Today on Holden’s Obsession with the Gaggle

From Holden:

Oh hell, it’s a long gaggle today.

Let’s kick it off with Helen.

Q You — this is supposed to be a war on terrorism, and by his own admission, the President has said there’s been — there was no link between Iraq and terrorists. So why are we still in Iraq killing and being killed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President talked about it earlier today. The stakes are high in Iraq. And he talked about where we are focused —

Q — why were they high —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. All you have to do is look at the letter that Zawahiri sent to Zarqawi. They recognize how high the stakes are. So do we. And we must continue to move forward on the plan we have for victory. That’s why we’re focused on —

Q Why did you go into Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is —

Q There were no terrorists.

MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not trying to relitigate what we’ve — the decisions that were already made.

Q I am.

MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve already spelled out the reasons why we went in there, and it was Saddam’s —

Q — given has turned out to be wrong.

MR. McCLELLAN: It was Saddam Hussein’s choice to make. He continued to defy the international community. And the President made the decision after September 11th that we were not going to wait for threats to fully materialize. We were going to confront them before it was too late. And as he said again today —

Q It was Iraq, and they weren’t there.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to pay attention to what the President said in his remarks again today.

Q I did.

MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about the importance of freedom overcoming terrorism and tyranny and the power of freedom to prevail. The Middle East is a dangerous region of the world. What we are trying to do —

Q Why was Iraq attacked?

MR. McCLELLAN: What we are trying to do is help transform that troubled region of the world by providing a more hopeful future. That’s what freedom does. Free societies are peaceful societies. And a free Iraq will help inspire the rest of the Middle East, as well.

Then Helen gets a rare assist.

Q Can I go to something on Iraq? Just following up on something Helen said. The President and you often say that it was Saddam Hussein’s decision to make. What could he have done, given the fact that you haven’t found weapons of mass destruction, to stop the invasion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Martha, I don’t think we need to go back and relitigate all this, but it was spelled out very clearly what he needed to do, and he continued to defy the international community — 17-some resolutions. And it was a threat that we could not ignore. The world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power. And we have clearly talked about that previously. Now —

Q Could he have stopped the invasion by —

MR. McCLELLAN: What’s important — what is important to do now — well, he didn’t cooperate with the international community. You can go back through all that — through that whole time period. He did not comply with the resolutions that were passed….

Stoolies, Part I

Q Scott, the National Journal is reporting that Scooter Libby has testified that Vice President Cheney authorized him to release classified material involving the National Intelligence Estimate and Iraq. Do you know anything about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I heard about this story earlier today, but I think you know our policy when it comes to this ongoing legal proceeding, and it hasn’t changed.

Q Do you know anything about any authorization to release any classified material —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, our policy is we’re not going to discuss this while it’s an ongoing legal proceeding, and that remains our policy.

Stoolies, Part II

Q Scott, Mike Brown, the former Director of FEMA, is going to be going before the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee tomorrow. He has been asked before specifically about some of his conversations with the President and the Vice President regarding the handling or mishandling of Katrina. His attorney has sent a letter to Harriet Miers simply seeking some guidance from the White House in terms of whether or not the White House will ask or claim some sort of executive privilege or any kind of privilege that would prevent him from disclosing that information. What is the White House position on it? And I have a —

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we haven’t responded yet to the letter. We are in the process of responding to that letter that we received, so I want to hold off until then. But I think we’ve previously expressed our views. And I don’t know of anything that’s changed in terms of our views.

Q Is it the White House position to claim executive privilege or any other privilege?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I indicated to you, after we respond to the letter then maybe we can talk more about it. But we previously expressed our views.

Save the Liberry Tower!

Q Scott, I apologize if I’m still confused, but I wonder if you could tell us a bit more specifically what has changed since October, when we were told that discussing details of this plot was inappropriate, and today? What has actually changed since October in that regard?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I described it to you; I don’t know how I can be more clear to you. This is something that we had been talking about with the intelligence community in looking for a good example to highlight for the American people about the type of international cooperation that goes on that helps us disrupt plots.


Q So sources and methods would have been compromised in October, but not today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Peter, we’re always looking for ways to provide the American people with more information and that’s what I said to you earlier…

Q But that wasn’t actually the question. The question was, would sources and methods have been compromised in October, but wouldn’t be today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the intelligence community said that it was okay to talk about the information that we provided you today and the President spoke about. So like I said, there is ongoing efforts that we look at to provide the information to the American people, and this was —

Q It was not okay in October to talk about that level of detail?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn’t say that. What I said was that they said that it was okay now to talk further about this specific plot.

