You can’t have the gaggle without Helen Thomas.
Q Before the President declassified the Intelligence Estimate, had he read it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Had he read it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes — I think we talked about at the time that he was briefed on it —
Q A 90-page document —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we talked about that at the time.
Q — and the whole question of the accusation against Saddam trying to buy uranium was on page 24, with many caveats. It was very dubious and —
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not the issue here, Helen.
Q — an annex to it, questioning this whole business. So did he take note of all these caveats?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not the issue here, Helen. The issue was the underlying intelligence that was used as part of the basis for going into Iraq. You’re singling out one specific part which we —
Q Yes, I am.
MR. McCLELLAN: — which we already spoke to.
Q Is that your defense, though?
MR. McCLELLAN: We already spoke to that issue. We spoke to it back at the time.
Q Why would he put that out when it’s so dubious?
MR. McCLELLAN: Why would he —
Q It’s so questionable.
MR. McCLELLAN: Why would he put what out when it’s —
Q Using that as your defense to go into Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: Using what, the National Intelligence Estimate?
Q No, the whole business that Saddam —
MR. McCLELLAN: That was the collective judgment of the community — no, you’re singling out one thing, and that’s not the issue here. The issue here is that back in the summer of 2003, there was a real debate going on in the public about the intelligence that was used as part of the rationale to go into Iraq.
Q But the issue centers on outing Valerie Plame — wasn’t that the issue that dealt with Niger and uranium?
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re getting into something that’s part of an ongoing investigation, and you know I’m not going to comment further on that.
Had he read it? HA!
Obsession continues, Read More!
Scottie Won’t Talk About Leaks to Reporters
Q Scott, let me just follow on that point. When the President made the decision to get the NIE out there, to make it public, for the reasons that you stated, was he aware at that point that information would be leaked to a reporter?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, that’s getting into this ongoing legal proceeding, and you shouldn’t read anything into it one way or the other when I say I just cannot comment on an ongoing legal proceeding. I’ve seen reports —
Q There’s been reports about —
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. I’ve seen reports, including today, in The New York Times, talking about this very issue that you bring up. I read that story with great interest, just like many of you in this room did. I would say that I cannot speak to whether or not the parts of that National Intelligence Estimate may have been declassified at some point prior to the release of the National Intelligence Estimate that we made on July 18, 2003.
And let me back up. The entire portion of the National Intelligence Estimate that was released on July 18th went through a declassification process. And I spoke to that issue back on July 18, 2003, and I’ll stand by the remarks I made at that time. I have had a chance to go back and look further at information from that time period and I will leave it where I did. But again, I cannot speak to whether or not certain parts of it may have been declassified prior to that time.
Q But you’re not challenging that report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I just cannot speak to it because of the ongoing legal proceeding.
The President Would Never Do ANYTHING for Political Purposes
Q Let me ask this follow-up question. No matter when the information was released from the NIE, why isn’t it a fair charge to make against this President that he, frankly, played politics with declassified intelligence in the run-up to the war to defend his case for war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think a lot of people have disputed that. If you look at the evidence, the intelligence is in the National Intelligence Estimate. The National Intelligence Estimate is the collective judgment of the intelligence community. And it was, as I said, the underlying basis for how we viewed Saddam Hussein’s weapons program — not just us, but the Congress, foreign governments, the previous administration, the United Nations. So this was intelligence shared by many people. Now, the intelligence was wrong. And that’s why we took steps to correct it and make sure that we have better intelligence going forward.
Q But that’s not quite my question. The President has been outspoken about how dangerous it is for the country to mishandle, to leak classified information. Yet, in this case, nobody challenges his legal authority to do it, but you could make the charge that this was a rather political move on the part of the President to pick and choose what he’d like to —
MR. McCLELLAN: The declassification of the National Intelligence Estimate?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually because — go ahead.
Q — for the purpose of, frankly, defending his own judgment. So somebody who has been so clear about the fact that you should not leak classified information made a kind of cherry-picking decision to let this stuff out.
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, the President has the authority to declassify information as he chooses. He would never declassify anything if he felt it could compromise our nation’s security. The National Intelligence Estimate, back in the summer of 2003, was more of a historical document at that point because it was the intelligence which we used as a basis for making the decision to go into Iraq. It was the collective judgment of the intelligence community. So at that point, it was providing good historical context to the American people when there was a serious debate going on in the public about that intelligence. So it was important for the American people, in the President’s view, to be able to look at the underlying intelligence that was used for the statements that were made by the administration, and made by Congress in the lead-up to going to going into Iraq.
