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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 23, 2006
Press Briefing by Tony Snow
James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:12 A.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: All right, welcome. Good to see a full house today. Let's go through the basics. First, on the President's schedule today, remaining on the schedule -- actually, he has just concluded a meeting with the Russia experts. This is sort of analogous to his meeting a couple of weeks ago with Iraq experts. They included Blake Marshall, the Executive Vice President of the U.S.-Russia Business Council; Andrew Kuchins, Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment; Clifford Gaddy, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Marshall Goldman, Associate Director at the Harvard Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies; and Steve Sestanovich, of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Also ahead today, the White House tee ball game, and it looks like Mother Nature is going to cooperate, so that will be on the South Lawn. There will also be a meeting with the commander of the Multinational Force Iraq -- that would be General Casey -- later today.
In the week ahead, the President and the First Lady, on Sunday evening, will attend the Gala at Ford's Theater.
On Monday, the President is going to meet with organizations that support the U.S. military -- Americasupportsyou.com, and Americasupportsyou.mil. The President also will have the photo opportunity with the 2006 Presidential Scholars. He will attend a Republican National Committee finance luncheon -- that is closed press, but he's still doing it. (Laughter.) And he will make remarks at the celebration of Black Music Month, South Lawn at the White House. That's going to be a very cool event. It's open press. I encourage you all to go out and see it.
Tuesday, the President is going to make remarks on the line-item veto at the JW Marriott Hotel, which reminds me -- that is also the topic, the line-item veto and the economy, the topics of this week's radio address. He's going to participate in a photo opportunity with Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge, who I think is also going to be jogging with the President; is that not correct? The President is going to participate in a meeting with National Endowment for Democracy award recipients, and participate in the run with Staff Sergeant Bagge. Well, there you go.
Wednesday, the President will be traveling to St. Louis. He will attend a Talent for Senate reception at the Ritz-Carlton.
Thursday, the President and Mrs. Bush are going to participate in the South Lawn arrival ceremony for the Prime Minister of Japan. Everybody is looking forward to Friday, but I'll get to that in a moment. The President will also have a meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan in the Oval Office. They'll have a joint press availability. The President and Mrs. Bush will greet the Prime Minister of Japan at the North Portico -- open press for that. Another photo opportunity with the Prime Minister, and they'll participate in an official dinner in the State Dining Room. There will also be entertainment afterward.
On Friday, it's Graceland. I can't wait. (Laughter.) The President and Mrs. Bush are going to participate in a tour of Graceland with the Prime Minister of Japan. They'll participate in a lunch with the Prime Minister, and later that evening, in a complete change of venue and mode, he will attend a Mike DeWine for U.S. Senate Reception.
Let's see, what other items of business do we have? We have just returned, and as a matter of fact, many of your colleagues, I believe -- Sheryl, you made it back. What time did you guys get off the plane?
Q A little after 3:00 a.m.
MR. SNOW: A little after 3:00 a.m. Well, God bless you for being here.
Q I saw Carlton here, too. Hardy souls.
MR. SNOW: Carlton -- he's young, he's an Ironman. He can do that stuff. Not that you're not young. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I'd like to revise and extend my remarks, if I might, having made a total fool of myself. At any rate, welcome, it's good to have you.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: The U.S.-EU summit worked out quite well. The President was very happy about it. He met, obviously, with the leadership. President Wolfgang Sch ssel, the Austrian Chancellor, and also European Commission President Jos Barroso, along with Javier Solana. They talked about a number of issues of common interest -- promoting democracy around the world. Obviously, Iran and Iraq both came into the mix there, but they also talked about Darfur, they talked about Somalia, they talked about the need for democratic change in Cuba, they talked about the vision for advancing a Europe whole, free and at peace; working together to support the consolidation of democracy and free markets in places like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova.
There was also continued talk about cooperation in the global war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan. The President thanked his colleagues for help there; preventing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, there was obviously conversation about North Korea in that vein; promotion of energy security; there were also some candid and interesting exchanges about the Doha round, and a whole lot more.
It was an interesting meeting, sort of behind the scenes. The Austrian Chancellor did in fact conduct the meetings with a high degree of efficiency, and he basically had a checklist. He had a meeting followed by a luncheon, and it was, bam, bam, bam; one issue after another, and they knocked them out. It ended up making sure that it was -- everybody got said what they needed to have said.
Also, the President, as was pointed out in the press availabilities, went ahead and raised the question that has been most troubling, or at least of highest controversy in Europe, and that would be Guantanamo, explaining that the United States was working within the law, that the President did want to shut down Guantanamo. The Hamdan case by the Supreme Court, obviously which will be judging the constitutionality of military commissions, is of interest, and we're going to have some answer on that relatively soon. And having explained that -- that was one little nuance that his colleagues did not know about. But they expressed their joint concerns on that.
