Press Briefing by Scott McClellan July 18, 2005
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 18, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:04 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I would just like to make brief mention of the Supreme Court vacancy that exists. The President is continuing to move forward on a nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy. The President had some good discussions over the weekend with some of his senior advisors. The President takes this responsibility seriously. He is moving forward in a thoughtful and deliberate manner. The President believes it's important to make sure that the members of the Senate are consulted as we move forward on the nomination process. He has been listening to their views and their thoughts. We have now consulted with more than 60 members of the Senate. That includes three-quarters of Senate Democrats.
The President remains committed to making a nomination in a timely manner so that that nominee can be confirmed by the time the Court reconvenes in October. And as you heard him say, that's the backstop from which we are working. The President has made it clear that he intends to nominate a fair-minded individual who represents the mainstream of American law and American values. He will appoint someone to the position of high intellect and great legal ability, a person of integrity who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws.
The President has said that this will be an individual that all Americans can be proud of. And I think the American people expect that as we move forward on the confirmation process that it be done so in a dignified and civil way that rises above any partisanship. The President has also said that the nominee should be treated fairly and have a fair hearing and a fair vote. I think that you all have seen the precedent in recent times that was set when it came to Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and that is the precedent that the President believes should be followed as we move forward, once he has named someone to fill this vacancy.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions. Terry.
Q Scott, the President seemed to raise the bar and add a qualifier today when discussing whether or not anybody would be dismissed for -- in the leak of a CIA officer's name, in which he said that he would -- if someone is found to have committed a crime, they would no longer work in this administration. That's never been part of the standard before, why is that added now?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree, Terry. I think that the President was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they're not going to be working any longer in this administration. Now the President talked about how it's important for us to learn all the facts. We don't know all the facts, and it's important that we not prejudge the outcome of the investigation. We need to let the investigation continue. And the investigators are the ones who are in the best position to gather all the facts and draw the conclusions. And at that point, we will be more than happy to talk about it, as I indicated last week.
The President directed the White House to cooperate fully, and that's what we've been doing. We want to know what the facts are, we want to see this come to a successful conclusion. And that's the way we've been working for quite some time now. Ever since the beginning of this investigation, we have been following the President's direction to cooperate fully with it, so that we can get to the -- so that the investigators can get to the bottom of it.
Q But you have said, though, that anyone involved in this would no longer be in this administration, you didn't say anybody who committed a crime. You had said, in September 2003, anyone involved in this would no longer be in the administration.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we've been through these issues over the course of the last week. And I know --
Q But we haven't talked about a crime.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- well what was said previously. You heard from the President today. And I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the President said at this point. And I think that's something you may be trying to do here.
Q Does the President equate the word "leaking" to a crime, as best you know, in his mind? Just the use of the word "leaking," does he see that as a criminal standard? And is the only threshold for firing someone involved being charged with a crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we all serve at the pleasure of the President in this White House. The President -- you heard what he had to say on the matter. He was asked a specific question, and you heard his response.
Q Is leaking, in your judgment of his interpretation, a crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll leave it at what the President said.
Q What is his problem? Two years, and he can't call Rove in and find out what the hell is going on? I mean, why is it so difficult to find out the facts? It costs thousands, millions of dollars, two years, it tied up how many lawyers? All he's got to do is call him in.
MR. McCLELLAN: You just heard from the President. He said he doesn't know all the facts. I don't know all the facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to know what the facts are. Because --
Q Why doesn't he ask him?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you why, because there's an investigation that is continuing at this point, and the appropriate people to handle these issues are the ones who are overseeing that investigation. There is a special prosecutor that has been appointed. And it's important that we let all the facts come out. And then at that point, we'll be glad to talk about it, but we shouldn't be getting into --
Q You talked about it to reporters.
MR. McCLELLAN: We shouldn't be getting into prejudging the outcome.
