White House Press Briefing, December 12, 2003
|Friday December 12, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
James Baker/Iraq debt relief
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, I'll go right to questions. Happy Friday to everybody. Yes.
Q: Scott, why is there so much secrecy surrounding Baker's trip abroad? We haven't gotten an itinerary or any details. You've given general details about what he hopes to accomplish.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I announced the countries he would be going to yesterday. These are the initial fact-finding meetings. And as I described it yesterday, Secretary Baker looks forward to visiting with the heads of states in those countries and talking to them about the importance of seeking to restructure and reduce Iraq's debt burden for the Iraqi people. They should not be burdened with a debt of a brutal regime that had little interest in helping the Iraqi people, but had a lot of interest in building palaces and building torture chambers and pursuing weapon programs.
Q: But there's no plans for reporters to go on the trip. It seems like every effort is being made to keep this as low-key as possible. And what's the reason for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Baker is the President's personal envoy. Again, these are the initial meetings that he will be having on this very topic. And the President spoke with the leaders of the countries he will be going to, to ask those leaders to receive his personal envoy, Secretary Baker, and discuss this very important priority for the Iraqi people, and this very important priority of helping the Iraqi people build a free prosperous and democratic future. And I'm sure that you will be kept up to date as those meetings occur, either from the countries abroad, or we'll do our best to do it from here.
Q: Scott, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan says the U.N. may have to abandon its effort -- two-year-old effort to stabilize Afghanistan unless security improves. He cites rising violence, and that they may have to pull out. Is the United States aware of their concerns? Is there anything that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've only seen his comments in the news reports, as I'm sure you have, as well. But the security and safety of the people in Afghanistan is obviously one of our highest priorities. That's why we continue to carry out offensive raids against the enemy in Afghanistan. And our military and those working with us there, as well, in the coalition efforts have done an outstanding job other improve the security situation. There's more to do, and they're continuing to do that. But the U.N. has an important role to play in the efforts going on there. They have been playing an important role, and we hope they will continue to.
Q: Given Secretary Baker's ties to the law firm which represents Halliburton, and also to the Carlisle Group, is it enough for him to say that he will recuse himself from anything that will financially profit either of those entities? Or does the President believe that he should do more to recuse himself? Should he leave those firms in order to do this job?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, he's taken significant steps to avoid any potential conflict. Secretary Baker is widely respected across partisan lines. He is widely respected across the country and across the world for his experience, for his expertise, for his diplomacy, and for being someone of the highest integrity. And Secretary Baker is someone who follows not only the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. And he takes all appropriate steps to make sure that he is meeting the highest ethical standards.
Now, what you specifically are referring to I think is this status as a special government employee. This is a volunteer, unpaid position. It is a temporary position. If you look at the way the law is, it spells out that he can perform those temporary duties for no more than, I believe, 130 days in a calendar year. We fully expect he'll be able to perform his duties over a course of 60 days in a calendar year. That's over the course of a calendar year, because again, this is part-time. This is not a full-time position. And he has renounced any fees or compensation that he might receive that would pose a possible conflict.
There has been a thorough review by the law firm -- by the White House Counsel's Office. He is complying with all applicable ethics laws and rules, including the filing of a financial disclosure form disclosing his assets and incomes and liabilities and outside positions.
Q: When was that filed, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: With the White House Counsel's office. It is actually under the special government employee law that was created by Congress. He is required to do that, and he has done that. And this law specifically spells out what is required for a special government employee. But he's also made a commitment to make sure that if any additional information comes to light that could raise a potential conflict of interest, that we will address those issues. So he's gone -- he's taken great -- he's gone to great lengths to avoid any potential conflicts of interest.
Q: Just so I have this clear. You're saying that not only has he fulfilled all the requirements of the special government employee law, but that -- is it your feeling that he's gone over and above that? And has the President and the White House Counsel, are they both satisfied?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he is, he is fully complying all laws and rules on the books, and has taken significant steps to avoid even the potential for a conflict of interest.
