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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 29, 2006

Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room

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Press Briefing
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2:29 P.M. EDT

MR. SNOW: Hello, everybody. Let me go through a couple of preliminaries, then we'll go straight to questions. I think you know the President's schedule for today. Also you've got Monday through Wednesday, the week ahead. Let me tell you what's up for next Thursday and Friday.

On Friday* [sic] there will be a briefing on No Child Left Behind and the education agenda at the Department of Education here in Washington. He will also visit a school campus in Washington, and make remarks on No Child Left Behind. That is the President. The President also will meet with the National Commander of the American Legion in the Oval Office.

On Friday, there will be a tour of a Federal Express sorting facility in Washington, D.C., followed by a roundtable on job growth and the economy, and a photo opportunity with members of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force/Headquarters European Theater of Operations United States Army Veterans Association in the Oval Office, and there will be remarks at the Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration in the East Room of the White House.

This morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern time -- actually between 9:02 a.m. and 9:16 a.m. Eastern time, the President spoke with Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq. The President reiterated his commitment to the Prime Minister and the democratically elected government of Iraq. The Prime Minister expressed his confidence in the President and his relationship with the United States. They discussed the security situation in Iraq, and also the efforts to bring greater security to the city of Baghdad. Also discussed the political process and the need for further progress in political reconciliation and development. The President commended the Prime Minister for the close coordination between him and our military and civilian leaders in Iraq and in the field. The call ended with the President presenting his best wishes to Prime Minister for the month of Ramadan.

Also, the intelligence community has reviewed the tape and is confident that the voice on an al Qaeda tape is in fact that of Iraq leader Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The audio tape and the posting on a jihadist website of a video allegedly showing Abu Hamza murdering a Turkish hostage in 2004 demonstrates the brutality and evil of Abu Hamza and his cadres. Abu Hamza's call for scientists to come to Iraq to create biological and dirty bombs for use against U.S. bases shows the grave danger these terrorists pose and continue to seek, and will willingly use heinous weapons. We're not going to buckle to pressure from evil men who use kidnapping and other terrorist tactics to free other evil men, like Omar Abdul Rahman. Abu Hamza's demand that Iraqis repent and submit themselves to the terrorists show that for people like him, there's no peaceful coexistence with those who do not subscribe to their vision of the world, a vision darkened by fear, murder, and hatred. And we stand by the Iraqi people who are rejecting this message of violence and hate in favor of peace and freedom. Men, like the tribal leader in al-Anbar, who this week called for al-Muhajir to turn himself in and who was working to rid Anbar of terrorists.

Finally this -- President Bush will welcome Croatian Prime Minister Ivo -- and I -- forgive me if I pronounce it improperly, maybe one of you knows -- Sanader -- is that -- Sanader -- I got it right, thank you -- to the White House on October 17, 2006. The meeting will provide an opportunity for the President and the Prime Minister to strengthen further the partnership between the United States and Croatia. The President looks forward to discussing cooperation in the war on terror and stability in the southeast Europe -- in southeast Europe with the Prime Minister, as well as U.S. support for Croatia's NATO and European Union aspirations.

Q Will there be a bill signing if the House and the Senate gets it worked out on tribunals?

MR. SNOW: Yes, I think so. It's not scheduled yet. No, it's not going to be today.

Q Next week --

MR. SNOW: If we do it -- rather than making a promise, I don't anticipate it being today or over the weekend. We'll try it to get to you as soon as we -- we actually have something.

Yes, Jim.

Q I just want to ask you about the Woodward book, because he's asserting that the White House has not been honest with the American public, that -- and he's talking primarily about attacks on U.S. and allied troops, that the number has been increasing while the Defense Department has been keeping that a secret. He also says that as an insurgency has been growing, that there has been a Defense Department report saying, violence will begin to wane in 2007. Your reaction about this?

MR. SNOW: There's a whole lot of stuff here. You know, in a lot of ways, the book is sort of like cotton candy, it kind of melts on contact. We've read this book before. This tends to repeat what we've seen in a number of other books that have been out this year where people are ventilating old disputes over troop levels.

Bob Woodward is a guy who comes up with details other people don't have, but it's worth sort of taking a look at a lot of these things.

Now when it comes, for instance, to the issue of assault on troops, this is something on which the President is regularly briefed, and people know about it. Nobody has tried to mislead anyone about it. Secretary Rumsfeld did say that one of the things we're trying to do is to document more carefully and exhaustively what is going on. And, in that, where he was saying that we're taking all sorts of different things from a stray bullet to a full-on attack, I believe he compared it to apples and bananas. And Mr. Woodward found it stunning that the President would compare -- that the Secretary of Defense would compare such stuff to fruit.

The fact is, he is saying that we are now taking any kind of action that may be directed at Americans, and -- that is, the American forces, and the President is informed of that. But there is no attempt to mislead.

And furthermore, maybe even the more important point -- I'll let you finish up here in a moment, Jim. The idea that the President somehow has been either talking about this or looking at it through rose-colored glasses -- in one point, Mr. Woodward talks about an intelligence assessment the President has, and said just two days earlier -- it had contradicted something he had said two days earlier.

