|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 8, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. It's good to be back from a good trip to South America. The President was pleased to visit Argentina, and had a good visit with President Kirchner. He was pleased to participate in the meetings of the Summit of the Americas, and also pleased to meet with President Lula in Brazil, and visit Panama, as well. That was the first time he had been to Panama, and it was a very good visit.
The trip was very good in the sense that it reaffirmed the commitment of the nations to move forward on strengthening democratic institutions and advancing opportunity and prosperity in the region for all people. There was a good discussion about ways to lift people out of poverty, and good discussion on moving forward on the Doha Round. There was also good discussion about reaffirming our commitments to important shared values and principles, such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech, adhering to the rule of law, fighting corruption.
And so the President was very pleased with the trip, and we are glad to be back and look forward to going to Asia next week. The President had some good interviews earlier this morning with some foreign print media from those countries that we will be traveling to early next week. And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Does the President know about, and approve of, this probe that's being announced by the House and Senate of the leak of the story about the CIA secret prisons --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just saw the announcement on that. That was a decision made by the Speaker and the Majority Leader.
Q I want to know what the President thinks about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we just found out about it not long ago.
Q Well, does he think that's a good idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you've heard him express his views. The leaking of classified information is a serious matter and ought to be taken seriously. But this is a congressional prerogative, and it was a decision that was made by those leaders, and that's the way I would describe it.
Q I just wondered whether the White House basically endorses this under the circumstances.
MR. McCLELLAN: It was their decision, Bill, is the way I would describe it. You might want to ask them questions about their decisions.
Q There were the briefings that began, the ethics briefings that began today. Can you describe in some fashion what the presentation is that White House staffers are hearing for an hour, and what you're trying to accomplish?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. First let me step back and just talk about these so everybody in the room is familiar with what we are doing. The President takes the issue of the handling of classified information very seriously. And about a week ago, or just over a week ago, at Camp David, he visited with his Chief of Staff, Andy Card, and his Counsel, Harriet Miers, about some steps that we should take here at the White House. And the President directed that action be taken to provide refresher briefings for all White House staff -- that includes staff within the White House, as well as staff within the Executive Office of the President; that would include agencies that operate within the White House, such as the Office of Management and Budget and the Counsel on Environmental Quality and a number of others.
The White House staff knows very well what is expected of them. They're expected to focus on the people's business and they're expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards. The President has made that clear for quite some time. And he directed Andy Card and Harriet Miers to do these refresher briefings for all White House staff.
And they focus on general ethics rules, including rules governing the handling of classified information. So this week there will be eight hour-long sessions that will be conducted for all White House staff that has security clearances of any level, whether that -- well, all staff that has any sort of security clearance.
And so there will be -- in these briefings, which started this morning, they're organized in an alphabetical way -- there will be a general overview of ethics issues, such as the standards of ethical conduct that are expected. There will be a discussion about classified information and the proper handling of classified national security information, how that material is classified, by whom, for how long, who has access to it, how the material is declassified, the badges that people wear to show their security clearances and so forth. The briefings discuss the security precautions that are in place for handling classified information such as the use of safes, or the use of specific locations to view classified information like the Situation Room here at the White House. It will talk about the proper disposal of classified information. It will talk about the handling of classified information when you're transporting that classified information. And the briefings will include the rules and laws relating to classified information and what's expected of people. So that's kind of a general overview of these briefings.
Q Is there underlying concern that the highest ethical standards have not been observed by everyone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this was -- the President made this decision in light of recent circumstances, that we should take this action. And that's why he directed the Counsel's Office to proceed with these refresher briefings. Every White House staffer has to go through ethics briefings when they come on to the staff. You also have to go through detailed briefings when you're provided security clearances -- before you're provided those security clearances you go through very detailed briefings. And next week there will be briefings conducted for remaining employees that do not have security clearances.
So we thought that -- the President thought that this was an appropriate time to move ahead with these refresher briefings, and that's why he directed this course of action be taken.
Q This is over two weeks. Where are the briefings held? And how many, like, typically in a class?
MR. McCLELLAN: They're held over in the New Executive Office Building, or the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. There's an auditorium over there.
Q Is this all we should expect from the President, the ethics refresher courses, the extent of his reaction to the indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you're aware, if you're asking a question about an ongoing investigation, we're not going to have further say at this point while it continues. It is a very serious matter, and we are going to continue to cooperate. That's what the President directed us to do and that's what we are doing.
