In U.S. relations with Syria, the Bush assministration policy is Fire! Ready! Aim!
Q The fact that the U.S. has recalled Ambassador Scobey from Syria, is that an indication that you believe that Syria was involved in yesterday’s attack in Beirut?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Ambassador Scobey met with Syrian officials, I believe, yesterday, and delivered a very clear message about what our concerns are. Secretary Rice has decided to recall Ambassador Scobey for consultations and that’s what will be taking place. She will be leaving Syria and coming back for consultations here.
Q But, sorry, again, just to pursue this a little further — you don’t recall an ambassador unless you’re showing displeasure with the country in which that ambassador is stationed. So what sort of displeasure are you demonstrating here with Syria by recalling Ambassador Scobey?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve had a number of serious concerns about Syria’s behavior. We want to see Syria change its behavior and play a constructive role in the region.
Q So are you suggesting that they didn’t take steps to prevent this car bombing and this assassination, or that they may have had some involvement?
MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the investigation, I don’t have any update in terms of the investigation of who was responsible for carrying out this horrible terrorist attack on former Prime Minister Hariri. What I do want to make clear is that Syria’s troop presence in Lebanon is a destabilizing force. The people of Lebanon should be allowed to control their future free from outside interference and free from terrorism.
Q How can you on the one hand say you don’t know who is responsible, and at the same time, be pulling the ambassador back and moving forward with the Security Council, talking about punishing those responsible? Why tiptoe around the issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Norah, I think we’ve made our views very clear when it comes to Syria. We’ve expressed our concerns. Our concerns are not just with their presence in Lebanon. That is one of the concerns, and the terrorist attack that took place yesterday on former Prime Minister Hariri underscored the importance of Syria taking steps to change its behavior, by withdrawing its forces and helping to use its influence to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
Q Have you received any information that directly links Syria to the attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I have no update on the investigation, itself, in terms of the terrorist attack that took place yesterday. I think I’ve made that clear.
Q Because on one hand, you’re making the link between these steps that you’re taking against Syria to the fact that the attack happened. But on the other hand, you’re not linking Syria to the attack. I mean, how do you mesh the two?
Q Do you suspect that Syria is behind this attack?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I would express what I have already expressed, and that’s what I — that’s what I know at this point. In terms of who is behind this attack, that’s a matter that obviously is being investigated at this time. I think it’s still premature to know who was the one responsible for the attack, itself. But Syria’s military presence there is not playing a helpful role. It is playing a destabilizing role.
Later in the gaggle a member of the press corps gives Scottie a geometry lesson.
Q The President has spoken repeatedly about an “axis of evil.” With Syria’s suspected increased involvement in terrorist activities, are we now looking at a “quadrangle of evil”?
Finally, after a long absence from the gaggle, the Plame case returns to stain Scottie’s shorts.
Q Scott, on the CIA leak situation, a judge has ruled that the two reporters have to testify before the grand jury. Does the White House agree with this, or have any thoughts on it? And can you tell us, do you know whether Robert Novak has been divulging the source of the person who leaked the name originally?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, on the first part of your question, that’s a matter that’s before the courts. I don’t know the facts surrounding that matter, so I think we’ll leave it to the courts to address that matter.
Q Anything on Robert Novak?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don’t.
Q So the President thinks that they should testify or go to jail?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that when it comes to this matter that anybody who has information ought to come forward and present that information so that the people investigating this can get to the bottom of it. That’s what the President’s views are. I don’t know the facts about these individual reporters and what they may or may not know that would be helpful. That’s a matter that the courts are working to address. But the President has made it clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this matter, and that anyone who has information that relates to this that can help the prosecutors move forward and get to the bottom of it should provide that information to the prosecutors.
Q But just to be clear — because you’re suggesting that the President believes there’s no First Amendment privilege, is that what he believes?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that’s not what I said. I said I don’t know the facts regarding the circumstances of these two reporters. That’s a matter before the courts. I don’t know the facts regarding it, that’s not what I’m saying at all.
Q Scott, back on the leak-gate situation. What has changed here at the White House as it relates to your office and other offices here as it relates to us? How has — how have things changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know of any changes. I hope that our relationship has continued to improve.
Q I mean, is there any more kind of a filing system, of sorts, of emails? Is there a filing system of phone calls? What has changed since leak-gate?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know of any changes that have occurred in recent months.
Q All right, well, and a follow-up question on this. Some are saying that it’s curious that the White House, all the documentation that is out there now in the hands of the courts, that there is no information as to who gave the reporter the information. What do you say to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: What do I say to that? The same thing that the President has said previously and what I said to Norah earlier.
Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Scott —
Q What did the President say earlier? Can you reiterate that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I did. I addressed it to Norah in response to her question. No one wants to get to the bottom of it more than the President of the United States, and that’s why he’s urged anyone who has information that can help prosecutors get to the bottom of it to provide that information to those officials.
Q So the paper trail has ended here at the White House —
MR. McCLELLAN: Sarah, go ahead.
Oooh. The use of the term “leak-gate” must have sent shivers racing up Scottie’s fleshy spine. Let’s hope we get some resolution to this case soon, as the only people who would like to get to the bottom of this more than the president are the top 48% of the class who tried to oust his ass last November.