The Mideast and Wiretaps: Presidential Press Conference
January 26, 2006
Sorry to interrupt. (Laughter.) Thank you all very much.
I look forward to answering some of your questions here in a minute. I'm
also looking forward to going up to Capitol Hill next Tuesday to give my
State of the Union address. I thought it probably best not to practice my
speech in front of you here, so you'll pay attention to it when I deliver
it. But I do want to give you some thoughts about what I'm thinking about.
First, I recognize we live in a momentous time. For those of you watching,
we seem to have a mechanical flaw. (Laughter.)
Q That was an accident, right?
THE PRESIDENT: Are you wearing your helmets?
Q It's that renovation project.
THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. (Laughter.) I'll take it up with the First Lady.
I'm going to remind people we're living in historic times, and that we have
a chance to make decisions today that will help shape the direction of
events for years to come. I'm going to continue to talk about an
optimistic agenda that will keep -- that will remind folks we've got a
responsibility to lead. We've got a responsibility to lead to promote
freedom and a responsibility to continue to put policies in place that will
let us be a leader when it comes to the economy in the world.
I recognize this is an election year, but I believe that we can work
together to achieve results. In other words, I think we can set aside the
partisanship that inevitably will come with an election year, and get some
stuff done. And that's what I'm going to call Congress to do.
We've got -- must work together to protect our nation's security. I'm
going to continue do everything within my authority to protect the American
people. We're going to stay on the offense in the war against terror.
We'll hunt down the enemies in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. We'll
continue our terrorist surveillance program against al Qaeda. Congress
must reauthorize the Patriot Act so that our law enforcement and
intelligence and homeland security officers have the tools they need to
route the terrorists -- terrorists who could be planning and plotting
within our borders. And we'll do all this and at the same time protect the
civil liberties of our people.
We're going to continue to lead the cause of freedom in the world. The
only way to defeat a dark ideology is through the hopeful vision of human
Here at home, we're also -- we've got great opportunities. And to seize
those opportunities, we have got to lead. Our economy is growing, it is
strong. This economy has created millions of new jobs, yet it's an economy
that is changing rapidly. And we live in a competitive world. And so
policies must be put in place to recognize the competition of the global
economy and prepare our people to be able to continue to compete so America
can continue to lead.
Of course, we'll talk about fiscal policy in my State of the Union, talking
about the Congress to be wise about how we spend the people's money and to
make the tax cuts permanent.
I will talk about initiatives to make sure our health care and education
and energy recognizes the realities of the world in which we live today and
anticipates the problems of the world tomorrow so that we can remain
I will talk about the values that are important for our country. I'm going
to remind people we show the character and compassion of America by taking
focused action to confront disease and to help devastated areas of our
country that have been -- areas that have been devastated by natural
disasters, and ensure that medical research is conducted in a manner that
recognizes the dignity of every human life.
I look forward to the speech, I really do. As you can imagine, it's an
interesting experience to walk out there and not only talk to members of
Congress, but as importantly, talk to the American people.
I'm also looking forward to the Senate finishing its business on the
confirmation of Sam Alito. He's a man of character and he's a man of
integrity. He understands that the role of a judge is to interpret the
law. He understands the role of a judge is not to advance a personal or
political agenda. Yesterday I had an interesting experience standing with
his law clerks, and I could -- started reading the notes that, of course,
were adequately prepared for me, and the first person said he's a Democrat
who supports Alito; the second person was a person who voted Green that
supported Alito; the third a left-leaning woman Democrat who supported
Alito; the fourth person I talked about was somebody who worked in the John
Kerry campaign who supported Alito. I was wondering, where are all those
My point is, is that he has broad support from people who know him, people
from both political parties, because he's a decent man who has got a lot of
experience and he deserves an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.
I was interested in Ed Rendell's comments -- he's the Governor of
Pennsylvania. He was the former Chairman of the Democrat National
Committee. He did not like the way the debate was headed. He believed
that Sam Alito should be confirmed. And so do I. The Senate needs to give
him an up or down vote as quickly as possible.
Listen, thank you all for giving me a chance to share some thoughts with
you. I'd be glad to answer some questions, starting with you, Terry.
