Press Briefing by Tony Snow
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
12:19 P.M. EDT
MR. SNOW: Questions.
Q: Tony, have you been in touch with the Iranians, or tried to contact them to try to get the release of those British sailors?
MR. SNOW: No, the British are handling the communications.
Q: Are you making any point that they should be released or --
MR. SNOW: I'm not aware of direct communication -- again, as you know, we don't have direct diplomatic relations with the Iranians. But we certainly stand by our British allies.
Q: Was the President briefed on it? Has he talked to Blair?
MR. SNOW: I don't think he has talked with Blair, and I am assuming he's been briefed on it, but I don't know that for a fact -- I haven't had an opportunity to speak with him this morning.
Q: Were they there legitimately, or is this --
MR. SNOW: The way the British have reported it is that the ship was moved from Iraqi to Iranian waters, by Iranian ships. And at that point the sailors were seized. That's really all I know. That's what the Ministry of Defense put out.
Q: Did the President respond to Fred Fielding, or did Fred Fielding have a conversation with the President?
MR. SNOW: Let me put it this way, as you know, the issue of internal White House deliberations figures rather large in what we're discussing here. But if Fred Fielding has made a representation that he would take something to the President, you can take it to the bank that that happened.
Q: Okay. And then what was the President's response? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: I'm not even going to try to fake that one. Again, internal deliberations. Thank you. The President's position is pretty clear.
Q: And there's no change in it, no give?
MR. SNOW: There is no change. It's a principled position, but it's one that we think -- look, what do you want? You want all the facts, and we're going to make the facts available. We think that this offer is a way to have an amicable and a serious and comprehensive look at the issue so that people can get at the answers.
Q: We spoke with the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House Judiciary Committee. Senate says there is no precedent for having an official of this nature come and speak to the Committee without a transcript. The House also says they can't find any precedent. Why should this case set a precedent?
MR. SNOW: Well, the fact is what they're trying to do is to establish their own set of precedents. What we're trying to do is to set a precedent for adult behavior in a way that is going to reflect well on a situation and offer an opportunity -- I don't think you're going to find any case where there has been no allegation of impropriety, no specific --
Q: It's not about --
MR. SNOW: -- any specific allegation of impropriety, suddenly to say, we're going to offer up internal deliberations. But we're doing this because we know there are concerns on the Hill and we want to address them. I think that this is -- I'm not sure that there are any situations for which there is a precedent for this.
Q: Even transcripts?
MR. SNOW: For any of this.
Q: But, Tony, the idea of minutes goes back to the beginning of Western thought. Plato kept minutes on Socrates. What does Karl Rove have on Socrates? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: Plato kept -- was that the case, or was it Aristotle who kept notes on Plato?
Q: Well, Plato also --
MR. SNOW: Inquiring minds want to know. This is Maimonides. Let's just start dropping philosophers' names. The fact is --
Q: The point is --
MR. SNOW: No, here's the point, is we've set up a situation in which we think members of Congress and staffers -- this is open to members and staff, who are able to take notes, and we also believe that writing goes back to the inception of Western civilization, and the ability -- I'm not sure that they had recordings or transcripts, but they did have writing. There was writing.
Q: So you want everyone to come out with their own notes -- you know how often you challenge what we've said and what we've written down, that's how you want it to be recorded?
MR. SNOW: Look, first --
Q: Would that be different --
MR. SNOW: Let's please put this in perspective. Here's a decision made at the Department of Justice. Any documents, any deliberations, any key players, they're available. Now, if there are additional questions about White House involvement, as people say, any communication is going to be available, any. So as a consequence --
Q: You just don't want a record of what they said.
MR. SNOW: No, no, no. The record, in fact, is going to be available. So then if there are follow-on questions of a factual nature, they are going to be able to be answered.
Q: Available, but without a transcript?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Follow on, on Maimonides. (Laughter.) I'm actually kidding. (Laughter.)
To be serious for a second. It looks like the House is about to vote and pass, so I'd like to get your reaction to that, to follow up on that, after you do that. The President has said in the past, he's told the like to Senator Levin, keep the pressure on the Iraqis. That's not a bad thing when you call for some kind of accountability for the Iraqis and the message that the U.S. isn't there for an indeterminate amount of time. Is there something out of this approach, in either the House or the Senate, with regards to benchmarks or timelines, that the President thinks could be positive?
