|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 1, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:12 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. I do not have anything to start off with, so I'll go straight to your questions.
Q What does the White House think of the proposal by Senators McCain, Warner and Graham to have Judge Mukasey, if confirmed, say that no U.S. agency will use waterboarding?
MS. PERINO: What Judge Mukasey said in his letter to the Senate is that he will, if confirmed, thoroughly review all the legal opinions and all of the classified programs that he will then be read into. And I think that's a very reasonable position. And he said that if confirmed he would do that, and I think that's what the senators are saying in that letter, "as Attorney General." And I think that bodes well for his nomination, that they intend for him to be confirmed.
Q Well, what their letter says is, we urge you publicly make clear that waterboarding can never be employed. I think that's a little more --
MS. PERINO: While they were saying is -- which Judge Mukasey has done, is to say, I will not be able to provide a legal opinion about any particular technique. He is not read into the programs. He's right now a private citizen. He is willing to serve his country. The President will say today, he is -- the Attorney General is a critical member of the nation's war on terror team, and that he needs to be confirmed immediately. And once he is confirmed, then the Congress has the capability to ask him to come to Congress and to testify on all sorts of matters, including this one.
Q Is it the White House sense that his nomination is in serious trouble? You've got another senator coming out today, announcing his opposition.
MS. PERINO: We are convinced that if senator Mukasey is allowed to get out of committee that he will garner -- I'm sorry, did I say "senator"? I'm giving him additional titles -- Judge Mukasey is allowed to get out of committee, that he would receive a majority of the votes on the Senate floor. We are concerned that it is taking so long to get him a committee vote. We are pleased that it is scheduled for Tuesday. But you will hear the President say today that the delay in getting his nomination completed is unacceptable; that it's been 41 days, which is unprecedented for a nominee to sit in committee.
It is this very same Congress who said they wanted new leadership at the Department of Justice. They have an exceptionally well-qualified individual who is now before them, and is willing to serve. And on this one, narrow issue, I think it is very unfair for somebody who is not read into a program --being briefed on a classified program, who doesn't have all the facts at his disposal, to be asked to render a legal opinion. None of us would want that from a judge, if we were in front of a judge in a court of law, we would not want a judge to render a decision without having all of the facts in front of him. And that's what he is saying. I think it's eminently reasonable, and he should be confirmed.
Q Dana, does the President believe that Foreign Service Officers should be compelled to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan even when they express fears about doing so?
MS. PERINO: I understand that there is concern on behalf of many of the Foreign Service Officers at the State Department. As Secretary Rice has said, if there are volunteers to serve, then no one will have to be directed to go. The President understands that at a time of war it is distressing for some individuals to serve in those areas. The Secretary has the responsibility to make sure that when sending people into those areas that are difficult and dangerous, that they have all the tools that they need and all the protection they need in order to do their job to the best of their ability.
Our Foreign Service Officers are the very best in the world. They do their jobs wonderfully. Many of them are serving on the provincial reconstruction teams. And Iraqis are benefiting greatly from all of their service. The President is concerned, but he also has confidence that Secretary Rice will handle this matter in a way that is caring for the people at the Foreign Service, but also ensures that the mission that the United States is on is supplemented by the Foreign Service Officers who took an oath in order to serve their country.
Q Does that mean that it is a requirement for them to serve, much like active duty military are compelled to serve? Are you equating those?
MS. PERINO: I don't know all the rules that go into the regulations for Foreign Service Officers; I'd have to refer you to the State Department for that. They do serve our country very well; they're in places all around the world. And obviously if there is a need to have additional people in -- from the State Department serving in positions, then Secretary Rice might have to take the measure of directing people to go, but the preference is to have volunteers.
And there have been many volunteers that have been serving, and they've done an excellent job in helping build economies over in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to help build institutions; like they're helping for their interior ministry, their defense ministry, their rule of law -- these are the experts and so the President understands that there is concern. Secretary Rice knows there is concern. She has fought very hard on behalf of the State Department employees to have additional resources and to make sure that they are protected while they are over there, and they have a very good track record of doing so.
Q One of those employees likened it to a "potential death sentence." Does the President think that's overstatement?
MS. PERINO: The President is not going to question anybody's personal feelings about possible service in Iraq. If that's how the individual feels, then that's how he or she feels. The President understands that service in a war zone can be very difficult. It's distressing for the families, but they should be reassured, as well, that Secretary Rice takes this issue very seriously. She's concerned about their safety and that is why she has worked very hard to make sure that they have all the tools that they need and the protections that they need in order to get their job done.
Q Judge Mukasey did say in his answer that he, personally, finds waterboarding repugnant. Does the President share that view?
