Press Gaggle by Tony Fratto
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 18, 2007
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
9:33 A.M. EDT
MR. FRATTO: Good morning, everyone. The President had his normal briefings this morning; taped the radio address -- as you can imagine, it's on comprehensive immigration reform, so look forward to that. At 9:55 a.m. this morning, he'll have a photo opportunity with a member of AmeriCorps -- we'll get you details on that. That's in the Oval, if you don't have that already. At 10:25 a.m. -- this is actually closed press, but just so you know -- a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of the White House Situation Room. As you recall, we did some of this walk-through with you; this is the formal opening where I think all of the work is now complete. It was a 10-month renovation, so we're very proud of this room, and it will be a tremendous asset not just to this White House, but future White Houses.
Q What was done to it?
MR. FRATTO: It's very secret, Helen. (Laughter.)
Q Will there be a photo release? (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: I'm not sure if we're doing a photo release this time.
Q Are you wired into the Kremlin -- (laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: Actually, I want to say -- since we're on that subject -- Joe Hagin, Deputy Chief of Staff, put a tremendous amount of work into this, and a number of others -- Phil Lago, over at the NSC, a number of people -- an enormous amount of work and care for this room. And to answer your question, Helen, vastly improved the technological capabilities of the room for secure two-way communications and the ability to actually be able to hear people in some of the conference rooms where we do the SVTS calls and other conference calls.
Q Did the President and the Prime Minister use it yesterday?
MR. FRATTO: Yes, they did. They did, in fact. And that was the photo release we did yesterday.
Q Tony, it's been fully functional for a while, hasn't it? This is just a ceremony today?
MR. FRATTO: It has been, I would say, mostly functional for a while. I think we can certify now that it is fully functional.
Let me just continue running through today's schedule, and we'll jump into questions before getting to the week ahead.
The President has policy time this afternoon at 1:15 p.m. At 2:40 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush participate in a photo opportunity with recipients of the 2006 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching -- stills at the top, that's in the East Room. And then depart this afternoon for a fundraiser in Virginia.
And I'll take your questions and then go to the week ahead. Terry.
Q Senators Schumer and Feinstein are going to introduce a no confidence resolution for Attorney General Gonzales next week, the Senate is going to vote on this. You have a sixth Republican, Norm Coleman, come out and say the Attorney General should resign. Doesn't this all add up to the weight that's dragging him down? And how can he be effective with all --
MR. FRATTO: I think it adds up to the bottomless bag of tricks that Democrats in the Senate would like to pull out on a weekly basis, regarding the Attorney General. The Attorney General has the full confidence of the President. He's focused on the mission of the Department of Justice, which is to keep Americans safe, protect us from domestic terrorism threats, child predators. We know that this has been a difficult period, dealing with the discussion and questions having to do with the U.S. attorneys. But the Attorney General is sticking to his job. We feel he's been a very strong Attorney General, and we continue to support him.
Q You addressed the Democratic part of that question. You didn't say anything about the six Republicans. And you also had Specter saying that he predicts that he'll resign -- Gonzales will resign, saying that he's unable to perform his duties. What about the Republicans?
MR. FRATTO: We understand that there are senators who have different views.
Q I'm talking about the Republicans.
MR. FRATTO: Talking about senators of both parties, and we understand that they have concerns and questions. We think that the Attorney General has been honest and forthright in addressing those questions; and as I said earlier, most importantly, has the full confidence of the President.
Q But, Tony, when you say he has the full confidence of the President, and when you say you feel he's been a strong Attorney General, doesn't this erode the President's credibility when it seems like the entire rest of the political universe is on the other side of that?
MR. FRATTO: No, I don't think that's where everyone is. Look --
Q How is -- who's on his side?
MR. FRATTO: What we are focusing on, what we think the Attorney General is focusing on is the mission of the Department of Justice. I haven't heard anyone say that the Department of Justice has been weak in enforcing child predator laws. I haven't heard anyone say that the Department of Justice has been anything short of strong and aggressive in protecting America from domestic terrorism threats. Those are the things that we are focusing on, and those things have happened under this Attorney General's leadership.
Q Let me just follow up on that. Yesterday, Kelly asked the President straight up about the report of when Gonzales was counsel and sending Andy Card down to the hospital. The President refused to answer, saying it was a national security issue. No part of her question had anything to do with national security issues.