Q Mr. President, is Mideast peacemaking dead with Hamas' big election
victory? And do you rule out dealing with the Palestinians if Hamas is the
THE PRESIDENT: Peace is never dead, because people want peace. I believe
-- and that's why I articulated a two-state solution early in my
administration, so that -- as a vision for people to work toward, a
solution that recognized that democracy yields peace. And the best hope
for peace in the Middle East is two democracies living side-by-side.
So the Palestinians had an election yesterday, and the results of which
remind me about the power of democracy. You see, when you give people the
vote, you give people a chance to express themselves at the polls -- and if
they're unhappy with the status quo, they'll let you know. That's the
great thing about democracy, it provides a look into society.
And yesterday the turnout was significant, as I understand it. And there
was a peaceful process as people went to the polls, and that's positive.
But what was also positive is, is that it's a wake-up call to the
leadership. Obviously, people were not happy with the status quo. The
people are demanding honest government. The people want services. They
want to be able to raise their children in an environment in which they can
get a decent education and they can find health care.
And so the elections should open the eyes of the old guard there in the
Palestinian territories. I like the competition of ideas. I like people
who have to go out and say, vote for me, and here's what I'm going to do.
There's something healthy about a system that does that. And so the
elections yesterday were very interesting.
On the other hand, I don't see how you can be a partner in peace if you
advocate the destruction of a country as part of your platform. And I know
you can't be a partner in peace if you have a -- if your party has got an
armed wing. The elections just took place. We will watch very carefully
about the formation of the government. But I will continue to remind
people about what I just said, that if your platform is the destruction of
Israel, it means you're not a partner in peace. And we're interested in
I talked to Condi twice this morning. She called President Abbas. She
also is going to have a conference call today about the Quartet -- with the
Quartet, about how to keep the process on the road to peace.
Q If I can follow up, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Are you cautioning Prime Minister Abbas not to resign? And --
THE PRESIDENT: We'd like him to stay in power. I mean, we'd like to stay
in office. He is in power, we'd like him to stay in office. Sorry to
interrupt. I knew this was a two-part question, so I tried to head it off.
Q Will this affect aid to the Palestinians? Will you be able to work
with Hamas if they're -- assuming they take on a large share of the
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I made it very clear that the United States does not
support political parties that want to destroy our ally, Israel, and that
people must renounce that part of their platform. But the government
hasn't formed yet. They're beginning to talk about how to form the
government. And your question on Abbas was a good one. And our message to
him was, we would hope he would stay in office and work to move the process
Again, I remind people, the elections -- democracy is -- can open up the
world's eyes to reality by listening to people. And the elections -- the
election process is healthy for society, in my judgment. In other words,
it's -- one way to figure out how to address the needs of the people is to
let them express themselves at the ballot box. And that's exactly what
happened yesterday. And you'll hear a lot of people saying, well, aren't
we surprised at the outcome, or this, that, or the other.
If there is corruption, I'm not surprised that people say, let's get rid of
corruption. If government hadn't been responsive, I'm not the least bit
surprised that people said, I want government to be responsive.
And so that was an interesting day yesterday in the -- as we're watching
liberty begin to spread across the Middle East.
Let's see here. Yes, David.
Q Mr. President, good morning. I have a different question, but I'd
like to pin you down on this point about Hamas because I don't think you've
completely answered it. Are you ruling out dealing with a Palestinian
government comprised, in part, of Hamas?
THE PRESIDENT: Dave, they don't have a government yet, so you're asking me
to speculate on what the government will look like. I have made it very
clear, however, that a political party that articulates the destruction of
Israel as part of its platform is a party with which we will not deal.
Q Okay, can I --
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's --
Q But, sir, I'm sorry --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it's unfair to the other people.
Q No, I'm just -- I'm just following up --
THE PRESIDENT: You're trying to hoard. (Laughter.)
Q I'm not trying -- I have a question about New Orleans, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: This is -- I agree with you. I can see the expressions on
your colleagues' faces that it's --
Q Well, I hope it will be worth your time. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: They don't think so. (Laughter.)
Q The administration has rejected a local plan to rebuild New Orleans,
and your administrator down there, Don Powell, said that the focus for
federal money should be to rebuild for those 20,000 homeowners who were
outside the flood plain. Critics, local officials say that that ignores so
many people in New Orleans, the poorest of the poor, the hardest hit areas,
people who didn't have flood insurance or didn't expect the levees to
break. And they feel, sir, that this is a certain betrayal of your promise
that New Orleans would rise again. So why did you reject it? And do you
think that the people of New Orleans have to expect that there is a limit
for the extent to which the city can be rebuilt?
