Press Briefing by Tony Snow
For Immediate Release
March 15, 2007
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:49 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Hello. The President this morning had a good meeting with the Iraqi Vice President, Adil Abd Al-Mahdi. Among other things, the Iraqi Vice President noted that the ongoing security plan in Iraq is going, as he said, better than expected. But he also noted that we've got a long way to go. There are a lot of issues -- politically, economically, and in terms of security -- to address within Iraq. As he said -- he talked about the hydrocarbon bill and deBaathification. But it was an important and a good meeting.
And it, incidently, comes at a time when the United States Senate is debating a resolution that would pull the rug out from under the Iraqi people by trying to set artificial deadlines when it comes to U.S. military commitments. If that bill comes before the President, he will veto it.
The Vice President also -- that is the Iraqi Vice President -- also noted that yesterday he visited soldiers in the hospital, and he was impressed by the high spirit they had -- "better morale than I had," he said, talking about their mission. And in trying to bind the hands of the administration would pull the rug out from under them, as well. So we do have some business going on on Capitol Hill today.
Q The Judiciary Committee today approved subpoenas -- authorized subpoenas for five Justice Department officials as they look into the prosecutors case. What's the administration's reaction?
MR. SNOW: Well, I refer you to the Department of Justice on that. I know that they've had some conversations, but I'll refer you to DOJ on that.
Q Why would that be? Why wouldn't the White House --
MR. SNOW: Because it's subpoenas for the DOJ, and the Department of Justice will respond. The Department of Justice has also had ongoing conversations with people on Capitol Hill. I don't want to be their fact witness on this one, but, again, I suggest you give their office a call.
Q But you said Fred Fielding is talking with the Hill to see about --
MR. SNOW: Yes. I said he's been talking with people on the Hill. He was up on the Hill yesterday. I don't know if he'll be up --
Q Still no resolution of that?
MR. SNOW: No. But, again, what we're trying to do is to make sure they get the information they need in a manner that's consistent with presidential prerogatives.
Q Tony, it's getting hard to find a Republican around town who says that Gonzales will survive this. Is there any feeling inside the White House that Attorney General Gonzales will survive this?
MR. SNOW: The President has confidence in the Attorney General. He's made that clear, both privately to the Attorney General, and he made it clear yesterday in the press conference.
Q But if you have an ever-growing number of Republicans on the Hill calling for resignation or expressing strong --
MR. SNOW: Well, you're asking me if; we have one publicly declared.
Q You do have more Republican opinion that Gonzales should not keep his job.
MR. SNOW: Well, again --
Q That's got to factor into an administration who wants to do business with Republicans on the Hill to get a domestic agenda done, if nothing else.
MR. SNOW: Well, we're working with people on both sides of the Hill, and, Jim, one of the things the President said is that the Attorney General is going to be going to Capitol Hill to talk about some of the mistakes that were made in terms of providing notification on U.S. attorneys. And furthermore, the information was provided to people within the Department of Justice when they went to testify on the Hill. So the Attorney General also is going to have an opportunity to speak with members of Congress and address their concerns.
Q At this point, the Attorney General --
MR. SNOW: The President has confidence in the Attorney General.
Q He had confidence in Rumsfeld, too.
Q Will the President let current and former officials, like Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, testify on Capitol Hill?
MR. SNOW: As I said, Fred Fielding is busy conducting talks with people in the House and Senate, with Democrats. And I'm not going to tell you what's going to be decided. I'm going to let them go ahead and have their conversations. Again, we're going to give them the information they need in a manner that's consistent with presidential prerogatives.
Q Without them having to subpoena?
MR. SNOW: Again, you're trying to get me to jump ahead and do negotiations. Not going to do it.
Q Was the Mohammed on the front pages subjected to any torture in the secret prisons?
MR. SNOW: We don't -- again, the policy of this government is we do not engage in torture.
Q And so you can guarantee that he was not tortured in all the years of secret --
MR. SNOW: I'm telling you the policy is that we don't do torture, and furthermore, that there are -- very specific guidelines have been laid down in terms of the questioning of people who, in fact, have been in U.S. custody.
Q But after it was all revealed. How do we know -- I mean, this is -- why would you send them to secret prisons in the first place?
MR. SNOW: Well, I'm not going to -- Helen, we have been through long conversations about that. There was a big debate on Capitol Hill about this. We're not going to relitigate it.
Q So you're saying he was not --
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q Tony, let me talk about the Judiciary Committee decision to authorize the subpoenas before these talks with Fielding are completed -- do you feel that's premature?
MR. SNOW: Well, you're talking about Department of Justice subpoenas, those are not White House subpoenas. That's a separate issue.
