcement, the intelligence, the military. And we're waging a comprehensive strategy to prevail over the ideology the terrorists espouse.

    It is a long-term ideological struggle that we're engaged in. We remain at war on terrorism.

    Q But Tony Blair today faced questions about the Iraq war continuing to be a reason that these terrorists are citing as targeting their efforts on certain countries, his included. Does the -- is there a concern that perhaps the diplomatic efforts have not succeeded to the point where you can overcome that point of view?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, the terrorists have been carrying out their attacks on the civilized world for some two decades now. All you have to do is go back and look at the attacks on the Marine barracks in Lebanon; all you have to do is go and look at the attacks that took place on our World Trade Center back in 1993, and the attacks that occurred on September 11th that will always be etched in the hearts and minds of the American people.

    The terrorists have no regard for human life. They seek to spread an ideology that is based on hatred and oppression. The way to defeat that ideology is to spread freedom and democracy. We must continue to take the fight to the enemy and fight them abroad so that we're not fighting them here at home. And that's exactly what we're doing.

    The President recognized and made a decision after September 11th that we were no longer going to look the other way at what was taking place in a dangerous region of the world, that we were going to go on the offensive and that we were going to spread freedom and democracy. I don't know if people are making the same argument that because we're in Afghanistan, they're carrying out these attacks. They're carrying out these attacks because they have a hateful ideology and they seek to spread fear and chaos, and shake the will of the international community, and shake the will of the civilized world. They cannot shake our will. We are united in our resolve to prevail in the war on terrorism.

    Q One more question on this State Department memo that David brought up. Did any senior official on Air Force One see that memo -- the State Department memo that Secretary Powell brought with him?

    MR. McCLELLAN: And my response hasn't changed to David's question. There's an ongoing investigation; the President directed us to cooperate fully with that investigation and that's what we have been doing. And those are all issues for the people overseeing the investigation to look at.

    Go ahead, Sarah.

    Q My question is related to Elaine's. CNN reports that --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Related to -- I'm sorry -- related to?

    Q Related to the bombings in London.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

    Q CNN reports that about two-thirds of British residents believe the bombings are a protest to Britain's support of the U.S. effort in Iraq. Does that concern the President, and has he done anything to reassure Prime Minister Tony Blair?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has talked about the situation in Iraq and the progress that we're making there. The terrorists have chosen to make Iraq a central front in the war on terrorism and we're fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here at home.

    Q Today the U.S. Department of Treasury designated --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Sarah. I'll come back to you.

    Q Apparently, China still has time to up its bid for Unocal, even though the Unocal board of directors says it wants to accept Chevron's new bid. I know you have said there is a mechanism in the U.S. government to deal with foreign purchases of U.S. companies. But how does the President personally feel about the possibility of China acquiring a big U.S. oil company?

    MR. McCLELLAN: The President expects that if this were to move forward, that the procedures in place would be followed. And there are procedures in place for addressing these issues.

    Q The House is looking at the Patriot Act today. Within the context of what's happened today, can you talk about efforts to amend it, change it --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard the President talk about it yesterday. The threats we see from terrorism are not coming to an end, nor should the provisions and tools that the Patriot Act provides our law enforcement and intelligence personnel. The Patriot Act has helped us to break down the wall that existed between law enforcement and intelligence where they could not share information. Now they're able to share information and be in better position to connect the dots and prevent attacks from happening, or disrupt plots for attacks.

    I think there is a great op/ed in today's USA Today by Michael Battle, the U.S. Attorney who was involved in overseeing the efforts to disrupt the plot by the Lackawanna Six. And he talked about how important the tools in the Patriot Act are to helping us defeat the terrorists and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And so we --

    Q But in terms of greater oversight --

    MR. McCLELLAN: So we continue to urge Congress to move forward and renew all the provisions in the Patriot Act.

