Press Briefing by Dana Perino
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:35 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Hello, everybody. Hello to my mom in the back, my mom and my sister -- friends. (Applause.) I don't usually get that reception in here. (Laughter.)
Q: Mom gets it.
MS. PERINO: Yes, I know. (Laughter.) So I don't have anything to start with -- just happy 4th of July eve.
Q: Who in the White House was aware of the negotiations between Hunt Oil Company and the Kurdistan government?
MS. PERINO: As far as I know, I don't know of anybody who was aware of it. As we have said before, the State Department had said that they had been aware of it and they had raised questions about it, and that's what they are maintaining today.
So I don't know of anybody in the White House who was aware of it.
Q: Is it unusual that somebody in the State Department wouldn't have told someone in the White House that this was going on, since this ran contrary to administration policy?
MS. PERINO: I'm not sure -- I think a lot of these conversations actually happened in Iraq, and so I'm not sure how all that happened, so I'd refer you over there.
I think one of the things that -- one of the questions has been that there was notification by Mr. Hunt that he would be traveling overseas. I just want to make sure something is very clear on that: It is the law and it is routine and it is required that any member of the PFIAB* board, if they're going to be traveling overseas, send a letter notifying that they will be doing so. So that suggestion that that letter is suspicious is, I think, just headed in the wrong direction.
Q: And the notification went to State, not -- didn't come here, or --
MS. PERINO: It goes to the PFIAB*, but that doesn't necessarily -- I don't know what's in the letter, but I don't think it had anything to do with substance of the travel.
Q: It just says "I'm traveling abroad."
MS. PERINO: Yes, just that you have to list where you're going.
Q: And it didn't raise any flags when he said, "I'm going to Iraq"?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of. And again, it's the PFIAB*, and I don't know who all saw it -- who all would have seen it at that time.
So I'd refer you to the State Department, because they had said that they had had the contacts beforehand and that's what they're maintaining today. I don't know of anybody else in the White House who would have known about the letters.
Q: Dana, can you talk -- you probably discussed in the gaggle a little bit -- but on camera, if you could talk a little bit about when the President was first informed that there was some intelligence that maybe would lead to this Colombian rescue mission. How early was he looped in? How involved was the President? Just kind of broadly speaking.
MS. PERINO: Sure. I think you just heard from the President -- I don't know if you've seen it yet, but he was able to make a couple of comments about the hostages being released from the FARC down in Colombia. The President got a call yesterday from President Uribe to let the President know that the operation had been successful. The United States had been working with the government of Colombia for the last several years, ever since the American hostages had been taken, in order to try to free them safely and successfully in a way that would not cause any harm to the individuals. And thankfully, that's what happened yesterday.
We were aware of the operation in its planning stages. We provided some specific support, which I'm not allowed to go into the details on, but President Bush was certainly supportive of it. But I will say that President Uribe and his government and his military really get the credit for successfully freeing these hostages, because they conceived of the operation and then they carried it through -- with some support from us, but it was largely a Colombian exercise. And the President congratulates President Uribe and the military.
Q: After the U.S. learned that this rescue mission was going to go forward, did at any point any U.S. officials loop in Senator McCain? There seems to be a lot of speculation about why Senator McCain happened to be in Colombia right on the eve of this --
MS. PERINO: I don't know. I think this was long in the planning stages and I think the Colombians were able to take action when they were ready to and there was actionable intelligence to be able to carry out the operation. I've heard nothing to suggest that there was any connection. I just think it was a coincidence, but I did read somewhere that President Uribe let Senator McCain know about the possible operation when he was down there, but there's no connection in terms of timing.
Q: But you're not aware of anyone here at the White House or the State Department who briefed Senator McCain?
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not, no. And President Bush yesterday -- just a little bit more -- he was yesterday getting ready for -- to do some of the Japanese television interviews. He was informed by the Chief of Staff and the National Security Advisor at about 3:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon that the operation had been executed and that it had been successful. And he's very happy for all of the families today, and he's glad that they're able to be reunited on the 4th -- right before the 4th of July.
Q: Dana, looking ahead to the G8, a couple of global warming experts who are usually quite critical of the administration are now actually saying, wait a minute, there's a glimmer of hope on possible emission targets; that there's this thought that perhaps there's a exchange for the midterm, and you'll get a deal on the sort of 2050 limits.
Can you tell me how optimistic you are about a potential deal? And these guys were saying -- they were characterizing the G8 as a "lame duck summit," in terms of global warming issues, and now they're actually saying, wait a minute, there may be something here.