Q Scott, we don't know all the facts, but we know some of the facts. For example, Matt Cooper says he did speak to Karl Rove and Lewis Libby about these issues. So given the fact that you have previously stood at that podium and said these men did not discuss Valerie Plame or a CIA agent's identity in any way, does the White House have a credibility problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. You just answered your own question. You said we don't know all the facts. And I would encourage everyone not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation.
Q But on the specifics -- on the specifics, you made statements that have proven to be untrue.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me answer your question, because you asked a very specific question. The President has great faith in the American people and their judgment. The President is the one who directed the White House to cooperate fully in this investigation with those who are overseeing the investigation. And that's exactly what we have been doing. The President believes it's important to let the investigators do their work, and at that point, once they have come to a conclusion, then we will be more than happy to talk about it.
The President wants to see them get to the bottom of it as soon as possible. I share that view, as well. We want to know what the facts are, and the investigators are the ones who are drawing those -- are pulling together those facts, and then drawing conclusions.
Go ahead, Bob.
Q Given the new formulation "if somebody committed a crime," would that be a crime as determined by an indictment, or a crime as determined by a conviction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Bob, I'm not going to add to what the President said. You heard his remarks, and I think I've been through these issues over the course of the last week. I don't know that there's really much more to add at this point.
Q But the importance is the question of would -- if it is the latter, the strategy would be to run out the clock?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I indicated to you earlier that everyone here serves at the pleasure of the President. And the White House has been working to cooperate fully with the investigators. That was the direction that the President set. That's what we've been doing. We hope they come to a conclusion soon.
Q Scott, going back to the President's statements from earlier -- if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration -- it makes me go back to the question I asked you last Wednesday, is there regret from this administration of what it has done to the Wilson family, with the CIA leak? And I talked to Mr. Wilson prior to going into the East Room, and he basically said, the American people deserve an apology, and that his family was basically collateral damage in a bigger picture.
MR. McCLELLAN: All these questions are getting into prejudging the outcome of the investigation, and we're not going to do that.
Q But if someone -- if the President acknowledged that there was a problem, and it could be a criminal problem, if he acknowledged that, isn't there some sort of regret?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a criminal investigation. We don't know all the facts to it.
Q Well, is there any regret from this White House that it has caused an American family who worked for this government --
MR. McCLELLAN: I heard what you had to say and I've already answered it.
Q No, you didn't.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Scott, the President talked about if a crime were committed. But a year ago and beyond, he also talked about -- he denounced leaks out of this executive branch, other parts of Washington. He said, things are wrong. If it's only a leak, will he take some appropriate action?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look back at what the President said again. I would not read anything into it more than what he said. The President has said for a long time that this is a very serious matter, and that's why he directed the White House to cooperate fully, so that the investigators can get to the bottom of it.
Q Scott, first of all, I have a great respect for this White House press corps and they're very nice and kind to me.
MR. McCLELLAN: I do, too. (Laughter.) They're doing their job.
Q What I'm -- my question -- comment, also, about when the leaders visit the White House, and they have press availability in the East Room, not only the India today, but any Prime Minister or President. I feel it's kind of insult to that leader, he's standing there, only two questions, but only his own people are asking about his visit or his nation, but other questions are always on different topics. I feel, personally, it's insult to that leader and --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I didn't get --
Q -- that if it's the Indian leader visiting here, that press availability should be only on India.
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, okay. I think you're opinion is noted. Go ahead.
Let me keep going to Carl.
Q I have a question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q My question now. Sorry about that. My question now, can we go beyond now, as far as India-U.S. relations are concerned, as we heard in the press availability, where do we go from here? And also, when the President is visiting India, if an invitation was renewed by the Prime Minister?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to look for the joint statement that's coming out later. I think it will talk about how today has been an important step forward in our relationship. We have had a strong relationship with India, and that relationship is only being deepened by the meetings and the dinner that is occurring later this evening.
The President is pleased that Prime Minister Singh has come to the White House for an official visit. You had a briefing a short time ago from Nick Burns and Mike Green, and they were pleased to readout those meetings for you all and discuss some of the issues, and we will be putting out some paper shortly that will talk further about some of the issues that they discussed and the way forward on some of those matters.