    Q Without greater oversight, other efforts that --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are safeguards in there when it comes to civil liberties. And I think you should look at what the safeguards are in there, as well, because this is a law that not only helps us save lives, but it also protects the liberties that we hold dear. It's the terrorists that are seeking to take away the freedoms that we enjoy.

    Q Is there any concern that Pakistan is not doing enough to weed out terrorists their home turf, and that possibly they may need additional resources from our country to help them from exporting terrorist activities, like what happened in London?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Pakistan is a great ally in the war on terrorism. And Pakistan recognizes the threat from terrorists. They have seen that on their own soil. We have certainly seen it on our own soil here at home. And we are working very closely with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism and to go after members of al Qaeda and Taliban -- and the Taliban that continue to live in the border region there with Afghanistan. And the Afghanistan authorities are working with us; the Pakistan authorities are working with us. There's more that we can all do to continue to go after those who seek to carry out attacks on innocent civilians.

    Go ahead, Roger.

    Q On China's reevaluation of its currency. Was the President at all sort of discouraged by the small step that they took? I know you said he was encouraged, but it was a little bit of a small step. Does he hope for more? And also, is there any assessment on whether it would narrow the trade gap between the U.S. and China?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We welcome the step that China announced today. This is a step that we are encouraged by and the President is encouraged by because it is a step toward adapting a more flexible market-based currency system. And the Treasury Department -- Treasury Secretary Snow spoke about this earlier today and I think I'll leave it with what they said in terms of their comments. The President was informed about the news out of China earlier this morning.

    Q Has he offered any call or message to the Chinese leaders?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We stay in close contact with our counterparts in China on issues of mutual concern, and I don't have any update from this podium at this point.

    Go ahead, Les.

    Q Yesterday in Baltimore, the President congratulated Maryland's Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich for achieving a $1 billion surplus since the Governor inherited a $1 billion deficit from the Democrat's former Governor Parris Glendening. And my first question, has the President had any comment on Governor Ehrlich being actually sued by the Baltimore Sun because Ehrlich has asked his administration to join him in "no comment" to only two of the Sun's more extremist writers?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you share the President's enthusiasm for the great job that Governor Ehrlich is doing. The President believes he's doing a great job as Governor of Maryland, and he talked about that yesterday. He pointed out that they do now enjoy a billion dollar surplus.

    Q The Baltimore Sun has now directed one of its best columnists, Greg Kane, to give up his regular appearances on talk radio because, said Editor Steve Sullivan, there is hostility and a lack of civility.

    And my question: Has the President ever asked any of his administration to so boycott American talk radio?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not aware of any discussion we've had on the matter.

    Q And they've never done it, right? To your knowledge, it's never been done.

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered it.

    Go ahead, Bob.

    Q Scott, a couple of clean-up questions on Roberts. Who are the six senators he's meeting today?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see if we can get you more information. Obviously, I think people will see him up there on the Hill. (Laughter.) See if he's -- it includes Democrats and Republicans. I believe there are three Democrats and three Republicans that he is meeting with today.

    Q Is he expected to meet with all one hundred? Is that the usual protocol? I don't remember any more.

    MR. McCLELLAN: We'll keep you posted on his meetings. And -- I don't recall off the top of my head, but he will meet with a number of senators as part of our ongoing consultations as the Senate moves forward on the confirmation process.

    Q And you said you were happy with the warm reception he's received up there. Are you surprised, perhaps, that a lot of the Democrats have been so reticent to offer criticism, those you might expect to criticize quickly?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all. The President is pleased with the response from Democrats and Republicans alike in the Senate. We're not surprised that they recognize, as the President does, that Judge Roberts is someone who is exceptionally well-qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts will make the American people proud as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court. He is someone who brings great experience and judgment and civility to the position. The President nominated him because he is someone who believes in strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws and not trying to make law from the bench. He is someone who is committed to fairness and impartiality. And I think that's what the American people want in a Supreme Court justice.

    Carl, and then I'll go to Bob.