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- when I read those quotes this morning, you could have knocked me over with a feather, too, because the President gets absolutely no credit for all that he has done here in our own country, because we have actually been able to reduce actual emissions from our country, even though our economy has grown over the past several years.
But to the G8, let me just take you back one step. So, in May of 2007, President Bush announces a new way forward on climate change, because for the past several years, ever since the Kyoto Protocol, we have been stuck in this situation where only 30 percent of the countries that emit were required to be a part of Kyoto.
President Bush realized that, one, it would not solve the problem that we're trying to solve, which was to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but instead it would hurt our economy while emissions continued to go up overseas -- just unworkable, from his point of view. What he thinks is going to work is a real push on technologies for research and development, but also having everybody committed, especially the emerging economies such as India and China.
So last May before the G8, the President suggested a way that we could all work together to get the major economies of the world all at the same table and working towards the same goal. And that has held over the past year. The emerging economies are still at the table. We're talking now in terms of "our" challenge and how "we" are going to solve this. And the President laid out a way to try to work on both midterm and then a longer-term goal. We're optimistic that we can get there, but there's a lot of issues that have to go -- have to be ferreted out.
And one of them -- if you just look at what happened, I think it was three weeks ago, when Senator Boxer's bill was brought up for a debate on the Senate floor. There was considerable debate on the Senate floor, and you also saw a lot of people finally coming forward and saying, we've got some real problems with how this might actually work in the practical sense.
So that's not only happening in our capital, it's happening in all the other capitals as well. So while I say we're optimistic that we can maybe get something, I want to make sure it's very clear that these are difficult issues and we have made progress -- I am not saying that we're going to be able to come out of there with a signed deal, out of the G8 -- that was never the purpose of this point of the process anyway. We hope to get something done by the end of this year so that the major economies could feed into the U.N. process, which is going to take place next year.
Q: But the idea of a binding, multilateral deal, treaty, is the administration philosophically opposed to that?
MS. PERINO: Well, no, because it's what the President had -- that's what the President proposed last May and that's what we've been working towards. We think we've made some good progress. But the key to this -- and actually, I think other nations agree with this now -- that we have to have the developing nations at the table -- we're all rowing in the same direction -- or else we're not going to solve the problem and we're going to hurt people's economies.
You can't have research and development dollars going into helping find the new technologies if all the economies are slumping.
Q: But does it need to be one size fits all or --
MS. PERINO: Absolutely not. And that's one of the keys -- and that's one of the reasons that this is working. When he announced it last May, one of the things he said is each country is going to do this in a different way. Everybody has a different fuel mix, they have different constituencies, they have different economies that run on different types of fuels and they produce different types of things. So each country is going to have to come up with its own plan in order to get to both a midterm and then that aspirational longer-term goal.
But the midterm goal is one of the most important because it gets people to commit to actions right now, and that's what we're working towards.
Q: Dana, can you characterize the discussions ongoing -- at what level are these happening -- about detainees at Gitmo, what to do with them in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling?
MS. PERINO: Sure. There has been ongoing discussion in the administration about dealing with detainees at Guantanamo Bay for quite some time, but more intensively, certainly, since the Supreme Court decision.
Let me take you back. A couple of years ago the Supreme Court said that the United States, both the executive branch and the legislative branch, needed to work together to come up with a way to -- a law that would allow detainees to challenge their detentions in our judicial system. The Military Commissions Act was passed, amongst other laws. We took that action and then just recently -- I think it was about three or four weeks ago -- the Supreme Court decided against the Congress and the executive branch and said, actually, no, that's not good enough. And for the first time in American history, the Supreme Court afforded constitutional rights to enemy combatants. And there's a lot of unanswered questions that come from that decision.
And so after the President learned of the decision -- we were in Rome, and he said that he disagreed with the decision, but the Supreme Court is the law of the land and that we would work to understand the consequences, the ramifications and implications of this law. That's what we're doing right now. So there is a lot of smart lawyers working on this issue, and I think that we're in unchartered territory when it comes to understanding what all we're going to do when it comes to detainees. It should come as no surprise to anybody that here at the White House we're coordinating amongst the interagency to discuss all of this.
And I think that -- one of the things that I would just remind you of is that the Department of Defense has been working for years to try to get many of these enemy combatants repatriated, and in fact we've gotten hundreds repatriated back to their country where they would be held securely. But some detainees have been released, and some have returned to the battlefield, and some have even become suicide bombers. And we have to be really careful about what we're going to do with these detainees.
