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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 20, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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Press Briefing
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12:30 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin with talking about matters going on with the Congress right now, particularly the Senate.

The President, as you heard last night, applauds the House for its work to meet key national priorities. The House has moved forward to make sure that our troops have the resources they need to fight and win the war on terrorism. They moved forward to make sure that a vital law was reauthorized for preventing attacks at home -- that is the Patriot Act. They moved forward on making sure that people in the Gulf Coast region who were affected by the hurricanes are getting the help they need. They moved forward on more steps to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The House also moved forward on making sure that we have what we need to prepare for the threat of pandemic flu, and they also made sure that we're moving forward in a way that spends our taxpayer dollars wisely by passing the deficit reduction package.

The Senate is now finishing up its work, and we urge the Senate to move forward and complete its work on these important priorities. One piece of legislation that I mentioned, the Patriot Act, provides key tools for our law enforcement and intelligence community to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening. That law has helped tear down the legal and bureaucratic wall between law enforcement and intelligence officials. It has provided them the same kind of tools they use in pursuing other criminals. The Patriot Act is a vital tool that has helped us break up terror cells here in America.

And a minority of senators continue to filibuster this effort. The Democratic Leader even boasted to political supporters that Senate Democrats had "killed the Patriot Act." A minority of senators need to stop their delaying tactics and stop standing in the way of providing our law enforcement and intelligence community with the tools they need to protect us here at home. We cannot afford to be without this vital law for a single moment in the war on terrorism. It is set to expire, but the terrorist threat will not expire. And it has accomplished exactly what it was set out to do, which is to protect our liberties and save lives. And we urge the Senate to move forward and get this legislation done.

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

Q Scott, the Vice President said today that Vietnam and Watergate had eroded presidential powers, and that he thinks that the world we live in demands strong, robust executive authority. Where would the President like to see his authority expanded?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know -- I haven't had a chance to see the Vice President's comments, so I can't really get into discussing exactly what he was talking about, but certainly stand by what he said. In terms of the President's authority, I don't know if you're talking about a specific issue, but the President --

Q No, in general.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are three branches of government, they all have an important role to play: the congressional -- the legislative, and the judicial, and then the executive. And we've talked about these issues before. I don't know of anything to add to what the Vice President said.

Q Last year the President lauded the Patriot Act for giving him tools to track terrorists that he never had before, including roving wiretaps and other such tools. If the President has what he needed in the Patriot Act, why the need for this NSA program that he authorized?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the NSA authorization that has been talked about over the past couple of days is vital to our efforts to prevent attacks. The President believes we need to use all lawful tools within our powers to prevent attacks from happening. And this was designed to address a specific problem. The President, remember, highlighted the problem. He talked about how there were two hijackers inside the United States who flew a plane into the Pentagon. Those two hijackers were communicating with al Qaeda members overseas while they were inside the United States.

So what this authorization does is gives us another vital tool to be able to go after and detect and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. Now, it's very limited and targeted in nature. The Attorney General has talked about that; General Hayden has talked about that. We need to be able to move quickly, because our enemy moves with great speed, and they adapt and they adjust. It's a different kind of enemy that we face in this day and age. And that's why this is a vital tool in our efforts.

Q But is it a tool that he doesn't have under either the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just pointed out one of the problem areas that we're trying to fix. And so those --

Q Okay, if it is a problem area -- is it a tool he doesn't have under either the Patriot Act of FISA?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are important tools, as well, and we use those tools. In fact, those tools have helped us address threats, too. But this authorization is an additional tool that we believe is needed for the reason I stated.

Q I know, but you could have three different types of branches, but if two branches do the job of all three, do you need to have the third?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, absolutely, we need this authority, for the reasons I stated.

Q What doesn't he have in the Patriot Act or under FISA that he needs to have through this other authorization?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President made a commitment to the American people that he was going to use every constitutional and congressional authority needed to fight and win this war on terrorism. This tool has been very successful in helping us to detect and prevent attacks from happening --

Q Right, but is it necessary with the other tools you have in the Patriot Act?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, for the reasons that we stated. It is very necessary. And remember, there are important safeguards and oversight measures that are in place for this program. The President talked about those just the other day. Every 45 days or so it is carefully reviewed; it must have the approval of top legal officials from the Attorney General to the White House Counsel. The activities that are conducted under this authorization are thoroughly reviewed by the Department of Justice and by the National Security Agency legal officials, including the General Counsel and the Inspector General. There is intense oversight of it, as General Hayden, the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, talked about. And the decisions that are made under this authorization, which is very limited, again, are made by career intelligence officials at NSA.

