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Comments by YACCS
Monday, March 22, 2004

Ron Zieglers flashback

Ron Zieglers flashback

Scott McClellan got grilled today in the gaggle. It was highly amusing to see him slander Richard Clarke and get tripped up by his words and the facts. Kind of like seeing Ron Ziegler in the Watergate days.

Q Scott, a question about the Richard Clarke book. Why shouldn't his account of the war on terror in this administration and past administration's be believed?

MR. McCLELLAN: David, I think one, if you -- you can only look to some of the Senate Democratic leaders who were on some of the Sunday shows yesterday -- Senator Lieberman, Senator Biden -- and they certainly discounted some of his comments about Iraq. They said that -- and Senator Lieberman, I believe, said something to the effect that there was no basis in fact for that. I think that his assertions that there was something -- or his assertion that there was something we could have done to prevent the September 11th attacks from happening is deeply irresponsible, it's offensive, and it's flat-out false.

This administration made going after al Qaeda a top priority from very early on. It was something that was discussed during the transition. And very early on in this administration, Dr. Rice asked for -- requested from Dick Clarke that some of his ideas be presented. And I would remind you that the very first major policy directive of this administration was to develop a comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda -- not role it back, as some had previously called for, but to eliminate al Qaeda.

See how Lieberman is being used as a tool by the White House. What an idiot.

Q What would motivate him to engage in, as you say, offensive behavior -- what you call offensive, his charges here?

MR. McCLELLAN: It appears from what I've seen that he's been more focused on the process than the substance. It appears to be more about Dick Clarke than about the substance. For the President, it's more about the actions that we are taking to protect the American people. Mr. Clarke has been out there talking about what title he had; he's been out there talking about whether or not he was participating in certain meetings. So it appears to be more about the process than the actual actions we have taken.

You mean like invade Iraq and call it part of the war on terra?

Q That seems a little simple, doesn't it, Scott? I mean, the process matters when you work in the White House and have to get the attention of superiors who ultimately have the President's ear to make a decision. So isn't that a little disingenuous to dismiss it as a process complaint?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second here. This is a gentleman that left the administration one-and-a-half years ago. Certainly let's go to the facts. These threats did not happen overnight. These threats have been building for quite some time. Go back to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. Go back to the 1998 attacks on United States embassies. Go back to the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. These threats had been building for quite some time. Dick Clarke was here for some eight years. This administration was here for some 230 days before the attacks of September 11th.

Q Condi Rice made a similar point. Should we take from that that the President's view is that Dick Clarke was part of the problem, not part of the solution, since all of these things happened on his watch, when his primary job was counterterrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I think Dr. Rice pointed out earlier today that she requested that some of his ideas be presented to the administration. He presented some of the ideas. There were some that we took into account that were useful, and then there were others that we didn't find as useful. But this was talking about --

He doesn't have the balls to call him a failure. Interesting.

Q That doesn't answer my question.

MR. McCLELLAN: This was talking about rolling back al Qaeda. We were focused on eliminating al Qaeda.

Q Scott, you didn't answer my question, which is, by listing all those things that he was here for, is it the President's view that, in fact, he was part of the problem, not part of the solution?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he was this administration's counterterrorism expert up until -- well, the time that the job was separated into a cyber security position and counterterrorism position, which was something that he had suggested happen.

Q But you still didn't answer the question, it doesn't seem to me, does it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Does that answer the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it does. He was part of our efforts to go after al Qaeda. He was a member of this team for some two years, and we appreciate the service that he provided. But --

Uh, yeah. He sucks because he attacked the dear leader, but he's not some loser we should have fired.

Q Why do you think he's doing this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book. Certainly let's look at the politics of it. His best buddy is Rand Beers, who is the principal foreign policy advisor to Senator Kerry's campaign. The Kerry campaign went out and immediately put these comments up on their website that Mr. Clarke made.

Q Of course, he says he did raise those concerns --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike. Go ahead, Mike.

Q He says he raised those concerns --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike.

Q -- in the administration.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Mike.

Q Scott, the whole point of his book is he says that he did raise these concerns and he was not listened to by his superiors.

Isn't this the same administration which slanders all opponents and threatened to fire an analyst for telling the truth?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's just flat-out wrong. Go back and look at what we said. It was very early on when Dr. Rice -- the first week of the administration, Dr. Rice asked for the ideas that Dick Clarke had in mind, or the previous policies of the previous administration. But we wanted to go beyond that. We didn't feel it was sufficient to simply roll back al Qaeda; we pursued a policy to eliminate al Qaeda. And that's what the NSC worked on from very early in this administration. We took the threats posed by al Qaeda very seriously. And we acted on those threats. Certainly, during that spring and summertime, there was a spike in the terrorist threat, and -- go ahead.

