Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
** Please see below for a correction and an addendum to the transcript, marked with asterisks.
12:30 P.M. EDT
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. How we doing? Did we get a two-minute warning today?
MR. EARNEST: Okay. (Laughter.) The suggestion of some people that -- we didn't?
Q: No, we did.
MR. EARNEST: Okay, good.
Q: It's a Friday. Oh, you know that luncheon is going on.
MR. EARNEST: Yes. That's what I hear. My able deputy, Eric Schultz, is molding young minds as we speak. So you're really missing out, is really what I'm trying to say here. (Laughter.)
All right. Nedra, let's go straight to your questions.
Q: I wanted to ask you a little bit about the hostage policy review that's ongoing. Can you talk a little bit more about the scope? Is it solely focused on improving communications with the families, or is it broader than that?
MR. EARNEST: That is the principal focus of the review, is to examine the manner in which the federal government interacts with and communicates with the families of those who are being held hostage around the world. The reason this is a particular challenge is that there are a large number of federal government agencies that are actively working to try to rescue our citizens who are being held hostage. And this means that you have certain elements of the intelligence community, you have the State Department, the Department of Defense, obviously a range of law enforcement organizations, and even the White House are typically involved in these efforts and are involved in these communications, and making sure that that communication is streamlined and integrated to provide information as regularly and as clearly as possible to these families.
This is particularly important, of course, because these families are in a terrible situation. Unthinkable to imagine what it would be like to have a loved one, a family member, being held against their will by a terrorist organization.
So there is a premium on clear, direct, specific, regular, reliable communication with these families. And that can be difficult when you have a wide range of agencies that are involved in those conversations.
So the effort is to try to streamline those communications to make that communication more effective and more sensitive to the needs of these families.
Q: There's been a call from the Hill for a hostage czar here at the White House to do that very streamlining. Is that something that's under consideration?
MR. EARNEST: There is -- we're at an interim stage in this review process. And one of the initial proposals is the creation of a -- what's called a "fusion cell." This would be a working-level, operationally focused group of federal employees that would enable a whole-of-government response to overseas hostage events.
So again, this fusion cell would incorporate elements of the FBI, the Departments of Defense and State, the intelligence community -- all of whom are involved in the mission to try to rescue American citizens who are being held hostage. So this is one of the proposals that is on the table.
As you know, throughout this process, the administration has been committed to incorporating the viewpoint of families that have been unfortunately involved in this process. And so we are interested -- we have on the front end solicited some input from families of those who have been held hostage, and we're seeking some reaction from those families to this specific proposal. But as soon as we have more information in terms of a final set of recommendations, we'll let you know.
Q: Can you read out any more of the interim considerations at this point?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any information beyond what I've just shared.
Q: And I know you've ruled out this review going over the U.S. government policy of not paying ransom. Does it include any review of the policy toward families paying ransom?
MR. EARNEST: I'll have to check on that, to be honest with you. The policy that is advanced by the U.S. government is a policy that does -- that essentially prohibits offering concessions to terrorist organizations. And as I mentioned yesterday, this is a painful policy, particularly when -- if you're a -- if you have a family member that's being held overseas. And the notion that by offering a concession or even a payment, that that could result in the release of your loved one, that seems like a rather attractive option.
Unfortunately, this is a policy that's in place because considering options like that -- paying ransom or offering a concession to a terrorist organization may result in the saving of one innocent life, but could put countless other innocent lives at greater risk. And that's the reason for this specific policy -- or one reason for this specific policy, as painful as it is.
Q: And two final quick things. Who is running it? Is it Lisa Monaco? And can you say anything more about when it will be ready? I know you said relatively soon. Is that days or weeks?
MR. EARNEST: I don't know who the point person is. Obviously, the White House is heavily involved, and Lisa Monaco, as the President's top counterterrorism advisor is obviously intimately involved in this process. I don't know if she would describe herself as the point person for this process or not, but she certainly is somebody who's intimately involved in it.
I'm not aware of any sort of impending announcements about the conclusion of this process, but I would anticipate that we would see some more information about the conclusion of this review soon.
Q: Can you explain a little bit more about how the fusion cell would differ from the current situation, where you have people from all these different agencies working on the problem?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think the concern, as I understand it, is that you have representatives of these agencies who are all involved in this effort. And the idea behind the creation of a fusion cell is that would ensure that those efforts are closely integrated, both in terms of the steps that are taken by the agencies to secure the return and rescue of the hostage, but also as it relates to the communication with the families of the hostages.
And that's what the fusion cell is designed to achieve, is to sort of optimize the integration of the efforts to seek the rescue of the hostage, but also to streamline communication with the hostage's family.
Q: So the efforts to rescue the hostages aren't integrated right now? They aren't working together?
MR. EARNEST: I think, Roberta, that the observation is that there are always improvements that could be made in that process, and this review reflects that.
Q: Yesterday, you talked about an inspector general review of the operation. Which inspector general is doing that review?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any additional information about the independent review that's being conducted other than to tell you that it's being conducted by the relevant inspector general.
Q: But you can't say who the relevant inspector general is?
MR. EARNEST: I cannot.
Q: Okay. And the other review that you talked about yesterday, the internal review, can you talk a little bit about the parameters for that? Is it a review of the operation specifically? Or is it broader than that and sort of a review of the signature strike policy?
MR. EARNEST: The review will be focused on -- and this is something that's already underway -- focused on this specific operation, and understanding what led to the tragic, unintended consequences of this operation, which was the death of an innocent American hostage.
And the hope is that there may be some improvements to the policies and protocols that could be implemented as a result of lessons learned from this particular tragic incident.
Q: Okay, and one last one. Last year, the Stimson Center released recommendations from a task force on U.S. drone policy, and one of its recommendations was that -- I mean, this is a group of experts, as you likely know -- was that responsibility for strikes be transferred from the CIA to the military. And I'm wondering if you can tell us whether that was considered at all or is still being considered or ruled out? Did the administration ever look at that?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President alluded to these kinds of policy questions in his National Defense University speech in 2013. And the Department of Defense does have some unique capabilities that they use in a variety of areas to protect the American people.
For example, it is the routine of the Department of Defense on a daily basis now, I believe, to put out information about operations the Department of Defense has carried out against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria. It's not uncommon for those notifications to include references to strikes that were taken by U.S. Department of Defense unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
And that is an example of how the Department of Defense at the direction of the President has worked to implement a policy that offers greater insight and transparency to our ongoing efforts, including against extremist organizations.
