29 April 2004
White House Daily Briefing, April 29
9/11 Commission testimony, Iraq/Gallup poll, Justice Department/document released, North Korea, World War II Memorial, German/Anti-Semitism Conference, U.S.-India club, poll numbers, Bush speech on USS Lincoln
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed reporters April 29.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2004
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- 9/11 Commission testimony
-- Iraq, Gallup Poll
-- Justice Department Document Release
-- North Korea
-- World War II Memorial
-- U.S.-India Club
-- Poll numbers
-- Speech on USS Lincoln
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2004
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:23 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President was pleased to sit down with the 9/11 Commission earlier today. The President believes the 9/11 Commission's work is very important to helping us win the war on terrorism. It is extraordinary for a sitting President of the United States to sit down with a legislatively created commission. But the circumstances are extraordinary. And that is why the President felt it was important to meet with members of the 9/11 Commission.
The meeting was an opportunity for the President to discuss the seriousness with which we took the threat from al Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it, and the actions we have taken to respond to the horrific attacks of September the 11th. September 11th changed the equation when it comes to confronting the threat from terrorism. The President believes the most important lesson of September 11th is that we must confront threats before it is too late. That is why we are on the offensive and taking decisive action to win the war on terrorism. The best way to win the war on terrorism is to go after the terrorists and bring them to justice, before they can carry out their attacks.
We have also taken significant steps to better secure the homeland and be prepared to respond in the event of an attack. We worked to create the Department of Homeland Security, the largest reorganization in some 50 years of government. We worked to pass the Patriot Act, to provide law enforcement with vital tools to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. That is also why we worked to create the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, to improve our intelligence sharing and analysis. The administration has provided the 9/11 Commission unprecedented access to information, including our nation's most sensitive national security documents. We have provided the commission with more than 2 million pages of documents and hundreds of briefings and interviews with administration officials. The President very much appreciates the important work of the 9/11 Commission. He looks forward to seeing their report and recommendations.
And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions.
QUESTION: Scott, what was the President's goal here in terms of explaining to the commission how this administration saw the threat from al Qaeda prior to 9/11?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, John, his goal was the goal of the commission, and many other people, and that is to make sure that we learn the lessons of September 11th, and to make sure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect the American people and win the war on terrorism. And we have taken significant steps since September 11th. But if the commission has additional recommendations on ways to better protect the homeland and win the war on terrorism, this President wants to see them as soon as possible.
Q: Was the President's position, before the commission, that the administration had done all it could to respond to the threat from al Qaeda, that it took the threat seriously?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think -- I think the President talked about this in his news conference. Looking back, he wishes we had had certain things in place. He wishes we had had the Department of Homeland Security in place prior to September 11th; he wishes that we had had the Patriot Act in place; and he wishes that we were in a position to better share the intelligence information that we had. This is something that happened on his watch, and he very much supports the work of the commission and wants to see their report and see their recommendations and act on those recommendations.
Q: Did the commission -- did the commission --
Q: Did he repeat that the August 6th memo did not point to a specific threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, I think that's kind of getting into the substance of the discussion. I think the President was asked a little bit about that in the meeting. The President was pleased to sit down with the commission. It was a very cordial meeting. The President thought they had a number of thoughtful questions, and he was pleased to answer all the questions that they asked. He was pleased to sit down with them for more than three hours and visit with them about all these issues. But I think it's -- this was a private meeting, and I think I'll leave it to the commission's final report to address a lot of those issues.
Q: Is it safe to say the discussion about the August 6th memo covered the same ground we've heard before?
MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, I think you've heard from Dr. Rice and others in the administration relating to that, and I'm just not going to get into a discussion of the private meeting the President had with the commission.
Q: Did he say, whether or not, though, that on that particular question --
MR. McCLELLAN: You've had your question. I'll come back to you.
Q: But this relates to that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry yields.
Q: To say that on that particular point, that the administration's position on the information contained in the PDB has not changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've heard -- yes, I think you've heard our views.