Q Some Democratic senators are asking today if, based on the revelations of this book, based on the proactive response you guys have had over the weekend, if Dr. Rice will reexamine her position on testifying before the 9/11 Commission.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think she's stated her position. Again, it's not something that's a matter of personal preference. It' a matter of separation of powers. It's a matter of principle. There are some issues involved here about White House staffers testifying before Congress, and they relate to separation of powers issues. However, she was more than happy to sit down with the 9/11 Commission and visit with them for more than four hours and answer all the questions that they had.

Q And what the Democrats say is that because this is an independent commission, that there are not separation of powers issues.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a legislatively created commission. It is a legislative commission.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, this morning, you said the President didn't recall the conversation in the Situation Room on September 12th that Mr. Clarke said he had, where the President asked Dick Clarke three times to pursue links between 9/11 and Iraq. And you said he doesn't -- I had two questions. So did the President tell you or somebody in the White House over the weekend, he doesn't recall?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I talked to him. He doesn't recall that conversation or meeting.

Was he sober when you asked him?

Q And that was -- he said it this morning, or this weekend? When did he say that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this weekend and this morning, yes.

Q Okay. And secondly, Clarke now says that he has three eyewitnesses, and he repeated it again this morning, and he named them -- to the conversation.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's just step backwards -- regardless, regardless, put that aside. There's no record of the President being in the Situation Room on that day that it was alleged to have happened, on the day of September the 12th. When the President is in the Situation Room, we keep track of that. But put all that aside, let's go to the heart of the matter. This was supposedly the day after the September 11th attacks. And, of course, you want to look at all possibilities of who might be responsible. It would be irresponsible not to consider all responsibilities.

And, in fact, I would point out that Mr. Clarke himself said in a "Frontline" interview, he emphasized the importance of officials having a very open mind. On the -- quote: "On the day of September 11th, then the day or two following, we had a very open mind." Those are words from Dick Clarke. He went on to say: "The CIA and FBI were asked, see if it's Hezbollah, see if it's Hamas, don't assume it's al Qaeda. Don't just assume it's al Qaeda." So I think that --

Q Well, so are you saying that while the President doesn't recall that conversation, are you leaving open the possibility that there's these three eyewitnesses that Clarke says, therefore it may have happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but let's go even beyond that. One, in the immediate aftermath of an attack like that, you want to explore all possibilities. And that's what this administration did. Of course, you want to do that. But just days later, the President met with his National Security Council; the Director of Central Intelligence informed him that there was no link between the September 11th attacks and Iraq. And at the National Security Council meeting, what happened? There was a map that was unrolled on the table, and it was a map of Afghanistan. And what did the President do? The President directed that we go into Afghanistan, and we go after al Qaeda, and we go after and remove the Taliban from power so that al Qaeda would no longer have a safe harbor from which to plan and plot their attacks on the American people.

Let's ignore his proof and talk about my hastily constructed defense

Q Okay, Clarke is now saying that the -- your response this morning was an example of how the Bush administration just goes after -- just uses ad hominem attacks and tries to suppress the truth.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when someone uses such charged rhetoric that is just not matched by the facts, it's important that we set the record straight. And that's what we're doing. If you look back at his past comments and his past actions, they contradict his current rhetoric. I talked to you all a little bit about that earlier today. Go back and look at exactly what he has said in the past and compare that with what he is saying today. And ask yourself why, one-and-a-half years later, after he left the administration, he's, all of a sudden, coming forward with these grave concerns? If he had had such grave concerns, why didn't he come out with them sooner?

What facts? We invaded Iraq, right?

Q Scott, two questions. So you're saying, because the President doesn't recall the conversation -- you're not saying he denies that that conversation happened?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying let's look at the heart of the matter, regardless of whether or not that took place. The President doesn't recollect it. But let's look at the heart of the matter. And that is, in the aftermath of an attack like that, the immediate aftermath, is it responsible to explore all possibilities? Of course, it is. And Dick Clarke said so, himself.

Q He's not denying that that conversation could have taken place?

MR. McCLELLAN: He doesn't have any recollection of it, and, again, it purportedly took place in the Situation Room. There's no record to indicate that happened.

Except for the two witnesses

Q And second, why do you feel it's a fair criticism to say that this is partisan politics that he's trying to promote a book? This is man who served 30 years in the government under Reagan; under Bush, Senior; Clinton; as well as this President. He was a registered Republican in 2000. Why do you believe that that is a fair way to judge him, that it's simply politics?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look at the facts. Let's look at the timing. It's important to look at all those aspects. Let's look at his history there. This was someone who is now saying he was against the Department of Homeland Security, but we know that he actually sought to be the number two person at the Department of Homeland Security. He wanted to be the deputy secretary of the Homeland Security Department after it was created. The fact of the matter is just a few months after that, he left the administration. He did not get that position, someone else was appointed to it. And now, all of a sudden, he's saying he's against the Department of Homeland Security.