One of the possible consequences of this decision is that it is possible that some of these detainees, after challenging their detention in court, could be released into the United States. And then you have further complication when it comes to our immigration laws, and how long you can hold a detainee, which right now under our immigration laws is for six months.
And so there's a lot of complicated issues that go into this decision, and we are working hard, but I will tell you there's no imminent decision that's going to be announced from the White House.
Q: So you're saying if these detainees challenge inside the U.S. judicial system, they would have to go to, let's say, the D.C. Circuit Court.
MS. PERINO: Yes, right there and then.
Q: And if the judge then said there's not enough evidence, your understanding of it is that the detainees would be released from that courthouse.
MS. PERINO: I'm saying it is a possibility. And I think that because we are in unchartered territory, and we have never had enemy combatants afforded constitutional rights like all of us have, and -- so anybody who thinks that they know exactly what's going to happen if a detainee challenges his detention -- his or her detention -- in court, they're not being honest, because we don't know what's going to happen.
But there is considered judgment from many federal government lawyers, all the way up to the Attorney General of the United States, that it is a very real possibility that a dangerous detainee could be released into the United States as a result of this Supreme Court decision.
Q: Okay, one last thing. You say a decision is not imminent, but yet when you say that a detainee could be released inside the U.S. if this process moves forward, one would think that this decision has to be made pretty quickly.
MS. PERINO: Well, we have to move quickly because the Supreme Court invalidated one of -- a law that was passed by wide bipartisan margins in the United States Senate and the House of Representatives. So we have to move quickly because we have to understand its consequences, its implications and ramifications so that we can figure out where we are in this unchartered territory.
And a judge now would be able to conceivably call into question the considered judgment of a member of our military who picked up one of these enemy combatants and put him into detention. Or he would be -- a judge might say, the United States, you don't have enough evidence to hold this person. And then what do we do, because habeas corpus literally means, bring me the body. And then what happens? Is he allowed to leave? And if so, is he picked up by immigration -- but even if that's the case, they're only allowed to be held for six months. So there are some really complicated issues surrounding this decision, and we're working very hard to get through them, but it's going to take us a little while.
Q: If I may follow up on that.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q: Is new legislation a realistic alternative?
MS. PERINO: It is a possibility, but I think we're a ways away from deciding if that's the way to go. But because the Supreme Court invalidated a law, then we have to take that into consideration.
Anybody else on Gitmo? Okay.
Q: You say there's a chance that a detainee could be released into the U.S., but this -- a detainee would not necessarily have the visas to be in or the proper paperwork. So wouldn't INS or ICE detain them --
MS. PERINO: Well, yes, but what I just told you is that -- look, first of all, in terms of immigration, you're only allowed right now under our -- under another Supreme Court decision to hold somebody for six months. But there is also -- there's legal immigrants. They're all over the place, and we have to take into consideration what all of this means. And I'm sure that none of us want Khalid Sheikh Mohammed walking around our neighborhoods. And there might be some lawyers that you can find that would say that's a stretch, but what I would submit to you is that they don't know either, and that the Attorney General of the United States, who has been intimately involved in trying these types of cases, and in fact oversaw the first World Trade Center bombing case, he's very concerned about the situation. And so you can bet that he is at the table as well, trying to figure this out so we make sure that we don't endanger any citizen of the United States.
Q: Wouldn't they be deported immediately?
MS. PERINO: Not necessarily. That's not how it works. People can then challenge in court -- people can challenge their immigration. That's why we have whole slates of immigration courts. It's very complicated.
Q: One quick follow on that. When you were answering to Bret that there's nothing imminent -- no imminent decision to announce, is it possible, though, that a decision by the President is imminent -- you're not going to publicly announce it, though, because privately you're just going to want guidance or something for the courts?
MS. PERINO: I don't mean to suggest that there's -- they're not separated, it's not that -- we're not going to have the President make a decision and then wait for weeks or months to announce it, necessarily. It's just -- it's really premature to be talking about this. Obviously there's somebody out there talking about conversations that are internal and confidential that are being held within the interagency and we are not in a position to be able to talk about them publicly.
But I can confirm for you that we certainly are talking about them.
Q: One last thing, then. If the stakes are so high, and you're saying there's a possibility that someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed could be put out on the streets of the United States, what is a reasonable timetable, then? Is this weeks, months? I mean, you don't want that to --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think you -- the Supreme Court, again, didn't provide a lot of answers. They just asked -- basically asked a lot of questions. And we don't know how this whole system would work for them to be able to exercise their now constitutional and habeas rights. It's unchartered territory, so we don't know.