MR. SNOW: Look, the President is going to veto this bill, and he's going to veto it because even though it provides some funding, it also puts handcuffs on generals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, sergeants, corporals, privates, and everybody else. What it says is that they're going to place conditions on the daily activities of our forces, and that is inappropriate.
It is also going to place conditions on Iraqis. It's going to threaten to withdraw money from Iraqis -- whom we are trying to train up. And it's also going to provide less than the necessary funding for the very people who are doing what members of Congress say they want to do, which is to build democracy through provisional reconstruction teams and other means. And on top of that, you've got a lot of pork barrel spending.
The President -- his position has been very clear, which is, please, you say you support the troops, support the troops; write a bill that is an emergency supplemental for the military, then if you want to talk about peanut storage or citrus farming or shrimp and menhaden, you can do that, just do it in the context of the normal budget process.
The other thing the President wants to make clear is, right now what Democrats are doing is they're wasting time at a time when the clock is ticking. The Secretary of Defense yesterday made it clear that a number of things start happening on April 15th, when half the Congress is still going to be on vacation. These would involve curtailing or suspending reserve component preparations for rotations; it's going to slow the training of the people who are scheduled to deploy next, jeopardizing deployments; it's going to degrade the quality of life for soldiers and families at home stations, including upgrades for barracks, dining facilities, also recreational facilities; and it's going to stop the repair of equipment such as tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles.
These are serious things, and what you need to do is to understand that any attempt to sort of run the clock or to create a situation where having wasted a lot of time on a bill they know is not going to pass, they're then going to try to point fingers at the President for vetoing a bill at a time when the money is running out. Right now Congress needs to do the responsible thing, which is, get this charade over -- go ahead and make your PR point, and then do your job.
Q: Well, let me follow on that, because you say, if you want to support the troops, pass a different sort of bill. A majority of Americans, Tony, don't think that American sacrifice is worth this war. So how -- you could look at supporting the troops and be consistent with what the House bill does, which is to set a deadline to remove them.
MR. SNOW: I think if you ask the American --
Q: Why does the President -- if I can just finish -- why do you and this President have the corner on what it means to support the troops?
MR. SNOW: I think if you ask the troops, "Do you think it's supporting you if we are going to cut off your ability in two-and-a-half weeks to repair your tanks, to fix your fighting vehicles, to be able to have your reinforcements in, to have rotations? Do you think that constitutes support?" My guess is they'd say "No." I think this is a pretty simple case, when you start cutting people off in the middle of an engagement.
What you're really asking is, I think -- and correct me if I paraphrase wrong -- a lot of people want us out. And, yes, I mean, we'd like to be out. But we need -- the fact is we want to leave when we have, in fact, succeeded in the mission. I think you'll find that the folks in the military agree with that, too.
So you can't have it both ways, if you're a member of Congress saying, "Well, we support the troops," and then, on April 15th, you begin to have consequences for the troops in the field, and by May 15th, you continue to have even more dramatic consequences, which the Secretary of Defense laid out yesterday.
So this is sort of a fish-or-cut-bait time. Members of Congress have before them the challenge of making sure that the reinforcements continue to flow, and also the supplies to the men and women who are in the field continue to flow right now.
Q: But just a final one. Do you dispute the central aim of this bill, which is to reflect the country's will to get out of Iraq by a date certain?
MR. SNOW: I think -- the problem is, if you're trying to sort of do the public opinion poll, you can read them a lot of different ways, based on the way you do the question. I think --
Q: You can read American sentiment about the war a lot of different ways?
MR. SNOW: Yes, because if you ask questions -- if you ask a question, "Would you want to leave without completing the mission?" People say "No." It really does depend on how you frame the question. But we understand that people don't like war. And the President doesn't like war, and we wish we could get out yesterday, but we can't.
Q: It's not that they just don't like war. They don't like how this administration is handling this war. Right?
MR. SNOW: Well, yes, but on the other hand, if you ask -- if you take a look, for instance, at what has happened: a response in Baghdad security that so far has produced -- again, so far -- has produced positive results; you see that there has been a change in perception, a pretty significant one in the last month. And I think Americans are willing to stand by the troops.
If you ask the question, "Should our commanders be able to determine the way to run the war?" The answer is, "You bet." If you say, "Should key battlefield decisions be made by members of Congress and their staff, as opposed to generals and those who serve under them?" The answer would be, "No." And so that's one of the issues.