Well, you all happened to be there two days earlier. It was at a press conference in Chicago when the President was talking about the war. Here's what he said. He said, "The central front in the war on terror is Iraq, and I know Iraq is on the minds of a lot of people here in Chicago. It's hard work. It's hard work because we face an enemy that will keep innocent people in order to achieve an objective, and their objective is to drive us out of Iraq, so they can have safe haven from which to launch attacks against modern Muslim nations so they can spread their ideology of hate. They want us -- they want to believe that capitalist societies and democracies are inherently weak."

Later on he says, "There's been a lot of sacrifice in the war on terror. People have lost lives. We've lost, obviously, a lot of lives here in the homeland, and we lost lives overseas. I think of Corporal Ryan Cummings, who is from the Chicago area." The President, contrary to the assertion, was not, in fact, painting a rose-colored picture. He has been saying that it's a tough war, it's a long war, it's a war that's going to outlive his presidency.

Q Can we follow-up on this cotton candy a little bit, because -- let me just clarify. So, when Woodward asserts that the number of attacks has been going up, that the Defense Department kept that secret, is that just untrue?

MR. SNOW: The Defense Department -- what he's saying is that classified documents, classified briefings remain classified. The President is aware of the reports that he gets. And there is a shifting situation, and sometimes the attacks go up and sometimes they've gone down, as you've also noted, that there have been fluctuations in casualties. If you take a look at recent events, what's happened? The terrorists have been shifting to civilian targets, but, look, let me put it this way: The President, as he said, worries everyday about what's going on in the war and how best to fight it. And the last thing he ever wants -- and many of you have dealt with him -- when he asks questions, it's not to sugar coat something. Instead, what he's trying to find out is exactly what the situation is. That means he is looking for the best data he can get. The idea that there's a cover up -- you've got correspondents there, there is news about this each and every day. It is absolutely no secret that people are targeting American troops as well as civilians over in Iraq, and that there's a determined enemy. That's what the President has been saying.

And one final point and then I'll -- a couple of weeks ago, the President was being accused of trying to scare people. Now, all of a sudden, he's accused of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Neither one is true. What the President is trying to do is to serve effectively as Commander-in-Chief and get good readouts from people in the field.

Go ahead.

Q A follow-up, because Woodward also reports that General Abizaid says that Don Rumsfeld has lost all credibility. That's not cotton candy, is it?

MR. SNOW: No, that's gossip, and I will let the generals handle that.

Q Tony -- two things, Tony. First, to get off Woodward for just a second, when the President yesterday said that there are some in Washington who feel that we should not go on the offensive in the war on terror, can he back that up and say who those people are, or when they said something like that?

MR. SNOW: I think what you can do is you can take a look at the comments -- and this will be kind of a centerpiece as we look forward -- centerpiece is probably the wrong word. It's going to be a key issue in the campaign ahead, of what you do in fighting the war on terror. Do you move aggressively against the enemy, or do you say we need to move out? That is one of the key points of cleavage between the parties. And one of the things the President -- and what I think we're going to find are clarifying moments where people will have to declare what they really mean.

Q But that's not really what I asked. I mean, I asked when people have said they don't want to be on the offense in the war on terror.

MR. SNOW: And I'm giving you a characterization. Does somebody say, I don't want to go on the offense? No. But if somebody says, I wish to strategically redeploy to Okinawa, I think that would be construed as not being on the offense.

Q On the offense in the war on terror?

MR. SNOW: In the offense in Iraq. And as far as the war on terror, take a look at the vote yesterday. You had a vote on Hamdan legislation -- 160 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted against a program that allows us to detain high-value targets, to question them, and to bring them to justice. That's a clear difference in the way you fight it. There have been votes on the terrorist surveillance program. There are very clear differences.

So if -- the question is, if you don't want to do those things, if you don't want to listen to terrorists, if you don't want to detain them, if you don't want to question them, if you don't want to bring them to justice, then tell us what you do want to do.

Q Well, first of all, is that really an accurate description of the House version of the bill?

MR. SNOW: I'm telling you what the bill does. If you vote against it, that's what you're voting against.

Q And second question, this Blackwill memo about the need for more troops. What's the rationale for not listening to that --

MR. SNOW: Well, number one, it's not true. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at the Jerry Bremer interview on "Meet the Press" earlier this year, what was played back to him was a conversation he'd had with Tim Russert that was contemporaneous with a presentation by him and Bob Blackwill of their proposals for having more troops in it.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, a while back, was asked about this, and he said the following -- he said, "Just before he left, he sent a memorandum to me indicating that he thought there should be more troops. And it was within a matter of weeks before he departed. I said that, and sat down with General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and said, 'This is a reasonable proposal from a reasonable person. Let's look at it.'"

Jerry Bremer also said in the "Meet the Press" interview that that's, in fact, what Don Rumsfeld did toward the end of the interview. He was asked about it. He said, "He sent you a memo saying, 'I'll consider this.'" This is Tim Russert to Bremer. Bremer's answer, "He said he'd received it, and would consider it, and he did consider it."

