Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Scottie must not be sleeping well, as he started today’s gaggle off on the wrong foot.

Q Scott, this NSA intercept program, was it effective and did it lead to any kind of progress in the war on terror? Or has it been, as some people have suggested, a program that has flooded the zone so much with intelligence, a lot of which is useless, that —

MR. McCLELLAN: Who has suggested that?

Q It was suggested in some reporting today.

MR. McCLELLAN: Who is it? Anonymous sources, okay. Let’s make that clear.

Q Anonymous sources have suggested, according to several reports —

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’re referring to a report —

Q Can I finish my question before you start your answer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: But I just want to clarify that up front.

After rephrasing a reporter’s question for him, Scottie went on to bash Iraq War pom-pom girl Christopher Hitchens instead of defining his terms as he was asked to do.

Q Scott, what does a “link” mean? The President said essentially what you just said, too: this program has targeted those with known links to al Qaeda. Could that include journalists, scholars? You know, these lawsuits today from journalists and scholars who believe they, too, might be swept up in that —

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that are based on no evidence whatsoever.

Q No evidence whatsoever. So explain what a “link” is? I mean —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me back up.

Q — is it somebody trying to find a link?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the frivolous lawsuits that you reference do nothing to help enhance civil liberties or protect the American people. And that’s what those are. In terms of this authorization, again, it is a vital tool and it is limited and it is aimed at what you just referred to: communications — international communications involving known al Qaeda members or people affiliated with al Qaeda — or people that are affiliated with al Qaeda-related organizations.

Q But what’s “affiliated”? Can you give us a general idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it to what General Hayden and the Attorney General have already said, that for matters of talking further about —

Q Are they training in a camp —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q Are they in touch with them or are they training in a camp?

MR. McCLELLAN: It’s the way I described it. It’s exactly what I mean when I say it.

That’s when Helen Thomas stepped in.

Q You kept saying “lawful.” It’s true the President — there is a law that permits the President to get a warrant and wiretap. But he has not been doing that; he’s been breaking the law. Al Gore said he broke the law. The ACLU is filing a suit. Why does he break the law? I mean, he has the means and the tools to do what —

MR. McCLELLAN: I reject that wholeheartedly, Helen. The legal justification has been spelled out by the Department of Justice.

This time when asked to define his terms Scottie whips out the Clenis.

Q If the President believes that he has authority under the Constitution for the warrantless wiretapping program, why is it limited?

MR. McCLELLAN: Previous administrations have cited similar authority, and they’ve talked about the inherent authority.

Q Why is it limited?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because the President believes very strongly that we need to have a good balance between protecting the American people and protecting civil liberties. And I would point you back to what the Deputy Director of National Intelligence said in his briefing to reporters when he talked about the responsibility of the National Security Agency in the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th. And he specifically referred to this balancing that goes on when you’re talking about these issues. And he talked about how we are making people feel free again by protecting them from further attacks. That’s not the exact quote, but it’s along those lines.

Q But if you believe that you don’t need a warrant, why seek one at all in other cases?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of tools at our disposal. And we do use the FISA court to seek warrants, as well. That is a vital tool. We’ve talked about that before. The President talked about it, and we make use of that tool. There are a number of tools at our disposal. And as I indicated, the President is going to continue using every lawful tool at his disposal to do what we can to connect the dots and save lives by preventing attacks from happening in the first place.

Q So if you do use it in some cases, why not use it in the other cases, if you can use it retroactively?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q If you use FISA in some cases, why not use it —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was actually a briefing that took place on this. And the Deputy Director of National Intelligence talked about how FISA was created for a different purpose. FISA was created for longer-term monitoring. And he talked about how this is an authorization that is aimed at detection and prevention. It is for a shorter period of time. It’s for a different need. FISA was created in a different time period to address different threats that we faced. But it is a tool that we use, as well, and it’s an important one. And so I think you have to have an understanding of the nature of the enemy that we face, and the fact that this is an enemy that is determined to strike us again.

Q So when you’re saying FISA is out of date, and wouldn’t the President —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said it’s a vital tool. I said we make use of FISA, too.

Q You said it’s from another time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q You said it was from another time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I said the original intent of FISA was for a different purpose than what we are talking about in the instance of the NSA authorization.

The subject of Jack Abramoff’s White House contacts really scorches Scottie’s shorts.

Q Another topic, if you would. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and others sent a letter to the President today regarding Abramoff, asking for the President make public any contacts that he had with Abramoff, as well as senior administration officials; and any kind of benefits or access that they may have gained from this connection. They said, “The American people need to be assured that the White House is not for sale.” Is there any plan for the President or the administration to make that information available?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this President expects everybody in his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards. I’ve already talked to you all about this matter. If you have anything specific to bring to my attention, please do. But, remember, this is a guy who has admitted wrongdoing. He’s being brought to justice by the Justice Department under this administration. And he’s also someone where he and/or his clients contributed to both Democrats and Republicans. So I think that needs to be put in context, as well.