But fundamentally, David, these guys know this bill isn't going to pass. They're doing exactly what you say, which is trying to make a statement, but the statement they're making is, they're willing to waste time on a rhetorical point when the soldiers in Iraq, looking at their watches, are saying, what happens to us on April 15th?
Q: Tony, what's Fred Fielding doing on the Hill, if there are no negotiations with members of Congress?
MR. SNOW: Well, you can have conversations, but they're not -- but there are not negotiations going on. That's --
Q: So does that mean is -- is Arlen Specter wasting his time, then?
MR. SNOW: You'll have to ask Senator Specter. I mean, what you -- again, I think you guys are so busy working on the brinkmanship scenario that you have to understand that everybody realizes that this is serious business. And what we believe is that we have made a highly unusual, if not unprecedented, offer of access to deliberations and every fact that you need, to be able to determine what went on and to figure out if you need to do anything else. And I can't imagine a more generous offer, but we've done it.
And so, members of Congress, also, have to think this through. They've got a lot of other things on their plate. We're talking about it now. You've got supplemental vote today. You also have budget deliberations in the House and Senate. But Fred has made it clear that he's willing to talk with folks.
Q: On another matter?
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Secretary Gates' concerns about Gitmo. Did they reach the President?
MR. SNOW: No. I received some guidance from the Secretary of Defense's office, which is that it never did reach the President. He had some concerns, and illegal issues were resolved. And he deferred to the Attorney General on the legal issues. And beyond that, I'm going to kick it all over to DoD. But it did not reach the President.
Q: Why is it that the President's stated desire to close Guantanamo Bay cannot be turned into some kind of plan of action?
MR. SNOW: Because there are legal constraints, and those are the things that the Attorney General had made clear in terms of the inadvisability of putting Guantanamo detainees on continental U.S. soil. We have tried as best we can to move those who are in Guantanamo either to their home nations, or nations where they are wanted for other trial or justice dispensation. But we also have laid down the benchmark that you also have to be able to assure that they're going to be treated humanely.
Very few countries want these people back, and, therefore, what you have to do is to work through a procedure where you do, in fact, bring them to justice. But the President made clear back in September that he would love to be able to shut it down, but unfortunately the circumstances do not presently permit.
Q: So, realistically, are you saying that Guantanamo Bay will not be shut down before the end of his presidency?
MR. SNOW: I doubt it, no. I don't think it will.
Q: Tony, I have two. You said this morning that you're committed to giving Congress whatever they need.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: How can they know what it is that they need until they see it? I mean, aren't you pretty much predetermining their needs for them by deciding what they need?
MR. SNOW: No. Think of it this way: Congress wants to know "whether there was a White House role." You would be able to determine that by examining any communication from the White House to the outside. So what we've said is, you got it. Do you want to know any conversation or any communication with the Department of Justice? Got it. How about U.S. attorneys? You can have that, too. Members of Congress? Yes. Anybody on the outside, we'll supply that, as well.
So the fact is, that is completely responsive to the issue here. What's also interesting is, again, nobody in Congress has any specific allegation of impropriety or wrongdoing on the part of the White House. Instead what they're saying is, well, maybe there is. Well, that's not how you conduct an investigation -- but we're still understanding the need to get answers about this because they're curious. We're enabling them to find out every bit of communication that went from the White House elsewhere. That's all you need to draw your conclusions.
Q: They'd like to see what Harriet Miers and Karl Rove had to say to one another.
MR. SNOW: I know, but that is immaterial, in the sense -- there are two things. Number one, you understand the confidentiality of an internal White House deliberations, and number two, that is an attempt -- that is not germane, because if that's not communicated to anybody, who cares?
Q: Well, I think a lot of people will care, depending on what they say.
MR. SNOW: Well, they might care because, yes, they want to second-guess, they want to fly speck or they want to listen, just as a lot of people would be interested to find out what kind of things are going on right now between fundraising organizations and Democrats. But on the other hand, we respect their right to a certain amount of confidentiality in these deliberations because it's really what you do in terms of reaching out to others for action items that does matter.
Q: I have one other one. In a letter from the House Judiciary Committee, it said the -- this was the one yesterday -- "In the meantime, we ask that you ensure the preservation of relevant White House documents in defined in our March 9th letter." Should they have any concern about the preservation of documents from the White House?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q: Tony, do you see any connection, however tenuous, between the Iran-British dispute now with the sailors and what's going on at the U.N. Security Council?