MS. PERINO: As I've said before, the President does not talk about any possible techniques that may or may not be used against captured terrorists when they are caught by the United States.
Q What kinds of consultations is he doing on the Hill? Obviously he's making a very public statement about this today.
MS. PERINO: Yes, and of course, earlier in the week when he traveled to Pennsylvania, he did talk to Senator Specter, and tomorrow we'll be on our way to South Carolina where he'll have a chance to talk with Senator Graham. So I don't know all the different activities -- and certainly our staffs have been in contact with them -- with members of the committee, including Fred Fielding.
Q Dana, a follow up on that. The McCain-Graham letter, on the assumption that Judge Mukasey is confirmed and is read into the program, your policy is still not to talk about specific methods, so he is, if he is confirmed, not going to be in a position to speak about waterboarding as being legal or not.
MS. PERINO: Let me remind you of something. Congress passed a law that this President signed regarding Detainee Treatment Act and also Congress said that the CIA's program for interrogation is legal. They have been briefed on the legal underpinnings and they have been briefed on the techniques. So Congress -- the appropriate members of Congress have all the information that they need about these programs. They are safe, they are effective, they are tough, and they are legal. And Judge Mukasey said that he will review all of the opinions and he will review the information he gets in his classified briefings, and that he will be able to have additional thought after that.
A lot of these discussions are held in closed session, and that's appropriate because they're classified for a reason.
Q Understood, but America's allies in the world, the American people, they will never know whether or not Judge Mukasey is told, so long as the administration --
MS. PERINO: I think that's a hypothetical that I'm just not prepared to go into right now. I don't know what Judge Mukasey will or will not say, if confirmed.
Q To follow on that, is Senator McCain specifically among those who has been briefed and knows exactly what techniques are being used?
MS. PERINO: I don't know the names of all the members that have been briefed. I know that the -- I would have to go back and look; I believe that he has been given information.
Q Can I follow up on that? If this position is so important, in part, in terms of national security, why didn't President Bush ask the former Attorney General to stay in office until the confirmation of his successor, as most other Cabinet officers have done?
MS. PERINO: Well, that was the -- the former Attorney General, Al Gonzales, had decided he was ready to leave. We have someone there, Craig Morford, who is acting as the Attorney General*, so the Department does have leadership. However, both Republicans and Democrats said that Judge Mukasey was the type of person that they would like to have as Attorney General. He went through unprecedented two days of hearings. He answered 495 written questions for the record after those two days of hearings. The Congress has had a plethora of information that Judge Mukasey has provided. It's unprecedented from any other nominee that we know of in history, there -- for a Justice Department nominee.
We -- so we've had -- we have somebody there in place now, but the Justice Department function is not just related to interrogation programs or the war on terror; it's quite broad and there are, I think, eight or nine other positions that are vacant, and the Senate really should start moving on their nomination so that they can get it confirmed so that they can have the leadership there. It's critically important for people who work at a department to feel that they have the leadership that they need and the management structures so that they can plan and move forward and have a really productive -- you know, productive days.
The Justice Department has continued to have record numbers of prosecutions, on a variety of areas, and they're doing tremendous work in both the national security -- through the national security division, through the criminal division, and any number of the divisions you can look to. At the Department of Justice they are well staffed by fantastic career civil servants, but they also need that leadership, and this Senate Judiciary Committee is the very ones who said they wanted new leadership at the Justice Department. They have someone in front of them right now who would be an excellent candidate.
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Les.
Q Dana, two -- thank you. Two questions. AP reports a team of U.S. nuclear experts heading for Pyongyang to begin disabling the North Korean nuclear facilities. And my question: Is the President confident that the agreement under which these experts are working will in fact eventually result in a non-nuclear North Korea?
MS. PERINO: That is the hope, and that is where we are working towards, and we expect that they will fulfill their part of the bargain; and if they don't, then we won't have to fulfill our part, either. And so we are hopeful. Secretary -- I'm sorry, Assistant Secretary Hill said the same thing today.
Q And after the Democratic presidential debate, The Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed candidate Kucinich and quoted him as saying of President Bush, "I seriously believe we have to start asking question about his mental health." And my question: Does the White House believe that during the debate, the Kucinich admission that he has seen a UFO demonstrates the quality of Kucinich mental health analysis?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment. I think that speaks for itself.
Q It speaks for itself? Oh, thank you very much.
MS. PERINO: Olivier.
Q Yes, just to review the thing you touched on in the gaggle, about Japan calling its ships home and ending the refueling mission; you said you were going to talk to the Japanese and, as I understood it, get them to reconsider that.
MS. PERINO: We would like for them to reconsider their decision to stop the refueling. They've played a very important role, and the President will be looking forward to talking to the new Prime Minister when he comes in the next few weeks. You know, until we have more an update, I'll have to defer.