Q I asked you a different question. Is this the full extent of what the President deems necessary, "in light of circumstances?"
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is always free to take the action that he feels is appropriate.
Q Does the President think that Karl Rove lived up to the highest ethical standards --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's a question relating to an ongoing investigation. The President was asked about it last week; he reiterated what we have previously said. This is a serious matter, it continues, and what we are going to do is continue to cooperate with that investigation. And that's why I made the point, too, that all of us here at the White House understand what the expectations are. We understand that we're expected to adhere to the highest standards. We understand that we're expected to focus on the work of the American people, and that's what we do.
Q Do you think that while Karl Rove is under investigation that he should retain his security clearance?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just not going to talk about an ongoing investigation. You're asking that question in the light of an ongoing investigation; it's something that continues at this point.
Q One last one on this. It just -- it strikes me as odd that, given the fact that Karl Rove has not been charged with any crime, he's merely under investigation, so far as we know, that the President's language about him and his confidence in him has been so distant, that he simply refuses to comment on his standing within the White House because of a pending matter.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't agree with that. I mean, Karl Rove is continuing to perform his duties as Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor. We appreciate all that he's doing.
Q So the President stands by Rove a hundred percent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've made it clear to you that everybody who works here at the White House has the confidence of the President.
Q That's not exactly a direct answer, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking a question relating to an ongoing investigation and --
Q Does he stand by Karl Rove a hundred percent?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the investigation relating to him is something that is ongoing, and the President has addressed that.
Q -- forward-leaning as that, to say the President stands behind Karl Rove a hundred percent?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just made the President's views known.
Q I'd like you to clear up, once and for all, the ambiguity about torture. Can we get a straight answer? The President says we don't do torture, but Cheney --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's about as straight as it can be.
Q Yes, but Cheney has gone to the Senate and asked for an exemption on --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has not. Are you claiming he's asked for an exemption on torture? No, that's --
Q He did not ask for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that is inaccurate.
Q Are you denying everything that came from the Hill, in terms of torture?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're mischaracterizing things. And I'm not going to get into discussions we have --
Q Can you give me a straight answer for once?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give it to you, just like the President has. We do not torture. He does not condone torture and he would never --
Q I'm asking about exemptions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me respond. And he would never authorize the use of torture. We have an obligation to do all that we can to protect the American people. We are engaged --
Q That's not the answer I'm asking for --
MR. McCLELLAN: It is an answer -- because the American people want to know that we are doing all within our power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening. There are people in this world who want to spread a hateful ideology that is based on killing innocent men, women and children. We saw what they can do on September 11th --
Q He didn't ask for an exemption --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we are going to --
Q -- answer that one question. I'm asking, is the administration asking for an exemption?
MR. McCLELLAN: I am answering your question. The President has made it very clear that we are going to do --
Q You're not answering -- yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you don't want the American people to hear what the facts are, Helen, and I'm going to tell them the facts.
Q -- the American people every day. I'm asking you, yes or no, did we ask for an exemption?
MR. McCLELLAN: And let me respond. You've had your opportunity to ask the question. Now I'm going to respond to it.
Q If you could answer in a straight way.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm going to answer it, just like the President -- I just did, and the President has answered it numerous times.
Q -- yes or no --
MR. McCLELLAN: Our most important responsibility is to protect the American people. We are engaged in a global war against Islamic radicals who are intent on spreading a hateful ideology, and intent on killing innocent men, women and children.
Q Did we ask for an exemption?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are going to do what is necessary to protect the American people.
Q Is that the answer?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are also going to do so in a way that adheres to our laws and to our values. We have made that very clear. The President directed everybody within this government that we do not engage in torture. We will not torture. He made that very clear.
Q Are you denying we asked for an exemption?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, we will continue to work with the Congress on the issue that you brought up. The way you characterize it, that we're asking for exemption from torture, is just flat-out false, because there are laws that are on the books that prohibit the use of torture. And we adhere to those laws.
Q We did ask for an exemption; is that right? I mean, be simple -- this is a very simple question.
MR. McCLELLAN: I just answered your question. The President answered it last week.
Q What are we asking for?
Q Would you characterize what we're asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're asking to do what is necessary to protect the American people in a way that is consistent with our laws and our treaty obligations. And that's what we --
Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from the military?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, let's talk about people that you're talking about who have been brought to justice and captured. You're talking about people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad; people like Abu Zubaydah.