Q Would it have been okay in October, but you chose not to?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know how many times you’re going to keep asking the same question.

Q As soon as I get an answer.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I’ve answered the question.

Q Can you say when you started trying to get it declassified so you could talk about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we were talking about doing this speech, we were looking for a specific plot that we could talk about in more detail?

Q So two weeks ago?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the speech has been in the works, as I say, for at least three weeks.

Q So three weeks ago you decided you wanted to try and declassify this particular —

MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I can’t tell you the specific time. But, again, two things — one, we’re always looking to keep the American people informed and provide them additional information like this. Two, we were looking to give this speech and talk about the international cooperation that’s going on and how successful that is and how important that is to confronting the threats we face…

Attack of the Footless Terrorists

Q Scott, I wanted to just ask a follow-up about the LA plot. Is there something missing from this story, a practical application, a few facts? Because if you want to commandeer a plane and fly it into a tower, if you used shoe bombs, wouldn’t you blow off the cockpit? Or is there something missing from this story?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know what you’re referring to about missing. I mean, I think we provided you a detailed briefing earlier today about the plot. And Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, talked about it. So I’m not sure what you’re suggesting it.

Q Think about it, if you’re wearing shoe bombs, you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane.

MR. McCLELLAN: There was a briefing for you earlier today. I think that’s one way to look at it. There are a lot of ways to look at it, and she explained it earlier today, Alexis, so I would refer you very much back to what she said, what she said earlier today.

Scottie Calls the Mayor of LA a Liar

Q On the subject of information-sharing, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Villaraigosa, today is complaining that he got no notification at all that the President planned to disclose this information about an alleged attack plot on his city. In fact, he said, “I’m amazed the President would make this announcement on national television and not inform us of the details through appropriate channels.” Insofar as you said earlier that the White House is always looking for ways to inform the American people and keep them up to speed, why disclose the details of a plot that’s now four years old?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Carl, first of all, in terms of — I haven’t seen what the Mayor said, I’ve been in meetings with the President, so I’ll take a look at that. But my understanding was that we did reach out to officials in California and Los Angeles to let them know, I think it was yesterday, that the President would be talking about this. And the word I heard was that there was great appreciation for the notification that we provided. That’s very important.

Geneva Convention Violations

Q Scott, does the President think it’s appropriate to force feed prisoners at Guantanamo?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mark, I think that the President, what he did, was issue a directive to the military that all detainees be treated humanely, and that’s what we expect.

Q And force feeding that apparently has taken place there has taken place within those guidelines? He’s satisfied about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you’ve heard from military commanders about the steps that they are taking. And I think they describe it in a way that is humane and compassionate.

Q Then you know that one of the prisoners there has called it torture and thinks he’s being abused?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, we know that al Qaeda is trained in trying to make wild accusations, and so forth. But the President has made it very clear what the policy is, and we expect the policy to be followed. And he’s made it very clear that we do not condone torture, and we do not engage in torture. That has been our policy and that remains our policy. We are a nation of laws and values, and we follow them.


Q Scott, back at the January press conference, the President said he didn’t know Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is saying that he met with the President in nearly a dozen settings and that the President joked with him about a bunch of things, including details of Abramoff’s kids. He also says the President has one of the best memories of any politician he’s ever met. Does that help the President, perhaps to remember that there were many meetings in which he met Jack Abramoff?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what the President said still stands. Mr. Abramoff is someone who was involved in wrongdoing. He acknowledged that himself. He is being brought to account. And there is an investigation going on by the Justice Department. They are continuing to pursue the matter and go after anybody else that was involved in wrongdoing.

I think as the President also indicated, he’s taken at least five photos with many people in this room at the annual holiday reception. And so I think you need to put this in context.

Go ahead.

Q We haven’t.

MR. McCLELLAN: We heard him say he didn’t know him. We haven’t — we didn’t know there were as many meetings as this at that time.

MR. McCLELLAN: Keep going. Go ahead.

Your Daily Les

Q Yes. The New York Post notes the following — and this is a quote — “Jimmy Carter’s disgraceful performance at Coretta Scott King’s funeral marks him as the most shameless.” While The New York Times page one report mentioned “the overt political jibes.” And my question: Did any of the King sons or daughters thank the President for his tribute to their mother and his extraordinary control, despite the performances of Jimmy Carter and Joe Lowery?

MR. McCLELLAN: I believe they expressed their appreciation for the President attending the ceremony the other day, the service — it was a celebration of her life. The President and Mrs. Bush were honored to attend. This was an opportunity to honor and pay tribute to a remarkable and courageous woman, a woman who was a civil rights leader who made lasting contributions to freedom and equality.