Q: What's the best-case scenario, then, given that that's the circumstance? What would the White House like to see happen?
MS. PERINO: Well, that's what we're working through right now. And we're trying to make sure that everyone remains safe and that enemy combatants who are a threat to innocent life are kept in detention.
Q: Dana, two quick questions. One, as far as Afghanistan situation is concerned, Chairman Mullen yesterday at the Pentagon briefing said that it's very -- as far as Taliban insurgency is concerned, very complex problem and more to be done in Afghanistan. You think this issue will be discussed, as President said yesterday, how much it will be discussed, and how will --
MS. PERINO: Where will it be discussed?
Q: At the G8.
MS. PERINO: At the G8 -- in Afghanistan? Certainly many of the members of the G8 are part of NATO, and NATO is heading up the operation in Afghanistan. So I think it will probably come up, and probably in the bilaterals as well; the President has a series of them. And we'll continue to work with all of our partners to make sure that we can beat back the Taliban. We have taken some serious casualties, and a higher number of casualties than anybody would want. But we've also been going after the Taliban, and they've suffered a lot of casualties as well.
Q: And according to The Washington Post op-ed by Secretary General -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, he said that global action is needed, as far as combating terrorism, food and oil prices, and also poverty. So he said -- he's calling now also on G8. So what do you think G8 is going to do? It has been now eight years as far as G8 is concerned. Every year is this issue --
MS. PERINO: Well, I think -- look, the G8 is a good forum for a lot of different reasons. It brings together a multilateral, diplomatic way for people to share ideas and to actually take some action. One of the things President Bush said yesterday is that over the past eight -- this will be his eighth G8, and we have asked a lot of our partners in order to help us in combating HIV/AIDS or malaria, now neglected tropical diseases and health workers, amongst other things, in terms of energy, like the clean energy technology fund and this new major economies meeting process that's been taking place over the past year.
So it's a good forum to be able to discuss a lot of things, but the President also will talk about trade, fighting terrorism, making sure that we are helping each other in those areas, but at the same time thinking about the core mission of the G8, which is to try to help other nations rise -- lift themselves up out of poverty.
Go ahead, Olivier.
Q: Dana, the French President is linking his attendance at the Olympic Games, the Opening Ceremonies, to the outcome of talks between China and representatives of the Dalai Lama. What do you think of that position, and are you prepared now to say --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, who said that?
Q: The French -- Sarkozy has linked those. Can you say whether the -- now whether the decision has been made and whether the President will attend the Opening Ceremonies -- what that decision is?
MS. PERINO: I'm not able to announce his schedule yet. He certainly is going to be going to China and I would certainly think that the Opening Ceremonies will be a part of that trip. But we also are pleased that the Dalai Lama and the Chinese are finally in discussions, and that's one of the things the President had called on. And he -- every time he talks to President Hu he talks to him about the importance of having a good relationship there with a peaceful man, the Dalai Lama. But also for all of China, that it's good to open up and to have better relations and to improve human rights there and make sure that people can live lives of freedom.
Q: Just to make sure I heard you correctly, you said that the Olympic -- the Opening Ceremonies will be part of that trip?
MS. PERINO: I said it's a distinct possibility. I don't remember the last word I -- actual words I said, but I would -- I think I said I would expect that the Opening Ceremonies could be a part of the schedule, but I can't announce his schedule yet.
Q: Could be.
MS. PERINO: Could be.
Q: You said the Opening Ceremonies "will" --
Q: Yes, you said the Opening Ceremonies will be a part of that trip.
MS. PERINO: I think I said -- I said "expect" they will be.
MS. PERINO: The transcript. (Laughter.)
Q: Can we clarify? Will they --
Q: Mom? (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: Thank you. Mom, help me. (Laughter.)
Look, I am not able to announce the President's schedule. But he is going to the Olympics and I expect that the Opening Ceremonies could be a part of that trip.
Q: Okay, well, I hope we caught you in time, because a lot of people back there are ready to type it up.
So just to be clear, you're not connecting the two, right? The outcome of the talks between China and the Dalai Lama's representatives --
MS. PERINO: No.
Q: -- you're not connecting them, they're not conditional.
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not. And that's what the President has said before, which is he believes he's going to China to support first and foremost our athletes; he sees this as a sporting competition. But at the same time, just as he will this week when he sees President Hu, he will talk to him about these important issues of human rights and especially religious freedom.