Q Yesterday you said that you have consulted with Congress on this, that you briefed members of Congress. So if we can stipulate that as fact, let me ask you, will you cooperate with congressional hearings, should they go ahead?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President talked about this issue a little bit yesterday. This is still a highly classified program, and there are details that it's important not be disclosed. This program -- the disclosure of this program has damaged our national security and put us at greater risk because the enemy wants to know what we're doing, and by talking about this program it gives the enemy a sense of what we are doing to try to disrupt plots and prevent attacks. And the enemy is sophisticated, it is lethal, it uses new technology to adapt and adjust. And we've got to be able to move quickly, with speed and agility. And that's why this authorization is so important. Technology has advanced a lot and the enemy is making use of it; so must we here at home.

And in terms of Congress, we have briefed members of Congress over a dozen times --

Q Right, we stipulated that already. Is that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the American people need -- I think it's important for them to hear about this, so I want to point that out.

Q Well, that's why I mentioned it before I asked the question. So are you saying to members of Congress, it wouldn't be a good idea to hold these hearings? Or are you saying, if you hold these hearings, there's not much we're going to tell you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to speculate about matters on the Hill. The President talked about how it's important that matters relating to this not be discussed publicly, for the reasons that we have stated. But again, Congress was consulted and briefed on this matter, going back to 2001.

Q The President has publicly acknowledged that we went to war under false information, mistaken information. Why does he insist on staying there if we were there falsely, and continue to kill Iraqis?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, maybe you missed some of his recent speeches and his remarks, but the President said it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power --

Q And a right decision to move in and to tell the people, the American people, that it was all a mistake, and stay there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think he said that. He said that Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing force in a dangerous region of the world --

Q That isn't true. We had a choke-hold on him.

MR. McCLELLAN: It is true. He was a threat. And the threat has been removed.

Q We had sanctions, we had satellites, we were bombing.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's talk about why it's so important, what we're working to accomplish in Iraq --

Q I want to know why we're still there killing people, when we went in by mistake.

MR. McCLELLAN: We are liberating people and freeing people to live in a democracy. And why we're still there --

Q Do you think we're spreading democracy when you spy and put out disinformation and do all the things that -- secret prisons, and torture?

MR. McCLELLAN: I reject your characterizations wholly. I reject your characterizations wholly. The United States is helping to advance freedom in a dangerous region of the world.

Q -- recognize this kind of --

MR. McCLELLAN: For too long we thought we had stability by ignoring freedom in the Middle East. Well, we showed -- we saw on September 11th --

Q -- 30,000 plus?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, we can have a debate, or you can let me respond to your questions. I think this is an important subject for the American people to talk about. By advancing freedom and democracy in the Middle East we're helping to protect our own security. It's a dangerous region --

Q By killing people in their own country?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I reject that. We're liberating and freeing people and we're targeting the enemy. We're killing the terrorists and we're going after the Saddam loyalists.

Q The President said 30,000, more or less.

MR. McCLELLAN: And you know who is responsible for most of that? It's the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who want to turn back to the past.

Q We didn't kill anybody there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way to minimize civilian casualties. They target the enemy --

Q You admit they kill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've got a lot of technology that we can use to target the enemy without going after -- without collateral damage of civilians. And that's what our military does.

Q Are you kidding?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I'm going to stand up for our military. Our military goes out of the way to protect civilians. In fact --

Q Fallujah, we didn't kill any civilians?

MR. McCLELLAN: We freed some 25 million people in Iraq that were living under a brutal regime.

Go ahead.

Q Congress defines oversight as "the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations, to have access to records or materials, or to issue subpoenas or testimony from the executive." Which of these powers were members of Congress granted with regard to the NSA surveillance program?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you just pointed out, Congress is an independent branch of government, and they're elected by their constituents. We briefed and informed members of Congress about this program going back to 2001; more than a dozen times since then we've briefed members of Congress --

Q But briefing isn't power to investigate or issue subpoenas to ask questions. And I'm asking you, which of the powers of oversight were they granted?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congress is an independent branch of government. That's what I just pointed out, Jessica.