THE PRESIDENT: The Congress has appropriated $85 billion to help rebuild
the Gulf Coast. And that is a good start; it's a strong start; it's a
significant commitment to the people whose lives were turned upside down by
that -- by those -- by that hurricane.
Secondly, we have said that we look forward to the time when each state
develops its recovery plan. I, early on in the process, said it's
important for the folks in Mississippi to come forward with a recovery
plan. And it's important for New Orleans and the state of Louisiana to
work together to develop a state recovery plan. And the reason I said that
is because I was aware that folks in Congress will want to spend money
based upon a specific strategy. We've got to get comfortable with how to
proceed. Those plans haven't -- the plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward
yet, and I urge the officials, both state and city, to work together so we
can get a sense for how they're going to proceed.
Now, having said that, I recognize there were some early things we needed
to do to instill confidence. One of them was to say that we will make the
levees stronger and better than before, and study further strengthening of
the levees. In other words, I recognize that people needed to be able to
say, well, gosh, we can't even get started until we got a commitment from
the federal government on the levees.
A lot of the money we're spending is prescribed by law, but we also went a
step further and proposed to Congress, and they accepted, the CDGB money so
that monies can actually go directly to individual families that need help.
We'll continue to work with the folks down there. But I want to remind
the people in that part of the world, $85 billion is a lot, and secondly,
we were concerned about creating additional federal bureaucracies, which
might make it harder to get money to the people.
Q But is there a limit, sir?
Q I have five questions, sir. I hope you'll indulge me. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Two-and-a-half times more --
Q On the NSA eavesdropping program, there seems to be growing momentum
in Congress to either modify the existing law or write some new law that
would give you the latitude to do this, and at the same time, ensure that
people's civil liberties are protected. Would you be resistant to the
notion of new laws if Congress were to give you what you need to conduct
THE PRESIDENT: The terrorist surveillance program is necessary to protect
America from attack. I asked the very questions you asked, John, when we
first got going. Let me tell you exactly how this happened. Right after
September the 11th, I said to the people, what can we do -- can we do more
-- "the people" being the operators, a guy like Mike Hayden -- can we do
more to protect the people? There's going to be a lot of investigation and
a lot of discussion about connecting dots and we have a responsibility to
protect the people, so let's make sure we connect the dots. And so he came
forward with this program. In other words, it wasn't designed in the White
House, it was designed where you expect it to be designed, in the NSA.
Secondly, I said, before we do anything, I want to make sure it's legal.
And so we had our lawyers look at it -- and as part of the debate,
discussion with the American people as to the legality of the program.
There's no doubt in my mind it is legal. And thirdly, will there be
safeguards for the -- to safeguard the civil liberties of the American
people? There's no doubt in my mind there are safeguards in place to make
sure the program focuses on calls coming from outside the United States in,
with an al Qaeda -- from a -- with a belief that there's an al Qaeda person
making the call to somebody here in the States, or vice versa -- but not
So as I stand here right now I can tell the American people the program is
legal, it's designed to protect civil liberties, and it's necessary. Now,
my concern has always been that in an attempt to try to pass a law on
something that's already legal, we'll show the enemy what we're doing. And
we have briefed Congress -- members of Congress. We'll continue to do
that, but it's important for people to understand that this program is so
sensitive and so important, that if information gets out to how it's -- how
we do it, or how we operate, it will help the enemy. And so, of course,
we'll listen to ideas. But, John, I want to make sure that people
understand that if it -- if the attempt to write law makes this program --
is likely to expose the nature of the program, I'll resist it. And I think
the American people understand that. Why tell the enemy what we're doing
if the program is necessary to protect us from the enemy? And it is. And
it's legal. And we'll continue to brief Congress. And we review it a lot,
and we review not only at the Justice Department, but with a good legal
staff inside NSA.
Q What do you hear or your staff hear about releasing of photographs of
Jack Abramoff with you, Mr. President? If you say you don't fear anything,
tell us why you won't release them?
