Scott McClellan Briefing Sep. 29 - Plame Incident
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 29, 2003
Press Briefing by Scott
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:18 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. This afternoon the President will welcome and congratulate the 2003 Stanley Cup Champion New Jersey Devils to the White House. Later this afternoon, the President looks forward to meeting with congregational rabbis. This is the Jewish high holy days, and it is a time for prayer and reflection in the Jewish community. Today's meeting is part of the President's ongoing commitment to reaching out to faith-based leaders who make our nation stronger. So the President looks forward to that meeting.
And then, following that meeting, the President looks forward to signing the Do Not Call legislation, which affirms the FTC's authority to maintain the Do Not Call Registry. This action, combined with the FCC's announcement earlier today that they will enforce the Do Not Call rules, is a victory for the millions of Americans who have registered some 50 million phone numbers on the registry. Americans have the right to reduce the number of unwanted solicitations they receive. The Do Not Call Registry is a valuable way for them to stop the nuisance of annoying calls.
And with that, I will be glad to jump right into questions.
Q Scott, has anyone -- has the President tried to find out who outed the CIA agent? And has he fired anyone in the White House yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing. Secondly, there -- I've seen the anonymous media reports, and if I could find out who "anonymous" was, it would make my life a whole lot easier. But --
Q Does he think it didn't come from here?
MR. McCLELLAN: But we've made it very clear that anyone -- anyone -- who has information relating to this should report that information to the Department of Justice.
Q Does he doubt it came from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Does he doubt?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's been no information that has been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement.
Q Will the President move aggressively to see if such a transgression has occurred in the White House? Will he ask top White House officials to sign statements saying that they did not give the information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, if someone leaked classified information of this nature, the appropriate agency to look into it would be the Department of Justice. So the Department of Justice is the one that would look in matters like this.
Q You're saying the White House won't take a proactive role?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have any specific information to bring to my attention suggesting White House involvement?
Q If you would --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen any.
Q Would you not want to know whether someone had leaked information of this kind?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has been -- I spoke for him earlier today -- the President believes leaking classified information is a very serious matter. And it should be --
Q So why doesn't he want --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- pursued to the fullest extent --
Q Right, so why --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- by the appropriate agency. And the appropriate agency is the Department of Justice.
Q Why wouldn't he proactively do that, ask people on the staff to say that they had not leaked anything?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information to suggest White House involvement? I saw a media report that said "senior administration officials." That's an anonymous source that could include a lot of people. I've seen a lot of "senior administration officials" in media stories.
Q Would they know -- to the White House?
Q Scott, when you say that it should be pursued by the Justice Department -- Justice has not said whether it actually is conducting an investigation. Does the President want the Justice Department to investigate this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: If someone leaked classified information of the nature that has been reported, absolutely, the President would want it to be looked into. And the Justice Department would be the appropriate agency to do so.
Q And do you know that they are doing this?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a question you need to ask the Department of Justice. My understanding is that if something like this happened and it was referred to the Department of Justice, then the Department of Justice would look to see whether or not there is enough information to pursue it further. But those are questions you need to ask the Department of Justice.
Q But, Scott, something like this did happen, right? Bob Novak had information he should not have had, that he was not authorized to have. So something --
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, all I can tell you is what I've seen in the media reports. And I've seen different statements in the media reports from, the CIA hasn't confirmed or denied that this was a covert agent for the CIA; I've seen media reports to suggest that it was referred to the Department of Justice, and that -- and comments the Department of Justice would look into it.
Q So the President of the United States doesn't know whether or not this classified information was divulged, and he is only getting his information by reading the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q He does not know whether or not the classified information was divulged here, and he's only getting his information from the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we don't know -- we don't have any information that's been brought to our attention beyond what we've seen in the media reports. I've made that clear.
Q All right. Let me just follow up. You said this morning, "The President knows" that Karl Rove wasn't involved. How does he know that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion, backing away from that. And I said it is simply not true. So, I mean, it's public knowledge. I've said that it's not true. And I have spoken with Karl Rove --
Q But how does --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into conversations that the President has with advisors or staff or anything of that nature; that's not my practice.
Q But the President has a factual basis for knowing that Karl Rove --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said it publicly. I said that --
Q But I'm not asking what you said, I'm asking if the President has a factual basis for saying -- for your statement that he knows Karl Rove --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's aware of what I've said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have spoken with Karl about it.
Q Does he know whether or not the Vice President's Chief of Staff, Lewis Libby --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have any specific information to bring to my attention -- like I said, there has been nothing that's been brought to our attention. You asked me earlier if we were looking into it, there is nothing that's been brought to our attention beyond the media reports. But if someone did something like this, it needs to be looked at by the Department of Justice, they're the appropriate agency charged with looking into matters like this --
Q Well, you do know that they are looking at it, don't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and so they're the ones that should do that.