    Q Scott, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, lead by Byron Dorgan, along with the Democrats of the House Government Reform Committee, are going to hold a hearing tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. on the leaking of classified information and the damage that it could cause. Do you think that that investigation that they're conducting on -- just Democrats is helpful?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it's helpful for all of us to make sure we're doing our part to allow the people overseeing the investigation to do their job. And that's what we've been doing from this White House. And I really don't have anything to add beyond that.

    Q One quick question again about the shield law. What's the latest administration thinking on strengthening the shield law for reporters in the District?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Department of Justice is the lead agency when it comes to this piece of legislation because there are some law enforcement provisions that would be impacted by the legislation. So I think you should look to what the Department of Justice has been saying on it.

    I understand that there are some reports that Senator Luger may be offering some changes to the legislation or something to that effect, and I'm not sure that those have been made public at this point.

    Go ahead.

    Q Scott, anything on how Karen Hughes is preparing for her confirmation hearing tomorrow, what the President expects from her and her new job, and with respect to the sort of war of ideas piece that you talked about earlier in the context of the anti-terror campaign, how much of a difference can be made by re-crafting the message?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the public diplomacy part of the war on terrorism is important. We are -- and Secretary Rice has spoken about this at length recently. We are going to continue to work to improve our public diplomacy efforts. There are a lot of people that have been working on that and they're doing a great job. Dina Powell, who was here at the White House, is now confirmed and over at the Department of State, already focusing on these issues. We look forward to the Senate moving forward quickly on Karen's confirmation so that she can go about doing the work at the State Department, as well.

    But it's important for us to continue to communicate the values and -- or the values and what we stand for here in America. These are values that I think people share around the world. And the President talked about the importance of everybody living in freedom, because free societies are peaceful societies and freedom is something that is a universal right of all people.

    Go ahead.

    Q This week -- Department of the Treasury -- Saddam Hussein's -- as individuals who

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I can't hear you very well.

    Q Department of the Treasury has indicted six of Saddam Hussein's -- as individuals who aiding insurgency in Iraq, directing attack against coalition forces. All of them have Syria address. Are you going to talk to Syria to stop this individual --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to convey our concerns to the government of Syria. Syria has been out of step with the rest of the Middle East. The Middle East has been moving more and more in the direction of freedom and democracy, and we continue to support efforts to advance the spread of freedom in that region. That has been a dangerous region of the world. It has been a region that has exported terrorism. It is a region where the people who hijacked the planes and flew them into buildings here in the United States and took some 3,000 innocent lives -- it's the region where they came from. And that's why it's so important that we no longer appease or ignore what has been occurring there.

    For decades we were looking for peace and stability while dictators continued to rule in the Middle East. And the President recognized that in order to prevail in the war on terrorism, we must also work to spread freedom and democracy, and that we could -- that the objective of peace and stability -- we got neither of those by ignoring that part of the world.

    And in terms of Syria, Syria needs to get in step with the rest of the Middle East. Syria needs to shut down terrorist organizations in its territory, terrorist organizations that are trying to derail efforts to move forward on peace in the Middle East, trying to derail efforts to move forward on the two-state vision of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security. There is a historic opportunity before us right now with the disengagement plan, and it's important that all parties continue to make maximum effort to make it successful.

    Syria also needs to take steps to go after those regime elements that may be operating on their territory. They need to play a helpful role with their neighbors, and that's a message we continue to express to the government of Syria.

    Go ahead.

    Q Back to -- on the explosions, if I may. Could you confirm a high-level meeting, security meeting between British and U.S. officials this morning prior to the explosions involving possibly senior officials from the national security?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about in London?

    Q In London, yes.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any update on meetings. Like I said, we are working closely -- in close coordination with British authorities, and we are continuing to assist in any way we can. But in terms of any updates of discussions or anything of that nature, I'll leave it to British authorities to talk more about what latest -- the latest developments are.

    Q Thank you.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

    END 1:21 P.M. EDT