Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:37 P.M. EST
MS. PERINO: Good afternoon. Obviously, we have a verdict from the jury in the Scooter Libby trial. Let me start off by saying that the President was informed by -- he was in the Oval Office. He saw the verdict read on television. Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and Counselor Dan Bartlett were with him.
He said that he respected the jury's verdict, that he was saddened for Scooter Libby and his family, and that the White House direction from here on out -- and I know that there's going to be a lot of disappointment with this, but there is an ongoing criminal proceeding. Scooter Libby's attorneys just announced that they are going to ask for a new trial and that they are going to -- failing that, they will appeal the verdict. And so our principled stand of not commenting on an ongoing legal investigation is going to continue. I know that's going to be very disappointing for many, but that is the decision that we're going to -- that we've made, and the decision -- and the practice that we're going to continue on the way forward.
Q: Let me ask you about some of the congressional reaction. You have Senator Reid saying that President Bush must pledge not to pardon Libby for his criminal conduct. What's the reaction to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, I'm aware of no such request for a pardon. And as is afforded to all Americans, there is a process that is followed in which to apply for a pardon. And I don't think that speculating on a wildly hypothetical situation at this time is appropriate.
Q: You're not closing the door to it, you're leaving the door open to a pardon?
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on a hypothetical situation. I think that that is the best way to respond to that. I think that there is a process in place for all Americans, if they want to receive a pardon from a President, be that any President that is in office, and I'm aware of no such request.
Q: Would the President be receptive to that?
MS. PERINO: It is a hypothetical situation. I'm never even brought it up with him.
Q: Has the President talked to the Vice President yet?
MS. PERINO: No. The Vice President was on his way to the Senate policy lunch. I believe that's what -- no, it was this afternoon. And so the President was in the Oval Office, ready for his lunch. The Vice President was on his way to the Hill, so he didn't get a chance to see him.
Q: Does the President feel like there's any responsibility to figure out a way to talk about this in a way that doesn't prejudice or jeopardize any ensuing legal process, and still say something to the American people about this case?
MS. PERINO: We've given it a lot of thought, to try to find out a way to sort of answer the mail on the requests that are coming in from not just the media, but also from the American people. However, the legal advice that we get from our Counsel's Office, and the request that we had from the parties in the case was that we not comment on it while there was an ongoing criminal matter. And since that is still the case, I think that what the President -- the best thing I can offer you right now is what the President's reaction is, that he respected the verdict, he respects the jury, and we're just not going to be able to comment on it beyond it.
Q: One more follow on this. And again, what I'm asking you in no way deals with any ongoing legal proceedings. I'm asking you now that the administration has, on one hand, with the Libby trial, questions raised about how the administration decided to go to war, and on the other side right now, with the Walter Reed situation, there's questions about what happened once the administration did go to war. Are you feeling political pressure building in sort of a new and intensified way?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure how you're putting those two things together. In regards to intelligence and prewar intelligence, we have answered those questions repeatedly, and we have taken action to fix what was wrong in the intelligence community in order to make sure that that never happens again. When you're talking about the Walter Reed and the effects from that, I'm not exactly sure how you bring those two together.
Q: I'm saying there are two news stories right now that are making -- putting the war, not only how we got there, but what happened once we did get there, in terms of various ways the policy that the White House pursued -- the consequences. And I'm wondering if you feel now a new pressure to sort of -- or the President feels a new pressure to look the American people in the eye and explain the fallout, the consequences of what's obviously and naturally going to be raised by these two stories?
MS. PERINO: I don't see where -- I understand where you're coming from. I don't see it that way. I think that the President answers to the American people quite regularly, all the time. We're here every day on his behalf, and then you get to ask him questions quite regularly, as well. So the President talks about how we are going to make sure that this never happens again in the intelligence community, as well as taking immediate action to make sure that the problems that were uncovered at Walter Reed are fixed, and not only at Walter Reed, with the DoD commission, but just today he announced a bipartisan non-governmental commission to take a longer view, to make sure that our global war on terror servicemen and women get the care that they need. We can talk about both stories, I just don't know if they fit into the same paragraph.