Q: Just to follow up on the subject of the drone strikes that killed Adam Gadahn and Mr. Faruq. I asked you yesterday if there was any regret; you said no. Was killing Gadahn and Faruq an accident?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the word "accident" leaves one with a connotation that the consequences of the action were negative. And as I mentioned yesterday, these two individuals, both Mr. Faruq and Mr. Gadahn, were al Qaeda leaders. They were playing an influential role in an organization that is actively planning against the United States and our interests.
They were frequenting a compound that had been identified, based on extensive intelligence, as an al Qaeda compound. And strikes were taken that -- operations were conducted that took them off the battlefield. And that is a result that has improved the safety and security of the American people.
Q: So it wasn't an accident.
MR. EARNEST: I think for that reason I would not use that word to describe what occurred.
Q: But it also was not intentional.
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I'm not sure that that's accurate, either, because we were talking about --
Q: So you -- these strikes were intended to kill Adam Gadahn and --
MR. EARNEST: The operation against the al Qaeda compound was carried out with the intent to take off the battlefield al Qaeda leaders that frequented the compound. That was the intent of the operation, and in that respect the operation fulfilled its mission.
Now, in one respect, there was a tragic, unintended consequence, which is that the operation also resulted in the death of an innocent American hostage. That clearly was unintentional, and that clearly was an accident, the death of this innocent American hostage.
Q: Right, as you've made clear. But would targeting Gadahn and Faruq intentionally, explicitly been legal?
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is a specific legal process for a policy decision being made to specifically target a U.S. citizen. This is a process that was put in place around the decision to target Anwar al-Awlaki. This is the American citizen who played an influential role in AQAP in Yemen. He had important operational responsibilities at AQAP, and there was a decision that was made to take him off the battlefield.
So there is a separate process for doing that -- for making that decision to target an American citizen. That was not done in the case of Mr. Gadahn and Mr. Faruq because they were not identified as high-value targets.
However, there is ample evidence to indicate that they were al Qaeda leaders. The fact that they were frequenting what had been identified as an al Qaeda compound is the reason that they were claimed in this operation.
Q: So does that mean it would have been illegal to intentionally target them because you had not gone through that process? And it's kind of hard to see how either one of them would have met the threshold that the administration has set out for intentionally targeting an American citizen being held?
MR. EARNEST: Well, that is a question I don't think I can render judgment on. There obviously is criteria. I'm not intimately familiar with the details of how a process like that would be carried out, so it's hard for me to render judgment one way or the other. But we have tried to be very clear about what led to the death of these two individuals, which is that they were not specifically targeted. But there is no question that they were previously identified as al Qaeda leaders, and they were individuals who were killed in an operation against an al Qaeda compound.
Q: In the NDU speech on all of this, the President indicated that there would be a movement to take the drone program out of the CIA and put into the hands of the Pentagon as part of the process of making this all more transparent. What's the status with that? Why is the CIA still conducting drone strikes?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me start by stipulating that you are asking me a question about a purported CIA activity that I'm just not in a position to comment in any way.
Q: Well, we all know the CIA has got a drone program. It's one of the least well-kept secrets --
MR. EARNEST: But not something that I'm prepared to talk about or even implicitly confirm. So I'm going to try to answer your question, but I just want to get that out of the way.
What the President also made clear in the NDU speech is that the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is one that is unique from other regions where the Department of Defense is carrying out counterterrorism strikes that includes the use of drones. This Afghanistan-Pakistan region is -- had previously been home to a large number of core al Qaeda leaders. They have been decimated, but there are still a number of dangerous core al Qaeda leaders that are hiding, frankly, in this region of the world. By hiding there and by plotting and planning against the United States from that location, they pose a unique threat to American military personnel that are currently stationed in Afghanistan. As you know, there are about 10,000 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan right now, and there is a special need to ensure that -- to try to ensure their safety.
And it means -- and this is something that the President acknowledged in the speech -- it means that there are some different rules that apply to our ongoing efforts, sort of a different set of policies and procedures that apply to our counterterrorism efforts in that region of the world, as opposed to other regions of the world where extremists are operating.
Q: Okay, I guess we'll come back to that at some point. But if we can just do a quick follow-up on the other subject from yesterday, the issue of donations to the Clinton Foundation. We now know that there were some $2 million in donations that came essentially from Uranium One to the Clinton Foundation that were not disclosed at the time. Can you acknowledge that at least that did not meet up to the standards that were expected based on the memorandum of understanding between Hillary Clinton and the President?
MR. EARNEST: Again, for the -- in terms of compliance with the memorandum of understanding, I'd refer you to the State Department, or to Secretary Clinton's team, who I'm sure would be happy to talk to you about this.
Q: But you made it clear at the time that donations were going to be made public. This was not some promise that Hillary Clinton made off to the side. This was an agreement that she had with the White House, with the President. So I'm just saying we now know $2 million in donations essentially from Uranium One, while this transaction -- even aside from the approval of their transaction, the fact that you had such a large donation, group of donations coming in that were not disclosed. That doesn't concern the White House at all? That lived up to the standards that were set by the President? Forget Hillary Clinton, but by the President.
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think what is clear is -- and this is noted in The New York Times story today -- is that there is no proof whatsoever, no evidence to indicate that donations had any impact on this particular policy decision. There is no --
Q: I'm asking you about the fact that donations weren't publicly disclosed and you didn't know about that.
MR. EARNEST: I think the point is, is that the -- I've been in a position where there have been other, to put it mildly, conservative authors that have launched -- written books based on what they purport to be serious allegations against the President of the United States. And I'm often in the position of responding to those incidents and trying to defend the President from accusations that are not rooted or accompanied by any evidence.
My point is that right now that's what's happening to Secretary Clinton, and there is a spokesperson that Secretary Clinton has hired that can answer these questions.
Q: Okay, but I'm not asking whether or not Secretary Clinton sold favors from the State Department. I'm just asking you about whether or not these donations should have been disclosed. I'm asking you about disclosure. I'm not suggesting that --
MR. EARNEST: Right, and that is something that Secretary Clinton's team can talk to you about is how they handled this particular incident.
Q: And then I asked you yesterday -- you said you were going to go back and check on this question of the approval process and whether or not there were any other objections that had been raised to approving this transaction that again allowed a Russian company to go a long way towards cornering the market for uranium in the United States. But were there any objections raised anywhere up and down the line of this transaction?