Also today, the Secretary of Transportation, Norm Mineta, has sent a letter of resignation to the President, effective July 7, 2006. He has informed the President that after five-and-a-half years, he will be stepping down, as I said.
After graduating from college, he joined the Army in 1953, he served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea; 1967, entered public life first as a member of the San Jose, California, City Council, and eventually became the nation's first Asian Pacific American Mayor of a major U.S. city in San Jose. He was elected to the House of Representatives, where he served for 20 years. He's been in two Cabinet positions: Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, and Secretary of Transportation under President Bush.
As Transportation Secretary, he cut regulation and red tape to liberalize the commercial aviation market, obviously, established the Transportation Security Agency, helped shaped the highway bill; he's been working on highway safety and increasing seatbelt use; trying to introduce financial discipline and sound economic principles to our passenger rail system; has worked on two major CAFE increases, and has begun a major initiative to reduce traffic congestion.
On the economic front, durable goods orders down 0.3 percent. That's much -- there was an expected 0.5 percent rise. This is a highly volatile indicator. Meanwhile, also, as you know, unemployment claims are at 308,000, and while that was higher than the week before, it's still historically low and indicates that there is still considerable job growth.
And I think I've run through all the basics now. Let's do some questions.
Q On terrorist financing, the critics are saying again that this is another indication that the White House is overstepping presidential authority. Why isn't it?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one -- I'm glad you asked it. The stories that appeared today were interesting, because all of the potential criticisms were entirely abstract in nature, were not concrete, whereas the benefits were fairly concrete, as were the legal steps.
I'll just read you a few highlights from The New York Times. "The program is a significant departure from typical practice." Well, so was September 11th, and I think everybody acknowledges that in the wake of September 11th it became necessary to try to use every means at our disposal to try to figure out what terrorists were doing and to try to track them down and to stop their activities. The program is, "highly unusual." I refer you to my previous comment about September 11th.
Some officials, "expressed reservations about the program." The reservations are not concrete. It says that, "What they viewed as an urgent temporary measure has become permanent." That doesn't tell me anything. That doesn't list a specific violation of anybody's private rights, it doesn't specify any statute that may have been violated. "The program has been described as exploiting a 'gray area.'" Difficult to figure out what that means. The executives voiced, "early concerns about the program." That was at Swift. Apparently those were resolved.
Meanwhile -- go ahead.
Q I think what they're saying is that the justification that you all are using for this program is based on the September 11th disaster, and now this program has been going on for five years, but there's no congressional authority for it.
MR. SNOW: And what's interesting here is, for instance, in the -- well, rise in peace, it says "It arguably complies with the letter of the law." There was no specific allegation of any breach of responsibility for notifying Congress. In addition, intelligence committees have been notified, and they know all about this.
Let me tell you why this is important. It works. If you read the piece, it works. The program has been tracing transactions of people suspected of having ties to al Qaeda: Routine transactions confined to this country are generally not in the database; it has sought only for terrorism investigations; a series of safeguards have been put in place. For instance, anybody trying to have access has to have a specific reason and a specific piece of data that would justify going into the database. Furthermore, to ensure that there has been no abuse, they've also had an outside auditor take a look regularly at the program. This has been reviewed by Intelligence Committees on the House, it's been reviewed by the Fed and other financial institutions in the United States. Furthermore, according to the piece, again, Swift and Treasury officials are aware of no abuses, nor have any been alleged in the piece.
Here's what it has done -- this is the concrete part, as opposed to the abstract, potential dangers. It helped capture Hambali, who was responsible for the Bali bombing which killed more than 2,000 people.* It's provided information on domestic terror cells. That's a good thing. It helped identify a Brooklyn man convicted on terrorism-related charges last year.
So the point here is that the administration has been looking very carefully at ways of trying within the letter and spirit of the law to be able to shut off financing. It's a good thing to shut off the spigot, the financial spigot. And it does seem to be working. Now we have stories of people moving wads of cash over the borders -
Q Isn't it also to have it clear that it's legal, that there should be court-approved warrants, which is a general practice, subpoenas, and that kind of thing, to ensure that it --
MR. SNOW: Subpoenas, in fact, are not standard practice, no. Subpoenas are actually not standard practice in this kind of activity.
Q Why didn't the President seek congressional authorization for the program?
MR. SNOW: He didn't need to.
MR. SNOW: Because, why would he need it? Under what statute would he need congressional authorization?
Q On what legal -- what is your legal basis for --
MR. SNOW: The legal basis -- no, the legal basis here is that you've got an executive order, and furthermore, if you want to get into the legal vagaries, I will send you over to the Treasury Department attorneys who have been working this. I think it is safe to say that there's a presumption here that the administration is trying to do an end run. If so, it's interesting that people involved -- The Times refers generally to the administration having people contacted. These people are involved in the intelligence business, who knew about it, who are members of Congress, and who were informed about the program, who specifically asked The New York Times not to publish it.