MR. FRATTO: No, there are two points there. One is the discussion of classified programs; and the second is deliberative discussions among and between advisors to the President -- and neither of which is an open window for us to look into and talk about.
Now, I think the President -- I think that's the point that the President was making. It puts us in a difficult communications position, because we understand there are questions out there and it's difficult for us from the podium. But that's not something that we can get into, and we're not going to get into.
Q He can unilaterally declassify, so --
MR. FRATTO: He could, but I think he'd prefer to put the safety and security of Americans ahead of that interest.
Q How does it jeopardize the safety and security of Americans, to say whether --
MR. FRATTO: Any time we talk about --
Q -- to say whether he ordered those guys to go to the hotel room?
MR. FRATTO: The hospital room --
Q I'm sorry, hospital room.
MR. FRATTO: -- according to the reports.
Q -- former acting Attorney General.
MR. FRATTO: Any time we talk about classified programs you're opening the door, and we need to be very careful in how we talk about it.
Let me make another point that the President made yesterday. All of our programs have been appropriately briefed to Congress. They have all had appropriate oversight. So I think that is the forum for discussing our classified programs, and I think that is where we're going to leave it.
Q Are you saying that the Congress knew the President ordered the wiretapping without any warrant, and they said okay?
MR. FRATTO: I'm saying that appropriate briefings of Congress were made.
Q I'm asking you if they were asked, if the intelligence committees were asked whether he could -- go ahead with this program.
MR. FRATTO: That's not what I said. I said --
Q No, I'm -- it's what I'm saying.
MR. FRATTO: And maybe you can pose that to the intelligence committees. All I can report is that --
Q You're giving a blanket statement that they've been informed --
MR. FRATTO: No, you're asking me to be the spokesman for the intelligence committees.
Q No, no, no. I'm asking you to be a spokesman for the White House, and tell us whether they knew these programs would go ahead, by the President's order, against the law?
MR. FRATTO: All I can say is that they were appropriately briefed.
Q Under what circumstances is it appropriate for White House aides to go to -- to bypass the chain of command of the acting Attorney General and go to --
MR. FRATTO: You're asking me to get into -- I know you're trying to put it in a general way, but I think we all know the context in which you're asking.
Q It's kind of confusing to understand --
MR. FRATTO: It shouldn't be, because --
Q It's not about -- in some ways this is really not about whether the program is classified or not, it's about the bypass of a chain of command, and why that would be appropriate.
MR. FRATTO: No, there is no -- without talking -- go ahead.
Q Does the White House deny that this incident occurred, where --
MR. FRATTO: We're not --
Q -- in relation to some unnamed, unspecified program, these two White House aides sought out the Attorney General -- who was ill and had passed his powers over to his acting -- sought him out instead of going to the Attorney General. Do you guys deny that took place?
MR. FRATTO: Let me say very clearly: I am not addressing any particular report, okay. But I will say that ultimate authority rests with the President of the United States.
Q Does the White House believe that James Comey was out of line in discussing this in a public hearing?
MR. FRATTO: I don't have any comment on that.
Q If he was, Tony, then you --
Q If you won't comment on that issue because of the classified nature of the program on which it was focused, it seems like you might think that Comey was out of line in discussing it.
MR. FRATTO: You can draw conclusions.
Q I mean, is there any possibility that Mr. Comey will be charged with divulging classified information for discussing this? I mean, if the President is not willing to discuss this, and it's improper to do so, then wasn't it improper for Mr. Comey to discuss this?
MR. FRATTO: I think that would be a question for the Department of Justice.
Q Tony, was there anything factually incorrect about Comey's version?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not in a position to comment on reports of Comey's testimony.
Q Can I change the subject?
MR. FRATTO: Sure. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you.
Q Don't twist his arm. (Laughter.)
Q I have two different ones, actually. One is probably simple, in terms of answering. Is this affair with the Russian lawsuit against the Bank of New York, in which --
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry? The Russian lawsuit against the Bank of New York?
Q Yes. Is it something to be taken seriously?
MR. FRATTO: I honestly don't know, Andre. I saw the report on that, read maybe just the lead of a story, but I'm not familiar with the facts. And I'm not sure that I -- in fact, I'm fairly certain that I wouldn't be able to speak on potential litigation.
Q Right. That's why I'm asking you not about the litigation, itself, but whether you guys at least treat it seriously.
