White House Daily Briefing, October 2, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: I do want to make one brief statement. The House right now is voting on the conference committee report on the legislation that would ban the brutal practice of partial-birth abortion. This is will be an important step toward building a culture of life in America. And we look forward to the House passage and urge the Senate to move quickly on this important piece of legislation, as well.
With that, I will go right to questions. Terry.
QUESTION: Scott, has the White House received any subpoenas for documents in the leaks case?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Are you aware of any individuals who have received any? And will you tell us if the White House is subpoenaed or if individuals are?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that question came up earlier. I expect that we will discuss that matter with the career Justice Department officials who are looking into this. And if they are okay with me notifying you of that information, I will certainly do so. My intention is to share with you the information you need to do your job, as long as that's consistent with preserving the integrity of the investigation.
Q: I was just going to say there is a precedent for revealing this. We had this in a previous administration, and it has come up. Is that being taken into consideration as you look at this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's why I said, what we want to do is discuss that matter with the Department of Justice. And if they are okay with us notifying you of that information, then we will do so.
Q: I gather you're asking about subpoenas for things, information, or records -- I'm asking if that applies, as well -- have any White House officials been interviewed yet by the FBI?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to my knowledge. But again, the Justice Department officials may decide they want to talk to people individually. So I wouldn't necessarily know. And I should say not to the White House's knowledge, when I say that, when I'm saying me, not to the White House's knowledge.
Q: So would that mean that there's --
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, we've received --
Q: No senior staff has been interviewed then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to our knowledge.
Q: How about the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Are you aware of anybody at the --
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask the CIA that question, or the Justice Department that question.
Q: Can I ask a follow-on point I just wanted to -- why does the White House feel that it's appropriate to coordinate an attack on Joseph Wilson in coordination with the RNC and Republicans in Congress, to attack him on his partisanship and his record as a partisan? Why does the White House feel that that's appropriate and relevant here?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are focused on is getting to the bottom of this investigation. That's what the President wants to happen. He wants the -- he wants the Justice Department to get to the bottom of this, the sooner the better. So our focus is on this investigation and getting to the bottom of it. That's what we are doing. Obviously, there are -- that's what the subject of this investigation is about, and that's why it's important to --
Q: But my question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- keep the focus on the investigation.
Q: Right, but my question still hasn't been answered. I mean, you're not denying that there are challenges and attacks on Joseph Wilson's character because he's a partisan, and the partisan nature that the White House believes is irrelevant here -- I'm asking you, why that's relevant in all of this and why the White House feels it's appropriate when there's an investigation going on to coordinate such attacks with the Republican National Committee and with Republicans on the Hill --
MR. McCLELLAN: David, I have said from this podium that it is not my place to question someone's motives. That is something that is part of your reporting that you do in your profession. So that's --
Q: But it is the place of others who are working at the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: I have made it very clear on that matter that it is just simply not my position to get into questioning someone's motives.
Q: Right, but you're speaking for the White House, and the White House is coordinating with Republicans on the Hill and with its arm, which is the political arm, which is the RNC, to go after this guy. So why is that appropriate? Why is it relevant? MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President wants everybody to focus on getting to the bottom of this investigation, and that's what we are doing. We are working --
Q: Well, why won't you answer this question?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to cooperate with the Department of Justice. And I have answered that -- I answered that question yesterday.
Q: Scott, between the time period of mid-July when this story first broke, and late September when it became much more public, what, if anything, did White House officials -- the President, National Security Advisor, Chief of Staff, others, general for the Counsel's Office -- do to address the leak problem that emerged in July?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you what we were doing in that period. We were focusing on the priorities of the American people. We were focusing on moving forward on the legislation to strengthen and improve Medicare for America's seniors. We were focused on strengthening the economy that's growing faster now, but we want more action done. We were focusing on the energy legislation and focusing on addressing some of the problems there. That's where our focus was.
Now, there was -- there were articles which happen all too often in this town, of allegations that were made -- unsubstantiated allegations citing, I believe, senior administration officials, not even specifically White House at that point. And we didn't have -- we had no information beyond these unsubstantiated allegations in media reports to suggest there was any White House involvement in the matter you are raising.
But the process that is in place for that is for the CIA to look at those issues, and, if they feel a need to, to report information to the Department of Justice. They did that.
Q: I did not mean to suggest that the President and his staff had no other focus or no other responsibilities; obviously, tremendous responsibilities. But this was one thing that had happened which the CIA's General Counsel has now determined a crime that hurt national security. Did the CIA -- Director Tenet or anyone else -- during the time period, mid-July, late September, communicate to the President or his staff that this was very serious, that it looked like it was heading towards a criminal investigation, that they wanted some cooperation from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not aware of any such conversation.
Q: Senator Schumer is calling on John Ashcroft to recuse himself from this case, Scott. Do you see any need for the General to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the Department of Justice will make decisions of that nature. They -- the Department of Justice has publicly stated that all legal options are on the table. That's where it stands.
But I would remind you that the career Justice Department officials are the ones who are leading this investigation. These are individuals with vast experience and are in the best position to get to the bottom of this. The Justice Department wants to get to the bottom of this. The President wants to get to the bottom of this. The American people want us to get to the bottom of this. So that's a shared goal, and that's a -- that's what we are -- that's why we are working cooperatively with the Department of Justice to get to the bottom of this. And, as I said, the sooner the better. And if anyone, anyone inside or outside the administration has information that is relevant to this investigation, they should report that information to the Department of Justice so we can get to the bottom of this.
Q: How does the President feel about so many of his friends possibly profiteering business-wise from his invasion of Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Who are you suggesting?
Q: Groups, Allbaugh for one is forming a group for --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think those individuals can address those matters. If they -- you're talking about former administration officials? I think that those individuals, you have to ask those questions. I don't have any specific information about what individuals are seeking to do outside of the administration.
Q: But they seem to be using their name and part of this -- former part of this administration to make inroads into business in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me about people outside the administration.
Q: Yes, I am.
MR. McCLELLAN: You need to talk to the people outside the administration. I don't have specific information on what they're doing.
Q: I asked the President's opinion on that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Opinion on people outside the administration seeking business in Iraq.
Q: His cronies, his friends, yes.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any specific information about what these individuals are doing. If you do, you can ask those individuals about it.
Q: You've been reading the papers, haven't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: These are people outside the administration that do not work in the administration.
Q: Scott, Steve mentioned Senator Schumer, but it's not just him. Senator Specter, a fellow Republican, also said today that he believes that Ashcroft should recuse himself in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because of his relationships with Karl Rove. What do you think of that? Is that something that you think might make sense, considering the fact that you do want this to stay at the Justice Department in the hands of career officials?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a matter for the Department of Justice to decide.
Q: But in terms of the perception of this, when you have Republicans now saying that perhaps John Ashcroft should recuse himself in order to let the career --
MR. McCLELLAN: We talked about this yesterday, the President spoke about it the other day. The President believes that the career Justice Department officials at the Department of Justice, the ones who have a vast amount of experience in these issues, are in the best position to get to the bottom of this. And that's exactly what he wants those officials to do. And that's exactly what those officials want to do.
Q: But what Senator Specter is saying is that they report to John Ashcroft, who might have a conflict because of his past work with Karl Rove.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Department of Justice has said that all legal options are on the table. They will make those decisions.
Q: Scott, on Tuesday when you shared with us the second memo by Judge Gonzales to the staff, it named three reporters. And it said pursuant to the Justice Department request, please preserve records of contacts with these three reporters. Was Judge Gonzales singling out those three reporters, or did the Justice Department single them out?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Actually, if you look back at the letter, the language in that letter that we shared publicly with you was verbatim from the Justice Department. That was the request that they sent us the other day.
Q: So there was -- that was the entire text --
MR. McCLELLAN: And those names were -- those names were verbatim from the text of that letter.
Q: Scott, in addition to the controversy surrounding Ambassador Wilson's wife, we've seen open, public dissension in the State Department; the EPA Inspector General has made claims that the White House doctored air quality reports, and Senator Clinton is using this to hold up the nomination of Governor Leavitt for the EPA post. Still, others leave the administration, write an op-ed criticizing the administration, and then join a Democratic presidential nominee's campaign. My question is: Is the President or anyone else in this administration concerned that the Clinton holdovers are undermining the administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: In a certain department?
Q: Yes, in these various departments.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the President has assembled a team that is working together to implement his priorities. We have a strong team that is in place that is trying to implement what the President's focus is.
Q: But time and time again you'll see one holdover from various departments criticizing the administration and --
MR. McCLELLAN: People have the right to express their views.
Q: Scott, in the midst of this "leakgate" situation, has the White House unofficially or officially told the Press Office or senior administration officials how they should deal with the press in reference to sourcing information, giving us information on any new situation -- not just this, but anything? Has anything changed in reference to this in how the White House relates with us?
MR. McCLELLAN: Has anything changed in reference --
Q: How the White House deals with the press, in giving information, ever since this "leakgate" situation has happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to specifically.
Q: I'm referring to, like, we will be able to email you, or some other White House staffers, talk to them on the phone. Has anything been put in place, in motion, to kind of curtail -- has the White House maybe tapped --
MR. McCLELLAN: Try to curtail?
Q: Has the White House maybe tapped phone lines, looking through emails -- no, I mean, I'm not trying to be funny with this, I'm being very serious. Is there some kind of thing to prevent this kind of "leakgate" from happening again?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate what you're saying. At this point, what we have done is sent the letter -- sent the text of the letter from the Department of Justice to White House staff. We have shared that letter, the text of that letter with you, as well, because we released that memo for you.
Q: But has anything changed in the way White House officials are dealing with the press to prevent --
MR. McCLELLAN: No. To prevent --
Q: To prevent this kind of situation, Justice Department probe -- into giving confidential information that could ultimately result in someone's -- affect someone's life.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're suggesting that that happened in the White House.
Q: I am not suggesting that happened --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, by that question --
Q: -- but there is a probe that is going on because there are allegations.
MR. McCLELLAN: What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of this investigation, and work cooperatively with the Justice Department to do that. But, no other -- we have sent the memo out with the text of the letter in it to White House employees to make sure that they understand that it is the request of the Department of Justice that they preserve and maintain all information that could be related to their request. And the President has directed the White House to cooperate fully. And that's what we expect staff members to do. That's what we've done.
Q: On the reconstruction aid to Iraq, it looks like Senate Republicans now are saying that they'd like to see some of it in the form of loans, rather than grants. I'm wondering if the White House is still 100 percent committed to doing this is in grants? Or would you be willing to listen to a loan package?
MR. McCLELLAN: We went through a little bit of this yesterday. Our position remains the same. This is an $87-billion package. And we view it as one package. It is a wartime supplemental that will help us prevail in the central front in the war on terrorism, which is Iraq now, and it is in the form of grants. The people of Iraq have been saddled with a debt from a brutal regime that went through 30 years of neglect and was more interested in building palaces than building the infrastructure for the Iraqi people.
Q: So does that mean you're opposed to what Senate Republicans are proposing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we put forward a wartime supplemental and we are urging Congress to pass that wartime supplemental as it is.
Q: But then again, I'm still not clear, does that mean you oppose what the Senate Republicans --
MR. McCLELLAN: It means we support what we've put forward and that we want that package passed as it is. That's what it means. And we're working with Congress to get that done; the sooner, the better.
Q: Scott, I'd like to take another crack, if I may, at Steve's question. You keep using the phrase "career Justice Department investigators leading the investigation." But really what Senator Schumer is concerned about is the fact that the Attorney General, a political appointee, in some cases has to sign off on subpoenas. And is the White House concerned that there just may be an appearance here that there's foot-dragging. We're this far into it, we haven't heard any subpoenas have been served or investigators have come on. Is there just any concern on the part of the White House that because the Attorney General is a political appointee and he does have a hands-on role in this, is Senator Schumer right to say that the best thing for the White House would be to call for a recusal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've addressed this question. The Justice Department has addressed that question. In response to that very question you're bringing up, the Justice Department said that all legal options remain on the table. But I think it's important to keep in mind that the criminal division that is investigating this matter at the Department of Justice is headed by career Justice Department officials who have a lot of experience in these matters. And that's why they're in the best position to get to the bottom of this.
And it's important to keep in mind that the Justice Department wants to get to the bottom of this, too. If someone in the administration, anywhere in the administration, leaked classified information, we want to know who it is. The President has always made it clear that the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think the Justice Department shares the White House's concern about the leaking of classified information. So we're working toward the same goal here. And we're working cooperatively with them to get to the bottom of this matter.
Q: Can I follow up, Scott? Just quickly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've -- I mean, we've been through this before.
Q: Can I just -- just very quickly. You talk about the fact that all legal options are on the table. But this isn't a question of legal options, this is a question of a potential conflict of interest, a perception of that, with John Ashcroft. And that is why the two senators are calling for him to recuse himself.
MR. McCLELLAN: And those are decisions for the Department of Justice to make.
Q: What's the President's view of the comment that got Rush Limbaugh in trouble?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that Rush Limbaugh addressed the matter.
Q: You know, Scott, when you click onto the White House website and you enter the word, "bigotry," the President has addressed this issue 136 times. Why would not -- why wouldn't you, on his behalf, want to address it in this instance, where someone has associated the selection of athletes on the basis of their race for certain positions on the field?
MR. McCLELLAN: I did answer the question, and I think that he addressed the matter -- I think that Rush Limbaugh addressed the matter.
Q: Is it because Limbaugh is a political ally and often someone who supports administration causes and so forth that you don't want to address this yourself?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've asked the question, and I've responded to it.
Q: Thank you. Two -- first on Korea, any comments on their statement that they are developing atomic weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've seen them make those statements previously -- don't have anything to confirm what they're saying. But what needs to happen is North Korea needs to recognize that all that they are doing with these kinds of threats and bluster is isolating themselves. The international community has made it clear that escalation by North Korea will only lead to further isolation.
I think many countries -- the United States at the forefront -- have expressed concern about the reprocessing of spent-fuel rods. There is no legitimate use for plutonium harvested during this procedure. And it's a clear indication -- it would be a clear indication that they are intent on enlarging their nuclear arsenal, despite the call from the international community for North Korea to change its behavior. North Korea -- we've been talking about these issues in the six-party talks. And North Korea has received the message from all these nations that they need to end the nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way, once and for all.
Q: And on Korea, on the extension of the security fence in Korea -- I'm sorry, Israel -- are you concerned about that? Have you communicated --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has expressed his concern about the fence. We've been talking with the Israelis about that matter and we are continuing to discuss it with the Israelis.
Q: That was my question, but I have another one. Scott, there are indications the economy is improving. But many major U.S. companies, such as Levi Strauss are still fleeing the country to take advantage of cheap labor overseas. This is putting hundreds, if not thousands of Americans out of work. What is the President doing to stop this loss of American jobs?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is acting to get our economy growing stronger, and he wants to -- he's emphasized the importance of acting on additional fronts, in addition to what we've already done. If we strengthen our economy and make sure that we have a level playing field in trade matters, those are important steps that we can take to improve the economic situation here at home. It's already -- the economy is moving in the right direction, but there's more to do. That's where his focus is.
Q: Scott, just a quick follow-up on that. A number of news organizations in recent days have got polls showing that the American public is increasingly disapproving of the way he's handling the economy. I understand that you say the economy is improving, that there's still more to do. But I'm wondering, how concerned is he about this perception that he's not up to the task?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, I reject the way you phrased that. I reject that premise. But the President -- the American people want a President who leads and acts. This President is acting to strengthen our economy. That is -- one of his highest priorities is to get the economy growing even faster. That's why we took the action that we did.
The President -- we inherited a recession; the President acted to get us out of the recession. It was a very shallow one because of the actions that we took. We obviously went through a difficult period where -- the September 11th attacks, the corporate scandals, the march to war that the President refers to. But the President is not satisfied because there are people who are still looking for work who cannot find a job. That's why he's urging action on additional fronts, as well. That includes expanding trade; that includes reforming -- lawsuit reform; that includes making the tax cuts permanent so people can have certainty for their planning purposes; that includes passing a comprehensive energy plan. So there are a number of other things we can do to strengthen our economy even more.
Q: You're rejecting the premise, you're basically saying the opinion polls are inaccurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: It think the American people recognize that the President is a strong and decisive leader who is acting on a number of fronts to address the important priorities for the American people.
Q: Scott, back on the Wilson matter for a second. Metaphorically speaking, there is one holdover from the Clinton administration that seems to be in play here, and that's the notion that every time controversy comes up, the two political parties do snipe at each other about it. And in spite of what you said earlier regarding the parties, does the President realize that this is the sort of thing that can hurt him politically?
MR. McCLELLAN: The investigation?
Q: The investigation, the --
MR. McCLELLAN: If we get to the bottom of this -- the President has been the one out -- speaking out front of this that we need to get to the bottom of this investigation. Look, we recognize that, certainly, there are people who have made some unsubstantiated accusations of the White House leaking classified information. More recently they have been forced to back away from those unsubstantiated accusations. Now you see what happens here in Washington, D.C. Some have, all of a sudden, decided to move the goalpost and sensationalize this issue for a political -- for partisan political gain. We recognize --
Q: It's been that way for a while.
MR. McCLELLAN: We recognize that this is what happens in Washington, D.C. It's unfortunate, and I think it can -- it's a real -- not only does it take away from the subject of this investigation, it's a disservice to the American people.
There are a number of important challenges facing this country that we need to be working together on to address. The President is someone who does everything he can to bring people together to get things done. And that's what he's going to continue to do. He's focused -- we're going about our business. We're focused on the priorities for the American people. And we will continue to remain focused on the priorities for the American people.
Q: Who is moving the goalposts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we all know. The subject of this investigation is whether someone leaked classified information. Yesterday some of the questions began to move the goalpost and focus on other issues that are not the subject of this investigation. And we all know who these people are.
Q: Who are they?
Q: We'd like to know --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you watch TV, you will see who they are.
Q: Who are they? Who are they?
Q: What did Democrats -- are you referring to Democrats on the Hill who, by calling for a special counsel -- do you think that that is somehow changing the subject of what the investigation is about for political gain? Is that what you're referring to?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are -- the leaking of classified information is a very serious allegation. And the President has made it very clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this. Unfortunately, there are some that are looking through the lens of political opportunism. There are some that are seeking partisan political advantage. I don't need to go into names. We all know who they are.
Q: Can I follow on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can go to that, then I'm going to come to Goyal.
Q: If the President wants people to stop trying to get partisan political gain from this, why doesn't he tell Ed Gillespie, the Chairman of the RNC, to stop questioning Joe Wilson's motives?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there are some people that are making unsubstantiated allegations and unsubstantiated rumors about the White House leaking classified information. And some of those people have been forced to back away from that, and then all of a sudden they move the goalpost and focus on another issue that's not the subject of the investigation.
Q: Are you talking about Joe Wilson now?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we all know who these people are. If you look at yesterday's questions in the briefing, I think you know exactly what I am talking about.
Q: Does the President think Ed Gillespie, who is, after all, his political arm, ought to stop being involved in this issue then?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've already answered that question earlier. Q This moving the goalpost question, are you saying that the President condemns and believes it's wrong for any members of his staff to leak classified information, but that he has no opinion, or that it's okay if once leaked some members of his staff peddle that story in order to do down Ambassador Wilson or his wife --
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I addressed that matter yesterday. So I've already addressed that matter.
Q: Remind me.
MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question? Are you getting to are people talking about what's in the news?
Q: Yes, that is precisely what I'm getting at.
MR. McCLELLAN: People always talk about -- you all talk about what's in the news, I talk about what's in the news, people always talk about what's in the news.
Q: So it's okay with the President if people said, hey, did you see that Bob Novak column, you know, Wilson's wife got him the job and that's why you shouldn't believe what he says? That's okay -- leaking it is wrong; peddling it is okay?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that it's a serious allegation when it's suggested that someone leaked classified information. We want to get to the bottom of that. There are some that are looking at this as an opportunity for partisan political advantage, in talking about other issues that are not the subject of the investigation.
Q: I'm talking about an issue that is not the subject of the investigation. I'm talking about changing the tone, about the ethics --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what -- I made very clear that the President expects members of his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards.
Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, how serious is the Washington Post story today that there is fundamentalism growing in this country? And it seems to include a story that we are living among terrorists. And if President is aware of this, that what he's doing about it? The FBI is investigating the --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Washington Post story that --
Q: On the Saudi charities and fundamentalism growing in this country. It seemed to me, from the story, that we are living among terrorists. How serious is the matter, is the President -- get rid of this, and what he doing, and this under investigation by the FBI? And number two, if you can update me on the Prime Minister of Pakistan's yesterday meeting with President Bush.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, one, I think we talked about that last part of that question yesterday. But the highest priority for the President is winning the war on terrorism abroad and at home. And we are working on a number of different fronts: the law enforcement front, the terrorist financing front, we are working to crack down on terrorist financing at home and abroad. We are working on law enforcement matters. There are some things that the public may not see in this war on terrorism, but the war continues. And we will continue to wage this war until we have eliminated the threat of terrorism.
Q: Scott, could you go back to the subject of Korea -- North Korea for a moment, and this claim that they've made that they have extracted plutonium from spent nuclear fuel rods? Does the U.S. government know whether they are telling the truth about that, whether there's any truth to those statements?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just said we have not confirmed that statement. But they've made that statement before.
Q: And what effect does it have on the potential for another round of talks, which was thought to be this fall?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I said. That's why I said that they will continue isolating themselves by those kind of comments. It's important that we continue to send the message that we have from the international community, from the five nations that have said to North Korea that if they will end their nuclear weapons program once and for all, then they will be in position to realize the benefits of the international -- being part of the international community. But they first must act to end their nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way.
Q: Scott, there's a third individual now being questioned in connection with the handling of sensitive information gathered at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay. What can you tell us about what the President has been briefed on about these incidents, and how -- what's the level of his satisfaction with the security of sensitive information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those questions you need to direct to the appropriate authorities who have -- who are looking into that. I think that I would leave those questions, because there have been charges filed against individuals. And you need to ask those questions of either the FBI officials or Pentagon officials that are involved in that matter.
Q: Is it safe to say that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, absolutely. It's a serious matter.
Q: Can I follow through real quick? In addition to the statements that the North Koreans made about reprocessing plutonium, which they've said before, they also said that they do not plan to export any nuclear materials. That's something they have not said before. Does the administration see that pledge not to export as a possible step forward by the North Koreans?
MR. McCLELLAN: They say a lot of things all the time. We don't -- and then later say something else that contradicts what they said previously. So -- but proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a very serious matter, and all the nations in that region have also made that clear, as well. And that's why the President is moving forward on that front with his proliferation security initiative, and working with the international community to pull together to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Q: David Kaye is briefing both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and the House Appropriations Committee, I believe. I assume the White House is going to get some sort of similar briefing.
MR. McCLELLAN: We're aware of what he is discussing with members of Congress today. I think he will be providing members of Congress with -- or he is in the process of providing members of Congress with a detailed briefing on the progress the Iraq survey group is making in its efforts to uncover the truth about Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction programs.
Q: Any comment on his report?
Q: And you have gotten similarly detailed briefings?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are aware of what he's discussing with members of Congress.
Q: What's your reaction?
Q: But how would you generally characterize the nature of what he's saying today? We're going to an unclassified version later, but --
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, right. There is an intention by the CIA to provide you a summary of his testimony to Congress. But I think Dr. Kaye will be speaking about this later. And after he's had a chance to speak about it, then we probably will have more to stay at that point.
Q: Could you give us some sort of general characterization now because that will be very late and probably --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a progress report. Keep that -- keep it in perspective. They continue to do their work, the Iraq survey group. There's some 19,000 members of the Iraq survey group who are going through a massive amount of documents, interviewing a number of people in Iraq -- Iraqis and scientists -- who have knowledge of Saddam Hussein's history of weapons of mass destruction. And so that -- they continue to pull together a complete picture of his history of weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction programs.
Q: Now, one of the things that was revealed today, if the article is correct, is that the administration is seeking an additional $600 million to fund the Iraq survey group, to keep it going and to provide resources for its continued efforts. Is that accurate?
MR. McCLELLAN: There -- as with normal, or other budget appropriations, there are classified sections within those appropriations. This is a wartime supplemental. It does have a classified section, and it would not be appropriate for me to discuss those classified sections.
Q: Scott, now that the leak investigation has begun by the Justice Department, has the White House given any special instructions to White House staff as to how to deal with reporters who call in or approach them with questions about this thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: -- no instructions --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Scott, going back to Iraq for a moment. Given what David Kaye has and hasn't found, does the President think it's possible that Saddam Hussein bluffed the U.N., the U.S. and the world, and didn't have the kind of capability that a lot of people assumed he had?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, the President believes that -- well, the international community knew that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction programs. And the international community knows that he used weapons of mass destruction, used chemical weapons. So he had a history there. That's indisputable. The President directed Dr. Kaye to uncover the truth and pull together a complete picture, and that's what he's in the process of doing.
So today he will -- he's talking about the progress that they are making. And it's a detailed briefing about the progress the Iraq survey group is making.
Q: But is there any change in your position that they will find actual weapons of mass destruction --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes he had weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction programs, and that the truth will come out.
Q: Follow-up to Jim's question. Why is the amount of money the administration is seeking for the Iraq survey group classified? What's the rationale for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are classified sections in it. One, I can't get into the classified section of budget appropriations. This is a wartime supplemental, and so I can't -- it's not appropriate for me to discuss it -- the classified section further. You're asking me to get into confirming or denying certain parts of that matter.
But the Iraq survey group, as I've noted over here, continues to do its job. Keep in mind that Saddam Hussein had a sophisticated concealment strategy that was well-known, trying to deceive the international community, trying to conceal -- and they were caught by the weapons inspectors in the past for what they were concealing. So the Iraq survey group has a massive amount of documents, miles of documents to go through to uncover the full truth of his weapons of mass destruction programs. And that work continues. And it's important work.
Q: I'm not asking you to discuss what's in that classified section. I'm asking you what is -- as a matter of policy, why does that amount of money have --
MR. McCLELLAN: That would be asking me to talk about classified sections of the report.
Q: No, just the policy rationale for keeping this -- why is that -- why does that have to be secret?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's making assumptions about what's in the classified section of the report. It's a classified section that you're asking me to discuss.
Q: Did any members of the White House staff hire outside counsel to represent them in connection with the criminal investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to my knowledge.
Q: Second question, you have said there's no evidence implicating current White House staff. Do you know of any evidence implicating former White House staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Third, Karl Rove used to work for Attorney General Ashcroft. Attorney General Ashcroft is investigating the White House, why doesn't that represent a conflict of interest?
MR. McCLELLAN: Career Justice Department officials are investigating the allegation that there is a leak of classified information. And I've already answered that question.
Yes, go ahead.
Q: This may sound trivial, but before you said the President believes that the weapons of mass destruction will be found. In previous statements it's always that weapons of mass destruction will be found, that we know that they were there. Is there less --
MR. McCLELLAN: Same thing. Same thing.
Q: To follow up on that, the Associated Press is reporting that Kuwaiti security authorities have foiled an attempt to smuggle chemical weapons and biological warheads from Iraq to some unspecified European country. Can you confirm that something like this has happened? And do the Kuwaitis possess those weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: I have not seen that report. I'll have to look into. I haven't seen the report.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:26 P.M. EDT
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