Q Which has the right to check the functions of the executive. And these are --

MR. McCLELLAN: They have an oversight role, that's


Q Okay, so in what way --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why we thought it was important to brief members of Congress about this vital tool that we're using to save lives and to protect the American people, and why we talked to them about how it is limited in nature and limited in scope.

Q But as you know, members of Congress who were briefed said that they were informed -- yes, briefed, but given absolutely no recourse to formally object, to push back and say, this is not acceptable.

MR. McCLELLAN: They're an independent branch of government.

Q So in what way were they given oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: They were briefed. And we believe it's important to brief members of Congress, the relevant leaders --

Q Would you also say they were given full oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: They're an independent branch of government. Yes, they have --

Q Were they given oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they have oversight roles to play.

Q So they have oversight. So, in what way could they have acted on that oversight?

MR. McCLELLAN: You should ask members of Congress that question.

Q Given that the program, to whatever extent we now understand it, has been public for several days now, would the administration support legislation that would more explicitly give the President the kind of authority he has been using under this --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the authorization is already there. We talked about the legal reasoning behind it under Article II of the Constitution. As Commander-in-Chief, the President has that authority. The President has the authority under the congressional authorization that was passed and clearly stated that "the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force." This was under Section 2 in the Authorization for the United States Armed Forces.

Q But, clearly, you're aware of the concerns of members of Congress who believe that that was not the authority that they were trying to give.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Attorney General talked about this yesterday. He talked about how we were briefing additional members of Congress. We've already briefed the leadership and the leaders of the relevant committees, and the Attorney General is going back, talking to additional members about this so that they do have a better understanding of this authorization and what it's designed to do and how it is narrowly tailored and limited in how it's used.

Q Given that FISA has the retroactive power, the President didn't specifically answer that yesterday, why he didn't elect to use that. And the comments in the earlier briefing, it sort of gives the impression that the administration didn't want the paperwork hassle involved in filing these things retroactively. Is that a fair --

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I disagree, because it was addressed yesterday in a briefing that was provided by the Attorney General of the United States, General Gonzales, and by General Hayden -- General Hayden is the former head of the National Security Agency. He is currently the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, widely respected individual for what he's done. And what he talked about was basically the FISA was created for a different purpose in a different era. It was created back in 1978. It was created for a longer-term coverage or monitoring of agents of foreign governments in the U.S.

And since that time, there have been great advances in technology. There's been a lot of new technology that's been developed since that time. And FISA is an important tool. We use FISA. The President talked about that yesterday. But we need agility and speed. We need to be able to move quickly to detect and prevent attacks. I talked about a specific problem that we know about now, we didn't know about at the time -- these two hijackers that were in the United States, flew a plane into the Pentagon -- they were communicating with al Qaeda agents outside the United States from here. And we didn't know what they were doing or that they were here. And we need to be able to move quickly because the enemy moves quickly. And that's why this authorization is so important.

Remember, this is a dangerous and deadly enemy that we are facing. They're determined to try to strike America again and inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th. Thankfully, in the more than four years since September 11th, we have not been hit again here at home. And I think that's in no small part because of the great work of our law enforcement and intelligence officials who are doing everything they can and using all these important tools to prevent attacks from happening. And this is a vital tool in that effort to save lives and protect Americans.

Q So given the concerns about civil liberties, about oversight, the kind of discourse that's going on since this program has been made public, does the administration feel no change in its conduct in this area is warranted?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear, that as long as he is President, he is going to continue using every lawful tool within his power to prevent attacks from happening, and save lives and protect the American people. And that's exactly what we're doing.

Goyal, go ahead. And then Wendell.

Q Two questions. One, the Vice President's trip to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan -- is he carrying a specific message not only for the newly -- two democracies of Afghanistan and Iraq, but also for the terrorists in those areas -- what you think the President would say --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was there for the swearing-in of the new Assembly in Afghanistan. And we put out a statement on that last night from the President. This is an historic moment in Afghanistan. And you should look back at that statement.

Wendell, go ahead.

Q Supporters of the President say that this power to conduct NSA eavesdropping has been upheld by a case that's made it as far as the Circuit Court of Appeals. What's your understanding of that case?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- that it has made it as far as?