There is a chain of command, and the chain of command involves a lot of people, and the President will get differing advice. But the idea that somehow the President rejects or ignores advice is simply wrong. And the President -- and so what you have here are people making serious determinations. Donald Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense, and in the chain of command, he is the person who will make the recommendations.

What you have not heard, I don't think, are the Generals involved in the theaters saying, I asked for something and I didn't get it. Tommy Franks' book is replete with discussions of that. And you can ask the Generals in the field, because the President has said it over and over again, if they ask for it, they'll get it.

Q So what was the reason for not going with that suggestion, then?

MR. SNOW: The reason for not going with the suggestion is that the Generals and the military commanders had suggested a different course of action. But on the other hand, if you take a look at the arc of troops during that year, guess what happened? More troops were added during the course of the year. As a matter of fact, by the time elections occurred in late 2004,** [sic] I think the troop number had risen from about 100,000 at the beginning of the year to about 160,000.

The President has also made it clear that he continues to respond, as Commander-in-Chief, to developments on the ground and to requests from commanders.

Q But it does seem to raise a question that if someone whose credibility presumably the President trusted, Paul Bremer, his choice to run the operation there after Jay Garner, who had also, apparently, according to Woodward's reporting, asked for a much sizeable -- much greater in number force, about 300,000 for the post-war reconstruction period -- when the President constantly says to the American people that he listens to those commanders and does not make decisions politically about troop levels, and then you hear from these seemingly credible sources that they did, in fact, want more, and Bremer said he asked for more and didn't get it. There seems to be a disconnect.

Q Well first, you're mixing apples and oranges, to keep the fruit analogy going. For instance, Jay Garner was talking about 300,000 Iraqi troops, he was talking about training up 300,000 Iraqis. They thought that they may be able to take remnants of the armies, and they were not available.

But I'm glad you raised the Jay Garner question, because there was also some concern that he had done a briefing and nobody asked questions. That's because the proposals, in fact, had been before people for a long time. It had been vetted. It had gone through the principals. The President and everybody else where familiar with what General Garner was presenting. It was something that they had known and seen.

Jerry Bremer was in charge of the provincial authority, the Coalition Provincial Authority. He was not in charge of military operations. Others were in charge of those, and his recommendations were something -- again, Don Rumsfeld said, "He's a serious person, and we'll take it seriously."

The idea --

Q But it all gives the impression that if more troops are requested by people of significant authority -- and I understand -- he says military commanders, and I understand that Bremer is a civilian. But for him to not respond to that --

MR. SNOW: Well, wait a minute --

Q -- he constantly says that however many troops are needed will be provided --

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q -- raises a question about does he really provide enough troops when clearly adding more troops at that time would have been politically unpleasant?

MR. SNOW: Permit me to explain the chain of command. A civilian --

Q Quote --

MR. SNOW: -- no, because what you have just created --

Q I'm familiar with the chain of command.

MR. SNOW: Okay, but what you've just created is a straw-man argument. And I think it's worth being honest. If you want to talk about people listening, you also have to talk about those who are tasked with making those recommendations.

Now Jerry Bremer, precisely because of his position, was taken --

Q Why was he asked to make such a recommendation if he wasn't --

MR. SNOW: He made such a recommendation. That's different. He made such a recommendation, and whether it was in or out of his lane, it was listened to. The fact is that the President does listen to recommendations.

Let me give you a different example. Earlier this year, not so long ago, you people were asking me, "Is it true there are going to be down to under 100,000 troops before the end of the year?" I mean, politically, that would be great. If the President could say to the American people before election day, we're down under 100,000, that would be great. Instead, what the President and the commanders have said is, No, the battlefield requirements indicate that we're going to need 140,000 at least into the first quarter of next year.

The President is not sitting around and -- sitting around trying to make political judgments about this. Not only is that irresponsible, it's not the way he operates. He doesn't sit around and try to take a look at the latest poll numbers to figure out what you do when American lives are at risk and when the operation needs to proceed. He considers all the recommendations laid before him.

And as you might also know -- look, this is a war, and you are going to have a lot of really smart people will completely different opinions. And quite often, in a book like this, you're going to see people who are on the losing side of arguments being especially outspoken about their opinions and nobody will listen to them.

As a matter of fact, the average Washington memoir ought to be subtitled, "if only they'd listened to me." And so you have a situation in which a lot of people are going back through that, which is fine, because these are smart people and they also want to win.

Q Can I follow on one more general question? Did the President ever direct any members of his senior staff to avoid using the word 'insurgency'?

MR. SNOW: Not that -- I honestly don't know. I have never heard it. I'll go back and try to get guidance, because I've been here since May. I'll tell you, in that time, that has never -- he's used the word.

Q Well, this goes back to --

MR. SNOW: I know, and I'll try to find out. I don't know, I'm not prepared to answer the question.


Q Tony, can we go back to -- it seems like you're saying that Bob Woodward's book is inaccurate, where the administration didn't seem to have any problem with his books in the past that painted a very good picture of the administration. Are you saying this because you're on the losing side of the argument now? Because you're being very defensive about what's in that book. And yet you're not saying the attacks are down. You're saying that's a classified report.