Q They're telling reporters that they're looking at it; haven't they told you that they're looking at it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there you have it. There you have it.
Q Haven't they told you? Haven't you asked?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've seen the media reports. There has been no requests made of us at this time.
Q But, Scott, it gets to the question if you know, if the President knows that Karl Rove was not involved, then maybe you can tell us more about what the President specifically is doing to get to the bottom of this, or what has he ordered to be done within the White House to get to the bottom of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President wants anyone, anyone who has information relating to this to report that information to the appropriate agency, the Department of Justice. That's what the President wants, and I've been very clear about that.
Q Is the President convinced that there was no White House involvement in this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if I could get "anonymous" to 'fess up, that would make my life a whole lot easier.
Q That's not the question. That's not the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: But there has been nothing -- there has been absolutely --
Q Does the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm answering that.
Q Scott, does he know -- is he convinced that no one in the White House was involved with this?
MR. McCLELLAN: There has been absolutely nothing brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement. All we've seen is what is in the media reports. The media reports cite "senior administration official," or "senior administration officials."
Q But they're wrong, as far as you're concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I haven't seen anything before that. That's why it's appropriate for the Department of Justice, if something like this happened, to look into it.
Q Those media reports are wrong, as far as the White House is concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have nothing beyond those media reports to suggest there is White House involvement.
Q And the President is pretty passive on this, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's been no specific information brought to my attention to suggest --
Q He's not doing anything proactive?
Q Let me just -- let me follow up on one of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's making it clear that this is a serious -- through his spokesman, me -- that this is a serious matter, and if someone did this, it should be looked into and it should be pursued to the fullest extent.
Q But has he ordered an investigation inside the White House? If he thinks it's that serious, wouldn't you do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information, Helen, to bring to my attention?
Q No. Are you --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you have specific information, bring it to my attention.
Q Scott, you are answering questions out there for a few days on media reports. I just wonder, isn't there an internal investigation going on to find out what's happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Justice Department would be the appropriate agency to look into this. And if something like this happened, the President believes it should be pursued to the fullest extent.
Q Why wouldn't this be the --
Q Can I follow --
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed. I'll come back to you in a minute.
Q Scott, this is clearly a serious matter, with possible penalties being going to jail. It's not going to go away. Why -- and as you said earlier, there probably is a limited number of people with access to this information. It doesn't take much for the President to ask for a senior official working for him to just lay the question out for a few people, and end this controversy today.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Ed, do you have specific information to bring to our attention?
Q No. But it's not --
MR. McCLELLAN: But are we supposed to chase down --
Q -- for me a big story --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Are we supposed to chase down every anonymous report in the newspaper? We'd spend all our time doing that. That's what -- I think you need to --
Q The anonymous reports, though, allege criminal activity.
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to keep in mind that there has been no specific information, there has been no information that has come to our attention to suggest White House involvement, beyond what has been reported in the newspapers.
Q The implication you're leaving us with, I'm afraid, is that nothing is being done here at the White House to even look into this matter --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wait a second, I made it very clear that if something like this happened, the President believes the Department of Justice should look into it and pursue it to the fullest extent. Leaking classified information, particularly of this nature, is a very serious matter.
Q Do you see any need to appoint a special counsel for this case, as some Democrats are demanding?
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, I think the Department of Justice would be the appropriate one to look into a matter like this.
Q Can I follow up on that? Does that mean that you would say to the Attorney General, whose responsibility it is to determine whether a special or outside counsel is necessary, that you believe it is not necessary at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of career professionals at the Department of Justice that address matters like this. I have made it clear that they're the ones, that if something like this happened, should look into it. You need to direct that question to the Department of Justice. It would be a Justice Department matter; it wouldn't be our place to get involved in that.
Q But wouldn't you like to see all questions about the independence of any investigation taken care of by putting it in the hands of somebody who has no formal statements out there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but I think we're assuming certain things have happened. That's why I said you need to direct a question like that to the Department of Justice, to find out what has happened here, or to get a response to that.
Q Well, clearly, there is, at least on a preliminary basis, an investigation going forward.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, keep in mind what I said earlier, that it's my understanding that in a situation like this, that if information was forwarded to the Department of Justice, the first step would be to look at it to determine whether or not it warrants looking into further. So that's where -- that's what I understand the process is on something like this.
Q Scott, what do you say to people out there who are watching this, perhaps, and saying, you know, I voted for George Bush because he promised to change the way things work in Washington. And, yet, his spokesman --
MR. McCLELLAN: And he has.
