For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 11, 2006
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En route Biloxi, Mississippi
1:31 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Good morning, everybody. We're on our way to Mississippi, where the President will give a commencement address at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He is the first President to give a commencement address at a community college, and you have the embargoed copy, right? Okay.
This morning, just going through the President's day, he had his regular briefing this morning. He also met with several Chinese human rights activists in the Yellow Oval; we will have a photo release of that meeting.
After the speech today, the President will meet with several families of fallen soldiers.
A couple other things to put on your radar screen. Brett Kavanaugh, the President's judicial nominee for the D.C. circuit was voted out of committee today and we expect a floor vote in the coming weeks, before Memorial Day. Also, the Senate is going to pass tax relief this afternoon, and the President looks forward to signing that bill into law.
One other thing to put on your radar screen, Secretary Bodman is in Indiana today with Governor Daniels.* He is talking about ethanol. And one of the things he is doing is going over to the Indy Motor Speedway, he's promoting Ethanol Day in the Speedway. Ethanol has been used for the Indy 500 for years, but next year's car race will be fueled 100 percent with ethanol.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q What bothers you about this USA Today story today? What bothers the White House about the USA Today story?
MS. PERINO: Well, you heard from the President. He is not confirming or denying existence of the details of that story. What he felt it was important to do today was tell the American people what the federal government is and is not doing to protect them from possible terror attacks. He wanted to tell them that the government is acting responsibly and lawfully in all of our intelligence activities.
No more questions?
Q Should the FCC look at whether they should fine these telephone companies for turning over these records?
MS. PERINO: I'd have to refer you to the FCC; I don't have a comment on that at this point.
Q Is Hayden having any more meetings today up on the Hill? Or did they cancel those because of the story?
MS. PERINO: No, I think that was a wild rumor. General Hayden has several meetings scheduled for this afternoon; I think they were trying to reschedule some from this morning to this afternoon.
Q Today --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely, General Hayden is seeing people today.
Q Do you guys feel like the story is going to impede the progress of the confirmation of Hayden on the Hill?
MS. PERINO: I think General Hayden has had a really good start to his confirmation process. He's met with several members, the feedback has been positive and we're full steam ahead on his nomination.
Q Without confirming or denying the story, there is adequate congressional oversight for all of these intelligence-gathering operations?
MS. PERINO: Yes. As the President has said -- I refer you to his statement today -- he made it clear that all appropriate members of Congress are briefed appropriately on the government's intelligence activities. And just to reiterate, the President was talking about today how we fiercely protect the privacy rights of the American people. The government is doing everything that it can, in a lawful way, to protect innocent Americans from probable terrorist attack.
There is no listening-in on domestic phone calls without court approval.
Q Does the President think that the timing of this story is related to General Hayden's pending confirmation hearing?
MS. PERINO: I would not question whether or not there were any motivations on behalf of a media organization that published the story, no.
Q The story is causing a bit of an uproar on Capitol Hill. Is this an over-reaction, if the appropriate members have been briefed?
MS. PERINO: It is true that the appropriate members have been briefed. And if you'll recall that with the terrorist surveillance program, we expanded on the Intelligence Committee, additional members of the Intelligence Committee through two sub-committees on both the House and the Senate side so that additional members would be fully briefed on that program. And that includes Republicans and Democrats. And they have been fully briefed. I can't speak for other senators and their reactions, but, of course, we'll be able to provide them as much information as possible, as we're providing to you.
Q If you're fiercely protecting Americans' rights to privacy, why would you need a database of tens of millions of American phone call records?
MS. PERINO: Well, not confirming or denying or acknowledging the substance of the story this morning in USA Today, what the President said today, all intelligence activities of the United States are limited and targeted and focused solely on al Qaeda and al Qaeda's affiliates. They are the enemy.
The government has no interest in knowing what innocent Americans are talking about on their domestic phone calls. So if you are calling to make reservations at a restaurant, and if you are calling your daughter at college, or if you are calling to plan your wedding, the government has no interest in knowing about those calls. The government is interested in finding out if al Qaeda is planning an attack in America -- you can bet that we want to make sure that we get ahead of that to prevent that and to save lives.
Q Was there any effort to get USA Today to not run the story?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that.
Q Is the reason why you're not confirming or denying for national security reasons? Or why?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to go beyond -- we don't comment on intelligence matters of the United States. If you look at the statement by the National Security Agency spokesperson, he reiterates the same. We don't comment on the intelligence operations or sources or methods. And that's for the protection of the American people. We have classified intelligence programs -- again, not confirming or denying any of these -- for a reason.
And the President talked again today in his statement about how the leaking of classified information in general can be harmful to national security.
No questions on the commencement address?
Q I have a question about Mississippi. Will the President still veto the supplemental if it includes that $700 million for the Mississippi railroad?
MS. PERINO: I believe I'd have to refer you back to the President's statement and to the statement of administration policy that was released by OMB. But I believe that the veto threat was on the total amount of the -- it was $92.2 billion, I believe; the President said nothing over that, or he would veto.
END 1:39 P.M. EDT