MR. SNOW: Well, people are trying to attack our troops. That's no secret.

Q Are they higher? Are you in a state of denial? Does the American public really know what's going on there?

MR. SNOW: I think the American people get a pretty good sense. The American people have a sense -- look, every day there are casualty reports that are public record. When people die, those are public record. And some of the definitions of attacks -- I'll tell you what, I'll try to find out what I can do to provide, in terms of specificity. But it is no secret that especially in Baghdad you have people who are trying to make Baghdad the central front of the central front of the war on terror. And you will expect people to commit attacks.

What does that mean? That means it's a war, and that in this particular time, people are trying to go on the offensive. It also means that our people are alert and trying to defend themselves. It also means that in adjustments, what happens is that we are trying to provide the best equipment, the best protection, the best medicine.

So, again, perhaps I've been missing it, but all I've been hearing from you guys from the time I've been here is, isn't it true it's getting worse? The fact is, you've got a war, you have a conflict, people are going after our people.

Q But Tony, it's three-and-a-half years in, and you're losing approximately the same number of American forces every day. You've losing far more Iraqis. Is it not getting worse? Understanding that that is one metric. But are you seeing any metrics, are you seeing any factors that say, things are going fantastically, other than those elections?

MR. SNOW: Well, several things. The problem is, whenever you talk about metrics, Martha, the thing that the American people are focused on -- that makes sense -- is Baghdad. So if I sit around here, I don't want to get accused of sort of putting on a clown hat and pretending that everything is rosy in Iraq, because it's not. You know that in a number of provinces, life has in fact returned -- or assumed a normality that it's never had before. But let's face it. We are --

Q Pretty much the same provinces are in bad shape --

MR. SNOW: Exactly. Exactly right.

Q -- as they were three-and-a-half years ago.

MR. SNOW: Well, yes, the insurgency isn't going to give up. The people who are trying to commit acts of terror, they're not going to give up. And the other question you have to ask yourself is, are we in it to win? And the answer is, yes. And do we think -- it is worth reminding everybody, Martha, that in the face of this kind of violence, 12 million people voted and risked their lives. As a matter of fact, what you saw in places like Ramadi, where voting levels going from the teens up into the 70s, that's remarkable. That's remarkable in an area that's known for its terror.

So they know what the score is, they know what the stakes are, they know what the dangers are. And the people of Iraq -- and Prime Minister Maliki made the same point today -- are determined to get the freedom that they want and deserve. And we are going to go ahead and prosecute the battle. I think what everybody's arguing -- and it's understandable -- is, yes, it's tough. You've got bad guys and they're going to fight and we're going to fight back.

Q Just a couple more. Did -- Andy Card told ABC today that, in fact, he did recommend that Don Rumsfeld resign to the President, that they were looking at the entire Cabinet. Why wouldn't the President accept that recommendation? Can you confirm that that, in fact, happened? Can you give us any more detail about that?

MR. SNOW: I tried to get through to Andy. I'm not going to contradict something Andy has said. What Andy was tasked with doing at the beginning of the new administration --

Q Well, what do you know from the President?

MR. SNOW: I didn't ask the President about it today. I was trying to talk to Andy directly. And, as you know, he's out giving speeches on the West Coast and I missed him.

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind. He was asked to take a look at everybody, including himself. And it's typical -- as a matter of fact, quite often in administrations at this point, people are asked to submit their resignations.

The President is Commander-in-Chief. He picks. Now, what is said in the book -- and there have been people in the building who have talked to Andy today -- there are two characterizations that at least I can say on good authority are incorrect, which is, number one, that he was bitter about what was going on in Iraq; and two, that he left as a bitter man. Anybody who knows Andy Card knows that there's not a bitter bone in his body. I like that, alliteration. But the fact is, that that characterization is not true. I'll try to find out.

Again, if he said it --

Q How about Mrs. Bush?

MR. SNOW: Mrs. Bush's office has said, not true. I received a communication from Susan Whitson, and she said, flatly not true.

Q Tony, following along those lines, the book also characterizes some disarray, deep fissures at the top levels of the administration between Secretary Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice. What are your thoughts on that?

MR. SNOW: I talked with Secretary Rice today, and her quote was, "this is ridiculous," and I told that to Woodward. In particular, there are allegations of conflicts between Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary Rice. The two of them have been having daily phone conversations throughout this administration. There's a daily phone conversation between the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor. And Condi has been either the National Security Advisor or the Secretary of State from day one. So she could not have been more clear.

She also -- her view of this -- and, again, Rumsfeld is on foreign shores, so he's hard to reach. I have been trying to reach out and get first person testimony from these guys. But she says --

Q Powell?

MR. SNOW: No, I didn't call him, because, you know, what, that's really not what the allegations were about, they were about Condi versus Don Rumsfeld. And she said, that's not the way Don Rumsfeld operates. He's not a guy who's going to be copping an attitude about chains of command. He's somebody who makes his point directly. And I think the press corps over at the Pentagon, as Martha will attest, understand that Don's a pretty direct fellow, so whatever disagreements are going to be had are going to be -- they are going to be made face-to-face, they're going to be honest, but they're also going to be respectful.