MR. EARNEST: I do have some more information on this. So this is -- what you're referring to is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. So this is a committee that is chaired by the Secretary of the Treasury to evaluate transactions involving foreign governments that may have an impact on U.S. national security.
This is a process that is kept confidential for, frankly, to protect the parties who are involved in the transactions, right? That there is nobody who should be unfairly tarnished because of the public discussion about the evaluation of their proposed financial transactions.
But there is one thing I can tell you, which is that the process that is conducted by CFIUS is one -- that's the acronym for the -- I swore to myself I was not going to come out here and say CFIUS. (Laughter.) So I've just broken my rule.
But this committee that's been established to evaluate these transactions operates based on consensus. So I think what that tells you is that if other agencies had concerns about the transaction moving forward, they would be able to raise that in the context of this interagency committee and ensure that it was properly considered.
I guess the point is this, is that the State Department representative to this committee could not operate independently and ram the approval process through.
Q: Okay, then just one last thing on this. Given that this was approved back before the Russians invaded Ukraine, before a whole series of disagreements we have with the Russians, in hindsight was it a mistake to approve this transaction? Would this transaction be approved today given what's happened with the Russians since?
MR. EARNEST: The other thing that I came to learn about the process by this committee is that there are established criteria by which they review every transaction. I'm not privy to what that criteria is. So I'm frankly not in a position to render judgment about whether or not the outcome of this particular committee's decision would be different based on the current circumstances. So it's hard for me to render judgment on that.
Q: Back to the accidental killings. I wanted to ask whether the incidents that were declassified yesterday have caused the President to have any less confidence than he did previously in the utility, the usefulness of this technique in targeting terrorists overseas. And when do you think the review about what may have gone wrong, or lessons learned, or potential reforms to how the program is run may be forthcoming? Has he asked for those in the near term? And is he reconsidering his use of this technique at all?
MR. EARNEST: Let me answer that question in two ways. One is that we know that these kinds of counterterrorism operations have diminished the effectiveness of al Qaeda. They've had a significant impact on their ability to function and to carry out attacks against the United States. We know that these kinds of operations have rendered al Qaeda less capable of receiving recruits. We know that these kinds of operations have diminished their command and control capability. And we know that these kinds of operations have made al Qaeda leaders intensely focused on their own personal security. And when these leaders are so focused on their personal security, they're devoting less time and attention to plotting and planning against the United States. So this kind of pressure has been effective in enhancing the national security of the United States.
That said, the President will be the first to admit to you that weighing policy decisions like this is one of the most challenging things that he confronts in the Oval Office, that weighing the important impact that a counterterrorism operation can have in terms of enhancing national security with the need to live up to the high standards that he has set and that the American people expect for the U.S. government is incredibly challenging. And it's fraught with a variety of important moral questions, too.
And that is one of the reasons that the President felt so strongly about moving quickly to declassify a significant amount of information about this particular operation; that this is a situation where accountability and at least some transparency is important. As critically important as it is to protect our national security and for us to take actions, even using unique capabilities of the United States to do that has made the American people more safe. But it continues to be a very high priority of this President to ensure that all of our operations are consistent with the values and ideals that our country promotes around the globe.
Q: For all the information that was declassified yesterday, there are dozens more of these operations that go on that we never know who else was killed -- whether they were civilians or not. They may not have been Americans, so we'll never know that. So my question is, I guess, when he laid out the near-certainty standard in that speech, does he still believe that it's possible to meet that standard at all? Or is it a value judgment of if you're not quite certain, is it still worth it to undertake these missions to get the national security benefits that he's talked about?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, I think this is sort of what -- you're putting your finger on what sort of the counter-balance to the national security priority that is in question here. On one hand you have the proven effectiveness of some counterterrorism operations.
On the other hand, you have a region of the world that is remote. You have a region of the world where in some cases the capacity of local forces is limited, or the reach of those forces is limited. In some cases it's that the will of those local forces is even limited. In those situations it often is just not feasible to put U.S. military personnel on the ground. And, in fact, doing so has -- actually raises the risk of violence that could have an impact on civilians.
Many of our counterterrorism professionals have talked about the severe risk that was posed by the bin Laden mission in Abbottabad, and that one of the chief risks was that individuals who lived in the neighborhood saw the helicopters, would observe military personnel operating, and would choose -- feel the need to try to defend themselves; certainly an understandable reaction when something like this is happening. And you would put U.S. military personnel or our special operators in a position of defending themselves and using violence against civilians with whom they have no quarrel. And I think that is a good illustration of why putting U.S. boots on the ground, while it may increase the certainty factor, doesn't necessarily reduce the risk to civilian populations. In fact, in most cases, it significantly increases that risk.
So the point is that narrowly tailored counterterrorism operations are the kinds of operations that do reduce -- do the most to reduce the risk to civilian -- or reduce the risk of civilian casualties. But necessarily, these kinds of operations are contemplated in regions of the world where absolute certainty is just not possible. And this is the -- this is a difficult policy question, and one that the President I think, as you could tell from his comments yesterday, does not take lightly at all.
Q: So when does he -- any timeframe for when the review might yield some results?
MR. EARNEST: I don't have any information about the timeframe for the two reviews that we've talked about. At this point, I wouldn't even be in a position to promise that we would have an extended public discussion of those reviews given the sensitive nature of what they're reviewing.
Q: And you mentioned yesterday that he didn't specifically authorize the strike that accidently took out these two hostages. Is the President briefed each time one of these counterterrorism missions is concluded? And is he briefed on if there were and how many civilian casualties there were?
MR. EARNEST: Let me see if I can get you some additional information about this. Obviously, the President gets regularly -- get regular counterterrorism briefings. But let me see if I can get you some more granular information about the frequency and detail of those briefings.
** We're not going to provide details of the President's classified intelligence briefings beyond reiterating that he is regularly apprised of the information he needs to fulfill his responsibility to protect the American people.
Q: And just quickly on trade, I'm told the President joined a conference call earlier today that Secretary Perez had on the TPP and trade promotion authority, and sort of made the case on that call. Can you tell us anything about that and anything else he's doing personally while the legislation is making its way through Congress and in advance of the visit by Prime Minister Abe next week to sort of lay the groundwork for his trade agenda?
MR. EARNEST: Well, let me clarify one thing, which is Secretary Perez was hosting a call with journalists who have been focused on the trade issue recently. And the President unannounced jumped on the call to deliver a message that was similar to the message that many of you heard the President deliver to OFA activists last night.
