White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan argues that when it come to divulging classified information, you can’t call the president a leaker.
“The President of the United States has the authority to declassify information,” McClellan said.
At Issue: Uproar over disclosure that Vice President Cheney’s f ormer chief of staff testified that President Bush ok’d making public what had been secret information about Iraq in order to hype the case for going to war.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 7, 2006
BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
TOPIC PAGE #
Immigration………………………………..2; 24-25; 27-28
Terrorist surveillance program………………………..23-24
Homeland Security employee allegations…………………25-26
* * * * *
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 7, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. I want to begin by talking about two important issues. First, the economy, and then immigration and then I’ll be glad to go to your questions.
The latest employment report came out this morning; it showed the latest job numbers for the month of March. The employment report shows that our economy is strong and growing, with robust job creation. It’s because of the hard work and the ingenuity of the American workers and because of the pro-growth policies that we have put in place that our economy is growing strongly.
Two hundred and eleven thousand new jobs were created in the month of March — that’s above market expectations. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent, well below the averages of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. About 5.2 million jobs have been created since August of 2003. Americans own — more Americans own their home than ever before. Minority home ownership is at record levels. Consumer confidence is the highest it’s been in four years — or nearly four years. Productivity is high. Inflation is contained.
But it’s important that we continue to act to keep our economy growing strong. The President talked a little bit earlier this morning about the importance of making the tax cuts that we put in place permanent. He talked about the importance of continuing to move forward on restraining spending. And he talked about tools that are available to us. We want to stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.
And he also talked about the importance of Congress moving forward and acting on the initiatives he outlined in the State of the Union: his initiatives to keep our economy the most competitive in the world; his initiative to address the rising energy prices that we’re seeing by moving forward on his advanced energy initiative, to really transform the way we power our homes and our cars.
And, as he talked about earlier this week, the importance of moving to a consumer-driven health care system, where consumers have more control over their health care, and that that will help lower costs, particularly by expanding health savings accounts, moving forward on electronic records for all Americans — health records — moving forward on medical liability reform, and associated health plans, among other things.
Secondly, I just want to talk about immigration reform. This is an issue that is being debated in the Senate this week. Yesterday we were encouraged to see that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together to reach a compromise. The President talked about how he appreciated the fact that many members in the Senate recognize the importance of moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform. This is a difficult and complex issue. It’s important for voices to be heard as the debate moves forward.
Unfortunately, the Senate Minority Leader prevented voices from being heard and amendments from being considered. He is preventing comprehensive immigration reform from moving forward. We call on the Senate Minority Leader to stop blocking this process from moving forward so that we can get comprehensive immigration reform passed.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions. Deb, go ahead.
Q Back when the NIE was released on July 18, 2003, you were asked that day when that had been actually declassified. And you said in that gaggle that it had been declassified that day. And if that’s the case, then when the information was passed on to the reporter 10 days earlier, then it was still classified at that time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you’re referring — a couple of things. First of all, it was publicly released that day, so that’s when a portion of the National Intelligence Estimate that we were making available to the public was released. The second part of your question is referring to an ongoing legal proceeding, and referring to a filing in that legal proceeding. We have had a policy in place, going back to the October time period of 2003, that we are not going to comment on an ongoing investigation or an ongoing legal proceeding. That policy remains unchanged.
But let me point out a couple of facts, step back from this legal proceeding. The President of the United States has the authority to declassify information. I also indicated to some reporters earlier today that the President would never authorize the disclosure of information that he felt could compromise our nation’s security. Now, the National Intelligence Estimate was declassified — portions of it were declassified. We made sure that we did not — that we continued to protect sensitive sources and methods within the National Intelligence Estimate.
But let’s go back to the time period that you’re talking about, because I think it’s important for the public to know or recall that time period.
There was a lot of debate going on about the pre-war intelligence that was used in the lead up to the decision to go into Iraq and remove a brutal tyrant from his position of power. There were irresponsible and unfounded accusations being made against the administration, suggesting that we had manipulated or misused that intelligence. That was flat-out false. The National Intelligence Estimate was a document that was provided to members of Congress. It is the collective judgment of the intelligence community. And because of the public debate that was going on and some of the wild accusations that were flying around at the time, we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified, be declassified. And that’s exactly what we did.
Q I understand the reason why you thought it needed to be declassified, because of the debate at the time. The question was, when was it declassified. And you were asked that day, when — the question was, “When was it actually declassified?” And you said, “It was officially declassified today.”
If it had been officially declassified on July 18, 2003, then 10 days before, when the information was given out, it was still classified at the time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you’re going back to an assertion that is made in a filing related to an ongoing legal proceeding when you talk about the second part of your question. There is no way for me to separate that question and talk about this issue without discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. And I can’t do that. We have a policy that’s been established, and I’m obligated to adhere to that policy.
Q But answer the question, it’s a factual question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but you can’t separate that question from the legal proceeding —
Q Was it declassified that day —
MR. McCLELLAN: — because of one of the assertions that was made in the filing.
Well, you can go back and look at comments that were made at that time. That was when it was —
Q Those were your comments.