Q -- and, yet, his spokesman is saying that there's no internal, even, questioning of whether or not people were involved in this and he's just letting that be handled at the Justice Department, and letting it be more of a criminal investigation, as opposed to almost an ethical --
MR. McCLELLAN: Dana, I mean, think about what you're asking. If you have specific information to bring to our attention --
Q No, but you say that --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that suggests White House involvement. There are anonymous reports all the time in the media. The President has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.
Q Scott, the Independent Counsel Act, as you know, is no more. Prior to that act, what would normally be done in an instance like this, I believe, would be -- as you say, if there's enough evidence that warrants it, the Attorney General would appoint a special prosecutor. Do you think that --
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to talk to the Department of Justice about what they do, or what their intentions are.
Q And, also, the Executive Office the President is the only agency or entity in the federal government that does not have an inspector general's office to do its own internal investigations. Do you think, because of what is allegedly arising here today, the White House should revisit the idea of establishing an office of inspector general within the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I mean, you know, you're assuming that certain things happened within the White House, so I'm not going to get into that kind of speculation in the current environment that we're asking that question.
Q Scott, a quote coming out of this controversy is that the real story is why Ambassador Wilson was chosen for this mission. Has the White House asked the CIA why they've sent somebody who was so vehemently opposed to the administration's position on Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. We made it clear that we weren't aware of his trip before we saw it in the media reports, and that still stands.
Q Scott, since the President takes it so seriously, and since the revelation was made two-and-a-half months ago, why does the President only now, since others have called for a Department of Justice inquiry, support that action?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you recall what I said a couple of months ago, as well? Because I made it very clear then what I'm making clear now, that there was no information that has come to our attention to suggest any White House involvement. So that's where things stood. But I made it very clear that that is not the way this White House operates, that the President expects people to adhere to the highest standards of conduct and the highest ethics -- and that he has made that very clear from day one of this administration.
But I answered this question a couple of months ago. I'm glad you brought that up, because we're answering some of the same questions today.
Q Did George Tenet -- did George Tenet bring this matter to the President's attention prior to the weekend?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware that anything was brought to our attention before information was apparently forwarded to the Department of Justice.
Q We do know one thing that did happen, and that is that a name was leaked of a CIA operative. Whoever did it, does the President want some type of Justice Department investigation into just that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, one, I've only -- I've seen the media reports and in one report I saw that the CIA had neither confirmed or denied that this individual was a covert operative for the CIA.
Q Why don't they deny it, if it's --
MR. McCLELLAN: But, yes, if something like this happened, a leak of highly classified information of this nature, the President would want it looked into and pursued to the fullest extent by the Department of Justice.
Q Are you saying the President is not even aware whether or not this actually was a CIA operative who was identified? I mean, you're not even saying that that is a given in this matter?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I just said is what I've seen in the media reports, was the CIA has neither confirmed or denied that. I don't know. But --
Q But that's always their policy. They never confirm.
Q They never do.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand that. And I'm saying, if someone leaked classified information of that nature, then it should be looked into by the Department of Justice. Now you need to ask the Department of Justice what their procedures are and what they would do.
Q And if the President thinks the Department of Justice should look into it, what kind of cooperation would the White House provide? In the past, there have been some concerns about records and that sort of thing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Of course, we always cooperate with the Department of Justice in matters like this. And you could expect we would in this matter, as well.
Q Like phone records and that sort of thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not aware of any requests that have been made. I mean, we can go down a whole list, but as far as I know, at this moment no request has been made. And I've checked on that --
Q They can't get on the phone with the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but of course, of course, we will always cooperate with the Department of Justice in a matter of this nature.
Q Okay. Now, in terms of your efforts to -- and in terms of the issue of whether or not to contact senior administration officials, are you saying it is inappropriate to contact them on behalf of the President, or that it's too difficult?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, contact them in the sense of asking whether or not there is any involvement?
Q Well, obviously, someone contacted Karl Rove. There was some effort to knock down a specific allegation here. So I'm wondering, why not contact others? Were others contacted in the -- among the President's senior advisors?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was a specific allegation leveled -- I saw it has now since been backed away from -- about Karl Rove. And that's why I responded to that question. But I think we could go down the White House directory of every single staff member and play that game. I'm not going to do that. What I've made clear is that if anybody has information relating to this, they need to report it to the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice should pursue it to the fullest. It is a serious matter. But I'm not going to go down a list of every single staffer in the White House, when there's not specific information that has been brought to my attention to suggest --
Q No, I understand your argument there. But there are a limited number of people who would be aware of this information. Is it --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, I would think so.
