White House Daily Briefing, October 7, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. The President was pleased to meet with his Cabinet earlier today to talk about the economy, that was the focus of the meeting. The President is, as you heard, optimistic about the direction the economy is moving, but he's not satisfied because there are still people who are looking for work that cannot find a job. And that's why the President talked about that there is more that we need to do translate this economic growth into job creation.
And the President specifically is urging action on his six-point plan, that includes making health care costs more affordable; reducing the lawsuit burden on our economy; ensuring an affordable, reliable energy supply; streamlining regulations; and opening new markets for American products and producers; and enabling families and businesses to plan for their future by making the tax cuts that we passed permanent.
And with that, I will be glad to go right into questions. John, go ahead.
QUESTION: Scott, in October of 2001, the President hit the roof over a classified leak of information from Congress. Yet, on this particular leak that you're dealing with now, he was silent from the 14th of July until 10 days ago. Why did he choose to hit the roof over one leak of classified information, but say nothing about another?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll be glad to go back through this. We talked --
Q: And they were both anonymous leaked.
MR. McCLELLAN: We spoke about this the other day, and I'll be glad to go back through it. One, when this report was published, there was -- well, keep in mind, first, that there's a process in place for reporting the leaking of classified information, and that process worked in this instance. The CIA is the one responsible for looking at those issues and reporting it to the Department of Justice if they feel warranted. And then the Department of Justice is the one that looks into it to determine if there is investigation warranted. And that's exactly what happened. The President expects that process to be followed, and it was in this instance.
Q: Well, it was followed in the last instance, too, but he saw fit to hit the roof about it, to shrink the circle of people who were -- had access to classified information. And in this particular case, the leak of the CIA agent's name, equally as sensitive information as was leaked out of the Senate Intelligence Committee in October, the President says nothing about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I disagree with that.
Q: Some people are saying that the President is showing a double standard here. Is he or isn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with that. The President has made it very clear that the leaking of classified information is a serious matter, and he takes it very seriously. That's why he is saying that we need to get to the bottom of this, and the sooner, the better.
Q: But he waits two months to --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has always said that. Keep in mind, that when this --
Q: On this one he waited two months to say that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, are you through?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Now I'll go. Let me remind you, that when this was initially reported, it was still not clear that there had been leaking of classified information at that point.
Q: When was that clear?
MR. McCLELLAN: But the process was looked at. Then the CIA looked at this and they reported it to the Department of Justice. And the process worked. The process was followed. Now we are focused on doing everything we can to help the career Justice officials get to the bottom of this. The President -- no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than the President of the United States. And the sooner the better.
Q: Scott, you have said that you, personally, went to Scooter Libby, Karl Rove and Elliot Abrams to ask them if they were the leakers. Is that what happened? Why did you do that, and can you describe the conversations you had with them? What was the question you asked?
MR. McCLELLAN: Unfortunately, in Washington, D.C., at a time like this, there are a lot of rumors and innuendo. There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made. And that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals. They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved. I had no doubt of that in the beginning, but I like to check my information to make sure it's accurate before I report back to you, and that's exactly what I did.
Q: So you're saying -- you're saying categorically those three individuals were not the leakers or did not authorize the leaks; is that what you're saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. I've spoken with them.
Q: All right, let me follow up. Did the President direct you to check with those individuals and get -- to find out if they were the leaker?
MR. McCLELLAN: What the President has directed is for the White House --
Q: Did he --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you -- I know you want to talk about --
Q: It's a direct question which you're not answering.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no. Let me answer what the President has said. I speak for the President and I'll talk to you about what he wants. And what he wants is to get to the bottom of this matter, the sooner the better. That's why we are doing everything we can to assist the Justice Department investigators in their investigation, and we will continue to do that.
Q: You speak for the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear --
Q: -- you asked these individuals. Did the President ask you to ask those individuals whether they were the leaker?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear that we should cooperate fully with the Department of Justice. And in that, keeping with that direction, I am making sure that we are doing that, from my standpoint. And I think part of cooperating fully is looking into these unsubstantiated accusations that were made to make it clear to everybody that those individuals were not involved.
Q: But I still want to nail down, because I don't think this is clear. Does the President want you, or will he, himself -- or does he want someone else within the administration, besides the two of you, to individually poll senior staff members to find out who the leaker is?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, keep in mind that there has been no information brought to our attention, beyond what's in the media reports. to suggest that there was White House involvement. As the President talked about earlier, there are a lot of senior administration officials in Washington, D.C. And the President wants the career officials at the Department of Justice, who are charged with looking into matters like this, to get to the bottom of this. And we are doing everything we can to assist them get to the bottom of this. They are the appropriate officials to look into this. They have vast experience in looking into matters like this, because they are involved in these types of matters. And that's exactly what they are doing.