MR. McCLELLAN: — that was when it was publicly released at the time. I haven’t looked back at exactly what was said at that time.
Q Well, let’s be really clear about this. It says right here on July 18th, “When was it actually declassified?” Mr. McClellan, answer, “It was officially declassified today.” Is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you’re asking me to get into the timing. I’m not backing away from anything that was said previously — that’s when the document was released, so that’s when it officially —
Q They don’t say “released.” They say “declassify.”
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, Jim. Let me tell you. That’s when it was officially released. So I think that’s what I was referring to at the time. I’d have to go back and look at the specific comments, but I’m not changing anything that was said previously, so let me make that clear.
Q But if you were —
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, secondly, the question you’re going to, again, relates to the timing of when certain information was declassified —
Q I’m not going to that question —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but there’s no way you can separate that question out from the ongoing legal proceeding —
Q Scott, you are very careful with your words here. I think if you wanted to say “released,” you would have said “released.” You said, “declassified.”
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q Well, what does that tell —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s when the information was released publicly.
Q Scott, did you not know —
MR. McCLELLAN: But there was —
Q That’s not what —
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, for the National Intelligence Estimate, Jim, it did go through a declassification process; you are correct. And the information was carefully looked at by the intelligence community before the portions of the National Intelligence Estimate were made available to the public —
Q But, Scott, you said, “declassified.” If it’s declassified on that day, it wasn’t declassified before. And you’re saying you’re sticking to — you’re not taking back anything you said before, and what you said that day is it was officially declassified.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’d be glad to take a look at exactly what I said, and I’ll do that.
Q You didn’t say — I mean, we’ve got that here —
MR. McCLELLAN: I can’t do that here in this room right now, but I’ll be glad to take a look at it —
Q Then why are you saying you’re not backing up from anything if you —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what I’m saying is that — I think what I was referring to is the fact that that was when it was made available to the public. So all that information is officially declassified at that point.
Q Then why are you saying you won’t back off anything you said before if, in fact, we have transcripts here where you say that’s when it was officially declassified? Are you still saying that’s when it was officially declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s when it was made available to the public. So it’s officially —
Q When was it officially declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: — so it’s officially declassified at that point. I think we’re talking past each other a little bit. I’ll have to go back and look at the specific transcript — and I’ll be glad to do that — and we can talk about it further later.
Q Okay. When was it officially declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the timing of when information may have been declassified, that gets into a question relating to the legal proceeding in a filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald earlier this week.
Q What were you referring to on July 18th, then? Was that the official release, or official declassification?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that’s what I’ll have to check. I’ll have to go back and look. But my sense is, and my recollection is — while we’re sitting here talking about it is — I was referring to the fact that was when it was officially declassified for the public.
Q Scott —
Q Can I just — one more here. In terms of releasing information and leaks, you know the President has been highly critical of people who leak —
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q — not just classified material. He has said in the fall of 2003, “I’ve constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks.” Now, whether the argument from the administration is he declassified this, so it wasn’t classified information — I know you’re not going the get to the legal issues here — but he has criticized people who leak, not just classified information. And there were clearly leaks coming out of this White House —
MR. McCLELLAN: What was the context of my comments — about leaking of classified information, I believe.
Q He was asked about leaking classified information, but the President said, “I’ve constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks.” Not just classified information. He says “particularly leaks.”
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think that’s why it’s important to draw a distinction here. Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest, is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious. And there is a distinction.
Now, there are Democrats out there that fail to recognize that distinction, or refuse to recognize that distinction. They are simply engaging in crass politics. Let’s make clear what the distinction is.
Q He said, “displeasure with leaks,” not just classified leaks, though, Scott.
Q Scott, can I follow on that for a second. Because in December of 2003, to follow on this, he says, “If there’s a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is.” Now, is there a question — we’re not talking about legality here — while he’s saying that, according to the court filing — which I know you can’t get into the specifics of — but as he’s saying it, he certainly is aware who would have allowed the information to be disseminated. So, at best, isn’t the statement “If there’s a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is” — at best, isn’t that just inconsistent, if not misleading?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. That’s referring to the leaking of classified information.
Q Only the leaking of classified information. He doesn’t —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that in the context of what that question was responding to —
Q So what about if it’s a political? And if it’s in political — if there’s a political purpose to it, then it’s fine?
MR. McCLELLAN: If it’s in the public interest, it’s another matter. And the National Intelligence Estimate was declassified because it was in the public interest to provide portions of that National Intelligence Estimate to the American people. As I said, there were people that were out there making irresponsible accusations that intelligence was manipulated or that intelligence was misused. There has been no evidence to back that up whatsoever. And if you look at the National Intelligence Estimate, Jim — you weren’t here at the time, but some others in this room were — it shows the collective judgment of the intelligence community.
And then you go back and look at the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission, and they said there is no evidence of political pressure on the intelligence analysts. You go back and look at the Butler report. The Butler report said that there was no evidence of deliberate distortion. You go back and look at the Senate Intelligence Committee report, they say they did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence or pressure analysts to change their judgments.
So this was part of the debate that was going on at that time in the public. And so it was in the public interest that information be declassified.