So this is not something -- you might want to ask members of the intelligence committees whether they thought they got an end-run on this one.
Q Well, given all that you're saying, and given the fact that it has been well known publicly that the government has endeavored to cut off the financial spigot, to use your term, why did the administration go to such intense lengths to stop the publication of something that people think is somewhat self-evident?
MR. SNOW: Because the means and methods by which we do it are not.
Q But the existence of this organization is no secret, either.
MR. SNOW: Are you kidding? Are you talking about Swift? When did you know about Swift before?
Q I'm talking about those in the --
MR. SNOW: -- know about Swift before? (Laughter.)
Q While I don't, I can assure you that people in the financial community know.
MR. SNOW: I guarantee, you go talk to your local banker -- you talk about --
Q Why doesn't it --
MR. SNOW: It is legal, Helen.
Q What is the law that allows you to go into the private --
MR. SNOW: I'll tell you what, we will attach -- we'll get our lawyers to attach all this and it will just --
Q No, no, just give me the law --
MR. SNOW: I am going to give you the law.
Q You don't even know --
MR. SNOW: You're absolutely right, I do not know the specific statute, which is why I will present it to you.
Q But, again, why go to the extraordinary effort of trying to get news media to inform people what their government is doing?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you what, does CNN disclose what it does with the financial information or personal information of the people who log onto its website? Does The New York Times? Does The L.A. Times? Your organizations all collect personal data on people who use your services. But there's a second point --
Q Do you not understand the difference between private companies and governments, sir?
MR. SNOW: I understand. I do understand. But what I'm saying here is, what the public -- I'll tell you what, you ask the American public, do you want -- do you think you have a right to know the specific means and methods by which --
Q That's not --
MR. SNOW: Helen, will you stop heckling and let me conduct a press conference.
Q -- argument.
MR. SNOW: Well, no, I'm making an argument, and you're pestering the teacher.
Okay, now, here -- I think the American people understand that if somebody says, how is it that you're tracking down terrorist financing? We don't want the terrorist to know that. That's an important thing for them not to know. But now what's happening is that some of the means and methods are available. What happens is they adjust their own techniques accordingly.
Now, here's the other interesting thing. If there were some specific allegation that there was an abuse here, that people 's rights were in jeopardy, that there was a violation of law -- none of which is alleged; I mean, you keep asking me what the laws are -- it's not even mentioned in here, in The New York Times or any of the pieces that ran today, there is no allegation of illegality.
Q Let me ask a follow up. Are you saying that the financial experts in the terrorist ranks would not know about an organization that works for 7,800 different financial institutions in 200 countries?
MR. SNOW: I'm saying, yes. I think that a lot of people didn't know about the existence of Swift.
Q I asked, though, about the terrorist financial experts, the ones you would worry about, the ones --
MR. SNOW: I'm not sure they did. I really don't.
Q Tony, would you allow, though, that there could be a deterrent effect in this information becoming public, that the terrorists know that you're looking at this and they're going to have to find another less effective way to do this, and perhaps less successful way and a more easily discoverable way?
MR. SNOW: It's a good point. I think it's -- but I'm not sure the revelation of the methods is all that useful, but the government has said many times, we're going after your finances. And it's also clear that the financial trails have been drying up. And it's also clear that in some cases you do have stories of people baling up wads of cash and carrying them through the mountains of Pakistan and so on to try to transmit. So there clearly has been a deterrent effect. I don't know if it's traceable to this program; I don't know if it's traceable -- I'm not sure I can disaggregate the specific causes of it, but it is clear that the efforts to try to choke off terror financing have enjoyed a certain measure of success. And that's a good thing.
Q But there is a suggestion in some of the stories that the program isn't even that useful anymore because of the way al Qaeda moves money around is such an informal -- they have such an informal way of doing it now, that it doesn't even go through these official means, and that the program, in fact, invades everyone's privacy, but for very little use.
MR. SNOW: How does it invade people's privacy?
Q Well, by learning personal data.
MR. SNOW: No, but it is restricted. Again, it is not looking at your privacy, it's not looking at mine, unless --
Q How is it restricted?
MR. SNOW: It is restricted to -- you have to have intelligence data that would justify looking into the records of a person. All right? And that person has to have links to al Qaeda. Those are the basic guidelines. If you're not a member of al Qaeda -- and, Peter, I have it on good authority that you're not -- you're safe. They're not going to look at your records.
Go ahead, Jessica.
Q Is there anything in this emergency provision for the President that limits the administration from making a rule that lets you guys look into everyone's personal data?
MR. SNOW: Is there anything that limits? There's absolutely --
Q Any limits to the President's power, in your view --
MR. SNOW: There is no contemplation of any such action, period.