Q: Scott, you said earlier that the White House Counsel's Office was reviewing, scanning the information that eventually would be turned over to the Justice Department. Under what circumstances would the White House withhold information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, keep in mind, the President has said that he expects us to cooperate fully. And when you look at this, first of all, what I was just saying in response to David's question, we want to do everything we can to help the career Justice Department officials get to the bottom of this, and the sooner the better. We want them to do a thorough job as quickly as they possibly can to get to the bottom of this.
So, the Counsel's Office, as a standard practice in any administration, is the point of contact for the Department of Justice. The Counsel's Office is assisting the Department of Justice in getting to the bottom of this. So the information will be turned into the Counsel's Office from the White House staff. We have a self-imposed deadline of today. The Justice Department has set some other deadlines over the course of the next couple of weeks.
And what the Counsel's Office will do is look through this information to make sure its responsive to the request from the Department of Justice so that we can assist them in moving forward as quickly as they possibly can to get to the bottom of this.
Q: Under what circumstances would information not go over there? Why don't you just send it all?
MR. McCLELLAN: If it's not responsive or relevant to the request from the Department of Justice -- one reason you wouldn't want to do that is because you don't want to overburden the Department of Justice with documents that have no relevance or are not responsive to their request. You want to make sure that they have the information they need to get to the bottom of this. That's why we're assisting them. They're welcome to look at the other documents -- that's not an issue -- that are not responsive to their request. But what we want to do is not overburden them with large amounts of documents that have no responsiveness to their request or no relevance to this investigation.
Q: I have a quick follow up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: During the pool spray, the President seemed to contradict himself just a little bit. He said, I don't know if we're going to find out the senior administration official. And then later, he said, but we'll find out.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we talked a little bit about this earlier today in this room, as well. Obviously, it is difficult to find out who anonymous sources are. We all know that that oftentimes doesn't happen. But the President was saying that we will do everything we can to get to the bottom of this.
Q: Back on this other issue, just one more question. Could he claim -- could the White House claim some sort of executive privilege on any information and not send it over?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first, keep in mind that the President has made it clear that we are cooperating fully. We welcome this investigation. We want this investigation to move forward in a thorough and quick way, so that we can get to the bottom of this. But I think it's premature to even speculate about such matters. But keep in mind what the President said. He expects the White House to cooperate fully. And that's the direction that the Counsel's Office and all White House staff is following.
Q: Is there an issue --
Q: If I can just follow up on the document thing. This is an investigation that centers on the disclosure of a CIA official's name, as well as a mission to Niger to check on the possibility of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Those are classified issues. Is one of the things that the Counsel's Office looking at the potential for disclosure of national security information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, keep in mind that the documents are coming in as we speak. A lot of people are turning in their information. The White House Chief of Staff today sent out a memo, made it very clear that -- what the President expects, and urged everyone to meet this self-imposed deadline. And our Counsel's Office will be going through that information as quickly as they can to turn over all the responsible -- responsive information to the Department of Justice, so they can get to the bottom of this. But I think it's premature to jump ahead of this process. That's where we are right now, and that's why I wouldn't want to speculate. But, obviously, you always look at matters of that nature.
Q: Counsel's Office will go through some of these documents before turning it over to the DOJ?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's the point I was making. We don't want to do anything to slow down this investigation. And keep in mind that the Counsel's Office, in any administration, is the standard point of contact. This is a standard procedure in any administration, the Counsel's Office would be the contact. There could be a lot of information that's turned in from members of White House staff, because the President made it very clear we want everyone to cooperate fully. But a lot of that information may have no relevance or not be responsive to the request from the Department of Justice, and it could slow down their investigation if they're getting volumes of documents that have no relevance.
Q: Well, what will they weed out, for instance?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we're making sure that we look at and -- to see what is responsive to the request. And that information, as we go through it, we want to turn it over as quickly as possible to the Department of Justice. So even though some of the deadlines are over the next couple of weeks, we want to move quicker than that to try to get them the information. And that's exactly what the Counsel's Office will do.
Q: When is the Department of Justice deadline for turning over this material?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some different deadlines within the request that they sent over, and I think you should probably direct those questions to the Department of Justice.