Q I understand that. My only question is —
MR. McCLELLAN: And this information, too — and another distinction. This was pre-war intelligence we’re talking about. So it was historical context that was being provided, not information that could compromise our nation’s security.
Q My only question is looking ahead, when he then says, “I want to know who the leaker” was — doesn’t he know, since he authorized the disclosure of the information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, go back and look at the filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald, because Mr. Fitzgerald talks about that very issue in his filing and contradicts what you’re suggesting.
Q I’m not suggesting — this has nothing to do with Valerie Plame, nothing to do with it.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that’s what the question was about.
Q My question is, though, at the same time — at the same time he’s — even if there’s nothing to do with Plame, there is some disclosure about NIE information.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let’s draw the distinction here, again. There is an important distinction that people need to make when they are looking back at this issue. I just laid out what that distinction is. You’re talking about information that was declassified and provided to the American people because it was in the public interest that they have that information so they could see what the facts were. And the facts were that this was the collective judgment of the intelligence community.
Now, the intelligence was wrong, and that’s why we put in place a bipartisan commission, independent commission to go and look at the intelligence, and they made recommendations about how we could improve our intelligence-gathering. And we have implemented many reforms to make sure we get the best possible intelligence.
Q Scott, I’ve got a couple of things here. First, did you have any personal knowledge on July 18th — when you answered the question that started off this round of questions — did you have any personal knowledge of discussions between the President and the Vice President about declassifying portions of the NIE?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s a question that gets into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding, and I just can’t do that because the policy of this White House is that we are not going to comment on it while it’s ongoing. So I’m adhering to that policy, and I would hope that you could appreciate that.
Q You’ve at times at this podium told us that you had had assurances from people and that’s caused you a lot of trouble, from this podium. Are you saying that that statement was true at the time that you knew it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of — which statement are you referring to?
Q That on July 18th it was officially declassified.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that question was asked at the beginning and I think what I was referring to is this is when it’s now being made available to the public, so it’s officially declassified at that point.
Q That’s not what you said, though, we know that —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll have to take a look at it. No, I think that’s what I was referring to.
Q There is a distinction, though —
MR. McCLELLAN: Deb, hold on. I’ll be glad to take a look at it, and we can talk about it. I’m around all day.
Q We’re trying to give you an opportunity here, and —
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t gone back and looked at every single word that was said at the time. But, again, based on what Deb just said, my recollection is that I was referring to the fact that, yes, it’s officially declassified today.
Q All right, let’s talk about the politics of this.
MR. McCLELLAN: But that doesn’t get into the issue of when everything was declassified.
Q The purpose of releasing portions of this clearly had a political implication for the administration. There is a debate going on, and you wanted to counter that debate. And, yet, you’re criticizing Democrats, saying that they are engaging in crass politics for saying that they’re — that this was leaking. How do you not see that there was a —
MR. McCLELLAN: For the reasons I stated. That’s a very good question. Let’s talk about the distinction. There is a difference between leaking classified information that could compromise sources and methods, which could be harmful to our nation’s security. The terrorist surveillance program is a prime example. There was an unauthorized disclosure of this vital program that is helping to prevent attacks and save American lives. This is a program that is aimed at intercepting international communications involving known al Qaeda members or suspected al Qaeda affiliates. And it is vital to our nation’s interest.
General Hayden, the number-two man in our intelligence community, said its disclosure is harmful to our nation’s security. So there is a clear distinction here. Democrats refuse to recognize that distinction. That is engaging in crass politics.
On the issue of the National Intelligence Estimate, that is something that was in the public interest that it be disclosed because there is a lot of debate going on. And we will vigorously set the record straight when people are putting out misinformation or trying to suggest things that simply are not true.
Helen, go ahead.
Q Did the President know that Joe Wilson was married to a CIA agent before Novak revealed it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this goes to — go back and look at previous comments, but this goes to an ongoing legal proceeding, and I would encourage you —
Q Did he know? It’s a simple question.
MR. McCLELLAN: — I would encourage you to go and look at the filing that was made just the other night, because Mr. Fitzgerald touches on that subject in the filing.
Q You mean the President did not know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I can’t get into discussing an ongoing legal proceeding, and that’s a question relating to the ongoing legal proceeding.
Q I think it’s a very simple, important question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Matt, did you have something?
Q Yes, your refusal to comment on this on the grounds of it being an ongoing legal proceeding —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me — let me — hang on, hang on —
Q — that leads to the conclusion that —
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on.
Q All right.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. Let me just say why and remind people why. There is an ongoing legal proceeding underway that is headed toward trial. We want to see a fair trial. We want to see due process. We don’t want to do anything that could compromise this ongoing legal proceeding or compromise or jeopardize the trial. And that has been our policy with other matters, as well. And so this has been a policy that has been well established for a long time.
Now, to your question.
Q This inevitably leads to the conclusion that you are not disputing the allegation that the President was involved in the leaking — or authorized the leaking of classified information. Are you satisfied with that? And is that really in the interests of the American people?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not getting into confirming or denying things, because I’m not commenting at all on matters relating to an ongoing legal proceeding.
Q Scott, just a —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me come back to you. Elaine, go ahead.
