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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 25, 2006

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

Press Briefing

11:41 A.M. EST

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Early briefing today. Let me just update you on a couple of things on the President's schedule. First of all, this morning, the President had a very good conversation with Prime Minister designate Stephen Harper, of Canada. The President called to offer his congratulations on the Prime Minister-designate's party's strong showing and victory in the parliamentary elections that took place earlier in Canada.

Secondly, the President, just a short time ago, concluded a bipartisan meeting with some members of the Senate. This is another in a series of meetings that we have been having with members of Congress to reach and talk to them about our strategy for victory in Iraq. And there was -- this was a very good discussion. This was an opportunity for these leaders to hear from our ambassador in Iraq, and hear from General Casey who is on the ground overseeing our forces there. It was also an opportunity for the President to hear from these leaders, and listen to ideas that they had or concerns that they have, and work to address those. And the President very much enjoyed having the opportunity to sit down with these leaders today, and updating them, as well as hearing from them.

And then here shortly, the President looks forward to going to the National Security Agency. The President wants to personally thank all the employees at the National Security Agency on behalf of the American people for all that they do 24/7 to protect us from threats that we face. They do a great job working around the clock with one purpose in mind, and that is the safety and security of Americans.

And following that, the President will be touring the National Security Agency and then making some remarks to the press, and talking about the terrorist surveillance program and how that is a vital tool in our efforts to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening.

And with that, I am glad to go to your questions.

Q Scott, Senator Specter sent the Attorney General a list of questions that he was going -- planned to ask at the hearing about the NSA surveillance program. And one of the questions he asked is, would you consider seeking approval from the FISA court at this time for the ongoing surveillance program. Is that something the administration is thinking about?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention a couple of things. One, first of all, let me just say I know the Attorney General looks forward to participating in next week's hearing. Or it's actually -- I guess, it's the following week, February 6th. The Attorney General looks forward to talking with the committee and with congressional leaders about the legal justification for this program. This is a terrorist surveillance program. We are a nation engaged in war. It is a limited, targeted program aimed at al Qaeda communications. There has to be an international component to it, so we're talking about international communications. And it has one sole purpose; that is to detect and prevent attacks.

We've already talked about the FISA court. That is a very important tool, as well, and we make very good use of the FISA tool. But FISA was created in a different time period for longer-term monitoring. This program is for a shorter period of time aimed at detection and prevention. And so that's what it's focus is.

And I think we have to step back and remember that -- and I think the Attorney General talked about this in his remarks yesterday -- there is a longtime tradition in war of engaging in surveillance of the enemy. That's what this is. We are a nation at war, and there is an enemy that is deadly and determined to strike us again and inflict even greater damage. And we saw the problem highlighted in the 9/11 Commission report when we learned too late about communications that were taking place from two hijackers that were in the United States talking to people outside the United States. That's the kind of problem this is designed to detect, and then be able to act and prevent attacks. It's about connecting the dots. That's what the 9/11 Commission said we need to do.

So the President not only had the authority to do what he's doing, but he has the responsibility to do what he is doing, because it's about saving lives. It's about preventing attacks. It's very limited in nature, and it's focused on international communications involving al Qaeda members or affiliated terrorist organizations from either communicating inside the United States to someone outside, or communicating from outside the United States to someone inside. And I think the American people expect us to do everything within our lawful power to protect them. And the President made it very clear that as long as he is President, he will continue acting to do everything he can within his powers and within the law to protect the American people.

But we work very closely with Congress. We have briefed members of Congress on this vital tool over the course of the law few years, and we'll continue to work closely with Congress.

Q I think that -- I mean, the way I read this question, he's asking, will you ask the FISA court for approval of this program -- not specific instances, but will you ask the FISA court if this is -- if this program, the overall program, is sanctioned under the law. And that's the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if the FISA court wants to talk any more about any communications that they have had with administration officials, that's up to them. It is a highly classified court, for good reasons.

Q They won't talk about it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I leave it up to them. If there's anything more they want to say, then I would leave it up to them.

Q Can I just follow on this point, because let's be clear about a couple of things. First of all, the President argues, asserts, that he has the power to unilaterally authorize this wiretapping, okay? It's not -- he doesn't have the monopoly on the truth of how --

MR. McCLELLAN: The courts have upheld it and previous administrations have asserted it, as well.