Q Tony, Leahy said that he would subpoena Rove, Miers, if there was not voluntary cooperation.
MR. SNOW: Well, as I said, I'm not going to get up here and act as if -- Fred Fielding is having conversations. I think it's advisable to let those proceed.
Q But if he does subpoena, is there anything the White House can do to stop --
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to play the "if" game. Let's just wait and see. Rather than trying to answer hypotheticals, we will deal with facts as they arise.
Q Do you think the White House made any mistakes in this whole matter of the discussions over the firings? And particular, I'm wondering if Attorney General Gonzales was making statements to members of Congress, beginning in January, that later proved to be not exactly in line with the facts, weren't people in the White House aware of that?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into extensive sort of fact witnessing. Let me make a simple point. U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President, and these were proper decisions to remove seven U.S. attorneys. And the Department of Justice went through its own process, and I'll let the Department of Justice speak for the metrics, and so on, that it used. But it's certainly within the right of the President to replace people.
Furthermore, as you know, with U.S. attorneys, they've got a four-year term. Each of these folks had fulfilled the four-year term. There are holdover provisions, but it is well within the President's executive authority to replace people.
Q Tony, two quick questions. One, there has been so much written so far now as far as terrorism, threat of terrorism is concerned in Afghanistan and also here in the U.S. And The Washington Post former prime minister of Pakistan is writing that now that a clear story has come that General Musharraf is not doing enough as far as what he was accepted by the President -- and even not only President -- satisfied with what's happening with what's going on. And where do we stand now as far as Osama bin Laden and all those --
MR. SNOW: Goyal, you're asking me to answer a question that involves highly classified matters, and I can't do that. I'm not going to do --
Q Not classified --
MR. SNOW: There's not a lot of unclassified information about what we're doing with regard to Osama bin Laden. The fact is that this administration remains determined to prosecute the war on terror on all fronts.
Q Second, on immigration. As far as presidential trip is concerned, he had -- immigration as far as Mexico is concerned -- so he said that he will double his efforts as far as the immigration bill is concerned in the U.S. Senate. So what is he going to do now? Is it what Democrats want, or what --
MR. SNOW: No, the President laid it out yesterday -- working with Republicans to come up with a largely accepted Republican view, and then work with Democrats to get a bill passed. I mean, he's been pretty straightforward about the approach. But the President -- make no mistake, the President is committed to this cause. He delivered a nationwide address from the Oval Office. It certainly was something we discussed at every stop along the way. He thinks it is vital for making this nation more secure, this nation more prosperous, and incidentally, also for making our friends and allies in the neighborhood more secure and prosperous. It's good for both sides.
And as a result, he wanted to make sure that everybody understood that this was a real firm, profound and personal commitment on his part.
Q -- you can clear very quickly. Fred Fielding is negotiating with members on the Hill on possible subpoenas of White House staff. Does that mean he's not talking to them about the possible Justice Department subpoenas?
MR. SNOW: What I'm not going to do -- what he's talking about is -- and I'm not even going to engage -- what you've done is jump to negotiating about subpoenas. What we're talking about is getting information to them that they need in a manner that's consistent with our prerogatives. And that can cover a lot of ground. I am not privy to the precise conversations, but Fred is having conversations with them, and I don't want to characterize them.
Q You seem to be pushing off -- you seem to be pushing our questions on subpoenas --
MR. SNOW: Because the Department of Justice has been, in fact, having its own conversations with those committees.
Q Does the White House have no opinion about whether Justice Department officials should -- honor subpoenas?
MR. SNOW: That's sort of the backdoor way of getting into the conversations that Fred may be having with folks on the Hill. Let's just let these talks play out, and then once we get to a point where there's resolution, then you can ask me and I can give you a much more direct answer. We're dealing at a highly hypothetical level right now and that kind of musing doesn't give us much to go on.
Q Tony, going to another subject, the Pentagon. Is the President now going to start embracing the words "civil war," to a certain extent as it relates to Iraq?
MR. SNOW: What you're talking about is the 90/10 report that came out. That, April, reflects the language that was used in the National Intelligence Estimate. As you'll recall, the National Intelligence Estimate said there are some things that are characteristic of a civil war, some that are not. So this is -- there's not new language, or for that matter, new analysis.
Q It's not new language for the NIE, but it's new language for the President --
MR. SNOW: No, no, the President -- what the President is focusing on is succeeding in Iraq. And again, you've got evidence that there has been progress. I don't want to oversell it because it is tough and there's along way to go. We're still busy moving forces into Iraq. We're still working with the Iraqis to develop capability. They've been stepping up and taking on tough decisions. The oil law has been passed by the council ministers; it is going before the legislature. What I'm telling you, April, is there's a lot of stuff going on. And what you're asking about is a phrase used in a National Intelligence Estimate.