So, again, I'll repeat, her characterization was, and I quote, "this is ridiculous," or "that is ridiculous," and I told Woodward.


Q The President's speech today was preponderantly Afghanistan.

MR. SNOW: Yes.

Q Why did he just brush off Iraq, which is where the action is?

MR. SNOW: Well, we'll see, I've been getting questions about why we're ignoring Afghanistan. What we've had is a meeting this week --

Q No, I mean, it was a heavy --

MR. SNOW: Well, I'll tell you why, because this week, just two days ago, we had a meeting that involved President Musharraf and President Karzai. And one of the things that was being discussed is how you proceed in Afghanistan. And he thought it was a good time to issue an update on not only what's going on but also the joint efforts of those two governments, which we expect to get closer and more -- using the term of art these days -- robust, in terms of fighting against the Taliban and cooperating in the war on terror. That's also an important theater. We've often been accused of trying to brush Afghanistan under the table.

The other thing the President was trying to point out -- and I've said this many times from the podium -- is that with regard to Afghanistan, you have a government that is trying to expand its area of influence, and is quite naturally running into challenges from the Taliban, and the Taliban are getting routed. The other thing that happens is that when it comes to Afghanistan, you had the transfer of U.S. troops -- U.S. command to NATO command in some of those areas, and the NATO fighters have done an extraordinary job.

For all the charges of the United States acting unilaterally, this is a case, once again, of cooperating with other countries, especially with regard to Afghanistan. I think it was -- so I think it's appropriate. You can't say, when the President mentions one thing, that somehow he's ignoring the other. Sometimes it's worth bringing -- recalling --

Q Three-quarters of his speech, and is it because he has nothing to brag about on Iraq? And I'm sure he's happy that NATO has taken over Afghanistan.

MR. SNOW: Well, NATO hasn't taken over Afghanistan. There are still -- as a matter of fact, American troop levels are still pretty much what they were.

No, you don't brag. It's a war. It's a concerted enemy. And this is not a President who is given to boast about things like this. What he really wants to do is to try to make sure that we continue to move aggressively against the enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's the one thing that does unite the two engagements. The other thing he's doing is everything in his power to support the democratically-elected governments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So this is -- there is a lot that unites them in terms of the way we approach the difficultly. But again, sometimes he's going to mention one more than the other and the approximate reason is, we've had the two heads of state most concerned with this issue in Washington. The President has had meetings with them over the last week, both at the United Nations General Assembly and at the White House, and it was worth giving an update.


Q Tony, is it fair for you to have said that 160 Democrats who voted against the terrorism bill are against questioning terror suspects?

MR. SNOW: Well --

Q They questioned the practice of the aggressive interrogations.

MR. SNOW: Well, let's find out precisely what they stand for. That's been the key question. We know what they're against, we'd like to hear what they're for.

Q Has President Bush had any contact with Prime Minister Blair in the past few days after his farewell speech at the Labour conference? And does the President expect any weakening of support by the British after Tony Blair leaves?

MR. SNOW: He talks with Tony Blair on a weekly basis, and -- or an almost weekly basis, a very regular basis. And he doesn't expect Tony Blair ever to back down. Tony Blair has given assurances that he's going to be steadfast, but beyond that, I will not comment.


Q Tony, the President said yesterday, referring to Democrats, "The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut-and-run." Until yesterday, he had avoided that kind of language. Why are we seeing a ratcheting up of his rhetoric now?

MR. SNOW: I think there's been a lot of ratcheting up of rhetoric on the other side where the President has been accused of everything from dereliction of duty to not caring about what happens to people who have been claimed on the battlefields. And what the President, again, is -- the point the President is trying to make is, there are going to be some clear choices, and people may try to fuzz up the choices when it comes to this election.

But what we do see is a party that has been primarily an opposition party in terms of everything. And the few suggestions that we have been hearing are, if you stay, it's ruinous, you need to figure out ways to get out. There have been talks about getting out on a deadline, and that sort of thing. The President believes that that's an irresponsible way to proceed. And so that was a way of rejoining the debate.

Q Can I follow up on that, Tony? The President repeatedly and emotionally says, he does not question anybody's patriotism. How is that not questioning your patriotism?

MR. SNOW: Because you can hold a position without lacking patriotism.

Q So it's possible to be in favor of cutting and running in the war on terror but still be very patriotic?

MR. SNOW: I suppose so.

Q Tony, does the House Government Reform Committee's report on the Abramoff White House relationship accurately portraying that relationship?

MR. SNOW: Well, it's hard to say, and it's an interesting report. I'll tell you what it accurately portrays, is the fact that Jack Abramoff was an exuberant practitioner of sleaze, to the point where it's very difficult within the report itself to figure out how many actual contacts there are.

