George W. Bush photo

Press Briefing by Dana Perino

December 10, 2007

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:33 P.M. EST

MS. PERINO: Hello. I have one quick statement. Today is International Human Rights Day, and last week the President met with Syrian and Belarusian democracy activists. And this morning Mrs. Bush held an event on Burma. Today, Secretary Rice is going to be making an announcement on some awards that the President called for in his speech on freedom when he was in Prague, so look for that; and then there will be a statement from me following.

I'll go to questions.

Q: Scooter Libby dropped his appeal in the CIA leak case. How will that affect whether the President issues a pardon for him?

MS. PERINO: Well, we never comment on whether or not the President will be granting or not granting pardons to anybody. So I'm not able to comment.

Q: So it's still an open question?

MS. PERINO: Well, you know, if he chooses to pursue a pardon, there is that route. And of course the Constitution provides the President the powers of the pardon. And we just cannot speculate, as we don't on any possible pardons.

Q: Okay. Well, now that the appeal -- there is no longer any appeal, can you speak to what the President thinks about Scooter Libby disclosing the name of a CIA official?

MS. PERINO: I did not have a chance to talk to -- chance to speak to the President after this announcement was made this morning, and so I don't have his immediate reaction. He gave a lengthy statement in July in regards to the commutation and so I'll have to refer you to that for now.

Q: But he didn't talk about what Scooter Libby had actually done in that --

MS. PERINO: And as I said, I haven't spoken to the President about it, so I'm not able to provide you anything else at this moment.

Q: Is he expected to do pardons during the Christmas break?

MS. PERINO: I have to give the same answer, which is we don't speculate on any possible pardons.

Q: Can you comment on whether Harriet Miers did, in fact, know about the CIA tapes and whether she told the CIA not to destroy them?

MS. PERINO: No. No. It's going to unfortunately be one of those briefings -- I'm not able to comment on anything regarding that, except for what I said on Friday -- which is now, and since then, the Justice Department and the CIA have started a preliminary inquiry. We are supportive of that. We are in the fact-gathering stage, and we are providing them information. So beyond that I am not able to comment or characterize.

Q: Has the White House Counsel directed everybody here to preserve all the documents?


Q: Have the formal orders gone out?


Q: In what form? Was it a letter?

MS. PERINO: As they usually do, it's a notice that goes to all employees.

Q: And it's -- can you tell us what it says?

MS. PERINO: I don't remember off -- I don't have it with me, I just -- I received it and I believe it -- preserve the documents, or preserve what you know -- I just can't remember exactly what the language was, but we'll try to get it for you. It came out this weekend.

Q: Dana, is the President concerned about the impact on the CIA's reputation and its integrity, not just here but around the world? I mean, there's been similar episodes -- we don't know the full scope of this -- but we know what we know, based on his point, that may be comparable to Abu Ghraib, where there were photos that were released --


Q: -- the President spoke extensively about that.

MS. PERINO: Well, one, I haven't -- I'm not allowed to characterize the President's reaction to this, but what I can tell you is that he -- as I said Friday, he has complete confidence in General Hayden, and that remains.

Q: But why can't you characterize his concern, if there is one, about the integrity of a key governmental agency that operates around the world?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think I -- pressed on that, I would say that I think the President feels very highly about all of the members of the intelligence community, and at the CIA. He knows that they work extremely hard in order to keep all of us protected, that they try to do everything that they possibly can. There's -- in regards to this specific issue, regarding these tapes, that the President said that he does not recall being made aware of their existence or their destruction until last Thursday's briefing. There's not much more I can say.

Q: But he's not concerned about the facts as we know them now?

MS. PERINO: In terms of -- I can't talk about that particular -- I can't characterize the President's thinking on that.

Q: Perhaps he'd like you to.

Q: But why -- I don't understand why his reaction is somehow part of the investigation.

MS. PERINO: Well, because there's a preliminary inquiry that's been started, and to avoid any appearance of trying to prejudice that inquiry, it's appropriate and better for us not to comment.

Q: Isn't there a concern here that going into a defensive crouch might look a little bit --

MS. PERINO: I don't think that we're defensive. I think that we're being supportive of the efforts of the DOJ and the CIA.