Q No, but the question is, is there anything in the law that you use to justify -- that the administration uses to justify these programs --
MR. SNOW: The law is very specific, which is talking about going at --
Q -- that limits the President's power?
MR. SNOW: Yes. The limit of trying to go after terrorists, that in itself is self-limiting because it limits the body of people whose financial transactions and other data are going to be investigated.
Q In previous cases when intelligence methods have been revealed in the news, the administration has not talked about them. This time you've trotted the Treasury officials to talk about them. Why have you done this? Is the administration concerned --
MR. SNOW: I think it was because --
Q -- that you're not being effective in getting this out to the people and justifying it?
MR. SNOW: I think it's important -- the one thing we can say is that Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau and Bill Keller and others had -- and other reporters who did this, got extensive knowledge and briefing on this. So they knew it. And that's why -- I mean, it's interesting because I think there's a fair amount of balance in the story in that you do have concrete benefits and you do have the kind of abstract harms that were mentioned in there. I think it's important in a case like this, and obviously, we didn't want to print it. But we also wanted to make sure that as the reporters went through and as the editors went through it that they were fully informed so that they could make their own judgment, and that is what they did.
Go ahead. Let me get to Sheryl.
Q You had mentioned that the intelligence committees were briefed. Can you talk specifically about how members of Congress were briefed about this program, and when? And if the types --
MR. SNOW: No. Because I don't know.**
Q Can you also find out, if you don't know, were the briefings that Congress received on this program similar or different than the ones members received on the NSA wire tapping?
MR. SNOW: We'll asterisk that one --
MS. PERINO: Treasury is having a press conference at 1:00 p.m.
MR. SNOW: Yes, that's true, the Treasury, actually -- Secretary Snow is going to have a press conference on it. And frankly, he knows it far better than I do. So I think -- transfer there; if we don't get answers then, we'll do it.
Get back to the far row, let me move a little further back, and then we'll come back. Yes.
Q Tony, I just want to say that terrorists or al Qaeda, wherever they are in Pakistan or wherever, they know what we are doing, including they're watching this press briefing, and each time the tape comes out. My different question is that yesterday was the greatest day as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned, at the (inaudible) -- the Chamber of Commerce, U.S.-India Visitors Council, Vice President was the speaker and so was the Under Secretary Burns, Nicholas -- Nicholas Burns.
They had a clear message for the world's greatest body, the United States Congress, as far as U.S.-India (inaudible) nuclear agreement is concerned. As far is President is concerned, how is President doing now because the vote in the Congress is coming soon, maybe in the next week or two?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way, the President considers this a top priority. Period. And wants both Houses of Congress to act on it and act affirmatively.
Q Can you talk a little bit about the Russia experts meeting, what the President wants to get out of it and --
MR. SNOW: It's --
Q -- let me get just get a couple of things quickly out. Is there any formal mechanism for reporting the advice they gave, or is this just shaping the President's general view?
MR. SNOW: No, it's giving the President more data. Such -- for instance, one, we had the meeting with the Iraq experts at Camp David. You get people with differing points of view -- the President, when he gets ready for a trip like this, and when he gets ready to do policies like this, he's not somebody who simply goes through a punch list that's been prepared by the Department of State or the NSC. He likes to read about it, he likes to talk to people. He read a number of books before going to Austria and Hungary -- and no, I'm not going to tell you what they were. But he gets -- he's very interested in this stuff, and he likes to bring in experts. And my guess is there may be even further sessions as we move toward the G8.
But it's one of these things where there is -- what he does is he asks for their honest opinions, and quite often they're going to be differing opinions about what's going on in Russia, what's going on in Russian culture, how Russia is interacting with its European neighbors, and a whole series of other things. Because obviously, Russia is a very critical partner in Iraq, in North Korea, dealing with Iran. In a number of these places, the Russians are, in fact, playing an important role, and it's, I think -- any piece of information the President can get in terms of being more effective in dealing with them as a world leader -- I think you saw again -- getting back to the EU Summit, and this is related -- the ability to get along with Chancellor Sch ssel -- those are important things to be able to do.
So the President uses this as a chance, really, to give him more information that he can bring to bear as he's trying to make decisions about the best way to go forward. And obviously, there are going to be a lot of important and interesting things to do.
Q So it's pre-G8, it's --
MR. SNOW: It's pre-G8 and it's also generally talking about Russia. I mean, Russia is right in the middle of a lot of things that we're dealing with right now.
Q Tony, why did the Transportation Secretary resign?
MR. SNOW: Because he wanted to. He was not being pushed out. There's no -- as a matter of fact, the President, the Vice President, and others were happy with him and they suggested that --
Q He felt like he had put in his time?
MR. SNOW: Yes, he put in five-and-a-half years. That's a long time.