As you know, Ken, there are 485 alleged, but on the other hand -- and I'll just read you some of the language from the report -- "In many instances, there is little or no corroboration of the events described in the documents." Another instance is, "The documents are vague about who was lobbied and what was said. While the documents described in this report are authentic," in other words, people have receipts, "that does not mean the events actually transpired or that Abramoff and his associates did not exaggerate or misrepresent their actions." Elsewhere, "In numerous instances, the brevity and vagueness of the entries raised questions about the nature of the contact with the White House officials described in the billing records. Of 485 instances of lobbying described in the billing records and emails, 252 have no meaningful description to discern the subject matter of the lobbying. In addition, out of 159 alleged contacts with members of the Office of Legislative Affairs, 157 don't have any indication of who the person was."

And so the Committee, I think, is rightly skeptical of Jack Abramoff, a guy who is in jail because he was ripping off clients. And as a matter of fact, some of the contacts seem to be -- I'll tell you what, if I were an Indian tribe that gave money to this guy, I'd be really mad, because apparently bumping into somebody at a sporting event, $250, having seen somebody at the Gridiron Dinner, $250.

Having said that, we are going to look carefully at this. We just got the document this morning, we're taking a look at it. But it's interesting. I'm not -- the Committee does not even claim that what goes on "accurately describes." As a matter of fact, there's a great deal of bewilderment about what's true and what's false, and I think it's -- you know, we're going to take a look at it. We're going to take a serious look at it.

Q You guys can fill in some of the blanks on this. Is that what you're planning to do? Are you going to issue a report?

MR. SNOW: We're not going to issue a report. What we're going to do is to take a look at what's going on. As you know, what we've been doing is giving you the WAVES records, and now we've got something that's based on billing records that the House of Representatives is taking a look at. And we're going to go through it. We're going to take a look.

Q Did Jack Abramoff have undo influence on this administration?

MR. SNOW: No. As a matter of fact, if you take a look at the report, it says that there were "more than 20 instances" where he recommended individuals for service in the administration. And apparently only one of those was taken -- what's the name?

MS. PERINO: Juan Carlos Benitez.

MR. SNOW: Juan Carlos Benitez, who had also been recommended by several members of Congress as well as outside groups. And Abramoff himself didn't make a recommendation. I don't know if this means that through somebody else he was trying to make a recommendation, but the fact is -- if he was telling people that he was getting results, they were getting ripped off.

One further point, the report also indicates that -- for instance Indian tribes -- so we're taking a look at a six-month slice of this. Approximately 1 percent involved the White House, and the other 99 percent other areas. What it does say here is that the vast majority of this would have occurred on Capitol Hill.

So the -- you know, look, we want to find out what the truth is.

Q Was Susan Ralston out of line in talking with Abramoff about future business opportunities?

MR. SNOW: What I am not going to do is, at this point, characterize individuals in the administration. We're going to take a very close look at this, and we will respond appropriately.

Q Should White House employees be talking to lobbyists about future employment while they're still employed here?

MR. SNOW: As I said, I'm not getting -- as I just told you, we got a report today; we're looking through it. We're going to take a look at it, and we will respond appropriately.

Q Is there a policy about employees talking to lobbyists about future employment?

MR. SNOW: Yes, but we are also taking a look at the allegations, and we're going to --

Q What is that policy?

MR. SNOW: The policy is -- well, you know what the law is.

Q What is it?

MR. SNOW: The law is that you do not try to negotiate for future employment.

Q Tony --

Q You told us -- not you but Scott McClellan told us in this room before, the White House, asked specifically, can you be more specific about contact with the senior staff?

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q You said you were going to get back to us on that. No, I did check. There were a few staff-level meetings.

MR. SNOW: Right.

Q So in effect, we've been told that this has already been checked out -- a few staff-level meetings. What about Ralston, what about Karl Rove?

MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, I am not -- having just gotten it today, we will give it a look. We will, in fact, give you a readout on it, but I'm not going to go rushing in. The second thing is to go back -- because I've also been looking back at Scott's old press briefings, and that had to do with records of people coming into the White House. And those visits were laid out.

Q This is something that was asked about contacts. And he said --

MR. SNOW: Well, contacts was in the context of that --

Q "I checked, there were a few staff-level meetings."

MR. SNOW: And, as you know, the term "contacts" at that point was in response to questions about WAVES records and White House entries. Now what's happened is that you've gotten a definition of "contact" that literally applies -- I think Abramoff sees somebody across the street and that qualifies as a contact. So the question is --

Q Three-hundred-and-forty-five are in person, according to this.

MR. SNOW: But in person also includes bumping into somebody at the Gridiron. I mean, this -- Martha, this is an -- we're going to have some -- it's going to take us time to disaggregate this stuff, because even the Committee, when they're looking at it, they're skeptical of these so-called in-person things.

Q Do you know about Karl Rove's contacts? It says 10, nine contacts -- two perhaps in person --

MR. SNOW: Again, we will provide the data on that.

Q Why hasn't that been done before? I mean, we've been asking questions about Abramoff for months and months and months, and you told us we were on a fishing expedition.

MR. SNOW: No, we said, we would not -- we wouldn't say -- we would not go into fishing expeditions against individual members of the administration. What we're doing now is we're taking a look at a document that's been presented by the House Government Reform Committee. And, look, it's a responsible thing to do and we're going to do it.

We take this stuff seriously.

Q How much time do you need to do that?

MR. SNOW: I don't know.