I'm going to go on. Go ahead.

Q: There are calls for an independent counsel into this matter. Senator Biden said as much this weekend. What are the thoughts from this White House?

MS. PERINO: Well, I think there -- people are of different minds of it in terms of on Capitol Hill. So I'll let Congress think that through. But where we are right now is DOJ, through the leadership of Attorney General Mukasey, and the CIA, through General Hayden and their CIA General Counsel, are working together on a preliminary inquiry, they're gathering the facts. And the intelligence communities have both said that they plan to have hearings and an investigation. And so that's where we are right now, and I think I'll decline to comment further on any possible future steps.


Q: Back on Libby for a moment, Dana. The President and you and others at the podium have always cited the idea that the appeals process was still underway for refusal to comment on whether -- why no one was ever reprimanded or dismissed for disclosing Valerie Plame's name. Now that the appeals process is over, at Libby's choice, will the White House be more -- what are the prospects for the White House being more forthcoming on this?

MS. PERINO: As I said, I wasn't able to talk to the President before the briefing. I will see if I can get you anything additional. For now I have to refer you to the statement that he made in July. And there's been extensive public commentary about this, especially from individuals who were involved, and I'll refer you to their statements, as well, until I have something more.

Q: But not from the individual who could have fired or reprimanded someone for disclosing the name, as he said that he would do.

MS. PERINO: This matter has been thoroughly investigated, there was a special prosecutor, he did not bring criminal charges.

Q: But that's not the issue, Dana. The issue is the President of the United States commenting, which he did forcefully at the time, and has never said anything since, about the propriety in his mind of his advisors conducting themselves in this fashion. So is it not reasonable to expect him -- I mean, other people talking about it --

MS. PERINO: I'm not saying it's unreasonable, I'm --

Q: -- is not germane to whether the President weighs in.

MS. PERINO: I'm not saying it's not, I'm not saying it's unreasonable to ask. I'm saying I didn't have a chance to talk to the President, so I have nothing to give you.

Go ahead, Olivier.

Q: President Putin has endorsed, or anointed, his successor, Mr. Medvedev. Does the White House have any reaction to that, any concerns, about the state of --

MS. PERINO: No, we'll let the internal Russian politics play out on that.

Q: Has the President ever met him at any --

MS. PERINO: I don't know. We'll check.

In the back, go ahead.

Q: On the Iranian issue, did the President or the White House authorize the CIA to conduct a program in Iran to encourage nuclear scientists to leave the country?

MS. PERINO: This is not something I could comment on.

Q: Well, I mean, part of the NIE report was (inaudible) they could be based on that side, that that --

MS. PERINO: The President -- what I can tell you is that the President has been -- long been concerned that we don't have a lot of information about Iran or its activities. It's a very closed society, very opaque. And so the President did challenge the intelligence community, our intelligence community, to try to get more information. And I think what you saw out of the NIE was a result of his asking for more. As to the specific question that you asked me, I cannot comment on that.


Q: Thank you, Dana. Two questions. Can you recall what the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has said about the disruption of military funerals by Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church?

MS. PERINO: Can I recall what he said about it?

Q: Yes.

MS. PERINO: I recall saying that the President thinks that everyone should be allowed to worship, as well as to have private moments for those funerals, without disruption.

Q: In other words, the President believes that the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion should allow disruptors -- he does not believe it should allow disruptors of funeral worship to claim the right of free speech, is that correct?

MS. PERINO: I know that there's a lawsuit in regards to this. I'll refer you to the Justice Department for our filings, but --

Q: They have just guaranteed -- it was a court decision that allowed these people to continue that.

MS. PERINO: Okay. Let us follow up. I didn't know that the court decision had been made.

Go ahead.

Q: The Senate is wrestling with the energy bill, and it includes an increase to 35 miles per gallon on the fuel economy standard by 20/20. Would the President sign that bill, and what is his opinion of that --

MS. PERINO: I would refer you to the statement that we put out last week -- the statement of administration policy, in which it lays out several of the pieces on the energy bill. An increase in CAFE standards is something that the President has supported for passenger cars. First and foremost, let's take the SUVs and light trucks. The President has authority over SUVs and light trucks in order to increase miles per gallon on those vehicles. He has done so twice already during his presidency, and he has a proposal to do it a third time.