Q Scott, let me ask you about the issue of credibility. Isn’t the fact that you’re up here having to vigorously defend and make the distinction between what some people see as leaking and what you are saying, from what I understand, is the sharing of information to provide historical context — isn’t that illustrative of the fact that the President’s credibility has been damaged by it?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Democrats have a credibility problem when they try to suggest that we were manipulating intelligence, or that this is about something other than what I just said. That’s crass politics. And they’re the ones who have an issue when it comes to what you bring up.
Q I want to see if I can sort out what you described earlier as sort of “talking past” each other earlier. There’s a process for declassification, and the President has declassification authority.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s correct.
Q When the President determines that classified information can be made public without jeopardizing sources and methods, that it’s an appropriate thing to do, is that — can that supplant the declassification process? Is that, in effect, an immediate act? Is it de facto declassified by that determination —
MR. McCLELLAN: The President can declassify information if he chooses.
Q So if a declassification —
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s inherent in our Constitution. He is the head of the executive branch.
Q Is it possible, then, for a declassification process to be underway, or perhaps not yet even started, but perhaps in the middle of it, the President can say, this is declassified and — or this is something that is worthy of the American people seeing, and they can happen on separate tracks?
MR. McCLELLAN: I want to be careful here, because that is touching on something that is brought up in the legal proceedings. So —
Q Well, it’s a question more about administrative policy and how the White House would handle it.
MR. McCLELLAN: — but the President is authorized to declassify information as he chooses.
Q Right, so just one other question, if I can. You’ve already taken a couple of shots at Democrats, but the Minority Leader this morning has gone to the Senate floor and demanded a whole series of questions to be answered. At one point, he says that only the President can answer the question as to whether or not the buck stops in the Oval Office or the leaks start, and has suggested that what he is now seeing — Harry Reid, the Minority Leader — in his opinion, it speaks to a pattern of misleading America by the Bush White House. It raises somber and troubling questions about the Bush administration’s candor with Congress and the American people.
This does seem to be yet another example of the Democrat’s ability to criticize the President for not coming clean on all of this. How would —
MR. McCLELLAN: That is exactly —
Q Hold on.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead.
Q How would you explain to the nation the President’s assertion that anybody who leaks information would be prosecuted, when they are now — the Democrats now see that the President —
MR. McCLELLAN: Leaking classified information.
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s a distinction here. That is the kind of crass politics that I am referring to. Democrat leaders, like the one you brought up, are refusing to acknowledge an important distinction here. First of all, the national intelligence information was declassified information that was provided to the American people.
Now the other issue I brought up was the issue of the terrorist surveillance program. You bet the President has spoken out about its unauthorized disclosure, because what its disclosure has done is shown al Qaeda, our enemy, the play book. This is an enemy that watches us very closely. This is an enemy that adapts and adjusts when they learn information about our tactics. And it’s important — it’s important, as we carry out this war on terrorism, that we don’t do anything that could compromise our nation’s security.
The terrorist surveillance program has been a vital tool that has helped to save American lives. And it’s one tool, in an overall arsenal of tools, that we are using to take the fight to the enemy and stop attacks from happening on American soil.
Q But I just want to make sure I understand. In effect, your answer to the Harry Reid criticism is that the President has the authority to declassify. Therefore, the discussion of leak is inappropriate.
MR. McCLELLAN: My response to what he said is that that’s just crass politics, because he is not acknowledging an important distinction. And the distinction is that, one, the information that he was referring to was declassified. And the other information he’s trying to twist and put into that is a separate matter. These are two separate issues.
Q Two questions. One, as far as U.S.-India —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me stay on this topic, and I’ll come back. Go ahead.
Q You all talk about the court filing — you’ve said that. But you seem to want to convey the idea that if what happened in the court filing happened, then it’s okay, because it wasn’t classified at the time —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not conveying any ideas about the court filing. What I’m talking about is the facts, at the time, and trying to put in context for people in this room and people that are listening, the time period and what was going on during that time period. But the National Intelligence Estimate was declassified in part because there was a lot of debate going on, and there was a lot of misinformation out there. It was important for the American people to have that information.
Q You seem to be trying to come up with a definition of the word “leak”, which is that if it’s not classified, and it’s not endangering national security by revealing it, then therefore it’s not a leak. Is that a —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it’s in the public interest, and leaking classified information that involves sensitive national intelligence regarding our security.
Go ahead, Martha.
Q Can I just go back to this original statement that the President said about, “I constantly express my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information” — leaving the impression he doesn’t like any leaks. Can you give us an idea how the President feels about leaking information, since if this information —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we have to draw distinctions here, and what specifically you’re referring to. I mean, if people are going out there talking about a potential policy decision-making process that is still in development and that the President hasn’t come to a decision on, then that’s not helpful information, and of course we’d look down on something like that.
Q But otherwise, if it’s helpful to you and it’s declassified, leaks are okay?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, if it’s in the public interest.
Q Leaks are okay?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say that. What I’m saying is that the issue here is the National Intelligence Estimate —
Q No, I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about leaks.
MR. McCLELLAN: — and the declassifying of the National Intelligence Estimate.