Q Well, that was different, and that is, again -- this is your position --

MR. McCLELLAN: Same authority. Same authority, David.

Q -- that's in dispute.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not -- hang on -- that's not in dispute. And look at the Associate Attorney General under the Clinton administration. The courts have upheld this authority in the past. Look at the federal courts. The President talked about it and we provided it in a document. So that's wrong.

Q No, I don't think that's wrong, and we can go into that, but I don't -- our time is not best spent doing that.

MR. McCLELLAN: That the courts haven't upheld it?

Q My question is, instead of spending time trying to fine-tune the rhetoric over what you want to call this program for political purposes, why not seek to amend FISA so that it can better suit your purposes, which is another thing the previous administration did when it wasn't considered to be agile enough? So why not, if you want the program to be more responsive, to be more agile, why not seek to amend FISA?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's look at a practical example. Do you expect our commanders, in a time of war, to go to a court while they're trying to surveil the enemy? I don't think so. This is a time of war. This is about wartime surveillance of the enemy. That's what this is about. And we don't ask our commanders to go to the court and ask for approval while they're trying to gain intelligence on the enemy. So I think that's a real practical term to look at it in when you're talking about this issue, because that's what this is about.

Q There's no way to amend --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, let me back up, because I talked about this the last couple days. I mean, it's a very good question and an important question. FISA is an important tool. We use it. General Hayden talked about that. When we were briefing members of Congress over the course of the last few years -- I think it was more recently, over, maybe, the last couple years -- I think the Attorney General talked about it -- we talked with congressional leaders, bipartisan congressional leaders, about this very issue: Should we go and get legislation that would reflect the authority the President already has? And those leaders felt that it could compromise our national security interest and this program if we were to go and get legislation passed. Because we don't want to let the enemy know about our play book, and the more you talk about this program, the more potential it has to harm our national security interest. That's why we don't get into talking about the operational aspects about it.

But it is important for the American people to understand exactly what this program is and how limited it is and what its purpose is. There's been some misrepresentations. Now, with that said, as I pointed out, we work very closely with Congress. We'll continue to work closely with Congress as we move forward. But the President has the authority and the responsibility to do what he's doing and he's going to keep doing it.

Q Another question, on Katrina. Why won't the White House provide the specific information that senators want who are trying to do a detailed postmortem on what went wrong, particularly who knew what when from the President and among senior staff? Isn't that an important question to answer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we are providing information to the House and Senate so that they have the information they need to do their job. We are working in a cooperative way. We are working very closely with Senator Collins and Congressman Davis to make sure they have the information they need.

Let me just point out a few examples, and then I'll come to your specific question. But there are some 120 administration officials that have been made available to the committees for interviews or for hearings. You have some 15,000 pages of documents that have been provided by the Executive Office of the President, some 240,000 pages provided by the Department of Defense, and some 300,000 pages provided by the Department of Homeland Security. So we believe they're getting the information they need to do their job. And Senator Collins and Congressman Davis, I know, were quoted in one news article earlier today saying that they believe that the hearings will -- something along the lines -- produce meaningful results -- something along those lines.

Now, the issue you bring up goes to separation of powers issues. The President believes that Senator Lieberman ought to have the right to confidential conversations with his advisors, just like all Presidents have asserted they ought to have that same right. That's what this is about. That's the bottom line here.

Q You always fall back on that, but the President also made a promise to report to the American people about where the ball was dropped, and if it was, in part, dropped within this White House, doesn't he have an obligation to forego the crutch of privilege and tell people what the White House was told, when it was told it, and where the ball got dropped?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's good rhetoric, too, and that's ignoring the facts, though, because we are doing a comprehensive lessons-learned review within the White House and the administration, headed by our Homeland Security Advisor. It's nearing completion. It is taking a broad look at issues and looking at where we need to improve things for future responses. And we're also, as I pointed out, working very closely with Congress and the committees to make sure that they have what they need to do their job. And we believe they are getting that information. As I pointed out, there's been an enormous amount of information provided.

Q What's the President's purpose in going to the NSA today? Is it to buck up morale there? Because we're hearing from some people inside the agency that they're feeling a little put upon by all the examination of what they've been doing for the last four years.

MR. McCLELLAN: I hadn't heard that, John, but I did hear what General Hayden said the other day, and he talked about how strongly they believe in the work that they are doing to protect the American people. And I don't think he indicated anything like what you're suggesting.