Q: And on the question of classified information, it's quite possible that there will be some classified information involved here. In the past, administrations have redacted highly classified sections, at least those that are beyond the classification of those who would be reading them. Is that a potential issue for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I answered that, I think, with Terry's question. But keep in mind that we are going through to make sure that we are getting all the responsive information to the Department of Justice as quickly as possible. That's what we want to do. We want to get to the bottom of this. We have a very strong interest in seeing the investigators get to the bottom of this, and that's why we're assisting the Justice Department as they move forward in that respect.
Q: Right, but you have to protect classified information, even as you're investigating --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously.
Q: Yes, right. And so the question is, do the people who are investigating, are they sufficiently cleared that you have no issues with classified information going to the investigators?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're in the process right now where all this information is being turned in and we will be going through -- the Counsel's Office will be going through all that information as they assist the Department of Justice. We're working very closely with the career officials at the Department of Justice. And they know everything that we are doing as we move forward to get them the information, as we are working hard to get them the information that they requested. And keep that --
Q: You're just saying it's premature on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it is. I think it is premature to get into all those issues.
Q: One last thing for you. You've got people going back two, three, four months here on something, at a minimum, and looking at their emails --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's February 2, 2002.
Q: Well, I know, but, you know, it's -- their discussions about this were most likely to have occurred since July 14th. A lot of those emails, obviously, have been erased, if your people erase emails like the rest of us do. How do people actually get access to their old emails if they vaguely remember --
MR. McCLELLAN: Individuals go through and do it on their own. Obviously, there is information that is maintained under the Presidential Records Act anyway; that's one of the pieces of information that's maintained anyway.
Q: So do they go to some archivist and say, I vaguely remember sending something back in July, can I go back and look? Or does someone here at the White House provide that material separately?
MR. McCLELLAN: The individuals will go through all the information that's in their possession. Remember what the request asked for, and that's what -- I would refer you back to the specific request from the Department of Justice.
Q: But that's what I mean. If you --
MR. McCLELLAN: But we maintain a lot of records already. And if the Justice Department requests something, we're more than happy to provide them with responsive information.
Q: No, I understand that. I'm just saying how would this work? Let's say I remember -- I'm an official, I remember sending some email about this, but I've long since deleted it. How --
MR. McCLELLAN: Understood. And that's why --
Q: -- how do I get access to that --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I look at the request and employees are expected to go back through all the information that they possess. That's what's expected of the White House employees. There's other requests of the White House and staff, as well.
Q: So in other words, the Justice Department request would ask the White House to provide materials --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look back at the specific request. I didn't bring the actual memo out here from the Department of Justice.
Q: I just want to be clear, though, the White House is obligated to provide emails that may have been deleted by the individual but are still archived by the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look back -- it said what is in the possession of, I believe, in the White House, the employees and staff. So I'll look back at that. But we are doing everything to make sure we are responsive to everything that the Justice Department requested, because we want to get to the bottom of this, and we want to help those career officials get to the bottom of this.
Q: Other than the national security matters, is the Counsel's Office reviewing generally for executive -- for presidential privilege --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I answered that earlier. Someone asked that up here. What I said was that the President has directed the White House to cooperate fully, and that's exactly what we are doing. I think it's premature to speculate about such matters, because right now we're in the process of collecting all the information so that we can get it to the Department of Justice.
Q: My understanding was that the Department of Justice, that's not just for individuals to produce documents, but that it's a backup, the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's right. That's why I said, White House. I said, White House employees and staff in the request.
Q: There are some --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I didn't bring the memo out here with me, so I'll ask you to look back at that memo, but it was a pretty broad request of the White House and the staff.
Q: Scott, the criteria for what needs to be turned over was set forth in the letter from the Justice Department --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: -- and the Justice Department established those criteria.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: How could something fit that criteria, and yet possibly be non-responsive to the request?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Well, I think individual staff members -- I hope at the President's direction -- are making sure that they're going above and beyond to make sure that nothing is left out, that they should provide under that request. But oftentimes in matters like this there is information that's sent in that is not responsive. You know, people we hope are erring on the side of providing more than they should. But you're asking me to speculate about specific instances. I'm not looking through that material at this point.
Q: Scott, both you and the President today are saying there is a lot of administration officials out there. I mean, would you like to see justice --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a fact.
Q: No, but in terms of conducting this search. Would you like to see Justice expand the probe beyond just the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I leave that to the career officials of the Department of Justice to make those determinations. They're the ones in the best position to make those determinations as they see best. They have vast experience in these areas, in these matters, and I don't want to ever try to tell the investigators what to do.
Q: But if the President -- I mean, the President wants to know who did this.
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q: And if it can't -- the answer can't be found at the White House, would you then want it to expand beyond the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think they are looking elsewhere in the administration, as well. I think you need to talk to the Department of Justice about specifically on those matters.