THE PRESIDENT: She's asking about a person who admitted to wrongdoing and
who needs to be prosecuted for that. There is a serious investigation
going on, as there should be. The American people have got to have
confidence in the -- in the ethics of all branches of government. You're
asking about pictures -- I had my picture taken with him, evidently. I've
had my picture taken with a lot of people. Having my picture taken with
someone doesn't mean that I'm a friend with them or know them very well.
I've had my picture taken with you -- (laughter) -- at holiday parties.
My point is, I mean, there's thousands of people that come through and get
their pictures taken. I'm also mindful that we live in a world in which
those pictures will be used for pure political purposes, and they're not
relevant to the investigation.
Q Do you know how many?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't have any idea.
I'm coming your way. Carl.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Good morning. On the subject of Iran, what
parameters might the U.S. be willing to accept Iran having a nuclear power
program? And to the extent that you've said in the past that the United
States supports the Iranian people, would you support expedited
legislation, or a move that would send resources to such groups in Iran
that might hasten regime change or democratic reform?
THE PRESIDENT: I have made it clear that I believe that the Iranians
should have a civilian nuclear program -- power program under these
conditions: that the material used to power the plant would be
manufactured in Russia, delivered under IEEE -- IAEA inspections --
inspectors to Iran to be used in that plant, the waste of which will be
picked up by the Russians and returned to Russia. I think that is a good
plan. The Russians came up with the idea, and I support it.
And the reason why I think it makes sense is because I do believe people
ought to be able to be allowed to have civilian nuclear power. However, I
don't believe non-transparent regimes that threaten the security of the
world should be allowed to gain the technologies necessary to make a
weapon. And the Iranians have said, we want a weapon.
And it's not in the world's interest that they have a weapon. And so we
are working hard to continue the diplomacy necessary to send a focused
message to the Iranian government, and that is, your desires for a weapon
are unacceptable. Part of that is -- part of that diplomacy was to provide
an acceptable alternative to the Iranian desire to have a civilian nuclear
And secondly, we will support freedom movements all around the world. I
constantly talked about today's reformers will be tomorrow's leaders, and
therefore, we will work with groups that demand for people to be given the
natural rights of men and women, and that right is to live in a free
Q Mr. President, you talked about Jack Abramoff in the context of
pictures, but it may not necessarily just be about pictures. He also had
some meetings with some of your staff. So you remember, you ran on the
idea of restoring honesty and integrity to the White House. So why are you
letting your critics perhaps attack you and paint you with maybe a guilt by
association? Why not just throw open your books and say, look, here is --
THE PRESIDENT: There is a serious investigation going on by federal
prosecutors, and that's their job. And they will -- if they believe
something was done inappropriately in the White House, they'll come and
look, and they're welcome to do so. There's a serious investigation that's
Q But, sir, don't you want to tell the American people look, as I
promised, this White House isn't for sale and I'm not for sale?
THE PRESIDENT: It's hard for me to say I didn't have pictures with the guy
when I did. But I have also had pictures with thousands and thousands of
people. I mean, people -- it's part of the job of the President to shake
hands and -- with people and smile. (Laughter.) And I do. And the man
contributed to my campaigns, but he contributed, either directly or through
his clients, to a lot of people in Washington. And this needs to be
cleared up so the people have confidence in the system.
Q Mr. President, the U.S. government has spent about $2 million to help
promote the Palestinian Authority in the lead-up to this week's elections.
I wonder, sir, whether you feel like it's consistent with your push to
spread democracy around the world if the U.S. puts its thumb on the scale?
Or are there moments when it's okay to compromise that because you want to
keep organizations with a terrorist threat out of government?
THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Secretary Rice about the story that you're
referring to, and what she told me was, is that this money was part of a
USAID package that had been in the pipeline for a while. The -- kind of
the allegation or the insinuation that we were funding a political effort
just simply isn't the case, as far as I can tell.
Q It was designed to promote the image of the Palestinian Authority
among its own people --
THE PRESIDENT: As I say, this money was part of a USAID package. We had
-- I proclaimed, I made it very clear that Jim Wolfensohn was going to be
in the region with an economic aid package to help the Palestinian people.
Our programs are aimed to help the people. And --
Q I'm talking about who gets credit. Part of the thing was there would
be no --
THE PRESIDENT: Obviously --
Q Credit would go to the Authority.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, well, our attempt was to help the Palestinian people
through a active USAID program. And you saw the results of the election.