Q I have a follow-up on Iraq. Do you know anything about some sort of peace agreement being assembled by Iraq granting amnesty? And also, a U.N. approval -- approved timetable for withdrawal of foreign troops? Is there some sort of package coming out from Iraq this weekend?
MR. SNOW: No. But let me -- first, the U.N. I don't think would be the proper venue. The Iraqi government is -- we've said many times, we're working with the Iraqis, to stand up and stand down, to figure out what are the appropriate ways to use the military. As a matter of fact, you've seen the Muthanna province now. I think the British and the Japanese have withdrawn their ground troops and allowed the Iraqis to take full responsibility. And over time, that will happen in the other 17 provinces.
But there is certainly no talk -- and the one thing that was very clear in the President's discussions in Baghdad, nobody wants the United States to leave. Not right now. They do want the United States to leave eventually, when the nation is free and secure.
Now, Prime Minister Maliki is looking at a number of ways under national reconciliation to try to make it possible for the Iraqis to forge an even stronger sense of national identity and unity. And one of those things has been -- for instance, he's granted amnesty to 2,500 prisoners so far. There have been varying press accounts. But as far as I can tell, there is yet no subtle policy on people who have been combatants. Apparently, the latest story was, well, people who have done harm would not get amnesty, but people who may have carried arms could be eligible. I think the Iraqis are still working through this. Again, it has not reached the stage of a formalized plan upon which people are going to act. But we're going to keep an eye on it. But I know nothing about any kind of U.N.-brokered deal in terms of troop levels, and I would be very surprised if that were the case.
Q Back to the banking transactions, how can you assure the American public that this isn't what seems to be a broad net covering all Americans -- you said no, subpoenas are needed, but warrants apparently weren't used, either. Very similar, and apparently this is parallel to the NSA case, which gives the perception, if nothing else, that it's an arrogance of presidential power and --
MR. SNOW: I think what you've done is just reveal the lens through which you're looking at it, which is suspicious, skeptical, and doesn't seem to understand that the word "terrorist" has real meaning, and furthermore, that somebody does have to have stated legal reasons and evidence to support it to enter the database.
I would suggest going back and actually reading more carefully the stories, because they do not convey the dark impression you try to convey in the question.
Q But you're not conveying the legality of it. That's the question here.
MR. SNOW: I'm not a lawyer, so I would suggest, if you want to get into the legal issues, talk to the Treasury Department lawyers and also to the legal --
Q We're asking you.
MR. SNOW: I know, but I'm not a lawyer, Helen, and, frankly --
Q You don't have to be a lawyer, you should have just gotten the information from inside, as to what they base it on.
MR. SNOW: Thank you, ma'am. Thank you.
Q It's our understanding that the House intel committees weren't really briefed until May, and that's about the time that this thing started leaking out. So you really didn't brief these guys until you had to.
MR. SNOW: As I said, you may want to ask them about whether they supported the publication of this.
Q The question is when did you brief them?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q Can you find that out?
Q Scott --
MR. SNOW: That would be "Tony." (Laughter.)
Q Tony, last December, the President was outraged about the NSA revelations in The New York Times. Can you summarize for us his reaction --
MR. SNOW: I'm sorry, what?
Q Last December, the President was clearly outraged by the NSA revelations in the paper. How does he feel about this, and can you summarize his reaction? We sense, and some statements indicate, that there's anger here.
MR. SNOW: I think categorizing emotions is less important than telling you what the policy is, which is, it is important to try to maintain the security programs that are designed to save American lives. And that's what these programs are designed to do. Whatever the perceptions in any of the rows in this room may be, the design of these programs is to save people, and it's to save them by tracking down terrorists and not innocent citizens.
Again, keep in mind -- and I would direct you back to the stories from which -- that have initiated this discussion today, which is: terrorists, you have to have evidence to look at it, you've got outside auditors looking at it, you have had the international banking community looking at it. This has had a whole series of safeguards that may not be readily apparent, and I'm sorry I can't fake being a lawyer up here, but there have been an extensive series of safeguards designed to protect the individuals who have not been committing acts of terror, and at the same time to track down those who are guilty of it.
Q Tony, notwithstanding all of that, there is a perception in some quarters --
MR. SNOW: Like here. (Laughter.)
Q -- that when you combine the revelations about the NSA programs, when you combine this with that, and --
MR. SNOW: Okay, well, let me --
Q Well, let me just finish. One other perception that many have, many do have, which is that they cannot count on their privacy rights from the government, it's government intrusion.
MR. SNOW: The perception seems to be more limited to -- with all due respect -- to members of the press corps. If you take a look -- no, if you ask people -- go ahead and look at your own poll, and you will find that Americans, if somebody says, do you want a program that listens in on people who have been identified as al Qaeda terrorists, their answer would be, yes, I would like to do that, I would like to find data on it.