Q: I just wanted to be clear on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Scott, you mentioned the President and the Vice President cleared three hours of their schedule here today. Two members of the commission left early. We saw Vice Chairman Hamilton and Senator Kerrey leave early. Can you explain why and what the White House reaction is?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you'd have to ask those members. I don't know what their other commitments were. I think you'd have to --
Q: Was the White House aware that these members would leave --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would direct those questions to the members. I'm not going to try to speak for those members.
Q: Was the White House aware in advance that two members would walk out during the session?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there may have been some discussion that there were some other commitments those members may have had. But you can direct those questions to them.
Q: And then, during the public sessions of the 9/11 Commission, it, from time to time, got a little adversarial. Was there any of that in this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you heard from the President -- he talked about how it was cordial. And I think it was a respectful meeting. Like I said, he appreciates very much the work that the 9/11 Commission is doing. This is very important work, and this is -- and their report and their recommendations can help us win the war on terrorism, help us better protect the homeland. And that's why he very much looks forward to seeing their report.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q: I'm changing the subject slightly. A Gallup Poll says the majority of the Iraqis want the Americans out of their country. What was your reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, a couple of things. One, I think the President talked about this in his press conference a couple of weeks ago. He said, no one wants to be occupied. We don't want to be occupiers. Of course, the Iraqi people want to run their country. And that is why we're working to move forward as quickly as possible to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people, and we're going to do that on June 30th.
I would also note that in that poll that Iraqis -- many Iraqis feel that despite the hardships that they've been through, it was very much worth it to remove Saddam Hussein from power. The world is better off and America is more secure because Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
Q: Were you able to give any date of when all Americans will be out?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to stay to finish the job and make sure that -- and make sure that there is a free and peaceful Iraq. I think --
Q: Were you surprised at the poll -- were you surprised at the poll?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, look, I think the President talked about in his press conference a couple of weeks ago that very question.
Q: So you know that we're a hair shirt to them.
MR. McCLELLAN: No one -- of course no one wants to be occupied, Helen. We don't want to be occupiers. We liberated the country. And now --
Q: Well, why are we there?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're there to help the Iraqi people realize a free and peaceful future because that is critical to winning the war on terrorism. That's why we're there. A free and peaceful Iraq --
Q: We didn't go in to win the war on terrorism when we invaded Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: A free and peaceful Iraq -- this is a broad war on terrorism that we are undertaking. The President believes that we must take strong and decisive action to eliminate the threats that we face. That's what September 11th taught us, which is what we're talking about right now.
Q: Do you think we increased terrorism by invading Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, terrorists have no regard for innocent life. They will carry out their attacks without discretion. They want to harm innocent men, women, and children, and spread fear and chaos. And I think that if you go back to what David Kay said in one of his reports -- or after one of his reports, he said that Iraq was potentially even more dangerous than we thought prior to September 11th.
Q: How is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about it. You can go back and look at his comments.
Q: How much of a readout did you get from either the President or Judge Gonzales on the substance of the -- of the substance that was --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked to the President after the meeting. But I'm not going to get into discussing the substance of the meeting. The President said he felt that was best left to others to address. And I think that they'll obviously be addressing all these issues in their final report.
Q: And so he did not discuss with you and you don't know, in terms of the President said that they discussed a wide range of topics, you don't know what those were?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he said that. He said, out in the Rose Garden, he talked about how they discussed a wide range of topics, and I did visit with him afterwards, but I'm not going to get into the substance of the discussion.
Q: Well, Scott, you did say that they discussed the August 6th PDB.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't. I said our views are very well known.
Q: But you said it also came up briefly in the meeting. You did say that it came up in the meeting.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: I think you did say that it came up in the meeting.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I did.
Q: He was asked a little bit about that.
Q: He was asked a little bit about that in the meeting today.
MR. McCLELLAN: What was that in response to?
Q: August 6th PDB.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't remember saying it. I don't recall saying it to that specific question.