Q: Can you tell us what those significant steps are?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all -- I kind of summarized that. I would summarize it in terms of renouncing any fees or compensation that he might receive that would pose a -- that might pose a conflict of interest, the thorough reviews that I mentioned by the law firm, as well as the White House Counsel's Office. And I mentioned that the issue of the special government employee -- let me back up, because I think this is more of an issue of the law that Congress created for a special government employee -- a special government employee position was created by Congress to allow individuals with unique qualifications and expertise to serve in temporary capacities without having to sever all their ties from the private sector.
Specifically, this would include such categories as people that maybe could help with developing vaccines or keeping the environment safe or protecting national security, as well as, in this case, public diplomacy. This is helpful to conducting the business of the American people. And these are usually short-term missions that we're talking about here. Like I said, a volunteer, unpaid position.
But what he has done specifically in regards to the law firm, he has taken several steps. As I mentioned, he has renounced his partnership share of fees in client matters, if any, that might constitute a conflict with his official duties, so there would be no benefit personally through his partnership income from this mission. Baker Botts partners have been reviewing all sources of firm revenues for conflicts or potential conflicts. And they are also, in addition to that, contacting their top 100 clients, representing over two-thirds -- or two-thirds of the firm's total revenues to further look at possible conflicts.
But, in any event, the firm has committed to making sure that he will receive no benefit of any potential conflicted matters, should such matters be identified. And in terms of the -- and I would also mention that he has resigned from the board of EDS, which he served on. In addition, you mentioned, he is a partner in the Carlisle Group. Several things have been done there, mainly by the Counsel's Office. They have gone through some 11 volumes of materials, based on a thorough search of both domestic and international databases to look to see if there could be any potential conflicts there with his official duties. And as I mentioned, the Counsel's Office has received the financial disclosure form, as well.
In terms of the Carlisle Group, out of an abundance of caution, he has renounced his partnership share of future benefits, if any, that might constitute a conflict with his official duties.
Q: Scott, what kind of concerns does the White House have over the apparent overbilling by Halliburton? And is the White House taking any steps to try to make sure something like this doesn't happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, this was a matter -- a contracting matter that was decided at the Pentagon. And there are some oversight measures that are in place to make sure that tax dollars are protected, to make sure that tax dollars are being spent appropriately. And from our standpoint, we expect those measure and procedures that are in place for oversight purposes to be followed, and we expect the Pentagon to look at this and get to the bottom of it.
Q: Is the White House concerned that this actually had -- clearly, the oversight procedures clearly must not have worked or they wouldn't have been overbilling.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Pentagon is looking into this. And, one, I think you need to direct those specific questions to the Pentagon, but the Pentagon discovered some things that they felt needed to be looked into further, and we expect them to get to the bottom of it. That's the White House view. But this was a matter that was decided by the Department of Defense, relating to contracting. And there are appropriate oversight measures and procedures that are in place. We expect those to be followed, and we expect the Pentagon to get to the bottom of this.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jacobo.
Q: Wasn't the White House aware that the timing of the Pentagon announcing its new policy of who would get contracts and the naming of Secretary Baker to go on a mission to some of those same countries that would not get contracts to ask them to forgive debt to Iraq, didn't the White House see a possible problem arising from that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've explained this decision. We've been through this yesterday, and the day before to an extent -- explained the decision in terms of U.S. taxpayer dollars, and those dollars that are going to reconstruction cost. And I look at it -- again, I can't emphasize enough that I look at it as something that is inclusive, instead of looking at it as something that was exclusive, which some have chosen to look at it as, for the very reason that the President stated yesterday, and that I stated even the day before that. These are U.S. taxpayer dollars that we're talking, and we believe it's perfectly appropriate that those United States taxpayer dollars go to the those countries and the Iraqi people and others that are contributing troops to the cause in Iraq for the purposes of reconstruction.