MR. SNOW: I don't want to draw any conclusions. But, again, what is important is that the U.N. Security Council is working on another resolution with regard to Iran that says, look, don't move in the direction of developing nuclear weapons.
And let's reiterate, because I don't think you can say it often enough, we want to support the Iranian people in everything they want, including the ability to have peaceful nuclear power. What we don't want is the opportunity for that government to destabilize the region by developing the capacity to have nuclear weapons. And the international community is perfectly united on this, and has been moving in a patient and careful manner to make its will known to the Iranian government.
Q: And what does the President hope for from Secretary Rice's trip to the Middle East?
MR. SNOW: Well, at this point, Secretary Rice really is -- she understands that peace efforts are very important in the region. And so she's going to continue to reach out to all parties -- the Palestinians, the Israelis and Arabs -- to work for a solution that's going to lead to peace, a Palestinian state living side by side peacefully with Israel, and also a Palestinian state that meets the Quartet conditions of renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist, and also obeying all -- recognizing and obeying all previous treaty obligations.
Q: Including pushing Arab states, moderate Arab states to recognize Israel --
MR. SNOW: Well, again, I'm not going to -- I won't speak for the Secretary, but she is there to advance the cause of peace.
Q: Do we know anything more about the assassination attempt this morning on the Deputy Prime Minister -- the conditions, and who might have been responsible?
MR. SNOW: No, we really don't. And, again, I think that's probably something the folks in Baghdad are going to have a little more detail. It takes a while for that to get back.
But, again, it is very clear that what you've had is an attempt -- an example of the kinds of means the terrorists are going to use to try to unsettle democracy, and also the importance -- and it is ironic, at a time when we're talking about continuing to provide funds for our forces, when General Petraeus, who did not have a single contrary vote in the United States Senate says, I need reinforcements and this is what I need, for members of Congress to try to hamper his ability to carry out the plan that they've already seeming endorsed with their vote in support of him.
Q: Tony, just one question today, and it's from our fellow talk radio host, Roger Hedgecock, in San Diego. The President is under fire for firing Carol Lam as U.S. attorney in San Diego because she didn't prosecute drug smugglers and human smugglers, called coyotes. And the question, might the President consider firing Johnny Sutton, U.S. Attorney for Southeastern Texas, for prosecuting law enforcement officers who appear guilty of doing nothing more than doing their job?
MR. SNOW: Well, Les, once again, you've tried to draw me into an ongoing legal dispute.
Q: No, no, no, this is Roger Hedgecock in San Diego.
MR. SNOW: Oh.
Q: That's his question.
MR. SNOW: I see. Roger Hedgecock has tried to draw me into something that I cannot comment upon because there are ongoing legal deliberations in the case that he has cited, and therefore, I can't say anything.
Q: Back to the production of documents.
MR. SNOW: Yes.
Q: Clarification, is the President prepared as part of his offer to turn over all materials and emails that were created on the RNC domain, which is primarily --
MR. SNOW: As I said, all responsive documents will be provided.
Q: So he has the authority to tell the RNC to turn it over?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to get into the vagaries of document production, because that is an issue for lawyers to go into. But any documents that would be generated, that would be germane to the inquiry, would be provided.
Q: Whether or not they were created on this system here --
MR. SNOW: Like I said, I don't want to get into the technical issues.
Q: So Secretary Gates has now been persuaded on the need to keep Guantanamo Bay open?
MR. SNOW: Well, it's not "now." It was really quite awhile ago. It is -- again, the Attorney General has made it clear over a period of time that there are very serious legal reasons why not to put Guantanamo detainees on continental U.S. soil. And so whatever ideas the Secretary of Defense may have had coming in, when they had the discussion, he deferred to the legal opinion of the Attorney General.
Q: And your prediction that Guantanamo will remain open throughout the rest of the President's term, what do you base that on?
MR. SNOW: The fact that we have just begun a legal procedure that does take time, and in cognizance of the rights of those involved, there are still quite a number of detainees, and I am imagining that -- and I think it's pretty solid ground, but you can certainly contact the Department of Defense, which is coordinating military commissions -- it's highly unlikely that you can dispense with all those cases between now and the end of the administration.
