For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 28, 2008
Press Gaggle by Dana Perino
Aboard Air Force One
En route Salt Lake City, Utah
1:56 P.M. MDT
MS. PERINO: Hi, guys. All right. Well, we are on our way now to Utah, after a great morning -- and the President is running a little bit late because it took a little longer for him to shake 1,012 hands, salute them all and take his picture with them. But he had a really fantastic time at the Air Force Academy and thinks they were great hosts. And so we'll try and make up a little bit of time in the air so that we can get to Utah and get on with our events today, which are the fundraisers that you know of.
That's all I've got.
Q I know that you said you weren't going to be speaking anything more about McClellan, but could you give us a little sense of who told the President about it, when it occurred and any reaction he had?
MS. PERINO: Sure. Well, you will recall that it was last November, right before Thanksgiving when we first heard about the book, when the excerpt came out. I was with the President at the time and told him about it -- we were at Camp David, right after an interview he had just finished.
And at that time, was led to believe that the excerpt was a little bit over-written and not necessarily representative of what the book would be like. And so I believe the original publishing date was sometime earlier this spring, so I've been anticipating the book to come out for a while. I think the June 2nd publishing date has been a little bit more firm recently, and so we knew that it would come out maybe next Monday, with some pre-publicity right before then.
So the President has been aware that it was going to come out. I talked to him a little bit yesterday -- I can't exactly remember where, but on the plane here -- I guess it was on the plane; I don't remember where we were on our way to, since we had three stops yesterday. And his reaction was similar to what I said this morning, which is he is puzzled, and he doesn't recognize this as the Scott McClellan that he hired and confided in and worked with for so many years; and disappointed that if he had these concerns and these thoughts he never came to him or anyone else on the staff that we know of.
So I think it's just a sad situation.
Q So you briefed him?
MS. PERINO: Yes, but I think I may not be the only one; we've known it's been coming for a while, so I'm assuming that other members of senior staff had alerted him. But we didn't really know what was in the book until yesterday -- well, I shouldn't say that, there are some people in the White House who get -- they get on any book chances to review, like from the legal perspective, but it was not widely distributed at all.
Q Do you anticipate doing sort of a line-by-line denial of or go through --
MS. PERINO: I don't think it's necessary to do that for this situation. You know, you can go through that, look at it yourself. I don't think it's the White House's responsibility to do a fact check of someone's memoirs, where they're rewriting what we all thought was a very different history with him at the White House.
Q I'm sorry if you said this, but was the President surprised?
MS. PERINO: I think you can fairly characterize it is as surprised, as well as he thinks it's a sad situation and was disappointed, as I said just a moment ago.
Q And also, a lot of Americans are beginning to read news accounts or see footage of this. I'm wondering if you have any concerns that it might undermine the public's confidence in the White House or in the mission in Iraq.
MS. PERINO: I don't. I think that if you look at -- look, setting aside his comments about what he now thinks about the war in Iraq, people can argue back and forth as much as they want about the ultimate decision to go to war. I think that the questions about the intelligence being wrong have been answered by the White House. The intelligence was wrong, and we have taken measures to make sure that intelligence failures like that don't happen again. And one of the ways we've done that is by modernizing and improving coordination amongst the intelligence agencies. And by any measure, that coordination is better than it's ever been in the United States. That doesn't mean there was anyone purposefully misled.
So fast-forward to where we are today in Iraq. We have a government led by Prime Minister Maliki that is going after criminal elements on both sectarian sides. We have a government that is increasingly able to sustain itself as it's been able to raise revenue and start paying for its own reconstruction. And there also -- have already had two elections; they're about to have another, coming up this fall. And the surge, as you heard the President say in the Air Force Academy speech, has worked. And Americans, along with others, are winning in -- winning and being successful because of changing strategies. It's a different type of struggle, in terms of an ideological struggle, as well as a counterinsurgency one, where you're trying, as the President said today, [to] help rebuild a country so that it will have a democracy from which to govern, sustain and defend itself.
And so, no, I'm not concerned about that. I don't think that -- I think people will be a little bit more interested into questions about why, if somebody has these concerns now, they wouldn't have brought them up.
I mean, I know that I was very fortunate to be hired by Scott McClellan. He's given me a great opportunity. I then worked for Tony Snow. And I have been around the White House since mid-September 2002. I have always had the opportunity to have a seat at the table, to make my opinions known whenever and to whomever I wanted to or felt I needed to, and I have done. So it's just curious to me why all of a sudden it seems that these were his actual feelings. It's hard for us, especially for me, who has been a very good friend to him. And of course, I wish him well. We all wish him well. Nobody has any ill feelings. We just think it's a sad situation.
