Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. I don't have anything to start with on this Friday, so I'll go straight to questions. Jennifer.
Q: Thanks. On these CIA videotapes, did either the President or Vice President or Condoleezza Rice, when she was National Security Advisor, or Steve Hadley, see them before they were destroyed?
MS. PERINO: I spoke to the President, and so I will have to defer on the others. But I spoke to the President this morning about this. He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday. He was briefed by General Hayden yesterday morning. And as to the others, I'll have to -- I'll refer you to the Vice President's office and I'll see if I can get the others.
Q: Was there any White House involvement in approving or commenting upon their destruction?
MS. PERINO: As I said, the President has no recollection knowing about the tapes or about their destruction, and so I can't answer the follow-up.
Q: Just one more. If there -- Senator Durbin is calling for Justice to investigate whether there is -- whether the destruction represents obstruction of justice. Is there any White House comment on whether that might or might not be the case?
MS. PERINO: I saw that they made that request. I know that the CIA Director is gathering facts and our White House Counsel's Office is supporting them in that. Whether or not there is going to be an investigation to that scale will have to be determined by others.
Q: Dana, is this something that you would characterize the President's feeling about -- is this something that's sort of seen as understandable, or is this something that you're embarrassed about?
MS. PERINO: I would say that the President supports General Hayden. General Hayden made a statement yesterday to his employees in which he said that the decision was made by the agency, it was made in consultation with the agency's lawyers. And he said -- and I quote -- that "the tapes posed a serious security risk and were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers."
He has complete confidence in General Hayden and he has asked White House Counsel's Office, as I said, who is already in communication with the CIA General Counsel as the CIA Director continues to gather facts. As you know, General Hayden wasn't there at this time, either.
Q: There was no step short of destruction of the tape that would address these concerns?
MS. PERINO: As they're gathering facts I think that it's best that I not comment along the way, and let them do that review over at the CIA, and have us be supportive of it without us characterizing.
Did you have one?
Q: Can you -- just a general description of his reaction when he was briefed by -- briefed about this?
MS. PERINO: I wasn't there. I only asked him about this --
Q: Well, what was his reaction -- did he express any opinion or reaction to this when you asked him about it?
MS. PERINO: Again, it would be inappropriate for me to comment about his characterization of it, as the CIA Director is doing a review. They're gathering facts and, as Jennifer said, there's been a call for investigation. So until that plays out, I'm not going to comment.
Q: Dana, some legal experts are saying that the destruction of these tapes --
MS. PERINO: Who are the legal experts?
Q: Some legal experts are saying that the destruction of these tapes actually wrecks the chances of convicting the terrorism suspects who are being -- who were taped. Is there any comment on that --
MS. PERINO: No. I'm sure there are a lot of legal opinions out there. I'm not a lawyer, so I'll decline to comment on it.
Q: Dana, regardless of the reasons for destroying these tapes, what does the White House say to members of the House Intelligence Committee? Hayden apparently said, well, we notified them about the tapes and they exist, and we are going to destroy them. Some of them say, no, you didn't, we didn't know about it -- Hoekstra among them. Also, the 9/11 Commission said, you know, we asked for this information; we were told it didn't exist.
Regardless, again, of why this material was destroyed, shouldn't these both -- and certainly the 9/11 Commission -- have had the opportunity to view the tapes that they requested?
MS. PERINO: I think that question is best directed to the CIA in regards to who was briefed and when.
Q: And the President doesn't have any concerns about --
MS. PERINO: Again, as they continue to gather facts, I'm not going to comment beyond that characterization. But the CIA should be the one to answer questions about who was briefed, and when, on the Hill.
Q: Dana, can I get back to -- when you said the President supports General Hayden, is he supporting the reason that General Hayden cited? Does he think that protecting his employees was an appropriate reason?
MS. PERINO: The President doesn't have any reason to doubt General Hayden. He has complete confidence in him, and he has asked the Counsel's Office to be supportive of the review that General Hayden is doing, and we'll help them to gather the facts as we can.
Q: Can you talk about how the -- General Hayden informed the President? Did he call him on the phone? Did he ask for a meeting and come here to the White House?
MS. PERINO: It was in the regular intelligence briefing yesterday morning.
