For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
The White House
October 2, 2003
Press Briefing by Scott McClellanThe James S. Brady Briefing Room
[excerpts on White House leak investigation]
Q: Scott, has the White House received any subpoenas for documents in the leaks case?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Are you aware of any individuals who have received any? And will you tell us if the White House is subpoenaed or if individuals are?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that question came up earlier. I expect that we will discuss that matter with the career Justice Department officials who are looking into this. And if they are okay with me notifying you of that information, I will certainly do so. My intention is to share with you the information you need to do your job, as long as that's consistent with preserving the integrity of the investigation.
Q: I was just going to say there is a precedent for revealing this. We had this in a previous administration, and it has come up. Is that being taken into consideration as you look at this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's why I said, what we want to do is discuss that matter with the Department of Justice. And if they are okay with us notifying you of that information, then we will do so.
Q: I gather you're asking about subpoenas for things, information, or records -- I'm asking if that applies, as well -- have any White House officials been interviewed yet by the FBI?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to my knowledge. But again, the Justice Department officials may decide they want to talk to people individually. So I wouldn't necessarily know. And I should say not to the White House's knowledge, when I say that, when I'm saying me, not to the White House's knowledge.
Q: So would that mean that there's --
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, we've received --
Q: No senior staff has been interviewed then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to our knowledge.
Q: How about the CIA?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Are you aware of anybody at the --
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask the CIA that question, or the Justice Department that question.
Q: Can I ask a follow-on point I just wanted to -- why does the White House feel that it's appropriate to coordinate an attack on Joseph Wilson in coordination with the RNC and Republicans in Congress, to attack him on his partisanship and his record as a partisan? Why does the White House feel that that's appropriate and relevant here?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are focused on is getting to the bottom of this investigation. That's what the President wants to happen. He wants the -- he wants the Justice Department to get to the bottom of this, the sooner the better. So our focus is on this investigation and getting to the bottom of it. That's what we are doing. Obviously, there are -- that's what the subject of this investigation is about, and that's why it's important to --
Q: But my question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- keep the focus on the investigation.
Q: Right, but my question still hasn't been answered. I mean, you're not denying that there are challenges and attacks on Joseph Wilson's character because he's a partisan, and the partisan nature that the White House believes is irrelevant here -- I'm asking you, why that's relevant in all of this and why the White House feels it's appropriate when there's an investigation going on to coordinate such attacks with the Republican National Committee and with Republicans on the Hill --
MR. McCLELLAN: David, I have said from this podium that it is not my place to question someone's motives. That is something that is part of your reporting that you do in your profession. So that's --
Q: But it is the place of others who are working at the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: I have made it very clear on that matter that it is just simply not my position to get into questioning someone's motives.
Q: Right, but you're speaking for the White House, and the White House is coordinating with Republicans on the Hill and with its arm, which is the political arm, which is the RNC, to go after this guy. So why is that appropriate? Why is it relevant?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President wants everybody to focus on getting to the bottom of this investigation, and that's what we are doing. We are working --
Q: Well, why won't you answer this question?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to cooperate with the Department of Justice. And I have answered that -- I answered that question yesterday.
Q: Scott, between the time period of mid-July when this story first broke, and late September when it became much more public, what, if anything, did White House officials -- the President, National Security Advisor, Chief of Staff, others, general for the Counsel's Office -- do to address the leak problem that emerged in July?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you what we were doing in that period. We were focusing on the priorities of the American people. We were focusing on moving forward on the legislation to strengthen and improve Medicare for America's seniors. We were focused on strengthening the economy that's growing faster now, but we want more action done. We were focusing on the energy legislation and focusing on addressing some of the problems there. That's where our focus was.
Now, there was -- there were articles which happen all too often in this town, of allegations that were made -- unsubstantiated allegations citing, I believe, senior administration officials, not even specifically White House at that point. And we didn't have -- we had no information beyond these unsubstantiated allegations in media reports to suggest there was any White House involvement in the matter you are raising.
