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SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Okay, the President had his usual briefings this morning. And the meeting with the 9/11 Commission started right on time, at 9:30 a.m. this morning. And they are continuing to meet right now.
QUESTION: Who is in the meeting, for your side?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Hang on. I’ll come to questions. I’ll go through my routine here. Other than that, all I have is that I’m briefing at 1:15 p.m. and State Department is briefing at 12:30 p.m. That’s all I’ve got. Now, go ahead.
QUESTION: So who is in the meeting, from your side?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, I’ll go over everybody that’s in there. You have all 10 commission members, you have one member of the commission staff present. Then you have the President and Vice President; Judge Gonzales is there, and two staff members from the Counsel’s Office are there as well.
QUESTION: Who are the staff members?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I’m not going to get into the names of the staff that’s present.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Just, Judge Gonzales. They’re lawyers on the White House Counsel staff. I know you all want to call them and talk to them afterwards, but I’ll just say, two members of the White House Counsel staff.
QUESTION: No, that’s not why, we just want their names.
QUESTION: For God’s sake, this is a matter of historical record.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: It’s a private meeting, Helen.
QUESTION: It’s not a private meeting, it’s a public meeting.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I just told you who is present.
QUESTION: It’s doing the nation’s business.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: These are two members of the Counsel’s Office that have been working closely with the September 11th Commission.
QUESTION: Why the secrecy?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I don’t look at it that way.
QUESTION: But we do.
QUESTION: It is a good question. It is an historic moment. This is — in a public event.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I’ll talk back with these individuals and see if — but —
QUESTION: Just for the record, really, just for the record.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I’ll talk back with these individuals, but I’m not in the habit of just going and naming every staff members that attend all these meetings.
QUESTION: But this isn’t just another meeting.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I understand.
QUESTION: You’re the spokesman for this White House, and you should give us the basics.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I’ll check with those individuals, but I’m not going to get into naming staff members without their —
QUESTION: Why did the White House feel there was a need for three staff members —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: — without talking to them about it.
QUESTION: — versus one for the commission of 10 members?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, you have 10 commission members there, too. So you have a lot of members of the commission. These are two staff members that have been very involved in working on these efforts.
QUESTION: What is their purpose, Scott? Are they there to record what takes place?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No.
QUESTION: Are they there to advise the President —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No, I’m sure they’ll be taking notes.
QUESTION: — or Judge Gonzales —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No.
QUESTION: What is the purpose? What is their purpose?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Because they’re two members of the Counsel’s Office that have been very involved in working on these issues with the September 11th Commission. And they’ll be there taking notes, just like a member of the commission staff will be there taking notes.
QUESTION: So they’re actually there more to record what happens.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, take notes, yes.
QUESTION: Are there two note takers?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Yes, I expect both of them will be taking notes. I expect members of the commission will be writing information down, as well.
QUESTION: You said there was one note taker. Is there an official note taker or are these both —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I said there would be at least one member yesterday, and then yesterday afternoon when I was updated, I said that there would be two members of the Counsel’s Office present.
QUESTION: Who are they?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Helen, I’ll check with them. And I don’t want to go and just name them without talking to them first.
QUESTION: Where are they all sitting? Is the President at his desk? Where is the Vice President?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: The President and Vice President are sitting in the chairs in front of the fireplace. And the commission members are sitting on the couches and in chairs in the Oval Office.
QUESTION: Who got the couches? How did they decide who got the couches? What, did they run in, and — (laughter.)
QUESTION: Why in the Oval Office? Why not in a place where all of them could sit at a table?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, the President has lots of meetings in the Oval Office. He meets with world leaders there on a regular basis —
QUESTION: There’s 10 members of the commission.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: — and this is a similar setup. Well, it’s like yesterday, when we met with — when the President met with Prime Minister Persson of Sweden. You have several members of the staff — of each other’s staff in there. You have the ambassadors and you have other members of staff in there. And they all sit around on the couches and chairs. That’s where we sit when those meetings take place. It’s a similar setup to that.
QUESTION: Scott, are we going to hear from the President today?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Look, if there’s any change in the schedule, I’ll keep you posted.
