THE WHITE HOUSE[...]
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ARI FLEISCHER
October 10, 2001
Q: Yesterday, the President made clear his point about leaks. He's had breakfast today with congressional leaders. Is the President willing to go from eight to a higher number of congressmen and senators getting the information? And, if so, when would this occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me try to bring you up to speed on where we are. That issue did come up in the meeting with the four congressional leaders. And I think it's fair to say, message received. There's no doubt about it that the importance of keeping classified information classified has been stressed, and the President hopes that it will be closely, exactly adhered to.
Having said that, the President did say this morning that he does want to make certain that the members of the Armed Services Committee, for example, can be briefed by Secretary Rumsfeld; that the members of the Foreign Relations Committees can be briefed by Secretary Powell, et cetera. It's important that members of Congress have information that they need to do their proper oversight activities; while at the same time, the President will continue to remind members of Congress about the importance of keeping classified information classified.
Q: On the same subject, he had the two highest-ranking members of both the Houses on the Intelligence Committee. Does this mean the same thing applies to Armed Forces and --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, there will be briefings by the Secretary of Defense to members of the Armed Forces Committees.
Q: I mean, the number of people who can receive this information. He had the ranking Democrat, ranking Republican on each committee of Intelligence. Does this mean the same rule will apply to Foreign Relations and to Armed Forces?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think when Secretary Rumsfeld goes up, he will be talking to all members of the committees.
Q: When the members emerged, their perception was that the administration was going to be much more careful in what information it shared; that if it was classified or sensitive, they would share that information if it was past-tense information, what happened earlier today or yesterday. And the President made clear he would be much more reluctant because he doesn't trust them to share "this is what's going to happen tomorrow" information. Is that fair?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak about past tense; I haven't heard that. But I can suggest to you that secrets will be kept secret. And the President knows that he will work with the Congress so that objective can be achieved. And he was satisfied with the meeting this morning; the leaders were satisfied with the meeting this morning. So I think it's fair to say that from the members' point of view, and the President's, this issue has been addressed. And I hope there is a new sense of awareness throughout the government about the importance of keeping information classified.
Q: Ari, is there also a new memo going out from the President -- the one he sent out was fairly stern and very specific --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no memo forthcoming.
Q: Wait. That one shared very specifically this policy will be in effect until you are told by me that it is not.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he actually wrote in there "until further notice." And the President met this morning with the four leaders of Congress and gave them some notice.
Q: That memo was written to Treasury, State, Central Intelligence, FBI, all --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has many means of communicating with the people who work for him.
Q: So should we take from that then that the full select committees on intelligence will now be briefed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The briefings will proceed as I just indicated in performance with the President's wishes and as he expressed to the members this morning at the meeting.
Q: Does that mean the full select committees on intelligence?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think just watch events unfold on the Hill and you will see. And as I indicated this morning, the leaders seemed to be satisfied.
Q: To follow on Jim's question, is it fair to say now that the President has served notice that this policy is no longer in effect, or will there be some classified information that will be provided only to the eight members of Congress that he mentioned?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the message the President said about the importance of keeping classified information classified remains fully in effect; that the message on the bottom of the memo about further notice -- I would draw your attention to the subsequent statements made by the President.
Q: What happens if somebody does leak after this, if Congress has been put on notice? What happens now --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. I'll just hope it doesn't happen.
Q: Ari, all of these bills do require a lot of bipartisan work, and that's been an important goal of the President, especially since September. But there was a feeling, especially yesterday, on Capitol Hill that the release of the memo and the tightening of information with Congress had created a lot of ill will, and some people saying, this is ricocheting all over the place, it's busting unity that's been on the Hill, even though it might have been fraying before yesterday. But does the White House have some concern that the impact of that memo might have poisoned the waters a little bit, by the time --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, I think the members of Congress know that they have many important responsibilities and that they will work with the White House, work Democrats with Republicans, Republicans with Democrats, on behalf of those responsibilities. That includes taking action so the domestic agenda can move forward, so aviation security can pass, so counterterrorism activities legislation can pass. And I think members understand that.
I think members also are pained by what happened. I think they recognize that they put the President in a difficult spot. Imagine if the case had been that as a result of a CIA briefing to a committee, information was revealed that was classified and the President didn't care or said nothing. I think that also would suggest that classified information is not being handled in a manner that it should be because of the serious nature of classified information. And many members on the Hill are very concerned about the fact that classified information was leaked. They understand that there are important issues involving sharing information with the Congress, and they want to see this matter worked out as well as the President does.
Q: Two questions about the agreement between the President and the Hill leaders on information. Number one, does it also include administration officials below the Secretary level, such as Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, who was scheduled to testify before Senate Armed Services before all this came up? And, number two, does it also encompass committees such as the Appropriations subcommittees that have jurisdiction over State and Defense, the Judiciary Committee?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I said -- and I think we've pretty well exhausted this topic -- as I said earlier, the President discussed these matter with the congressional leaders. The President is satisfied; the congressional leaders seemed to be satisfied; and I think this matter will run its course and take care of itself.
Q: Ari, going back to this letter issue, since it's caused a little bit of a rift, what was the mood going into this meeting this morning? And was he happy that he had to open the circle up a little bit more after he closed it down?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the meeting discussed many issues. I have to tell you that from the report I have, the discussion of the memo was five minutes of an hour-long meeting. Yesterday, when all the members of the Foreign Relations Committee that were here, it was a 45-minute meeting, and the discussion of the memo took about two minutes. So I think you could say there is a disproportionate focus in the media than some of the members when they meet with the President.
Q: Well, what was the tone of that five minutes? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The food was good. I don't know, I wasn't in there for the meeting, so I couldn't share that. Thank you, everybody.