Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 4/8/2015
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 08, 2015
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Nice mug.
MR. EARNEST: Thank you. Ms. Friedman was just asking if we were going to do that every day for baseball season, and I said yes. So we can all get used to it.
I apologize for the delay in getting started today, so let's go straight to your questions.
Q Josh, has the President seen the video of the police officer in South Carolina shooting at a fleeing black man? And what is his response and message to the protestors there?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Nedra, I have not spoken to the President about this issue. I would not be surprised, however, given the amount of media attention that this issue has received, that the President is obviously aware of it and has seen the video.
There's not a whole lot that I can say about it, because the FBI is investigating this situation, as are our local enforcement officials. I can tell you that the reaction from others that I have talked to around the White House today is that the video is awfully hard to watch, and I think that is the kind of human response that we've seen from people all across the country.
I think the other thing that came to my mind and I think that came to the minds of others who have been focused on this issue over the last year or so is the impact that this video evidence appears to have had on the investigation; that I think even the investigators themselves have acknowledged that when this video evidence was presented, that it changed the way that they were looking at this case. And I do think that is an example of how body cameras worn by police officers could have a positive impact in terms of building trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they serve.
And again, that's for a couple of reasons. One is, because obviously this video evidence in this case was very helpful. Again, based on the accounts of the investigators themselves, the video evidence has benefitted their investigation. There's also some academic evidence to indicate that the use of body cameras actually is correlated closely with a pretty significant decline in the number of violent incidents; that police officers wearing body cameras are less likely to get involved in any violent confrontation when they're wearing those cameras.
So this is obviously an issue that the administration has been focused on. There is a community policing initiative grant for $75 million that we announced earlier this year that would help law enforcement agencies across the country implement policies related to body cameras. And I saw just before I walked out here that the mayor of North Charleston said that that city was considering -- or is going to move forward on a policy that would require their officers to wear body cameras.
So I don't think there's anybody who thinks that that is a panacea; it certainly isn't. But it certainly, as least in this situation, is a good example of how it could certainly help.
Q The Scott family has said that the swift charges suggest that the justice system is working in this case. Is that a view that's shared here? Or do people think there still needs to be some sort of civil rights probe like there was with Ferguson?
MR. EARNEST: Well, this is something that the investigators will take a look at it, and I wouldn't want to comment or get ahead of their investigation in any way.
Q Did Russian hackers get access to sensitive information here at the White House, such as the President's non-public schedule?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Nedra, there has been a lot of -- over the last couple of days -- or I guess over the last 24 hours there's been a lot of coverage of an incident that occurred about six months ago here at the White House, which is something that we talked about quite a bit at the time -- that the White House detected some activity of concern on the White House computer network. We took appropriate steps to address that concern, and we did so mindful of the fact that our computer network here is going to continue to be a target.
It continues to be true, as we said at the time, that there's no evidence that our classified network was compromised in this situation. The systems and computers in place here at the White House were not damaged by this activity of concern, but there were some elements of the system that were affected when our computer administrators took steps to mitigate the impact of the activity of concern. Much of that capability has been restored.
I think what is prompting the news is that there are sources attributing this attack to one specific country, and I'm just not in a position to do that.
Q Would you characterize the impacts, though -- was it on sensitive information? Were the President's non-public schedules available to these hackers?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm certainly not going to talk about the information directly related to the President and his schedule or his email. But I think it would be fair for you to say that any time that anybody is reviewing material or any time that there is activity of concern that's detected on the White House network, that that puts that individual or that entity in close proximity to sensitive information; not classified information because, again, there's no evidence at this point to indicate that the classified system was compromised. But certainly there is sensitive information that is transmitted on the White House network and that's one of the reasons that we describe the activity that we saw on the network as concerning.
Q And just finally, can you respond to the Texas ruling upholding the temporary hold on the President's immigration order?
MR. EARNEST: We did see that ruling from last night. The fact is that the President announced common-sense policies to help bring accountability, some much-needed accountability, to our broken immigration system. The impact of these changes would strengthen our economy and keep our communities safe, and that's why you saw briefs filed in this case in support of the President's legislative action -- or executive action by local law enforcement officials across the country, including in some communities that are located in pretty red states. We saw statements from the sheriff of Dallas and of Houston there in Texas where the case is actually being heard.
We also saw strong support from business leaders and from faith leaders all across the country. There's bipartisan support for what the President was trying to do to bring accountability to our broken immigration system. And we continue to have strong confidence in the legal arguments that we're making. You'll note, Nedra, that an appeal prior to this ruling even being handed down, and we'd already appealed to the 5th Circuit because we're trying to move this process along as expeditiously as possible. So we're going to continue to press our case at the 5th Circuit level.