Q: According to extensive reports (inaudible) of Turkey's (inaudible), in full cooperation with some Turkish judges, are trying to overthrow the popular Turkish government of Recep -- Minister -- Prime Minister Recep Erdogan via military coup d'etat. I wonder if President Bush is concerned about democracy in Turkey, a U.S. ally and a NATO member.
MS. PERINO: Are you talking about Turkey?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think you've heard the President say he's a strong supporter of Turkey. He supported them for EU ascension, but he wants to make sure that democracy is firm in that country.
Q: One more question. Any communication between President Bush and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan or the Turkish President Abdullah Gul on this crucial issue?
MS. PERINO: I think you actually might speak faster than I do, which is -- (laughter.)
Q: Any communication, because a very crucial issue.
MS. PERINO: Between the President and who?
Q: President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan or the Turkish President Abdullah Gul on this crucial issue, the coup d'etat in Turkey?
MS. PERINO: No, recently I don't think there's been anything. But I'll refer you to the State Department who might know more.
Q: Dana, back on the issue of Zimbabwe, the opposition leader is not happy with the AU. What is this White House saying about the fact that he wants the opposition leadership to have a major part in the new government, versus what the AU wants? And are you also concerned that he should be the new President, versus Mugabe?
MS. PERINO: I think he has -- well, we have said that. We thought that the March 29th election should have stood, and we believe that because Mr. Tsvangirai won 48 percent of the vote to Mugabe's 43, that that was a clear indication. However, under their constitution, if you don't have a clear majority, then you have to go to a runoff. As we saw last week, President Mugabe made sure that it was a sham election, and Mr. Tsvangirai decided not to even participate, mostly because he was concerned about the safety of his supporters.
So Jendayi Frazer from the State Department, she is there in the region. She might be back now, but she has been very actively involved. And I'm not sure if we -- what our position is at the moment on a power-sharing arrangement. We do think that Mr. Tsvangirai won that election, and so we do not believe that Mr. Mugabe is the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe right now.
Q: And the last few months that you have, what are you going to do to work towards the fact to make him President versus Mugabe?
MS. PERINO: Well, I think that we've got some work to do. I think that first and foremost, you look at the U.N. Security Council who spoke with one voice; that was good. There were several African leaders who did speak out at the AU meeting, but obviously not to the satisfaction of all of us, and certainly not to Mr. Tsvangirai's. So we have work to do, but the main source of instability in sub-Saharan Africa is in Zimbabwe, and so the African leaders have an interest in making sure that they continue to press the situation, especially when it comes to the human condition, of people starving, young children orphaned, people afraid for their lives and living in absolute fear. And it's just terribly sad how President Mugabe has completely devastated his country.
John. Yes, John, go ahead.
Q: Okay, thank you.
MS. PERINO: You're such a gentleman.
Q: Thank you, Dana. Earlier this year -- going back to the rescue of Senator Ingrid Betancourt and the Americans -- when Reyes, the number two man in the FARC, was killed, people recovered his personal laptop computer and found that the whole talk about President Chavez trying to secure release of the hostages was an act; that he was just trying simply to get recognition to help FARC and then bring his allies along. Has the administration commented on this? And since the rescue last night, has any further information come in, particularly about President Chavez and his relationship to FARC -- and Iran?
MS. PERINO: Okay. I don't believe -- I don't know if anyone in the administration has talked about it, so I -- I haven't seen everything that might have come out of the Defense Department or the State Department. What I can tell you is that the whole world now saw who is responsible for releasing the hostages, and that was President Uribe, who deserves all of the credit. We certainly supported the operation and provided some specific support.
I don't know, in terms of the intelligence threads that came out of that laptop, if it helped lead to this rescue. I'll leave it for the Colombians to make that determination and whether or not there is anything else, but I think that when it comes to the President of Colombia, he has proven himself to be a strong leader, one who is committed to making sure that the security of his country is improved. He is one of America's strongest allies in South America and in this hemisphere, and I think we should all look to him for inspiration for how one of these countries can be run, because he's really turned it around down there.
And it's one of the things that Congress is going to have to contemplate when they get back next week, is whether or not continuing to hold up the Colombia free trade agreement is actually, one, merited; and two, in our best interest. And I think the answer will be no. And I hope that by the end of this month that the Speaker of the House will change her position and allow for a vote on the Colombia free trade agreement.
Q: So it sounds like you support him changing the constitution to run for a third term. (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: No, I'm not here campaigning for anybody.
Q: Thank you.
END 1:01 P.M. EDT
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/278675