Q I’m talking about a statement the President made in the fall of 2003.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to try to draw a broad conclusion, or make a broad statement. If you’ve got specific instances you want to refer to —
Q No, you seem to be saying it’s bad to leak classified information that will hurt the country —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me give you a specific instance —
Q — but it’s not bad to leak declassified.
MR. McCLELLAN: A specific instance is the leaking of classified information that could harm sources and methods, or put them at risk, or harm our nation’s security. One is the terrorist surveillance program.
Q Understood, but that’s not the issue here.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it is part of the issue, because that’s —
Q It’s part of the issue, but not the part of the issue I’m trying to get to.
MR. McCLELLAN: — that’s exactly what the President is referring to when he’s talking about leaking of classified information. That’s exactly the kind of information he’s talking about.
Q I know he is, but what I’m saying is the President expressed displeasure about leaks, not just classified leaks, but displeasure —
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, he’s talked about that in the past.
Q So he has displeasure about leaks, even of declassified material?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you have to look at what specific instance are you talking about.
Q Well, you won’t talk about the specific instance we want to talk about —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just gave you an example.
Q — so, in general —
MR. McCLELLAN: I just gave you an example.
Q — if you leak something, he has no problems as long as it’s not classified?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not what I said, Martha. What I said is what I said, and you ought to listen to what I said, not try to put words in my mouth.
Q No, I’m not.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think you can go back — if you’ve got a specific instance of a leak, bring it up.
Q Did he have a specific instance when he said his displeasure about leaks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was being asked about classified information being disclosed.
Q “I constantly express my displeasure with leaks, particularly classified leaks.”
MR. McCLELLAN: That was in the context of people leaking classified information. But, sure, this is a town — I mean, this is a town where that happens a lot. And a lot of those are not helpful things to have happen. But you’re asking me to make a broad statement, and I’m not going to do that.
Q Scott, what was the President’s reaction to this story?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q What was the President’s reaction to this story? What has he said?
MR. McCLELLAN: “This story”?
Q The story, as it’s published.
MR. McCLELLAN: “The story as it’s published”? Which story as it’s published?
Q You sound like Donald Rumsfeld. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: “This story” — I’m just asking you to specify what the story is.
Q I’m talking about the filing —
MR. McCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald, okay.
Q — I’m talking about what we found out —
MR. McCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald. I can’t get into talking with you relating to an ongoing legal proceeding.
Q I’m not asking you to. I’m asking, did the President say anything about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I can’t get into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding. That relates to an ongoing legal proceeding. I just can’t do that.
Q Slightly different topic, but you, yourself, said they’re linked, when the Attorney General said yesterday that the President might have authority to do wireless wiretapping —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me come back to it. I’ll come back to it.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Anyone else on this subject? Kelly.
Q Is there a bit of an appearance problem for this White House when the President speaks so strongly against leaking? When the Counsel’s Office orders ethics classes? And then today you’re talking about effectively good leaks and bad leaks, that —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you’re trying to lump a lot of things in there, and I don’t think I would do that, in terms of ethics classes. I mean, those are ongoing throughout the time period we’re here in this administration. So let’s not lump things together.
Q But there were some that were ordered specifically —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s not lump those things together.
Q There were some that were ordered specifically —
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re lumping things.
Q I’m lumping only because the timing of the last public lumping was —
Q Lumper. (Laughter.)
Q — in the fallout of (inaudible), as you may remember, that was made public. So the President is very vocal about leaking at a time when now it appears that he sees some value in releasing some —
MR. McCLELLAN: We are a nation at war. And the leaking of classified information, particularly during a time of war, is much more harmful and much more dangerous. You bet the President is going to continue to speak out about leaking classified information. It is wrong and it can have serious consequences. And what he has said about the leaking of classified information stands. He is very firm in his belief that leaking classified information, particularly information that could be harmful to our nation’s security, is a serious matter and it is dangerous, and when people do it they put our nation at risk, they put lives at risk, they put sources and methods at risk.
This is a different kind of war that we are engaged in, against a deadly and dangerous enemy, an enemy that is lethal, an enemy that is sophisticated. And that is what the President often refers to when he talks about the leaking of classified information, and how serious that is.
I’ll come back to you. Go ahead, Les. Are we on a different subject? Goyal is first.
MR. McCLELLAN: Related?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q Kind of getting back to where we started. Is information declassified when the President says it is, or when the process is done —
MR. McCLELLAN: He can authorize the declassification of information.
Q And at that moment does it become declassified, or —
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s authorized declassification. He has that authority to do that.
Q At that moment. He says, today, I want this declassified — at that moment it’s declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not saying that he has or hasn’t — if there’s any specific example — but he has that authority, yes.
Q Immediately, immediate effect?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. He has that authority, yes.
Q Scott, one related.
MR. McCLELLAN: One related. You all on the front row have had multiple questions.
Q I’ve got one related.
Q I’ve got one —
MR. McCLELLAN: See, you’re encouraging others to do this.
Q There’s lumpers up there. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m glad to stay here all day. This is an important subject, and I’m glad to make the distinctions.