Q Dana, can you tell us how much contact he's had with the White House since he left?
MS. PERINO: Well, I couldn't quantify it for you.
Q I mean, is it a lot? A little?
MS. PERINO: I know on a social basis that I had a lot of contact with he and his wife, sure.
Q I'm just kind of curious, in terms of the general -- you've kind of portrayed this as a sad situation that you're -- you don't quite understand this. But do you think this is causing any scrutiny on the White House as part of its own handling of the pre-war intelligence? I mean, is it causing any --
MS. PERINO: I think that horse has been beaten enough. And --
Q So the substance of what Scott is saying is not something that is causing any rethinking on the part of the White House?
MS. PERINO: I don't see any reason for it to do so. As I said, the questions about the intelligence being wrong has been -- have been asked an answered multiple times. And I think that I have had a good experience working both for Scott, for Tony Snow, and now heading up the press office, that I have good relationships with you all in the press corps, ones that are based on honesty and integrity. And I don't think that it ever -- I think that's always been the case since I've been there. So I don't see any reason for us to have to rethink anything at this point.
Q Did Scott tell you personally about his concerns that he raised in the book? Because I know you said you're a friend of Scott's.
MS. PERINO: Never.
Q I'm sorry, what?
Q "Never" to have what? I didn't hear it all.
MS. PERINO: His question was, had I ever heard such concerns? And I said, "Never."
Q The President often talks about, you know, history being the judge. And this is somebody who had a position where they could see more than, certainly, the public does. After some years of reflection, perhaps, looking back, thinking out of the limelight in private and everything, and coming up with his first version of history, isn't it a concern that, for you, for the administration, that the conclusions he's come to are the ones of your critics, essentially, rather than the supporters of the administration?
MS. PERINO: I think this is a unique situation. I don't think that this is so much as writing history as rewriting history. And when the President talks about "it will take a while," I think that that is just based on historical fact. I mean, it takes a while for any type of administration to be understood, and I think this is an anomaly.
Q Even though you don't -- you don't think there are others out there who maybe also were once supporters of the war, looked at the facts as we knew them at the time, and then to have now come around, as he says in the book, that he doesn't think it was the right decision? That's not a question of intelligence.
MS. PERINO: I'm not saying that's not the case, and I don't know. I don't go around and take a survey. But your question was, do I think that other people are going to turn around 180 degrees and become this -- have these expressions of concerns that they did not voice when they were at the White House. And so the question is, what did you really believe? Did you believe what you said at the time, or do you believe what you believe -- say you believe now? And I'm not going to be a judge of that. You all have to figure that out, or he'll have to answer for it for himself. I mean, I'm not going to -- as Jeremy suggested, the question being, would we go line-by-line through the book -- absolutely not. We have a lot more important things to do than that.
Q One specific factual thing. Scott suggested in the book that it was very unusual for Karl and for Libby to talk together, and that he was suspicious about that when he saw them talk one time. Was it unusual for those two to talk?
MS. PERINO: I found that to be strange. People in the White House have to talk to one another on a variety of different subjects. Who knows what the -- if that conversation -- if a conversation took place. Would it be surprising to me if Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, as the Director of Political Affairs Operation and the Chief of Staff to the Vice President, of whom was very important in our reelection efforts and our political efforts, would it be a surprise that they would have a conversation? Absolutely not. What would be a surprise is if they didn't have conversations. So I don't put much stock in that, but I don't know the facts. And I think he admits in the book that he doesn't either.
Q If only to change the subject. Do you have anything on the vote on the cluster munitions?
MS. PERINO: The what?
Q The vote on the cluster munitions negotiations in Brussels, I think.
MS. PERINO: Where was -- no, I'm sorry. Clearly, you can tell from my face I don't know. I haven't been informed about that.
Q Anything on --
MS. PERINO: Where was the vote?
MS. PERINO: Where was the vote?
Q It was today, and it was in -- I want to say Brussels, maybe The Hague.
MS. PERINO: Sorry, I don't. I'll have to refer you to DOD or State at the moment.
Q Anything on Olmert? Defense Minister had called for -- Ehud Barak had called for him to step aside.
MS. PERINO: I think that this is Israeli politics, and they'll have to sort it out themselves.
Q Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. MDT