Q The Circuit Court of Appeals.

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the legal issues? We've talked about the legal analysis, and the Attorney General talked about other rulings that would relate to this that have been upheld by the United States Supreme Court in opinions written by Justice O'Connor.

Q I know you cited Article II of the Constitution and the congressional authorization to use force in Afghanistan. What's your --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to play lawyer from the podium. I'm not a lawyer. But I do know that this President is deeply committed to protecting the American people, and he'll do what it takes to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. He made that commitment when he took office; he renewed that commitment after the attacks of September 11th; and he will do so within our Constitution and our laws.

Q Another question. It's our understanding this power has been used 18,000-plus times. Are we to presume that there are that many al Qaeda agents in this country?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into talking about more than what we've said publicly. That's getting into more than what we've talked about publicly, so I'm not in a position to confirm or deny the numbers that you threw out there. And we don't want to go into greater detail because it's important that the enemy not have a sense of what we're working to do, because they can change and adapt. They can -- and they do. They're constantly changing and adapting. This is a sophisticated and deadly enemy that is constantly trying to change and adapt, and that moves with great speed when they need to. We must move --

Q -- give us an indication of how often this power is used?

MR. McCLELLAN: We must move with great speed to stay ahead of them.

Q You don't want to give us an indication of how often this power is used, and you don't want to give us an indication of the size of the potential threat in this country>

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, again, the Attorney General and General Hayden talked a little bit about this yesterday, but I talked about the nature of this authorization and the scope of it, and I talked about the safeguards and oversight that are in place. This is very carefully reviewed every 45 days and it --

Q I really don't need you to go there.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, but this goes to your question. It is limited to people who have -- one of the parties to the communication have a clear connection to al Qaeda or terrorist organizations, and one of the parties is operating outside of the United States. I think that's important for people to know, because there's been some suggestions that it's spying inside the U.S. That's not the case.

Q I'll stipulate that. But it is limited to that situation, are we to presume, then, that there are in excess of tens of thousands of al Qaeda agents in this country, because it's been used that many times?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not confirming or denying those numbers. I don't think anyone has done that publicly, so I'm not going to get into a discussion of that nature. But what I will reiterate is that this is very limited and targeted, and that you have to have a clear connection to al Qaeda or a related terrorist organization. And it's the career intelligence officials at the NSA who are making these decisions. These people receive extensive training in acting consistent with what the authorization provides. And that's important for the American people to know. It's important for them to know the parameters of this is very limited in nature.

Q Is it important for them to know the scope of the threat you perceive?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people understand that we are in a different kind of war, and understand that we face a new kind of threat from an enemy that changes and adapts, and that getting into talking about some of these operational details endangers their national security, puts us at greater risk.

Intelligence is vital to winning the war on terrorism. Intelligence is vital to winning any war. And this is signals intelligence that we're talking about. It is critical that we have that information to be able to stop attacks from happening before it's too late.

Q Scott, in April of 2004, President Bush delivered remarks on the Patriot Act, and he said at that time, "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it require -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." Was the President being completely forthcoming when he made that statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was talking about in the context of the Patriot Act.

Q And in terms of the American people, though, when he says "nothing has changed" --

MR. McCLELLAN: I would have to look back at the remarks there, but you're clearly talking about it in the context, as you pointed out, of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is another vital tool. That's why the Senate needs to move forward and get that reauthorized now. We cannot let that expire -- not for a single moment, because the terrorist threat is not going to expire. Those tools have helped us disrupt plots and prevent attacks and break up terrorist cells. We need those tools for our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we urge the Senate to stop the delaying tactics by the minority of senators, to stop their delaying tactics, to stop filibustering, stop blocking this legislation and get it passed.

Q So you don't see it as misleading in any way when the President says, "nothing has changed"?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to look back at something that is in relation to the Patriot Act. And it's in relation to the Patriot Act --

Q But he's talking about wiretaps --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I'll be glad to take a look at his comments. I think you're taking them out -- I think the suggestion that you're making, I reject that suggestion. And I'll be glad to take a look at those comments.