He doesn't have authority over passenger vehicles, it falls under a different authority. He has asked Congress for the last several years, in order to give him that authority so that we could move through the process without increasing those MPGs as well. So that is all being worked out now in the Senate.

There is some -- I think we take issue with a little bit of the way that they handle how this would take place and which agency would be in charge. I think those are things that could maybe be worked out. But there are other issues in the energy bill that we're concerned about, and the House and Senate are trying to work those out now.

Q: So he wouldn't veto the bill over the CAFE --

MS. PERINO: I would just refer you to the statement of administration policy. And until we see a final bill, I'm not going to say whether or not he would sign it.


Q: The House Oversight Committee has come out with its bipartisan investigation -- several months in the making -- saying it is inescapable to conclude that the Bush administration engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate the climate change science and mislead the policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming. Have you seen the report and can that --

MS. PERINO: I've seen reports about the report, and I haven't seen the Minority report in terms of -- when you say it's bipartisan, I would challenge that and encourage people to look at the Minority report. I think that it's inescapable that they issued this report on a day when they knew that the United States would be represented at the Bali conference, where we are currently talking about the next step for a framework after 2012, which is when Kyoto would end.

And the President started leading on that back many years ago, but especially if you point -- look to one thing that was really key this year in the climate change debate is the President bringing together the meeting of the major economies on September 30th, here at the State Department, where he had the major economies of the world come together and all agreed that they should work forward, because we understand the urgent challenge that is posed by climate change. And I would submit to you, having worked on these issues for a long time, that it's rehashed rhetoric that has come out of the Democrats beforehand, and we just reject it as being untrue.

Q: Do you think -- you don't think it was released today because the United States is accepting a Nobel Peace Prize for work on climate change?

MS. PERINO: Well, I guess -- I didn't even know today's Nobel Peace Prize was going to happen, in terms of those awards. But clearly, we've been in Bali for the last week, and today is really important -- the next three days in Bali are very important because it's at the foreign minister level, or environmental minister level.

Q: Did the White House ever asked employees at agencies like NOAA to suppress climate change information and science?

MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware and I do not believe that is true.

Q: Dana, are you aware of the story that a 16-year-old boy in Iceland claims he's got a secret phone number for the President and tried to set up a meeting with him and then police in Iceland showed up to arrest him, allegedly? Is there any truth to that story at all?

MS. PERINO: My understanding is that he called the public line that anybody can call, the 1414 number.

Q: So there's no concern among the Secret Service that --

MS. PERINO: I don't think so. No. Good story, though; would have been better if it were true. (Laughter.)

Q: Then why did they comment on it?

MS. PERINO: I don't know.


Q: Chris Hill was at the First Lady's event on Burma-Myanmar today. Did he happen to talk to the President today about North Korea?

MS. PERINO: I'll check. As I said, I haven't seen the President, so I don't know.


Q: Two quick questions. One is as far as climate change, the conference in Bali is concerned, recently, the left parties in India have agreed with the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement and they are saying that it's good for the country, and most Indians support it. My question is if President is in touch with anybody in India or if they have briefed him on this issue?

MS. PERINO: Well, we certainly have been involved. Under Secretary Burns has certainly been trying to push India to try to reconcile their differences so that we can move forward. We think it's a very important program.

Q: And second, as far as Iran is concerned, Iranian President last week, on this NIE report, was dancing and celebrating, but at the same time, recently he was saying that no one can stop making -- stop Iran making nuclear weapons, including the United Nations or the United States. So where do we stand on this CIA report and the Iranian President --

MS. PERINO: I would refer you to Secretary Gates, who gave a wonderful speech on Saturday night and he laid out these issues. But it's certainly something -- it's this type of behavior and comments which continue to give us pause about the regime.

Q: Thank you.

END 12:46 P.M. EST

George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Dana Perino Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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