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30 January 2002

Transcript: White House Press Gaggle Aboard Air Force One, Jan. 30

(President's schedule, Executive-Director John Bridgeland/USA Freedom
Corps, GAO lawsuit/energy, SOTU/Iraq/Iran/North Korea, Russia/China,
background on Enron affair) (2620)
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer briefed on Air Force One en
route to North Carolina with President Bush. Also participating on
background, a senior White House administration official briefed on
the Enron affair.
Following is the White House transcript:
(begin transcript)
Office of the Press Secretary
January 30, 2002
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Winston-Salem, North Carolina
MR. FLEISCHER: All right. The President this morning had his usual
round of intelligence briefings, had several staff meetings throughout
the morning. As you know, he dropped by the Vice President's party.
Then the first event today is at 2:15 p.m., which is a roundtable at
the Center for Community Safety, where the President is going to talk
about the new initiative he's announcing today on USA Freedom Corps,
the citizen corps councils, and it will be mostly with the law
enforcement community that he'll be meeting today, emergency
management, fire department, emergency medical services, emergency
response teams, police personnel. That's who will be present at the
And then, the President will give remarks at 3:10 p.m. on citizen
preparedness, where the President will get into what you have in front
of you, the fact sheet and the booklet. I won't go into any of those
points; you have it all. He'll announce the 800 number and the web
page. They are both already fully on line and functioning.
And then, the President will meet with a group of North Carolina
Republican grass-roots leaders, committeemen, committeewomen, county
chairs, supporters of the President and the Republicans at 3:45 p.m.
for 30 minutes. He'll depart and arrive into Daytona at 6:30 p.m.
There will be an airport welcome at 6:45 p.m., and then the President
will get to the hotel at 7:40 p.m.
One update, and then I want to introduce you to John Bridgeland. On
Friday, the President will travel to White Sulphur Springs, West
Virginia to attend the 2002 Congress of Tomorrow luncheon at The
Greenbrier. That's an annual retreat done by the Republican House and
Senate members. He'll discuss the legislative agenda for the upcoming
year that he outlined in the State of the Union Address.
We have with us John Bridgeland, who is the most knowledgeable person,
the expert in the White House and the person who is assigned by the
President to run the USA Freedom Corps, the new initiative. So if you
have any questions, John is available here to the pool. He will be
also briefing the entire press corps on the ground, so John is
And with that, I'm happy to take any questions you may have.
QUESTION:  Do you have any reaction to the GAO filing a suit today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will stand proudly and strongly on
principle. The President believes very strongly that this White House
and all future White Houses should have a right to receive the advice
and the thoughts of citizens and to do so without those thoughts being
turned into virtual news releases.
So the President will strongly promote that right, and fight for that
right in court, and the White House expects to prevail. We think the
GAO case, which they have even yet to make, is weak. Now, I think you
all understand, they have not sued us. We expect they will. But just
so you understand, they have not sued anybody. There is really nothing
new that they've announced today. I read this on the front page of The
Washington Post last Saturday when they said they were going to sue.
Today, they said again, we're going to sue.
Q: You said a couple of days ago there were no discussions going on
with the GAO and the White House or Cheney's staff. Are there now
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said the other day that our attorneys do talk,
but it's not a negotiation -- no. I couldn't have said it any more
The President will go to court to protect those principles that he
thinks are essential to the functioning of the Executive Branch, and
the White House expects to prevail.
Q: Does he believe, Ari, the way the Vice President does, that GAO is
motivated by the Enron scandal?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you want, we can do something ON BACKGROUND here
too, if you want. So if you have anything else ON THE RECORD, let's
finish that.
Q: Let's do ON THE RECORD. Is there any sense in the administration
that the President went too far last night in his remarks about Iraq,
Iran and North Korea?
Q: Have you heard any reaction? Have you heard any reaction from any
of your Arab allies to naming those two countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: I personally have not had my ear on the ground on that
topic today, so you may want to check with the State Department. I've
seen press accounts, but I haven't heard anything.
Q: Ari, what's the next step? It's one thing to say they're an axis of
evil, they shouldn't proliferate. There's been a lot of effort over
the years to stop proliferation; and yet, Russia, China, even our
allies provide dual-use technologies.
MR. FLEISCHER: Those nations will just have to guess what the
President's next step will be. The President is not going to indicate
to them what he is going to do. But the President has made it plain to
the American people that time is not on our side, but he will be
deliberative in anything he does.
Q: What's the thinking behind that, Ari? In the last speech four
months ago, the President laid out a specific set of demands for the
Taliban in Afghanistan. In this case, couldn't he also have done the
same with Iraq, for example, and say, let the inspectors back in and
run down the list of demands? Why not do that in this case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President thought it was essential to share
with the American people how serious and how real the threats are from
our enemies. I don't think he can say it any plainer when he says time
is not on our side. But this President is thoughtful, he is
deliberative, but he's determined.
Q: What makes him think he can do any better in stopping Russia, China
and Germany from providing dual-use technologies to Iran and
elsewhere, than the Clinton administration was?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has had very productive talks with the
Russians, and I think that's manifest in some of the discussions at
the United Nations about smart sanctions. More progress is being made,
and I think that's an important cause and the President is going to
fully dedicate himself to it.
Q: Ari, does the President think that Japan needs to do more to put
their financial house in order? Do they need to take more steps?
MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have anything for you on that topic today.
Q: Okay, because you know O'Neill and Hubbard were talking about it
today, and I didn't know if that's --
MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have anything topical on that now.
Q: Did Senator Daschle ask -- no, did the President ask Senator
Daschle to limit the investigations of September 11th? And what did
Senator Daschle say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't discuss anything that was discussed, and I'm
not saying it was or wasn't, at any of the presidential breakfasts, if
that's what you're referring to. But the President does think it's
important that if Congress and as Congress reviews the events that led