But the process that is in place for that is for the CIA to look at those issues, and, if they feel a need to, to report information to the Department of Justice. They did that.
Q: I did not mean to suggest that the President and his staff had no other focus or no other responsibilities; obviously, tremendous responsibilities. But this was one thing that had happened which the CIA's General Counsel has now determined a crime that hurt national security. Did the CIA -- Director Tenet or anyone else -- during the time period, mid-July, late September, communicate to the President or his staff that this was very serious, that it looked like it was heading towards a criminal investigation, that they wanted some cooperation from the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not aware of any such conversation.
Q: Senator Schumer is calling on John Ashcroft to recuse himself from this case, Scott. Do you see any need for the General to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the Department of Justice will make decisions of that nature. They -- the Department of Justice has publicly stated that all legal options are on the table. That's where it stands.
But I would remind you that the career Justice Department officials are the ones who are leading this investigation. These are individuals with vast experience and are in the best position to get to the bottom of this. The Justice Department wants to get to the bottom of this. The President wants to get to the bottom of this. The American people want us to get to the bottom of this. So that's a shared goal, and that's a -- that's what we are -- that's why we are working cooperatively with the Department of Justice to get to the bottom of this. And, as I said, the sooner the better. And if anyone, anyone inside or outside the administration has information that is relevant to this investigation, they should report that information to the Department of Justice so we can get to the bottom of this.
Q: Scott, Steve mentioned Senator Schumer, but it's not just him. Senator Specter, a fellow Republican, also said today that he believes that Ashcroft should recuse himself in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because of his relationships with Karl Rove. What do you think of that? Is that something that you think might make sense, considering the fact that you do want this to stay at the Justice Department in the hands of career officials?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a matter for the Department of Justice to decide.
Q: But in terms of the perception of this, when you have Republicans now saying that perhaps John Ashcroft should recuse himself in order to let the career --
MR. McCLELLAN: We talked about this yesterday, the President spoke about it the other day. The President believes that the career Justice Department officials at the Department of Justice, the ones who have a vast amount of experience in these issues, are in the best position to get to the bottom of this. And that's exactly what he wants those officials to do. And that's exactly what those officials want to do.
Q: But what Senator Specter is saying is that they report to John Ashcroft, who might have a conflict because of his past work with Karl Rove.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the Department of Justice has said that all legal options are on the table. They will make those decisions.
Q: Scott, on Tuesday when you shared with us the second memo by Judge Gonzales to the staff, it named three reporters. And it said pursuant to the Justice Department request, please preserve records of contacts with these three reporters. Was Judge Gonzales singling out those three reporters, or did the Justice Department single them out?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Actually, if you look back at the letter, the language in that letter that we shared publicly with you was verbatim from the Justice Department. That was the request that they sent us the other day.
Q: So there was -- that was the entire text --
MR. McCLELLAN: And those names were -- those names were verbatim from the text of that letter.
Q: Scott, in addition to the controversy surrounding Ambassador Wilson's wife, we've seen open, public dissension in the State Department; the EPA Inspector General has made claims that the White House doctored air quality reports, and Senator Clinton is using this to hold up the nomination of Governor Leavitt for the EPA post. Still, others leave the administration, write an op-ed criticizing the administration, and then join a Democratic presidential nominee's campaign. My question is: Is the President or anyone else in this administration concerned that the Clinton holdovers are undermining the administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: In a certain department?
Q: Yes, in these various departments.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the President has assembled a team that is working together to implement his priorities. We have a strong team that is in place that is trying to implement what the President's focus is.
Q: But time and time again you'll see one holdover from various departments criticizing the administration and --
MR. McCLELLAN: People have the right to express their views.
Q: Scott, in the midst of this "leakgate" situation, has the White House unofficially or officially told the Press Office or senior administration officials how they should deal with the press in reference to sourcing information, giving us information on any new situation -- not just this, but anything? Has anything changed in reference to this in how the White House relates with us?
