Tony Snow holds his first White House press gaggle. Check it out below the fold …TONY SNOW: Okay, first thing, very quickly through the President’s schedule for today. As you know, there’s a meeting with the former Secretaries of Defense and State, that will be taking place in about 25 minutes in the Roosevelt Room. There will be pool at the end for photos, and, obviously, a stakeout afterward.
The President also, at 1:55 p.m., East Room, open press, remarks at the Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and presentation of the President’s Volunteer Service Awards. He’ll be then heading to Camp David.
On the breaking news front, just a couple of minutes ago I informed all of the networks that the President is asking for time Monday evening at 8:00 p.m. eastern to address the nation from the Oval Office; the topic is immigration. The President will be laying out his comprehensive proposal for immigration reform — details to come.
Let’s see if there’s anything else that we have.
QUESTION: Why he’s gathering the Secretaries of State —
TONY SNOW: This is a follow on — you may recall that they had a formers meeting back in January, with former Secretaries of State and Defense. The President wants to look for bipartisan areas of agreement and also to consult on Iraq and the war on terror, as he has done before. The only changes, obviously, Caspar Weinberger, the President will be saying some — will have some gracious things to say about the late Secretary of State — I mean, Secretary of Defense. Also Sonny Montgomery has died, I don’t know if you know that; at some point we’re going to have a statement about that today, as well.
Henry Kissinger will not be making the meeting, however, Warren Christopher will. We have a full list; we can give you a list of the formers who will be available, and there will be a stakeout afterward.
QUESTION: Colin Powell?
TONY SNOW: Colin Powell is in. Yes, will be here.
QUESTION: Madeleine Albright?
TONY SNOW: Yes.
QUESTION: In the Monday night speech, anything new on immigration, or is he just reiterating —
TONY SNOW: There will be advances on previous; this will not simply be a reiteration of what he’s had to say.
QUESTION: Is he going to fire the HUD Secretary?
TONY SNOW: No. He stands behind Alphonso Jackson. Alphonso Jackson has admitted that what he said earlier was improper, that it was a mistake, and the President accepts that and still supports a man with whom he’s had a long and close relationship.
QUESTION: Have they talked, do you know?
TONY SNOW: I do not know. I think they have, but I don’t know. I don’t want to mislead you on that. I don’t know.
QUESTION: So you’re not waiting for the Inspector General’s investigation, you’re just saying blanket, he’s not going to ask Alphonso to go?
TONY SNOW: Well, at this point the President is supporting Alphonso Jackson.
QUESTION: “At this point”?
TONY SNOW: Look, again, you’re getting me ahead of my brief. I don’t know any more than I’ve told you.
QUESTION: I noticed this week a more aggressive use of the “Setting the Record Straight” technique. It’s a device that has existed in the past. Is it just more was needed this week, or is there a change in attitude?
TONY SNOW: No, there’s not a change in attitude. What we’re going to do with “Setting the Record Straight” — and, by the way, after consulting with some of our colleagues in here, what we’ll do is we will also let you know in advance when we’re going to put one out, especially if it has to do with things that you’ve written or done is one of these things, and try to make it strictly factual.
So in any event, this is a practice that I think has been ramping up in previous weeks and suddenly it’s like, “Snow is here, this must be a change.” It’s not really a change; it’s a continuation of something that the Press Office has been doing. But I want to do this in a genial and collegial manner.
QUESTION: How are you going to make this administration more credible?
TONY SNOW: I’m not going to answer questions about credibility, other than to say that I’m eager to be here and I’m happy to be working with you.
QUESTION: Are you ever going to — always going to tell the truth?
TONY SNOW: Yes.
QUESTION: Why did you decide to move the gaggle back in here?
TONY SNOW: I thought it was a little more informal. I didn’t realize it would be so highly attended. You know, if it turns out — like, if you guys decide that you’d rather have it back in the briefing room, I’ll be happy to move it back there.
QUESTION: And if you ever push it up to 7:30 a.m., we’ll test commitment. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Don’t say that.
TONY SNOW: Well, that’s right. At 7:30 a.m. is senior staff, so I’d to push it back to 6:30 a.m., because I have a staff meeting at 7:00 a.m. All those welcome at 6:30 a.m.
QUESTION: What about the Harris poll at 29 percent?