Q Are there alternatives for them? I mean, are they -- they've announced, as I understand it, an increase in other kinds of aid to the Afghan mission. Is there an alternative or --
MS. PERINO: I have not heard that. Obviously, whatever sort of assistance they want to provide in the mission, we would appreciate. But we do think that refueling was very important and we'd like for them to continue.
Q Going back to the question that came up in the gaggle, I asked you about the memos that are published in the Post from Donald Rumsfeld and his quote that "oil wealth has made Muslims averse to physical labor" --
MS. PERINO: That is not -- I went back and looked and that is not all in line with the President's views. What the President will say today, however, is that one of the things that we have to focus on is promoting liberty, because liberty has the capacity to transform societies from hopeless ones into hopeful societies, where people feel that they have a strong future, where they'll be able to provide for their families and have -- lead good, productive lives. And it's one of the things we're trying to do in Iraq and Afghanistan and all throughout the world.
Q Arab American groups are already speaking out about this. They've had, obviously, an angry reaction to the quote from Rumsfeld.
MS. PERINO: I can understand why.
Q What effect do you think is -- they say it's going to have a chilling effect on the administration's outreach efforts to the Muslim world?
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I just said that it's not in line with the President's views. And, obviously, we have been working very hard throughout the Middle East, and actually throughout the world, in order to help spread the word of what America stands for. This includes going back to the relief we provided after the tsunami; after the earthquakes in Iran; the public diplomacy that we've been working on, including just last week, when Mrs. Bush went to the Middle East region to visit four countries to encourage breast cancer awareness and treatment.
So there's a variety of different things that we've done, including all the work that Karen Hughes has done at the Department of State, one of those being English language programs, teaching -- I think it was 13,000 students just this summer, going through an intensive language -- English-language program. I think they were all from Palestine.
So we are aware that we have a lot of work to do in order to win hearts and minds across the Arab world and the Muslim world. And I can understand why they would be offended by those comments.
Q Dana, a follow-up on Mukasey?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to go to Mike first.
Q Dana, it sounds like you're fairly confident that Judge Mukasey would pass a floor vote. Do you have any concerns that he might not get out of committee, though?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, we are pleased that there is a committee -- that the committee set a date for a hearing, on Tuesday, November 6th. We would like to see him get out of committee. We are concerned that there has been this long of a delay, and that there are -- that anyone would think that he shouldn't get out of committee would be -- we would be very concerned about that, if they're thinking that they should block him. It would be unprecedented in history. But we are confident that if he can be allowed a vote in committee, that once he got to the Senate floor he would get a majority of the votes.
Q Has the President spoken to Judge Mukasey recently?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I don't know. He has been around, but I don't know if --
Q He's been in the White House?
MS. PERINO: Periodically. He can work out of the EEOB.
Q So he wrote this letter to the 10 Democrats who sit on the Judiciary Committee, and he said, "waterboarding, as it's been described to him, is repugnant." And I'm just wondering, in your view, can something be repugnant but also legal?
MS. PERINO: Look, as I said, I'm not going to comment on any techniques, I'm not going to comment on any of it. That was his personal view, and the senators, if they want to ask him more questions about that, should confirm him and then they'd have the opportunity to do so.
Q I just want to come back to the pen and pad this morning. You talked about this at the gaggle. How did that come about, the decision to hold that?
MS. PERINO: Well, we're always looking for ways to do additional communication here at the White House, and provide more access for reporters. It was just a new tool we'd like to have in our tool box. I hope we use it again.
Q So is it part of sort of a new communications strategy at this point?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to say it was an additional tool that we added.
Q Is there something that sparked this, though? Did the President have something specific in mind that he thought -- was he jumping from what other Presidents might have done in the past? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Look, President Bush enjoys his time talking with the media, believe it or not.
Q He does?
MS. PERINO: He did say that -- he does. He did say that he had seen a photograph of Dwight Eisenhower having reporters into the Oval Office for a press conference. With our press corps now, it's a little bit -- there would be probably too many people to try to get in there for a full press conference, although I won't rule that out in the future.
But this is an opportunity to have the in-town travel pool to be able to come in and talk to the President with a -- in a pen-and-pad format to provide him an opportunity to talk about what he is going to be saying at his speech that's taking place in just about 20 minutes, and also a chance for reporters to have an opportunity to ask him some questions. There are a variety of ways we communicate at the White House, and I hope that this is a tool that we can employ in the future.
Q Thank you, Dana.
MS. PERINO: Okay.
END 12:29 P.M. EDT
*Craig Morford is the Acting Deputy Attorney General. Peter Keisler is the Acting Attorney General.