Q: Two quick ones. Yesterday you said there have been about -- had been 500 or so employees that have turned over their documents or signed something stating that they didn't have any.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I don't have an update. I mean, there's a lot more that are being turned over the course of yesterday afternoon, last night --
Q: Ball park?
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, we had Counsel's Office here until 11:00 p.m. We're moving as quickly as we can to get the information to the Department of Justice. And there are even more certifications that are being turned in today. And that's why the White House Chief of Staff sent out the memo that I believe we provided to you all, or will be here shortly, that said: the President has made clear how important it is to him that everyone should comply with this request. The sooner we complete the search and delivery of documents, the sooner the Justice Department can complete its inquiry and the sooner we can all return our full attention to doing the work of the people that the President has entrusted to us.
And then he goes on to note -- this is in a message to the White House staff from the Chief of Staff, Andy Card -- goes on to note that the level of cooperation thus far has been outstanding. So people are heeding the President's call to meet this deadline.
Q: Will you be releasing --
MR. McCLELLAN: And, again, that's a self-imposed deadline. Yes, I thought maybe we had already, but if we haven't, we will do so immediately after this briefing.
Q: Just a follow up. Beyond the question of who leaked classified information, which is a criminal investigation -- that's what Justice is handling -- does the President want to know if what Joe Wilson is now saying happened, which is that somebody, in terms of -- somebody politically tried to say that his wife is fair game. Is that something that the President considers as wrong? That's separate from the criminal investigation.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who made that accusation?
Q: Former Ambassador Wilson said that afterwards reporters were told by somebody at this White House that his wife is fair game, and that would have been sort of a political question, perhaps he is saying, for retribution
MR. McCLELLAN: And what did he previously say? Let me remind you, back in --
Q: He never brought that up. This is new.
MR. McCLELLAN: Back in August, at a partisan forum in Seattle, he said, "It's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs." This was back in August in Seattle.
Let me also remind you, he later backtracked from those remarks and went on to say, and this is from the Wall Street Journal on October 1st, "I freely admit I got carried away. If I left the impression that Karl Rove was the leaker or approver of the leak, I didn't intend to." And then he went on to say that "Mr. Rove's name is a name I am prepared to use as a metaphor for the office." So this is -- so he has made previous statements to that effect, and then later backtracked from those statements.
I think it's very important to understand that there is a Washington, D.C. game of rumor and innuendo. It's the ugly side of Washington, D.C. And I'm not going to play that game, and you shouldn't read anything into that. But let's make very clear that the subject of this investigation is whether someone leaked classified information. And there are a lot of names being floated, and a lot of unsubstantiated accusations being leveled against good people. And, unfortunately, that's what happens when -- in times like this in Washington, D.C. The ugly side comes out.
No one wants to get to the bottom of this matter more than the President of the United States. If someone leaked classified information, the President wants to know. If someone in this administration leaked classified information, they will no longer be a part of this administration, because that's not the way this White House operates, that's not the way this President expects people in his administration to conduct their business.
Q: So just to clarify, you're not going after this allegation because you basically don't trust the credibility of Joe Wilson?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I said was that there is a Washington, D.C. game that goes on in times like this, a game of rumor and innuendo. I was just pointing out some facts for you to keep this in perspective. I would not read anything into it. I'm just saying, I'm not going to play that Washington, D.C. game, because this is too serious of a matter to be dragged into politics.
There are -- let me remind you all in this room, that there is a difference between setting the record straight and people going out, trying to punish someone for speaking out. We -- this White House -- it is absurd to suggest that this White House would seek to punish someone for speaking out with a different view. We welcome people with different views. That's a healthy part of our democracy.
But let's also make clear that when you're talking about setting the record straight, there were some issues that came up after the op ed was initially published, back in July I believe it was. There were some statements made that were not backed up by the facts. There were two points of specific contention. And we set the record straight. We made clear that the Vice President's Office was not the one who directed Mr. Wilson to go to Niger. In fact, it wasn't us, it was the Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet, who made that statement in remarks that he made public when he said that the people in the counterproliferation area, on their own initiative, made the decision of who to send to Niger.
The other point of contention was that his findings contradicted what the President said in the State of the Union address. Well, Director Tenet also pointed out, no, that wasn't the case, that his findings were actually inconclusive on that point. Now that is perfectly acceptable when you're talking about setting the record straight. It's perfectly acceptable when someone makes statements that aren't based on the facts to correct that information. And this White House will vigorously work to set the record straight when facts -- when information is presented that is not based on the facts.
Q: So was his wife fair game, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I think I went through that.