Q I want to make sure we’ve got our terms right, that’s all. It seems to me, from what I’m hearing, in terms of the way you’re explaining this, classified information is leaked; declassified information is provided.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, declosing [sic] declassified information, like we did with the National Intelligence information, that was provided to you all. That was provided to the public through you all, through your colleagues.
Q Okay, but when Judy Miller gets it, it’s being provided? Or is it being leaked, because then it’s declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, see, that’s something that I cannot and you cannot separate from an ongoing legal proceeding. So I can’t get into responding to that specific question, because how can you separate it from the legal proceeding and the filing that Mr. Fitzgerald made. I just can’t do that.
Q One more, because you —
MR. McCLELLAN: See what you encouraged?
Q Well, because this has been invited by your discussion of need to educate the American public in the throes of what you say was a lot of unfair information —
MR. McCLELLAN: To provide facts.
Q To provide facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: And Congress had those facts.
Q There have been —
MR. McCLELLAN: Way back when they made the decision to authorize the President’s use of force if necessary.
Q What do you say to critics who argue that the President’s decision to disclose this information, to effectively declassify it, in the context of that debate, to provide facts was, in fact — or at least in their argument — a political use of intelligence information?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was in the public interest that this information be provided, because there is a debate going on in the public about the use of intelligence leading up to the decision to go into Iraq. This is regarding pre-war intelligence. And there was a lot of misinformation being put out. There were accusations being leveled against the President and against this White House and this administration that intelligence was misused or manipulated.
The fact of the matter is that the intelligence was based on what is laid out in the National Intelligence Estimate, which is the collective judgment of our intelligence community. The fact is that people have looked into how the intelligence was used, and they have seen, as I pointed out, no evidence of such manipulation or misuse.
Q Scott, two questions. One, as far as U.S.-India nuclear agreement, civil nuclear agreement is concerned, President is also (inaudible) India, and now Dr. Rice, because she vigorously defended the deal on Capitol Hill in the House and Senate. My question is that how serious President is lobbying the U.S. Congress because (inaudible) Prime Minister of India doing same thing in the Indian parliament. So how serious is the President —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you’re seeing today that there is good bipartisan support to begin the process of ratifying this agreement. And this is an important agreement. It goes to our strategic relationship. It goes to our energy security, and India’s energy security. And it also, for the first time, will bring India’s civilian nuclear program under international safeguards. And that’s an important development.
As the President has pointed out previously, India is not a country that was engaged in proliferation. They had a good nonproliferation record. And we had to look at the reality of the situation.
But you’ve had Senator Biden and, I think, Senator Obama and others that have expressed a willingness to support this agreement, because they recognize the importance of moving forward on it to both our energy and national security interests.
And so I know that Undersecretary Burns has been working very closely with members of Congress, as has Secretary Rice. And the President has discussed it with members that he’s had here to the White House. It’s an important agreement. And we look forward to continuing to work with Congress and hearing any issues that they might want to bring up and talking to them about the importance of this agreement, answering their questions.
Q (Inaudible) former General of the Indian television, (inaudible) — who interviewed the President before the visit and also — somehow he tried to meet the President in India while President was there, but after his meeting with the President, he was fired from his job. Do you have any idea of what happened, whether it was —
MR. McCLELLAN: First time I’ve heard about it. (Laughter.) I’ll have to take a look.
Connie, go ahead. Wait, wait. Victoria, you had another question.
Q Yes. The Attorney General, yesterday, when he was testifying, would not rule out the possibility that there is a domestic warrant-less wiretapping program going on. And even the statement that was later issued by the Justice Department wouldn’t really confirm or deny one way or the other. Could you give us some idea about —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what the Justice Department said that no one should read anything into the Attorney General’s testimony yesterday, that his comments and quotes shouldn’t be interpreted to suggest the existence or nonexistence of a domestic program or whether any such program would be lawful under the existing legal analysis.
What the Attorney General was talking about was the terrorist surveillance program. And this is a very limited program that is focused on intercepting international communications involving al Qaeda or affiliated terrorists.
And so that’s the focus, and it’s narrowly tailored. It was something that was carefully looked at by those at the NSA as they move forward on putting it in place. And they’ve made sure that there are important safeguards in place. They made sure that it’s something that’s reviewed on a regular basis. But it is a vital tool in our efforts to prevent attacks and to prevail in the broader war on terrorism.
Q Is there a domestic version of the terrorist surveillance program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the Attorney General talked about this yesterday, and I’m not going to go beyond what he said yesterday in terms of the legal issues there.
Q Returning to your earlier statements about immigration — does anybody remember those? I do. What happens in the next two weeks now while the Congress is on recess? Does the White House have meetings? Do you have any attempts to reach a compromise —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve stayed in touch with the leaders. There is a compromise that has already been reached. Many Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans came together and said, let’s move forward on this comprehensive piece of legislation and get it to conference committee, and then work with the House to get something done. It’s an important priority. It’s a priority that many share. And many in Congress recognize the importance of addressing this in a comprehensive way.
We have a broken immigration system. We need to do — continue to do more to secure our borders, which we are. We’ve taken a number of steps, but we need to do more. And part of securing our borders is also moving forward on a temporary guest worker program, because that will relieve pressure off the border and allow the border patrol and law enforcement authorities to focus on those who are criminals — terrorists, drug dealers, drug traffickers, smugglers, human traffickers — as they should be focusing their efforts.