Q Don't diminish it, because for months you, from that podium, have been dancing around the words, "civil war," and sectarian --
MR. SNOW: Right, but what you are trying to say is that that is a label that is attached as an absolute -- that is being used to describe accurately what's going on. And if you take a look at the NIE, it said it has some characteristics and some that are inconsistent. So we're not going to use the term.
Q So you're not going to use the term, the President is not?
MR. SNOW: No, but the President -- the National Intelligence Estimate says that there are some characteristics that are consistent and some that aren't.
Q Okay. And lastly, on the Sudan, why did it take so long for this administration to come out with the issue of sanctions, financial sanctions? From my understanding, this administration had been looking into that issue for months.
MR. SNOW: This administration has been working for months -- I would flip it around -- this administration -- and the President was the first person to call this genocide -- he has been working and he has been very aggressive on the diplomatic track, trying to get people in the neighborhood, within the African Union and also the United Nations to step up. This needs to be addressed.
Q Well, why has it taken the sanctions -- as you said, he's called it genocide; he's even called it outrageous. But why has it taken so long? I got word of it last year, towards the end of summer, that they were looking at sanctions. Why are we now in March, and they're talking about sanctions --
MR. SNOW: We have been trying to work, April, to make sure that we have the ability of players in the region to have some influence on the government, which, in the Sudanese government, has consistently rejected overtures, and that becomes a forcing event to get others involved.
Q Back on the prosecutors. Has the White House been in touch with Harriet Miers to see if she has further information in this case?
MR. SNOW: I don't know.
Q The President said, "I've heard those allegations about political decision-making; it's just not true." How can he say that when he hasn't seen all the emails, emails continue to come out, and of those that have already come out, some of them clearly seem to show that at some level, at least, there was political decision-making?
MR. SNOW: I'm not -- how would you define "political decision-making"?
Q Well, decision-making that involves politics.
Q How would you define it, Tony?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's a loaded term. I mean, I think what the President -- what the President is saying is that there is no -- that in evaluating U.S. attorneys, this is based on performance. And the important thing to do -- and furthermore, the Department of Justice made recommendations that the President has accepted. Also keep in mind, the President has the authority to remove people and put other folks in the job. That is at his discretion. That's presidential power.
Q But is he saying that he was so in the loop, then, that he definitely knew there was nothing political, or was he, in fact, removed, as you indicated this morning?
MR. SNOW: No, I think -- again, what the President has -- the Department of Justice has made recommendations, they've been approved. And it's pretty clear that these things are based on performance and not on sort of attempts to do political retaliation, if you will.
Q Tony, thank you. Thousands of veterans are coming from all over the country to make sure on Saturday that a rally organized by a group called Act Now to Stop the War and End Racism does not deface the Vietnamese War Memorial like the Capitol was spray-painted by another mob. My question: Does the President have any welcome for these veterans protecting our war memorial?
MR. SNOW: The President welcomes all veterans and thanks them for their service.
Q Since it has been my impression that Vice President Cheney has always been loyal to the President, could you tell us the President's reaction to the Time Magazine cover story that described Mr. Cheney as, "the administration's enemy within," "an independent operation inside the White House that has done more harm than good" and one of Bush's biggest liabilities?
MR. SNOW: That would be inaccurate.
Q Wait a minute, one last one, because you've been away for a week.
Q Welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Yes, this is my welcome back. (Laughter.)
Q Both the Media Research Center, as well as The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial headlined, "The Hubbell Standard: Hillary Clinton knows about sacking U.S. attorneys," deplored the old big media uproar about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, when the Clinton administration fired 93 in one day. And my question: Does the President agree or disagree with The Wall Street Journal and the Media Research Center?
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware that he's expressed an opinion on it. Let me just remind everybody again, U.S. attorneys are --
Q What do you think?
MR. SNOW: It's not my job to get up here and expound my views.
Q I'd love to hear your opinion on it.
MR. SNOW: Well, that's well and good, and I appreciate that. It makes me feel all warm inside. But it's not appropriate for me to do that.
Q Welcome back.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
Q Tony, has the building of the wall between Mexico and the United States damaged relations between the two countries beyond repair?
MR. SNOW: No. As a matter of fact, the relations are close. And the conversations between President Calder n and President Bush were, as the President said, extremely productive. They were detailed and -- the two leaders were honest with each other about things where they agreed and where they disagreed, and maybe the most important thing is that they also committed to taking issues of concern directly to Cabinet-level officers so that they could go ahead and really seize responsibility.