MR. McCLELLAN: Has anything changed in reference --
Q: How the White House deals with the press, in giving information, ever since this "leakgate" situation has happened?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to specifically.
Q: I'm referring to, like, we will be able to email you, or some other White House staffers, talk to them on the phone. Has anything been put in place, in motion, to kind of curtail -- has the White House maybe tapped --
MR. McCLELLAN: Try to curtail?
Q: Has the White House maybe tapped phone lines, looking through emails -- no, I mean, I'm not trying to be funny with this, I'm being very serious. Is there some kind of thing to prevent this kind of "leakgate" from happening again?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate what you're saying. At this point, what we have done is sent the letter -- sent the text of the letter from the Department of Justice to White House staff. We have shared that letter, the text of that letter with you, as well, because we released that memo for you.
Q: But has anything changed in the way White House officials are dealing with the press to prevent --
MR. McCLELLAN: No. To prevent --
Q: To prevent this kind of situation, Justice Department probe -- into giving confidential information that could ultimately result in someone's -- affect someone's life.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're suggesting that that happened in the White House.
Q: I am not suggesting that happened --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, by that question --
Q: -- but there is a probe that is going on because there are allegations.
MR. McCLELLAN: What we're trying to do is get to the bottom of this investigation, and work cooperatively with the Justice Department to do that. But, no other -- we have sent the memo out with the text of the letter in it to White House employees to make sure that they understand that it is the request of the Department of Justice that they preserve and maintain all information that could be related to their request. And the President has directed the White House to cooperate fully. And that's what we expect staff members to do. That's what we've done.
Q: Scott, I'd like to take another crack, if I may, at Steve's question. You keep using the phrase "career Justice Department investigators leading the investigation." But really what Senator Schumer is concerned about is the fact that the Attorney General, a political appointee, in some cases has to sign off on subpoenas. And is the White House concerned that there just may be an appearance here that there's foot-dragging. We're this far into it, we haven't heard any subpoenas have been served or investigators have come on. Is there just any concern on the part of the White House that because the Attorney General is a political appointee and he does have a hands-on role in this, is Senator Schumer right to say that the best thing for the White House would be to call for a recusal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've addressed this question. The Justice Department has addressed that question. In response to that very question you're bringing up, the Justice Department said that all legal options remain on the table. But I think it's important to keep in mind that the criminal division that is investigating this matter at the Department of Justice is headed by career Justice Department officials who have a lot of experience in these matters. And that's why they're in the best position to get to the bottom of this.
And it's important to keep in mind that the Justice Department wants to get to the bottom of this, too. If someone in the administration, anywhere in the administration, leaked classified information, we want to know who it is. The President has always made it clear that the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think the Justice Department shares the White House's concern about the leaking of classified information. So we're working toward the same goal here. And we're working cooperatively with them to get to the bottom of this matter.
Q: Can I follow up, Scott? Just quickly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've -- I mean, we've been through this before.
Q: Can I just -- just very quickly. You talk about the fact that all legal options are on the table. But this isn't a question of legal options, this is a question of a potential conflict of interest, a perception of that, with John Ashcroft. And that is why the two senators are calling for him to recuse himself.
MR. McCLELLAN: And those are decisions for the Department of Justice to make.
Q: Scott, back on the Wilson matter for a second. Metaphorically speaking, there is one holdover from the Clinton administration that seems to be in play here, and that's the notion that every time controversy comes up, the two political parties do snipe at each other about it. And in spite of what you said earlier regarding the parties, does the President realize that this is the sort of thing that can hurt him politically?
MR. McCLELLAN: The investigation?
Q: The investigation, the --
MR. McCLELLAN: If we get to the bottom of this -- the President has been the one out -- speaking out front of this that we need to get to the bottom of this investigation. Look, we recognize that, certainly, there are people who have made some unsubstantiated accusations of the White House leaking classified information. More recently they have been forced to back away from those unsubstantiated accusations. Now you see what happens here in Washington, D.C. Some have, all of a sudden, decided to move the goalpost and sensationalize this issue for a political -- for partisan political gain. We recognize --
Q: It's been that way for a while.