Q -- is it inappropriate in your view? Or is it just too diffuse, it's too difficult? I don't understand exactly what the reason is that you wouldn't expand the effort from Karl Rove to, perhaps, another dozen or so people who might have been knowledgeable.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've got important work to do here in Washington, D.C. for the people of this nation. And the President will continue to focus on the priorities we are pursuing: the war on terrorism, strengthening the economy. There are a number of important priorities we are focused on. There are a lot of anonymous media reports that happen all the time. And it's not our practice to go and try to chase down anonymous sources every time there's a report in the media. If there's specific information that comes to our attention, that's another matter. But there has not been any information beyond what we've seen in just anonymous media reporting to suggest that there was White House involvement.
Q So you're telling --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, are we supposed to go through every anonymous source?
Q No, no, no. But the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no, let's make that clear.
Q All the President has to do is pick up the phone and call a meeting here and find out. And if they all say, we didn't do it, he also can call the CIA. What is the big barrier?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because the Justice Department is the appropriate agency to look into a matter like this. There's nothing specific to suggest -- there's no information that's been brought --
Q I'm not saying that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on, let me finish. There's been no information brought to our attention to suggest that there was White House involvement, beyond what we've seen in the media reports. And those are anonymous media reports, at that.
Q You're challenging anyone who has information about this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q -- to step forward --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q -- and contact the Department of Justice?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. And if there's a senior administration official -- I saw quoted in one article -- that senior administration official, if they have specific information, they should go provide it to the Department of Justice, absolutely, you bet, because this is a serious matter.
Q On pre-war intelligence, Scott, on pre-war intelligence, has the White House seen this letter from the House Intelligence --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, let me finish with -- are we finished with -- let me finish this topic, and I promise I'll come back to you.
Q You said that the President knows that Karl Rove was not involved, and you specifically have spoken to Karl Rove and gotten those assurances. By those statements, you've implied that the President has not talked to Karl Rove specifically about this.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said that --
Q Is that a correct inference, or did we --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've already answered this question, when Terry asked it earlier, and I said that it's not my habit to get into conversations the President has with staff or with advisors. I'm not going to get into those conversations.
Q So he has --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've made it clear that it simply is not true, and I'm speaking on behalf of the White House when I say that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Are we on the subject? We're going to stay on the same topic. I want to stay on the same topic, and then we'll get on to -- go ahead.
Q I have a different subject.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, we'll come back to that.
Q Can you explain why the President, who ran to say that he would, himself, restore, honesty and integrity to the Oval Office, that he would do it, is now saying he has to do nothing proactively on this front and will leave it to the Justice Department, when it's his own staff who's been accused of committing a very, very serious federal crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think I've asked and answered that.
Q No, but why is he not doing anything proactively?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've been asked and answered that question. I had that asked up here. I mean, I'll go back through it.
Q You haven't said why -- you haven't said what his thinking is and why he doesn't --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because there has been no information that's come to our attention, or been brought to our attention, beyond what we've seen in the media reports.
Q -- classified --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish, and then you can ask your question. I've seen the anonymous media reports. But like I said, there are anonymous media reports all the time. Are we supposed to go chasing down every single anonymous report?
Q No, no --
Q There are serious consequences --
MR. McCLELLAN: If there's -- no, no, there are anonymous reports all the time making accusations about the White House.
Q There are not anonymous reports all the time about serious leaks. The White House in the past has called for investigations based on leaks, based on anonymous sources up in Congress.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what -- what have I said?
Q So why not do the same in this case?
MR. McCLELLAN: And what have I said? The President believes that if someone leaked classified information of this nature, that it should be looked into. The Department of Justice should look into it, they should pursue it to the fullest extent possible. So we very much are saying -- we very much are saying what you're asking.
Yes, sir, Bob -- oh, sorry. I'll go to Kate next.
Q Has the White House Counsel Office issued any kind of paper to staffers --
MR. McCLELLAN: No --
Q -- regarding the President's, you know, desire to cooperate with any probe or anything like that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, I've said that nothing has been brought to our attention. There have been no requests made of the White House and nothing has been brought to --
Q -- step forward. You said people should step forward --
MR. McCLELLAN: They should.
Q -- if they have information. Is there going to be anything circulated telling --
Q -- could put it in writing --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've made it very clear -- well, there's no specific information being brought to our attention to suggest White House involvement. I think I've been through that.
Q -- then you're not saying you're going to tell people that?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I'm saying, because there's no specific information, or there's no information, period, that has been brought to our attention beyond what is in the media reports. But if someone has information, they should report it to the Department of Justice. We've made it very clear that if the Department of Justice looks into something like this, of course, we always cooperate with them in that.