And I think that demonstrates an interest that the President has in the kind of forceful argument that he can make because of his conviction that an agreement like the one he is trying to reach with 10 other countries in the Asia Pacific region would have substantial benefits for middle-class families in the United States. And this is an argument that the President is eager to have in advance, and he's eager to build bipartisan support for it. And he knows that there is some -- as I've mentioned in the past, some instinctive resistance to even the consideration of trade agreements.
And some of that is rooted in the consequences of previous trade agreements that have been reached. And the President again made pretty forcefully yesterday the point that the kind of trade agreement that he is seeking to broker is one that would learn the lessons from those previous agreements to ensure that we're maximizing the upside for American businesses and American workers.
Q: Thanks. Back to Adam Gadahn. The administration has said that it's their preferred method when dealing with American terrorists like this to detain them, debrief them, and then persecute them in a federal courthouse. Did the White House, though, want him dead or alive?
MR. EARNEST: Sunlen, that is the preference. The preference of the administration applies to not just American citizens affiliated with al Qaeda, but with all terrorists. Our preference would be to capture, detain, debrief and prosecute them. And we have a strong track record of successfully doing that. And this is -- we believe that that is consistent with our values as a country. It also is consistent with our national security interests.
The fact is that there are some regions of the world, including this region of the world that are so remote and where local authorities have limited capacity, that it's just not feasible to capture or detain them. In fact, this is why these al Qaeda terrorists are hiding out here. They know that it's remote. They know that local authorities have limited reach and capacity, and they know that it's very difficult for the United States to come and get them.
So that's why they seek out walled compounds in this region of the world to try to evade the United States and to evade justice. And the fact is the United States does have some unique capabilities that allow us to carry out, in this case, a counterterrorism operation against Mr. Gadahn. And in this case, the operation was against an al Qaeda compound that we know was frequented by al Qaeda leaders. And it resulted in the death of an al Qaeda leader that we know posed a threat to the United States. In this case, it happened to be an American citizen who had been indicted for treason and for providing material support to al Qaeda.
Q: And you have said that he wasn't specifically targeted. But you also have said and you repeated here today that he was an al Qaeda leader that was known to frequent this compound. Given that you didn't have to go through some of the legal hoops that would have had to be approved given -- knowing that this is an American, shouldn't you have out of the abundance of caution realized that there would be high probability he would be in this compound, and then taken those legal steps?
MR. EARNEST: Let me clarify one thing about this, which is that what our intelligence personnel had concluded is that this al Qaeda compound was one that was frequented by at least one al Qaeda leader. I don't want to leave you with the impression that we knew specifically that Mr. Gadahn frequented this compound, but rather that this a compound that was frequented by an al Qaeda leader, an al Qaeda leader that turned out to be Adam Gadahn. And so that is -- again, and that goes to this specific operation being targeted against the compound, not against Mr. Gadahn personally. Does that make sense?
Q: And one last on him, and then I have another question.
MR. EARNEST: Okay.
Q: Why wasn't he a high-value terrorist? This is someone who had been very vocal in opposition to the United States. He tore up his passport on camera. He called for specific attacks on U.S. soil.
MR. EARNEST: I'm not able to speak to the kind of classification or the assessment that led to a specific classification of him. All I can say is that we have ample evidence to indicate that he was a leading figure in the al Qaeda network, and that the operation that resulted in his death made the American people safer.
Q: One last one. When the President spoke with Prime Minister Renzi on Wednesday about the drone strike, did they also have any conversations about the alleged plot against the Vatican that was revealed today? Eighteen potential members of al Qaeda were plotting against the Vatican.
MR. EARNEST: I don't believe that came up in their conversation.
Q: Is that something the President is aware of?
MR. EARNEST: Well, obviously we've seen the news reports, but I have not spoken to the President about this specific matter today.
Q: So this is the first time that an American civilian has been killed and an Italian civilian has been killed in one of these strikes. It's not the first time that a civilian has been killed -- whether they're nationals of any of those countries -- women, children, other people around. Why was this -- why did the President feel like he needed to apologize for this one?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Isaac, the President did, in his NDU speech that he gave a couple of years ago, acknowledge that there had been civilian casualties as a result of some U.S. counterterrorism operations.
The President made, in this instance, an extraordinary decision to discuss publicly a number of aspects of this particular operation because of the tragic, unintended consequence of this operation -- that is, the death of Dr. Weinstein. And the President of the United States has a special obligation to the American people. And one of the things that we have indicated about this operation and this outcome is that it was particularly painful because it was an operation that was geared toward trying to protect the American people, but yet resulted in the death of an innocent American. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that the individuals who carried out this operation were also involved in the effort to try to rescue Dr. Weinstein.
So given the circumstances, the President felt it was important, again, in pursuit of accountability and a desire to live up to the high standard that he has set, to talk about this publicly, in front of the American people and in front of the world; to own up to the mistakes that were made. The President of the United States, while he didn't personally order the mission, takes full responsibility for it. And that is consistent with the kinds of values that the President believes should be reflected in our counterterrorism efforts.
Q: Are the other civilians who have been killed in other strikes not tragic in the same way?
MR. EARNEST: Of course not. The innocent loss of life is a tragedy. And that is why the President has insisted upon a near-certainty standard prior to counterterrorism operations being carried out.
The President insists that as our counterterrorism professionals evaluate a particular mission, that they assess with near certainty that civilians will not be harmed in the mission before it's carried out. And that is, as I've talked about, is important when we're talking about operating in environments where absolute certainty is just not possible.
Q: One more on this. Was there any consideration given to the fact that if the President comes out and acknowledges that this was an American maneuver and publicly talks about it -- not just the civilians killed but that the strike happened on American orders -- that it would create blowback on the ground, maybe incite more violence from al Qaeda?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I will say -- I'll point out -- and many of you have observed -- that there are certain basic aspects of this operation that I'm not in a position to discuss, and part of that is motivated to trying to minimize the kinds of reactions that you're alluding to there.
But in this case, there's always that risk. The President believed that that risk was outweighed by the need to be honest and come clean about what exactly had happened. And as the Commander-in-Chief, his principal focus, his most important responsibility is keeping the American people safe. And when an operation is carried out in pursuit of that goal that results in the death of an innocent American citizen, the President of the United States has a responsibility to own up to it, and to make sure that we are drawing upon lessons learned to try to prevent something like that from happening again.
