Tuesday, April 27, 2004
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a private meeting, first of all, Elisabeth. And let's keep in mind that it is extraordinary for a sitting President of the United States to sit down with the legislatively created commission. But these are unique circumstances and the President is pleased to do so. The President appreciates the job of the September 11th Commission. We strongly support their work. And we have been pleased to provide the commission unprecedented cooperation and unprecedented access to information, so they can do their work and help us better fight and win the war on terrorism.
Q Right, if I can just follow up. So if this session is an extraordinary event and such an extraordinary meeting, why do you not want an official record of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, I don't think that this is unusual at all, if you look back at other meetings that have taken place, private meetings with the commission and other members of the administration.
Q But this is the President, why don't we want an official record for history, of this meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: There will be detailed notes taken of this meeting. This is about helping the commission complete its work, and helping provide the commission with all the information they need so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible for the American people, and make recommendations based on all that information that they piece together.
Q But wouldn't there be better detailed records if you had it recorded, if you had a stenographer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, we have provided the commission with volumes of information, and unprecedented access to information. We've provided more than 2 million pages of documents to the commission. We've provided access to hundreds of administration officials for briefings and interviews so that they can discuss this information. We've provided unprecedented access to some of the most highly classified information in this government.
And this meeting is about helping the commission piece together all that information that they have been provided, so that they can provide a complete and comprehensive report to the American people. And that's what this is about, and we are working to help make sure that they have all the information they need to do their job.
And you're talking -- in some circumstances, some of the information I expect that will be discussed -- it depends on the questions that are raised by the commission -- but some of that information will likely be highly classified. So we think that they will have all the information they need to go back and piece all this information together and report back to the American people what lessons we've learned from September 11th and what recommendations they have that might help us, in addition to the steps we've already taken, to win the war on terrorism.
Q One more question. Doesn't this leave you open to charges that -- doesn't this leave -- doesn't this put a cloud, put a sort of little fuzziness over the proceedings where somebody could go back and say, well, this is not what I meant to say, the note-taker was wrong. Doesn't this make it a little less definite for future -- for historians?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't look at it that way at all. I look at it as the President is taking an extraordinary step in sitting down with the commission and answering whatever questions they may have, and providing them with information that can help them piece together all the information that they have been previously provided. That's the way I look at it. And the commission will be able to provide the American people with as complete a picture as possible about the events leading up to September 11th and the threat that was building and emerging for quite some period of time, going back more than a decade.
Q Scott, following up to what Elisabeth said, somewhat. Before Dr. Rice testified publicly, President Bush said it was important for the American public to know about the events leading up to 9/11. If that is the case, why not have the President testify publicly, even with a transcript? And why not under oath?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President is already under oath as the President of the United States. But let me go back to when the President signed the legislation creating this commission.
Q He's under oath 24 hours a day? (Laughter.)
Q Scott, on that point, if the President's goal is to help, as you just said, get as complete a picture as possible for the American people, why does he think that a transcript of his remarks wouldn't be of assistance to everybody who has an interest --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, again, Dick, this is not unusual. I think that if you look at other meetings that have taken place, this is the way they have been -- the way they have been conducted.
Q On another point, it's unusual in these circumstances for the President to appear with somebody else. When President Reagan went before the Iran Contra panel, he went alone. He didn't have the Vice President sitting with him. Vice President Bush -- then Vice President Bush was questioned separately. Why is it important for these two men to testify -- or to appear -- to appear together, particularly with Democrats saying it raises the appearance that they have to get their stories straight, that there might be something to hide?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the argument could be made if they were appearing separately for that same -- that same line of argument could be made even to a greater extent. So I just reject that outright. And you have to keep in mind that this is not an adversarial process. We are all working toward the same objective. This is about helping the commission piece together all the information that they had been provided access to. We are working together to learn the lessons of September 11th. We are working together to see what additional steps might be necessary to help us win the war on terrorism, and better protect the American people here at home.
We believe that having the President and the Vice President meet together with the commission will better help the commission piece together all that information that we have already provided them, and better help the commission provide the American people with as complete a picture as possible, so that they can make recommendations based on what they learn.
Q Scott, what's the purpose of having transcribers in the room for other types of meetings that the President has, whether they're interviews with the press or meetings with other officials? What's the general purpose of having transcribers?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think we typically do, when you're talking about information that could be highly classified or in situations like this. Like I said, this is an extraordinary circumstance. There will be detailed notes taken, and the President looks forward to the meeting.
Q Can you tell us what kind of discussion there might have been within the White House staff about whether or not to have transcribers in this meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that this was very similar to other meetings that have taken -- other private meetings that have taken place. So I think that's the way it was looked at.
I get that they are looking forward to the meeting, but as far as no records -- Waldo 1 Joe Public 0