Q I'm asking you --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is facts about what you're talking about.
Q Why does the CIA need an exemption from rules that would govern the conduct of our military in interrogation practices?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are already laws and rules that are on the books, and we follow those laws and rules. What we need to make sure is that we are able to carry out the war on terrorism as effectively as possible, not only --
Q What does that mean --
MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm telling you right now -- not only to protect Americans from an attack, but to prevent an attack from happening in the first place. And, you bet, when we capture terrorist leaders, we are going to seek to find out information that will protect -- that prevent attacks from happening in the first place. But we have an obligation to do so. Our military knows this; all people within the United States government know this. We have an obligation to do so in a way that is consistent with our laws and values.
Now, the people that you are bringing up -- you're talking about in the context, and I think it's important for the American people to know, are people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh -- these are -- these are dangerous killers.
Q So they're all killers --
Q Did you ask for an exemption on torture? That's a simple question, yes or no.
MR. McCLELLAN: No. And we have not. That's what I told you at the beginning.
Q You want to reserve the ability to use tougher tactics with those individuals who you mentioned.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, you have a different view from the American people. I think the American people understand the importance of doing everything within our power and within our laws to protect the American people.
Q Scott, are you saying that Cheney did not ask --
Q What is it that you want the -- what is it that you want the CIA to be able to do that the U.S. Armed Forces are not allowed to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into talking about national security matters, Bill. I don't do that, because this involves --
Q This would be the exemption, in other words.
MR. McCLELLAN: This involves information that relates to doing all we can to protect the American people. And if you have a different view -- obviously, some of you on this room -- in this room have a different view, some of you on the front row have a different view.
Q We simply are asking a question.
Q What is the Vice President -- what is the Vice President asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's spelled out in our statement of administration policy in terms of what our views are. That's very public information. In terms of our discussions with members of Congress --
Q -- no, it's not --
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of our members -- like I said, there are already laws on the books that we have to adhere to and abide by, and we do. And we believe that those laws and those obligations address these issues.
Q So then why is the Vice President continuing to lobby on this issue? If you're very happy with the laws on the books, what needs change?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you asked me -- you want to ask questions of the Vice President's office, feel free to do that. We've made our position very clear, and it's spelled out on our website for everybody to see.
Q We don't need a website, we need you from the podium.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what I just told you is what our view is.
Q But Scott, do you see the contradiction --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, go ahead.
Q Will the President pledge not to pardon Lewis Libby?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to discuss an ongoing legal proceeding, and I'm not going to --
Q Can you just --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not going to speculate about any matters relating to it. This is something that is just beginning. There will be a hearing process that is going on right now, and we need to let that legal proceeding continue. I was asked this question last week, and that's -- I'm just not going to speculate about things at this point.
Q So if he's interested in seeing the legal process continue, that means he will not pardon him, is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: There is a legal proceeding --
Q That would interrupt the legal proceeding.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that is going on relating to that individual. Under our system, there is a presumption of innocence. And we're not going to comment on it while it is continuing. And I'm not going to -- certainly not going to speculate about it, as well.
Q Should we take that to mean it remains a possibility?
MR. McCLELLAN: It should mean exactly what I said.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, before my question, I would like to thank the President and Mr. Andy Card for -- at the White House -- (inaudible) --. My question is that we don't know when the immigration law pending in the Congress will be through, but at this time, trafficking problem is a big one, especially the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Trafficking in persons?
MR. McCLELLAN: That is a high priority for this President to stop the trafficking in persons.
Q -- especially from South Asia, and now India Globe is working a story on a woman from Bangladesh. They bring them here, and then they won't give them a green card and citizenship and work. And then they exploit them and rape them and use them. And then these women have nowhere to go, and they seek help from -- what they should do because there is no one to help them out. And then Immigration have them deported -- they said you have no legal citizen here. What the President is going to do --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has made preventing the trafficking in persons a high priority, particularly trafficking that is involving sex crimes. That is something that he has talked about at the United Nations. It is an issue -- the trafficking in persons is an issue that he talked about just the other day when we were in Brazil, and the President was participating in a roundtable with some young professionals. And one of those persons was someone who worked for an organization that was committed to doing what they can to stop the trafficking in persons.