MR. FRATTO: I don't think I can get --
Q That's why I said it was simple. That's what I expected. The other one is on Wolfowitz. Would you be prepared to consider non-American candidates for the position?
MR. FRATTO: I think what the tradition has been is that the choice for World Bank President, the American -- it's traditionally the American nominee has become the World Bank President. We want to move swiftly in this process. We want to make sure that we are selecting the best individual for the job. We want someone who has a real passion for lifting people out of poverty. The magnitude of the challenge in that effort at the World Bank, and what we do on a bilateral basis, is just enormous.
And if you think about it in this context -- if you want to make a hundred percent increase in the lives of poor people, for most of the world's poor people that means lifting them from living on one dollar a day to two dollars a day. So that's the challenge that's being faced. We take it very seriously. We understand that there is a lot of interest on who the individual will be that the President nominates. And when that will happen and when we have something to announce, we'll --
Q Did the President ask Tony Blair if he was interested in the job?
MR. FRATTO: I don't know.
Q Follow up. The staff association of the World Bank, was the entity that started it all originally, after the leak. Now, yesterday, the staff association explicitly said: The tradition needs to be broken; the next candidate needs to be considered on merit -- exclusively on merit. So are you telling me now that the White House is not prepared to break with tradition?
MR. FRATTO: I'm telling you that our previous nominee, Paul Wolfowitz, was selected on merit, and I think our next one will be selected on merit, as well.
Q Just trying to get a little bit more closure on the American aspect of it. The President's choice can be a non-American, yes?
MR. FRATTO: Potentially? Sure. It's the President's choice.
Q And is the Treasury Secretary a part of -- can you give us a window into how the selection is being done? Is this Bolten, Paulson --
MR. FRATTO: Secretary Paulson -- just to understand the structure of how this works with respect to all the international financial institutions, by the way -- so the World Bank, the IMF, all the other multilateral development banks -- the representation on those boards is, there's a governor, which is always the Treasury Secretary; the alternate governor, which is less known, is actually the Secretary of State. But the Treasury Secretary takes the lead with all of those institutions and in this case, Secretary Paulson -- Secretary Snow was involved in the selection process for Paul Wolfowitz. Secretary Paulson will go through the same procedure this time and make recommendations to the President.
Q Has the President received any recommendations yet? Has he spoken to any candidate --
MR. FRATTO: Not that I'm aware of.
Q -- or been given any --
MR. FRATTO: Not that I'm aware of. I see lots of speculation in newspaper articles, and I would only -- I'm not going to comment on names, but I would say a lot of that is fairly pure speculation, just that.
Q You said it's potentially possible -- are there any non-Americans even in the mix? And, secondly, do you have a reaction to -- the yuan currency, reaction to that?
MR. FRATTO: The President is going to try to select the individual he thinks is the best person for the job. What was your follow up?
Q A reaction to the Chinese widening their currency, does the White House welcome that move?
MR. FRATTO: I'm going to leave Chinese currency-related questions into the very capable hands of Treasury Secretary Paulson. And I know he's welcoming Madame Wu Yi and the Chinese delegation. This is actually -- I hope people pay attention to it, bringing in, I believe, 15 Chinese ministers to meet at, you know, with Cabinet-level talks for his -- the strategic economic dialogue that he initiated last fall. They're meeting next week here in Washington, and we look forward to those meetings and we hope to see progress on a wide range of economic issues in our relationship with China. It is, possibly, if you look forward over the next 50 years, maybe the most important bilateral economic relationship is that between the United States and China.
So we want to -- and as China is a growing economy and becoming more integrated in the global economy, we want this to be a solid and productive relationship that is -- where the benefits to that relationship are fairly shared by citizens in both countries.
Q Tony, on the immigration reform, will the President be personally lobbying the members of Congress to support the measure that was announced yesterday?
MR. FRATTO: I would be surprised if he wasn't, at an appropriate time. We'll leave those decisions to Candi Wolff, who heads up our office of Legislative Affairs. But I think it's no secret that the President is personally very committed to this issue and has been since -- certainly since the first campaign. It has been something that he really believes needs to be accomplished. We're very proud of the work that many people did here in the White House -- certainly, Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Gutierrez, and the bipartisan group of congressional members -- the really incredible work that they did to get a very smart and humane bill to this point. It has a long way to go, and we hope we can get there.