Furthermore, we have run through many times the safeguards that were put into that program and there has yet to be a single person who rose up and said, you know what, they violated my privacy. So what we are talking about are theoretical problems, as opposed to programs that have produced concrete results.
Q But aren't constitutional provisions oftentimes written, and haven't they been written, to protect against theoretical problems?
MR. SNOW: Absolutely. And furthermore, these programs have been designed to try to deal with theoretical problems, as well. They were all designed very carefully to make sure that innocents were not, in fact, the victims of unwarranted surveillance by any government department or agency. That's very important.
Q Tony, two questions. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York reports that after five different letters from dozens of congressmen to the President, the Department of Health and Human Services has written her on behalf of the President, conveying the administration's support for "the availability of safe and effective products and services to assist responsible adults in making decisions about preventing or delaying conception." And my question: Why did this answer take so long, and why did you and Scott McClellan evade it five different times?
MR. SNOW: Because there wasn't an opportunity for a sixth until now. (Laughter.)
Q Tony, CNN quotes Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Bernie Sanders of Vermont, calling on liberals to take on what he labeled as "right-wing nuts on talk radio." And my question: Do you, as a recent veteran talk radio host, and the President believe that this U.S. Senate candidate is either charitable or accurate?
MR. SNOW: I don't think the President has a specific opinion on the topic, and --
Q What is your opinion, as a talk show host?
MR. SNOW: Well, my opinion is not relevant because I'm speaking on behalf of the President.
Q Two evasions.
Q The House Republican leadership has decided to put off a vote on immigration while holding hearings around the country. What does the President think about that?
MR. SNOW: Well, what's interesting is the signal -- the House Republican leadership has also said, we want to get something done. I think there are differences between the House and Senate, and what's going on is the House is going to hold hearings, and I think that's going to be an interesting and productive exercise. The President also takes House leaders at their word when, this week, they said they want to get something done this year.
In that case, the President wants to make sure it's comprehensive, that there is -- you're not going to serve the larger purpose by trying to cherry-pick one or two items when it's pretty clear that there are a menu of concerns and it's best to address them all and to address them in a way that allows us to deal with the immigration problem in a way that secures our borders, that keeps our economy strong, that reinforces the rule of law, and that also says to people who want to work hard and follow the traditional path to American citizenship and who want to be good American citizens who speak the language, who work hard, who pay taxes, who raise families, who share American values, that our arms are still open to them.
So all of those things are concerns, and I think House leaders probably ought to get out around the country and listen to what people have to say. Certainly the feedback we're getting is that people do want comprehensive reform. And the President has made it absolutely clear what his view is. And we are aware now of some communications between members of the House and Senate that could prove quite productive on this front.
Q Okay, but isn't that just sort of the good news part of it? I mean, they're going to delay this now until close to the election -- how are you going to have a vote on such a politically difficult matter, with one of the most critical elections in years just a couple months away?
MR. SNOW: Well, again, this is -- you're leaping to conclusions. Heaven knows what tomorrow holds. I think it's going to be -- the President is going to continue to speak about immigration, and he's going to talk to the American people about it. And members of the House of Representatives I'm certain are going to hear.
Don't make it -- you know, look, if close to the election Congress enacts comprehensive reform, you know what's going to happen? People are going to clap they're hands; they'll say, good, it's good that the American government dealt with our concerns about security and dealt with our concerns about identifying those who are here illegally; dealt with the idea of going after employers who knowingly hire illegals; dealt with the quandary of how you deal with 11 to 12 million people who have come here. How many of them want to say, set a tough path to citizenship that includes going to the back of the line, holding a job, paying taxes, obeying the law, knowing the culture and the language -- all of those are things that people support, and I think the more we talk about it, probably the better it's going to be. And if all of that happens at the end of the day, I think the American people would be pretty happy about it.
Q So, bottom line, this is a good idea, then; what they're doing is a good idea?
MR. SNOW: It is always a good idea to try to debate fully an important issue.
Q What is the President's position on extension of the Voting Rights Act?
MR. SNOW: He wants the Voting Rights Act extended, and he's been very clear about it.
Q The President said a few times in the past few weeks that he would love to close Guantanamo Bay. Can you give us a sense of what he has directed folks inside of his administration to do to make that happen, or are you sort of in a holding pattern with the Hamdan?
MR. SNOW: In a bit of a holding pattern, and I want to sort of warn against sort of false optimism that once the Hamdan thing is resolved one way or another that it's a snap, because you still have the disposition of 400 cases. There are a series of related things that one has to deal with. The majority of the people remaining in Guantanamo are from three countries: They're from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen. In some of those cases, if we were to try to repatriate, human rights groups would say, no, don't do it.
Now, it's interesting to see that some of our colleagues in Europe are now talking about trying to help in some way with this, and we don't know what that means, but it would be interesting to see.