Q No, no, no, Scott, you didn't hear what I said. I said they feel put upon by all of the examination on the agency, the fact that they're conducting this surveillance.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I heard what you said, you talked about morale. And as I said, General Hayden didn't seem to give any indication that that was the case. But it is important to thank those who are working behind the scenes to do everything they can to save lives. And so the President will express the gratitude of the American people for what they do round-the-clock.

But General Hayden, I think, talked about that very issue the other day, and the personnel at the National Security Agency and the work that they're doing.

Q Can we extrapolate from yours and other officials' statements that had this program been in place prior to 9/11 you would have picked up some communications, that 9/11 might have had a chance of being prevented?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, General Hayden is an expert on these matters. He is someone that headed the National Security Agency for a long time. He is now the Deputy Director of the National Intelligence, our number two intelligence official. He is someone of great expertise and experience. And I think he laid it out very clearly that he believes that if he had had that authority, the National Security agents had that authority prior to 9/11, that they might have been able to detect some of what was going on and possibly prevent some of what was occurring. Those were his words; I'm not going to dispute what he said. We fully support the great job that he's been doing. I think it's best to hear it from him --

Q Right. Again, can we extrapolate from that, that you might have been able to prevent the entire operation?

MR. McCLELLAN: You can extrapolate what I said and what he said.

Q Scott, Ivan has got to go to the Pentagon. Could you give him --

MR. McCLELLAN: After Martha. Martha has got the floor, and then I'll go to Ivan so he can get to the Pentagon. I've got to go to the National Security Agency, so I'm trying to go through this.

Q Back to the NSA. The White House last night put out paper backing up its claims that this was a terrorist surveillance program, saying the charges of domestic spying -- you defined what "domestic" meant. Isn't one end of that phone call on domestic soil? Why is the charge of it being domestic spying so far off?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the same reasons that a phone call from someone inside the United States to someone outside the United States is not a domestic call. If you look at how that is billed on your phone records, it's billed as an international call, it is charged the international rate. And so that's the best way to sum that up. Because one communication within this surveillance has to be outside of the United States. That means it's an international communication, for the very reason I just said.

Q Right. But one of the people being eavesdropped on is on domestic soil.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it leaves an inaccurate impression with the American people to say that this is domestic spying.

Q Why is that inaccurate?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the reasons that General Hayden has said, for the reasons that others have said within the administration, and for the example I just provided to you. You don't call a flight from New York to somewhere in Afghanistan, a domestic flight. It's called an international flight.

Q Right, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: This is international communications that are being monitored --

Q But whatever -- it's David's point, too -- I mean, whatever you call it in your trying to call it -- someone domestically --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's what it is.

Q -- is being spied on. Someone's communications --

MR. McCLELLAN: It is what it is.

Q -- on domestic soil are being tracked.

MR. McCLELLAN: If there is an al Qaeda person operating inside the United States and talking to someone outside the United States, you bet we want to know what they're saying.

Q An al Qaeda person inside the United States --

MR. McCLELLAN: Could be outside the United States talking to someone inside the United States, too.

Q But the person inside the United States, there has to be a reasonable basis that they are connected --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, if some want to try to defend it and say that it is domestic spying, they're leaving the American people with an inaccurate impression, just like they would be if they called an international call a domestic call.

Q But, Scott, you're arguing that --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're arguing.

Q -- somebody on domestic soil is not being spied on?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say --

Q That's part of it.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that at all. In fact, we have been very clear and precise in what we have said, to try to make sure it is accurately reflected to the American people. And I would hope that everybody would do their best to make sure that it is accurately reflected to the American people. I don't think it is when someone puts up on the screen "domestic spying." I think that leaves an inaccurate impression that this is spying on people that are talking about an upcoming PTA meeting within their hometown. And that's --

Q That raises a whole -- an issue, because it involves people on domestic soil.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what it is.

Q That's not why it's become an issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I think we all have an obligation to do our best to make sure the American people have an accurate reflection of what this program is. You have heard from General Hayden, the person who oversaw this authority. You have heard from others. This program is carefully reviewed, approximately every 45 days. It is carefully looked at --

Q Scott, is there any review outside the executive branch?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- by legal authorities and others.

I need to go because we've got to leave here soon. I want to get to others --

Q Why is he going there today?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said at the top. I think you missed at the top. Let me go to Ivan.