Q: Okay. I was going to say that if that came up, is it -- did you get any sense from the President about how much time they might have spent on this testimony by Mr. Clarke, who said that the President and Dr. Rice were asleep at the switch?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I'm just -- I'm going to let the commission's report speak to all these issues. And that will be coming out soon enough.
Q: The President also talked about how he was interested in their recommendations.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would point out what the commission said in their statement. They did say that it was extraordinary, and talked about how it lasted for more than three hours, and they went on to talk about how the President and Vice President were very forthcoming and candid, according to their statement. And they talked about how they -- the information that was provided to them by the President and Vice President was of great assistance to the commission as it completes its final report. And they thanked the President and Vice President for their continued cooperation with the commission.
We've been working closely and cooperatively with the commission from the beginning.
Q: Let me try one more. The President said in the Rose Garden that he was very interested in the recommendations, that the commission talked about what to do looking forward and he was very interested in that. Can you characterize at all the discussions on that? Did they talk about specific proposals? As you know, many members of the commission have said there needs to be some domestic intelligence agency; the President has said he would consider that, but he wants to wait --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'll leave it where the President -- to what the President said in the Rose Garden. He touched on that subject.
Q: Did anybody at the White House ask the commission today to not discuss the contents and substance of the three hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, I think that the commission -- if you look back to the private meeting they had with President Clinton and Vice President Gore, addressed this in the same way. They put out a statement afterwards, and I don't think they really got into any substantive discussion about the issues. They maybe talked very generally about it.
Q: Can you discuss what you think is different about the President and Vice President's meeting, as opposed to former President Clinton and Gore? Because in those interviews with the 9/11 Commission, they were recorded. Why didn't President Bush and the Vice President allow their meeting to be recorded?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think this is consistent with many important meetings that we have at the White House, and certainly meetings that the President has in the Oval Office. There are many important meetings, whether they are meetings with world leaders, or National Security Council meetings, or policy briefings on high priorities, where notes are taken. I think --
Q: But arguably, none of those rise to the level of importance of determining what went wrong on September 11th.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's see, the NSC meeting that the President had when he decided to launch war and go into Afghanistan, notes were taken from that meeting. It wasn't recorded. So I think that I would disagree with that somewhat. But there were detailed notes taken in this meeting.
Jim, and then David.
Q: You mentioned yesterday that you anticipated that most of the questions would be to the President. Obviously --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's my understanding that's the way it was.
Q: That's the way it was?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: And the President indicated there were, obviously, some questions to the Vice President, as well. Do you have some feel for how the questions were divided up?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to break it down to that extent, but the President answered most of the questions, because most of the questions were directed to him, as I said they probably would be.
Q: It's safe to say they were on the same page? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Safe to say they were in the same room. (Laughter.)
Q: Can you characterize at all the extent to which the commissioners were interested in what happened on the day of the attacks, as opposed to all of the other issues involved here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to get into discussion of the substance of the meeting at this point.
Q: Scott, the President said it was important for the commission to see him and the Vice President together, to see their body language, to see how they work together. Were we to take that as an indication that they both answered some of the same questions? In other words, a question was posed, you'd get an answer from one and then an answer from the other?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, David, I wasn't in the meeting. But I certainly wouldn't rule it out that the President maybe addressed some things, and the Vice President may have added some comments. But I wouldn't rule that out, but, again, I wasn't in the meeting and I'm not going to get too far into discussion on the substance of those discussions.
Q: What does that mean, judge them by their body language?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: What does that mean? What does the President mean when he says that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about what he said in the Rose Garden?
Q: Yes. What does he mean when he says, the commission members judged their body language?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look back at what he said. Well, I think that he was obviously there in the room; they were sitting very close together, they were all sitting somewhat in a circle, and he felt it was a very cordial meeting. They had a very good discussion. He felt it was a great meeting. He appreciated the opportunity to share his views and thoughts with the commission, and to talk about what we were doing.
Now, you keep jumping in here. I'm going to keep going back to other people, and maybe we'll come back. Sarah, you had your question.