Q: In the NDU speech, the President made it very clear that he wanted to reduce the number of what he called "unmanned strikes" with the troop drawdown, which he anticipated then would be over by the end of 2014, but which we know wasn't. But how can he still believe that the unmanned strikes are effective and necessary, given the fact that these two strikes demonstrate that it's never possible to know that you're not killing civilians?
MR. EARNEST: Well, to be clear about one thing, is that the strike against Mr. Gadahn is one that was carried out with the near-certainty standard as it relates to both the presence of an al Qaeda leader and innocent civilians not being harmed in the operation.
So the fact is, the President acknowledged in the NDU speech that innocent civilians had been harmed in previous U.S. counterterrorism operations. What he also acknowledged in the speech is that some U.S. counterterrorism operations have been critically important to our national security; that they've been effective in disrupting the command and control capability of al Qaeda leaders; and they have essentially driven many al Qaeda leaders underground who are so fearful for their own personal security that their ability to plan and plot against the United States has been sharply curtailed.
Q: But can you honestly say that these two strikes were critical to disrupting al Qaeda?
MR. EARNEST: I can honestly say that these strikes were -- that these operations were successful in terms of taking al Qaeda leaders off the battlefield. These were influential members of a network that is actively plotting against the United States. And that is critical to our national security.
Q: But you can't say for certain that they were hatching a plot that was imminent or critical, and you didn't know that there was an American and an Italian hostage in that one situation?
MR. EARNEST: It's true, we did not know -- we were not aware of -- our intelligence professionals were not aware of the presence of those two hostages. But we did know that these two al Qaeda leaders that were killed in these two operations were individuals who did play a prominent role in an organization that is actively plotting and planning against American interests and the American people.
Q: I guess my question is, how do you know that activity in any one compound constitutes something that is active plotting and planning, and not just a bunch of people hiding out in a remote part of Pakistan or Afghanistan?
MR. EARNEST: The near-certainty standard that we've described as it relates to ensuring that civilians are not harmed in a counterterrorism operation also applies to the determination about whether or not a compound is related to people who are involved in extremist activity.
And as I mentioned before, as it relates to the compound that was frequented by Mr. Faruq, it had been subjected to hundreds of hours of surveillance, including near-continuous surveillance in the days leading up to the operation. There are other sources of intelligence that our professionals can draw upon to get some insight into what is exactly happening, but again, the standard is not absolute certainty. Absolute certainty is just not possible in that region of the world given the remote nature of that region, given the limited capabilities of local forces, and given the risks that would be associated with putting U.S. military boots on the ground in that region.
So they are operating against a standard of near certainty. But again, as I mentioned yesterday, in these two instances those assessments were correct. They were successful. Those operations were successful in removing from the battlefield two influential members of al Qaeda.
Q: But by the standards you expressed, there's never any guarantee that there won't be a civilian casualty of some kind.
MR. EARNEST: Well, there is the -- absolute certainty in these situation is just not possible given the remote location that we're talking about, given the limited reach of local authorities, and given the infeasibility of putting U.S. boots on the ground. Absolute certainty is just not possible in that environment.
What is possible and what's the highest standard we can set is near certainty. And the question that is raised by this tragic incident is what kinds of changes, if any, to our policies and procedures can ensure that we are better striking the balance between taking the actions using the capacity that we have to protect the American people with the need to live up to the high standards that the President has established and that the American people expect.
Q: Thanks, Josh. I wanted to ask you about the statement that Democracy for America put out last night in response to the President's comments on trade. They called his comparison to Democratic criticism of his trade agenda "shameful" because he compared it to Sarah Palin's comments about death panels. They said it was beneath the President to make those comments. What's your response to that?
MR. EARNEST: I guess I don't -- I'm not really going to get into a response to someone else's response. I think the President made a pretty forceful case, and I'll let his words stand for it.
Q: But in general, he's made some pretty tough criticisms of Democrats' views on trade. So how does he expect to convince Democratic critics to come on his side if he's really kind of taking them to the woodshed in public?
MR. EARNEST: I think -- I'm not one to frequently cite polls from up here, but there has been a recent CNN poll, I believe, that indicated that the President's approval rating among liberal Democrats across the country was not just 90 percent, it wasn't 95 percent -- it was 97 percent. And I use that figure to illustrate that the President has rightly built up significant credibility with progressives all across the country. And he feels confident in making the case to them and to the rest of the American people that the kind of agreement that he seeks is one that is clearly in the best interest of American businesses, American workers, and American middle-class families. The President has got a strong track record of fighting for middle-class families.
And as he pointed out I think in a pretty direct fashion a couple of times now, the President isn't doing this because he enjoys the support of the Chamber of Commerce; he's doing this because he has earned the support of middle-class families across the country, and he's earned that support by using the authority of the presidency of the United States to go and fight for them. And whether that is championing the Affordable Care Act, championing Wall Street reform, trying to advance policies related to raising the minimum wage and paid leave -- these are policies that benefit middle-class families. And it is that same spirit that motivates him to pursue this agreement with 10 other nations in the Asia Pacific region that would benefit middle-class families in this country.
And we're drawing upon lessons that have been learned from previous trade agreements. There are enforceable provisions as it relates to labor standards. There are enforceable provisions related to environmental standards. For the first time in a trade promotion authority bill, there are provisions related to human rights. That's why the President can stand up and say that this trade promotion authority bill is the most progressive one that's ever been passed -- or at least one that we're hoping will ever be passed.
And so the President has got a very forceful case that he can make. And I'm not trying to leave you with the impression that the mind of every Democrat is going to be changed by this, but I am confident that the President has a very persuasive case to make to Democrats and Republicans who are willing to keep an open mind and willing to be focused on the best interests of middle-class families across the country.
Q: Thanks, Josh. On a totally different subject -- climate change. A Duke study found that global warming hasn't happened as quickly as expected, and their models show that natural wiggles -- "wiggles" is their word -- can be large enough to account for a "reasonable portion of the accelerated warming from 1975 to 2000, as well as the reduced rate in warming 2002 to 2013." And their conclusion seemed to stand in stark contrast, and potentially undermine, the President's claims on Earth Day that global warming is a problem right now for this generation, and this generation can't afford to wait. And I was wondering -- for your thoughts on that.
MR. EARNEST: My thoughts are that the preponderance of scientific evidence is on the side of the President in making this argument. And the President believes that to deny the existence of climate change is to deny an observable fact that is substantiated by science. And there are some who are involved in politics that choose to deny that fact because it's inconvenient to their case and it might be inconvenient to some of their strongest political supporters.