Q I'll be as brief as I can. There was a Pentagon-ordered study done primarily by a retired military officer --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, and let me back up to Elisabeth. Yes, I guess I didn't add one thing about it. I talked about it last week when we laid this out. I said, yes, we are stepping up our efforts to make sure that the American people understand clearly what this tool is about and how this is a limited, targeted terrorist surveillance program, and what it is designed to do.

Go ahead.

Q Anyway, this study ordered by the Pentagon, called by the drafter "The Thin Green Line," says, in effect, bottom line, that the U.S. Army is stretched so thin it cannot prevail against the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. Did that come up at all in this morning --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why you're rushing to get over to the Pentagon, too, I'm sure, to bring up that very question. I tell you that our commanders would be in the best position to answer that question because they reject such a characterization very strongly.

There was some discussion, actually, in the meeting about the Guard and Reserves and troop levels. And General Schoomaker was in the meeting, and he talked about how he is someone who has served years ago in a broken army and how he categorically rejects any such suggestion at this point. So I would look to our commanders. They are the best ones to talk about our forces and how things look, moving ahead. They're doing a great job to address these issues. And they totally reject such a characterization.

Q Real quick on Katrina. The last estimate on the death toll we had was 1,300 people across five states, from state and federal officials. Has that number gone up to 5,100? Has the White House been told that the death toll number has increased?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to check into this. I think the ones who keep track of that are the state authorities. They're the ones who keep track of the official numbers. And of course, we mourn the loss of all those who lost their lives during that devastating storm.

Q You have no knowledge of the number increasing to 5,100?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't get an update before I came out here this morning. As I said, I've been participating in these meetings with the President with senators, and another interview that he had this morning.

Q Scott, you talk about how the members of Congress were briefed and how FISA was briefed, and the program is regularly reviewed by the executive branch. Many in the judiciary and congressional branches aren't so sure that the briefings constitute the necessary oversight. Is the White House ready to expand its regular reviews of this program to provide oversight from other branches of the government?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think the Attorney General has addressed these very issues and how we're going about it. And we'll continue working with Congress going forward, but nothing has changed in terms of what we have previously said if that's what you're asking.

Go ahead, Goyal.

Q Scott, two quick questions. As far as this recording is concerned, of course, everybody agrees that -- no one should have heard from -- terrorists should not have -- in and out of the U.S. Now, the question is that many people are in contact with al Qaedas, and including Osama bin Laden -- and according to the USA Today editorial, they are saying that Osama bin Laden is hiding somewhere in western Pakistan, and communication -- as far as communication is concerned because --

Q Is there a question in here, Goyal?

Q What's the question?

Q What's the question?

Q Question.

Q -- and worship him as God. My question is how are we progressing as far as in contact -- or people who are in contact with him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if he's going to be communicating with people, you can bet we're going to be doing our best to detect that. And if we knew where he was, we would go and find him. I can assure you of that. We've got people that are very focused on those priorities and going after the al Qaeda leaders. We have done a great job bringing to justice, in one way or another, some three-quarters of what were the known al Qaeda leaders over the last few years. And we continue to pursue those al Qaeda terrorists, wherever they are. And it's important that we continue to keep them on the run and continue to go after them. We're on the offensive and they're on the run.

Q And on elections in Palestine -- now Hamas is calling death to Israel and also the Iranian President also called for the death and destruction of Israel. So where do we stand as far as this election and the coming of Hamas in power, terrorists there in the region?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, I think there are two questions there -- first of all, the elections in the Middle East that are taking place in the Palestinian territories, and then the issue of Hamas. So let me come to both of those.

First of all, this is an historic and significant moment for the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people are in a transition to what we all hope is a democratic state, the two-state vision that the President outlined. And we are doing all we can to help the Palestinian people as they move forward on solidifying democratic institutions. And we will continue to help them as they move forward. These elections -- it's up to the Palestinian people to make their decisions.

In terms of our views on Hamas, our views on Hamas are very clear. We have stated our views. Those views are unchanged. We do not deal with Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization. Under current circumstances, I don't see any change in that. And Secretary Rice put out a statement about a week ago and referenced back to the Quartet. Our policy is support for the road map and the two-state vision the President outlined.

Two, we fully support -- because we are part of it -- the statement that was put out by the Quartet. The Quartet very clearly spelled out that there is a contradiction here when it comes to a political entity that is also operating outside of the political process, and engaging in violence, and has called for the destruction of a neighboring country. So our views haven't changed on that. And that's a contradiction that needs to be resolved going forward.