Q So would the White House be open to complying with the Democrats’ request to go ahead and provide that kind of information, the contacts Abramoff had with senior staff, that type of thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ve already indicated to you a general description of any contacts that were there.

[snip]

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings.

Q Why not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you got something to bring to my attention, Elisabeth, I’ll be glad to look into it. If you’ve got something specific, I’ll be glad to take a look into it.

And then…. the question that sends a chill down Scottie’s flab-laden spine.

Q Did he meet with Karl Rove, for example?

MR. McCLELLAN: We don’t — we don’t ever tend to get into those staff-level meetings.

[snip]

Q Scott, what was the subject matter when Jack Abramoff met with staff here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q What was the subject —

MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated earlier to Elisabeth’s questions that we just don’t get into discussing White House staff-level meetings. We never really have.

Q Can you say who Mr. Abramoff was representing when he came in here?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Again, we don’t get into discussing staff-level meetings. If you have something specific to bring to my attention, I’ll be glad to try to look into that. But I’m not aware of anything specific that you have.

Q What got him in the door here? How did he qualify for meetings here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I checked on this. What I was asked is to go and check on this, and I did. And there were only a couple of holiday receptions that he attended, and then a few staff-level meetings on top of that. And that’s the way I would describe it.

Now, what I can’t do is go and say with absolute certainty that he did not have any other visits. We did a check at your request and what I have learned from that request is exactly what I am telling you.

Q Was it senior staff, at that level?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q Would you qualify it as senior staff that he met with here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m just saying staff-level meetings is the way I would describe it. And if you have anything specific, I’ll be glad to take a look into it.

Q Well, we’re counting on you for the specifics —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there’s any reason for me to check into it, please bring it to my attention.

Q He’s pled guilty to some serious charges.

MR. McCLELLAN: And so are you insinuating something?

Q We’re just trying to find out the facts.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you’ve got something to bring to my attention, do so, and then I’ll be glad to look into it.

Q Scott, that’s not a fair burden to place on us. This is a guy who is a tainted lobbyist, and he has connections — we want to know — with whom in the White House. You shouldn’t demand that we give you something specific to go check it out. I mean, this guy is radioactive in Washington. And he knows guys like Karl Rove. So did he meet with him or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: I know of nothing that —

Q Don’t put it on us to bring something specific. It’s a specific question about a specific individual.

Q Can you tell us if he met with Karl Rove?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because we don’t discuss staff-level meetings —

Q Of course you do, whenever you want to discuss staff-level meetings. And if Karl Rove, who has ties to Ralph Reed, which he does, we want to know if he has ties to Jack Abramoff, and if they met —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can answer that.

Q Oh, great. Well, before you said —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I mean, about if he knows — yes, he knows — he knows Mr. Abramoff. They are both former heads of the College Republicans. That’s how they got to know each other way back, I think it was in the early ’80s. And my understanding is that Karl would describe it as more of a casual relationship, than a business relationship. That’s what he has said.

But if you’ve got specific matters that I need to look into, it’s my point that I think it’s your obligation to bring that to my attention and I’ll be glad to take a look into it.

Q Well, I don’t —

MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no —

Q — no, no, but I don’t think it’s our obligation to do anything. If we want to know whether there was pending business that Abramoff represented to members of the staff here at the White House, what do we need —

MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no suggestion of anything like that out of this White House.

Q — some kind of an affidavit to bring you to —

MR. McCLELLAN: There’s been no suggestion of anything like this in this White House.

Q I’m just asking. I’m not suggesting.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, you’re insinuating. Go ahead.

[snip]

Q Can I one — just one follow-up, Scott, because I think just to refresh your memory, when the whole Enron scandal came up, and there were questions about Ken Lay’s ties to President Bush, this White House — and you may have even worked on this — under your predecessor provided specific information on White House meetings between Ken Lay and senior staff. So when you say you don’t normally release that —

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not sure — I’m not sure that that’s — I think that that was relating to other matters, and relating to phone calls, or something of that matter. I’ll have to take a look at that, but I think that you’re a little bit off on that, that there are some differences here in what we’re talking about.

Finally, your Daily Les.

Q WCBS.com in New York quotes Senator Hillary Clinton telling the Reverend Al Sharpton’s National Action Network yesterday, “When you look at how the House of Representatives has been run, it’s been run like a plantation, and you know what I’m talking about.” She went on to say, “I predict to you that this administration will go down in history as one of the worst that has ever governed our country.” And my question is, does the White House believe that this, from a Clinton, was more or less offensive than the Al Gore hypocrisy outburst?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they were, and I think they were way out of line. I indicated earlier in response to David Gregory’s question.