The fact is, the President is demonstrating genuine leadership by challenging the country and world to confront this situation and do it in a way that, again, will not just safeguard the American people. Our Department of Defense has identified climate change as a significant national security priority, but also in a way that could have significant benefits for our economy; that important investments in things like solar panels and solar energy and wind energy do stand to yield long-term benefits for our economy. There are good middle-class jobs to be had in a solar panel manufacturing facility in the United States.
And we know that as other countries start to focus on this challenge, that there's going to be a pretty good market for solar energy and a pretty good market for wind energy. And if we can make the early investments to capitalize on those opportunities, that's going to have economic benefits for generations to come. And the President is determined to position the United States so that we can capitalize on those trends and maximize those economic benefits for middle-class families all across the country.
Q: And another topic that we haven't had a chance to discuss this week is the Patriot Act reauthorization. President Obama has called for an end to the NSA's collection of records in the past. And I just wanted to know if he supports the legislation in the Senate, introduced by Senate Majority Leader McConnell, to reauthorize the Patriot Act to 2020.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Francesca, the President has been clear about the need for important reforms. And there is a process right now that's underway in the House of Representatives that's being conducted in a bipartisan basis to try to advance some important reforms to the program.
You'll recall that at the end of last year House Republicans did succeed in advancing a set of reforms that were supported by the President. Unfortunately, those reforms did not make it through the Senate. And the President is pleased that these bipartisan efforts have been restarted in the House, and we're hopeful that this will sort of be the next phase of the bipartisanship that many have observed in Congress of late. There have been observations about the successful bipartisan cooperation around the doc fix. There's been conversations about the bipartisan nature of the Iran legislation that is currently being discussed and making its way through the United States Senate.
And hopefully, the next place where Democrats and Republicans will turn their attention and try to work together is on this issue of putting in place important reforms to the Patriot Act.
Q: Thank you, Josh. Can you lay out for us why it's so important for the White House in particular to review the use of the drone program? And sort of, if you wouldn't mind, assess the danger, if you will, of over-correcting a program that has proven to clearly successful?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Kevin, let me clarify one thing, which is that there are a couple of different reviews that are taking place. The first by our national security professionals to try to draw some lessons learned from this particular operation to see if there are any reforms or changes to the protocols that can be put in place to reflect the need to act decisively to protect the American people while upholding high standards related to values that we cherish in this country. So that's one review.
And the second review is an independent review that's being conducted, as I mentioned earlier, but the relevant inspector general to take an independent look at this particular operation and put forward any recommendations that they might have about ensuring that this process reflects the critical balance that must be struck.
And the President is very mindful of the value that these kinds of operations have in protecting the American people and enhancing our security. But in the mind of the President, it is also a priority to ensure that we are living up to the kinds of values that we try to promote in locations all around the world.
Q: Let me ask a follow-up, if I might. You said yesterday -- or the President said yesterday, in the fog of war essentially things happen. Is the risk worth it?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I'd say that -- again, yes, there is risk associated with these kinds of operations. Again, when the standard that we set is near certainty, that means that there is going to be some risk. But in many of the locations where these kinds of operations are carried out, absolute certainty is just not possible. And that means that there is an element of risk involved. And balancing that risk against the need to keep the American people safe, and to use our unique capabilities to safeguard the American people, is the top priority of the President of the United States. It's certainly the top priority of this President.
But we also have to reflect that there is a priority related to adhering to high standards related to the values that we champion around the world. And upholding those values is also important to our national security. This is a discussion that we've had in here before about how advancing our values contributes to our national security. And so this is a very difficult policy question, but one that the President is determined to continuously improve, and that's the nature of the reviews that are underway.
Q: Just a couple more. I want to follow up on something I think Jon asked earlier, or maybe someone else. Was the President briefed after the strike?
MR. EARNEST: Julie asked that question, and I'm going to see if I can get more information about -- if it's possible to share additional information on this, then I will.
Q: Okay. Lastly, Hillary Clinton. A lot has been made lately of the book that's coming out about Clinton cash. And I know you deflected a lot of the questions and sort of said, hey, ask the State Department or ask her people. But I do want to ask you a broad question, if I might. Is it fair to say the White House believes that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton's behavior both in the capacity of her office and with that of the Clinton Foundation met the ethical standard of this White House?
MR. EARNEST: Kevin, I can say in no uncertain terms that there has been no evidence presented that suggests that somehow donations to the Clinton Foundation had any impact on any policy decisions that were made by Secretary Clinton or anybody else in the State Department. There is no evidence to suggest that.
And there are a lot of accusations that are flying from Secretary Clinton's political opponents. And for response to those accusations, I would refer you to Secretary Clinton's team. They're the ones that are responsible for responding to them. But it is a simple fact that no facts have actually been presented that undermine the service -- the exemplary service that Secretary Clinton performed while serving at the State Department.
Q: So you say, yes, she met the standard?
MR. EARNEST: I'm saying that no one has presented any evidence to indicate that she didn't.
Q: Thanks, Josh. Just a few things on the hostages. And you talked about the fusion cell. And, presumably, given that it would go across agencies, someone would be in charge of it, would you rule out a hostage czar?
MR. EARNEST: Well, again, there is a specific proposal that has been floated in the context of the interim stage of the hostage policy review, which is this idea of a fusion cell. And I think it would accomplish at least a similar goal -- or a goal similar to the one that hostage czar proponents have in mind, which is ensuring that the efforts of the federal government to communicate with the families of hostages is properly and precisely integrated to make sure that the information that's being communicated to the families is done so clearly, that it's done in a timely fashion.
And particularly when you are communicating with the family that is in an unthinkably tragic situation, like many of these families are, communicating with them clearly and directly is really important. And that can be difficult when you have a large number of agencies that are involved in trying to rescue their loved one.
So a fusion cell could be effective in making that communication a little bit more clear, and ensuring that the efforts of all the agencies are more effectively integrated.
Q: I guess the reason that a czar or a person, as opposed to a cell, which would imply multiple people, has been suggested and certainly would seem to answer some of the concerns that families have expressed is that you have a person where the buck stops, as opposed to a group of people you have a single individual. Would you foresee that there would be someone where the buck stops?
MR. EARNEST: I think, as Harry Truman made famous, the buck stops with the President. And I think the best example of that that can I provide to you is the fact that on Wednesday evening President Obama placed a telephone call to the family of Dr. Weinstein to let them know of his tremendous sorrow at the death of Dr. Weinstein as a result of a U.S. counterterrorism operation. And I think that's an indication that this President is the one who's ultimately responsible in these situations.