Q Tony, can you commit to giving us the full results of that review once you have it?

MR. SNOW: You will know what the results are.

Q What I wanted to mention is members of Congress up on the Hill are very concerned about the report. They want answers. They do believe the White House can fill in the blanks. You say you will respond appropriately. Do you see a fashion that you could respond directly to the lawmakers and answer their concerns about this?

MR. SNOW: The problem is, the lawmakers are the ones who have done the report. I don't know -- you're asking me a vague question about concerns, what are their concerns, who's making the request, what is the proper venue for doing so, because, as you also know, there are proper channels, according to members of Congress, about how you deal with this. Let's just say that we are going to look within our administration and take -- we're going to study this carefully, because the President has made it clear he expects people in this administration to hue to a high ethical standard. And that remains the policy of this administration, and will from the first day to the last.

Q When did you decide he was a practitioner of sleaze?

MR. SNOW: I think when we started looking at some of the ways in which they talked about "ripping off mo fos" and other such species within the emails. I think at that point, there was some exultation over taking people's money. It is hard to look at a lot of these things without realizing that this stuff is wrong. It's wrong.

Q Tony --

MR. SNOW: Lester, is this about this subject?

Q It's not about this subject.

MR. SNOW: If it's about sex and other stuff -- (Laughter.)

Q It's not about sex, no, it is not about --

MR. SNOW: Okay, well, I'm going to stay on this subject because I want to have a certain coherence to what we're doing, and Victoria is champing at the bit. Go ahead, Victoria.

Q Yes. Coming back to the book. What Woodward says with regard to attacks is pretty startling. He says, every 15 minutes -- and he says that this is key information that's being kept from the American public. Can you confirm that, in fact, attacks are taking place every 15 minutes? Or can you tell us that, in fact, these are not taking place every 15 minutes?

MR. SNOW: As I said, he's referring to a regular report that appears and, frankly, at this point, since the contents of that report are classified, I can neither confirm nor deny. As I told Martha, I'll try to provide greater -- I think I meant to say great granularity which I will try to do. But I am in a position not to answer that question at the moment.

Q Is it your opinion that this release of this book at this time is in any way political?

MR. SNOW: You're going to have to ask the publishers.

Q Well, if they released it, I'd like to know your opinion --

MR. SNOW: My opinion doesn't matter.

Q Of course, it matters.

MR. SNOW: No, it doesn't.

Q It matters to us.

MR. SNOW: Well -- thank you. (Laughter.) Well, I'm glad. From now we'll be a little more forthcoming in that. The opinion is, it's a free society. And rather than a state of denial, it's a state of the obvious, which is that there have been a number of disagreements over the years about troop levels and very -- people with very strong opinions have disagreed with this, and that this -- but if you take a look at what the President has been saying in recent weeks, where he was accused of fear-mongering, he understands that you got a tough and committed enemy. And it's an enemy this country is not going to blanch from fighting, because we don't want them coming over here. We don't want them drawing the conclusion that bin Laden has said before that if they win there, it is a huge victory because it will say to the rest of the world that we are weak.

All of those things are important. All of those things will continue to be a focus of administration opinion, and the President, again, is not looking through rose-colored glasses. He insists on getting the best intelligence he can from his people on the field. So if something like that were to come, in that kind of information, would it be surprising? No. Would it be shocking? No. Would it be something that would make us walk away? Absolutely not. It's one of the things that in times of war you're going to see these spikes.

For instance, as you know, the generals have been saying for some time, they expected a spike in violence on the onset of Ramadan. And there has been some of that. There are things that they have seen before. They have learned about it. But ultimately, we are going to continue working with Iraqi forces to try to suppress violence so that people there can live free, and that we can also live free of the fear of terrorists drawing undue inspiration from what's going on there.


Q If Don Rumsfeld wants to remain Secretary of Defense for the rest of the President's tenure in office, is that okay with the President?

MR. SNOW: People serve at the pleasure of the President. If tomorrow, the President decided that he didn't want Don Rumsfeld to serve as Secretary of Defense, Don Rumsfeld would no longer serve as Secretary of Defense. That's how it works in any administration. So I'm not going to answer a sort of chin-pulling question about what will happen between now and the day the next President takes office.

Q Tony, Tony, it's on immigration. It's two questions --

MR. SNOW: Les, Les, Les, Les, please, allow me not to be rude. I want to make sure that -- are these still questions on the topics of the day? Or are these on different topics.

Q Different topics.

MR. SNOW: Well, different topics, put your hands down. Okay, same topics, keep your hands up. We'll get to you. Olivier can't figure out what it is. (Laughter.) That's interesting. Commit, man.

Q The President often says that terrorists hate freedom. How does he square that away with the fact that next Monday, probably, he's going to sign a bill that does not provide to people he simply deems as enemy combatants the bedrock principle of habeas corpus?

MR. SNOW: Because what he does provide them are bedrock principles of having legal counsel, of being able to review evidence, of being able to be presented with evidence, and to be able to have fair trials. That, in and of itself, is a sufficient guarantee, not only in his opinion, but in the opinion of both houses of Congress, to move on military commissions that involve a very small group of people including the man who masterminded the September 11th attacks.