Q: Yes, but my point --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because they're the ones that have been there sacrificing and supporting our efforts from the beginning.
Q: Yes, but my point is that these countries that were affected by this measure, wasn't the timing -- couldn't it have been done in a different way? You bring up one -- and then you expect them to try to help another way.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't determine when media stories are written. This was something that was announced previously, prior to this week, by Pentagon officials. And we welcome the opportunity to visit with countries about that decision and talk to them about any questions they may have. The President made that very clear.
Q: Can I ask one quick follow-up on that? And then I want to ask about a different subject. But your argument that taxpayer dollars should go to those countries that are sacrificing in this cause is really an argument about justice, about what the right thing to do is. How is that a matter of essential national security? It's not really --
MR. MCCLELLAN: We actually went through this two days ago on this very issue, that that was relating to some international obligations. I think USTR can address that further. We are -- we believe that this is fully consistent with our international obligations and with our trade obligations. And that specific line you need to direct either to the Pentagon or to -- questions about that to the Pentagon or to USTR, because they can explain to you some of the legal reasons why.
Q: So, in other words, it's not in normal English, when it says --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, no, you look at --
Q: -- this is essential national security, you, who speak the same language as me, can't explain that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we went through this the other day. Look at the memo. It was posted publicly on our website and it made it very clear. There is some language that I think they decided to put in there for reasons to meet our international obligations.
Q: Shouldn't the language mean what it says?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, you need to address that question to the Department of Defense. The language did mean what it said. If you looked at the memo --
Q: Can you explain it?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- it talked about the importance of expanding international cooperation and international efforts going on in Iraq. It talked about the importance of continuing to encourage those that are contributing and sacrificing to stay the course, and continue to be involved in our efforts in Iraq.
We all share the same goal, to help the Iraqi people to build a better future. We all share the same goal about a peaceful and free Iraq. But we went through this question two days ago. I think I was asked about it a few times and I directed people to talk to the Pentagon because it was a Pentagon memo.
Q: Just very quickly on another subject. The group Human Rights Watch has released a report saying that the United States and Great Britain used cluster munitions bombs and artillery launched munitions in the war in Iraq, and they say that that led to the deaths of hundreds of civilians, and said the United States was perhaps violating its international legal obligations. Does the President have a response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: The United States and coalition forces went into Iraq to enforce the serious consequences that were called for under Resolution 1441. Coalition forces removed a brutal regime from power and liberated some 25 million Iraqis after three decades of being oppressed, tortured -- oppressed and tortured. The military, our military and coalition forces went to great lengths to remove this brutal regime while at the same time minimizing the loss of innocent civilian life. And they did an outstanding job in that context. And we appreciate the job that they did. And I think that the Iraqi people are grateful that they have been liberated from such a brutal and oppressive regime.
Q: So you reject the accusation that the use of cluster bombs in that effort was irresponsible, perhaps even illegal.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that our military went to great lengths to minimize the loss of innocent civilian life. That's what happened, and people can look back at the facts and they will see that. We removed a regime in a very swift and rapid fashion, while minimizing the loss of innocent civilian life. And our military did an outstanding job. And the American people are forever grateful, and I think the Iraqi people are grateful, and the world is better and safer because of those actions.
Q: Do you even know whether those munitions are used?
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct specific questions like that to the military. I think they would be in a better position to address what specific tactics that they use during warfare.
Q: The President was pretty emphatic yesterday in defending his contracting policy. Today Prime Minister Blair said, he certainly understands that the American government would have every right to decide how American tax dollars were spent, but he also said he thought it would be helpful, looking forward, if a compromise could be reached on this issue, and people could move on. Does the White House, the President share that sentiment, that he'd like to reach a compromise on this issue? We've been trying to figure out exactly where that line might be in the last few days. Any way you can explain to us where that compromise could be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I can't emphasize enough that there are many, many ways for countries to participate in what is going on in Iraq -- through the international funds, the international funds that were committed at the Madrid Donors Conference; they can participate -- countries that maybe are not on this list can participate as sub-contractors. A number of those countries have companies that are already participating on the ground in Iraq, through, I believe, sub-contracts. So there are many, many ways that countries can participate.