The President Explains Himself to No One
Q Scott, the President was talking today about how this is an important and serious investigation going on, but there are those who are also saying, these are important allegations against the President, and that he needs to come out and explain himself to the American people, including Senator Specter.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know that anyone said — allegations against the President?
Q Well, that he needs to answer about his role in this release. Does he agree with Senator Specter that the American people deserve an explanation?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s not a question of whether or not we would like to talk more about it. The fact of the matter is that this is a legal proceeding and an ongoing investigation involving this administration. It’s being headed by a special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald. We don’t want to do anything that could jeopardize this ongoing investigation, legal proceeding. We want there to be due process. We want there to be a fair hearing. And that’s why we made a policy not to comment on it while it continues.
Uh-oh! Looks like Chimpy Might Throw Cheney Under the Bus!
Q Scott, does the President approve of the way the Vice President handled this information during the declassification process, before and after —
MR. McCLELLAN: Now you’re getting into a question that’s relating to an ongoing legal proceeding, and I’m just not going to go there, Ed.
Q It’s more on whether he approves of his own Vice President, whether he stands behind —
MR. McCLELLAN: He’s specifically mentioned in a filing by Mr. Fitzgerald. I can’t get into commenting on it. It’s a policy that I didn’t establish, but I’m obligated to adhere to.
Generals on the Ground
Q Well, Scott, can I go to the war in Iraq? There was a — Time Magazine is running a piece by Lt. General Gregory Newbold, who is Director of Operations in the Pentagon, which, as you know, is an extremely important position in that building. He said —
MR. McCLELLAN: I will confess I have not read my Time Magazine this week yet.
Q Let me read some of it to you. He said: “The distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job.” He says, “It is my sincere view that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with the casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions or bury the results.” And he’s calling for Secretary Rumsfeld to resign. I think this is probably the highest ranking person we’ve had come out and say these kinds of things about the war. Any reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Any reaction? Do you have something specific you want to ask me about? I think we’ve —
Q Yes, I want to — okay, how about the distortion of intelligence?
MR. McCLELLAN: — expressed our views on those various issues —
Q He talks about the distortion of intelligence. He was there in the building in the buildup to the war.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you want to talk about the intelligence, that’s an issue I just brought up. Let’s go back and look. There was an independent commission, the Silberman-Robb Commission, that looked at the intelligence relating to Iraq, and they came back and said that there was no evidence of political pressure, that these were errors, serious errors, and they stemmed from poor trade craft and poor management. That’s what the Robb-Silberman Commission stated.
Q Scott, you’ve got a senior officer here who was there in the buildup to the war, saying it was a mistake, saying this war should never have been fought, resources were taken —
MR. McCLELLAN: The President strongly disagrees. It was the right decision to go into Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power. And let me talk about why. Remember, September 11th changed the President’s thinking. He talked about this in his remarks earlier today. We are a nation at war, engaged in a global war on terrorism. And the President made the decision after September 11th that we were going to go on the offensive, that we were going to take the fight to the enemy. And that’s exactly what we are doing. And the President talked today in his remarks about what we have accomplished. And he talked about why it was the right decision to go in and remove Saddam Hussein from power. The regime —
Q It has nothing to do with 9/11.
MR. McCLELLAN: — the regime is gone. It is no longer sponsoring terrorism. It is no longer destabilizing the region. It is no longer undermining the credibility of the United Nations. It is no longer threatening the world.
Q But, Scott, what he was saying is this wasn’t part of the global war on terrorism. In fact, what he said is the actions taken in Iraq were peripheral to the real threat, al Qaeda.
MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I haven’t read the whole article. The President has expressed his views very clearly about how this is part of the broader war on terrorism. He takes a comprehensive approach when it comes to fighting and winning the war on terrorism. And we will prevail. We are leading from a position of confidence and strength, and we will continue to do so going forward.
Finaly, in Your Daily Les, Scottie cuts Les off before he can mention Box Turtles.
Q Since The New York Times reports that 200 homosexual families are planning to attend the annual White House Easter Egg Roll one week from today, can you assure us that next year’s egg roll will not bar other sexual orientations, as well, such as —
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, in terms of the Easter Egg Roll, the President and Mrs. Bush, I know, always look forward to it. And there are guidelines that are in place for — tickets are made available so that families can come and bring their kids to participate in the Easter Egg Roll. We welcome all those families that follow those guidelines that are in place.
Q Was The New York Times wrong in reporting —
MR. McCLELLAN: This is something that is being overseen by Mrs. Bush’s Office, and that’s our view.
Ed, go ahead.