It's not only the sex trafficking, it's also the trafficking in persons that are seeking to come to our country illegally, simply to provide a better way of life for their families back home, their children, because they know that they might be able to provide a better opportunity for their families back home by coming here to the United States. And you have these coyotes, as the President has talked about, who illegally smuggle people into this country. That's something that we're focused on when it comes to enforcing our borders. That's why one of the President's top priorities on his agenda is taking steps to strengthen our border enforcement and to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform, because people have lost their lives needlessly and we've got to do more to enforce our borders, as well as to move forward on other initiatives to improve our immigration system. We need a more practical and realistic immigration system to address these problems.
Q At that meeting at Camp David, the President, Harriet Miers and Andrew Card talked about steps that would be taken -- does that mean there's going to be something in addition to the ethics --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he was -- thank you for the opportunity to talk further about that. What the President directed them to do at Camp David was to move forward on the action that is taking place this week and next week, as well.
Q But, I mean, the steps being taken -- so that's it, just the classes?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you're asking me to limit the President's ability to make decisions that he deems are appropriate, I'm not going to do that. But this is the action that directed to be taken last week at Camp David.
Q Scott, is anyone in the White House exempt from participating in these and --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's a mandatory session.
Q Would the Vice President have to attend?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's mandatory for all White House staff. That's who it's for.
Q And he's considered staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's considered the Vice President. (Laughter.)
Q So he does not have to attend?
MR. McCLELLAN: All White House staff is required to participate in these sessions.
Q Scott, if that is a refresher course, the initial time that they took this class, was there any kind of statement that people had to sign saying they understood what they had been trained or taught --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when you go through the clearance process to receive classified clearances, or security clearances, you have to sign information and you go through detailed briefings.
Q And is there a portion in this training that says there are consequences if you don't follow the rules, if you don't follow these procedures --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated at the beginning, everybody at the White House understands what's expected of them.
Q And they acknowledge that in a statement? Is that true?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not going to get into talking about everything that has to be signed when you go through a classified briefing on security clearances. But you do have to sign forms when you attend those briefings.
Q Saying that you understand the rules and the regulations, and that type of thing, and the training -- that you've taken this training and you understand the consequences?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is relating to classified security clearances, and that's all I'll say on it, and it's what I just said.
Q Scott, two on Australia and France. First of all, on the Australian arrests, has the U.S. coordinated with them, and is this as a result of Australia's cooperation with the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's something that you ought to direct to Australian authorities. They've talked about it and you can check with our law enforcement authorities to see if there's any additional information. I'll be glad to check on that, as well.
Q Are you pleased with Australia's actions? Do you have any comment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they're a good partner in the global war on terrorism, and they have been pursuing individuals who seek to do harm to their citizens. And they've announced some of the steps that they've taken and some of the results of those steps. I don't have any additional information on it at this point, other than what they have said publicly, Connie.
Q On the French riots, do you have any message for the French, and for Europe, in general, in light of these riots? And should Americans be encouraged to go to France and other countries which might --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Americans should always look to the guidance put out by our State Department in terms of travel, wherever they are traveling. It provides information regarding any security precautions or warnings that they should heed. And beyond that, you ought to talk to France about the steps they're taking to address that.
Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, the President was asked about an apology to the Wilson family, and he did not answer it. And if -- I'm wondering if that non-answer goes to the fact that an apology would be under review right now from the administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: It goes to the fact that there's an ongoing investigation and legal proceeding, and we're not going to have any further discussion of it while it is ongoing.
Q So are you saying an apology would compromise the investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how I could make it more clear, in terms of our response to questions relating to an ongoing investigation.
Q You said that Chief of Staff and the White House Counsel were involved in planning the ethics classes. Karl is a pretty hands-on guy; how involved was he in the planning --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was the Counsel's Office. The Counsel's Office is the one that is responsible for conducting these ethics briefings. Richard Painter is our ethics counsel, and he is the one that conducts these briefings.
Q So he wasn't involved at all in setting it up, as Andy Card was?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this was the President talking with Andy Card and Harriet Miers at Camp David, not this last weekend, but the weekend before.
Q So then you talk about having them in light of circumstances, is that a tacit acknowledgment that classified information has, in fact, been leaked?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was the way I described it.
Q Okay, one other quick one on the Vice President's lobbying. You said that we can direct questions to the Vice President's Office and, presumably, the Vice President is operating with the full knowledge of the President, in terms of lobbying to get an exemption for the CIA. Are you saying that the Vice President's Office is operating independently?