And if someone is going to make these kind of serious allegations, it's important to look back at his past comments and his past actions, and compare that with what his current rhetoric is. It's also important to keep in mind -- I think Newsweek pointed this out this week -- who his best friend is. His best friend is Rand Beers, who is the principal advisor to the Kerry campaign. It's also important to keep in context -- we're in the heat of a presidential campaign right now and, all of a sudden, he comes out with a book that he is seeking to promote. He is actively going out there and putting himself on prime-time news shows and morning shows to promote this book. And he is making charges that simply did not happen.

Look back at the facts. To suggest that Iraq was the immediate priority in the aftermath of September 11th, that's just not the case. This President was focused on reassuring the American people; on making sure that there wasn't a follow-on attack that was coming; on making sure that we got our airlines back up and running in a secure fashion. There were a lot of immediate focuses -- focus that this administration had in the aftermath of September 11th.

The President also was focused on going in and taking the fight to the terrorists, going on the offensive, because September 11th taught us a lot of important lessons. And this President learned those lessons by the actions that we took, by implementing the Patriot Act to provide law enforcement with new tools to combat terrorism at home; by working on all fronts to go after the terrorists -- the military front, the diplomatic front, the financial front, the law enforcement and the intelligence fronts.

But his friend also worked for you and left in disgust. And then he went to work for Kerry. Why did he do that?

Q But, Scott, Dr. Rice said this morning the reason he was kept on was because he was so valuable in his counterterrorism expertise. Why is it that this administration and previous Republican administrations would keep him on if he didn't have any credibility, if he was just a partisan player?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Dr. Rice said earlier that, obviously, he had been around for quite some time. Like I said, he had been around for some eight years before the September 11th attacks. This administration had been in place for some 230 days. Again, these threats did not develop overnight. They had been building for quite some time. And I think that's important to keep in perspective when we're having this discussion. But certainly al Qaeda was a top priority. We made that determination during the transition and immediately began acting on that priority when we came into office. And it was important to continue some of those policies until we were able to develop a new, comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda -- not roll it back, like was the previous policy.

Q You're really suggesting he's looking for a scapegoat now.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. I'll come back to you. Go ahead, Jim.

Q But you're suggesting that he's a scapegoat and that he missed it for eight years, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jim.

Q Would you go over the facts in this? I mean, he's clearly suggesting that he could not get the administration -- the President and his top national security aides -- to pay sufficient attention to the threat from al Qaeda. You just said that the determination was made during the transition that al Qaeda was the top threat. What set of facts would you point to from the transition on that would --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we were briefed on it during the transition. And then the very first week Dr. Rice requested information from some of the ideas that Mr. Clarke had, and requested that those be presented to her. And we began, very early on in this administration, to develop a new, comprehensive strategy to go after and eliminate al Qaeda, so that we could get rid of this threat.

Q When --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it was actually presented to the President -- or, actually, it was completed on September 4th, this new comprehensive strategy. That was the timing of it. Certainly there were -- there was a terrorist spike during the summer, as well. And all the focus was on threats overseas. And it's important to point out that Mr. Clarke is the one who made some assertions about the millennium plot on Los Angeles. And the question that should be asked of him is, what was done after that? Well, there wasn't any effort really to focus on the sleeper cells in the United States. The attention was still focused overseas.

Q Let me just clarify one thing. When did the administration begin its work on the comprehensive strategy to eliminate al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: We began very early on. I think it was actually the NSC deputies had met -- they met frequently between March and September of 2001 to decide and talk about many of the complex issues that were involved in the development of that strategy. And contrary to his assertion that he wasn't able to brief senior officials until late April, the first deputy level's meeting on al Qaeda was held on March 7th. And that's -- and Dick Clarke was the one who conducted the briefing. And the deputies agreed that the national security policy directive should be prepared at that point. And it was just less than six months later when the strategy was ready to go, on September 4th.

Q Scott, you, earlier, said that Clarke had refused orders to attend a certain number of meetings. You said that in the gaggle this morning. Can you tell me, what do you mean by that? Were there meetings he was supposed to attend that he didn't attend? Did he have to be ordered --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Dr. Rice --

Q -- and the timetable for --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Dr. Rice, early on in the administration, started holding daily briefings with the senior directors of the National Security Council, of which he was one. But he refused to attend those meetings, and he was later asked to attend those meetings and he continued to refuse to attend those meetings. You would have to ask --

Q Why?

MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask him why. But those, obviously, are important meetings, and meetings that are held on a daily basis by the National Security Advisor.

Q Didn't someone confront him and say, you work for the government, you have orders, and you're refusing to obey them?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that he was asked to attend those meetings, but he continued to refuse to do so.

Digging up anything they can find, aren't they.

This pathetic display of avoiding answers did entertain, but they better have more convincing answers after the 9/11 report comes out. The neo-cons, scared their power will wane, will attack Dick Clarke as everything short of a Russian spy in the next few days. Which is what happens when you tell the truth about Bush. I wonder how they finally did that intervention with him when he "stopped" drinking. The slanders must have been flying back then. These guys never admit error, no matter what, just like drunks and codependents.

posted by Steve @ 5:58:00 PM

5:58:00 PM

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