Q Why, then, not disclose the USAID involvement?
THE PRESIDENT: It is disclosed -- you just disclosed it. (Laughter.)
Elisabeth. Are you trying to help the man out there?
Q He's my colleague.
THE PRESIDENT: Okay, good.
Q Members of your administration have said that the secret eavesdropping
program might have prevented the September 11th attacks. But the people
who hijacked the planes on September 11th had been in this country for
years, having domestic phone calls and emails. So how, specifically, can
you say that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Michael Hayden said that because he believes that had
we had the capacity to listen to the phone calls from those from San Diego
to elsewhere we might have gotten information necessary to prevent the
attack. And that's what he was referring to.
Q They were domestic calls --
THE PRESIDENT: No, domestic outside -- we will not listen inside this
country. It is a call from al Qaeda, al Qaeda affiliates, either from
inside the country out, or outside the country in, but not domestically.
Q Can I ask you again, why won't you release the photos of yourself with
THE PRESIDENT: I just answered the question.
Q Your explanation on the monitoring program seems to say that when the
nation is at war, the President, by definition, can order measures that
might not be acceptable or even, perhaps, legal in peacetime. And this
seems to sound like something President Nixon once said, which was "when
the President does it, then that means it is not illegal," in the areas
involving national security. So how do the two differ?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I said yesterday that other Presidents have used the
same authority I've had to use technology to protect the American people.
Other Presidents -- most Presidents believe that during a time of war, that
we can use our authorities under the Constitution to make decisions
necessary to protect us.
Secondly, in this case, there is an act passed by Congress in 2001 which
said that I must have the power to conduct this war using the incidents of
war. In other words, we believe there's a constitutional power granted to
Presidents, as well as, this case, a statutory power. And I'm intending to
use that power -- Congress says, go ahead and conduct the war, we're not
going to tell you how to do it. And part of winning this war on terror is
to understand the nature of the enemy and to find out where they are so we
can protect the American people.
There's going to be -- there will be a constitution -- there will be a
legal debate about whether or not I have the authority to do this; I'm
absolutely convinced I do. Our Attorney General has been out describing
why. And I'm going to continue using my authority. That's what the
American people expect.
Q Mr. President, the Pentagon recently studied U.S. forces overseas and
concluded that, between Iraq and Afghanistan, that the military was very
seriously over-extended. Then Secretary Rumsfeld told us yesterday, well,
that's really not what the study concluded. But this morning General Casey
told us, in Iraq, U.S. forces there are stretched. Who's right here?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen General Casey's comments, his specific
comments. I will tell you this; that after five years of war, there is a
need to make sure that our troops are balanced properly, that threats are
met with capability. And that's why we're transforming our military. The
things I look for are the following: morale, retention, and recruitment.
And retention is high, recruitment is meeting goals, and people are feeling
strong about the mission, Mark. But I also recognize that we've got to
make sure that our military is transformed. And that's what's taking place
right now -- we're transforming the United States Army so that capabilities
and the threats are better aligned.
And I'll give -- go ahead.
Q It's not over-extended then?
THE PRESIDENT: The question is whether or not we can win victory in Iraq.
Our troops will have what they -- I mean, our commanders will have the
troops necessary to do that. The question is, can we help the peace in a
place like the Far East? Absolutely.
And let me use the Far East as an example of what I'm talking about. There
was some 30,000 troops on the South Korean peninsula. As you might
remember, we reduced the amount of manpower, replaced it with technology.
A lot of people -- some people at the time said, well, wait a minute,
they're lessening their commitment to peace and security in the Far East by
moving people out. I made the case that, no, what we're doing is replacing
manpower -- we're transforming our military presence in South Korea to be
able to meet the threats of the 21st century. And that's what you're
seeing all throughout our military.
And so this is a time where we've been in theater for -- been in this war
against terror for five years, and at the same time, transforming. And I
think if you look at what our commanders are saying, and what are people
like Pete Schoomaker are saying is that this transformation is going to
make it more likely America will be able to continue in the out-years of
doing what we need to do to keep the peace.
Q Mr. President, do you think you need to be more aggressive with
vetoing or at least threatening to veto more spending bills this year? I
mean, every year you say, I want Congress to show spending restraint; this
is important for our budget and our economy. But do you think they're
doing enough? Do you need to be more aggressive --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I do think they are when they meet our budget targets.