Q Scott, you keep saying: if there was a leak. But Ambassador Joe Wilson has been all over the place, on ABC this morning, in other media outlets saying, himself, that his wife was outed, that she was -- he has confirmed it, that she was a CIA operative and that her identity has been revealed. So if that's the case, why wouldn't the President be proactive about this in trying to find out where that leak came from?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, so if it's a "senior administration official" we should go to every single agency? I think that's -- the Department of Justice can do that, and that's what they're charged with doing. So they will look into it. If there is specific information relating to the White House, someone is welcome to bring it to our attention. But I have not seen any information, beyond what is in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement.
Q But isn't the President concerned when there is a leak of this magnitude, that could threaten someone's very life?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that earlier. Absolutely, the President believes that this is a serious matter when you're talking about the leak of classified information. The leak of classified information, yes, you're absolutely right, can compromise sources and methods. That's why the President takes it very seriously, and we've always taken it very seriously. And if it happened in this case, it's a particularly serious matter and it should be looked into by the Department of Justice.
But if you have specific questions about where it -- who is looking into it and what is happening, talk to the Department of Justice.
Q You're still saying "if" --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, talk to the Department of Justice and they'll get you more information.
Q Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're on ABC right now.
Q Thank you. In the Enron -- tag-teaming -- in the Enron matter, the White House Counsel's Office issued a request to all personnel to save their emails and phone logs and that kind of thing. That was proactive. Has that been done here? And, if not, why not?
MR. McCLELLAN: There had been some information there that we were pursuing to find out more about what contacts there had been. Again, there has been no information brought to our attention, beyond what is in the media reports, to suggest White House involvement.
Q So at this point there has been no request from the Chief of Staff's Office, from the President, for White House personnel to save emails, to save phone logs, to recall and account meetings and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, if the Justice Department made a request of us, of course we would always cooperate. It is the appropriate place for the Department of Justice to look into this. I believe we did receive some request previously on that matter.
Q Do your words also speak for Vice President Cheney? And can you categorically say that he was not involved in this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've made it clear that there's been nothing, absolutely nothing, brought to our attention to suggest any White House involvement, and that includes the Vice President's office, as well. When I'm talking about the White House, I'm talking about the Vice President's office as well.
Ken, did you have a question?
Q Yes. Your answer to Dick's question about a special prosecutor was to point to the career prosecutors at Justice who are going to be handling this. But those career prosecutors ultimately report to political appointees -- ultimately, of course, to the Attorney General. Why is that not precisely the kind of conflict of interest that the special prosecutor law envisages, and why, therefore, should there not be a special prosecutor?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we went over this earlier, Ken. And, again, you need to talk to the Department of Justice. That's assuming certain people may be involved in something of this matter. I have not seen anything to suggest that anyone -- suggest who is or who is not involved in looking into this.
Q The Justice Department is run by the Attorney General. He's a political appointee.
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q Ultimately, it's his call as to whether or not there is grounds for a criminal investigation.
MR. McCLELLAN: And have you asked the Department of Justice if he's involved in looking into something of this nature?
Q Are you saying he's refused --
MR. McCLELLAN: I have no idea. I don't know where the Department of Justice stands and whether or not they're even pursuing this further, if there's a need to.
Q Should the political appointees at the Justice Department, in the White House's view, recuse themselves from dealing with this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the Department of Justice, they have a lot of professionals over there and we believe that they are the appropriate ones to look into this, and that they can do an independent job of doing so.
Q Scott, just a couple quick clarifications. Weeks ago, when you were first asked whether Mr. Rove had the conversation with Robert Novak that produced the column, you dismissed it as ridiculous. And I wanted just to make sure, at that time, had you talked to Karl?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've made it very clear, from the beginning, that it is totally ridiculous. I've known Karl for a long time, and I didn't even need to go ask Karl, because I know the kind of person that he is, and he is someone that is committed to the highest standards of conduct.
Q Have you read any book about him lately?
Q -- have a subsequent conversation with Mr. Rove in order to say that you had this conversation --
MR. McCLELLAN: I have spoken with Karl about this matter and I've already addressed it.
Q When did you talk to him? Weeks ago, or this weekend?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I said then still applies today, and that's what I've made clear.
Q I have one other follow up. Can you say for the record whether Mr. Rove possessed the information about Mr. Wilson's wife, but merely did not talk to anybody about it? Do you know whether for a fact he knew --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know whether or not -- I mean, I'm sure he probably saw the same media reports everybody else in this room has.
Q When you talked to Mr. Rove, did you discuss, did you ever have this information, could you have talked to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going down a lot of different roads here. I've made it very clear that he was not involved, that there's no truth to the suggestion that he was.