MR. McCLELLAN: What Helen was asking earlier was the exemption for torture, and that is just a flat-out false characterization. And no one is asking for that because the President has already made --
Q -- the question was --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President has already made it clear that we do not torture and we do not tolerate torture. In fact, if you look at -- let's go back and just step back from this and let's look at some of what has happened that has put a stain on the image of the United States abroad. And that was what happened at Abu Ghraib. Well, what our military has done is acted to hold people accountable for their conduct, and to take steps to prevent something like that from happening again. They went through some 12 major investigations or reviews and looked at these issues. And now they've been implementing steps to prevent something like that from ever happening again.
Now, I welcome an opportunity to talk about this -- uninterrupted, I might add -- to talk about the importance of what we're working to do in the global war on terrorism. And the American people I think ought to hear what we are working to do, because the President takes very seriously his responsibility to do all that he can to protect them. We saw what happened on --
Q -- (inaudible) --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, I'm coming to your question. We saw what happened on September 11th, when some 3,000 innocent men, women and children were killed in New York, in Washington and in the fields of Pennsylvania. The President made a decision on that day that we were going to go on the offensive, that we were going to use all available tools to bring to justice those who seek to do us harm before they could carry out their attacks.
And he also made a commitment to work to change the status quo in the Middle East by spreading freedom. For too long we thought we had stability and peace in the Middle East, and we got neither. It became a breeding ground for terrorism. And that's why it's so important what we're working to achieve in the broader Middle East. That's why it's so important that we succeed in Iraq, because Iraq will be an example to the rest of the Middle East, just like Afghanistan is, in terms of that.
And in terms of what Congress is considering -- or, at least the Senate, in terms of this amendment -- the President answered this question just the other day. He talked about how we would continue to work with members of Congress to address this issue. But there are already --
Q What is the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- there are already laws on the books, but not only laws, they're also values that we very much adhere to. But we have an obligation to the American people --
Q How do values blend with what you said earlier, which is "what is necessary"? If what is necessary needs to be done, does that -- does "what is necessary" necessarily fit in with our values?
MR. McCLELLAN: What is necessary within our laws and within our values.
Q So that means not torture --
MR. McCLELLAN: You bet, the President is going to act to do what he can to prevent an attack from happening on the American people. That's what the American people expect. But we're going to do so consistent with our laws and values, and we've made that repeatedly clear.
Q So what is the Vice President lobbying for? And is he doing it on behalf of the White House, or is he operating independently?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I just said we're going to continue to work with Congress.
Q Why don't you answer the one question on exemption?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just did, Helen.
Q Does the Vice President's Office have -- I mean, you blanket -- covered the White House. The Vice President's Office is under the Office of the White House. Why can't you just -- why can't you answer?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into all the discussions we have with members of Congress. If they want to add additional information, you're welcome to contact their office, as well.
Q Well, they don't answer like you do. You are at that podium. We need to hear from you. You --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I just made it clear --
Q -- are the Press Secretary for all --
MR. McCLELLAN: There's a statement of administration policy that has been put out. And -- but let's talk about what this issue is relating to. This issue is relating to the protection of the American people and making sure that the President of the United States has the tools he needs to be able to prevent attacks from happening, and to be able to stop those terrorists who still seek to do us harm from carrying out their attacks in the first place.
Q -- the Vice President wants torture? Which --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wrong. That is absolutely false.
Q Well, then tell us --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that we do not torture.
Q What is the Vice President doing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you.
Q You have not. I'm not trying to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to let you -- you are mischaracterizing what this is about.
Q Scott, no, we want to know --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's clearly in the statement of administration policy. April, look, you can keep showboating for the cameras, but we've made clear what our views are.
Q Thank you -- I showboat well, thank you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you are. Let's be honest about it.
Q I'm being honest. I want an honest answer from you.
MR. McCLELLAN: And you got it in the statement of administration policy.
Q -- in the website. That is not -- that is not --
MR. McCLELLAN: You got it in the statement of administration policy. There are already laws on the books that cover these issues.
Q -- this issue --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's what it is.
Q Well, give it to us then.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go look on our website. I'll be glad to provide it to you.
Q -- which website?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I just told you what it is. Are you not listening? I just told you what it is.
Q Scott, the Department of Defense is revising --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to calm down a little bit and let me respond.