Q: Thank you. Different question -- I mean, different topic?
Q: Can we stay on this subject.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to you, Sarah. I'll come back to you.
Q: Your last answer actually anticipated -- in my question. Could you go into describing in some detail the physical layout of the meeting in terms of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's the Oval Office, and you know how the Oval Office is set up. And you have the two chairs in front of the fireplace, and that's where the President and Vice President sat, as they typically do. And then members of the commission were sitting on the couch, as well as chairs right at the end of those couches, in kind of a -- in a little bit of a semi-circle shape.
Q: Chairman and co-chair were at the opposite end from the President and the Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's right, that's correct. Close to the desk.
Q: And the President was seated on the right or the left?
MR. McCLELLAN: In his usual seat where he sits. So if you're standing in front of the fireplace facing his desk, he's to the left.
Q: Why did you decide to do it in the Oval, as opposed to, say, the Roosevelt Room --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of important meetings that take place in the Oval. I talked about meetings with world leaders, and certainly policy briefings. So the President viewed it as a good way to sit down and discuss these important issues with members of the commission.
Q: Was part of the calculation -- just one more on this. Was part of the calculation -- you used the word, sitting together somewhat -- was part of the calculation that a setting like that in the Oval might be less, potentially, adversarial than if it was in the Roosevelt Room --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I would look at it that way, Ken. I don't think anyone came in looking at this meeting as something that was adversarial. I think they came into this meeting looking to find some answers to their questions, and I think that they got those answers to their questions, to help piece together the information that they've already been provided access to.
Q: Did the White House take stills?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there were some pictures taken at the beginning.
Q: Will you release one for us?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we're going to. This was a private meeting.
Q: And where were the co-chairs seated?
Q: Are we going to see them in the hallway? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Where were the co-chairs seated?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't recall specifically. I know -- I think Chairman Kean was on the couch, close to the President. I'm not sure where Chairman Hamilton was.
Q: Scott, who brought the meeting to an end? How did it end?
MR. McCLELLAN: It ended -- look, I mean --
Q: Did they run out of questions? Did the President -- had to go eat lunch?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it wasn't -- no, it wasn't something he ended. I mean, it came to an end. I think that they were very satisfied with the time that they were allotted, or that they had with the President. But I think that, typically, the Chairman kind of looks for a good opportunity when they've had their questions answered to wrap things up. But the President was pleased to sit down and visit with them for, I believe it was three hours and 10 minutes, from 9:30 a.m to 12:40 p.m.
Q: New topic?
MR. McCLELLAN: New topic?
Q: One last thing. On the picture --
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, you're following Norah's lead. You keep jumping in here, too.
Q: Isn't it possible for you to release a still, one of the stills that you took? I mean, you know we're going to see them on the wall here in a matter of weeks.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand, but I also want to keep in mind that the way this was set up was as a private meeting. And I want to be respectful of that, too. But I always take it under advisement.
Q: Any chance of a seating chart?
Q: Was there any -- did the President agree at all to answer any follow-up questions, like most of the other witnesses, or people at the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, did he what?
Q: Did he agree to answer any follow-up questions the commission might have, even informally?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, there were certainly -- I think there were certainly follow-up questions.
Q: No, no, no. I meant in the future, over the next few weeks. Because the commission has asked all the other people they've interviewed if they would mind being contacted in the future, even if it's informally, not in this kind of setting.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the best way to address that is to let me just say that we're going to continue to provide close cooperation with the commission, to help them complete their work. We're going to continue working very closely with them. I don't know that that specifically came up. Again, I wasn't in the meeting. But we're going to continue to work closely and cooperatively with the commission to help them complete their work on the timetable that has been set out.
Q: Do you know if there are any more discussions about the parameters of what in this meeting will or will not be included in the commission's final report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, when you're talking about some information that may be classified, you have to take that into account. And, certainly, I think in private meetings that they have, you can expect classified information was discussed. So you have to look at those issues, and you discuss that with the commission and you work all those -- work that out with the commission. But I think that they will have the information they need to provide a comprehensive and thorough report to the American people. They -- in their very statement, they talked about how the President and Vice President were of great assistance to them and were very helpful to them in completing their work.