And here's the way -- let me finish, please. Here's the way it works: We
sit down and say, here's what we'd like you to do. We'd like you to reduce
non-security discretionary spending. We present a budget target, and they
meet them. They have met those targets.
And I -- and I am pleased that I've got a working relationship with the
Speaker and Leader Frist and other members of Congress to help meet those
Go ahead, you've got a follow-up?
Q So, essentially, then, you think everything is going fine with the
budget and there's no need to use a veto or anything like that?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm fully prepared to use a veto if they overspend.
They've got a chance now to continue to show the American people that
they're willing to be -- have fiscal discipline by voting on the
reconciliation package in the House of Representatives. We've still got a
lot of work to do, don't get me wrong. And I'll present a -- in the
process of laying out a budget that will continue to eliminate programs
that don't work or that are duplicative in nature, one that says we can cut
our deficit in half by 2009 and make sure the American people still get
their tax relief.
We don't need to be running up the taxes right now, in my judgment. And I
think it is -- you know, people say, well, let's raise the taxes and
balance the budget -- that's not how it works; they're going to raise your
taxes, and they're going to continue to expand the government. And I
Now, in terms of how they spend the money, once they meet the budget
targets, that's going to be an interesting discussion on Capitol Hill.
That's about this business about earmarks and people making special deals
in the budget. And they need to -- there needs to be earmark reform. And
we look forward to working with responsible members on the Hill about
Q Mr. President, last year your administration imposed a package of
economic sanctions on North Korea. Now North Korea says it will not come
back to the table in the nuclear talks unless those sanctions go. South
Korea is warning of a dispute on the issue. Would you consider removing
them, suspending them, making some gesture to get North Korea back to the
THE PRESIDENT: Actually, I think what you're referring to is the fact that
we're trying -- that we are cutting off the transfer of monies generated by
illicit activities. When somebody is counterfeiting our money, we want to
stop them from doing that. And so we are aggressively saying to the North
Koreans, just -- don't counterfeit our money. And we are working with
others to prevent them from illicit activities. That's different from
Q Fair enough.
THE PRESIDENT: And, no, we think it's very important for the North Koreans
to come back to the table. There's a six-party talk framework that is
hopeful and positive for them. It requires them to make some difficult
decisions, and, of course, one of them is to get rid of their nuclear
arsenal. But we're more than willing to -- and want the six-party talks to
continue forward. I think the framework is a framework that can eventually
yield to a peaceful settlement of the issue. But the other issue is one
that I just wanted to make sure I clarify for you why we're doing what
Q You see this as completely separate then, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I think --
Q There's no room to suspend them or --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, if somebody is cheating on us, we need to stop it. I
mean, the American people -- if we know people are counterfeiting our
money, they expect the government to act. And there is no compromise when
it comes to, you know, "Hey, come back to the table so you can counterfeit
our money; just counterfeit 20s and not 100s, or whatever it is?" I mean,
no. We are going to uphold the law and protect the currency of the
Q Stepping back from the immediate NSA debate that's going on right now,
Vice President Cheney recently said that the White House is reasserting its
executive power. Is the NSA program part of that effort? And what do you
say to Democrats who charge that you are abusing your constitutional
THE PRESIDENT: I would say that there has been a historical debate between
the executive branch and the legislative branch as to who's got what power.
And I don't view it as a contest with the legislative branch. Maybe they
view it as a contest with the executive; I just don't. I view it -- I view
the decisions I've made, particularly when it comes to national security,
as necessary decisions to protect the American people. That's how --
that's the lens on which I analyze things, Jonathan. And I understand
we're at war with an enemy that wants to hit us again. Osama bin Laden
made that clear the other day, and I take his words very seriously. And I
also take my responsibility to protect the American people very seriously.
And so we're going to do what is necessary, within the Constitution and
within the law, and at the same time guaranteeing people's civil liberties,
to protect the people. And that's how I look at this debate. Now, there's
all kinds of people taking a step back and saying well, this is this, this
is that. And I recognize throughout history, people -- there have been a
debate about legislative power and executive power. Part of the questions
asked here today kind of reflect that debate.
I'm going to leave that to the lawyers. I believe I've been hired by the
people to do my job, and that's to protect the people, and that's what I'm
going to do, mindful of my authorities within the Constitution, mindful of
our need to make sure that we stay within the law, and mindful of the need
to protect the civil liberties of the people.