If other countries want to join with the coalition forces and those countries that are contributing troops on the ground, then we would welcome that. And, as I said, if they -- if countries want to join in our efforts, the coalition efforts and the efforts by the Iraqi people who are also sacrificing in this cause, then the circumstances can change. But we will be glad to discuss issues with those countries that relate to this.
Q: So if they give in to the bigger international funds, they can -- of course, anyone can bid for that money. But in terms of this $18.6 billion in U.S. money, there has been mixed signals. Does that require troops on the ground, or would say a major commitment to Secretary Baker be enough?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Actually, if you look at the memo, it talked about who was eligible and listed all the 63 countries that were eligible, and it included the United States, it included Iraq -- many Iraqi companies are involved in the contracts and carrying out some of the reconstruction efforts, as I pointed out the other day. It includes coalition partners and it includes other countries that may be contributing troops to the cause. And as I said, if additional countries want to join in those efforts, we would welcome that, and we can talk to them about matters and circumstances can change.
Q: Can you help me define efforts, though? If a French company wanted to get a major contract under the $18.6 billion in U.S. money, what would France have to do?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Number one, I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations. Well, one, I believe there already is a French company involved in some of the reconstruction efforts on the ground in Iraq. I think I pointed that out the other day. But we would welcome the opportunity to visit with them about this decision and talk to them about why we made this decision about U.S. taxpayer dollars going to those countries and the Iraqi people and the United States, because they have been the ones that have been on the ground, serving and sacrificing, and they have been the ones that have been supporting and helping with this effort from the beginning.
Q: Two questions. Is there final resolution on the Colonel West situation and does the White House have a reaction?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't know the latest on that. Address that to the Pentagon.
Q: Could you let us know if the President --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Are you talking about what was under investigation? Yes, you need to direct that to the appropriate authorities.
Q: Also, is the U.S. giving any compensation to the Afghan families whose children were killed in the accident --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any updates on that matter either.
Q: The question is, since this Bush administration, Halliburton has come up time and time again, in mostly negative light. Is there a concern, especially now, that Halliburton may need to go away and some other company may need to come in and take these contracts? Granted, Don Rumsfeld is saying that it's just a disagreement, but there seems to be a conflict of interest, some are saying. There seems to be constant negatives as it relates to Halliburton in relation to this administration and the administration's connection to Halliburton.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I appreciate the question and this question relates to a specific contract matter that was decided upon by the Pentagon. The Pentagon is looking into that matter under some of the measures that were put in place to ensure that those tax dollars are being spent appropriately. And we expect the Pentagon to get to the bottom of it. That's our view.
Q: Okay, this is about this one thing, but there is a continual negative --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Do you have a specific question? If the specific questions relating to a contract that was decided upon by the Pentagon, then you need to talk to the Pentagon about that matter.
Q: No, I'm asking you, does the relationship with this administration and Halliburton cause some Americans to say, hey, you know, there is a problem?
MR. MCCLELLAN: No, April. I mean, if you have a specific question or specific instance you want to reference, I welcome that.
Q: That is my question. I asked my question.
MR. MCCLELLAN: But this question is relating to the contract matter over at the Pentagon, and you should direct specific questions about that to the Pentagon. But make no mistake about it, we expect the Pentagon to get to the bottom of it. That's our view.
Q: I have a follow-up to April's question. Was there any political concern, any concern -- political concern at the White House when Halliburton or Kellogg, Brown & Root was awarded this contract? Did anybody say, hey, wait a minute, this is not going to look that great? No one said that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: It's a Pentagon decision, it's a Pentagon matter. They're the ones who made that decision --
Q: And the President just said, oh, I know nothing about this?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I've said that -- I've said that previously. So you need to direct those questions over there. That's matters that they decide.