Q Two questions. On the ruling about intelligent design in Pennsylvania, does the President think that ruling should be challenged? Does he have any thoughts on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we weren't a party to the case, so -- and we're not going to comment about the specific legal decision. But I think that the President has made his views very clear. The President has said that such decisions should be made by local school districts. He's long held that belief and he's long stated that belief. The President has also said that he believes students ought to be exposed to different theories and ideas so that they can fully understand what the debate is about.

Q And then, on Iran, on a follow-up to some of the President's questions yesterday. In light of the statements and the actions by the Iranian President regarding Israel, and also regarding his own people now, does the White House think the Iranian people should try to overthrow their President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've stated our views about how we stand with the Iranian people who want to live in greater freedom. We stated our concerns about the regime in Iran, and how they've denied people the right to have greater freedoms. We've expressed other concerns about the regime, as well -- the nuclear issue, their sponsorship of terrorism. And those concerns are well-known. We will always stand with the Iranian people who seek greater freedom.

And in terms of the nuclear issue, the European Union is continuing to work with -- or the European 3 are continuing to work with Iran on that matter, and we continue to support their efforts.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q Scott, on your statement a moment ago about applauding House action on the budget reconciliation bill and the ANWR provision of the defense authorization bill, opponents of the House action say that it would actually impose higher costs on the poor and senior citizens -- with respect to your deficit reduction measure -- that it would cost college students considerably more to pay back their student loans. And with respect to attaching a non-germane provision to the defense authorization bill, Senator McCain called that "disgusting," and other opponents of the non-germane provision said it's a cynical ploy in a time of war. And I'd like to know your response.

MR. McCLELLAN: To the deficit reduction package?

Q I'd like to know your response to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is that what you're talking about?

Q -- the savings in that, and the ANWR non-germane --

MR. McCLELLAN: My response is the President believes that Congress must move forward and meet our national priorities, and also must spend taxpayer dollars wisely. We are doing both. Congress has been moving forward in a way to meet our priorities and exercise responsible spending restraint. The entitlement programs are areas where we can find savings -- and, again, these are savings, it's not reductions that you're talking about that's slowing some of the growth of these programs.

The President outlined a number of steps that Congress could take to find substantial savings for the American taxpayer, while making sure that we're meeting our priorities. And we're going to make sure that the people who need those programs are getting the help that they need.

Q But with respect to the statement you also made on lessening dependence on foreign oil, do you object at all to attaching a non-germane provision, unrelated to defense authorization? And, as I said earlier --

MR. McCLELLAN: We need to make sure --

Q -- it's been objected to by Senator McCain and others, who say it's a cynical ploy in a time of war.

MR. McCLELLAN: Our troops must have the resources they need to fight and win the war on terrorism. We must make sure that there's no interruption or disruption of the resources that they need to be able to carry out their efforts that are aimed at protecting America and making us more secure.

We also must meet an important economic need here at home, and that is reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Our economy is growing strong because of the policies we have put in place and the tax relief we put in place. High energy prices are still a concern for Americans. We passed the energy plan earlier this year, which will help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The ANWR provision is another important provision that needs to be passed so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, as well. So we support both these provisions, and Congress -- the Senate, specifically -- needs to move forward and get this done, get these priorities done.

Q Excuse me, but the ANWR provision was originally included in the Budget Reconciliation Act --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.

Q -- and was pulled out, and Senator Stevens wanted it in defense authorization because he thought that in doing that, it could pass because everyone wants to pass additional funding for our troops.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is an important piece of legislation, the defense spending bill, to make sure our troops have what they need. And Congress needs to act on it; the Senate needs to get it passed. We also believe it's important to get the ANWR provision passed, and that is vital to our efforts to address high energy prices, as well.

Q Scott, I have two questions. I understand the White House will soon release a report on Puerto Rico. Can you tell us when, and perhaps give us a sneak preview?

MR. McCLELLAN: No sneak preview, but we're very close to releasing that report.

Q Well, that's good to hear. Second question: Does the administration plan to assist the new President of Bolivia, even though Eva Morales is a socialist? Will the President send any representatives to Morales' inauguration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, we congratulate the people of Bolivia on a successful election and their commitment to democratic and constitutional processes. We will continue to work constructively with the new government of Bolivia, as we have with previous administrations in Bolivia. I think the Secretary of State yesterday made clear that the behavior of the new government will determine the course of our relationship. It's important that the new government govern in a democratic way and we'll look to them to see what kind of cooperation they want to do on economic issues, as well. But their behavior will determine the course of the relationship. But we look forward to working with the new government in a constructive way, as we have with previous governments in Bolivia.