Q Scott, the Department of Defense is revising its policy guidelines for the treatment of detainees for the war on terror --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q Vice President Cheney's office, his senior staff, had advised the uniform military lawyers working on this document that the White House is opposed to including any reference to Geneva Convention terms for humane treatment of detainees. Vice President Cheney's spokeswoman told us last week that that -- that the Vice President is pursuing the President's policy in holding that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- who told you the first part of this? Let's talk about where that came from, first of all.
Q Well, the -- what are you talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President's office I don't think told you that first part of that, and you made it sound like the first part of that was from the Vice President's office. I don't think they told you that.
Q No, I'm not trying to make it sound like they did. There's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're declaring that as fact.
Q -- published reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post -- we are reporting, as well. So the question is, what is the President's view with respect to this Department of Defense policy guideline on the treatment of --
MR. McCLELLAN: We have great confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense to move forward on steps to prevent something like what happened at Abu Ghraib from happening again. And that's what this comes out of, because, as I pointed out earlier, the Department of Defense undertook some 12 major investigations and reviews -- and/or reviews. They also pursued a number of cases against individuals who were responsible for these abuses, and they pursued people and held them to account. That's what the United States does. And that's the way we show the world what we are all about. We are about values and laws, and about adhering to those values and laws. And that's what we will continue to do. So they have taken steps, and are continuing to take steps, to put in place some policy directives that will build upon what they already had in place.
Q Is the President opposed to any reference to Geneva Convention or adherence to the Geneva Convention, directly, in this Department of Defense policy guideline?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the guidelines, those are guidelines that the Department of Defense will issue. And so I'd encourage you to talk further with them about that. Anytime there's something like this, there's an interagency process that goes on, and a number of people are involved in providing input into that process. That's part of the interagency process; that's a healthy part of being able to come to these decisions. And so that's what you're talking about.
Q The President has no view?
MR. McCLELLAN: We support the action that the Department of Defense has taken, and have great confidence in the steps that they are taking to address these matters. In terms of views that we express, we do that through the interagency process.
Q Scott, two-part. Reuters, AP, and The Los Angeles Times all reported yesterday that the IRS has threatened to revoke the tax-exempt status of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, because its retired rector, George Regas, implied to parishioners before the 2004 election that Jesus would not have voted for George W. Bush. And my question: Is it possible that the President supports any such attempt to muzzle the pulpit?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think the President gets involved in decisions that are made by churches.
Q And my second. Since President Bush supports the creation of a separate Palestinian state to halt Muslim violence in Israel, will he now back the creation of an autonomous "Paris-stinian" state to quell violence in France?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made very clear what his view is when it comes to the Middle East peace process. And he was the first President to articulate a policy of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. We're making great progress there.
In terms of what is going on in France, you need to talk to the French government on how they're working to address those matters. That's a matter -- internal matter to France.
Q Senator Grassley has come up with the idea that even though the administration is opposed to windfall profit tax, that major oil corporations voluntarily hand over 10 percent of their vast oil profits to help pay for -- to help direct this money toward low-income housing, or home fuel heating expenses. Does the White House have any objection to this, if it's done voluntarily, for helping those --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- there are some congressional leaders who have talked about the importance of investing in our energy infrastructure. That is a goal that the President shares. We all have a responsibility to do our part. That means the federal government, it means businesses, and it means consumers. We need to do more to invest in our energy infrastructure and address the root causes of high energy prices.
Now, energy prices have come down some in recent weeks, but there is action that we need to continue to take. That's why we acted with Congress to pass a comprehensive national energy strategy. That's why we're working with Congress to look at ways we might be able to expand refining capacity. And the private sector has a role to play in all this, too. And all of us need to do our part. That's the message the President would say.
Q Would that include the private sector having some responsibility in helping to alleviate the cost of home heating?
MR. McCLELLAN: What you're talking about -- in terms of the goal that members of Congress are talking about, which is that we need to do more to invest in our energy infrastructure, that is a goal we share. And we're going to continue to work with them, and we're going to continue to urge all people, in the private sector and in government, to do their part to help address this issue. And Secretary Bodman spoke some about this last week.
Go ahead. I'm going to keep going. Go ahead.
Q With respect to the ethics classes that are being conducted, do they address the grounds for dismissal? And the reason I ask that is because, as you know, the President changed the ground rules on the grounds of dismissal by saying initially that those involved will be dismissed, and then later saying, only those that are convicted will be dismissed. Does that mean that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Everybody at the White House serves at the pleasure of the President. And I've made that very clear to you. So I would not agree with your characterization.