MR. McCLELLAN: We recognize that this is what happens in Washington, D.C. It's unfortunate, and I think it can -- it's a real -- not only does it take away from the subject of this investigation, it's a disservice to the American people.
There are a number of important challenges facing this country that we need to be working together on to address. The President is someone who does everything he can to bring people together to get things done. And that's what he's going to continue to do. He's focused -- we're going about our business. We're focused on the priorities for the American people. And we will continue to remain focused on the priorities for the American people.
Q: Who is moving the goalposts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we all know. The subject of this investigation is whether someone leaked classified information. Yesterday some of the questions began to move the goalpost and focus on other issues that are not the subject of this investigation. And we all know who these people are.
Q: Who are they?
Q: We'd like to know --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you watch TV, you will see who they are.
Q: Who are they? Who are they?
Q: What did Democrats -- are you referring to Democrats on the Hill who, by calling for a special counsel -- do you think that that is somehow changing the subject of what the investigation is about for political gain? Is that what you're referring to?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are -- the leaking of classified information is a very serious allegation. And the President has made it very clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this. Unfortunately, there are some that are looking through the lens of political opportunism. There are some that are seeking partisan political advantage. I don't need to go into names. We all know who they are.
Q: Can I follow on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can go to that, then I'm going to come to Goyal.
Q: If the President wants people to stop trying to get partisan political gain from this, why doesn't he tell Ed Gillespie, the Chairman of the RNC, to stop questioning Joe Wilson's motives?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there are some people that are making unsubstantiated allegations and unsubstantiated rumors about the White House leaking classified information. And some of those people have been forced to back away from that, and then all of a sudden they move the goalpost and focus on another issue that's not the subject of the investigation.
Q: Are you talking about Joe Wilson now?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we all know who these people are. If you look at yesterday's questions in the briefing, I think you know exactly what I am talking about.
Q: Does the President think Ed Gillespie, who is, after all, his political arm, ought to stop being involved in this issue then?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've already answered that question earlier.
Q: This moving the goalpost question, are you saying that the President condemns and believes it's wrong for any members of his staff to leak classified information, but that he has no opinion, or that it's okay if once leaked some members of his staff peddle that story in order to do down Ambassador Wilson or his wife --
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I addressed that matter yesterday. So I've already addressed that matter.
Q: Remind me.
MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question? Are you getting to are people talking about what's in the news?
Q: Yes, that is precisely what I'm getting at.
MR. McCLELLAN: People always talk about -- you all talk about what's in the news, I talk about what's in the news, people always talk about what's in the news.
Q: So it's okay with the President if people said, hey, did you see that Bob Novak column, you know, Wilson's wife got him the job and that's why you shouldn't believe what he says? That's okay -- leaking it is wrong; peddling it is okay?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that it's a serious allegation when it's suggested that someone leaked classified information. We want to get to the bottom of that. There are some that are looking at this as an opportunity for partisan political advantage, in talking about other issues that are not the subject of the investigation.
Q: I'm talking about an issue that is not the subject of the investigation. I'm talking about changing the tone, about the ethics --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what -- I made very clear that the President expects members of his administration to adhere to the highest ethical standards.
Q: Scott, now that the leak investigation has begun by the Justice Department, has the White House given any special instructions to White House staff as to how to deal with reporters who call in or approach them with questions about this thing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: -- no instructions --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of.
Q: Did any members of the White House staff hire outside counsel to represent them in connection with the criminal investigation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not to my knowledge.
Q: Second question, you have said there's no evidence implicating current White House staff. Do you know of any evidence implicating former White House staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q: Third, Karl Rove used to work for Attorney General Ashcroft. Attorney General Ashcroft is investigating the White House, why doesn't that represent a conflict of interest?
MR. McCLELLAN: Career Justice Department officials are investigating the allegation that there is a leak of classified information. And I've already answered that question.