Q Well, I'm trying to ask how --
MR. McCLELLAN: And, again, I said I didn't -- it is not something I needed to ask him, but I like to, like you do, verify things and make sure that it is completely accurate. But I knew that Karl would not be involved in something like this.
Q And that conversation that you had with Karl was this weekend? Or when was it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? No, I've had conversations with him previously. I'm going to leave it at that.
Q -- on the record?
Q Has the President spoken to the Attorney General today, or over the weekend, on this subject? Or directed any aides to speak to the Attorney General?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any contact. And, no, that -- we would not do that, talk to the -- I'm not aware of any contact the Attorney General has had with anyone in this administration about that.
Q What about intelligence letters? Does the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, are we through with this subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because I'm going to move on. I'm going to go quickly. Paula, you've already one, so I'm going to go to April, and then we're going to move on to another subject.
Q You continue to talk about the severity of this and if anyone has any information they should go forward to the Justice Department. But can you tell us, since it's so severe, would someone or a group of persons, lose their job in the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: At a minimum.
Q At a minimum?
MR. McCLELLAN: At a minimum.
Q Scott, can I ask you something from earlier, it was part of a -- I'm sorry, were you done, April?
Q No, I wasn't, but go ahead.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, finish, then we'll go to Bill, then we'll go to Ken.
Q All right. But you also -- you are also saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: Then David and then Sarah.
Q You are also saying that, you know, for your knowledge, including the Vice President' Office, no one divulged this kind of information. But with this assuredness, why do you think the husband came out and pointed fingers and said this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, why what?
Q Why do you think the husband came out and pointed fingers saying that this was actually leaked?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can't speak to why people say certain things. But I did notice that there was some backtracking from some of the earlier comments today.
Q Are you doubting that the leak came from the White House directly? I mean, you seem to have been casting doubt throughout this whole conversation. I mean, you talked about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you the facts. The fact is that we don't have any information beyond what we've seen in the media reports to suggest White House involvement.
Q It seems like the White House -- you're sort of operating on an honor system, almost a do not -- look, don't ask, don't tell system, when it comes to this.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there is specific information that you have to bring to our attention, please do so. But --
Q That's the core question. You keep on saying, you keep pointing the finger at us to step forward with information. I mean, you're asking us to come forward and reveal things, but you haven't asked the White House staff to --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're a reporter and you recognize that there are stories written all the time, with all sorts of accusations and all sorts of allegations, a lot of times from anonymous sources. If we spent all our time going through all those stories and trying to track down information, we couldn't keep our focus where it needs to be, which is on the people's business.
Q But this is a different level of story. I mean, you're talking about all other stories -- maybe the economy, maybe some policy -- but you're talking about a potential -- almost a potential national security breach, which is a step above, sort of, the daily story of the day. So wouldn't that -- wouldn't that inspire somebody in the White House to talk to a staffer and say, hey, look, this happened, do you know anything about this, do you know anything about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is the appropriate place to look into this. Where does it stop? I mean, the anonymous source quoted -- was quoted as a senior administration official. That doesn't say "White House" in and of itself.
Q Scott, you, yourself, said there's a limited number of people who could be involved in this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Paula, I've got to -- I'm going to try to keep moving so we can get to David's question.
Q Just to clarify something earlier that came out of a question. Has this White House, this White House specifically, in the past conducted an internal investigation into media leaks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Into media leaks?
Q Yes, has this White House ever looked into media leaks?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to check. If you have a specific one you want me to check in. There have been some requests of us from others at times that have been looking into matters. And we've always cooperated, just like we would in this one, as well.
Q Right. And just to follow up, in the 70's we had a very similar situation where a CIA operative was outed. That actually ended up -- resulted in a loss of life.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it's a very serious matter.
Q At that time, we had FBI, CIA, Interpol, many agencies around the world looking into it. Why would we not, at this point, want to go to the full extreme and have as many different eyes looking for this as possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: Make no mistake about it, something like this happened, someone leaked classified information of this nature, the President wants it pursued to the fullest extent. And that's what should happen.
Do we have any more on this topic? Yes, go ahead.
Q How is it that the Justice Department, and I know you -- this has been asked before, but I didn't get a clear answer -- the Justice Department, headed by a man that the President, himself, appointed, how can that Department credibly investigate a claim that could be very embarrassing, could be -- could result in criminal prosecution for someone in the White House? How can that be fairly --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are some -- there are some outstanding career employees at the Department of Justice that do an outstanding job, and they look into matters like this. And we expect that they would treat this just like they should and that they would treat this just like any other matter of this nature.