Q: So with the exception of classified information, you -- people can anticipate that they will see the contents of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you'll have the report before too long. You'll be able to see what's in it. But the whole purpose of the President sitting down and visiting with the commission was to answer questions that they may have and help them piece together all the information they have, and as he talked about, to talk about our strategy for addressing these threats, as well.
Q: Any chance of a seating chart -- your releasing a seating chart, if you're not releasing photos?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't -- I don't know that we took -- well, we certainly didn't take a seating chart at the beginning, and they're gone now. So I don't -- I wouldn't anticipate that.
Jeff, go ahead.
Q: Scott, Governor Thompson set out in a meeting that he thought it went well and he wishes the American people would have been able to see this on television. What is the thinking now, in hindsight, of not releasing a picture or any part of this, given that he said it went well and you're saying it went well?
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people are going to have a report from this commission, and they're going to be able to see what the commission has learned. They're going to be able to see what the commission recommends. The President very much wants to see their report and see their recommendations and make sure that we take steps to act on those recommendations, as well.
Q: Were there any breaks in the meeting, or it was a solid three hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it went the full time.
Q: Was the President in the room the whole time, or did he --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was in the room the whole time.
Yes, go ahead, Brian.
Q: Given the -- regarding the detailed notes that were taken, will the White House provide the commission with its notes of today's meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the commission took -- took its own notes and stuff. And so we're working to make sure they have all the information they need to complete their report. And you can expect that.
Q: That would exclude the notes that were taken by the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Brian, they'll have all the information they need to complete their work. They were all there. I think all members probably took some of their own notes. They had a staff member there to take detailed notes. And I fully expect if they have follow-up issues they want to address to the administration in those notes or anything like that, we'll work with them to make sure they have the information they need.
Go ahead, Jeff.
Q: Some Republicans on Capitol Hill believe that the work of the 9/11 Commission won't be complete until and unless Jamie Gorelick testifies before the commission on her role in building the wall between intelligence and law enforcement. Is that an opinion shared by the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, the President -- I think even at the beginning of the meeting, he made some brief remarks. He didn't have a prepared opening statement or anything like that, but certainly made some opening remarks at the beginning. And, essentially, I think he thanked them for the work that they're doing, talked about how he appreciated what they were doing and that their work is very important to what we -- what we are doing to protect the American people.
And I think that the President looks at this and doesn't believe there ought to be finger-pointing. We ought to all be working together to learn the lessons of September 11th and make sure that we are doing everything that we can to protect the homeland and win the war on terrorism. That's the way -- that's the way he looks at it.
Q: Well, the Justice Department keeps releasing documents. They released another -- they declassified 30 pages yesterday that reinforce the idea that Commissioner Gorelick has more that she could offer to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand that's what the Justice Department did. We were not involved in it. I think the President was disappointed about that.
Q: The President was disappointed in the Justice Department releasing those documents?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, putting that -- putting that on their website, yes.
Q: Then what did he do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sara. Sara, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: He actually expressed that to the commission, as well, Norah.
Q: But did he -- did he talk to --
Q: How about to Ashcroft?
Q: -- yes, to General Ashcroft?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's been communicated to the Justice Department.
Q: But why was he disappointed?
Q: Word from China is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said -- it's what I said at the beginning. The President does not believe we ought to be pointing fingers during this time period. We ought to be working together to help the commission complete its work. This is very important work that they are doing that will help us in our efforts to carry out the President's most solemn responsibility, which is to protect the American people.
Q: Would you consider releasing his opening remarks to the commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, we didn't have a transcript. We took notes. But again --
Q: Well, let's see how accurate your notes are.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Word from China is North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons and stop making more for a price. Is the President willing to bargain and open a direct dialogue with North Korea, or is he --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sara, that approach didn't work previously. North Korea violated their agreement. And the President believes that it's important to work through the multilateral six-party talks to bring about a peaceful diplomatic resolution to this concern. This is a very serious concern of ours. It's a very serious concern for countries in the region.