Q: They fit into the fallout of the decision to go to war.
MS. PERINO: The President has said that the hardest decision that any President ever makes is a decision to send young men and women into war. And again, he's taking action to make sure that the servicemen and women get what they need upon return, if they are wounded, or -- beyond being wounded, but also if they need additional education, if they want to start a business, to make sure that they get back on their feet when they come back to the States.
Q: Dana, I'll try it another way. Dissecting Senator Reid's statement that was put out just a minute after the verdict was read. He says, "It's about time someone in the Bush administration has been held accountable for the campaign to manipulate intelligence and discredit war critics."
MS. PERINO: I just totally reject his characterization. I just went through all the things that we said about prewar intelligence, how the President took responsibility for the gaps that we had, and then immediately worked -- and now over the years has built a very different intelligence community that is working much better, headed by the DNI. And we have a new CIA Director, we have a national counterterrorism center, we have the Homeland Security Council. And by all accounts, they are all coordinating much better. And so in regards to improving intelligence and making sure that we all have the best information possible, we've taken action on that. So I just disagree with the characterization of his comment.
Q: Is this damaging to this White House, embarrassing for this White House?
MS. PERINO: You know, I think that any administration that has to go through a prolonged news story that is unpleasant and one that is difficult for -- when you're under the constraints and the policy of not commenting on an ongoing criminal matter, that can be very frustrating. But I think that we have been able to continue on, moving forward on all sorts of different fronts while also being aware that this situation is out there. But, no, I wouldn't characterize it the way you did.
Q: Dana, in the closing argument, the special prosecutor said that there was a cloud over the vice presidency. Now that all is said and done, do you share that concern?
MS. PERINO: Certainly not. And I don't know how the Vice President is going to respond today. I don't know if they'll be issuing a statement, or not, but we'll try to connect with Lea Anne McBride -- but as I said, the Vice President was at this lunch when the verdict was read. And so I don't have more from his office at this time.
Q: So there are no concerns about his credibility, his role in this?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: What about the overall White House credibility? Has it been damaged now that a senior administration official has been convicted of perjury?
MS. PERINO: You know, I think that when Scooter Libby was first indicted, one of the things that the President said was that we were saddened by the situation. But, no, I would disagree with -- I would not agree with the characterization of the question.
Q: As you know, people are trying to tie this to Iraq. Does that affect the way you all proceed on other issues, such as Iran and North Korea -- do you feel like there is credibility on those situations that have been undercut --
MS. PERINO: Let me just remind everybody of how the President took responsibility and has completely revamped the intelligence community, and by all accounts, everyone is much better coordinated not only amongst ourselves, with the 16 or 17 intelligence agencies that we have here, but with our allies overseas. And so when we're working on matters of sensitive intelligence, which is a difficult -- difficult to unearth it, to try to gather all of this information, all of the sources that we need in order to gain the information that we have -- the DNI's office is pulling all that together and making sure that gaps don't exist.
Q: I keep reading and hearing the phrase, the curtain has been pulled back on the way the Bush administration does business, through this trial. Do you agree with that, in some way that people have a little better understanding of how business is done?
MS. PERINO: I'm not exactly sure that this trial has showed anything regarding that. What I will say is that throughout any administration or any -- if you're on the Hill, anywhere, that attacks and defenses are mounted every day in this city, and we have an obligation to make sure that our points are getting across. But I don't think that the trial did what you said it did.
Q: You said the President is saddened by this. Was there anyone in the White House, or him, personally, reaching out to Scooter Libby, expressing --
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. Again, it just happened 30 minutes ago, so I don't know.
Q: Obviously, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid puts out this statement within a minute of the verdict being released. It's clear, apparently, Democrats are going to try to derive some political benefit from that. Is the White House concerned about this, that they'll --
MS. PERINO: I'm shocked, shocked --
Q: -- that they will paint this as another ethics problem, one among many that Republicans have had in recent years?