Q Two more on this. Since this compromise is in trouble, will the White House offer new language? And, also, what are your feelings, your sentiments about these massive demonstrations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, this legislation is being blocked by the Minority Leader by not allowing the voices to be heard in the debate, and a reasonable number of amendments to be considered on the floor of the Senate. There was a bipartisan agreement that was reached. We appreciate the efforts of Senator Frist, of Senator Hagel, of Senator Martinez and others who came together — Senator McCain, Senator Kennedy, others, recognized the importance of finding a good compromise to move this process forward.
The reason it is not moving forward right now, before they recess, is because the Minority Leader blocked — using blocking tactics, and blocked those efforts. And we hope that leaders will be able to come together and move forward on a compromise bill after they get back from the recess. There is a willingness to do so. I know that they are continuing to work it. I think Senator Frist has indicated his intention to continue to work it, to get it moving and get it into conference committee. That’s what we want to see.
Q Follow on that, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, go ahead.
Q I have a two-part. Chairman Peter King of the House Homeland Security Committee has scheduled a May 18th hearing to examine whether the Department of Homeland Security guidelines on screening employees and issuing security clearances are adequate. And my first part, does the President support this examination, which was brought on by former Time Magazine editor and U.S. Department of Homeland Security press officer Brian Doyle’s arrest on seven counts of using a computer to try to seduce a child?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me first address the issue you brought up, the arrest. There are very serious allegations that have been made against this individual. The allegations, in our view, are repulsive and disgusting. And if they are true, we cannot express enough outrage at what occurred. That is a matter that is now being handled through the legal process.
Q Scott, you’re commenting on an ongoing legal proceeding. (Laughter.)
Q Scott, a follow up —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m not. I’m not getting into specifics about it. It’s despicable act that is alleged.
Q Yes. This morning’s Washington Post reports that three people reported —
MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, wait, Les, you didn’t let me finish the question, someone jumped in here.
Q Oh, sure, I’m sorry.
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of Congressman King, they have an oversight role to play when it comes to homeland security. And I think that he’s simply exercising that oversight role. And I’m sure that Homeland Security will be glad to cooperate, as they are with the investigation that is proceeding.
Q This morning’s Washington Post reports that three people reported that between 1999 and 2001, that Doyle was caught viewing pornography on Time Magazine’s computers, for which he faced discipline. But Time bureau colleagues circulated a letter in his defense. And what is the President’s reaction to this and to the Time bureau chief’s refusal to reply to calls from The Post asking for some comment?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, Les, I didn’t hear — you were going on for so long, and I was finishing on my question. I missed exactly what you were saying. I don’t know if I can get into responding to something that I haven’t seen.
Q Well, what was his reaction — what is the President’s reaction —
MR. McCLELLAN: Reaction to?
Q Reaction to the fact that this — Time Magazine’s computers for which he faced discipline, but Time bureau colleagues circulated a letter in his defense?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know the facts here, Les, about what you’re referring to. I’d have to look into it.
Now, Matt —
Q It was in The Post — you read that paper.
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, Matt brought something up. In terms of the legal proceeding that we’re talking about, at the beginning of this, that involves potential administration officials and a former administration official. There’s a big difference here in what we’re talking about.
Q Thank you, Scott. On immigration, I want to ask a specific question about that compromise. In it, it would require, among other things, that illegal immigrants in this country under two years would be forced to leave the country, get in line, and apply for reentry. Does the President really believe that’s a workable plan? How could it be enforced?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we’re focused on is moving forward on comprehensive legislation. We want to see the Senate act on comprehensive legislation that includes more resources to better secure our borders, that strengthens interior enforcement, and that includes a temporary guest worker program. And then that would go to conference committee. The House has already passed some legislation. And we look forward to an opportunity to work out the details, and iron out those details in the conference committee. The President has outlined some very clear principles.
And so what we’re supporting is compromise efforts that build as broad a support as possible to move that process forward. And then we can work with the House leaders and the Senate leaders in conference committee to get a good piece of legislation that everybody can move forward on and pass.
Q I understand the process that has to play out, but does the President look at that, or did the White House look at that and see that it’s truly a —
MR. McCLELLAN: What we’re supportive of is moving the process forward on compromise legislation that is based on comprehensive legislation. We’re not getting into discussing all the various details within that legislation or embracing all the details within specific legislation. But we are supporting the efforts of leaders to build broad support, as broad a support as possible, and move forward on a compromised piece of legislation that is comprehensive in nature.
Q Thank you, Scott. On human rights issues, it is reported the Chinese government has deported North Korean defectors by force to North Korea. It’s Korea violation of human rights. What —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, that who had deported? I’m sorry.
Q Chinese government deported —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we put out — I think you’re talking about a specific individual?
MR. McCLELLAN: We put out a statement on that last week expressing our deep concern about that individual and her well-being. And I don’t know if I have anything to add to what we said last week at this point, in terms of updates. But that is a very serious matter to us. And it is a deep concern, if that’s what you’re referring to.