Q The Iranian President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Iranian President.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've been through that numerous times.

Q One of the reports on Hamas said the United States would cut aid to the Palestinians if Hamas becomes part of their government. Is that still --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll see what the election results are. I'm not going to play a "what-if" scenario here. Let's see what happens with the elections. It's an important moment for the Palestinian people.

Q Scott, what is the President's reaction to the armed incursion into sovereign U.S. territory on Monday, on members of the Mexican military near the border in Texas, as reported by several news agencies, which included Mexican army personnel mounting machine guns on our side of the border?

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, there is concern about the reports, if that's what you're referring to. But this is an incident that is under investigation. The Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Agency is looking into this matter, and also coordinating with federal, state and local authorities. And we've also been in contact with the government of Mexico, and asked for a thorough investigation and response from Mexico about this incident you bring up.

Q AP reports from Caracas that Venezuela's Vice President Jose Rangel declared that Senator John McCain can "go to hell" after Senator McCain referred to "wackos" in Venezuela. And my question: Does the President believe that Senator McCain was inaccurate in his referring to Venezuela's Chavez as a "wacko," and, if so, why?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes Senator McCain is a good friend and appreciates all that he's doing. We work very closely with Senator McCain on issues that you bring up, and I think we certainly share the same outlook when it comes to countries that are moving away from democratic institutions and principles.

Q In other words, this guy is a wacko, in the President's view, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a question for Senator McCain.

Q Scott, after Mike Brown was forced to resign from FEMA, he worked as a paid consultant for two months. And FEMA said his job was to pull all the documentation together to aid the investigation. Senator Joe Lieberman says that Mike Brown has refused to answer even the simplest questions. Could you tell us why Mike Brown is now not cooperating with the investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know whether that's the case or not. I think you'd have to direct that to either him, or to the Department of Homeland Security, in terms of what has previously been provided.

Q Could you perhaps find out whether Mike Brown is cooperating?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's a private citizen. I think you need --

Q Formerly of the executive branch.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to ask him those questions. He's a private citizen.

Q Is he speaking to anybody or is he not talking now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of anyone who has had contact with him, from here, in terms of recently. Maybe they have; I don't know.

Q I just want to button up Martha's point on domestic spying. You mentioned General Hayden -- well, General Hayden made it clear that this kind of surveillance has been going on under his authority, because he had the authority to do that. The difference is that on the domestic side, whoever was on, say, that telephone call was identified as person one or person two, and the information about that individual domestically was never shared throughout the government. With the President's authorization after 9/11, that changed, and then you began more specifically monitoring people domestically who were in contact with somebody overseas. So how can you say that that's not domestic? How can you say that that's not a fundamental shift from what was occurring before?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an early warning system. It's not aimed at long-term monitoring, like the FISA court was set up to do for a different enemy in a different time period when we were in the Cold War, remember. This was set up as an early warning system to detect and prevent attacks. So you're talking about for a shorter period of time. Its one purpose is to detect and prevent attacks.

Q That's totally off point. You're challenging the notion of domestic spying, when the truth of the matter is that heretofore the person domestically that was being surveilled was never identified, was never tracked in any real fashion. That changed when the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me ask you this. Is an international communication overseas by an al Qaeda member coming into the United States, that is monitored overseas, is that a domestic communication?

Q Well, first of all, I ask the questions, I don't answer them. Number two --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure you don't want to answer that question.

Q No, because I'm not in the business of setting the rules on this.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a very simple question. I can put it right back to you.

Q I'm a reporter, I'm not responsible for authorizing these things. You speak for the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, okay.

Q -- so that's why I ask the questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, you don't want to answer that question. Got it. (Laughter.)

Q Isn't it a fundamental shift in the program that adds a domestic component to it? Why are you --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's international communications. And I gave you a very clear example of international phone calls. We're talking about international communications. So I think I answered that question.

Go ahead, Peter.

Q Scott, how many people did you say -- administration officials had testified to Congress about the Katrina response?

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding is that some 120-plus administration officials have either been made available for interviews or to testify before the committees.

Q Why is it okay for them to testify, but not okay for Hagin, Card, some of the people that the senators are vitally interested in hearing from?

MR. McCLELLAN: For the reason I already answered that question.