The second problem, then, is how do you go ahead and have full legal disposition of these cases. If it goes into the criminal courts, that takes time. If it goes into military commissions, that takes time. Either way, you have to go ahead and give those who would undergo trial rights of representation, and let due process work its course. So either way, the process is going to take some time. But the President does want it shut down.
Q But is there movement? Are you folks trying to come up with a way to either put them on trial or send them home? Is there active effort to --
MR. SNOW: There's active -- absolutely. There's war gaming on all of it and trying to figure out how all of it works. And again, it's a lot of moving parts. The President has also said, there's a core of about 50 that he refers to as the throat-slitters, cold-blooded killers who, if released, would try to kill Americans or others. And he is loathe to let them go, to release them into the streets; does not want to try to explain to the parents of somebody who has fallen in action against terrorists, why that person would be back on the streets. Those are the tough cases that we have to figure out a proper way to deal with legally.
The other cases in some ways may be a little easier. There you get into the technical issues of how you repatriate them and under what circumstances. And yes, we're trying to -- how do you work with international organizations, how do you work with allies. All of those things are under consideration. But you're absolutely right, until we hear from the Supreme Court -- which, let's face it, probably should be within the next week -- we're in a bit of a holding pattern. And at that point, then you start really grinding through the options. At this point, you sort of have a basic framework. But after that, that's when you know what you have to deal with and you proceed from there.
Q Going back to The New York Times story. You were talking about since September the 11th, and you said we'd fight terror with every means at our disposal. Could you define that phrase for us?
MR. SNOW: Yes, every means legally. That means that you will use intelligence -- by the way, let me back up, because I --
Q That's not what you said -- "at our disposal."
MR. SNOW: Every means at our disposal -- then I will claim guilty to a bit of loose verbiage, because when I say, at our disposal as a government, at our disposal are not illegal means. That is not at our disposal. As a President who has sworn to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, live within the Constitution and live within the boundaries of the law -- within the Constitution and the boundaries of the law, we will do what we can to try to prevent terrorists from killing innocent people.
Let me also add, and just -- and I'll let you get back -- the executive order is Executive Order 13224, signed on September 21, 2001. It authorized the Treasury Department, in conjunction with other Cabinet agencies, to use all appropriate measures to identify, track and pursue not only those who commit terrorist acts here and abroad, but also those who provide financial and other support. So that is your legal justification.
Also, it is firmly rooted -- and I apologize for this, I had not flipped my page, because I did have the brief on it -- other statutory mandates and executive orders. These would include the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977. I will repeat, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977, and also the United Nations Participation Act. So those are some of the key bases legally for this program.
Q Tony, the critics are pointing to the emergency section of that second --
MR. SNOW: Well, look, you've got a war on terror. It is an emergency. They can -- if they want to argue that terrorists are still --
Q He can do that temporarily, but then he needs to seek congressional authority to continue. It's been going on for five year.
MR. SNOW: Let's see how this proceeds.
Q Let me ask my second question. Earlier in the week, the President was talking about Guantanamo, and he said publicly that some of them were cold-blooded killers, and if they go back on the streets, they'll kill again, same thing that you said -- and that they need to go on trial. Is there any presumption of innocence whatsoever with regard to --
MR. SNOW: Of course there is. You're absolutely right. Obviously, there's a suspicion, but, yes, you still have to presume innocence when you go into a court of law, and those who render judgment will have to do the same.
Q On North Korea, have you seen any -- has the administration seen any signs that the warnings they have given have -- are working at getting the North Koreans to back down from a proposed missile test, or contacts with U.S. allies?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way. First, you've got to be careful whenever talking about the situation in North Korea. This is not the United States versus North Korea. And as a matter of fact, if you listen to comments made in recent days by the government of Japan, the government of China, the government of South Korea, and the Russians, also, they've all said that the North Koreans shouldn't fire a missile. That is not a warning, that's a piece of advice.
And the United States has said all along -- we've not issued warnings, what we've said is, it would not be constructive to go back on the self-imposed moratorium from 1999. Instead, what the North Koreans need to do is to come back to the six-party talks. And then, furthermore, on the September agreement, there is provision for other ways of dealing -- for the United States and North Korea to deal with one another. But under the September 19th agreement of last year, North Korea has to come back to the table. They have to bargain in good faith and work toward issues of regional security.
Now, the problem with North Korea is -- and you've heard the President, the Vice President, the Defense Secretary and everybody else use the same term, but it's true, and the Secretary of State -- it's not a transparent society. So the idea that somehow we know what's going on in the minds of Kim Jong-il or others, we don't. It's one of those things.
Q -- more contacts, and discussions through, say, their U.N. reps --
MR. SNOW: I think the North Koreans -- no. I mean, there is not hugely -- I think most of the contacts have been from outside partners in toward North Korea, rather than the other way around.