Q: No, you --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are some, now, who are trying to move the goalpost by changing the subject and changing the story. There are some, unfortunately, here in Washington, D.C., who are seeing this investigation as an opportunity to attack the White House for partisan, political gain. That's unfortunate. I am not going to play the Washington, D.C. game of rumor and innuendo. What we are going to do is make sure that we do everything we can to assist the Justice Department and get to the bottom of this investigation. And you shouldn't read anything into that, but I'm making it clear that the subject of this investigation is a very serious matter and it should be pursued to the fullest extent and it is being pursued to the fullest extent by the appropriate officials at the Department of Justice.
Q: What you're not saying is that it's an outrage that someone brought up the irrelevancy of his wife as a part of an effort to discredit. The two things, you said, were factual errors that you believe he made. And I'm asking --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who brought up -- who did that? No, you said, brought up his wife. Who brought --
Q: Well, obviously, his wife was outted, and was outted as part of an effort --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, who did that?
Q: Senior administration officials. And I want to know if the head of this administration thinks not leaking -- just leaking classified information, but using Ambassador Wilson's wife against --
MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why I pointed out what he had previously said and then he later backtracked from. So keep that in perspective, that he's already made some very --
Q: But somebody did it.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- used some very strong words against a very good member of this White House team, and then he was forced to back away from those words later. Now, that's why I go into pointing out what happens in this town. There are some -- and we all know who these individuals are, you see them on the news every night -- who are going out trying to move the goalposts, because they see this as a political opportunity to attack the White House on other issues that are not the subject of this investigation. I'm not playing that Washington, D.C. game of chasing rumors and innuendo.
Q: You may not be playing that game, but the allegation is that at some point, someone in the White House may have. You are expressing a lot of disapproval towards the people --
MR. McCLELLAN: Unsubstantiated -- let's make it clear, unsubstantiated allegation.
Q: You're expressing a lot of disapproval against people who may be making those claims now, but you're expressing no disapproval at the possibility that someone in the White House may have done the same thing back in July. If there is a person in this White House who engaged in innuendo against someone who is a legitimate critic of the administration, does that person also deserve your disapproval?
MR. McCLELLAN: If someone sought to punish someone for speaking out against the administration, that is wrong, and we would not condone that activity. No one in this White House would condone that activity. I've made that -- I made that clear last week. But that's --
Q: But engaging in innuendo --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- it's absurd to suggest that the White House would be engaged in that kind of activity. That is not the way this White House operates.
Q: Scott, does the material that's being turned over include, I guess, personal journals or, you know, phone call logs -- anything personal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Anything that is relevant to that request. Anything in people's possession.
Q: Like, if you keep your own little log, or, you know, somebody else --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look back at the Department of Justice request. It said, anything in your possession, any and all, directly or indirectly, I believe, were the words used from the Department of Justice and forwarded to our staff.
Q: Earlier when you mentioned Joe Wilson's frog marching comment, you noted that he was saying it at a "partisan" rally. And I just wanted to be clear, are you saying Joe Wilson is a partisan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just pointing out the facts. You all, as members of the media, are the ones that can go and make the judgments on your own, in terms of why people say certain things. I'm just pointing out the facts.
Q: But does the White House think he's a partisan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just pointing out the facts.
Q: Scott, can you clear -- this week, two Republicans, both are sons of immigrants --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me ask one thing. Are we staying on this subject?
Q: Same subject.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's stay on the same subject. You've got the subject? Okay, let's stay on this, since there's some interest in this today. (Laughter.)
Q: Since the President raised the possibility that the criminal investigation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Don't leave. It's just getting fun. (Laughter.)
Q: -- that a criminal investigation could lead -- could end without the leaker being identified or prosecuted, would the President be willing to let the matter be closed there? Would it be over there? Or would he want to go out and find out, somehow, internally, look into this more and find out --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is the hypothetical stage. Let's talk about --
Q: Well, you said it's possible --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he was asked a question, and I think that anybody in this room that was asked that same question would probably respond in a similar vein.
Q: But that's irrelevant. We're not the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead. What's the last part of your --
Q: Would it be over, as far as the President is concerned, when the Justice Department investigation ends?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's getting into the hypothetical. We want to get to the bottom of this, and right now we're at the stage where the Department of Justice is looking into this. That's where we are. I'm not going to jump into every single hypothetical of if they did or if they didn't. We want to make sure that we do everything we can to assist the Department of Justice and getting to the bottom of this.
Q: Okay, you mentioned before that Secretary Card sent a memo around to the staff this morning suggesting that -- let people be able to get back to work and so --
MR. McCLELLAN: To meet the deadline, yes.
