Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer November 5
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 5, 2002
Press Gaggle by Ari
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Andrews Air Force Base
Midterm Elections, Poll Watching
Reference B / Voter Turnout
War on Terror
Presidential News Conference
Iraq / Al Qaeda Connection
Harvey Pitt / SEC
12:25 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, you are aware of what the President did this morning. When we get back to the White House the President will relax in the afternoon. In the evening the President looks forward to having over for early dinner speaker of the House, the minority leader of the Senate, Tom Davis, the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Senator Frist, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, along with Chairman Racicot of the RNC. They'll have an early dinner, along with their spouses.
And the President will be kept up to date on election results. He and Mrs. Bush of course are celebrating their anniversary, and they'll also be receiving the election results into the evening.
And that is it, as far as any type of report on the Presidents day. Im happy to take your questions.
Q Sorry, just go back over it. So it's Hastert, Lott, who else? Frist?
MR. FLEISCHER: Frist, Davis, Racicot and spouses.
Q Can you talk logistics tonight, in terms of what we might hear from you guys, how you intend to communicate with us about what youre hearing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not anticipate any statement from the President tonight at all. In terms of on staff, we have made no decisions yet about whether or not there will be any type of staff announcements, et cetera. I'll be available through the usual ways. I will probably be out of my office, and spending most of the night with Ken Mehlman, so I can just stay as close to results as possible.
Q So how do we keep in touch with you and come talk to you guys? How do we -- what's the best way to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Call the office, and I'm just going to be in constant communication with my office, if I'm not physically there. I'll probably be shuttling back and forth.
Q Any clue how late you plan to stay and Bartlett and other --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't figured it out yet. Actually, if you have suggestions on how I can be helpful tonight, let me know. I don't know if we're going to have a statement by the press secretary, if I'll just be there. I think it's like a typical election night. We're going to be, in effect, monitoring the results and seeing what they are and making any determinations as necessary.
Q One thing that might be helpful is if when you guys are planning to sort of decamp, I mean, you've decided that for the night you've got what you're going to get, or at least things are too close to call, and you're going to go home, it might be helpful to let us know that you guys are doing that, so we don't just sit around sort of wondering who is still around.
MR. FLEISCHER: Good point, good point.
Q Is the President actually going to watch TV, or is Karl just going to call him with updates, or how is he --
MR. FLEISCHER: He'll watch TV. He'll observe the results, get the updates from Karl, and see where it goes.
Q Does he ever tap into the Internet and look at the polls? Remember during 2000, his brother was obsessed with kind of looking at the ongoing -- he's not --
MR. FLEISCHER: I dont anticipate that tonight.
Q What did you say, he would be watching with Karl, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think hes going to get updates from Karl over the phone.
Q And the dinner, the officials who are planning to dinner then go home. In other words, hes not going to hang out and watch it with them, is he?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an early dinner.
Q So, other topics. Abu Ali, did the President sign off on the Predator attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment at any level of specificity about this one event, other than to say that the President has made very plain to the American people that the war on terrorism is not a traditional war, it's not a -- it's not traditional in the sense that there is one known battlefield or one known nation or one known region. The President has made clear that we will fight the war on terrorism wherever we need to fight the war on terrorism. The terrorists don't recognize any borders or nations. And the United States will be dedicated to protecting the American people.
Q Does that statement mean that you are supporting what happened or that the White House actually signed off on it and was involved in making it happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to address the specifics of any one event. I am making clear, however, that the President has said to the American people that this is a different kind of war, with a different kind of battlefield, where known political boundaries, which previously existed in traditional wars do not exist in the war on terrorism. The President has talked about a shadowy war where terrorists are going to try to hide, and terrorists will try to -- when they emerge, were going to be on the lookout for them when they emerge. The President has been very up-front about that.
The President has also made clear to the American people that one of the best ways to fight the war on terror is political, diplomatic, military, and that sometimes the best course is a good offense.
Q Now, the President was obviously pleased that Bin al Sheeb was picked up. He uses it in his speeches all the time. How was he feeling about this particular operation involving a guy who was said to be heavily involved in the bombing of the Cole?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Abu Ali has ties to al Qaeda. And the President has made clear that in this war on terrorism it is important to bring the leaders of al Qaeda to justice.
Q When was he notified about this episode?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to make any comments at all about any one specific event. My comments are general, Im not going to comment on the specifics of this one event.