QUESTION: So does that mean maybe?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No, I’m not ruling anything in or out at this point, but we’ll keep you posted, obviously, on the meeting.
QUESTION: What does that mean? What are your plans to read this out in some way, or give us your take on what happened?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: One, don’t expect a readout on the discussion. I think I’ve kind of indicated that over the last few days. This is a private meeting. But let’s let the meeting take place, and then we’ll go from there.
QUESTION: But we could hear from the President.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I’m not ruling anything in or out, David. We’ll keep you posted.
QUESTION: Scott, what was the preparation prior to this? How many times did the President and Vice President together meet with the White House Counsel?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I provided a general description of what he did to prepare for this. And I talked about how over the last couple of days he continued to visit with members of — the President continued to visit with members of the White House staff — specifically Condi Rice and Andy Card and Judge Gonzales, and that he looked over materials and documents that were provided to him by the Counsel’s Office.
QUESTION: But specifically, what did he and Judge Gonzales talk about, because if he’s just taking notes today, he already knows what the President apparently is going to say.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, one, April, keep in mind that a lot of this occurred two-and-a-half and three years ago. And the President wanted to refresh his memory and look over documents from that time period to make sure he can provide the commission as complete account of events as possible. I mean, this is a good opportunity for the President to sit down with members of the commission and talk with them about the seriousness with which we took the threat from al Qaeda, the steps we were taking to confront it and how we have been responding to the attacks of September 11th. The President believes their work is very important, and it is very important to helping us win the war on terrorism. He’s pleased to sit down with the commission and answer their questions so that they can provide the American people with as thorough and comprehensive a report as possible. And that’s what’s going on right now.
QUESTION: Scott, a follow-up to that real quick. I know it’s been a couple of years, but it was such a poignant time for this administration. What does he really need to be refreshed on?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: April, this is two-and-a-half years ago. Of course he wanted to look back at the documents to make sure that he’s providing the commission as complete an account as possible about the events prior to September 11th, the events on September 11th. And I think that that’s — that anyone would want to do that prior to sitting down and visiting with the commission.
QUESTION: But in news interviews, he was able to go off and just rattle off the events. But what specifically —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Well, I’m sure that — well, I’m sure, April, that they have some specific questions going back to that time period, and we’re talking about two-and-a-half, three years ago.
QUESTION: Scott, will the White House release a photo of this session this morning?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I don’t — I don’t anticipate that.
QUESTION: Why not? And also, did the President say anything before he — before he went into —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Yes, the meeting is going on right now, Terry, so I don’t —
QUESTION: Did he say anything to you or anybody else before he went in about how he felt —
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No —
QUESTION: — or what he was feeling?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No, he was looking forward to it. Like I said, he’s pleased to sit down with the commission. I talked to him this morning, and he — the way I would describe it, he believes their work is very important to helping us win the war on terrorism, that the President’s most solemn responsibility is to protect the American people. And that’s the way in which he looks at this, that he wants to do what he can to help the commission piece together all the information they’ve been provided access to so that they can complete their work in a timely manner. He wants to — he looks forward to seeing their report and he looks forward to seeing their recommendations and seeing if there are additional steps that we can take beyond what we are already doing to win the war on terrorism.
QUESTION: Did he and the Vice President open with statements? Did they plan to open with statements?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: It’s going on right now, Wendell. That wasn’t the plan. That wasn’t the plan.
QUESTION: It was not the plan for them to open with statements for the committee?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: No.
QUESTION: Scott, what time is the next event on the President’s schedule today?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: He’s got some events scheduled this afternoon, some meetings that he has, I know. He meets regularly with members of his Cabinet department. I think Secretary Ridge is coming this afternoon, two something, 2:30 p.m., something like that. And he’s got some other staff meetings and personnel meetings, things like that.
QUESTION: Will the President be able to explain why the bin Laden family was flown out of the country right after the event?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: I think that that matter has already been discussed and addressed previously, Helen.
QUESTION: And also why the FAA didn’t go up?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN: Helen, I don’t know what questions the commission is going to be asking. The President looks forward to answering their questions.
More soon …