Q Certainly, the minute the Justice Department came out with something that exonerated anyone --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can obviously try to suggest that about anything in the administration that went to the Department of Justice.
Q I don't see how a Justice Department that's headed by a man --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Justice is charged with independently looking into matters like this, as well as other law enforcement matters. And that's fully what we would expect them to do in a matter like this.
Anymore on this topic? No more? One more?
Q Has the White House seen or been told about the CIA letter?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Has the White House seen or been told about the CIA letter to Justice?
MR. McCLELLAN: What may have been sent to the Department of Justice? Not that I'm aware of. You're talking about "seen it"?
Q Have you seen it or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, we read the media reports about what has happened.
Q Yes, I understand that. But I mean outside the media reports. Have you seen a copy of the letter or been told about it by anybody at the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: A copy? No, I've not been told about a specific letter or a copy of that.
Q I'm talking about Mr. Gonzales or anybody else?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. We've seen the media reports.
Q Scott, on another letter --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to Russ, and then we're going to go to you. We've got to keep moving.
Q Even though the independent counsel statute has lapsed, there is a provision where the Attorney General can appoint a special prosecutor. Why wouldn't the President support --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've been asked this question earlier and I answered it. So I'm going to move on. I've already been asked that question and I answered it earlier. And now --
Q Scott, the statement you gave about why there shouldn't be a special prosecutor was almost word for word what the Clinton people said in 1994 about why there shouldn't be a special prosecutor in Whitewater. Why should it stand now if it didn't stand then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, I just reject that comparison.
Q You can reject it, but it is the same issue. Why is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have specific information to suggest White House involvement?
Q No, but why --
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have any information to suggest White House involvement?
Q My issue -- the issue is the credibility --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, bring it to my attention if you have information. But there's no information we have beyond the media reports to suggest White House involvement.
Q But Novak --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but I think the media has obligations, too. If they are aware of something that has happened, of the leaking of classified information, like anyone else they should report it to the appropriate authorities. In this case, it would be the Department of Justice.
And with that, I'm going to move on to a new topic. I know we could go through this all day. I'm going to David -- David first, then Sarah, then Goyal.
Q Is the White House aware of the House Intelligence letter to the CIA on prewar intelligence, and what's the reaction to it? And does the President think that he was given bad or incomplete information that ultimately led to his decision to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, if you look at the statement put out by the CIA, they said that the intelligence community stands -- and this is a quote -- "The intelligence community stands fully behind its findings and judgments as stated in the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs."
And that is the part of the judgment -- that is the judgment of the intelligence community. We looked at that, as well. But let's go back when we're talking about Iraq and look back at everything here. Let's look at what we knew. We knew, just like the United Nations Security Council and intelligence agencies across the world and previous administrations, that Saddam Hussein had possessed and used weapons of mass destruction, that he had used chemical weapons, that he had a history of doing that. We knew that Saddam Hussein had large, unaccounted for stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons. We knew that he had -- and everybody knew -- that he had invaded his neighbors. So this was a very unique situation.
Saddam Hussein and his regime defied the United Nations over 12 years and some 17 resolutions -- they were in defiance of the international community. They went to great lengths to conceal their program. We know that he had -- that Saddam Hussein's regime had ties to terrorist organizations. We know that it was a brutal and oppressive regime. We've seen that from the torture chambers and the mass graves. So we knew all these facts.
Then came September 11th, the attacks of September 11th. September 11th taught us that we must confront the new, dangerous threats of the 21st century, that we can no longer wait for threats to gather and come to our shores before it's too late. The nexus between outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction and terrorist organizations is the most dangerous threat of our times. And we must confront those threats before it's too late.
Q Given that 180 members of Congress cited the nuclear threat, as reported to them by the President of the United States, as a primary reason to support a war authorization resolution, and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found to date in Iraq, why shouldn't the American people believe that this President overstated the predicate for war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I answered that with some of what I just went threw. But Chairman Goss, who is also one of the signatures on this letter, stated that he believes that what our -- at least sources in his office have stated that he believes that this was accurate information presented by the intelligence community. He was certainly -- he was concerned about one area, about the human intelligence. And you look at the letter and it talks about this is a preliminary assessment, that they want to get some comment, they're still looking at this, they're still looking at the findings. So that's where things --
Q -- the White House been sent the letter?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's where that stands.
Q Has the White House been sent the letter?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen a copy of it.
Q You have?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q But, Scott, you said --
Q Can I follow on that?
Q -- you just said a moment ago that: we knew there were large unaccountable -- unaccounted stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. In 2001, in March or February, Colin Powell said there weren't, as we learned of two days ago --
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Powell went before the United Nations and said, there were.
