Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle Helen Thomas raises the specter of the “I” word.
Q Does the President think he should obey the law? He put his hand on the Bible twice to uphold the Constitution. Wiretapping is not legal under the circumstances without a warrant.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I guess you didn’t pay attention to the Attorney General’s hearing earlier today, because he walked through very clearly the rationale behind this program. And, Helen, I think you have to ask are we a nation at war —
Q There is no rationale to disobey the law.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s not — are we a nation at war?
Q That’s not the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that is the issue here.
Q No, the question is, the point is there are means for him to go to war, get a warrant to spy on people.
MR. McCLELLAN: Enemy surveillance is critical to waging and winning war. It’s one of the traditional tools of war.
Q Nobody says he doesn’t have running room to —
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Attorney General outlined very clearly today how previous administrations have used the same authority and cited the same —
Q That doesn’t make it legal.
MR. McCLELLAN: — and cited the very same authority.
Q If they broke the law, that’s too bad. You know what happened to Nixon when he broke the law.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we’re going to continue doing everything we can within our power to protect the American people. This is a very different circumstance, and you know that.
Q No, I don’t.
Q Two questions. One, —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, then you should go back and listen to what the Attorney General said, because he laid out the safeguards that are in place, and how it’s the career officials at NSA that make the decisions when it comes to this.
Q The President has to obey the law.
MR. McCLELLAN: And he does.
Then Carl Cameron of Fox News asked a reasonable questions (I know, WTF?).
Q Insofar as the program is reviewed every 45 days by the administration, and the President has said that he would oppose anything that might compromise the operational security and effectiveness of the program, as a matter of principle, is the administration open to the idea of making the program subject to some level of oversight, either from the legislative and/or judicial branches?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. There already is oversight, because we have been briefing members of Congress about that. We’ve talked about it. And there is oversight when it comes to the administration of the terrorist surveillance program, because you have NSA lawyers that are very involved in overseeing the administration of this program. You have an inspector general that has rigorous oversight of the program. And, again, I emphasize that the career officials are the ones that are in place making these decisions.
Q So as a matter of principle, your position is that the briefings that are and have been provided constitutes oversight by the legislative body, as well as by those in the FISA court that have been briefed?
MR. McCLELLAN: The legislative oversight — absolutely there has been legislative oversight, as the Attorney General pointed out earlier today. The leadership, both the Senate and the House, Republican and Democrat, have been briefed, as well as the leadership of the Intelligence Committees in both the House and the Senate, the bipartisan leadership.
Q Would you agree, then, that there is a difference of opinion between the White House —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t want to get into talking about the FISA court, because this is a court that prefers not to comment publicly. And so I’ll leave it to them if they want to say more about it.
Q But there are members of Congress who say that the briefings are, in fact, not oversight; that it’s inadequate, and that what they’re being told doesn’t give them sufficient information, itself.
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate that.
Q So would you agree that there is a difference of opinion on the definition of briefing versus oversight —
MR. McCLELLAN: This is one of the most highly classified programs in our government, or was until its unauthorized disclosure. And that’s why we don’t — still do not get into talking about operational aspects of it. But what we have done is brief members of Congress more than a dozen times about this vital tool that we are using in the global war on terrorism.
Q So to the extent that legislators may determine that they want some additional supervision and oversight beyond the briefings that you provide, would the administration oppose that as an intrusion on the President’s “inherent authorities”?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some members who have been briefed have said that the unauthorized disclosure of this program has been harmful to our national security. We’ve heard top intelligence officials talk about how the disclosure of this program has been harmful to our national security.
And so the concern you have is that very issue. The reason we don’t talk more about it is because we don’t want al Qaeda to have our play book. We know that al Qaeda is a very —
Q But that’s not necessarily inherent authority, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. No, no, hang on, hang on. We know that al Qaeda is a very sophisticated enemy. They have sophisticated communications. They are trained in counter-intelligence and counter-surveillance operations. We know that they are constantly adapting and changing their tactics. And that’s why it’s important that we don’t get into talking about programs of this nature.
Now, because of its disclosure, we have talked about it in a very limited way, and talked about what it is and what it is not. And we will continue to point that out to the American people. I think the American people understand the importance of what we are working to do. But I’m not going to rule things in or rule things out. We’ll continue working with Congress as we move forward, too.
Q Scott, I have two questions for you. It’s coming up on five years since Osama bin Laden ostensibly fled Afghanistan. Isn’t the President frustrated that all the intelligence sources, all these monitoring of communications, all the human intelligence, satellites can’t find one tall man? What’s the problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s al Qaeda that has been frustrated, first of all. We have already brought to justice, in one way or another, some three-quarters of their known leadership. We are winning this war on terrorism. But as the President said from the very beginning — go back to 2001 — this is going to be a long war. It is an unconventional war that we are fighting, as I talked about. This is a sophisticated enemy that we are up against. We have them on the run. They are under a lot of pressure. We have seen, time and again, that people have been brought to justice, people that are members of al Qaeda, as well as other terrorist organizations. And he is someone who is on the run, someone who is hiding. And we’ve talked about that. And I think others have talked about that, in testimony last week, why that has been the situation.
Q My point is, how could he hide for five years?
MR. McCLELLAN: But, Ivan, it’s broader than just — the war on terrorism is broader than just one person. But we have to also remember that we are a nation that remains at war. And that’s why it’s so important that we continue to act on all fronts, we continue to use every tool at our disposal to disrupt plots, to prevent attacks, and to go after and bring to justice those who seek to do us harm.
What happened to the Chimpy-Abramoff photos?
Q Scott, there have been various reports that photographs of the President with Jack Abramoff have disappeared from the archives of photographic studios, at least one. Could you tell us whether the White House or anyone working at the White House’s behest has taken any steps to remove any photographs that the President —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know anything about that. I think that I saw some story where the very company that you’re mentioning said otherwise. So I think you ought to see what they said.
Q They acknowledged that the photographs had disappeared from their work site.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they said something other than that.
We close with your Daily Les.
Q Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman said yesterday, “Whether it’s the comments about the plantation or the worst administration in history, Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger.” New York Daily News Columnist Michael Goodwin wrote, “Clinton seems to have gone off the deep end.” And my question: Does the President disagree with these statements by Mehlman and Goodman?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we’ve already expressed our views on those comments that were made.