MS. PERINO: If the Democrats choose to use anything for personal or political gain, I wouldn't be surprised. But I'm not going to -- again, I reject the characterization of his comments, and I'm not able to comment further about the merits of the trial.
Q: Can I just follow up on something you just said about attacks and defenses being mounted every day in this city? I'm not asking you to comment on the perjury and obstruction charges, but is this an example of kind of everyday attacks and defenses that are mounted -- that are focused on this trial? Is there nothing unusual about what happened here?
MS. PERINO: Well, I know that there's going to be many different ways to try to get me to comment on the trial. The point that I was making, Mark, is that if this wouldn't -- if we wouldn't have come in here today and had Harry Reid give a statement about this, that there probably would have been a statement about something else, about maybe the President's budget on Veterans Affairs, and then I would have worked to make sure that you understood and had the facts as we saw them and had all the information. That's the point that I was getting at.
Q: Just the way you said it made it sound like, well, this is just completely --
MS. PERINO: That's not how I meant it.
Q: Dana, somewhat on the line of lessons learned, how has this administration, with all of this going on, learned to police itself, or is it policing itself, from retaliation in an era of trying to defend itself in Washington? How do you --
MS. PERINO: I really do appreciate how people are seeking comment about the trial, in one shape, form or another. And I am just not in a position to be able to do that.
Q: It's not about the trial. It's about how the White House itself deals with the attacks now. Instead of retaliation, are you finding ways --
MS. PERINO: I think that we deal -- we deal with attacks day in and day out all of the time, and --
Q: Are there safeguards, policing measures now that you have within the White House, that you have to scrutinize before you go out and make statements about --
MS. PERINO: The President has said that he expects everyone to act in the most ethical manner, which is how we conduct ourselves.
Q: Dana, you said the President is saddened by this. Is he saddened by the fact that a former top advisor in this building is facing this personal problem? Or is he saddened by the fact that a former advisor is convicted of lying in a federal investigation?
MS. PERINO: He was saddened for Scooter himself, personally, and for Scooter's family.
Q: He's not saddened that his top advisor lied to -- was found guilty of lying to investigators?
MS. PERINO: He's saddened for Scooter. We're not going to comment on the trial.
Q: I have one on this, I have one on another issue.
MS. PERINO: Maybe we can do this, and then I can finish up and come back.
Q: You said that nobody has reached out to Scooter from the White House?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q: Is he being cut loose after being a loyal soldier?
MS. PERINO: I don't know -- Victoria, I'm not -- I don't know anybody who has been contact with him. It's possible that people have. I have not.
Q: Does the White House believe that this will make it harder politically to prosecute the war in Iraq? And I ask that because the debate recently has shifted from the President and the White House to Capitol Hill, now with the spotlight back on the President. Is he concerned about public support further eroding?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't -- I don't believe so. I think that what we have there is General Petraeus on the ground for just about three weeks now, implementing the new strategy. Very tough days. We had -- you see some signs of success, but you also see horrible suicide bombings and you also see our soldiers dying. And so we have got a long way to go. And as I think I've talked to you about, we're in a marathon, not a sprint, when it comes to communicating for the importance of winning in the war in Iraq and the global war on terror, and in explaining to Capitol Hill the President's decisions, and also his decision-making, what went into them.
MS. PERINO: Greg, go ahead.
Q: Are there any administration policies or rules in effect that would prevent any White House employees from making contributions to Scooter Libby's legal defense fund if they so chose to on a personal basis?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of, but we can check with the Counsel's Office and let you know.
Q: Dana, is this --
MS. PERINO: Go ahead. Let me just finish back here. Go ahead, Paula.
Q: You mentioned a moment ago how the President expects everyone to uphold the highest ethical standards. Have the White House or the President in any way commented on the ethics involved in this? I think in the beginning, he said he takes this seriously, and he changed the ground rules for dismissal. Why hasn't he ever commented on --
MS. PERINO: I think the President has had a very principled and responsible stand to not comment on the ongoing criminal matter in any way, shape, or form, and that has been his position. It's been the -- it's a responsible one, it's a principled one, and that's what he's done.
