OK, before we launch ourselves into Little Scottie’s spin regarding Chimpy’s extra-constitutional spying lend an ear (eye?) to Helen Thomas.
Q The President has publicly acknowledged that we went to war under false information, mistaken information. Why does he insist on staying there if we were there falsely, and continue to kill Iraqis?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, maybe you missed some of his recent speeches and his remarks, but the President said it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power —
Q And a right decision to move in and to tell the people, the American people, that it was all a mistake, and stay there?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think he said that. He said that Saddam Hussein was a destabilizing force in a dangerous region of the world —
Q That isn’t true. We had a choke-hold on him.
MR. McCLELLAN: It is true. He was a threat. And the threat has been removed.
Q We had sanctions, we had satellites, we were bombing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let’s talk about why it’s so important, what we’re working to accomplish in Iraq —
Q I want to know why we’re still there killing people, when we went in by mistake.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are liberating people and freeing people to live in a democracy. And why we’re still there —
Q Do you think we’re spreading democracy when you spy and put out disinformation and do all the things that — secret prisons, and torture?
MR. McCLELLAN: I reject your characterizations wholly. I reject your characterizations wholly. The United States is helping to advance freedom in a dangerous region of the world.
Q — recognize this kind of —
MR. McCLELLAN: For too long we thought we had stability by ignoring freedom in the Middle East. Well, we showed — we saw on September 11th —
Q — 30,000 plus?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, we can have a debate, or you can let me respond to your questions. I think this is an important subject for the American people to talk about. By advancing freedom and democracy in the Middle East we’re helping to protect our own security. It’s a dangerous region —
Q By killing people in their own country?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I reject that. We’re liberating and freeing people and we’re targeting the enemy. We’re killing the terrorists and we’re going after the Saddam loyalists.
Q The President said 30,000, more or less.
MR. McCLELLAN: And you know who is responsible for most of that? It’s the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who want to turn back to the past.
Q We didn’t kill anybody there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way to minimize civilian casualties. They target the enemy —
Q You admit they kill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve got a lot of technology that we can use to target the enemy without going after — without collateral damage of civilians. And that’s what our military does.
Q Are you kidding?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I’m going to stand up for our military. Our military goes out of the way to protect civilians. In fact —
Q Fallujah, we didn’t kill any civilians?
MR. McCLELLAN: We freed some 25 million people in Iraq that were living under a brutal regime.
OK, Back to FISA-free spying.
Did Big Time go off the ranch?
Q Scott, the Vice President said today that Vietnam and Watergate had eroded presidential powers, and that he thinks that the world we live in demands strong, robust executive authority. Where would the President like to see his authority expanded?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don’t know — I haven’t had a chance to see the Vice President’s comments, so I can’t really get into discussing exactly what he was talking about, but certainly stand by what he said. In terms of the President’s authority, I don’t know if you’re talking about a specific issue, but the President —
Q No, in general.
MR. McCLELLAN: There are three branches of government, they all have an important role to play: the congressional — the legislative, and the judicial, and then the executive. And we’ve talked about these issues before. I don’t know of anything to add to what the Vice President said.
Why did Chimpy need to violate the Consitution when he already had the fabulous PATRIOT Act?
Q Last year the President lauded the Patriot Act for giving him tools to track terrorists that he never had before, including roving wiretaps and other such tools. If the President has what he needed in the Patriot Act, why the need for this NSA program that he authorized?
Q But is it a tool that he doesn’t have under either the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just pointed out one of the problem areas that we’re trying to fix. And so those —
Q Okay, if it is a problem area — is it a tool he doesn’t have under either the Patriot Act of FISA?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are important tools, as well, and we use those tools. In fact, those tools have helped us address threats, too. But this authorization is an additional tool that we believe is needed for the reason I stated.
Q I know, but you could have three different types of branches, but if two branches do the job of all three, do you need to have the third?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, absolutely, we need this authority, for the reasons I stated.