Q: Scott, was the White House not aware that the Pentagon was making this decision?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That was a matter that was decided upon by the Pentagon. If you have specific questions about it, ask --
Q: This isn't a specific question --
MR. McCLELLAN: Ask them about the decisions that they made relating to that contract. It's not something that, as a contracting matter, the White House decides; it's something that the Pentagon decides.
Q: We're asking about Halliburton in general.
Q: Nobody at the White House said --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I think I've answered this. Let's go on.
Q: Scott, why the President doesn't send -- or don't send Secretary Powell instead of Mr. Baker to Europe? Is not the public diplomacy the role of Mr. Powell as Secretary of State?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, the restructure of Iraq's debt burden is a priority for us. And this was -- our first focus and priority was to work on the Madrid Donors Conference and increase international participation financially for the efforts going on in Iraq. And so that was our focus initially, and we had a very successful conference at Madrid. There were some initial efforts underway at the Department of Treasury when it came to the restructuring of debt. And after the Madrid Donors Conference, we turned to this -- turned more focus to the issue of restructuring Iraq's debt. And Secretary Powell and Secretary Snow were very involved and aware of these discussions about appointing Secretary Baker to focus specifically on this one area, the restructuring and reducing of Iraq's debt burden. And so they've been involved in this from the beginning.
But as I said, this was under the special government employee law that Congress created to bring people on who have unique qualification that can help in efforts like this, that can help in public diplomacy efforts. And Secretary Baker has been in close contact with Secretary Powell and Secretary Snow throughout these efforts.
Q: Scott, how much of the debt -- the Iraqi debt that the U.S. holds is the administration willing to forgive?
MR. McCLELLAN: This effort is just getting underway --
Q: -- I'm sorry -- and how much does it expect other countries to forgive? And the basis for this question is, number three, why should Baker's mission not be looked at as the start of negotiations, of bargaining over the debt?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, Secretary Baker's mission is just getting underway, in terms of the initial meetings. And he will be seeking to restructure Iraq's debt burden. He's overseeing that effort. And we're going to be looking at the entire debt burden, and that includes United States, as we move forward on these efforts.
But those efforts are just getting underway. But the goal is to help the Iraqi people realize a free, prosperous and democratic future. And I'm not going to try to predict things at this point. We need to let the initial meetings occur, and then we can go from there.
Q: Are you suggesting, then, that the debt forgiveness the U.S. is willing to commit to depends upon the debt forgiveness that other countries are willing to commit to? And if that's the case --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm suggesting that --
Q: If that's the case, why should Baker's mission not be seen as the start of negotiations?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm suggesting that these efforts are just getting underway. And we'll have those discussions with countries in Europe and Russia -- he's going there, as well, this week -- and others. But we will be having those discussions. But they're just getting underway, Wendell. We need to let the meetings occur and the discussions take place. I'm not having those discussions from this podium with these leaders. Secretary Baker will be having those discussions in person with the leaders of those countries.
Q: And consequently, the debt forgiveness the U.S. is willing to commit to is in some way related to debt that other countries will commit to?
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, see, you're jumping ahead of where the process is.
Q: I don't think so.
MR. McCLELLAN: As I was just talking back there in the back to that question, these efforts are just getting underway. Our focus initially was on the donors conference. Now our focus is more so on the restructuring of the debt. So these efforts are just getting underway. Let's let that process begin. But it's an important priority, and part of helping the Iraqi people achieve a free and peaceful and prosperous future.
Q: California has repealed a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain California driver's licenses. Does the President have any reaction?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think that the Department of Homeland Security has previously commented on that and addressed that issue. I think there have been some changes in what that -- what happened, what occurred there initially. But we have addressed that previously about some of the concerns that we would have.