Q So let me ask you about that. By not addressing the specifics, are you saying that the United States will engage in shadowy war, that there will be killings around the world using military equipment and personnel in the name of the American people that the American people will not be told about?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made very plain to the American people that the United States is going to bring to justice the terrorists, al Qaeda terrorists particularly, as our way of protecting our country.
Q Secretly, if necessary.
MR. FLEISCHER: And the President has said very plainly to the American people that this is a war in which there will sometimes be visible moments and sometimes there are going to be long lulls. And there are going to be things that are done that the American people may never know about. That is the very nature of the war of terror. And the President makes no bones about it, he will protect the American people in this war.
Q Ari, shouldn't justice involve a judge, a jury, a prosecution, a defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, when it's a case of American citizens and when its a case of anything covered under Americas laws and our -- America's Constitutional protections for America's citizens. When it comes to terrorists who seek to kill us, the President will defend and protect America.
Q On the U.N. resolution, I understand that revised language from the State Department is going up to New York today. Are you planning to present today to the Security Council or tomorrow? And how did you fudge the language in material breach to get the French to agree to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fudge, question mark, question mark, question mark?
Q Yes, fudge.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President began this course on September 12th, and this course is almost at its final day. The President believed that it was important to go the United Nations and test the United Nations to see if the international community could act in a way that was strong, effective and in a way that results in inspectors having the tools they need to do their jobs, to disarm Saddam Hussein.
The President chose a multilateral path. And we will ultimately see now, shortly, whether or not the U.N. will be successful. It didn't have to be this way. The President could have chosen to act, probably with the support of the American people, in a different way, but he laid out this course.
We are very close. I cannot tell you at this moment whether or not something will be tabled today, tomorrow or the next day. But a productive two weeks are becoming even more productive. But there are no assurances about what will happen next, still.
Q Okay, then on the fudge question, how did you work the question in, I guess --
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think what I'd like to do is, until a motion is tabled, I'm not going to describe any of the language. There still are conversations going on with the members of the Security Council about the exact language.
Q But you know what the French wanted, they wanted the Security Council to decide what constituted a further material breach.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that this has been a very dedicated effort by America's diplomats, and a very important one. The diplomats have worked very hard to work with our friends and allies to find agreement on language. It's a reflection of the path that the President committed to. It's a reflection of the efforts made by the U.N. officials, by the State Department officials, by others in our government, to bring this to a point where we could keep the United Nations Security Council together.
This has been a test of the Security Council. We still have a final stage to go through with the Security Council. But I'm not going to characterize any of the specific word changes at this moment. I think that will all come out shortly, I'm just not prepared to do so at 11:30 a.m. central time.
Q But I take it, though, that this isn't a game of brinkmanship. You work the language and you work with friends and Russia to the point where everybody is comfortable with it. You're not about to lay down something that will draw a veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's been a very healthy dose of good, solid diplomacy, backed up by a clear understanding that President Bush was determined to take action if the United Nations did not, and that he would do so in a multi-lateral way.
Q How confident are you that there will be a vote this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not prepared to make any specific guesses about whether these will be tabled today, tomorrow or whatever day. That's something that the diplomats will make a final determination of.
Q And if it doesn't happen this week, when will the clock that you've said all along is ticking, when will it run out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not prepared to make any guesses on the final timetable. But it's abundantly clear that we are reaching the point of finality.
Q Has he made any phone calls on this today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let you know if he does. I don't anticipate any.
Q And so far, has he been heartened or disheartened by the process at the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will make his final judgement after a vote is cast. This has been a slow process, but an important one. The President committed to this process. One of the ironies of this entire debate is the phony charge against President Bush that he would engage in unilateralism. What President Bush has done is demonstrated strength and determination, which has given multilaterialsm a chance. Unilateralism was the way of the '90s, because the multilateral organization known as the Security Council was slumbering, and the unilateralist was Saddam Hussein. Thanks to the President's strength and leadership by going up to New York and saying, this is your chance, the United Nations, to be relevant, the President changed the equation of what it means to be unilateral and what it means to be multilateral.
The fact of the matter is it was the President's black and white language, the President's moral standing and moral clarity that gave impetus to the multilateral United Nations to finally wake up and look at the Iraq situation seriously. We'll see ultimately what the outcome is. That still is a question mark. We'll see.