Q: And did the President express no opinion at all about not being made aware of these tapes? You said he was -- he has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday. Obviously, General Hayden has known for some time that these tapes existed and were destroyed. Is the President angry or upset about being kept in the dark?
MS. PERINO: As I said, I'm not going to characterize -- I asked the President about whether he knew about the tapes and their existence or their destruction; he said he had no recollection of that. He did not remember being made aware of those prior to yesterday morning. And as I said in previous times before, I'm not going to characterize his reaction.
Q: Dana, a follow-up to that, was anyone else in the White House notified about the existence of the tapes, aware of the existence, aware that they were going to be destroyed, that they were destroyed? The Vice President? Anyone else in the White House --
MS. PERINO: As I said -- I already said that I asked about the President -- look, if we can get you answers on other people, I will. The Vice President's office has a press office and you can contact them.
Anyone else? Roger.
Q: Back to Jennifer's question, you said this -- the White House Counsel is supporting the CIA and helping collect information. But does the President support a request to Mukasey to investigate?
MS. PERINO: I think I answered that already as well, which is, they're gathering facts, and if there's a decision to investigate, of course the White House would -- it's a hypothetical. If the Attorney General moves on down that road, of course the White House would support that.
Q: Are you urging the Attorney General to look into it?>
MS. PERINO: As I said, we are supporting the CIA Director. They are still gathering facts over at the CIA. We are helping them, and I think it's premature to say.
Q: Just to clarify, Dana, when you say the President supports Hayden, is he -- are we to infer that he supports Hayden's decision to destroy these tapes?
MS. PERINO: Hayden wasn't at the agency at the time.
Q: I mean, the CIA decision to destroy these tapes.
MS. PERINO: As I said -- what I said is that he doesn't have any reason -- he said he has complete confidence in General Hayden; he doesn't have any reason to doubt him. They are still gathering facts, and I think until that is finished, I'm not going to comment beyond that.
Q: What's the level of concern here that a law may have been broken, or laws may have been broken?
MS. PERINO: I think I'll decline to comment.
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said, they are continuing to gather facts. And so I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that.
Q: Can you elaborate on what the role of the White House Counsel's Office is in this?
MS. PERINO: Well, they're the appropriate -- the CIA General Counsel's Office is the one that is helping to gather the facts for General Hayden. And so it's appropriate that our Counsel's Office be the ones that are communicating with them.
Q: So just a -- you're saying it's just a legal liaison between here and there, or is the White House Counsel's Office helping the CIA get its story together on this?
MS. PERINO: They're helping them gather facts. We said we would support them in that.
Anybody else on this? Okay, in the back.
Q: Can you confirm that if there was a phone call between President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao yesterday, and what was the nature of the conversation?
MS. PERINO: Yes, we've already said that there a conversation. They talked about a wide variety of subjects, including the Iran NIE.
Q: Anything about Taiwan, specifically?
MS. PERINO: Not that I recall.
Q: Dana, thank you. President Bush sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Why he did now, and what is the contents of the letter?
MS. PERINO: Well, as I said yesterday, the President sent a letter to every member of the six-party talks. And we are at a critical juncture, as the President would say, that this is a time when we're nearing the end of the 2005 agreement, that it has to be done by December 31st. And what that means is that North Korea has to make a complete and accurate declaration. And the President was reminding Kim Jong-il and the other members of the six-party talks that at the highest levels of this government we support the effort, and we are working to make sure that everyone is on the same page, and reminding North Korea that they have an obligation and a responsibility to send in a complete and accurate declaration. And Ambassador Chris Hill is on the ground there, and they are working amongst each other to figure out how that is going to be received and disseminated amongst the parties.
Q: Have you gotten any response from Kim Jong-il?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, but Ambassador Chris Hill might be able to tell you.
Q: What is the President's instruction to any members of his administration when there have been repeated requests for videos, or information, or any notes, or any investigation, any congressional committee asking for things that might be in the administration's hands?
MS. PERINO: In general, the President has always said that we should be responsive to requests in the appropriate way. And so I'm not going to comment any further on that because that's asking me to comment specifically about this issue regarding the videotapes. As the CIA Director continues to gather his facts, we'll work with him through our White House Counsel's Office to do that.
Q: Dana, can you just elaborate on this fact-gathering process? What is it that the CIA wants to know --
MS. PERINO: I don't know, Sheryl, I think it's too early.