up to September 11th, it do so in a manner that does not unduly burden
the intelligence community and the military in the middle of fighting
a war.
Q:  Let's go to that BACKGROUND stuff.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're going to land soon. Okay, this
is senior administration official.
Q:  GAO political motivations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, if the GAO case was so strong,
how come they didn't back it up today? There is nothing new that the
GAO has done today. We've all heard it before. They've been saying
they were going to sue for months. It was on the front page of The
Washington Post last Saturday. The GAO today failed to back up their
case. And we understand they won't have it ready for a week or two.
The point is, Vice President Cheney went on one of the Sunday shows
and said that this is politics, that the collapse of Enron has nothing
to do with the principle of whether the GAO should or should not
legally be able to receive the records and minutes, the meetings, the
notes, who was in attendance, at the task force.
Enron goes bankrupt. All of a sudden, the GAO, under pressure from
congressional Democrats, changes its tune, when bankruptcy of Enron
should have nothing to do with the principle of whether the GAO can
seek that information. When the Vice President said that, the GAO said
that was wrong by the Vice President, because it was full speed ahead,
their words, last August, and they were ready to sue on September
But they were ready -- if it was full speed ahead, and if they were
ready to sue on September 10th, then why did they fail to back up
their case today?
Q:  You mean, with legal papers, with --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They -- what they said today.
Everybody knows they were going to sue.
Q:  Well, they're preparing the papers.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They said it was full speed ahead last
August, that they were ready to file suit on September 10th. Today,
what they've showed is what we suspect, that their case is not strong,
they have failed to make it, while the White House case is strong.
Q: So why would they have continued to threaten suit? They're just
trying to frighten you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Because I think what happened was that
the GAO was surprised at how strong the White House was going to stand
on principle. Typically, in Washington when people threaten suits,
politicians are willing to negotiate away principles. And I think that
the GAO is surprised that the President and the Vice President are
willing to go to court on behalf of a principle.
I think they thought that the White House was going to change.
Q:  What do you think is motivating them?  Is it politics?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they're under a lot of
pressure from congressional Democrats. But, again, there is absolutely
nothing new from the GAO today, except the fact that they failed to
back up their case.
Q: Maybe they don't want to step on the President's State of the
Union, you're overstepping --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, that's why they leak on Saturday
they were going to sue, and then they say today we are suing?
Q:  So you're saying this has been going on, these threats --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One, they haven't sued, they said they
will. That's what they said today.
Q:  They're trying to get you to cave.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think they already recognize that
this President and this Vice President are proud to stand on
Q:  Can I ask you what this here is from Carville and Shrum?
Q:  Did they contribute to this report --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is their memo. This is the
Carville, Greenberg, Shrum memo that they circulated in anticipation
of the President's State of the Union, given the Democrats' advice --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. Given the Democrats' advice on
how to seek maximum political advantage of the horror of the Enron
scandal. This memo is a memo that both Leader Daschle and DNC Chairman
McAuliffe were asked about this morning. They have both cut and run
from this memo, disavowed it, saying they think it was a mistake, they
don't know where it came from. Yet, what's so odd and what's so wrong
is that while Terry McAuliffe and Tom Daschle disavow this memo, say
it was wrong and it doesn't represent the Democrats, they speak the
language of the memo every day. And that's wrong, it's odd, it's not
in the spirit the President asked for last night and they committed
themselves to when they said they were going to work together.
If they've disavowed this memo as strongly as they have and as
strongly as Senator Daschle did this morning, why do they continue to
speak its language? Why do they continue to seek and exploit for
maximum political advantage, the tragedy of Enron?
Q:  Will you share that with us?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's floating around e-mails.
Everybody's got it. Sure.
Q: I saw Democracy Corps at the top, and thought maybe they've done
some work for you on the actual --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Here's what Tom Daschle said this
morning --
Q:  Silly me.  (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- when Daschle was asked, could it
backfire, he said, I think it could. I don't know where that memo came
from Paula, I haven't seen it, but I wouldn't support it. The last
thing we should do is politicize a scandal. While last week, Senator
Daschle said, we're slowly Enronizing the economy, Enronizing the
budget. That's exactly what Enron did. I sure hate to see that happen
to Social Security.
This memo gives Democrats advice on how to connect Enron to Social
Security and what words they should use. But Terry McAuliffe cut and
ran from this memo as fast as he could. Particularly The Washington
Post reported on January 14th a key Democratic strategist saying,
quote, "Democrats are very excited about this, because it gives us a
hook to bring this guy some accountability, plus there's no way it's
not going to be a distraction for them." In reference to the
President. The Democrats are saying that they are rejoicing in the
Enron scandal, because it can distract President Bush when the
President is focused on fighting a war, defeating a recession.
And this is the worst of worst politics for the Democrats to use Enron
to this purpose. And again, how can they say they are consistent and
want to work with the President, be bipartisan, when they disavow the
memo and run from it as fast as they can in public, but they hug it
and embrace it as often as they can when no one's looking.
Q: Do you think there were any memos like that floating around from
Republican consultants during Whitewater?
Q: I actually do have questions on this citizen corps and Freedom
Corps. Is Bridgeland going to be briefing? Do you know when he's going
to brief in the file?
MR. FLEISCHER:  After the President's remarks.
Q:  After?  So he'll go --
Q: He's going to stay behind? He's not going to go on Air Force One?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he will. I think he's going to get back on Air
Force One. He's going to do it at 3:45 p.m. when the President's
meeting with the Republicans.
Q:  Is the President taking questions from real folks at this event?
MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't think so.
(end transcript)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site:

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