There are a lot of good things that we can do with the Mexican government -- border security, drug interdiction, arms interdiction, trying to make sure that the borders are safe, building conditions for greater prosperity in Mexico -- that takes pressure off the border and, frankly, greater prosperity within the region. There were educational exchanges. I mean, they talked about a lot of things.
So I would -- number one, I would argue that what's happened is that U.S.-Mexican relations have been strengthened as a consequence of the visit; and, also, that the personal relationship between the two Presidents was strengthened by virtue of the fact that they were candid with each other and I think they were both impressed with the seriousness, and also the leadership quality. President Calder n is a leader. He's been in office for a hundred days or so and he is tackling directly a lot of the most important businesses. So, again, to use the term the President did, very productive meetings.
Q Tony, in your answer this morning on the new Palestinian government, you said you hoped that President Abbas could proceed with the ability to follow the Quartet commitments. Can you explain what that --
MR. SNOW: Well, we're really -- at this point, let's wait until we have a government fully formed up. But the most important issue, ultimately, in dealing with peace in the region is to have the Palestinians abide by the Quartet conditions. That has been our position and will continue to be our position.
Q Tony, while the President was traveling, New Century fund, one of the biggest mortgage lenders, almost went belly-up, causing a major fall in the stock market. What's troubling investors now is the fact that this housing market, which has been based on some very risky loans, is really holding up the whole stock market situation. And if the bubble blows in the housing market, a lot of people are going to be in trouble, the U.S. economy goes down the tubes. I was just wondering if the President is focused on this problem. And does he have a game plan, aside from the denial and the happy talk that's been coming out of the Secretary of Treasury?
MR. SNOW: Well, number one, I would -- if you want to -- I would encourage you to take your concerns to the Secretary of Treasury; I'm sure he'll be happy to respond. Hank Paulson is not only an enormously capable, but very realistic Secretary of the Treasury. So, please, try that.
Secondly, we do have -- the fundamentals in the economy are sound, but I am not going to get into talking about markets. Any time somebody makes comments from this podium it is something that could potentially influence markets; I'm just not going to do it.
Q If such a collapse -- as a follow-up on that -- if such a market collapse would occur, would the President be intent on maintaining the value of the dollar?
MR. SNOW: I will refer you to my prior answer. What you're asking me to do now is to accept a premise, the acceptance of which would be a market-moving event.
Q Is the President worried about eroding support for No Child Left Behind?
MR. SNOW: No. The President is deeply committed to No Child Left Behind. And it's important to make sure not only that we have standards for schools, but that we extend to every child -- from kindergarten straight through 12th grade -- the opportunity and the promise of good education, so that they are equipped to intellectually -- they have the intellectual tools and capabilities to deal with a workforce in which they're going to change careers any number of times; that they're going to have the intellectual abilities. And the President is committed to making sure richer, poorer, wherever you live, you're going to have those opportunities. And he is strongly committed to it and he's working with Democrats and Republicans -- Republicans first, of course.
Q We know he's committed to it, but what about Republicans who signed on it before, but have now expressed interest in other legislation?
MR. SNOW: Well, I think, again, there are plenty of conversations that are ongoing. But the President feels confident that we're going to get reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, and, furthermore, that it's vital to American students.
Q How soon does the President want the Security Council to vote on the Iran resolution --
MR. SNOW: Well, they're still working it out. I mean, I don't think that the President has a timetable on it, but, obviously, we think it's going to be soon. It's important to realize, though, that we have been working within -- we're now going to present it to the full Security Council and I think we're pretty close on it.
Q Well, is the President satisfied with the language then?
MR. SNOW: Well, let's wait until everything is signed. This is another one of these things where we want to make sure it's all wrapped up, signed, sealed and delivered, and then we'll be happy to characterize.
Q On the attorneys, you mentioned that these firings were not done as political retaliation or retribution. If we're going to talk about, kind of, the President's powers, though, if any of the firings were for political retribution, is that within his purview, as well?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way: Again, the President has the authority to remove people who serve at his pleasure. And these are folks who had four-year terms, all of which had expired.
Q Is there any plan to commemorate March 19th, four years into war?
MR. SNOW: To "commemorate"? The one thing we do is constantly --
Q Take notice of.
MR. SNOW: Well, I think there will be plenty people taking notice of it. The one thing that we want to do is also make sure that people take notice of how vital it is to continue to supply the reinforcement our forces need and the support that the Iraqi government is going to need in order to put all the pieces together that are going to allow that nation to be delivered from an age of tyranny under Saddam Hussein to one of hope and democracy.
Q Well, but is anything going to be done by the President, personally? You don't know.
Q Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Thank you.
END 1:11 P.M. EDT
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