Carl, go ahead.
Q Scott, I just want to sort of go back over this. Insofar as you're telling us that we shouldn't read anything new into the President's comments today, should we then take that to mean that if there is criminal activity, that person would be fired, but this does not render inoperative those things that the President has said "yes" or responded in the affirmative to in the past when asked, for instance, if you would fire somebody if they were involved in a leak?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read anything into it. You said, "new." I wouldn't read anything into it beyond what he said.
Q So the previous statements remain operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, once the investigation is concluded, then we can talk about it at that point. But those are decisions for the President to make.
Go ahead, Les.
Q Scott, Jack Kelly of The Pittsburgh Post Gazette notes that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act defines a covert agent as someone working undercover overseas. He notes Valerie Plame has manned a desk at the CIA headquarters since 1997, while Mark Stein of the Chicago Sun Times notes that Valerie's husband conceded on CNN that she is not a clandestine officer and hasn't been one for six years, so leaking her CIA connection did not endanger her life or comprise her mission.
And my question -- I have a follow up -- would you or the President or Karl Rove disagree with these two nationally syndicated columnists?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think those are matters for the investigators to look at, and I think I've said about all there is to say about it at this point.
Q I have one follow up. Nineteen members of Congress from seven states have written a letter to the President saying that they are still waiting for an answer to a May 26th question: Is the President opposed to contraception. And my question is, could they now have an answer to my question? Or do you regard them, too, as not to be dignified with a response?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think we've talked about these issues before and these issues when it comes to the federal government and programs aimed at promoting abstinence and how those ought to be funded on at least equal footing with other programs, so I think we've addressed the President's views in that context.
Let me go to David, and then I'll come back to the third row.
Q Scott, with apologies for returning to this definitional issue that we seem to be dancing around. But what I'm having a hard time with is you're telling us that there was nothing new in what the President said today, yet you have said before that the President would terminate somebody or somebody would not work here if they were involved in the issue. The President seemed to set a higher bar today by saying that there was a -- if they were convicted of a criminal act. Those are not the same thing on their face. And I'm trying to see whether or not you can tell us the standard has changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would say that I would not read anything into it more than that what the President said, and that's what I would encourage you to do. I think --
Q That is the current standard?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you should not read anything into it more than that at this point. And in terms of what was said previously, you can go back and look at everything in the context of what things were said at that point.
In terms of as we move forward, it's best at this point that we just let the investigation continue and let them gather all the facts and come to their conclusions, then we can talk about it.
Q But the White House standard is the one the President enunciated today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I've addressed that question and said how you should view it.
Q Scott, back in October 2003, you did assure us that you'd spoken with Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliott Abrams, and they'd all assured you that they weren't involved in any of this. So with regard to Libby and Abrams, do you still stand by that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Last week I think I assured you that I want to do everything I can to help the investigators get to the bottom of this. I will be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete. I've been stating that position for a long time now, and that's where it stands.
Q So with regard to that, how concerned is the President and you that, notwithstanding that you don't want to talk about it, that Ken Mehlman and other senior Republicans are all over the airwaves doing just that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can direct those questions to the Republican National Committee.
Ken, go ahead.
Q Scott, without asking about the content of the conversation, has the President asked Karl Rove to detail any involvement he might have had in any leaks?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President directed the White House to cooperate fully. This is a serious matter. As the President indicated, he doesn't know all the facts. And we all want to know what the facts are. He'll be glad to talk about it once the investigation is complete, and we hope that the investigators get to the bottom of it soon. And that's the -- I think that's the response to that.
Q Has the special prosecutor made any request to this White House that prevents the President from speaking to his top aides about any topic?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can ask the prosecutors those questions, if they want to comment more on it.
Go ahead, Richard.
Q Has anyone here in the White House been assigned with coordinating with the Republican National Committee and other Republican members of Congress speaking out about this issue, the Karl Rove issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've addressed these issues. Some of this came up last week and again today.