Q: How much of the Attorney General's story is sort of getting in the way of the President's agenda? He was out in Kansas City to talk about energy, he's going to be talking about energy again next week, and the day -- on Tuesday was the day that the Fred Fielding letter, all of that, dominated the headlines. So how much is that sort of stepping on what the President wants to try and accomplish?
MR. SNOW: I think it's stepping on his being able to get you guys to cover it. But it continues to be -- I don't think he's handcuffed at all. We've talked about a number of issues. And we have been encouraged by the bipartisan cooperation on a lot of issues. We talked earlier today, off camera, about immigration. Energy is an issue where there is substantial agreement between both parties on this -- same thing with education.
Members of Congress understand that this is a time to deliver for the American people. And that's one of the messages that we've been trying to make clear in terms of this budget supplemental. What's going on today is rhetorical exercise. But you cannot supply the forces in the field with rhetoric. You need to supply them with the funding and the flexibility they need to get the job done.
Conversely, a lot of these other issues -- as we've said, the ball is kind of in Congress's court on the issue of U.S. attorneys. We have made clear that we'll provide every fact that they need to make their decisions. And I haven't heard anybody say that there's a fact that they would be denied. And as a result, we think it's a perfectly reasonable and acceptable way to do this and a way that would build confidence with the American public, because I think it would be good for people to see Democrats and Republicans getting together, working together and getting stuff done.
So the President, I think, continues to work with members of both parties on these things. I think quite often the challenge is not getting through on Capitol Hill, because there are a lot of people who are committed in either party to these issues, and they're continuing to work them. But if you've got any advice on how we can lead the news with it, I'll accept all suggestions.
Q: Thank you.
MR. SNOW: Okay, one last thing. There have been a lot of rumors about my health, so let me tell you what's going on. In a recent series of CAT scans and PET scans and MRIs, we have found a small growth in my lower abdomen. Blood tests are negative, PET scans are negative. But out of an aggressive sense of caution, I'm going to go in for surgery on Monday and have it removed. I'll be out for a few weeks, because it's still -- you know, they're going to cut me. And it will take me a little while to heal up. So I'll come back here a little lighter -- (laughter) -- in, oh, I don't know, a few weeks, maybe three or four weeks. Dana Perino will be handling the responsibilities from behind the podium.
But for those of you -- and I appreciate the expressions that I've received from a number of people on this. But please do not leap to conclusions about this, because we don't know what this is. We know it's coming out, and I know I'll be back soon. And I'll miss you each and every day, especially when I'm sore and filled up with drugs. (Laughter.) Thanks.
Q: You're a very brave man.
Q: Where are you having it done, Tony?
MR. SNOW: I'm not going to do that.
Q: You don't want the flowers and the cards?
MR. SNOW: No, I don't -- I want my medical care-givers to be able to do their job without distraction.
Q: Tony, a question about this. You've been very open about your issues, health-wise. And as you know, we heard about Elizabeth Edwards yesterday. And so many other Americans -- I believe the stats are one in three in this country are affected by some form of cancer in their lifetime. What would you say to those who are trying to survive?
MR. SNOW: Again, thank you, that is a great question. And first, let -- again, don't leap to any cancer conclusions about what's going on with me, because we don't know. But I'll tell you what -- and the reason I got choked up with Elizabeth Edwards yesterday is she is doing a wonderful thing. The one thing I have learned -- and I've had the great opportunity -- and it really is -- to be able to talk with and try to help out cancer patients. The biggest problem you have a lot of times with cancer is just flat-out fear. And when you're seeing Elizabeth Edwards saying, I'm going to embrace life and I'm going to move forward, that is a wonderful thing, because once you decide that you're going to embrace life, you become a much better patient. And once you decide that you proceed with a sense of hope and optimism, people are going to rally to your side, and they do. And it's a truly wonderful thing.
And so I certainly encourage everybody to send their thoughts and prayers to Senator Edwards and to Mrs. Edwards. And what she is going to do is going to provide a lot of encouragement and example that I think is going to help a lot of people, and that is a truly wonderful thing, and I congratulate her for it.
Q: Tony --
MR. SNOW: Oh, oh, here we go, thank you. We've been waiting for this moment. The President will make a statement to the pool on the Iraq war emergency supplemental at 1:45 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House. There will be live pool coverage.
Now we can end this. Thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Tony Snow Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/273025