Q: Can you give us some flavor of how disruptive this has been as everyone has gone through a year-and-a-half or more worth of documents, what it's like for offices all over the White House to be complying with this request now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think, well, one, I think it depends on individuals in the White House. There are many people that probably don't have any information that is relevant to the request or responsive to the request from the Department of Justice. Obviously, and I can speak from personal experience, in the memo, there were three reporters that were cited. Anything going back to February 2nd, related to those reporters. So as the Press Office and the Press Secretary, we went back through all our records, just to make sure that there was -- whether or not there was any information that had their names on it.
Q: Well, can you elaborate a little on what that involved?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it meant going back through in our office, and then going back through our phone records, it meant doing searches of email, it meant going through notes that we have written and kept. So that's the personal experience. But I think it depends from individual to individual. I can just speak for my personal experience with this. Everybody here at this White House will do everything they can to cooperate with this investigation. We're also keeping our focus where it needs to be, which is on the American people's business.
Q: You have -- speaking for the President, from this podium, you have stated you are certain of the innocence of three men in this administration. What I'm wondering is, how is it possible that Attorney General Ashcroft and the Justice Department, which also report to the President, can lead a credible investigation, if the man they report to, who has already said he knows these people are innocent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think we've made it clear that the Department of Justice, the career officials are the ones that are looking into this. And all those individuals I mentioned will be doing the same thing that I did, returning any documents that would be relevant to the request. And the career officials at the Department of Justice will look into that. These are people that have been there for a long time and have vast experience.
Q: So it's possible that it may contradict --
MR. McCLELLAN: And we have great confidence in those career officials doing their job and getting to the -- hopefully getting to the bottom of this.
Q: So you leave open the possibility they could contradict what you have said.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's speculating. I'm just not going to get into that kind of speculation. Those are three good individuals, and it's unfortunate that some unsubstantiated accusations were made against them.
Q: Just along that point, if the Justice Department were to assert that they were innocent, are you worried that that would not be seen as credible, since you folks said that here before the investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: The investigation is going forward. The career officials at the Department of Justice, we have great confidence in their abilities. They have a lot of experience in this. They will be looking at all that information. If there's anything that they feel is relevant to their investigation, they will be doing follow up with it, as well.
Q: Different subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, two, three, four, five more on this subject.
Q: Six more?
MR. McCLELLAN: You want this subject, too? You've already had your chance. I'll come back to you. Quick one? If it's quick, go ahead.
Q: How many people in the Counsel's Office are going through this stuff, and how much is it? Is it boxes, or hundreds of thousands of papers, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact number. There are some individuals that are assigned to this, and they're looking into --
Q: Two, three?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are at least a couple that are specifically going through this, but I think they have others working with them, as well.
Q: Are they attorneys?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about some 2,000 people, and that's just an estimate of how many people we're talking about in this universe that was covered. They're working already to go through this information.
Q: Thousands of pieces of paper?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Thousands of pieces --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't even -- I wouldn't even try to speculate about the exact number.
Q: You say that you're trying not to overburden the Justice Department with excessive documentation that may not be relevant to the case.
MR. McCLELLAN: We don't want to do that, because that would slow down the investigation.
Q: But who is in charge of being the person that says, this is not relevant --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Counsel's Office. And there are individuals that are working on this, under the direction of the Counsel.
Q: Have you complied with the Department of Justice request?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have.
Q: And how many documents did you turn over?
MR. McCLELLAN: A lot, and I think probably many of them had no relevance. I don't know -- maybe that -- there are a lot of times we talked about Niger and uranium, and if there was anything like that -- I think because they said anything directly or indirectly related to the trip to Niger. And so I probably -- and that's one good example right there. There's probably a lot of information that's not relevant or responsive to the request, but I erred on the side of providing more information than I probably needed to.
Q: Okay, second question, while I have a chance. Does the President agree with the Texas Republican platform that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is this a different issue? I promise I'll come back to you at the end. Let's stick on this issue.
Q: A little while ago you quoted Ambassador Wilson in terms of some previous statements he made. But on October 5th, when he was on Meet the Press, he did, once again, mention Karl Rove in the context, I believe, of frog marching him for violating a code of ethics. And what my question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, on Meet the Press, he said, "I don't know if he leaked it, I don't know if he authorized it."
Q: But he also mentioned violations in the code of ethics. He did bring that up, did he not?
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct.