Q Mr. President, though -- this is a direct follow up to that -- the
FISA law was implemented in 1978 in part because of revelations that the
National Security Agency was spying domestically. What is wrong with that
law if you feel you have to circumvent it and, as you just admitted, expand
THE PRESIDENT: May I -- if I might, you said that I have to circumvent it.
There -- wait a minute. That's a -- there's something -- it's like
saying, you know, you're breaking the law. I'm not. See, that's what
you've got to understand. I am upholding my duty, and at the same time,
doing so under the law and with the Constitution behind me. That's just
very important for you to understand.
Secondly, the FISA law was written in 1978. We're having this discussion
in 2006. It's a different world. And FISA is still an important tool.
It's an important tool. And we still use that tool. But also -- and we --
look -- I said, look, is it possible to conduct this program under the old
law? And people said, it doesn't work in order to be able to do the job we
expect us to do.
And so that's why I made the decision I made. And you know,
"circumventing" is a loaded word, and I refuse to accept it, because I
believe what I'm doing is legally right.
Q There are going to be hearings on Capitol Hill starting February 6th
THE PRESIDENT: Regarding that point, right. And Al Gonzales has recently
given a speech laying out the administrative position, and I'm sure you
analyzed it carefully.
Q Sir, you said a few minutes ago the United States needs to continue to
lead in the cause of freedom around the world, and yet in recent weeks, a
couple of groups -- Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International -- have
criticized the U.S. handling of terrorist suspects. They say that has
undermined the U.S. voice as a champion of human rights, and even, perhaps,
undercut a generation of progress in human rights. And my question, sir,
is how do you -- how do you respond to that?
THE PRESIDENT: I haven't seen the report, but if they're saying we
tortured people, they're wrong. Period.
Q Could you call on your Texas straight talk and make a clear and
unambiguous statement today that no American will be allowed to torture
another human being anywhere in the world at any time --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. No American will be allowed to torture another human
being anywhere in the world. And I signed the appropriations bill with the
McCain amendment attached on because that's the way it is. I know some
have said, well, why did he put a qualifier in there? And one reason why
presidents put qualifiers in is to protect the prerogative of the executive
branch. You see, what we're always doing is making sure that we make it
clear that the executive branch has got certain responsibilities.
Conducting war is a responsibility in the executive branch, not the
But make no mistake about it, the McCain amendment is an amendment we
strongly support and will make sure it's fully effective.
Let's see, Richard.
Q Mr. President, you mentioned earlier that this is an election year.
Republicans [sic] are expressing great confidence that they're going to be
able to take --
THE PRESIDENT: Who are?
Q The Democrats, I mean, they're expressing --
THE PRESIDENT: We already have the Congress. (Laughter.)
Q They say that they can use issues such as corruption and the war in
Iraq and high energy prices against Republicans and against you. How much
do you plan to go out and campaign --
THE PRESIDENT: I'm looking forward on the campaign, but I'm also looking
forward to reminding people we have a responsibility to get some things
done. And that's part of what the State of the Union is going to be about,
but, no, I'm looking forward to getting out there. I've got one more
off-year campaign in me as a sitting President, and I'm looking forward to
it, Richard. As you know, I like to get out and tell people what's on my
mind, explain to people we're a party with ideas, we know how to lead, that
-- remind people of the stakes in the world in which we live, and that we
have a plan to deal with them.
And we've got a good record here in Washington, D.C., and I'm looking
forward to talking about the economy, for example. That seems like a
debate worthwhile having -- not only what we have done to make sure that
we've overcome a lot of hurdles, but how to make sure policies are put in
place that this economic growth continues, and remind people we've added a
lot of jobs since April of 2003, that the economy is pretty strong this
year given the fact -- in spite of the fact there was high energy prices
and storms. I look forward to debating people whether or not we ought to
raise their taxes. I don't believe we should. Matter of fact, I think
raising taxes will hurt the economy. And that's a debate I look forward to
having with the people as we get closer to the 2006 elections.
And so, look, I don't blame people for saying, I'm confident about the
elections. Can you imagine right here at the election year saying, I'm not
very confident about the elections? (Laughter.) No wonder the Democrats
are saying that.