And that's why we're working together with China and South Korea and Japan and others to bring about a peaceful resolution. And we look forward to having working group talks in May at some point. And China, I think, will be making an official announcement on that. I don't know that they have at this point. But we want to see progress in these talks. North Korea needs to dismantle its nuclear program in a verifiable and irreversible way, and we want to see progress toward that in these talks.
And we're going into these talks without any set preconditions, but that's the shared goal of all the countries that are involved in these multi-party talks.
Q: Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Connie.
Q: I have a follow-up.
Q: Go ahead.
Q: One more question, please? Does the President plan to attend the official dedication of the war memorial to memorial -- war memorial to memorial -- on Memorial Day? If not, now that the memorial is open to the public, will he just go by --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he would be honored to do that, but we haven't announced his schedule at this point. But we will be announcing his schedule soon.
Q: I just had a quick question, Scott. First, just on the commission briefly, are these commissioners paid? Or is it voluntary?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. I imagine they're reimbursed or paid for expenses. I don't know. You can direct those questions to the commission.
Q: And then one more, is the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure in the legislation they set up some sort of -- for expenses.
Q: Is the President watching at all this anti-Semitism conference going on in Germany?
MR. McCLELLAN: Very aware of the discussions when it comes to anti-Semitism. And all of us must speak out and confront anti-Semitism wherever it exists. And the President has a strong record of speaking out on these issues.
Q: Has he sent his own communication to them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Powell was there --
Q: I understand.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- representing the administration. And you have comments from him?
Q: Scott, today history was made on the Capitol Hill. Thirty-two senators from both parties under the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Cornyn, they dedicated the first-ever U.S. India Club in the U.S. Senate, they call the India Caucus in the U.S. Senate. Both parties, leaders from the top of both parties, they spoke that the time has come for the United States and India to work together and forget the past. Cold War is over now, and now they work together and fight against terrorism. What I need, a comment from the President -- you can say that, too -- how does the President feel something like this, a club or caucus on the Capitol Hill that two -- from the both parties, they're supporting? And just work --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're working together with India in a number of different ways to confront common challenges, and we're working together with India in the war on terrorism. And so he appreciates efforts, certainly, that move in the direction of strengthening our relations even more.
I'm not sure of the specific step that was taken on the Hill today, but I'll be glad to look at it.
Q: Yes, but does the President support something like this, a caucus like --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I have not seen exactly what action was taken, but I'll be glad to look at it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April.
Q: Scott, after the testimony this morning, President Bush went out to the South Lawn -- not the South Lawn, but the Rose Garden to let America know everything was okay. But apparently everything isn't okay. CBS and The New York Times have come up with a poll saying that Kerry is beating him 46 to 44 percent. And Democrats are saying that the President has raised more money than they have, outspent them, and he's still in trouble.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think you're getting into campaign questions.
Q: It's a campaign time.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure the campaign would be glad to talk -- would be glad to talk to you about some of those issues in terms of the spending and all the outside groups that are involved in that, as well. I think you might want to look at that, too.
But, look, you know, this is about making the world safer and better and making America more secure. The President is not driven by polls. There are going to be a lot of polls between now and election day. But there are clear choices that we face as we move forward to win the war on terrorism. And there are clear differences in how we approach the war on terrorism. There are also clear differences on how we approach our economy. Today's GDP numbers are another indication that our economy is strong and growing stronger. There are a number of positive indicators that the economy is moving in the right direction.
But there are fundamental differences on these issues, and we're going to continue to talk about the clear choices that we face. But we are waging a broad war on terrorism to make America safer and more secure and to make the world a better place.
Q: Scott, a follow up. On a day where he's trying to garner the nation's support, as many people were concerned about what he was going to give to the 9/11 Commission, his numbers have fallen. What do you think that says to the American public?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, there are going to be a lot of polls between now and November.
