They had an interesting game of Bop Scottie in the gaggle today. What makes it even more interesting to me are the phrases that the White House chose to emphasize in the transcript.
Helen – start your engine.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q You were going to make a statement, White House statement on the approach of the 2,000 Americans dead in Iraq at the earlier briefing, didn’t you? At the gaggle?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have a question?
Q The question is, what is the feeling about that? And also, does the President approve now of finally telling how many Iraqis we killed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, we have lost over 2,200 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no higher priority for the President of the United States than the safety and security of the American people.
They have given their life in defense of freedom, and the best way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is to prevail in the war on terrorism. And that’s —
Q And kill more people?
MR. McCLELLAN: — and that’s exactly what we will do. We will prepare —
Q The Iraqis did not attack us.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just finish my response. I appreciate that. We will prevail in the war on terrorism. Our men and women in uniform are doing an outstanding job in helping us to win this war. And the President made a decision after September 11th that we were going to wage a broad and comprehensive war on terrorism —
Q Against any country?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are taking the fight [emphasis, oddly enough, in the original] to the enemy to bring people to justice before they can carry out their attacks. We are also working to spread freedom and change the Middle East. We are no longer accepting the status quo in the Middle East. And one thing —
Q That’s not your role, is it? What right do you have to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And one thing that Secretary Rice talked about was the significant — in the Cabinet meeting — was the significant change that we’ve seen in the Middle East over the last three to four years. We’re seeing democracy take hold in Afghanistan. We’re seeing democracy take hold in Iraq. The Iraqi people are showing through their courage and determination that they want to live in freedom. The Iraqi election commission just reported this weekend that some 63 percent of Iraqis showed up to vote; some 9.8 million people —
Q Do we expect sovereignty of nations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish, Helen. Our troops understand the importance of the mission. They are laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren. We live in a dangerous world; the threats are real —
Q That’s why you’re killing Iraqis?
MR. McCLELLAN: — and they are dangerous. But our men and women in uniform understand the enemy that we’re up against, and they understand the stakes involved. We are forever grateful for their sacrifice; we’re forever grateful for the sacrifice of the families of the fallen, as well. That’s why the President visits with the families on a regular basis, to comfort them, console them, and to remind them of the importance of what their loved one sacrificed for.
Well played, Helen. Let’s continue on Iraq with an extremely important question.
Q Scott, how often does the President receive U.S. casualty reports?
MR. McCLELLAN: On a regular basis.
Q Is this a daily thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Virtually. I mean, he receives it on a regular basis.
Q And is that starting in the national security briefing in the morning, or —
MR. McCLELLAN: It depends. I mean, it’s different ways that he receives updates. He certainly receives updates [White House emphasis] about troops that are lost in the line of combat on a regular basis, on a daily basis when those deaths occur. And like I said, we mourn the loss of all of our fallen.
Q How might a grim milestone, like 2,000 dead in Iraq, affect policy and strategy decisions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I just addressed it, and I think tomorrow you might want to listen to the President’s remarks. He is going to speak to a group of spouses of — spouses from all the different branches of the military tomorrow. I think there will be some 500-plus in attendance. And he will talk about the importance of what we’re working to accomplish in Iraq and the broader Middle East. And he’ll talk about the nature of the enemy that we’re up against.
Q How does the President feel about some White House allies, including Senator Hutchison yesterday, essentially making the argument that should the special counsel bring charges that involve a cover-up — obstruction of justice or perjury — that those are, in effect, technicalities and aren’t really worthy of all the effort and money spent on this investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate that, but asking me to comment would be speculating about an ongoing investigation — I’m just not going to do that. Let’s let —
Q Well, wait a minute —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, the President was asked this question —
Q That’s kind of a dodge, don’t you think?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President was asked this question earlier today. What we want to do is continue to support the work of the special prosecutor. The best way to do that is not to get into commenting on it —
Q There are allies of this White House —
MR. McCLELLAN: — or speculating about it.
Q — who are beginning to go out there and effectively lay the groundwork to trash the special counsel. Does the President want to put a stop to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let’s let the investigation continue and we’ll see what the special prosecutor does.
Q He doesn’t want to take an advantage of an opportunity to either say, you know what, we shouldn’t speak that way, or, no, I endorse those views?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it clear that we’re not going to have any further comment from the White House while the investigation continues.
Q But you’ll let surrogates do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn’t say that. You said that.
How’s Nixon holding up?
Q What’s the President’s mood these days, Scott, given all the background noise? There is some suggestion that stress is getting to him a little bit, that he’s tense, peevish.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is very focused [emphasis –WTF?– in the original] on getting things done for the American people. We’ve got a lot of work to get done. The American people expect us to get things done and that’s what we’re doing. The President had a very good Cabinet meeting today.
There are many things that we’re focused on right now, and they are the priorities of the American people; they’re what the American people care most about, and that’s what the President is focused on.
Q So he’s not chewing people’s heads off, as was suggested —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know where you’re hearing that.
Q — in the story this morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know where you’re hearing that. Where are you hearing that?
Q It was —
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn’t put much stock in it.
Q It was in the Daily News today. Are you saying they’re wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn’t put much stock in it.
Q Okay. Well, let me just ask one more question, a little narrower than what David was asking. What are the President’s views of Patrick Fitzgerald as a prosecutor?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s previously spoken to that issue and I’ll leave it where he left it.
Q Could you just remind me?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he spoke about that recently and nothing has changed.
Q Because, you know, I have a memory like a sieve and I just tend to forget things from day to day.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think anything has changed, in terms of his views. And he’s already expressed that.
Let’s not forget Harriet.
Q Scott, in her role as White House Counsel, did Harriet Miers feel it was any way part of her duties to urge whoever might be the leaker to come forward, to save embarrassment to the White House? Or was it more perhaps to protect the identity of the leaker?
Q The President could possibly lose some people who he’s known for many, many years, people he’s been very loyal to. And the President is known to be a very loyal friend. How is he emotionally, maybe today and beyond, handling the fact that someone he’s very close with personally, beyond —
MR. McCLELLAN: April, a couple of things. One, we’re not going to speculate [more White House emphasis] or try to pre-judge the outcome of this ongoing investigation. Let’s let that investigation proceed. I’m sure we’ll hear more in due course.
And we close with your Daily Les.
Q Scott, I’ve got a two-part. The Washington Post reports that after Senator Specter told reporters that nominee Harriet Miers had endorsed Griswold, she telephoned him to say that she had not endorsed Griswold. And my question: Since the case of Griswold versus Connecticut resulted in the court overturning Connecticut’s law against selling or even counseling about contraceptives, isn’t her opposition to this as serious in the President’s mind as her expressed disagreement with what is his support of abortion in cases of rape and incest?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Senator Specter put out a statement last week. Harriet Miers had a further discussion with him. And that issue was clarified how it was originally reported.