Q On today's election, can your ground campaign to get out the vote beat the Democrat's ground campaign? That's one of their real strengths.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a classic question, and it's an unknown. In 2000, you felt very good going into the election, and then we were surprised by the strength of the Democrat's ground game. It's now in the voter's hands. We'll see.
Q How does the President feel going into this? He's had a very rigorous campaign swing over the last couple days.
MR. FLEISCHER: He feels good. He's pleased that he was able to go out and help as many candidates as he has. The President hopes that it makes a difference in these close races. He feels very good about it. But he also understands now it has passed from the hands of the elected officials and candidates to the hands of the voters, which is what our democracy is all about.
Q -- reveal details about birthday and anniversary gifts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not, other than to say they were exchanged.
Q So in some of these tight races, that are within the margin of error, even in states like South Dakota that show a small edge for Mondale, do you think the ground game might be able to turn it in your favor?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just I think that at this point, everybody looks at these last polls and they recognize polls may or may not be right. In several states there are conflicting polls, some showing Republicans are up, some showing Republicans are down.
But it's an interesting election. This is one of the closest ones we've seen. It's also interesting because there seem to be so many Senate races in play. Typically there just aren't this many Senate races in play. This cycle appears to be different.
Q So what are your predictions for tonight?
MR. FLEISCHER: My predictions are to have a nice dinner, to have a little camaraderie.
Q Are you still thinking you're going to pick up seats in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've made no predictions. The only prediction that the White House is making is that the historical trend that runs against first-term incumbents looks like it will be broken tonight. The only question is, will Republicans be able to gain seats, will the Democrats be able to keep the Senate. It's possible the Democrats will, it's possible Republicans will pick it up. Those are the unknowns that will get settled in a number of hours.
Q And you think that this is going to turn on the President's popularity, or is it going to be local issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's going to be a combination of the two. And in fairness, the only way to really judge is to pour through the exit polling data and to study what the voters say.
Q I have a question. What does the President think is the basis for the 50-50 nation? What is the country divided about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there's always a sifting sand of the American mood. And we are in an era right now, at least -- and have been for the last couple years, where the American people seem to look at the government in a 50-50 manner. Will that get broken tonight, perhaps. Will there be a trend that gets established tonight? We'll see. But certainly judging from the 2000 election, which is really the only data we can safely draw any conclusions from, the country was evenly divided.
Now having said that, a very evenly divided country has swung very strongly in terms of giving President Bush a strong, favorable job approval. That's a shift and that's a swing. Whether that means anything to the off-year elections or not, we'll see, although it already has shown -- I think you can safely conclude that one of the reasons the historical trend has been broken is because of the President's popularity. That's a national factor.
Q Has he ever reflected on the cultural divide between the red and blue states? Since 2000, which we saw so pronounced in his Presidential election, we still see reflected today. Has he ever talked about the divide --
MR. FLEISCHER: I really don't hear the President dwell on these issues. The President views this as dealing with the hands that he's been given, that he believes that whether he has strong support from the American people, or it's a 50-50 nation, his job is to speak with moral clarity, take strong stands, believe in what he believes and make his case. He believes that if he makes a good case, the American people will listen and follow. If he makes a wishy-washy case, he'll get what he deserves. He believes in taking strong stands.
Q Any reason to believe at this point that Dean Barkley is going to vote with Republicans in a lame-duck session?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard.
Q Ari, when are we going to see the President? We haven't seen him in quite some time.
MR. FLEISCHER: You've seen him every day in different states.
Q We haven't had Q&A with him in -- going back to --
Q -- qualifies as a Q&A?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- strong lead toward that thumb.
Q Seriously, when are we going to see him? We haven't seen him in a long time, there are no crisis that we're aware of. We're not getting even the rudimentary --
MR. FLEISCHER: Suffice it to say, I'm always pushing. And I will make no predictions. But I understand your points well.
Q I think we -- the pool speak for our colleagues on this point. There's been a lot of grousing about it lately. Some of it I'm sure you've heard. Like this record of this --
Q The entire White House press corps.
Q -- pool or gaggle to reflect that a lot of people are getting pretty upset about it. I mean, there's a lot going on, there's a lot of issues we'd like to ask him about, and we're not getting a chance. Why is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Message received. I think a lot of it is because of the logistics of this final swing. You know how available and accessible the President is to taking a couple questions on pool sprays. He hasn't exactly been meeting with a lot of foreign leaders in the Oval Office as he's on this last campaign swing. That's often been a way of getting the questions asked. Similarly, meetings in the Cabinet Room with members, et cetera.