Q: He hasn't commented on the ethical conduct --
MS. PERINO: Well, again, I appreciate how people want to try to get us to comment on the trial in any way, shape, or form, and we're just -- we're not going to do it.
Q: Can you say when you are going to be able to comment on the verdict? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Hypothetically, had there been an acquittal today, then our conversation might have been very different.
Q: Given that there was a conviction, though, when do you think the process would --
MS. PERINO: I think you have to let the appeals process play itself out.
Q: So after the appeals process is over?
MS. PERINO: I think when it is no longer an ongoing criminal matter, that's when I would say that that would be -- the time when the trial was over.
Q: One more thing. Do you think that Senator Reid was acting inappropriately by issuing the statement that he issued today?
MS. PERINO: No. If that were the case, then that would be a pretty interesting standard.
Q: Dana, back on the fighting the war thing, and it's kind of a tough connection, but Democrats appear to be failing to get their effort to stop the surge to move forward on Capitol Hill. Do you think somehow that this verdict is empowering war critics and somehow rallying the troops on the other side?
MS. PERINO: I don't know.
Q: But is there a fear that that is what the verdict is?
MS. PERINO: Not that I've heard expressed, no. I think that one of the things that we -- and the other day, I said that we can all -- we all know that what the Democrats are for, we just don't know what they are -- I'm sorry, what they are against, but we don't know what they're for. But I think anymore, we're not even sure what they're against, nor what they are for when it comes to opposing a surge and the way -- the tools that they're going to use in order to manifest that position.
And so we continue to wait to see what sort of legislation is going to be proposed. And there's been no -- nothing put to paper yet as far as I've seen. And so they continue to have discussions up there amongst the Democrats. The way you describe it, no, I haven't heard anybody express that concern.
Q: Two questions. One, is it unfair for the American people to sort of lump this all in with the administration and say, well, the verdict today, it's a culture of corruption -- is that unfair, do you think, in some sense?
MS. PERINO: I do, yes. Believe us, we understand that the American people have a somewhat negative view of Washington, whether it come from the partisan, or charges of corruption, or convictions of corruption. And so our duty is to make sure that we uphold the most ethical standards that we can.
John, go ahead. Sorry, Kevin. Did you have a second?
Q: Yes, I did have a follow on the surge. Have you gotten any reports from generals on the ground, commanders in the field, how it's going? Are we seeing progress, are they encouraged by what they've seen so far?
MS. PERINO: I think we have to remember that General Petraeus has only been on the ground for three weeks. And so I think it's too early to tell. The President does get regular updates, but no one has come back with a pass/fail grade yet.
Q: Going back to your earlier answer, why is it appropriate for Senator Reid to make these comments, but it would be inappropriate for you to make comments about this?
MS. PERINO: I'm just not going to make a judgment about Senator Reid and his decision to issue statements from his office about any topic.
Is this still on this topic? Anybody else?
Q: -- it's terrorism.
MS. PERINO: Okay, quickly.
Q: -- who is a close ally of Osama bin Laden, he told the British press in London that Osama bin Laden is alive and he has been talking to him and he's planning attacks along the Pakistani border.
MS. PERINO: And your question?
Q: Yes, he's planning some attacks in Afghanistan because what you see today in Afghanistan, all these -- that's because
-- Osama bin Laden. And also --
MS. PERINO: What is your question, Goyal?
Q: The question is that, British intelligence are informing yesterday that be aware of attacks from Osama bin Laden. What are we doing here in the U.S.? Are we warning same thing, telling --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on the intelligence matters, but of course, you can -- rest assured, we are continuing to hunt for Osama bin Laden.
Q: One more quick question.
MS. PERINO: No, Goyal, let me keep going, since we are running a little late here.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q: During the week of May the 4th, 2003 --
MS. PERINO: Okay. (Laughter.)