Q Scott, I think it was two, or maybe three of the people who were briefed on the NSA program said they expressed at least some reservations, and one actually showed us a letter saying he had grave reservations. What was done with those reservations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, you talk about a letter that was released by a senator. There were additional briefings after the one that was referenced in that letter; we had more than a dozen briefings with members of Congress on this authorization. The President said that they were briefed on the authorization and the activities conducted under it. We believe that's important. We respect the role that Congress plays, and that's why they were briefed on this matter. Now, this is a highly classified program and we believe it was briefed in the appropriate way.

Q Did you take those into consideration? Did those objections lead to any change in the program?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to go further than what I've said, in terms of the briefings that were had.

Q You understand that those who criticize you on this are suggesting basically those objections were --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I also understand that the American people know what we're doing to try to prevent attacks from happening and save lives. And I think the American people understand the sensitivity of talking about such a highly classified program. The President talked about that yesterday.

Q Can you at least say they were not ignored?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Can you at least say they were not ignored?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we ever ignore Congress.

Q Well, they said they got no reply. Was the President made aware of Senator Rockefeller's objections?

MR. McCLELLAN: You just talked about Senator Rockefeller's letter. I just told you that after that letter there were additional briefings that occurred.

Q And he got no reply to the letter, and I'm asking, was the President made aware of that letter?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were additional briefings that occurred. The President is very well aware of these matters.

Q Did the President meet The New York Times editor on December 6th and ask him to not publish the eavesdropping story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw reports about that; I'm not going to get into discussing it, though.

Q No confirm, no deny?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, neither.

Ken, go ahead.

Q Scott, are there any kind of surveillance techniques or operations that this administration has considered, but rejected as unlawful? Or is the position in the building that the use of force resolution places no legal limits on whatever the President deems is necessary?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll reject the latter part of your question.

Q What about the first?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into discussing these matters, national security matters of this nature. There are a lot of discussions that occur. That's why the President made sure that this program was very limited in nature and that it was targeted to address a specific problem. And that's why he also carefully reviews it every 45 days or so. And top legal officials -- both at the NSA and the Justice Department and here at the White House -- review the activities that are conducted under it, as well. And that includes the General Counsel of the NSA; that includes the inspector general at the NSA. That's why we went to Congress and briefed members of Congress about it, as well.

Q If it became useful and necessary to listen in on conversations between two people within the United States, does the President believe has the legal authority to do that now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are other tools available to us. He talked about that very issue yesterday. FISA is an important tool. We make use of FISA. But this is a difference between monitoring and detecting and preventing. And there are differences here that General Hayden and the Attorney General talked about yesterday, as well.

Q Scott, how much President Bush is concerned about the stability -- (inaudible) -- will be the flashpoint in 2006, regarding its final status conditional or unconditional --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is an issue that I think the State Department has talked about. Nicholas Burns over there has been very involved in this issue. It's an important issue and he stated our views on it. I'll be glad to get you some more information on it, if you want.

Q One more. How the President defines the role of Greece since the country -- (inaudible) -- already deployed 1,800 U.S. troops, along with 18,000 --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take a look at it, and I'll provide you with more.

Q In reference to yesterday's statements, what is the President doing to push the Iraqi leaders to form a more inclusive government and convince them to reach a compromise --

MR. McCLELLAN: Right now we don't know who the Iraqi leaders are; the results are still coming in. But the President has said that it's important that the new government be inclusive and representative. And there's a constitution that's in place that requires a two-thirds vote on forming the leadership of the new government.

But we look forward to assisting and helping the new government once it is in place. Well, let's back up. We look forward to helping the new leaders form an inclusive and representative government. It's up to them to determine the makeup, but we're there to help assist them and move forward as quickly as they can. It's going to take some time because, as I pointed out, the requirements in the constitution. But those requirements are there for a reason, so that you do have a leadership that is representative and inclusive. And we'll look forward to seeing what the results are.

The President spoke with President Talabani and Prime Minister Jafaari earlier today, congratulated the Iraqi people on a successful election. This was an historic moment, and we'll continue to work with them going forward.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:05 P.M. EST


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