So some of it deals with logistics. But the bottom line is, message received.
Q Send him back for five minutes.
Q Yes, we're here, he's up there. What's he doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we don't see any of you armed with little mini-cameras for Journeys with George, part two.
Q We can remedy that.
Q A couple of quick ones. The Washington Post report about Iraq, U.S. officials saying that they believe Iraq has some small pox stored and may have given it to al Qaeda.
MR. FLEISCHER: We don't know about Iraq. We do not think it's likely that al Qaeda has small pox. But this general issue of small pox does remain a concern that has been focused on and continues to be the focus of the President, along with the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as others in homeland security.
Q And a quick one on the Israeli -- Prime Minister Sharon's decision to hold quick elections. Do you think that's a good thing, helps peace, hurts peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, this is an internal issue. Israel is a democracy, and Israel handles its democratic decisions as any good democracy should. These are internal Israeli issues.
Q One other thing on Sharon. He said in an interview that after any war against Iraq that the U.S. should start leaning on Iran, one of the other members of the axis of evil.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's views on Iran are well known. I would refer you to the statement that the President made about the people of Iran, the citizens of Iran deserve freedom and opportunity.
Q But does he agree with Sharon, that we should start leaning on Iran after we're done with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure what lean on means, so I'll leave it expressing it as the President has expressed it.
Q Moving to the third member of the axis of evil, the New York Times reports in a story buried fairly deep that KEDO plans to go ahead with the next shipment of fuel oil to North Korea. One, is that true, that they -- that KEDO plans to go ahead with the next shipment, and two, why should that not be regarded as simply rewarding North Korea for bad behavior?
MR. FLEISCHER: Two points. One, the United States is heartened to note that there was a recent meeting in Cambodia involving the leaders of the Asian community, including China, Japan, South Korea, where they again called on North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program. That was not a meeting in which the United States participated. This was action taken by the neighbors themselves. That meeting was just concluded in Cambodia.
Two, Secretary Powell will leave toward the end of this week to visit with the allies in the area, to discuss what concrete steps to take, vis a vis North Korea. And we look forward to having the Secretary go on that visit. I note the timing of this delivery does not take place for approximately 12 days to two weeks.
Q So it might not happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's impossible to predict the future.
Q You're not saying whether it's going to happen or not? For now, is it going to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's impossible to make any predictions about the future.
Q So I remember being on this aircraft not too long ago, where a senior administration official said, if North Korea came to us and said they were willing to dismantle their uranium enrichment program in a way that was verifiable, we wouldn't shut the door on them. They made that offer the other day. Where are we with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: We are at the point where the allies are continuing to talk to them about it. The Secretary will go to the region. I'm not sure that you can characterize what North Korea said as a verifiable action to dismantle. We need them to take action.
Q But do we not shut the door on that? I read some comment saying they've got to dismantle first.
MR. FLEISCHER: If you took a look at the transcript of what I said, vis a vis North Korea, and then there was a recent newspaper account. The newspaper account was a little bit at variance with what I said. I said what's important is for Iraq to dismantle.
Q North Korea.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, what was important, is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program. I made no statement one way or another about the ultimate -- whether or not there will be talks. But the story indicated there would not be talks.
Q I've read some other officials who have said the dismantlement process has to happen first.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that North Korea must dismantle.
Q Can I get a question in on Harvey Pitt? Given the accusations from the accounting firm against Mr. Webster, doesn't the White House think that it would have been smarter for Pitt, instead of withholding information about Mr. Webster, perhaps even looking into them further, sharing them more widely, trying to get the bottom of it. Weren't his actions kind of opposite of where he should be going in the tenor that he should be --
MR. FLEISCHER: The IG is looking into this now, and I'm not going to go beyond that.
All right, don't forget to vote, everybody. Do you your duties.
Q So let me ask you this, just before you go.
MR. FLEISCHER: Are we done?
Q Has Pitt become a liability for this White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Inspector General is taking a look at this, and I'm not going to go any beyond that.
Q Are you willing to restate the President's confident in him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no new answers to anything we've talked about on this topic.
MR. DICKENS: I'll stay behind and talk.
MR. FLEISCHER: That was former low level White House official.
END 12:47 P.M. EST