But again, as it relates to communicating with the families on a regular basis, there are a lot of different agencies involved, and it does make sense for these agencies to try to find the most effective way to integrate their efforts and their communications with the families.
And so we're only at the interim stage of the review process, so there will be an opportunity for our professionals to evaluate these proposals. There will be an opportunity for the families themselves to offer some feedback based on their own personal experience. That could be useful in determining the best possible way for us to structure these communications.
So I'm not in a position where I'm ruling out the creation of a hostage czar. I'm just pointing out that the proposal that's being discussed right now is one that is in pursuit of a similar goal, but with a different composition.
Q: Just one more question about communication, because the President obviously pushed for a quick declassification so that he could share the details of what happened in this instance. Dianne Feinstein is the latest one to get on board to talk about a yearly report that would talk -- that would quantify the number of people who are killed in drone strikes and the number of people who are hurt in drone strikes. There was a proposal last year that had a bipartisan sponsor that was put forward by Adam Schiff. Is there any consideration of that? Could the White House support that kind of report?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not familiar with the specific proposal that they've put forward. I'm confident that our national security professionals would be eager to engage in a conversation with Senator Feinstein or Congressman Schiff, or anybody else that has some thoughts on this. But I'm just not steeped in the specific details of their proposal in order to say whether or not that's something we would support.
Q: Thanks, Josh. Following up on the killing of the two Americans suspected of involvement with al Qaeda, you've acknowledged that they haven't been convicted of anything. So there's a presumption of innocence under our legal system, but you seem to be claiming that it is legal to kill Americans who are suspected of being involved in terrorism as long as the target is a building instead of an individual. Is that correct? Is that the legal interpretation that you're using?
MR. EARNEST: Well, Byron, I would encourage you to take a look at the President's National Defense University speech that he gave a couple of years ago. And he used a pretty colorful illustration to explain this, what is admittedly a complicated policy question.
And the President described the fact that terrorists who are playing a prominent role in a network that's actively plotting against the United States should not be able to use their American citizenship as a shield to protect them from our counterterrorism efforts.
The President used the example of a sniper -- somebody who essentially was, again, trying to kill innocent people -- shouldn't be protected from a swat team that was being deployed to go after them in a pursuit -- in an effort to try to protect the people that are being shot at.
So the point is, we do have procedures in place that if there had been a specific reason to target Mr. Gadahn individually, there would have been a process that our national security team and that our lawyers at the Department of Justice would have reviewed and gone through in order to reach a determination about that.
In this case, you had an individual who happened to be an American citizen but was also an al Qaeda leader who was killed in an operation against the al Qaeda compound that he frequented.
Q: But the operation -- naming the building as the target, was that a way of getting around the procedure that's been established when -- for example, the legal justification for killing Anwar al-Awlaki? Was naming the target of the building a way to go around that established process?
MR. EARNEST: No. Naming the target of the building was a way for us to kill al Qaeda leaders, and that's exactly what happened.
Q: One more. There was a report that a $250,000 ransom payment was paid to Mr. Weinstein's captors. Is that something that you can confirm? And do you have a reaction, if yes?
MR. EARNEST: I'm not in a position to confirm that specific report other than to say -- I'm not in a position to confirm that report, period.
It is the policy of the United States government not to make concessions or pay ransoms to terrorists who are holding hostages.
Q: The President has taken some measure of responsibility for these strikes, and you talked a lot about reviewing procedure and so on. But I'm just wondering, is anybody actually going to be held accountable? I mean, is someone going to be fired over this? Would you rule that out? It seems to be a fairly obvious and substantial intelligence failure that resulted in the death of two innocent civilians.
MR. EARNEST: Well, Andrew, based on what we know now, the counterterrorism professionals who were involved in this specific operation, followed the policy and procedures that have been well-established.
And those policies and procedures include reaching a near-certainty assessment that civilians would not be harmed in the operation. And that assessment was drawn on hundreds of hours of surveillance of this particular compound, including near-continuous surveillance of the compound in the hours -- or in the days leading up to the operation.
These kinds of assessments are subjected to a thorough Red Team analysis so that other intelligence professionals who are not involved in the specific operation can take a look at the intelligence that's been collected and determine whether or not there are any missing pieces that might undermine the near-certainty standard that's been reached.
There is an effort by professionals to consider credible but contradictory intelligence, and to essentially try to poke holes in the intelligence picture that's been composed. So there is a rigorous process, but that rigorous process does not result in absolute certainty.
In these remote regions of the world where the capacity and reach of local fighters -- or local authorities is limited; where we have al Qaeda fighters who are hiding in caves or in walled compounds, that absolute certainty is just not possible. But the determination of near certainty is the highest standard that we can set. And based on what we know right now, our counterterrorism professionals abided by and lived up to those policies and protocols.
Q: Just on another issue. The Saudis earlier this week announced the end of Operation Decisive Storm, and the White House welcomed that. But aerial bombardments are continuing around Aden and various other places. I was wondering, what's the White House's understanding of the status of operations? And has the announcement earlier this week changed anything with regard to your military cooperation with the Saudis?
MR. EARNEST: Andrew, I can tell you that the United States continues to provide some logistical support to the ongoing Saudi military activities. But I'll point out that Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners noted in their announcement that they might continue limited operations to counter certain ongoing Houthi military movements and actions in Yemen.
The United States continues to believe it is important to shift away from military operations to the rapid unconditional resumption of all-party negotiations that will allow Yemen to restart an inclusive political transition process.
We have said many times that the turmoil in Yemen will not be solved militarily, but yet it's one that must be solved around the negotiating table. And we're going to encourage all parties to be supportive of that process.
Q: Your level of cooperation with the Saudis is the same as it was under Operation Decisive Storm?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the level of Saudi military activity has been diminished, but yet it still continues in response to and in an effort to counter ongoing Houthi military actions. And there still is U.S. military support that is being provided to back our Saudi partners.
Q: I just have a quick question on -- back to the Weinstein family. Do you have a specific reaction to the comments in their response yesterday that the U.S. government's efforts to help free him are "disappointing and inconsistent"?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think I'd say a couple of things similar to what I said yesterday. The first is, obviously our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Weinstein family. They have been through a terrible tragedy over the last several years. And the confirmation that their loved one has been killed in this U.S. government counterterrorism operation is a very sad conclusion. And our thoughts are with them at this time.