Roger, go ahead.
Q On gasoline prices, they are, as you know, rising, and they’re rising quite a bit. Wall Street forecasters are now saying that they are going to rise to at or near record, even without Katrina. Does the President think that rising gasoline prices are going to hurt Republicans in the midterms?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President, like many Americans, is concerned about rising energy prices, including the price at the pump. That does have an effect on our economy, a harmful effect on our economy, which is growing very strong. It creates a headwind for our economy, because working families and small businesses that are trying to make ends meet are having to pay more at the pump, and the price at the pump is too high.
What it should signal to all of us here in Washington, particularly members on the Hill, is that there is an urgency to move forward on the initiatives that the President outlined in his State of the Union. As the President said, we are a nation that is addicted to oil, and we need to get off of that addiction to oil by developing new technologies and transforming the way we power our cars — making use of ethanol, making use of hybrid batteries where, for the first 40 miles, you can run on a battery in your car and then switch over to another fuel type. And that’s what the President is focused on.
We passed a — there’s not a short-term solution to the issue. That’s why we acted last year and passed comprehensive energy legislation to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. This is about addressing the root causes of high energy prices. We didn’t get into this overnight, we’re not going to get out of it overnight, but it’s all the more reason why Congress should move forward and act on the Advanced Energy Initiative that the President proposed in his State of the Union.
Q But is he concerned about the voters in November because of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is concerned about making sure that we are reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. He’s looking at it in that context. We need to continue to act.
If you want to talk about the records and what we have done, then look at what we have done. We passed a comprehensive energy bill. Again, this is not something that we got into overnight. This has been a recurring issue over the years because we are addicted to oil and because we are dependent on foreign sources of energy.
The President wants to make us more energy self-sufficient. That’s why he outlined the initiatives he did in his State of the Union, because it will build upon the steps we took last August when we passed a comprehensive energy strategy and helped to address the root causes of rising energy prices. You have to go and address the root causes if you’re going to fix this recurring problem. And that’s what we’re doing.
And that’s — as I mentioned at the top when I talked about the economy — and I’m sure all of you are going to lead the newscast with the strong economy today and the 211,000 jobs that were created — that’s why I talked about, we need to continue to act, because Americans are concerned about rising health care costs. They are concerned about rising energy prices. And the President has a plan to address those issues. And we urge Congress to move forward on those initiatives.
Elaine, go ahead.
Q You just joked about it just now, but can I ask you about that, about how this story is drowning out what the President is trying to do, and talking about —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the economic news, I know you all are going to cover it. And it’s more good news, that our economy is healthy and strong and growing. And we’re going to continue to talk about the importance of building upon the pro-growth policies that we have put in place to keep our economy the most competitive in the world, and to keep America the leader when it comes to growth and job creation.
Q But does it make it more difficult to get his message out? Do you acknowledge that, at least?
MR. McCLELLAN: Does it make it more difficult to —
Q Get his economic message out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’re going to continue to focus on what we have done to get our economy growing. We’ve been through a lot over the last few years. But because of the tax cuts we put in place, our economy is growing very strongly. Now that’s something that the President has talked about repeatedly. Our economic team is out today talking about it. So Americans are hearing about this news. But what’s also important is that they hear about the initiatives that we are continuing to pursue to make sure that this economic expansion that we’ve been in for the last 17 quarters affects everyone in a positive way.
Q Is the President satisfied that Treasury Secretary Snow has been an advocate of that to an effective level?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President said earlier today, when he was in an interview with some financial reporters, that Secretary Snow is doing a good job, and he appreciates the job he’s doing.
Paula, go ahead.
Q On veto authority. Up until today, the President has been saying that he would not veto appropriations bills as long as they kept their spending cut targets.
MR. McCLELLAN: As long as they hit the targets. You’re saying that’s why he hasn’t used the veto?
Q He has not been —
MR. McCLELLAN: Because he talks about the pie, when the pie meets your target, he doesn’t feel like he can go in there, look at the individual slices. He doesn’t have that authority, one. I mean, he wants to see a line-item veto act passed, and he appreciates the bipartisan support for that so that he could go in there and look at pieces within that pie.
Q But he can look at those pieces — he can veto any appropriations bill, and today he seemed to be just making a much broader threat —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but think about it, when he doesn’t have the line-item veto authority — think about it. When the President sets out a target, and says we’re going to fund our priorities, and then we’re going to hold the line on spending elsewhere, and Congress meets that target, what kind of signal does that send to members of Congress next time around? Well, oh, if he’s — if we’re going to meet his target, and then he’s going to go and veto it, then why should we adhere to what he has called for?
So that’s the reason why he hasn’t used it when it comes to spending bills. But he would like to have the line-item veto authority, so that he can look at earmarks and help Congress address that issue; so that he can line-item out wasteful spending within that overall pie.
But Congress has been acting to cut non-security discretionary spending. They acted last year, or this year, I guess, to reduce growth in mandatory spending, and that’s important, as well. When we’re talking about spending restraint, we need to look at the long-term problems that we face. And those come from entitlement programs. And we appreciate Congress moving forward on the Deficit Reduction Act.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT