Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EDT
Q Does the President stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I appreciate your question. I think your question is being asked relating to some reports that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. The criminal investigation that you reference is something that continues at this point. And as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing, the White House is not going to comment on it. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.
Q Excuse me, but I wasn't actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the President said that he would fire anybody who was involved in this leak, to press of information. And I just want to know, is that still his position?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but this question is coming up in the context of this ongoing investigation, and that's why I said that our policy continues to be that we're not going to get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation from this podium. The prosecutors overseeing the investigation had expressed a preference to us that one way to help the investigation is not to be commenting on it from this podium. And so that's why we are not going to get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation, or questions related to it.
Q Scott, if I could -- if I could point out, contradictory to that statement, on September 29th, 2003, while the investigation was ongoing, you clearly commented on it. You were the first one who said, if anybody from the White House was involved, they would be fired. And then on June 10th of 2004, at Sea Island Plantation, in the midst of this investigation is when the President made his comment that, yes, he would fire anybody from the White House who was involved. So why have you commented on this during the process of the investigation in the past, but now you've suddenly drawn a curtain around it under the statement of, "We're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, I appreciate the question. I know you want to get to the bottom of this. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And I think the way to be most helpful is to not get into commenting on it while it is an ongoing investigation. That's something that the people overseeing the investigation have expressed a preference that we follow. And that's why we're continuing to follow that approach and that policy.
Now, I remember very well what was previously said. And at some point, I will be glad to talk about it, but not until after the investigation is complete.
Q So could I just ask, when did you change your mind to say that it was okay to comment during the course of an investigation before, but now it's not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think maybe you missed what I was saying in reference to Terry's question at the beginning. There came a point when the investigation got underway when those overseeing the investigation asked that it would be their -- or said that it would be their preference that we not get into discussing it while it is ongoing. I think that's the way to be most helpful to help them advance the investigation and get to the bottom of it.
Q Scott, can I ask you this; did Karl Rove commit a crime?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and you have my response related to the investigation. And I don't think you should read anything into it other than we're going to continue not to comment on it while it's ongoing.
Q Do you stand by your statement from the fall of 2003 when you were asked specifically about Karl and Elliott Abrams and Scooter Libby, and you said, "I've gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this" -- do you stand by that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: And if you will recall, I said that as part of helping the investigators move forward on the investigation we're not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.
Q Scott, I mean, just -- I mean, this is ridiculous. The notion that you're going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You've got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: And again, David, I'm well aware, like you, of what was previously said, and I will be glad to talk about it at the appropriate time. The appropriate time is when the investigation --
Q Why are you choosing when it's appropriate and when it's inappropriate?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you'll let me finish --
Q No, you're not finishing -- you're not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson's wife. So don't you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American people, he did, indeed, talk about his wife, didn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, there will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
Q Do you think people will accept that, what you're saying today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've responded to the question.
Go ahead, Terry.
Q Well, you're in a bad spot here, Scott, because after the investigation began, after the criminal investigation was underway, you said -- October 10th, 2003, "I spoke with those individuals, Rove, Abrams and Libby, as I pointed out, those individuals assured me they were not involved in this." From that podium. That's after the criminal investigation began. Now that Rove has essentially been caught red-handed peddling this information, all of a sudden you have respect for the sanctity of the criminal investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not a correct characterization Terry, and I think you are well aware of that. We know each other very well, and it was after that period that the investigators had requested that we not get into commenting on an ongoing criminal investigation. And we want to be helpful so that they can get to the bottom of this, because no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. I am well aware of what was said previously. I remember well what was said previously. And at some point, I look forward to talking about it. But until the investigation is complete, I'm just not going to do that.
Q Do you recall when you were asked --
Q Wait, wait -- so you're now saying that after you cleared Rove and the others from that podium, then the prosecutors asked you not to speak anymore, and since then, you haven't?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're continuing to ask questions relating to an ongoing criminal investigation, and I'm just not going to respond any further.
Q When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?
MR. McCLELLAN: Back at that time period.
Q Well, then the President commented on it nine months later. So was he not following the White House plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I appreciate your questions. You can keep asking them, but you have my response.
Go ahead, Dave.
Q We are going to keep asking them. When did the President learn that Karl Rove had had a conversation with the President -- with a news reporter about the involvement of Joseph Wilson's wife and the decision to send --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions.
Q When did the President learn that Karl Rove had --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've responded to the questions, Dick.
Q After the investigation is completed, will you then be consistent with your word and the President's word that anybody who was involved would be let go?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, after the investigation is complete, I will be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q And a follow-up. Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove's lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove, the Deputy Chief of Staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigation while it's ongoing. And that was what they requested of the White House. And so I think in order to be helpful to that investigation, we are following their direction.
Q Scott, there's a difference between commenting on an investigation and taking an action --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Can I finish, please?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can come -- I'll come back to you in a minute. Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, today also the President spoke about the war on terrorism and also, according to -- report, there was bombings in London and also bombings in India, and at both places, al Qaeda was involved. According to the India report and press reports, a Pakistani television said that Osama bin Laden is there alive and they have spoken with him, and his group is still -- as far as terrorism around the globe is concerned. So now the major bombings after 9/11 took place in London, and more are about to come, according to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. They are still -- and again, the President is doing a great job as far as fighting against terrorism is concerned. But where do we stand now, really? Where do we go from London, as far as terrorism is concerned? How far we can go after Osama bin Laden now to catch him? Because he's still in Pakistan.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what occurred in London is a grim reminder that we are at war on terrorism. We are waging a comprehensive war on terrorism. You heard the President talk earlier today to the FBI personnel and others who are at Quantico, and the President talked about our global war on terrorism. He talked about our strategy for taking the fight to the enemy, staying on the offensive, and working to spread freedom and democracy to defeat the ideology of hatred that terrorists espouse.
And the President pointed back to the 20th century. He pointed out that in World War II, freedom prevailed over fascism and Nazism. And in the Cold War, freedom prevailed over communism. Freedom is a powerful force for defeating an ideology such as the one that the terrorists espouse. And that's why it's so important to continue working to advance freedom and democracy in the broader Middle East. And that's what we will continue to do. And the President also talked about the great progress we've made at home to protect the home front.
The families and friends of those who lost their lives in London are -- continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. We know what it's like to be attacked on our soil. And that's why the President made a decision that we were going to take the fight to the enemy to try to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening in the first place. And that's exactly what we are doing. But we're also going to work with the free world to support the advance of freedom and democracy in a dangerous region of the world. For too long we ignored what was going on in the Middle East. We accepted and tolerated dictatorships in exchange for peace and stability, and we got neither. As the President said, free nations are peaceful societies. And that's why it's so important that we continue to support the advance of freedom, because that's how you ultimately defeat the ideology of hatred and oppression that terrorists espouse.
Carl, go ahead. I'll come to you, David, in a second.
Q Does the President continue to have confidence in Mr. Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, these are all questions coming up in the context of an ongoing criminal investigation. And you've heard my response on this.
Q So you're not going to respond as to whether or not the President has confidence in his Deputy Chief of Staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, you're asking this question in the context of an ongoing investigation. And I would not read anything into it other than I'm simply not going to comment on an ongoing --
Q Has there been -- has there been any change --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- investigation.
Q Has there been any change or is there a plan for Mr. Rove's portfolio to be altered in any way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you have my response to these questions.
Go ahead. Sarah, go ahead.
Q A secret British memo says plans are underway for a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq early next year. Does the President agree with those plans? And even though he doesn't want to give an exact date --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who? Who has a plan? I'm sorry.
Q With the plans of the -- a secret British memo says plans are underway for a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq early next year. Does the President agree with those plans, even though he doesn't want to give an exit date? Is there White House and Pentagon pressure to draw down U.S. troop levels in Iraq as soon as possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're referring to reports of a British memo talking about reduction in troop forces. First of all, the military always plans for all contingencies. And that's something our military is always looking at -- what are the various contingencies, and how do we meet our commitments and complete the mission. The President has made it clear that we are going to complete the mission, and then our troops will return home with the honor that they deserve.
We always look to -- the President always looks to his commanders on the ground to make assessments in terms of what troops levels are needed, and the commanders on the ground will have the troops that they need to complete the mission. But the commanders have said that that will be based on the conditions on the ground, it will be based on circumstances on the ground, so you're always looking at the circumstances on the ground.
Now, one part of our strategy for victory in Iraq is to train and equip the Iraqi security forces. As we stand up the Iraqi forces, we will stand down coalition and American forces. And the President talked about that again today. That's part of our two-track strategy for succeeding in Iraq. And what you're seeing now is that the number of Iraqi forces that are trained and equipped continues to go up. They are the largest contingent providing for security in Iraq. And we continue to expand those forces. But not only are we expanding the numbers, we're strengthening their capability. And the commanders have talked about that, as well. So there's good progress being made there. The President referenced some of that in his remarks today.
Now I'll go back to David. Go ahead.
Q There's a difference between commenting publicly on an action and taking action in response to it. Newsweek put out a story, an email saying that Karl Rove passed national security information on to a reporter that outed a CIA officer. Now, are you saying that the President is not taking any action in response to that? Because I presume that the prosecutor did not ask you not to take action, and that if he did, you still would not necessarily abide by that; that the President is free to respond to news reports, regardless of whether there's an investigation or not. So are you saying that he's not going to do anything about this until the investigation is fully over and done with?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has previously spoken to this. This continues to be an ongoing criminal investigation. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States. And we're just not going to have more to say on it until that investigation is complete.
Q But you acknowledge that he is free, as President of the United States, to take whatever action he wants to in response to a credible report that a member of his staff leaked information. He is free to take action if he wants to.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking questions relating to an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q Scott, since President William Howard Taft became Chief Justice after his presidency, you would not rule out the President nominating former law school professor Bill Clinton to the Supreme Court, would you? And if you wouldn't, we can report that President Clinton is under consideration, can't we?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's the first time I've heard that name suggested. I know there are a lot of names being suggested out there, and you know that I'm not going to get into speculating about any particular names.
Q One follow-up. Considering the widespread interest and the absolutely frantic Democrat reaction to Karl Rove's excellent speech to conservatives last month, does the President hope that Karl will give a lot more speeches?
MR. McCLELLAN: He continues to give speeches. He was traveling this weekend talking about the importance of strengthening Social Security. And he has continued to go out and give speeches.
Let me back up, though. You brought up the Supreme Court, and I would like to update you, in terms of where we are in terms of consultations with the Senate, because the White House consultations have been wide and deep with the United States Senate. I think you heard Senator Hatch yesterday talk about how, in his 29 years in the United States Senate, he has not seen anything like this when it comes to the level of consultation that is going on. It is unprecedented, in his words, and he's certainly been around the Senate for a long time to see the type of consultations that go on.
But we have reached out to more than 60 senators now, and we have actually consulted with most of those. We are continuing those outreach calls and meetings to listen to what senators have to say and hear what their views are. The President --
Q Did you try to reach all the senators?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has reached out, himself. The President looks forward to meeting tomorrow with four distinguished leaders in the Senate. He will be listening to what their views are. The President is not prejudging anything. He wants to hear what their views are and hear what they have to say as we move forward on a Supreme Court nominee. The President --
Q Does he want to hear names, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President welcomes people suggesting names. That's part of the consultation process. But not only are we going to consult before the nomination is made, but we'll continue to consult once the nomination is made.
We've also consulted with more than half of the Democratic conference in the United States Senate. We've spoken with every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. And we are continuing that outreach as we speak. A number of White House staffers have been reaching out to individual members, and the President is going to be sitting down and meeting with those four leaders tomorrow.
Q What does he think of Specter -- what does he think of Specter suggesting O'Connor as Chief?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, Les, there are going to be a lot of suggestions made. I'm just not going to get into speculating about potential nominees. The President takes this responsibility very seriously. And that's why he is going through a deliberate and thorough process. That's why he has instructed us to reach out to senators and get their views and hear what they have to say about a potential nominee.
The President hopes that we can move forward in a dignified and civilized way. You heard him express that. It's important to elevate the discourse as we move forward. The American people want this nomination process to be something that we can all be proud of. And the President is going to select the nominee who meets the criteria that he outlined -- that is someone of high intellect, someone of integrity, someone who -- someone of great legal ability and someone who will faithfully interpret our Constitution and our laws and not try to make law from the bench.
Q Will the President discuss his names with Democrats, as well, and get their thoughts on those names?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, April. Go ahead.
Q Scott, what was the President's interaction today with Karl Rove? Did they discuss this current situation? And understanding that Karl Rove was the architect of the President's win for the second term in the Oval Office, how important is Karl Rove to this administration currently?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is coming at it from --
Q It has nothing to do with what you just said.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is still coming at the same question relating to reports about an ongoing investigation, and I think I've responded to it.
Q Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have questions on another topic?
Q No, no, no, no. Who is Karl Rove as it relates to this current administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the question, April. I think I've responded.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Is the President going to make any outreach to conservative groups on the Supreme Court nominee and listen to their point of view at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are listening to what others have to say, not only in the United States Senate, but outside, as well. And there are a lot of people expressing their views right now.
Q -- seemed to get annoyed last week --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't try to label anything.
Q Scott, I think you're barrage today in part because we -- it is now clear that 21 months ago, you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstratively false. Now, are you concerned that in not setting the record straight today that this could undermine the credibility of the other things you say from the podium?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm going to be happy to talk about this at the appropriate time. Dana, you all -- you and everybody in this room, or most people in this room, I should say, know me very well and they know the type of person that I am. And I'm confident in our relationship that we have. But I will be glad to talk about this at the appropriate time, and that's once the investigation is complete. I'm not going to get into commenting based on reports or anything of that nature.
Q Scott, at this point, are we to consider what you've said previously, when you were talking about this, that you're still standing by that, or are those all inoperative at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're still trying to come at this from a different angle, and I've responded to it.
Q Are you standing by what you said previously?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard my response.
Q The six-party talks are finally to be resumed on July 27th. The United States policy has been to demand complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapon by the North Korea to ensure nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. If North Korea does not agree to that, what would happen to the six-party talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we are pleased that North Korea is coming back to the talks. The five parties put a proposal on the table, and we believe it's now time to make progress on what we outlined. It's important for North Korea to return to the talks prepared to talk in a serious way about how to move forward on that proposal. The goal is not for North Korea to come back to the talks; the goal is a denuclearized peninsula. That's a goal that we all share. And we need to make progress toward that goal. That's why it's important that when North Korea comes back, that they are prepared to respond to the proposal and move forward in a serious way to make progress toward that goal.
In the discussions recently with North Korea, they have expressed a commitment to a denuclearized peninsula and making progress toward that goal. These meetings or this upcoming six-party talks is a way to move forward toward that goal. And we want to move forward in a serious way.
Q It is reported the United States would offer some new incentives to the North Korea. Would you tell us, what is the contents of new --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think any such impression is wrong. We have put a proposal on the table along with the other four parties in the talks. That is a proposal that was -- it's a serious proposal. It was put on the table by the five parties for North Korea to consider and respond to. Now North Korea is committed to coming back to the talks with a date certain. And when they come back later this month, we want them to be prepared to talk in a serious way about how to move forward on that proposal. That's the proposal that is on the table. It was a proposal that was outlined to North Korea in the last round of talks over a year ago by the other five parties.
Go ahead, Alexis.
Q When the leak investigation is concluded, does the President believe it might be important for his credibility, the credibility of the White House, to release all the information voluntarily that was submitted as part of the investigation, so the American public could see what the -- what transpired inside the White House at the time?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is an investigation being overseen by a special prosecutor. And I think those are questions best directed to the special prosecutor. Again, this is an ongoing matter; I'm just not going to get into commenting on it further at this time. At the appropriate time, when it's complete, then I'll be glad to talk about it at that point.
Q Have you in the White House considered whether that would be optimum to release as much information and make it as open a process --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's the same type of question. You're asking me to comment on an ongoing investigation, and I'm not going to do that.
Q I'm actually talking about the communication strategy, which is a little different.
MR. McCLELLAN: Understood. The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And that's what he expects people in the White House to do.
Q And he would like to that when it is concluded, cooperate fully with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've already responded.
Q Scott, was it -- who in the investigation made this request of the White House not to comment further about the investigation? Was it Mr. Fitzgerald? Did he make the request of you --