These are unlawful enemy combatants who are engaged in unique activities to kill American citizens, and we have been very careful, in trying to make sure that we preserve their civil rights, and at the same time, preserve the safety and security of American citizens and the sanctity of legal proceedings. And both Houses of Congress have agreed with that.

Q I have a question on the Wall Street Journal interview with the President on his energy agenda.

MR. SNOW: Okay. Let me save that --

Q Well, then I do have a question on Abramoff.

MR. SNOW: Okay. Do that, and then -- we'll let John answer the WSJ question.

Q Okay. You mentioned how the President expected everyone to uphold their high -- the highest ethical standards, and, as you know, there's an ethics -- a government ethics guideline everyone is subject to follow. I would just like to know if the White House is considering another round of ethics briefings like it did about a year ago?

MR. SNOW: No, but what happens is, every year, and certainly when I had come in, there was a long ethics briefing. I mean everybody -- you know, I brought in -- Tony, raise your hand, Tony Fratto, everybody. Tony Fratto has gotten his ethics briefing.

The fact is that it's taken seriously, and annually there is another briefing. There are no plans for a special briefing in response to these stories.


Q Tony, in a meeting with the President of Kazakhstan, did the President or anyone on the staff give to the President of Kazakhstan or anyone on his staff a list of specific issues regarding reforms, democracy, complaints, anything like that?

MR. SNOW: There was an encouragement for the government of Kazakhstan to pursue a democratic path. Now I will confess, I skipped out on the lunch so I could start reading Woodward's book, so I was not in the working lunch. But there was no specific laundry list during the conversation.

Q Any progress on the trajectory of the pipeline out of Kazakhstan?

MR. SNOW: Again, I'm not aware that that -- that may have come up, but not in the course of our conversations.

Q Tony, how did you acquire the book? You hadn't indicated you had the actual book.

MR. SNOW: We called this morning and said, "Sanger has got one, give us one, too, please, please, please." So actually Bob I think had somebody in his office deliver, and we received in the late morning, I think, four copies of the book.

Q Could you describe for us the role of Henry Kissinger as an advisor?

MR. SNOW: Yeah, I talked to Henry about it. I mean -- Dr. Kissinger about it today, and I think he'll also be out publicly -- in fact, I know he'll be out publicly, including on your network today talking about this.

The President has a lot of people in, and he listens to them. And Dr. Kissinger is one of them. And he is not going to characterize individual conversations, but what he did say to me -- and it was interesting, is that he gives the President his honest advice. And he also said that was does happen is -- he doesn't come in necessarily when he agrees but also when there are points of disagreement. And the President listens carefully and thoughtfully to his views.

He's one of any number of people who come in and offer their views. I think it offers a nice counterpoint to the idea that the President is just plugging his ears, closing his eyes, and not taking a look at what's going on. As a matter of fact, he eagerly -- well, not eagerly. He wants to find out what the facts on the ground are, and he wants to hear smart people with differing points of view -- what they think about it, including those who may disagree. Dr. Kissinger says he agrees with the overall thrust of American policy. He thinks we're doing the right things. He said he also may have times when he disagrees on details.

But the role is not an extraordinary one. It is not one where Dr. Kissinger stands alone and above others who have conversations with the President or others. Instead, it is part of a process of outreach that -- we've talked about scholars who have come in, we've talked about military experts. And he's one of many who, in fact, has made his views known.

Q Tony, do you know anything about a new Zawahiri video?

MR. SNOW: No. No. Do we have a ping on one?

Q Apparently there is one out.

MR. SNOW: Okay. I'll try to get back to you later in the day. Typically what happens is, first, we'll try to find out what's in the video. Maybe you know. But, no, I don't know anything about it.

Q Tony.

MR. SNOW: Les.

Q Thank you very much. Two questions.

Q Is this the sex portion of the program? (Laughter.)

Q Two questions.

MR. SNOW: I think this is the --

Q First, how far is the U.S. willing to go to facilitate the transfer of goods, people and services across borders with Canada and Mexico?

MR. SNOW: That's an extraordinarily vague question, Les.

Q It came from the network, Tony.

MR. SNOW: Well, thank the network for their interest, but they've got to come up with a better question. Next.

Q Let me go on to Article 4, Section 4 of the Constitution, says that the United States shall protect every state in this union against invasion. And my question: the President believes this word "invasion" includes application to the huge number of illegal aliens, doesn't he?

MR. SNOW: Next. Sarah.

Q Doesn't he? I mean, could you ask him?

MR. SNOW: The President --

Q Does he believe that it includes the invasion of millions of illegal aliens, Tony?

MR. SNOW: Thank you, Lester, I will raise the question and we will give it the consideration it deserves.

Q Thank you, Les. Seven-eleven has canceled its contract with Citgo, owned by Venezuela. Is the administration trying to put economic pressure on Cesar Chavez [sic] because of his U.N. remarks about the President?

MR. SNOW: No. The United States -- the United States government does not issue edicts to 7-11. Apparently it thought it was good business. Thank you very much.

END 3:16 P.M. EDT



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