Go ahead, Ben.
Q: Scott, we're coming up on the year anniversary of when the President landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared that major combat operations were over under the "mission accomplished" banner. Is there now, in retrospect, a feeling that the President was overly optimistic and maybe had misled Americans, and now leading to a certain amount of buyer's remorse in some of these polls and that this is going to be more of political headache than an asset for him --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Ben, I think the President was honored to go and thank our troops onboard the USS Lincoln for all that they had done in our efforts in Iraq. He was pleased to go to the USS Lincoln and thank the sailors on board the ship and thank the pilots on board the ship and thank other men and women in the military who were on board the ship. They had completed their mission and were returning back to America, and it was a nice thing for the President of the United States to do on behalf of the nation.
Q: But he also declared major combat operations over, and gave the sense that the war was winding down.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go back and look at his remarks. He also declared that there is more to do, that difficulties remain in Iraq.
Q: So there's no --
Q: Well, is it still true that major combat operations are over?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are certainly combat operations that are still underway and --
Q: Any major combat operations that are still underway?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's still correct.
Q: Still correct that there are major combat operations underway or --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no. What he said is still correct, that there are still certainly combat operations and dangers that remain in Iraq, and our troops are doing an outstanding job, they are performing brilliantly in their efforts to bring about a free and peaceful Iraq -- which is critical to winning the war on terrorism.
Q: What you said about the Justice Department and the President's displeasure is pretty remarkable. Can you tell us who conveyed his displeasure to the Justice Department and how? And has the President or anyone at the White House -- Judge Gonzales -- asked for any kind of accountability on how the Justice Department would have released these documents without checking with the White House in this middle of this environment?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so on that. It's been communicated, I believe, at the staff level.
Q: Through Judge Gonzales or Chief of Staff Andy Card or --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's been communicated at the staff level. I think I'll leave it at that.
Q: Was anyone at the White House aware that those documents -- for involved in their release, at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? No, we weren't involved in that decision.
Q: Are you upset over the fact that the Justice Department --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, I addressed that earlier, I think twice.
Q: Are you upset over the fact that the Justice Department did this without coordinating with the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's disappointed that that information was placed on their website like that.
Q: And without clearing it with the White House first, is that part of --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I -- I think I'm looking more at what happened and what was put up on the website.
Q: What are you disappointed about?
Q: What are you mad about?
Q: What's the concern? I mean, obviously, the President had a concern if he mentioned it to the commission. What is the concern?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? What is the concern? I said -- like I said, he very much appreciates the work that the 9/11 Commission is doing. He appreciates the work that all the members on the commission are doing. Their work is very important. He believes that we should all be working together to help the commission complete its work, and not pointing fingers at one another.
I think -- I think I'll just leave it where I did.
Q: Is he aware, Scott, that information is still there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead -- go ahead, Ed.
Q: Scott, just for posterity, I know you're loathe to name names, but can you tell us by, say, job title, who on the White House staff was in the room?
MR. McCLELLAN: Who was in the -- oh, in the Oval Office during the 9/11 Commission meeting?
Q: Besides --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I said that earlier today when I was asked about it. You had Judge Gonzales, and then you had Tom Mannheim, who has been working very closely with the 9/11 Commission. He works in our office. I did check with them to make sure that they knew I was going to mention their names. And then Bryan Cunningham, who is in the NSC Counsel's Office.
Q: Just to be on the --
MR. McCLELLAN: And he works very closely on these issues, as well, working to help the 9/11 Commission complete their work.
Q: Scott, on the issues with Justice, does the President not believe that Gorelick's actions are worthy of looking at? Or is he just concerned with the way the Justice Department --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the -- he's not going to tell the commission what to and what not to look at. He thinks that the commission ought to look at everything that will help them complete their important work. But he did express his disappointment to the Commission. I think that I can leave it there. I think that his views have been made known.
Q: Is he aware, Scott, that those documents are still on the website?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have not looked at the website today, John, no. Thank you.
END 2:56 P.M. EDT
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|