Q Do you ever say to yourself, I've had enough of this, Austin is really nice this time of year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad to help the President implement his optimistic agenda for the American people. And I enjoy working with the people in this room most of the time. And I look forward to continuing to --
Q How about today?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- look forward to continuing to do it. Sure, I enjoy it because -- an important topic was raised at the beginning of this briefing, and I'm glad to talk about it. Some were intent on trying to jump in and not let me respond fully. And I understand that. They're just trying to do their job. But there are important -- there are important points that need to be made to the American people. There is a reminder that we will continue to make to the American people.
We remain a country that is engaged in a global war on terrorism. And it's important that we do everything within our power to go after those who seek to do us harm and to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And this President will do that. But he will do so in a way that is consistent with our laws and our values. And that's an important point to remember.
But when we're talking about this issue, let's have an open discussion about it, and let's talk about the type of people that we're talking about who have been brought to justice, people like Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, people like Binalshibh. These are people that were operational planners involved in carrying out attacks that led to the death of some 3,000 Americans. And the President is determined to prevent something like that from ever happening again. And he's going to do his part to make sure he fulfills the obligation he has to the American people, which is to do everything he can to protect them. So I welcome the discussion.
Q Scott, who would be the highest ranking staffer whose attendance is required at these briefings?
MR. McCLELLAN: Assistants to the President.
Q Would the Chief of Staff --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q -- go?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's an assistant to the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: He participated in the meeting this morning, absolutely. In fact, I think a number of assistants to the President participated in the first meeting, even though it was for A through B. And I think C through D was later, and E and F later, and then more over the next couple of days.
Q So they cut one?
MR. McCLELLAN: But all the assistants to the President were ones --
Q Would you make Richard Painter available to us?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Would you make Richard Painter available to us?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's conducting these briefings for staff. This is relating to classified information, so you can understand the nature of the briefings, and I don't think you have security clearance.
Q But he could tell us what the guidelines are for what people are --
Q He's not talking about classified information in the briefing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll be glad to provide you public information that's on general information guidelines. But information related to classified security briefings, some of that information, by nature, is involved just for people with security clearances. And I'm not aware that you have one at this point.
Q He's not talking about classified information in the briefing.
Q He's talking about the guidelines.
Q He's talking about guidelines.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it involves talking about classified matters -- Bill, you're wrong.
Q You may have noticed that The Washington Post, The Financial Times --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, could you speak up just a little bit?
Q You may have noticed that The Washington Post, The Financial Times have had reports about a human rights lawyer in Beijing whose office was forced to close down because he wrote an open letter to the Chinese leader asking them to stop the persecution of Falun Gong spiritual movement in China. Since President Bush is going to Asia next week, do you think this is some issue he will address?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President had some interviews earlier today. I would encourage you to look at those interviews because one of the topics he talked about was human rights. That is something we talk about publicly and privately as a high priority for this President. We have always made the promotion of human rights and human dignity at the top -- always put it at the top of our agenda. And that's what we will continue to do.
And, yes, the President will continue to talk openly and candidly with leaders he meets with, including when he goes to China, about the importance of freedom of religion for instance.
Tomorrow the President and Mrs. Bush look forward to welcoming His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the White House. He's met with him on a number of occasions before, and they will talk about issues relating to Tibet. And you bet when the President goes to Asia next week, he will continue to talk about the importance of promoting human rights and human dignity for all. We have an obligation -- all of us in the world have an obligation to speak out about human rights. And where those human rights are being undermined, we have a right to speak out about them in places that the -- in countries that the President has talked about before.
One question he got earlier today was relating to North Korea and the treatment of people in North Korea. And he talked about that at length.
Q Thank you, Scott. There are negotiations underway today to further liberalize the Open Skies agreement between Canada and the United States, essentially the fifth freedom which would allow, in this case, Canadian airlines to compete for the lucrative domestic international market. Considering the state of the American airlines, five now seeking bankruptcy protection, does the President believe that this is the right time to open up this market to --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's something we continue to discuss with Canada. I don't have the latest update on any of those discussions. We've been in South America for the last few days focused on some other matters. But I'm sure that if you direct those questions to the appropriate agency, they can provide you an update, in terms of that.
Q Understood. But in general terms, considering the state of the American airline industry right now, does the President believe that it's a good time to start changing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the American airline industry is going through a transition. They've been going through that transition for some time because of the changing economy that we live in, and the changing nature of their business.
All right, thank you.
END 1:37 P.M. EST