Q No, no, listen to this. No, no, he said, at that point, there weren't. The DIA produced a classified --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not what he said.
Q -- assessment in October 2002 which said: we don't have any hard or reliable information about stockpiles. And the U.N. inspectors, themselves, said they had no hard information about stockpiles. So where are you getting your information from?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think you're mischaracterizing Secretary Powell's comments. Secretary Powell went before -- and he said, that I never said that he was not a threat. He went before --
Q -- looking for WMD.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Secretary Powell went before the United Nations and presented that very case to the world and made it very clear what was unaccounted for. Secretary Powell went through an exhaustive process to back up everything that he said, talking directly with members of the intelligence community --
Q -- to what he said in early 2001. You said, before 9/11 we knew there were accounted stockpiles. He said, there weren't.
MR. McCLELLAN: Before 9/11 -- I'm glad you pointed that out, because September -- and, no, that is not what he said. September 11th taught us --
Q He said that in --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was well documented by the United Nations Security Council that there were undocumented stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
Q That's not true. Talk to Ekeus, the Chairman. He has said that that's not the case, that you are mischaracterizing U.N. reports.
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to move on. I think I've answered this question. I think September 11th, again, changed the way we look at threats. I want to make that point very clear, and that it became even more real after September 11th, the threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his regime.
Let me make very clear --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- no let me make very clear the results of the action that we took. America is safer, the world is better, the world is safer because Saddam Hussein and his brutal regime have been removed from power. Saddam Hussein will no longer be able to oppress the people of Iraq. He will no longer be able to carry out the brutality that he did in the past. His regime is gone, it is removed from power, and it is not coming back. And it's very clear that America is more secure because of the action that we took.
Q Can I follow up? When the Secretary of State says, as he did yesterday, that the administration believes Iran is trying to pursue nuclear weapons and that there is no legitimate justification for any of its nuclear programs, does the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and what seems to be the gulf between pre-war claims and post-war reality, does that hurt the credibility of the country, in making it --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think, one, Dr. Kaye continues to do his job. I think the CIA, in their statement, put out -- let me go back to this part of their statement that they put out about the NIE and the letter from the congressional leaders: "David Kaye has, for only two-and-a-half months, been attempting to unravel Iraq's WMD programs. His effort, which has only just begun, will be important in our process of continuing self-evaluation."
There are miles of documents that Dr. Kaye is still going through in his Iraq survey group. There are interviews that he is still conducting with Iraqis, themselves, who are providing more information. So that process needs to continue. We'll know the truth. He'll pull together the full extent and full picture of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction program.
But I, again -- look at the results that we've achieved. Look at the opportunity that is presented to us in Iraq. The stakes are very high in Iraq. The world has a stake in seeing a free, sovereign and prosperous Iraq. It's the central front in the war on terrorism. And foreign terrorists and remnants of the former regime are desperate, because they know we are making significant progress. And when we prevail in this front in Iraq, then we will have dealt a significant blow to the terrorists, and we would have made a significant -- we will make significant progress in the war on terrorism. And we will see it through.
Q I have two questions. An audiotape claims to be from the number two leader in the al Qaeda, says the U.S. war on terrorism is really a war against Islam. Any comment from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- first of all, people who carry out attacks in the name of a religion are not committed to that religion. The President has made it very clear that Islam is a faith that teaches peace. And the enemies of peace are those who carry out brutal terrorist attacks in the name of a religion like that.
Let me keep going. Goyal.
Q Scott, two quick questions. Just came back from the United Nations. There were -- the President saw the demonstrations against many countries and dictators, including demonstrations against the U.S., India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma and also China.
Is President so busy in other issues like Iraq and also -- that he didn't care or doesn't have time for the (inaudible) of information that are being committed against the people of minorities in Bangladesh and also people of -- religious persecution in China and also against the people of Burma?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. In fact, we're pursuing all those areas you just talked about. Human rights abuses cannot be allowed to stand, and we speak out against them, we pursue action to be taken to reverse that trend, and we will continue to do so.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. Oh, wait, wait, I'm sorry -- go ahead. Last one.
Q The Vice President continues to suggest that there is a direct link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. And the President a few days ago said there is not any link. So what does the Vice President know that --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think we're saying the same thing -- that there has been no evidence that's come to our attention to suggest a link. Now, again, it goes back to what I said before --- 9/11 taught us that we have to confront these kind of dangerous new threats we face. Saddam Hussein and his regime certainly had ties to terrorist organizations. That is well documented and not in dispute. And he publicly supported terrorist organizations.
Thank you very much.
END 1:03 P.M. EDT