Q Thank you, Scott, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a resolution, North Korea human rights issue should it be included in the formal agenda at the coming six-party talks? Will the U.S. government raise the issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the talks that will begin next week are focused on North Korea and the nuclear issue. The President is concerned about the plight of the people in North Korea. That's why we have provided large amounts of food assistance, larger amounts than any other nation, to help those in North Korea who are in need of that assistance.
In terms of the talks, the talks are focused on the proposal that we outlined last June. It was outlined by all five parties to North Korea. And now North Korea has indicated that they're prepared to come back and talk about how to move forward on that proposal. North Korea needs to make a strategic decision to abandon their nuclear ambitions. If they do so, they can realize better relations with the international community. If they do so, they can start to realize some of those benefits. And in that proposal, it talked about things such as economic and non-nuclear energy assistance. And so the proposal that we outlined is what will be the focus next week as we move forward. And it's important that North Korea come prepared to move forward in a substantive and serious way on that proposal.
Q One of the biggest challenges facing the American labor force right now is the outsourcing of jobs, primarily to India. And, yet, today at the podium there was nothing said about protecting American workers and outsourcing jobs in India. Will the President be addressing that specific problem at any time during the Prime Minister's stay?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think the President has been working to make sure that we're creating jobs here at home. Our economy is strong and getting stronger. We have created more than 3.7 million jobs in the past 25 months. Our unemployment rate is down to 5 percent. There is more that we need to do to continue to encourage economic growth and job creation here at home.
And that's why the President, just on Friday, was talking about the importance of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. We need to move forward on that free trade agreement. Congress needs to approve that free trade agreement. That will help level the playing field. We need to continue to expand opportunities to promote free trade with a level playing field. We also need to move forward on the comprehensive energy legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
These are ways to make sure America continues to be the best place in the world to do business and to -- and that we continue to see solid job creation. That's what we're focused on right now.
I appreciate the questions in this room. We need to let -- let the investigation that is going on continue and come to a conclusion. We're going to stay focused on the important priorities that you bring up and the agenda for the American people. The American people want us to focus on getting things done and moving forward on a positive and hopeful agenda for them. And that's exactly what we're doing.
That's why we're working to get the energy legislation passed to move forward on the Central American Free Trade Agreement; that's why the President had the meeting today with Prime Minister Singh; that's why we're working to move forward on a responsible budget that keeps us on track, or ahead of schedule to cut the deficit in half, as we talked about last week. And that -- and it's important we continue to move forward on Social Security reform as the President mentioned in his radio address.
But the economic priorities are right at the top of our agenda. And I think you've seen, by the tax cuts that we implemented, that the President has acted to get our economy growing stronger. There's more that we need to do. We also need to make sure that workers are trained to fill the jobs of the 21st century. And the President has outlined some important initiatives in that respect, as well.
Q Scott, I just wonder -- Scott, on a personal, human note, how are you holding out? Are you enjoying this? (Laughter.) Seriously. And are you consulting with any of your predecessors who have also gone through crises, Mike McCurry --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are so few things I enjoy more. (Laughter.) Connie, this is nothing personal. Everybody is doing their job here, and I respect the job that you all are doing in this room. And I look forward to having a continuing constructive relationship with everybody in this room.
Q Thank you. Scott, has the President assigned anyone to help with the trial or trials of Saddam Hussein? If so, who? And does the President want the death penalty for Hussein if he is convicted?
MR. McCLELLAN: This will be an Iraqi process -- it is an Iraqi process. The special tribunal is moving forward so that Saddam Hussein faces Iraqi justice. We support the efforts by the Iraqi people through the special tribunal to investigate the atrocities of the former regime and to bring people to justice for the crimes that were committed.
In terms of our role, I think the State Department can talk to you about more specifics, and I imagine they probably are at their briefing today. We are assisting with technical aspects. But, again, this is an Iraqi process, and Saddam Hussein will face Iraqi justice. And we expect that as they move forward that this will be a fair and transparent process, and that's what's important.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:26 P.M. EDT