But the President isn't going to miss an opportunity to be a strong voice on this issue, and I think you'll see it in a variety of ways, whether it's telephone conversations, meetings in the White House. We have another radio address today, speeches, and highlighting the various principles that this bill encompasses.
Q Nonetheless, Republicans in the House don't seem to be any more thrilled by this bill than they were the last one. And Nancy Pelosi says she might not even bring it up unless the President can deliver 70 --
MR. FRATTO: We're not going to talk about targets on numbers of votes. We want to see -- any difficult issue that you bring to Congress is going to require courage and leadership. And I think we want to see that. We're seeing some of that from, certainly, the leaders that we worked with in crafting the bill. We'll certainly need leadership in the House to be committed to solving this problem. It can only be a bipartisan effort. We know that. And so that's what we're committed to.
As for members who have questions about the bill, it's a very complicated issue, it's a very complex piece of legislation. And I think we encourage them to take a good look at it, and if they do, I think they'll see that this is -- you know, no one will agree with every single provision in this bill. But I think if they step back and look at it in toto, they'll see it's a very smart way to proceed.
Q What provision does the President not agree with?
MR. FRATTO: I think the President agrees with every provision in this bill.
Q -- no one --
MR. FRATTO: No one on the Hill, Ken.
Q Tony, to come back to the Wolfowitz issue. Did the possibility of Tony Blair becoming the President of the World Bank ever -- was it ever mentioned yesterday in the meetings between the President and the Prime Minister?
MR. FRATTO: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Would he be a credible candidate? Would he be an acceptable candidate?
MR. FRATTO: I'm not going to give thumbs up or thumbs down on any particular potential candidates.
Q Tony, did the President speak with Wolfowitz since yesterday?
MR. FRATTO: I asked that same question; I haven't heard back yet. I don't know. If I find out, I'll try to let you know.
Q If you get that today, would you --
MR. FRATTO: I'd be happy to. Stay in touch with me on that.
Q Quickly, back on Gonzales. Would the White House consider a vote of no confidence to have any procedural impact at all, or would you consider it an empty political stunt?
MR. FRATTO: I think we would consider it to be just another political stunt.
Q Is it not important for the Attorney General to have the confidence of Congress?
MR. FRATTO: It's important for any public official to have as much confidence as he can garner. And that's going to ebb and flow, but it will not ebb and flow with this President and this Attorney General.
Q Let me go back to the China issue. So is the President or the Vice President planning on meeting with Vice Premier Wu Yi or the Chinese delegation next week?
MR. FRATTO: I'm sorry, will --
Q Is the President or the Vice President planning on meeting with Chinese Vice Premier or the Chinese delegation?
MR. FRATTO: I can't confirm that right now. But I would just leave you to talking to Treasury, in terms of the organization that does meetings. There will be White House participation in those meetings. I think Al Hubbard will be participating. I believe Sue Schwab will be participating, also. But I refer you to Treasury on that. And if we can tell you something about the President or Vice President, I will let you know.
Are we going to get to the week ahead?
Q Oh, I forgot about it.
Q Can I ask a question on Gonzales?
MR. FRATTO: Last question on Gonzales.
Q Do you think he has any credibility left after his answers in the hearing?
MR. FRATTO: Yes. Yes.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: You're welcome.
Q Softball. (Laughter.)
Q Happy Friday to you. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: On Sunday -- as you know, after the fundraiser this afternoon, we're heading to Crawford. On Sunday at 4:00 p.m., the President and Mrs. Bush welcome the NATO Secretary General and Mrs. de Hoop Scheffer-van Oorschot. And I will try to check my pronunciation before we get down there.
Monday, May 21st, the President participates in a joint press availability with the NATO Secretary General at the Bush ranch.
Q Mrs. -
MR. FRATTO: I don't believe she's participating in the press avail. (Laughter.)
Q Because you can't pronounce her name. (Laughter.)
MR. FRATTO: No public events on Tuesday. Wednesday, May 23rd, at 11:00 a.m., the President delivers a commencement address at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Q Something on that yet, particular --
MR. FRATTO: I don't recall exactly; I'm sorry. Nothing to announce for Thursday, May 24th. And no public events at this point on Friday, May 25th, although I can let you know that the President and Mrs. Bush will spend that weekend at Camp.
END 9:57 A.M. EDT
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