Q: So the question is, is it ethical for a senior administration official to advance a story about an illegal disclosure of a CIA operative, basically giving that story legs, when the story in question is an illegal disclosure of a CIA operative? Is that an ethical act?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've already answered this question. The way I answered it was, there's a difference between setting the record straight and spreading information to punish someone for speaking out, or trying to retaliate against someone. That is absurd to suggest that the White House would do. We would not condone that kind of activity. If you're talking about setting the record straight, which I specifically -- I think it was Terry's question -- we talked about it. There were two points of contention back in July, and we did set the record straight on those matters. And it's important that if information -- if certain things are said, and it's not based on the facts, then I think it is our duty to correct that information. And that's exactly what we did.
Q: Is it -- was it ethical for a senior administration official to proactively contact journalists after a column appeared, disclosing illegally the CIA operative --
MR. McCLELLAN: Here we go down the road of rumor and innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations. I think I've addressed the question the way I would answer it. I don't have any -- I think that's --
Q: That's not innuendo, Scott, that's a fact.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a fact that what? What's a fact?
Q: The fact is that based on Ambassador Wilson's -- and I don't believe he's lying in the op ed -- Ambassador Wilson has said that Karl Rove contacted at least one journalist, which has since then been reported by Newsweek as being Chris Matthews, and that he basically -- that he said that the CIA --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said -- to my comments earlier, I'm not going to play the Washington, D.C. game of chasing rumor and innuendo.
Q: How is this rumor?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I wouldn't -- I wouldn't read anything into what I said. Now people are trying to change the story and change the subject, move the goal post. And I think that it's important to remember what the subject of this investigation is about. But we could sit here all day long and go down the list of rumor and innuendo that is spread. And you shouldn't --
Q: It's not a question about --
MR. McCLELLAN: And you shouldn't read anything -- you shouldn't read anything into that. And I pointed out that there were statements that were made previously by the same individual who later backtracked from those statements.
Q: The President has said and you have said from this podium repeatedly that he's going to cooperate fully and he wants everyone in his administration to cooperate fully in this investigation. But you have pointedly not ruled out using executive privilege to keep some documents --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said -- I said it's just -- it's premature to speculate about that. But I put it --
Q: But that does not say you're not going to do it. That means --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, I appreciate what you're saying.
Q: -- that means it's open for you to use it at some point. Is that not inconsistent, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I made it very clear -- that's why I said it's premature to speculate about it at this point because we're at the stage of where information is being turned --
Q: But you're not saying you won't do it.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- okay, let me finish -- where information is being turned in. And I made it very clear, to remind you about what the President has said. The President expects the White House to cooperate fully, and that's exactly the direction the Counsel's Office and this White House are following. So keep that in perspective.
Q: But there is still the very real possibility that not very far down the road he could use executive privilege, and that wouldn't be very cooperative --
MR. McCLELLAN: See, here we are going to speculating. I said it's premature to speculate about that at this point. But keep in mind --
Q: Well, let's not speculate. Is he going to rule --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, keep --
Q: -- is he going to use executive privileges or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind, the President has made it very clear that the White House -- he expects the White House to cooperate fully. And that's exactly what we're doing. That's exactly what we will continue to do as we move forward. But beyond that, I think it's premature to speculate about any matters like that. I mean, someone brought up classified information and national security information. Is this still on the subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: Same subject? Bill, and then Jeff. Bill, and Jeff, and then we're off this subject and we're on to other matters.
Q: Going back to her question, why is the question -- why is her question moving the goalposts, in terms of whether or not Karl Rove or another senior administration official said something to another journalist that's been documented? Why is that changing the subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's the subject of the investigation?
Q: The subject of the investigation is whether or not someone in this administration leaked information.
MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly.
Q: The subject of the question is did Karl Rove say to Chris Matthews, the woman's fair game? It's a different question.
Q: Which is part of the investigation.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I made it clear there's a lot of rumor and innuendo --
Q: Right, but why --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- going around this town. And I'm not going to chase rumor and innuendo and play the Washington, D.C. game. And you should be careful not to read anything into that by what I'm saying. But the subject of the investigation is, did someone leak classified information, and if so, let's get to the bottom of this and make sure that we find out who that person is. And that's why we're working to get to the bottom of it, by assisting the Department of Justice.
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you're not on this question. You said you're on a different topic. Jeff, you're on this topic.
Q: Let's go back to the CIA. Is the White House looking for an explanation from that agency about why Joe Wilson was sent, and who sent him, and the process under which --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that explanation was provided by the Director of Central Intelligence in a statement on July 11th.
Q: And what was that?
MR. McCLELLAN: He spelled it out in his statement. He talked about there was the -- he said that the counterproliferation arm of the CIA were the ones who decided to send him on that mission.
