Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Now tell me, what would the gaggle be without Scottie completely ignoring a series of questions from Helen Thomas?

Q I have two questions that can be dismissed with a yes or no. One, is the President going to seek any legal — more legal permission from Congress to spy on Americans without a warrant? And two, does he think, does he believe that his new designation of the spy program, terrorist surveillance, will tarnish people who are spied on and are guilty or not guilty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me take the first part of your question, and I think it’s important to give a clearer picture of where things are with the American people, and so I want to make a few comments about it.

Q I want to know where you stand —

MR. McCLELLAN: And I’m going to do that. I’ve already previously answered this question with reporters and stated our view; the Attorney General stated it earlier today in some interviews.


I reject your characterization to suggest it’s domestic spying. That’s like saying someone making a phone call from inside the United States to another country is a domestic call. It is billed the international rate and it is labeled —

Q The law says he has to seek a court warrant.

MR. McCLELLAN: — it is labeled an international call —

Q Why doesn’t he seek a warrant? What’s the big problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, we’ve walked through this repeatedly over the last few days. It’s important for the American people to understand what the facts are. There is a lot of misinformation about —

Q Why can’t you seek a warrant?

MR. McCLELLAN: — this program. And we do use the FISA tool, as well. That’s an important tool, as well. But we have briefed members of Congress more than a dozen times on this. We continue to brief members of Congress in an appropriate manner. This is a highly classified program and it is a vital program to our nation’s security. The 9/11 Commission criticized us for not connecting the dots —

Q Is it vital to go through legal steps?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is helping us to connect the dots in a very targeted and focused way.

Q Why can’t he seek a warrant?

MR. McCLELLAN: It is about detecting and preventing attacks. FISA was created for a different time period. General Hayden walked through that yesterday; the Attorney General talked about it more. This is about moving with speed and agility, not some long-term period of time. It’s about detecting —

Q You can get one retroactively.

MR. McCLELLAN: — it’s about detecting and preventing attacks. And we are a nation at war, and the courts have upheld the President’s authority to engage in surveillance. Surveillance is critical to prevailing in the war on terrorism.

Q He doesn’t have a blank check.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we talked with members of Congress about whether or not there needed to be legislation that reflects what the President’s authority already is, and the congressional leaders felt that by doing so it could compromise this program. This is a vital program and it’s important that we don’t show the enemy our play book. And talking about it —

Q Getting warrants doesn’t show the enemy a play book.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Next question.

And what would the gaggle be without Scottie stumbling over one of Chimpy’s stupid lies?

Q Scott, back on September 1st, President Bush said in an interview, “I don’t think anybody anticipated a breaching of the levees in New Orleans.” And we had this Infrastructure Simulation and Assessment Center that delivered a report to the White House that, indeed, said that the levees were likely to be breached and that New Orleans would be underwater for months. So did the President mis-speak, or did he just not get the word?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, unfortunately, you’re kind of combining two things that are not related, because the President actually talked about this —

Q Which one is not related, the hurricane or New Orleans?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President actually talked about this and talked about what he was referring to, John. Of course, we know — we knew what the potential was of a hurricane of that magnitude. We had done exercises in Louisiana and other exercises and looked at such a possibility previously. As the President said, what he was referring to was that there was a sense by many, once the hurricane hit and had passed, that the worst-case scenario did not happen. There were numerous media reports saying that New Orleans had dodged the bullet. And I can pull those up for you and show you those. And so that’s what the President was referring to. So I think it’s wrong to mischaracterize —

Q It couldn’t have been mine, because I was hip-deep in water at the time.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not suggesting it was, but what the President was referring to was what we had previously said. And he made that very clear earlier.


Q When the Situation Room was told about this report about five hours, I believe, before it hit landfall — you’re saying that did not have anything to do with what the President was saying? Because the President said to Diane Sawyer on September 1st, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did not anticipate a serious storm.” So —

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Martha, what I’m saying is that it’s important to take a comprehensive look at the response efforts at all levels of government, what was being done. And that way, the American people can have a clear and accurate understanding of what happened with the response efforts. I’m not going to try to get into a play-by-play analysis of an ongoing look at the response efforts. That’s undergoing, both by —

Q — look at why the President would make a statement about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: — both by the administration and it’s undergoing by members of Congress. And that’s an important part of helping us move forward and prevent something like this from happening again, in terms of the response efforts.

Q Okay, but you’ll look at statements by the President, for instance — “they did not anticipate a serious storm,” as part of looking into this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, what statement by the President that said that? The President —

Q He said, “They did not anticipate a serious storm,” on September 1st.

MR. McCLELLAN: I reject that wholeheartedly. The President said ahead of the storm, this is a very dangerous storm, and warned citizens all along the Gulf Coast region to heed the advice of state and local officials. He held a press conference that was carried nationwide the morning ahead of the storm and reemphasized the importance of taking this storm seriously. Now, what we are focused on —

Q All I’m telling you, September 1st, he said, “I don’t think anybody anticipated a breach of the levees. They did not anticipate —

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, that’s a different issue, and I addressed John’s question —

Q — a serious storm.”

MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed John’s question, what he was referring to in those remarks. And what he specifically was referring to is exactly what media reports were citing at the time. The hurricane had hit; it had passed New Orleans; and there was a sense by many that the worst-case scenario did not happen. And that’s what the President was referring to in those remarks, and he said so when he was asked a follow-up question about those very comments. I said so, as well, at the time. So I’d encourage you to go back and look at that.

Of course, we recognized the potential damage from a hurricane of this magnitude. We had conducted exercises before the storm hit, well before the storm hit.

More AbramOffal

Q Another question? Ahead of the State of the Union address, Senator Harry Reid is out with a statement, and part of it reads, “In his 2000 campaign, George Bush promised to bring dignity to the White House. But we’ve since found that he brought Jack Abramoff instead. President Bush needs to quit stonewalling about his White House’s connection to corruption and finally tell us how he’s going to reform Washington.”

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is more of the kind of partisan attacks that we see in this city that only lower the discourse in this town. This President has worked from day one to elevate the tone and to elevate the discourse in this town, and that’s what he will continue to do. And in terms of Mr. Abramoff, he is someone who has contributed to both Democrats and Republicans alike, whether it was directly or indirectly.

Q But if there was nothing improper about contacts with him, why not open up records about any visits or meetings Mr. Abramoff might have had?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ve already talked to you about that information and responded to questions that you have. There’s a difference between responding to questions like that and engaging in a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation.

And now, your Daily Les.

Q Yesterday, the President, in his phone call to the March for Life, said this, and this is a quote: “These principles call us to defend the sick and dying, persons with disabilities and birth defects, all who are weak and vulnerable, especially unborn children” — which category means, of course, from conception, when they’re invisible. And my question: Does this statement mean that the President also believes that unconceived, as well as unborn children, consisting of living, moving human sperm and egg, also deserve the right to life, rather than being killed by contraception?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views very clear when it comes to the issues of life. This President has worked to build a culture of life in America. He will continue working to build upon those efforts. And that’s the way I would describe it.

Q How does he feel on contraception? Is he opposed to contraception, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the position he has taken is that when it comes to educational programs for teens, we ought to be spending at least as much as we do on teen contraception programs on abstinence programs. And that’s what we have worked to do.

Q But he does believe in birth control, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: That’s what the President has talked about and said.