Q What doesn’t he have in the Patriot Act or under FISA that he needs to have through this other authorization?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made a commitment to the American people that he was going to use every constitutional and congressional authority needed to fight and win this war on terrorism. This tool has been very successful in helping us to detect and prevent attacks from happening —
Q Right, but is it necessary with the other tools you have in the Patriot Act?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, for the reasons that we stated. It is very necessary…
Oversight? What oversight?
Q Congress defines oversight as “the authority to conduct inquiries or investigations, to have access to records or materials, or to issue subpoenas or testimony from the executive.” Which of these powers were members of Congress granted with regard to the NSA surveillance program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you just pointed out, Congress is an independent branch of government, and they’re elected by their constituents. We briefed and informed members of Congress about this program going back to 2001; more than a dozen times since then we’ve briefed members of Congress —
Q But briefing isn’t power to investigate or issue subpoenas to ask questions. And I’m asking you, which of the powers of oversight were they granted?
MR. McCLELLAN: Congress is an independent branch of government. That’s what I just pointed out, Jessica.
Q Which has the right to check the functions of the executive. And these are —
MR. McCLELLAN: They have an oversight role, that’s right.
Q Okay, so in what way —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s why we thought it was important to brief members of Congress about this vital tool that we’re using to save lives and to protect the American people, and why we talked to them about how it is limited in nature and limited in scope.
Q But as you know, members of Congress who were briefed said that they were informed — yes, briefed, but given absolutely no recourse to formally object, to push back and say, this is not acceptable.
MR. McCLELLAN: They’re an independent branch of government.
Q So in what way were they given oversight?
MR. McCLELLAN: They were briefed. And we believe it’s important to brief members of Congress, the relevant leaders —
Q Would you also say they were given full oversight?
MR. McCLELLAN: They’re an independent branch of government. Yes, they have —
Q Were they given oversight?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they have oversight roles to play.
Q So they have oversight. So, in what way could they have acted on that oversight?
MR. McCLELLAN: You should ask members of Congress that question.
Another Bush Assministration official who is not a lawyer.
Q I know you cited Article II of the Constitution and the congressional authorization to use force in Afghanistan. What’s your —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to try to play lawyer from the podium. I’m not a lawyer. But I do know that this President is deeply committed to protecting the American people, and he’ll do what it takes to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. He made that commitment when he took office; he renewed that commitment after the attacks of September 11th; and he will do so within our Constitution and our laws.
18,000 times. 18 THOUSAND TIMES!!!
Q Another question. It’s our understanding this power has been used 18,000-plus times. Are we to presume that there are that many al Qaeda agents in this country?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to get into talking about more than what we’ve said publicly. That’s getting into more than what we’ve talked about publicly, so I’m not in a position to confirm or deny the numbers that you threw out there.
Chimpy’s words come back to haunt Scottie.
Q Scott, in April of 2004, President Bush delivered remarks on the Patriot Act, and he said at that time, “any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it require — a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.” Was the President being completely forthcoming when he made that statement?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was talking about in the context of the Patriot Act.
Q And in terms of the American people, though, when he says “nothing has changed” —
MR. McCLELLAN: I would have to look back at the remarks there, but you’re clearly talking about it in the context, as you pointed out, of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is another vital tool. That’s why the Senate needs to move forward and get that reauthorized now. We cannot let that expire — not for a single moment, because the terrorist threat is not going to expire. Those tools have helped us disrupt plots and prevent attacks and break up terrorist cells. We need those tools for our law enforcement and intelligence community. And we urge the Senate to stop the delaying tactics by the minority of senators, to stop their delaying tactics, to stop filibustering, stop blocking this legislation and get it passed.
Q So you don’t see it as misleading in any way when the President says, “nothing has changed”?
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re asking me to look back at something that is in relation to the Patriot Act. And it’s in relation to the Patriot Act —
Q But he’s talking about wiretaps —
MR. McCLELLAN: — and I’ll be glad to take a look at his comments. I think you’re taking them out — I think the suggestion that you’re making, I reject that suggestion. And I’ll be glad to take a look at those comments.
Does the Grey Lady swallow or spit?
Q Did the President meet The New York Times editor on December 6th and ask him to not publish the eavesdropping story?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw reports about that; I’m not going to get into discussing it, though.
Q No confirm, no deny?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, neither.