Q: One of the goals the President has repeatedly stated is cutting the deficit in half within the next five years. It's being reported that the administration is considering scaling back one of the savings tax breaks it announced last year that would have replaced existing IRAs with two other types of savings accounts. Is the administration revisiting that proposal?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I haven't seen that report. I'd be glad to take a look at it if you want to bring it to me, but I haven't seen that report.
Q: Two questions today, please. The FDA is considering allowing the morning after pill to be sold over the counter without a prescription. Not only does this drug cause a pharmacological abortion, making it available over the counter also undermines parental authority and promotes irresponsible behavior. The President has previously spoken about developing a culture of life but this action is clearly a step in the opposite direction. Is he going to take a position on this FDA proposal?
MR. MCCLELLAN: You did state the President's view correctly about building a culture of life. What you're referring to right now is a law that governs the status of medications and whether they are prescription or over the counter. And that law says that a company may apply to the FDA for a change in status at any time. In this case, there is a company that has applied to the FDA that is seeking a change in the status on its medicines. And when those applications are received, the FDA is required by law to have its advisory committees review the application and hold public hearings. And that is happening now. And so there is an FDA panel looking at that issue to make a determination. But there are some requirements under law that are being followed and that's where it stands.
Q: The North American Free Trade Agreement is about to hit its 10th birthday. Various studies have shown significant losses of American jobs. In addition, the American trade surplus with Mexico has now turned into a deficit. Against that backdrop, how does the administration evaluate NAFTA, as a success, a failure, or --
MR. MCCLELLAN: The President is a strong supporter of expanding trade. And he is also a strong supporter of making sure that we have free trade and fair trade, trade with a level playing field. And that's what we always work to do. And we always look at the trade laws and make sure that those are being enforced, as well.
But the President is a strong supporter of expanding trade because he knows that American workers can compete with anyone globally. And so we are continuing to work on our efforts with Central American leaders, with leaders in South America, too, on free trade agreements, both all together, as well as individual free trade agreements. Trade is one of the economic engines of job growth and economic engines of growing our economy even more. So it's part of his -- it's part of his six-point plan to create an even more robust environment for job creation.
Q: Based on the requirements of NAFTA --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't know that I agree with your assessment. But the President is a strong believer in free trade, but he also believes that that trade must be fair.
Q: So should NAFTA be used as a template for the free trade area of the Americas, or for --
MR. MCCLELLAN: We're continuing to build on our efforts to expand trade and strengthen our economy at home and create an even more robust environment for job creation.
Q: About the six-way talks, is there any proposal from the Chinese side? And are you still -- that the six-way talk will happen somewhere in the next week?
MR. MCCLELLAN: In the next what?
Q: Next week or this month.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to have discussions. We remain committed to seeking a peaceful resolution to the situation in North Korea with regards to its nuclear weapons program. And we continue to have discussions with the other parties.
This is a multilateral approach that we are taking. We had the initial talks. We are hopeful for a new round of talks soon. It's important that there be a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. All parties, or at least five of those parties, agree that that is an important priority and are committed to a nuclear-free peninsula. So we're continuing to have those discussions. There's no update in terms of the timing of the next round of talks, but the Chinese have been helpful in those efforts. And we are continuing to visit with them about that.
Q: No proposal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made it very clear that we are prepared to go to the next round of talks without any preconditions. And we continue to seek a peaceful resolution to the verifiable and irreversible end of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Q: With Mr. Martin coming to power in Canada today, can we anticipate a meeting between the President and the new Prime Minister in Monterrey or perhaps before? And what about an exception on the Iraqi contract issue as a show of good faith to an incoming government which has pledged stronger --
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, President Bush very much looks forward to working with Prime Minister Martin. As you mentioned, he is assuming his new post today, and the President wishes him well in his new position. And I'm sure that they will have an opportunity to build upon a good relationship that the United States has with Canada. And if there are issues that he wants to discuss with the President, the President would look forward to doing that.
And Canada certainly played an important role in the overall efforts on the war on terrorism. And we appreciate the contribution that they made, or the commitment that they made at the Madrid donors conference to the efforts going on in Iraq.