Q What's the difference between executive privilege for those people and executive privilege --

MR. McCLELLAN: What's the difference between it for senators and the President?

Go ahead.

Q Can you please give us a sense of the details of what President Bush discussed with Mr. Harper in Canada? Did they talk about policies, or just get to you know --

MR. McCLELLAN: They had a -- it was a good conversation. I think it was around 15, 20 minutes or so. But I think the two leaders wanted to leave it where I left it earlier. The President very much looks forward to working with Prime Minister-designate Harper and the new government. We have good relations with Canada and we want to build upon those relations and strengthen our ties.

Q You often talk about bringing people to justice here. Does the President think that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not here.

Q Pardon me?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not here. (Laughter.)

Q Bring people to justice. What does the President think of the slap on the wrist for an Army officer who brutally murdered an Iraqi general during interrogation?

MR. McCLELLAN: This question came up yesterday, and there's a legal process in place. There are chain-of-command issues involved here. As you know, the President is Commander-in-Chief, and I can't get into discussing any specific --

Q I'm asking you for his opinion.

MR. McCLELLAN: I can't get into specific matters. Well, I answered it yesterday. The question -- I think Victoria brought it up yesterday. And --

Q You didn't answer that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I did. I told you I can't get into discussing specific cases. But I did point out that when people break the law, they are held to account. When they violate the policies, they are held to account. And that's what we will continue to do.

Q A slap on the wrist, a reprimand?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, there are chain-of-command issues here. I just can't get into talking about specific cases.

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because they have rights.

Q If there is no -- for the six-party talks to resume soon, then is there any possibility for the North Korean nuclear issue will be forwarded to the U.N. Security Council?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there have been some indications about North Korea wanting to get back to the talks. We continue to urge North Korea to get back to the talks as soon as possible. There was -- the last round of talks was a good session. There's an agreed-to set of principles to move this process forward, and to get to our objective of all the nations in the regions -- which is to make sure that North Korea abandons and dismantles its nuclear weapons program, and that it quits pursuing its nuclear weapons ambitions. So we urge North Korea to come back to the talks as soon as possible without pre-condition so that we can move forward on the principles that we agreed to.

Go ahead, April. Let me keep going. Go ahead, April.

Q Scott, there are people out there that say that the President is just paying lip service as it relates to the Katrina aftermath. And do you think that this administration is somewhat falling into what these people are saying by not allowing the key officials to testify by interview or what have you in reference to what happened here in the hours after, or the hours before Katrina happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: I already answered that question at the top, and I reject your characterization. This administration is leading the way when it comes to making sure that people that have been affected by these -- by the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast region, particularly Katrina, are getting the help they need.

There's some -- more than $85 billion in resources that's already available; some $25 billion to $30 billion of that has already been allocated and being spent. Now, here in a short -- I think 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Secretary Jackson, and our federal coordinator, Don Powell, are going to be announcing $11.5 billion in community development block grants that are available to the states there. And I suspect a large amount of that will go to Louisiana so that they can continue meeting the needs of the people on the ground.

The President made a commitment that the federal government would do its part to help with what is going to be one of the largest reconstruction efforts ever.

Q But, Scott, back on that. That's fine, well and good, the financial part, but why -- it's almost seems that there's something to hide if people are not being forthcoming with the information --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually the information you cite --

Q -- during and after the --

MR. McCLELLAN: The information you cite has been reported in the news because we provided that information to the committees.

Q Well, why not the key officials here at the White House who had -- who were supposed to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I answered that question at the beginning.

Go ahead.

Q When is FEMA going to come up with these building standards for hurricane reconstruction down in New Orleans?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try and check on that, see what I can find out.

Q Also, what's the specific reason that you oppose the bill that proposes financial assistance for people trying to rebuild?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about Congressman Baker's legislation? First of all, we share the same goal that Congressman Baker has. We've been working with him to make sure that the needs -- and other congressional leaders -- to make sure the needs are met, as I talked about. We work very closely with him. We appreciate his leadership on these issues. But we have expressed serious concerns about creating an outside entity that -- instead of the approach that we're talking about. We believe a more direct, better approach is to provide assistance directly to the local communities so that they can get that to the people through things like community development block grant.

And I hear a helicopter coming, so that means I have to depart. And I appreciate it, and I'll see you later.

END 12:14 P.M. EST


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