Q Josh, back to the shooting. You mentioned the grants that the administration announced last year on body cameras. What's the status of those grants? Have they been distributed? And how is that going?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have an update in terms of the specific status. These were existing programs where they were going to use some of the money to invest in this particular body camera initiative. These are funding streams that are maintained by the Department of Justice, so I'd refer you to them for a more detailed assessment about where that stands right now.
Q You said it wouldn't be a panacea. Do you think more money needs to be made available?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there certainly is reason to be optimistic about the positive impact that more police officers wearing body cameras could have. We also, as a part of the announcement about additional funding for body cameras, we announced some funding to actually study the impact of body cameras. The early evidence is positive in that it does seem to indicate or, as I mentioned, correlate with fewer violent confrontations between police officers and members of the community. But this is something that merits additional study and it's something that's also funded in the proposal that we put forward at the end of last year.
Q Moving to a shooting in another country, there are more reports now about Kenya and apparently slow response by the police team that responded to that massacre there. Is the President, is the White House concerned about that response? And do you think Kenya is a safe country right now for Americans to travel to?
MR. EARNEST: Well, any sort of advice about whether or not Americans should travel somewhere is advice that would come from the experts at the State Department. So if people have questions about that, they can check the State Department website that is regularly offering advice to American travelers.
The United States officials have been in close touch with the Kenyans, both in the immediate aftermath of the terrible, tragic shooting that you referred to. We've also vowed to support their efforts to investigate what exactly happened. But there's no denying the fact that this is a terribly tragic incident and I do think indicates that al-Shabaab continues to be a terrorist organization that's dangerous, despite the success that we have had in supporting local forces who have rolled back substantial portions of territory that al-Shabaab used to control. We need to continue to be vigilant about the threat that they pose.
Q And finally, are you able to give any more details about the upcoming Camp David summit with the Arab leaders? In particular, should we expect to see any security guarantees or pledges of increased defense cooperation at that summit?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any details about the summit at this point. We've obviously been in touch with the Gulf leaders about trying to arrange it, but a date has not been established yet. But certainly once we establish a date, we'll start going through -- start consulting with them about the topics that we'll include on the agenda. But I anticipate that we'll have a lot more on this as that date gets closer, once we have a date.
Q First off, where does this thing stand as far as the Iran nuclear lobbying campaign, if you will, especially towards Democrats on Capitol Hill? Are you close to, perhaps, sustaining a veto, do you think, in some way? I know it's early yet.
MR. EARNEST: It is early. And we are still in a mode of helping members of Congress understand precisely what the terms of the commitments are that we have obtained from Iran. We put out a four-page set of parameters at the end of last week that was pretty detailed. There have been a number of consultations with members of Congress about that four-page document already.
The State Department has offered to members of Congress on the national security committees a classified briefing with Wendy Sherman who is one of the lead negotiators on the team. She is somebody who is obviously very steeped in the details and can engage in a classified conversation. There is essentially an open invitation for members of the national security committees to receive that briefing.
I would anticipate that when Congress returns to Washington next week, that there will be additional in-person consultations that will take place. And that is consistent with the kind of approach that we had even in the run-up to the negotiations.
The other thing I can tell you -- this doesn't just apply to Democrats; that the White House is also in touch with Republicans too -- I can tell you that just earlier today President Obama telephoned the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, to talk to him about the commitments that Iran had made. The President said to him what he has said publicly, which is that he certainly has a lot of respect for the way that Chairman Corker has approached the situation; they have obvious differences. But the President made the case to him once again that the President believes that this principled approach to diplomacy is the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The conversation was not an opportunity for the two men to negotiate the terms of any sort of legislation, but rather just an opportunity for the President to speak directly to the chairman to underscore his view about the opportunity that now exists.
Q -- what the reaction was on the other end of the phone, perhaps?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd refer you to Chairman Corker's spokesperson who can read out their end of the conversation if they choose to do so.
Q Is there anything more also about the possible meeting with Raul Castro, or how this is going to work?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any additional details about the President's trip later this week, but stay tuned.
Q I wanted to first loop back on the hack. I know that you said that you couldn't comment on whether Russia was involved, but I guess I'm curious why that is. We saw in the aftermath of the Sony hack, of course, that you and the President pretty quickly identified North Korea as the culprits and also moved to sanction members of the North Korean government over that.
MR. EARNEST: But the reason that that decision was made to make public the attribution for the Sony hack is the conclusion was made by our investigators that we're more likely to be successful in terms of holding them accountable by naming them publicly. And that was a conclusion that our investigators had drawn from their investigation of the Sony incident.
I don't have any information to share about the investigation into the activity of concern on the White House network.
Q Even if you can't say who did it, do you know who did it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I'm reluctant to say –-
Q Not you personally -- (laughter) -- but the White House --
MR. EARNEST: Well, based on the amount of scrutiny that this has received by the White House and other national security agencies, I suspect that there are some well-developed theories about that, but I wouldn't comment on that.
Q All right. Bob Menendez put out a statement a little while ago responding to sort of reports that Cuba could be moved off the State Sponsor of Terror list, and he said that it was alarming to hear about unwarranted pressure from the White House to rush the State Department process -- this was until a couple days ago the top-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee. I'm wondering if you have a response to that sort of accusation.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I haven't seen the statement. I can tell you that the State Department has been engaged in a process, for more than a couple of months now, to review this designation. This is something that the President announced that he would ask the State Department to do back in December.
I'm not going to make any news in terms of the status of that ongoing review by the administration. But the President believes that reviewing their inclusion on the list is a natural part of taking the kinds of steps that the President believes is in the best interest of the United States as we seek to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba.
Q So there's no pressure from the White House, especially with this kind of high-profile meeting that's about to happen to have this evaluation done by the time the President --
MR. EARNEST: The President's interest and the interest of everybody here at the White House was to ensure that this review is conducted properly and through the usual course of business. That's what has been taking place now since December.
Q And then last and quickly, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel won reelection. I'm wondering if the President had any reaction to that.
MR. EARNEST: I didn't talk to the President about the mayoral election. I did note that the President had an opportunity last night to telephone Mayor Emanuel and congratulate him on his reelection.
Q Did he vote?
MR. EARNEST: I believe that we indicated that the President did vote in the election. And the President, while not saying who he voted for, has repeatedly indicated who he was supporting in the race.
Q Josh, thanks. Can you give us the latest information that you have on the shooting in Afghanistan? Apparently a U.S. soldier was killed by an Afghan soldier.
MR. EARNEST: A lot of these details are still coming in from the Department of Defense. I don't know that I have a lot more than what they have already said. What the Pentagon has confirmed is that an incident took place today in Jalalabad, Afghanistan resulting in the death of one U.S. servicemember and the wounding of several others. I would note that this is the first death of a U.S. servicemember under Resolute Support in Operation Freedom's Sentinel. This reflects the new missions that our personnel are operating in -- under in Afghanistan after the 1st of the year.
Obviously, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House today are with the families of those who were wounded or killed in the attack.
Q And just following up on that point that you made, Josh -- to what extent does this reinvigorate concerns about transferring power to Afghan forces? Obviously, the President just announced a new timeline. But does this underscore the fact that the Afghan forces are to some extent a ways away from being ready?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think this underscores that Afghanistan continues to be a dangerous place; that while we have made substantial progress by supporting the Afghan security forces and building up the capacity of those forces and building up the strength of the central government, that our men and women who are serving in Afghanistan are continuing to take a risk in service to this country. And it's why we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service to the country.
At the same time, we're going to continue to work closely with President Ghani, other members of the Afghan government, and our international partners to support the Afghan government of national unity as it pursues a future of greater peace, prosperity and finally an end to this conflict.
Q And just shifting to the Iran deal, I want to ask you about a strongly worded op-ed in the Wall Street Journal written by former Secretaries of State Kissinger and Schultz. And they sake a number of different points, but I wanted to sort of comment on one point, which is about the verification process. And they write [that] the verification regime can't prevent breakout of real-world bureaucratic constraints. "In a large country with multiple facilities and ample experience in nuclear concealment, violations will be inherently difficult to detect."
Can you respond to that? Do they have a point? Won't it be difficult to detect some of these violations?
MR. EARNEST: Kristen, what the international community envisions is putting in place the most stringent, intrusive set of inspections that have ever been imposed on a country's nuclear program. And this means not just putting inspections on the facilities that are on as previously used to enrich uranium, but actually putting in place inspections all throughout the nuclear supply chain. So this means going to the uranium mines in Iran to monitor the situation there. This means going to the manufacturing facilities where they build the centrifuges that are later installed in the enrichment facilities -- that by essentially putting inspections in those manufacturing facilities we can keep very close tabs on their nuclear program.
We've also put in tough, long-term restrictions on these programs. So, for example, we're talking about continuous surveillance of centrifuges that are going to be kept under lock and key.
So what this means is it means that we can have a very good sense about what's happening at the facilities that we currently know about -- at Natanz and Fordow and obviously the heavy-water reactor at Arak that would be overhauled. But what we would also do by inspecting that supply chain [is] make it very difficult for Iran to reestablish a nuclear facility because what they would have to do is not just build a new facility, they would have to recreate a whole supply chain for their nuclear program. They'd have to find a new source of uranium. They'd have to find a new source of -- or a new manufacturing facility to build centrifuges.
So that is why we can be confident in the set of inspections that the international community envisions being imposed.
Q And you used the term that you would have a "good sense," but can you guarantee that nuclear activity won't fall through the cracks?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kristen, again, the reason we would have a good sense is because we wouldn't just be in a situation where we would be hoping that Iran didn't build another enrichment facility in secret; we would be in a situation where we could detect if they were using -- mining uranium and it was -- somehow the results of that mining were unaccounted for. Or if there were a manufacturing facility somewhere where they are building centrifuges, and somewhere those centrifuges end up where they're not accounted for.
They would have to reestablish a whole chain of their nuclear program. And that is why we would have confidence that this set of inspections would detect any attempt by Iran to either circumvent the agreement or to break out and try to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Q And finally, on the South Carolina shooting, has the President reached out to anyone in South Carolina, family members? And can you, by the end of the day, get us his reaction, what his reaction was to seeing the videotape?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm not aware of any telephone calls the President has placed on this specific matter. I don't anticipate that the President will have anything to say on this today, but if that changes we'll obviously let you know.
Q First, on the shooting videotape, you are aware, I presume, that the officer in question has now been charged with murder, correct?
MR. EARNEST: I have seen those reports, yes.
Q You are aware that when you were asked about this at the top of the briefing, you spoke in fairly lengthy terms about the event, including a description of the video evidence as helpful.
MR. EARNEST: Again, that is what I understand the investigators have said was their reaction when they had the opportunity to review the video.
Q You understand that nowhere in your remarks earlier on this subject in the briefing did you take pains to say that the individual who is captured on the videotape and who now faces murder charges is entitled to due process or is presumed innocent until proven guilty, the existence of the videotape notwithstanding. You did not include that in your remarks.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I certainly would stipulate that that's true.
Q On to Russia. Even though you are unwilling to identify Russia as the entity behind these unwelcome intrusions into the White House network, there are, as you say, some well-developed theories that prevail here about it. And I just wonder if you would assess for us how you see Russia today given that this activity took place at the very same time when, supposedly, the United States and Russia were working so well, so cooperatively together to put together the Iran parameters.
MR. EARNEST: Yes, I think that's an indication of the kind of complicated relationship we have with Russia -- at the same time we were in pretty stark conflict over Russia's behavior in Ukraine, while at the same time the U.S. space program was cooperating with Russians to send U.S. astronauts into space and to maintain their livelihood aboard the International Space Station.
So it is true that we continue to have a complex relationship with Russia, and that's why the President seeks to apply serious pressure where necessary to raise our concerns with Russia and to work with the international community to articulate our concerns with Russian behavior, while at the same time look for opportunities where we can cooperate and achieve objectives that are clearly in the best interest of both our countries, like preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q Given that the Iran nuclear negotiations under the JPOA have been occurring since roughly November of 2013, and given that this intrusion activity occurred only six months ago, is it fair to infer that the whole process of the JPOA and the Iran nuclear talks has not, where the U.S.-Russia relationship is concerned, proved transformative in any real way?
MR. EARNEST: No, I wouldn't say that it has, but I do think that it illustrates that there still is the capacity for the United States and Russia to coordinate and cooperate on areas of mutual interest. But if the point that you're making is that it doesn't alleviate the serious concerns we have about some other aspects of their behavior, you're entirely right about that.
Q In other words, the fact that we were able to collaborate with them on the Iran nuclear talks to the outcome that so far has been reached in and of itself is not making our relationship with the Russians any better or easier, really.
MR. EARNEST: Well, it doesn't alleviate the significant concerns that we have with other aspects of their behavior. I think that our ability to successfully cooperate may on balance improve our relationship, but it doesn't alleviate in any way our concerns about Russia's destabilizing activity in Ukraine, for example.
Q In an earlier answer about the hack, you said there was no damage to the system but some elements were affected. Yesterday's statement from the NSC does not say specifically that the hackers got into the system. Did they?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't have a detailed accounting of the activity of concern that we've identified. And the point that I was trying to make before is that there was no damage sustained by computers or our system. There were some elements of our unclassified network that were affected when we took steps to mitigate the activity of concern that was detected on the network.
Q I guess what I'm trying to find out is what do you mean by elements being affected.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'll see if we can get you some more details. I'm reluctant to talk in great detail about our computer network from here for some of the reasons that are highlighted by this incident.
Q Can I do one real quick one on the same subject? You mentioned in your remarks earlier that most of the capacity that was somehow damaged or affected has been restored. So are we to infer from that that there is some enduring damage?
MR. EARNEST: No. There was no damage that was created by this intrusion. But there were some, essentially, capabilities or functions that were changed on the system to try to mitigate the impact of this activity of concern, or this intrusion that we detected. And the vast majority of those capabilities or those changes have been restored.
Q Why haven't they all been restored, I guess is what I'm asking?
MR. EARNEST: Again, I can't get into the details of sort of the maintenance of our network.
Q Josh, on that, you suggested that the White House knows who was behind this hack, not getting into specifics who it was. But can you say that whoever was behind this, has the administration let that party -- whether it be the Russians or not -- but whoever it is, has the concern been expressed that, hey, this was not acceptable?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not aware of any specific conversations that have taken place outside the government on this particular issue, but I can look into that. And if that's a conversation that we can talk about, I'll let you know.
Q Okay, thank you. And then if I could switch topics and ask you about the President's former Secretary of State. There are some suggestions that she is about to announce that she is running for President.
MR. EARNEST: I've seen those reports, too. (Laughter.)
Q And I'm wondering if in any of their recent conversations if the President has offered her any advice at all. Obviously he's been through this himself a couple times.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't want to get into a lot of details about their private conversations, but I would say just as a general matter that when they have the opportunity to get together they talk about a wide range of things that starts with their families, but eventually includes a discussion of current events, including politics. But I don't know if the Secretary asked for any advice or if the President gave any.
Q And the President did speak generally about her, saying that if she is her wonderful self, she will do great. Was he suggesting that, as some others have suggested, that she occasionally has a problem being authentic?
MR. EARNEST: No, that's not what he was suggesting. I think that he was suggesting that he thinks very highly of her and that there is an opportunity, if she decides to make this decision, that she'll have a very strong case to make based on her skills and experience.
Q And just one last one on this. I'm sure you saw on a very good Sunday program, Martin O'Malley suggested that the presidency is not something that should be passed between two families. What do you think about that? What does the President think about that?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't asked him about that. Look, we'll have -- that was an obvious question at the time about the sort of possible candidacies of members of the Bush family and the Clinton family. And I've at least tried to do my best to avoid weighing in on that so far, but if that's what it comes to, I'm sure we'll have the opportunity to discuss that in a lot of detail from here in the months ahead.
Q A question on Iran. I don't know if this came up in the conversation with Senator Corker, but does the White House feel there is language that would both be binding, since that's what Corker is insisting on, but also preserve the President's prerogatives to make international agreements?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President indicated in his conversation with Tom Friedman over the weekend that he hoped that language like that could be developed. But I'm not aware of any at this point. The fact is the mode that we're in right now is helping members of Congress understand exactly what's included in the commitments that Iran has made thus far. And our principal concern is to make sure that the U.S. officials who are responsible for negotiating the details of this agreement have the time and space that they need to complete this agreement by the end of June. And that will not be an easy undertaking.
We certainly have made important progress in reaching this framework agreement, as we did last week. But there are still a lot of important details that need to be locked down to ensure that we have an agreement that lives up to the framework that was agreed to last week. So there's a lot of painstaking work that lies ahead. And the President believes that if we can complete that painstaking work, it will be the best possible way for us to resolve the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program and to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Q One thing that I don't think that you've ever explained, and the President often talks about these snap-back provisions, that if Iran violates it, automatically, bang, sanctions are back, as if they happen automatically. How do you get all those business people and corporations that have been doing business in Iran because the sanctions were lifted to suddenly disappear? I mean, how does that actually work? How do sanctions snap back?
MR. EARNEST: Well, just as a mechanical matter, what the President envisions is essentially leaving the sanctions architecture in place so that if we did detect that Iran was circumventing the agreement or not living up to it in some way, that the President would with the stroke of a pen reimpose those sanctions.
Now, as a practical matter about what impact that has on their economy or what impact that has on business transactions that may be occurring at the moment that the President signs the document, I'd actually refer you to my colleagues over at the Treasury Department who are experts in the implementation of this particular tool.
What I'll point out, though, Mara, is that this is one of the reasons that the snap-back strategy, if you will, has the potential to be quite effective in ensuring that Iran lives up to the terms of the agreement; that if we eventually do go down the road of an agreement, if Iran does make these commitments, and they live up to them, and they start to get sort of the phased sanctions relief that we've talked about for quite some time, that builds in a strong and growing incentive for Iran to live up to the agreement. The idea that sanctions at any moment could be snapped back into place gives them a powerful incentive to live up to the deal; that trying to unwind the opportunities that would be created by the phased-in sanctions relief is something that certainly would not be in Iran's best interest, and it would give the leadership of Iran a very strong incentive and a growing incentive to continue to live up to the terms of the agreement.
Q Right. But what do you say to people who say that that's just a fantasy because he could do something with the stroke of a pen but you've got all these other allies who have now lifted sanctions and all this business being done in Iran, Iran's economy is stronger -- that it's just absolutely impossible to reverse sanctions at the drop of a hat?
MR. EARNEST: Well, because it would be written into the agreement. So obviously the sanctions that we have in place from the United States would have a significant impact. The international community is united here, and they understand the stakes. And we've seen other countries around the world make significant sacrifices to support the sanctions that are in place against Iran. They obviously understand that this is a top priority. And they would continue to work closely with the United States and our other international partners in enforcing this agreement. And we would continue to be confident that if the United States continues to lead the international community, that we would be able to preserve the kind of unity that's been so effective in applying pressure on Iran so far.
This is precisely why we would -- we're concerned about any sort of legislative action that might unilaterally impose additional sanctions on Iran, because that international unity that's been so effective in pressuring Iran would fracture at that point; that it would make it clear to the international community that the United States was interested in something other than just getting a good, strong diplomatic document with Iran. And that is a real danger and one reason that we have tried to make the case very aggressively to Congress that putting in place additional sanctions at this point would be unwise and undermine the important leverage that we have right now when it comes to dealing with Iran.
Q Just one question. Is there any example of any other sanctions in any other situation that have snapped back? Has this ever been used before?
MR. EARNEST: Not off the top of my head, but I'm certainly no sanctions expert. But the Treasury Department may be able to give you an example.
Q In a Russian, or not Russian hacking incident, we have U.S. officials who are close to the investigation telling us that there were certain codes or markers that would indicate that these hackers were working for the Russian government. That sounds remarkably similar to what was said by the FBI and others at the time of the North Korean incident. So given the similarity of what's being said by officials, is there any reason why the White House wouldn't at this point name and shame someone for this incident?
MR. EARNEST: Well, at this point, our investigators have concluded that it's not in our best interests to identify the entity that may be responsible for this specific activity of concern. But it's obviously something that we continue to be aware of on a daily basis, that the White House computer system is a target for a wide variety of criminal actors and others who may have designs on trying to infiltrate our system. And we're mindful of that and we take significant precautions to try to prevent those kinds of intrusions from occurring.
Q Okay, so without saying it then, if it's not in the best interests to name who did this or who is believed to have done this, why was it fine with North Korea? Can you explain why it would not be --
MR. EARNEST: Well, in that case, the FBI made the determination that we could be more effective in holding the North Koreans accountable for the cyber vandalism that some North Korean groups perpetrated against Sony by naming them. And again, that was a determination that was reached by the FBI and other members of the President's national security team who were working on this issue.
Q So it would be less effective in this case to actually name who is believed to be behind it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, that appears to be the conclusion of those who are responsible for responding to this incident.
Q Okay, got it. And I couldn't help but notice that we got the two-minute warning for this briefing at the very second that the press conference in South Carolina ended. Was that because you were watching it with interest?
MR. EARNEST: I did not have a chance to watch the news conference today. That is a rare coincidence, I suppose. Part of the delay was that the President was telephoning Senator Corker, so I had a conversation about his phone conversation, and that's what led to our unfortunate delay.
Q So that would mean the President was not watching this news conference.
MR. EARNEST: The President was not watching the news conference.
Q And you mentioned that you hadn't had the conversation with the President as to whether he had seen the video and that he wouldn't likely have anything to say on it today, but could you let us know today if he has, indeed, seen the video?
MR. EARNEST: I'll see if I can confirm that, yes.
Q Okay. And lastly, the White House has really gotten involved in these cases with the body cameras, the additional funds for community policing, looking at how certain types of equipment go to local communities. But the people in this press conference raised an issue today -- these people in North Charleston were saying that, yes, their department is something like 80 percent white, but they searched far and wide to try to find officers of color, but to no avail, is what they're saying. So is the White House interested, if there's such a push to try to build community trust, to do something about that? Because I think it's easy to say there are no black officers on this or that department, but it seems like finding them repeatedly is a big issue. Is that something that you're looking at, or how could that be addressed?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'm certainly no expert in this issue, but that seems like a very legitimate concern to be raised. And I do feel confident in telling you that policymakers inside the administration do believe that the effectiveness of our law enforcement organizations are enhanced when they are diverse and they reflect the population that they are sworn to serve and to protect.
So I'll see if I can get you some more on this, but this is -- the concern that has been raised seems like a legitimate one and one that seems worthy of some consideration.
Q Is that something that the White House has also been focused on in this effort that you've been making and have you identified that as a problem?
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people who have been looking at this issue have. It's not something I've heard of before, but we can put you in touch with some of our experts here at the White House who work on this issue more frequently than I do to talk to you about it if you like.
Q Do you mind if I just ask you one quick one as you go on this trip: I noticed that it was really recently that you extended the national emergency with regards to Cuba and said that there is still a threat that a U.S. humanitarian plane would be shot down by the Cuban government, went so far as to identify that as still being a risk. So it sounds like you're still making a stand on possible sponsorship of terrorism, but you're still waiting for the State Department to weigh in. So why extend that now?
MR. EARNEST: That was just a pro forma announcement so -- that was prepared to expire. Our policy will remain in place until a decision is made to change it, and that's essentially what that reflects.
Q Josh, on the subject -- on Raul Castro, I know you said repeatedly there's nothing, no formal one-on-one meeting on the schedule.
MR. EARNEST: That's right.
Q But during the summit, obviously the two are going to be in the same room. There will be opportunities to interact. Can you characterize what you expect out of those interactions? Is that going to be substantive discussion, or is just going to be like a handshake like we saw in South Africa?
MR. EARNEST: I think it's difficult to predict at this point. But I think one of the things that we can try to do is, after an interaction like that has taken place, to give you all a sense of what exactly occurred -- if you're not there to see it yourself.
Q You don't think that the President would want to take advantage of that opportunity to say, look, I realize we've got this new opening, but you're clapping more dissidents in prison and we've got some issues here, and to make a statement of U.S. policy?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the President certainly wouldn't be reluctant to deliver that message in person if given the opportunity. But we'll see what -- he obviously would want to do it in an appropriate context. So, again, if an interaction like that occurs, we'll do our best to give you an accounting of what sort of exchange took place.
Q I just want to go back to what Jon was talking about in terms of the primary. There's a group of prominent Democrats last week, including Larry Cohen, president of CWA, who put out a statement encouraging other Democrats to run because a healthy primary would be good for the Democratic Party. Does the President, as the head of the Democratic Party, share that belief?
MR. EARNEST: That's a creative way to ask the question. (Laughter.) What I would say is -- what I could say just as a factual matter is I think the President would indicate that as arduous and difficult and tiring as the 2007-2008 Democratic presidential primary was, that he emerged from that process with some scars but he also emerged as a better candidate. And that said, each race and each candidate and the political dynamic in each race is different. And so I think it's important at the same time to not overlearn lessons from previous campaigns, and I'm sure that the strategists, frankly, on both sides of the aisle are cognizant of that as well.
Q So certainly he would like to see Democrats hold on to the White House. And having engaged in and benefitted from a competitive primary in 2008, I hear you're saying that we can conclude that he believes a competitive primary in 2016 would also be the way to go.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, each race is different. And so the President is -- and candidates are different and the political dynamic in each race is different. So I would encourage -- and, again, I think people take this to heart -- it's important not to overlearn the lessons of the previous campaign as well.
Q So ignore --
MR. EARNEST: No, again, I don't think anybody would make the case that you should ignore them, but I don't think anybody would make the case that just because it happened eight years ago that the same thing should happen this year, too.
Q Have the scars healed that you mentioned? (Laughter.)
MR. EARNEST: I think they largely have. (Laughter.)
Q Josh, the unfortunate news about Walter Scott and the video broke yesterday before the results came in in the Chicago mayoral race. So when you spoke to the President at some point after that and learned that he had called Mayor Emanuel and congratulated him, was it a decision not to discuss the Walter Scott case on one or both parties, or was that information that you didn't have at that time?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not sure I understand your question. When you say one or both parties, which parties are you talking about?
Q You and the President. Did one of you decide not to bring up Walter Scott with the other? I'm saying by the time you talked to him about Mayor Emanuel, you already knew -- or at least I'm guessing you had seen the video.
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me just clarify one thing. I did not talk to the President about his conversation with Mayor Emanuel. I did talk to him about his conversation with Senator Corker and I overheard parts of it. But I did not talk to the President either about his conversation with Mayor Emanuel or about the tragic incident in South Carolina.
Q Was that a decision of editing for time? Why has that --
MR. EARNEST: I didn't bring it up because he has got a lot of things on his plate, and we talked about one important issue but he had to move on to other things.
Q So the incident in South Carolina wasn't considered an important issue by you at that time or something that you --
MR. EARNEST: I wouldn't characterize it that way at all.
In the back.
Q Thanks, Josh. Just going back to body cameras. As you've said, there's mounting evidence they make a difference. But the only action on the Hill seems to be this proposed bill from Rand Paul and others that would just call for more trials. Would the White House support mandatory use of these body cameras? And if not, why not?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I don't think that we've gone that far. I think that there's specific funding that we have moved forward that would allow more local law enforcement agencies to take advantage of that technology. We've also put forward some money to evaluate the effectiveness and the impact of policy officers wearing body cameras. We have obviously -- and certainly would continue to encourage Congress to mobilize additional resources that local law enforcement agencies could benefit from in that regard. But I'm not aware of any sort of blanket statement that we've made about requiring local police officers -- or officers from local law enforcement agencies to wear body cameras.
Q But my question is, why not? If you believe they're so useful, and you said right at the outset of the briefing you --
MR. EARNEST: Well, what I said at the outset was this particular incident indicates the possible benefits of video evidence in these matters. But the impact that this would have on a much larger scale is something that we believe is worthy of further study, and we're willing to devote some additional resources to do exactly that.
Q So it's possible at some point down the line there would be sufficient evidence that you would support a mandatory
MR. EARNEST: That is a possibility that we would leave open. But I think there's additional data that can be collected that would help us make a better decision along those lines.
Q Thanks, Josh. A couple of the counts have come in on the Boston Marathon case, guilty. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. EARNEST: I don't. I haven't seen those yet, so we'll let the jury render its verdict before we have any comment from here.
Q They're still going on with the counts. But I forgot what I was going to ask you. Tomorrow the Vice President will be giving a major address -- a major policy address on Iraq at the National Defense University, and includes ISIL. Why is this an address that the President himself is not giving? I understand he's out of the country. But this is something that could have been arranged for the President to speak on of something of this gravity?
MR. EARNEST: Yes, it could. The President on a number of occasions has spoken about this important issue. Obviously, the Vice President himself has a lot of expertise on this issue. The Vice President, early on this administration, was responsible essentially for working closely with the Iraqis as the President began the drawdown of U.S. military personnel from Iraq. That was something that was largely managed by the Vice President of the United States given his preexisting relationships in Iraq and given his expertise in this area.
For that reason, I think it makes a lot of sense for the Vice President in this context, while the President is out of the country, to provide the American people an update on our ongoing efforts to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, starting in Iraq but in other places, including in Syria.
Q So it's an update. There's not going to be any policy -- new policy announcements?
MR. EARNEST: I haven't seen the text of the Vice President's speech. I'm not aware of any specific policy announcements that he's planning. But you should check with the Vice President's office before you report that.
Q On another issue -- well, this is something that was discussed a lot yesterday in the Briefing Room -- at the prayer breakfast, what the President said in terms of less than loving expressions from Christians. After he said that, he said, I'm pulling back a little bit on that. Can you tell us if the prepared remarks -- was there anything else in the prepared remarks that he decided not to say?
MR. EARNEST: No, there was not.
Q Thanks, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: In the back, I'll give you the last one.
Q All right. Thanks so much, Josh.
MR. EARNEST: What's your name?
Q My name is Willie. I work with NHK.
MR. EARNEST: How are you doing, Willie?
Q Nice to meet you, Josh. Thanks so much.
MR. EARNEST: You bet.
Q I'm just wondering if you have any insight as to what the President will discuss with Prime Minister Abe for the upcoming state visit, and if the U.S. government is changing its direction on the AIIB.
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any announcements to make in terms of the U.S. policy position toward the AIIB. At this point there are no plans for the United States to join that organization.
Obviously, we have a very deep relationship with Japan. I think the best evidence I can marshal -- the best evidence I can point to, to illustrate that is that right now as we speak, the Secretary of Defense is in Japan and he's deepening the security cooperation in relationship between our two countries.
Obviously, the economic relationship between our two countries is one that's also very important. Obviously, Japan is working on the TPP negotiations alongside the United States and other countries throughout Asia. So there is no shortage of things to talk about -- everything from important economic issues to a range of security issues. And the President is certainly looking forward to hosting Prime Minister Abe here at the White House for a state visit, and what hopefully will be a pretty enjoyable state dinner.
Q Do you think there will be a breakthrough with the TPP negotiations during the visit?
MR. EARNEST: I would hesitate to raise expectations that high. I would anticipate that they would have -- that it would be the subject of quite a bit of discussion both leading up to the visit, but also during the visit. But I wouldn't predict at this point any specific outcomes.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, everybody.
2:18 P.M. EDT
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|