Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Let’s get this party started with Helen Thomas, the conscience of the press corps.

Q When the President went to the Pentagon today, did he ask about the dropping of a bomb on a home, killing nine children and grandchildren, and so forth? I mean, is this how we go after the rebels?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President talked about the update that he received at the Pentagon earlier today. And let me just back up, because, first of all, as I understand it from the military in Iraq, they have put out a statement saying they are looking at the facts surrounding this matter. Second of all, our military goes out of the way to avoid civilian casualties. They target the enemy. They target the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who are seeking to kill innocent civilians and disrupt the transition to democracy. In terms of this individual matter, it’s something that’s being looked into in terms of the facts surrounding it.

Q Why did they do that —

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think that’s an accurate characterization, first of all. The military has put out —

Q They didn’t find any so-called terrorists.

MR. McCLELLAN: The military has put out additional information and you need to look at what they’ve said. It’s still being looked into. I encourage you to wait until the facts are learned.

Q How can you justify killing children and grandchildren at home?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at what took place in Iraq last month; successful elections, where you had nearly 70 percent of the voters turn out —

Q That has nothing to do with my question.

MR. McCLELLAN: — and if you look at the pictures from that election, the Iraqi people are determined to live in freedom. They want to chart their own future. And the President talked about that earlier today. And it’s —

Q — bomb innocent families.

MR. McCLELLAN: — the terrorists and Saddam loyalists who are going out killing innocent civilians. We saw that again today, with some suicide attacks on a funeral procession of Iraqi civilians.

Q So why are we there —

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree strongly with your characterization of our military. They go out of the way to target the enemy —

Q I didn’t say they did —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, your implication is certainly that.

Q In this case, there have been several —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s your implication. No, that’s your implication. Our military —

Q That’s not my implication. I’m telling you what —

MR. McCLELLAN: — uses technology to target the enemy and avoid civilian casualties.

Go ahead.

And now, the Abramoffensive begins.

Q Scott, Abramoff raised more than $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney campaign, and the campaign has given back, like, $6,000. Why aren’t they giving back more?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might want to talk to the RNC to get the specifics. That’s my understanding, is that Mr. Abramoff and his wife, and a tribal interest that he represented had contributed that money. And this is keeping — consistent with past practice of the campaign. If people are involved in wrongdoing, they return that money that that person contributed, or donate it to a specific charity. In this case, I understand that they’re going to be donating that money to the American Heart Association.

Q But you don’t think the rest of the money that he brought in —

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you suggesting that there are others that were involved in wrongdoing? If you want to bring that to my attention, and I’ll refer it to the RNC.

Q I’m asking if the money that he gave —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s our past practice, or the past practice of the campaign has been what I described. If people are involved in wrongdoing — I think there’s been very few instances of that, one or two maybe where money has been donated to a charity that that individual gave to the campaign.

Q Well, I guess, the question is, though, since he raised the money and you don’t know what was involved in raising that money, does that not put a taint or a cloud over it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that it’s keeping with past practice, and they took the appropriate step.

Q But Hastert is giving all of it back.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.

Jakc who?

Q But have you been able to more clearly determine whether the President ever met Abramoff at any of these White House —

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I talked about this earlier today, maybe you weren’t here earlier this morning, but — when I talked to some of your colleagues.

Q I thought you said he might have been, but I’m just wondering —

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I said it’s possible that they would have met at a holiday reception or some other widely attended gathering. The President does not know him, nor does the President recall ever meeting him.

Q But he has the special designation as a Pioneer, as Terry was alluding to, raising more than $100,000. And he attended, as you told us, three events, holiday receptions at the White House. How likely is it that the President would not have met him —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s why I said it’s possible. But I just told you what I know at this point, and the President doesn’t recall meeting him and he certainly doesn’t know him.

Q Will you release — go ahead.

Q Since you often take photos in those instances at receptions, will you make that available?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven’t thought about that. I’ll take it under consideration.

Q How about the logs of the people — how many times he came into the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I’m checking into that. I said I’d check into that — I think someone asked that question the other day. I think it’s very few times that he’s been here, in addition to any holiday receptions.

[snip]

Q Scott, you said a few moments ago that you thought that if Abramoff had been to the White House it has only been a couple of times besides possible holiday receptions. How long do you think it will take to track down exactly when he was —

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, it’s going to be long — that’s my understanding, just kind of an initial check, just — there are probably a few staff-level meetings and that’s about it —

Q And secondly, as you know, the President —

MR. McCLELLAN: — in addition to what I indicated earlier.

Q Periodically, the President has receptions for fundraisers, Pioneers, sometimes here, usually — often at the ranch adjacent to his down in Crawford. Are you looking into also whether Abramoff might have been at one of those meetings?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know anything about it. I’ll try and take a look at it.

[snip]

Q So, Scott, why would a Jack Abramoff have access to staff-level meetings here at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know the facts surrounding that, Peter. I said I’m checking into it. But as you know, we don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings.

Ethics, schmethics.

Q It’s still not clear to me, what have the consequences been, not only at the White House, but administration-wide, if you violate your ethics guidelines? I mean, I understand with the OFPP official, he was arrested so he resigned. Now, I presume that would mean, had he not resigned —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it depends on individual circumstances. You have to look at it case by case. If there are violations of ethic guidelines, there is appropriate action that we take.

Q So what are the — what is the appropriate action? Because it’s my understanding there is no —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it — I think it depends on each case.

Q Well, understandably, it depends on a case-by-case basis.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I would say that, by and large, people throughout this government work very hard and they adhere to those standards.

Q Well, I’m only asking again because it’s been two-and-a-half years since Valerie Plame’s identity has been leaked —

MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly. You’re asking again because of a matter that we’ve indicated what our policy is on, and that’s an ongoing matter.

Q I’m asking outside the scope of the investigation. I’m asking about any ethics violations —

MR. McCLELLAN: You just said you’re asking in the context of that investigation.

Q No, outside the scope of it. Mr. Fitzgerald is looking at criminal offenses under your document detailing violations of ethics. I’m asking —

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s why the President directed the White House to cooperate fully with investigation.

Q So why hasn’t the President taken any action against anyone within his administration who has acted unethically? Or are you saying everyone has acted ethically in relation to being involved in the —

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, wait, you’re making a suggestion that I don’t think you can back up. There has been action taken when people have violated ethic guidelines. And to suggest otherwise, I think, is ignoring facts. We just talked about one individual who has left the administration.

Q He was arrested.

MR. McCLELLAN: And he no longer works in the administration.

Q Would he have been dismissed had he not resigned?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.

Q Want me to throw you a lifeline, or —

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t need one. I’ll be glad to talk about this if Paula wants to. Paula, I think, is just trying to grandstand on this issue, as she has previously.

Q Oh, boy.