Q: Does that include the Ambassador's wife?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Does that include the Ambassador's wife?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. You'd have to ask the CIA. I don't know that. I don't know the answer to that question. And now, we're off this topic?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, so who did I promise to go to first? Sara?
Q: Thank you. I have two questions. Israel is not ruling out another attack on Syria and hints that terrorism from Iran will not be tolerated. What is the administration doing to try and prevent another Middle East war, particularly preventing Israel from using its nuclear weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are in touch with all parties in the region, continuing to urge parties not to take steps that would escalate the situation, to avoid heightening tensions in the region. That's what we are doing.
Q: I have a different question. What does Dr. Rice and the staff of the Iraq Stabilization Group plan to do to cut the violence in Iraq? And --
MR. McCLELLAN: To do what? I'm sorry, to do what in Iraq, Sara?
Q: To cut the violence in Iraq, and the growing number of American GIs being killed. And what does the media advisor intend to do to feel differently with the media?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a lot that our military is doing to improve the security situation; that we're using the full force and might of our military to go after the foreign terrorists that are in the country, to go after the remnants of the former regime. But also, more and more Iraqis are taking responsibility for their security and for the stabilization of the country.
Just this weekend, you had some 700 Iraqis who graduated as the first battalion of the new Iraqi army. You have 40,000 or 50,000 members of the police -- of the Iraqi police force, Iraqis themselves. So there are a number of steps being taken on both the coalition front and the transferring of responsibility for their own security to the Iraqi people.
Q: Can you talk about Turkey --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, go ahead. Let me -- go ahead. What do you want me to talk about?
Q: Well, you said you wouldn't talk about it until the Parliament spoke on it. The Turkish Parliament has approved the deployment of troops to Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we welcome that decision and we'll be working with Turkish officials on the details of their decision.
Q: How many troops do you want?
MR. McCLELLAN: I said we would be working with the Turkish government on the details. Again, we'll be working with them on those details. We welcome countries coming in to provide even broader international participation in our efforts in Iraq. And we will be working on the specific details with Turkey as we move forward.
Q: Yes, a follow up on Israel. How does the White House respond to critics around the world that, with the justification of the President to the attack of Israel on Syria, the United States is setting a bad precedent to preemptive attacks to any country with any proofs of terrorism like Israel did with Syria. How do you respond to this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I will respond in this way, that one, everybody needs to work to fight terrorism in the region, particularly the new Palestinian Prime Minister and cabinet. They need to be empowered so that they can dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. That's the way forward, that's the way to move forward on the two-state vision that the President outlined.
We've also said that Israel certainly has a right to defend herself, but that they should keep in mind the consequences of the actions that they take. Let's keep in mind that there was a vicious attack on innocent men, women and children in Haifa over the weekend. Some 19 men, women and children were killed --innocent men, women and children, and a number more were injured. So that's what we continue to say.
Q: Do you think the road map is still alive?
MR. McCLELLAN: We remain committed to the road map. We made some progress on it after Aqaba. We've hit some -- we always said that there would be difficulties along the way. We have been in a difficult period, but it's important to remind all parties that they have responsibilities under this road map. And one of the first and foremost responsibilities is to fight terrorism.
Q: Scott, when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was asked on Saturday in Oakland, California whether she thought that the reported groping by Mr. Schwarzenegger was worse than what Bill Clinton did to so many women, including Juanita Broaddrick, she replied -- this is a quote: "That's not the point. President Clinton is not running for office. Schwarzenegger is; groping and grabbing for power." End of quote. And my first of two questions, does the President as a national role --
MR. McCLELLAN: How parts are there to the first question? (Laughter.)
Q: Does the President as a national role model believe that groping is worse than adultery and rape?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I know you're asking this in the context of the California election. The President's views are very well known on matters of that nature. I'm not -- and we are not involved in the California election. The judgments will be made by the people of California based on what they feel is best. And we have great confidence in their ability.
Q: Just one follow-up, if I could, the California Democrats have put together a number --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is the second question or still first?
Q: This is the second.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q: Have put together a number of recorded telephoned comparison spots against Schwarzenegger, including one by the reverend adulterer, Jesse Jackson, and another by the presidential adulterer, Bill Clinton. And question: Since the President is understandably interested in this California election -- he is -- does he see the incredible behavior of the Democrats in trying to critique a reported groper with two nationally notorious adulterers?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that you --
Q: I mean, surely you have an opinion on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that you and your colleagues can go and cover the California election and point out any inconsistencies that that may be -- that may be made during that election. I will leave it to you all. Thank you.
END 1:46 P.M. EDT
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