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Nov 1. Pres Gaggle - Harken and SEC

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 1, 2002

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Presidential Travel
Israel / Middle East
Harken / SEC
8:35 A.M. EST

MR. MCCLELLAN: All right, good morning. Hope everybody got lots of candy last night.

This morning, the President had his usual briefings before departing. We start by -- we start today with a Pennsylvania welcome and a New Hampshire welcome, followed by a Kentucky welcome before returning to the White House.

Let me go through each one of those stops. At the first stop, the Freedom Corps greeter will be Nancy Fierer, who is a founder of a volunteer program that provides service dogs and hearing dogs to children and adults with disabilities.

In Pennsylvania, the President is going there to support Congressman George Gekas' reelection campaign, Attorney General Mike Fisher's gubernatorial campaign, and the rest of the ticket.

In New Hampshire, the Freedom corps greeter is Zack Dietrich, and he is an Americorps Vista Service volunteer. In New Hampshire, the President is going to New Hampshire to support Congressman John Sununu's senatorial campaign, Jeb Bradley's congressional campaign, Congressman Charlie Bass' reelection campaign, and Craig Benson's gubernatorial campaign.

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Freedom Corps greeter is Ray Probus, who is involved in the Jefferson County Police Department's Volunteers in Police Service program, which is part of our Citizen Corps initiative.

In Kentucky, the President is going to Kentucky to support the campaigns of Congresswoman Anne Northup, Senator Mitch McConnell for his reelection campaign, Geoff Davis' campaign for Congress, and the rest of the Kentucky ticket.

And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.

Q How will the changes in the Israeli cabinet affect the President's ability to bring peace to the Middle East? You have a more hawkish cabinet now.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, Ron, you know, one, the President has laid out a road map toward our goal of achieving two states living side by side in peace. He has laid our road map for the Middle East. We don't discuss internal domestic matters in Israel. But the President has laid out a clear road map for peace in the Middle East, and that's the road map we're continuing to work with the parties on there.

Q There are reports, I think, that Israel did give some assurances that their new government would not interfere, that they were working to assure it would not interfere with U.S. policy on Iraq, U.S. --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, you're asking me -- you're asking about the latest domestic developments --

Q Have you received any communications from the Israeli government?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, you know, we have communications with the Israeli government all the time. I mean, you know, I imagine you may want to check with the State Department as well. But I have not been informed of those discussions at this point. It's just a matter of we don't comment on those internal domestic matters in Israel.

Q Any comment on the Washington Post story involving the latest development on the Harken case?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think it goes back to what we said previously, that the SEC looked into the matter long ago, and the SEC determined there was nothing there. And I don't think it changes anything. That's what I know.

Q -- say if the President expressed any views on SEC and -- have you heard him say anything?

MR. MCCLELLAN: It's what we said yesterday. I mean, the President --

Q But has the President himself --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm speaking -- I'm speaking on behalf of the President, and what we said yesterday still applies.

Q Are you talking about Pitt?

MR. MCCLELLAN: That's what -- I think --

Q I would like to hear it again. What does the President think of the job Harvey Pitt is doing?

MR. MCCLELLAN: The President continues to support -- support him in his efforts to crack down on corporate wrongdoing. And SEC has taken a number of steps to do that.

Q Then I assume the President agrees with the way he handled the appointment of Webster, including withholding valuable information from the rest of the board?

MR. MCCLELLAN: It goes back to -- I mean, we're all aware of the news reports. The SEC and Chairman Pitt have indicated that they are looking into the process involved there. But again, in terms of the specifics related to this matter, we don't know the facts and, I think --

Q -- said the same thing yesterday, and a lot of people took that quote, "we don't know the facts," as a suggestion that you are leaving the door open and to coming down against Pitt.

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, actually, the question was -- the question that was posed was in the context of, well, what do you think about these latest news reports. And in response to that, I said, as well as other spokespeople for the White House said, that we don't know the facts. And it's something that the SEC and Chairman Pitt have indicated they are looking into.

Q Well, you've got the chicken investigating the hen house, so -- is that the phrase? Couldn't get a fox involved in there -- basically, you have somebody is accused of doing something wrong investigating themselves. If that's how our judicial system worked, there would be nobody in jail.

MR. MCCLELLAN: They're looking into the process that was involved here is what I understand. But, again, you're getting into some of the news reports about what's been reported and --

Q -- how you guys are going to go about finding out whether those reports are right or wrong, and the way you're going to go about finding out whether they're right or wrong is asking Pitt, are they right or wrong. You know the answer you're going to get from him.

MR. MCCLELLAN: We indicated that it's a good step to look into this process, and we'll see what facts there are.

Q Scott, the accounting board was created to shore up investor confidence in the market. How can that confidence be maintained when the first -- when its first act is now enmeshed in investigation and controversy?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, that's getting into the questions of these news reports and what has been pointed out, and I think that we need to let the SEC look into the matter and see what they determine the facts are.

Q Just to clarify Ron's question, the White House does not think that there's a need for the White House or someone outside the SEC to attempt to ascertain the facts behind Webster's hiring?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I said I think -- and we indicated yesterday that it's a good step that the SEC is taking to look into the process that was involved in this selection.

Q -- someone other than the SEC doing that, as well?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, you're -- we don't know the facts involved in the news reports, and so we need to let the SEC look into it. And we'll learn more about the facts.

Q Are you confident that Pitt and the SEC alone can ascertain the facts?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, we'll let them look into it. I would reiterate that we continue to have confidence in his leadership, and let's let the SEC look into it and learn more about the facts.

Q Scott, are you concerned that there is a cloud over the market while this investigation is going on? The whole point of investor confidence is put off pending this investigation, is that not right?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, this is kind of an end around to try to discuss some of the details of these news reports, and I go back to what I reiterated, is that we do not know the facts. Let me reiterate, this was a decision made by the SEC, made by the commissioners, and they have made a determination -- Chairman Pitt and the others have made a determination the look into the process that was involved here to better understand the facts. And that's where things are.

Q We're not asking you, though, to comment on the news report. We're simply asking, trying to find out how interested you are in finding out whether those reports are right or wrong, and if you think someone other than Harvey Pitt himself, and his commission, should be looking into this. Can we accurately write that the White House does not believe there needs to be an independent investigation into those activities? The White House is satisfied with Pitt doing it himself?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think what you can write is what we said yesterday, what I said today, that we're pleased that the SEC is looking into the process that was involved here and taking steps to learn more about the facts. That's what we're --

Q -- have an investigation at some future point?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, no, you're getting into hypotheticals. I think let's let the SEC look into it. We're pleased that they're taking that step to look into the process involved here.

Q Does President Bush think it's relevant information that Judge Webster served on this accounting board for that company?

MR. MCCLELLAN: That's getting into questions about what happened here, and as I indicated, we do not know the facts, so let's let the SEC look into it. The SEC is looking into it. But in terms of Judge Webster, as we indicated yesterday, Judge Webster is someone who has a long, distinguished career and is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Q So these allegations, if proved true, would they have nay impact on your assessment of Judge Webster and his suitability for the role?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, you're getting into hypotheticals here. Let's let -- and speculation. Let's let the SEC look into the matter.

All right, any other questions, other topics? Thank you.

END 8:46 A.M. EST

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