Q Tony, I believe that Secretary Mineta remains the only Democrat the President has appointed. Does he believe it's important to retain a bipartisan note on the Cabinet, or does party affiliation --
MR. SNOW: I think at this point you look for the best people you can get. And if that means that there will be a Democrat to fill that or other slots, then that would be the case.
Q Second. As the President begins to do his homework leading up to the Russia trip, what are his current feelings about Putin? Does he remain a trustworthy friend, or has he evolved into something else?
MR. SNOW: First, he has not "begun" to do his homework, he does it all the time, and especially in dealing with Putin and with the Russians. Look, the President and President Putin have a pretty good working relationship. They talk regularly, they talked last week.
And this is one of the situations where the United States and Russia -- and you've got two strong leaders who really do talk very frankly to each other. Very happy to report that, especially in the situations with Iran and North Korea, the Russians have been very constructive and very helpful here. And so on these issues the Presidents are working well together. They're going to disagree on some stuff.
Q What about with respect to what's going on in Russia?
MR. SNOW: Well, there may be some conversation about that, but at this point, I'm not going to lift the veil on it.
Q On Iran, Steve Hadley said yesterday that it would be useful if the Iranians would respond by the time of the G8 summit. Is it the President's position that the Iranians should respond by that time?
MR. SNOW: Yes, the President would like them -- look, the President would like them to respond tomorrow if the answer were "yes," and they were ready to renounce -- ready to suspend enrichment and reprocessing activities. He would like them to respond quickly and affirmatively to the series of incentives.
Q Do you have a deadline in mind?
MR. SNOW: The President and the -- the President is not the guy who dictates this solely, as you know. The United States is joining the EU3 -- and for that matter, the P5 plus one -- in negotiating on this issue.
And so, let me put it this way, all the partners are agreed that Iran should respond -- to use the formulation now familiar -- in weeks, not months, and that the precondition should be that the Iranians suspend enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, and -- maybe this is the most important part -- that the answer come through the channel through which the offer was conveyed, because we've got a number of differing answers and responses from different actors in the Iranian government. We have suggested, and our partners agree, that Mr. Larijani, through Javier Solana, should provide the official response because that way, at least you know what you're getting, which is, that will serve as the official Iranian government response. So those are kind of the key aspects.
Q -- accept August 22nd as the official Iranian --
MR. SNOW: I think the -- the position is that they should be able to assess it before then.
Q Tony, a follow up, if I may, more or less on the same issue. The focus on Iran has been on nuclear weapons, and is. But yesterday at the Pentagon, General Casey said that one of the four critical points of security in Iraq is Iran, and the fact that it aids and abets the enemy, also the Hezbollah, which is financed by Iran. Is there any shift in focus on that, and --
MR. SNOW: Yesterday, in Budapest, National Security Advisor Hadley made the same point, which is, look, the Iranians can do a lot of things. There are a lot of issues on the table. There's human rights, there's terrorism. The series of issues that separate Iran from the international community are not limited to the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon. There are a whole series of other issues. And what Mr. Hadley said was that one of the ways the Iranians can start demonstrating that they wish to operate in good faith is to suspend those activities, to suspend terror activities, to suspend sending things across the border, to suspend support for Hezbollah, and so on.
So those are things the Iranians can do on their own without having to consult anybody to demonstrate good faith in these matters. So absolutely, these remain sources of concern and attention from the United States government.
Q And a follow up, if I may. If you look at what's time sensitive, the enrichment problem and nukes for Iran are months, if not years, down the road. This is now -- it's undermining the existing new government in Iraq. And saying or recognizing by Hadley that it's a problem doesn't get it done. Is the United States putting any pressure anyway on Iran trying to solve these problems?
MR. SNOW: Ivan, you're leaping to intelligence conclusions that I'm neither going to agree or disagree with. But you seem to -- you seem to be drawing a series of conclusions about the relative nature of the threats, and so on.
The United States -- there are many ways of doing this, and the Iranians, at various junctures, have actually talked about trying to cooperate on these measures. Then, as you know, they stepped away and said they didn't want to cooperate with it. The important thing is, it's on their shoulders. The Iranians have to make a decision, two roads: one path, a whole lot of incentives, that will welcome them back into the international community, economically, socially, culturally; or on the other hand is a series of disincentives that are -- that the government is not going to like.
Q It's not just nukes, then, it's all --
MR. SNOW: No, let's be clear. What we're talking about right now is the nuclear program. These are other issues, but we are not going to -- we're not going to muddle it. The issues before the --
Q Tony, thanks.
MR. SNOW: Yes. Okay. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
END 11:58 A.M. EDT
*CORRECTION: 200 people lost their lives in the Bali Bombing.
**Additional information: appropriate members of Congress were briefed from the start of the program.
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