But we've got a record, and a good one. And that's what I intend to
campaign on, and explain to people why I've made the decisions I've made,
and why they're necessary to protect the American people, and why they've
been necessary to keep this economy strong, and why the policies we've got
will keep this economy strong in the future. And this election is about
peace and prosperity. And I intend to get out there and campaign.
Abril -- April.
Q Yes, Mr. President. Good morning.
THE PRESIDENT: You're going to have to speak loudly because somebody took
your seat. Your name was on my seating chart, and you're not sitting down.
Q Isn't that a shame?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, look, you're probably going to blame it on
Q I'm going to let you pass that time.
THE PRESIDENT: Just trying to rattle you before you get going.
Q I know. Mr. President, as you're saying Hurricane Katrina and the
aftermath is one of your top priorities.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Why is it that this administration is not allowing the senior -- your
senior staff that you conversated [sic] with prior to Hurricane Katrina,
during and after, to testify, to interview or talk with congressional
leaders? And why not push Michael Brown, who is now a private citizen, to
go before them, as he is what many are calling a linchpin to the whole
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me make sure you have the facts. We have given
15,000 pages of White House documents to the investigators, congressional
investigators; some -- I think it's 600,000 pages, administrative
documents. We have sent a fellow named Rapuano to talk about -- he's a
White House staffer -- to talk to the committee. There have been a lot of
interviews. There have been public testimony.
As a matter of fact, we are so concerned about this that we've started our
own investigation to make sure that lessons -- that we understand the
lessons learned from this. This is a problem we want to investigate
thoroughly so we know how to better respond on behalf of the American
And so we're fully cooperative with the members of the House in -- of the
Senate, and we'll do so without giving away my ability to get sound advice
from people on my staff. You see, April, here's -- and this is an issue
that comes up all the time, and you might -- we've had several discussions
like this since I've been the President. If people give me advice and
they're forced to disclose that advice, it means the next time an issue
comes up I might not be able to get unvarnished advice from my advisors.
And that's just the way it works. But we've given thousands of pages of
documents over for people to analyze.
Q Does that include Michael Brown?
THE PRESIDENT: Pardon me?
Q Does that include Michael Brown?
THE PRESIDENT: People who give me advice, it will have a chilling effect
on future advisors if the precedent is such that when they give me advice
that it's going to be subject to scrutiny.
Now, we've analyzed -- we've given out all kinds of pages of documents for
people, and we're cooperating with the investigators. And that's important
for the American people to know. What's also important is we want to know
how we can do a better job. And so we're having a lessons-learned
investigation, led by Fran Townsend. And -- anyway, we need to know.
Let's see here -- yes, Mark.
Q Sir, back on lobbying. Never mind about the photographs, but can you
say whether --
THE PRESIDENT: It's easy for a radio guy to say. (Laughter.)
Q Can you say, sir, whether you were lobbied by Jack Abramoff or other
lobbyists, and what your policy is about lobbyists meeting with senior
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I, frankly, don't even remember having my picture
taken with the guy. I don't know him. And this investigation will --
needs to look into all aspects of his influence on Capitol Hill, and if
there's some in the White House, I'm sure they're going to come and knock
on the door. But I -- I can't say I didn't ever meet him, but I meet a lot
of people. And evidently, he was just like you were the other day, at a
holiday party -- came in, put -- the grip-and-grin, they click the picture
and off he goes. And that's just -- I take thousands of -- I mean,
somebody told me I maybe take over 9,000 pictures this holiday season. And
he obviously went to fundraisers, but I've never sat down with him and had
a discussion with the guy.
Q Do you meet with lobbyists?
THE PRESIDENT: I try not to. Have I ever met with one? Never having met
with one is a -- if I ever say that, sure enough, you'll go find somebody.
But, no, I don't have them come in.
Now, when, for example, people are helping on issues -- like on promoting
trade -- you bet, we bring them in and I say, thank you for promoting
CAFTA; or, thanks for working on the vote; or, thanks for helping on tax
relief. That may be -- if you consider that a meeting, the answer is, yes,
I'm sure I have, in a roomful of people as we either thank people for
success in policy or thank people for going out of their way to get a piece
of legislation passed on the Hill.
Listen, thank you all very much. Looking forward to Tuesday evening -- I
hope you are, as well. Thank you.
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