Q: -- what facts are being gathered, and when --
MS. PERINO: I don't know, I haven't been on the phone with the general counsel.
Q: And when do you expect that the CIA and the President will make some further statement about this, and whether or not there ought to be an investigation, or what should happen next?
MS. PERINO: Beyond my briefing today, I don't expect anything up here today, but you'll have to call the CIA. It's a question best directed at them of whether they'll make another statement or do anything further.
Q: No, but I just mean, like, in a week will we hear back from you --
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q: -- that the CIA has concluded its, you know, investigation?
MS. PERINO: I can understand why you have a question, but I just -- I don't know.
Q: Dana, there's an ongoing debate in the country about sort of where the lines are, as regards torture, and -- or enhanced interrogation. And I'm wondering if you feel that this report -- which I don't think anyone's contesting that the destruction of the tapes took place -- does this undermine the administration's position?
MS. PERINO: I think I would say -- I would take this opportunity, though, to take a step back and remind people about this interrogation program, which was put in place to deal with a very limited number of people; the most intransigent of terrorists. This program has saved lives. It is legal, safe, effective; it is limited, it is tough, and it has led to the capture of individuals -- terrorists -- who had information that was able to lead us to others. These are the -- General Hayden has talked about this several times, in terms of how many people -- we had this debate earlier this year, and the program is critical to the safety of the country.
Q: And if it's so defensible, then why destroy any part of it?
MS. PERINO: Again, I'm not going to comment on that. The CIA has made its comment. They've said that they -- that the agency made its decision, and it was based -- and it was done in consultation with their legal counsel. And let's let the CIA Director gather those facts, and we'll see what they come up -- what they say after that.
Q: Dana, what were the circumstances of General Hayden telling the President about this? Was it a report? Was Bush asking about the report? Was it --
MS. PERINO: All I know, Wendell, is that yesterday in the President's briefing with the intelligence folks, of which General Hayden is the one who comes to brief the President, that's when he was told about it.
Q: Dana, when you say the President supports General Hayden, you're specifically singling out the current director, not the previous one who actually made the decision --
MS. PERINO: Well, I didn't ask the President about that. But I don't have any reason for -- I think -- I don't think that we have any reason to doubt what the CIA's legal counsel -- the advice that they gave to the CIA at the time. I said I think that those facts need to be gathered before that can be said.
Q: It appears that Congress, if they can't resolve the omnibus spending bills, is looking at extending the CR until early February. Would the President support something that long, given that (inaudible) war supplemental?
MS. PERINO: What's interesting is that I just heard another rumor on my way down to the briefing room about what Congress is planning to do, what the Democrats are planning to do with their -- in order to solve the spending fix that they've gotten themselves into. And so I think it's premature to say.
What the President wants is clean and full funding for the troops, as well as an appropriations bill to be sent to him. Of course, the President is not -- does not want a shutdown of the federal government; I don't think Congress wants that either. There's no need for there to be one. They could send us the bills.
If there has to be another CR, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it. They have another week in order to work, though.
Q: Well, my understanding, probably the same thing, is that they are trying to, like, make all these spending bills within the limit, but the war supplemental is still at issue. So if they need a little extra time to try to --
MS. PERINO: I've heard -- I've heard it even differently from that. I think we ought to let the Democrats come together in one -- with one position before we negotiate with them.
All right, Les.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. The President has seen or listened to or seen news coverage of Governor Romney's speech yesterday on church and state, hasn't he?
MS. PERINO: I do not -- no, I don't -- I don't know. He maybe saw news coverage this morning.
Q: Does he believe that this speech yesterday will have the same desired effect as a similar speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, also of Massachusetts?
MS. PERINO: I don't know about that. I do know that the President thinks that everyone should be able to describe their religion for themselves.
Q: Back to this tape story. The CIA says the tapes were part of an internal check that they put in place after the President authorized this questioning technique. So what's the ramification of the destruction of that record that they instituted to --
MS. PERINO: I think this goes back to the question regarding the legal advice that the CIA got from their counsel, and I don't have -- again, I don't have the facts on it, and I don't have any reason to question their legal advice. But that, obviously, will be a part of what the CIA general looks at.
Q: Okay, thank you.
MS. PERINO: Thanks.
END 12:57 P.M. EST
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/277185