It also is understandable that they would have a lot of frustration about the fact that despite the extensive and tireless efforts of a highly capable U.S. government, that we were not able to rescue him. And I can understand -- and I think anybody can understand -- how frustrated they would be about that, particularly now that they have learned that a U.S. counterterrorism operation was actually responsible for his death.
And I think even they pointed out in their statement that they principally held accountable and held responsible Dr. Weinstein's al Qaeda captors; that he was killed in this operation, but he would not have been killed in the operation had al Qaeda not have taken him hostage a number of years ago.
But that said, the comment that's included in their statement I think is one that on a human level we would all understand and sympathize with.
Q: But on a practical level, are you saying they're wrong?
MR. EARNEST: I think on a practical level, they acknowledge in their statement that the United States went to extraordinary lengths to try to rescue him. And all of us are saddened that we weren't successful in doing so.
MR. EARNEST: I want to follow up on one other thing that you asked me about yesterday -- sort of the latest intelligence about the death of Kayla Mueller. I noted yesterday that we were skeptical of ISIL claims that she was killed as a result of a Jordanian military strike, and I noted that there's still not yet enough intelligence to conclude definitively how and where and when precisely she died. But what I also said is that there was no Jordanian aircraft in the vicinity, and that's not true. At the time, there were extensive military operations that were being conducted by the Jordanian military. This was in response to the tragic killing of Lieutenant Kasasbeh by ISIL. And there were a number of Jordanian military operations going on in Jordan.
So I talked about this a decent amount in February. And at the end of yesterday's briefing, I tried to rely on my memory from February, and I said something that wasn't true. And so I wanted to make sure that we were clear about that.
But there is an ongoing intelligence effort to try to gather more information about the circumstances of her tragic death.
Q: Thanks, Josh. Yesterday, Comcast and Time Warner scuttled their plans for a merger, in part after heavy opposition from the Justice Department. This is water under the bridge now, but there's still another big telecom merger pending with AT&T and DirecTV. Is there a sense from the White House -- the DOJ obviously being a part of the administration -- that there's concern about large telecom mergers, or large mergers in general at this point? And is the President involving himself in these mergers?
MR. EARNEST: The President is not involved in these kinds of decisions. These are decisions that are made by the independent FCC. There obviously is -- as you point out, there's a role for the Justice Department to play in terms of evaluating these proposed transactions and offering their opinion and advice about the potential impact of them.
But I'm not going to be in a position to comment on those recommendations or on those analyses because there's a priority that's placed on the independence of this process.
Q: Is the President paying attention to these processes?
MR. EARNEST: Well, as you pointed out, the decision by Comcast to not go forward with the merger was on the front page of every newspaper that I saw today. So I'm confident that the President is aware. But he did not have a role in that policy process because it's an independent policy process.
Q: Has the President called Prime Minister Renzi to apologize about the loss of the Italian civilian in the strikes? And did they speak about the hostage situation at all when they met here?
MR. EARNEST: Pamela, I can tell you that the President did telephone Prime Minister Renzi. He did that on Wednesday, I believe. It was a direct conversation between the two of them. It was not a lengthy one. I don't know whether or not they talked about the case of Mr. Lo Porto when Prime Minister Renzi was at the White House last week. * [The President and Prime Minister Renzi did not discuss the hostage situation when they met at the White House.]
Jared, I'll give you the last one.
Q: Thanks, Josh. I just wanted to follow up on Mr. Viqueira's questions yesterday, because today is the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. When the President falls short of a campaign promise -- I'm thinking about some other examples like Guantanamo Bay -- you've often pointed to other factors, especially here in Washington, that can make that difficult. What are the -- for example, Republicans in Congress the reason we can't bring back some -- that that's been your argument.
MR. EARNEST: I think that's a fact.
Q: Well, I'm just repeating what you've said.
MR. EARNEST: Okay. Well, we don't have call it an argument, though; it's a fact, right? Republicans say -- Republicans acknowledge they put in language in the NDAA bills and other pieces of legislation that bars the transfer of Guantanamo detainees either to the United States, and places severe limitations on our ability to transfer them to other places. So that's a--
Q: Okay, what are the facts that are keeping the President from making -- fulfilling this promise?
MR. EARNEST: Well, the President, as you pointed out, issued a long statement earlier today to mark Armenian Remembrance Day.
Q: He uses the word Meds Yeghern; he uses a word that doesn't mean genocide.
MR. EARNEST: But he does point out the importance of acknowledging the 1.5 million Armenians who were massacred in this terrible incident in history. And the President believes in the value of acknowledging those historical facts.
And there's a particular line in the President's statement that jumped out at me, which is that the President indicated that: "We welcome the expression of views by Pope Francis, Turkish and Armenian historians, and the many others who have sought to shed light on this dark chapter of history."
Q: They've called it genocide. And the Armenian Genocide Centennial Committee of America said they are deeply disappointed that President Obama has chosen to break his promise and stand apart from the global community, speaking the truth about the Armenian genocide. So the President's -- your line, trying to be on the same page with those people. But this group of American representatives of Armenian diaspora in the United States say that the President has broken his promise. So to answer my first question, what are the forces that are keeping the President from keeping this promise?
MR. EARNEST: Well, I think that the President has spoken very clearly and directly in the context of this specific statement, so I'd refer you to those comments. I'd also point out that the United States Treasury Secretary Jack Lew led a U.S. delegation to the Armenian remembrance services and activities in Armenia. And again, I think that's an indication of the President's commitment to ensuring that we not allow even these very tragic incidents from going unnoticed, and that acknowledging what had happened in history is important.
Q: Forgive the extended metaphor to Guantanamo Bay, but when you were asked about that a few months ago, you said -- it was in the context of should we give up hope that this is going to be resolved before the President gets out of office. And you said, like many campaign promises, there's still time left; there's still a chance for this to -- should be hold out hope that the President will say the word "genocide" in the context of the Armenian 1915 events?
MR. EARNEST: Well, if we have a change in that front to announce, then we'll be sure and let you know.
Q: But you encourage us to have hope? I'm guessing -- I'm asking if we should have similar hope.
MR. EARNEST: I'm suggesting that you should stay tuned, and we'll let you know.
I do not have a week ahead, but we will have something that will be included in the guidance that will go out tonight to fill you in on the President's week.
I know the President is looking forward to his weekend appearance at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and hopefully we'll see all of you there. Thanks a lot, everybody.
END 1:49 P.M. EDT
Josh Earnest, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/310342