Q: Did Karl Rove speak to anybody in the executive or the legislative branch about the Iranian proposal for negotiations with the United States?
MS. PERINO: No, not that I'm aware of. I have looked into this preliminarily, and he has no recollection of that.
Q: No recollection from anybody at all?
MS. PERINO: No.
MS. PERINO: Mark.
Q: Can we go back to the President's speech to the American Legion?
MS. PERINO: Sure.
Q: A line at the end that struck me --
MS. PERINO: Okay.
Q: In closing, he talked about the letters he's gotten from soldiers. He then turns and says, "The struggle in Iraq may be hard, but this should not be a time for despair." Does the President sense despair out there now?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that he senses people's patience running out, and people's frustration with seeing the innocent people of Iraq being killed and our soldiers being killed. And I think what he was trying to do was deliver a message of we can win this war. We've got a strategy in place, we have a general that is backed unanimously by the United States Senate. Hopefully, they will give him the tools he needs in order to prosecute -- I'm sorry, to implement that plan. But I think that the President is trying to remind people that we have -- we have a way to win here, and we just need to stand fast and do it.
Q: Yes, thank you, Dana. Two questions.
MS. PERINO: Quick.
Q: The AP reports that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is suing the Army Corps of Engineers for $77 billion for damages because of levee breaches during Hurricane Katrina. And my question: Without reference to any trial that may ensue, does the Bush administration believe the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana had no responsibility for that levee breaking?
MS. PERINO: Surely you wouldn't want me to comment on any possible litigation.
Q: It's not -- it hasn't started --
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not going to comment on that, on a lawsuit.
Q: Okay. An HBO TV personality named Bill Maher said on the air, the Vice President, "I'm just saying, if he did die, other people, more people would live. That is a fact." End of quote. Question: Since this is the same person whom ABC fired five years ago for commending the terrorists responsible for 9/11, surely the White House has some concern about Maher's reference to the desirability of the Vice President's death, don't you?
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to dignify his comments with a response.
Q: Do you think that it's outrageous -- you think it's outrageous, don't you?
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting, Lester.
Q: The former U.S. attorney from Maryland by the name of Tom DiBiagio is quoted in The New York Times this morning as saying that he believes he was forced to resign because of pressure surrounding the political investigations that he was undertaking. What is the White House response to that?
MS. PERINO: The Justice Department has said that Mr. DiBiagio, the decision to ask him to resign was made by a 42-year career employee of DOJ who oversees ethics issues for the department, and was unaware of any investigation into former Maryland Governor Ehrlich's administration, and the White House was not advised of the decision.
Q: Follow-up, please. Is the White House regularly advised of corruption investigations going on by various U.S. attorneys?
MS. PERINO: No, not that I'm aware of. I don't believe so.
Q: Did the Justice Department try to hush up the fired prosecutors from talking about their cases?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware. I saw that testimony today, but it was the first I'd heard of it.
Q: And six of the eight people who were fired said today that their thoughts would be welcomed by the Justice Department and they could be freely and openly debated, but that that's not the case. Is the administration trying to stifle dissent from these people?
MS. PERINO: I would refer you to Justice Department for the merits of their decision. But what I can tell you is that the Justice Department did, as with any agency that wants to make a change in a political appointee status, let the White House know that they were thinking of making a change of these political appointees and asking them to resign. The White House -- it would have been unusual if they hadn't told the White House about it. We did not disagree with their recommendations, and the Justice Department moved forward to implement their plan.
Q: When you say you didn't disagree, who was that? Was that --
MS. PERINO: The Counsel's Office.
Q: -- at the President's level or --
MS. PERINO: For sure, Counsel's Office. I did check with Chief of Staff Josh Bolten; he does not recall if he was briefed on it or not.
Q: How about Karl Rove's office? Do you know if he was involved?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe so.
END 1:03 P.M. EST
Dana Perino, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272987