Q: Would they likely meet in Monterrey at the Summit of the Americas --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to update on the President's schedule from this point. But we will keep you posted if there are any meetings to update you on.
Q: Just as a follow up. Mr. Martin, one of his first acts was to name a Minister of National Defense who supported the war in Iraq, and as a member of Parliament supported increased spending for the military. And he also named a special assistant for Canada-U.S. relations. Do you take this as a positive sign about where the Canadian government is going?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we typically don't get into commenting on internal matters that are in individual countries. But the President very much looks forward to working with Prime Minister Martin and building upon what is a good relationship.
Q: Scott, a New York Times article yesterday said the White House believes that Governor Dean is the Democratic candidate that it will be facing in '04. Is that accurate, and is that the candidate --
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw a lot of anonymous sources in there. But again, we'll leave the Democratic primary to the Democratic candidates.
Q: Is that the candidate that the White House would like to face?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the voters in the Democratic primary will pick the Democratic candidate. I'm certainly not going to be voting in that primary.
Q: Wouldn't you like to have --
Q: Get Rove out here, he'll tell us. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: John.
Q: I want to try one more on the Halliburton issue. To the extent that I understand your points about any questions about this specific audit should go to the Pentagon, they're doing the audit, and all that, this has come up in the past, as April and Elizabeth were noting. And just in the past 24 hours, Congressman Waxman is out again saying this is a company that has benefited --
MR. MCCLELLAN: He says a lot of things about the White House.
Q: I understand that. Several of the Democratic candidates today for President have said, this is another example.
MR. MCCLELLAN: They're candidates for President, right?
Q: I understand. That's why I'm getting to my question which is, have there been conversations here about, people like yourself, who work closely with the President and have to defend his political interests, conversations about how fairly or unfairly, as you suggest, this has become a political piņata because of the Vice President's ties to this company, and do you need to get people out there to rebut these people who are making what you say are crazy allegations?
MR. MCCLELLAN: As the President's spokesman, I think I expressed his view. We expect the Pentagon to get to the bottom of this matter. They are looking into this. They are the ones that understand the facts of the contracts and the decisions that were made, because that's where the decision was made, that's where the matter was decided upon.
Q: You're not answering the question, though. Scott, the issue is, granted, they are getting the contracts through the Pentagon. But the administration, the Bush administration, President Bush himself can say, look, I don't want this anymore because, as John just said, it's a political piņata, it's an albatross around this administration's neck. The negative stories that continued to come out about Halliburton. Now, will you answer the question that is, is Halliburton a negative? Is this the company that you feel that's doing the best for the -- the best reconstruction effort --
MR. MCCLELLAN: They can talk about their company. What I'm talking about is the President's views and the President's expectations. The President very much expects the procedures and measures that are in place for oversight purposes to be followed. And the President expects the Pentagon to get to the bottom of this.
Q: You keep staying on one story. We're talking about the whole --
MR. MCCLELLAN: It is a matter that is being looked into by the Pentagon.
Q: Scott, does the White House have a direct response to the accusation by Democrats that this Halliburton business proves their contention that the administration is rewarding its contributors with the spoils of the war in Iraq?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think it -- right now it shows that the Pentagon is following the oversight measures that are in place. You need to direct those questions to the Pentagon.
Q: Do you have a response to that accusation?
MR. MCCLELLAN: The White House expects the Pentagon to get to the bottom of it.
Q: Different subject. Al Jazeera has been airing the remarks of Senator Hilary Clinton that she made during her trip to Iraq, where she criticized the President's leadership and said that the outcome of the war wasn't assured. While the President has always supported the right of free speech, is he at some point going to comment on statements like this that demoralize our troops and give encouragement to our enemies?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think you've heard the President's comments and his views on the matter and I would leave it there. The President believes in setting a high tone, and that's what he will continue to do.
END 12:52 P.M. EST
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