TONY SNOW: The interesting thing about the Harris poll is it asks questions that have not been asked before, for instance, rather than strict approval, it’s excellent or very good. The President at this point is more focused on trying to tackle such issues as immigration.
QUESTION: The data mining, how serious is that a threat to our security policy, and the call for hearings?
TONY SNOW: Well, as you know, our hands are tied on talking about any operational details. The President has already said it is not data mining or trolling, I believe is the phrase he used yesterday.
QUESTION: Are you denying the story?
TONY SNOW: You can’t — you know, Helen, you can’t confirm or deny when you’re dealing with matters of classification.
QUESTION: It’s not —
TONY SNOW: Because you can’t — it’s one of those things where traditionally when allegations of this sort arise, sometimes in the process of answering the question you also end up revealing secrets, so it’s just —
QUESTION: The President did so in December. He came flat out and acknowledged that he authorized —
TONY SNOW: Well, in this particular case, again, we’re neither confirming or denying the existence of the program. The President was pretty clear –I mean, I’ll just — this is where I will reiterate the points he made yesterday, which is number one, we don’t listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. You have all reported that, that the allegations in USA Today have nothing to do with listening in.
Secondly, that the intelligence activities are lawful, and appropriate members on Capitol Hill have been briefed on the topic. You also know that. And that the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected.
QUESTION: So you are denying —
QUESTION: — the confirmation hearing — back here.
TONY SNOW: I’m sorry, what?
QUESTION: How is it affecting the confirmation hearings?
TONY SNOW: You’ll have to ask the folks on Capitol Hill.
QUESTION: What’s the view at the White House been? Doesn’t this complicate things for you?
TONY SNOW: Look, the President is — what we’ve said is we’re 100 percent behind — maybe I ought to stand up, since — there you go. Look, we’re 100 percent behind Michael Hayden. There’s no question about that, and confident that he is going to comport himself well and answer all the questions and concerns that members of the United States Senate may have in the process of confirmation.
QUESTION: Senator Leahy said yesterday —
QUESTION: But does the situation change your play book on how you get his confirmation achieved?
TONY SNOW: No, the play book is Mike Hayden goes and he testifies before the Intelligence Committee, he answers the questions and tries to address the concerns.
QUESTION: But does he answer the questions, or does he say that he cannot answer the questions?
TONY SNOW: Well, it depends. As you know, there are some people who are fully briefed in. There are areas of classification where not every member of Congress is going to be able to listen. If you have people who are fully briefed into all programs, and they have specific questions, he can answer in the appropriate forum. But he simply cannot — he cannot answer —
QUESTION: Senator Leahy said yesterday that he hasn’t been able to find a single member of Congress, including those who you would think would have been briefed on this, who have been briefed on this.
TONY SNOW: If you read the reporting within the American press today you will find that — at least what has been said in the press is that people not only were fully briefed, but had no objections. I don’t know. You will have to ask the appropriate members of the Senate Intelligence —
QUESTION: What are you really telling us? Are you saying the stories are untrue that we’ve been reading for a couple of days concerning data mining?
TONY SNOW: I’m telling you that I can’t comment on the details of the stories.
QUESTION: Are there any critics on the Hill now who are yelling a great deal about this, who were actually briefed themselves?
TONY SNOW: You will have to ask the Senate committees who has been fully briefed, and you can draw your own conclusions on that basis.
QUESTION: Different subject. Four lawmakers, senior lawmakers say that they sent a letter to President Bush on Russian WTO negotiations — opposing, basically, Russia’s entry. Are you aware of that?
TONY SNOW: No, and I will apologize as the new kid on the block. I am certainly not going to get myself into — for today, I’m not going to handle international issues or currency issues. I do not wish to set off global tempests — (laughter) — because I, frankly, just don’t know enough on those. I will be happy to get back to you.
As a matter of fact for gaggle purposes, if somebody can take notes on some of these things, I’ll try to get back to you on it. But I just don’t know the answer.
QUESTION: I’d like — this was 9:00 a.m., then it was pushed back to 9:30 a.m., and then I walk in at 9:20 a.m., and it’s already well underway.
QUESTION: Do not do that again.
QUESTION: This isn’t good.
TONY SNOW: Well, this is — it’s my fault. And it had to do with vagaries of the schedule today, and I apologize, period.
QUESTION: Because we’ve missed half of it. This is the first one you’re doing, and I just feel like —
TONY SNOW: Well, I apologize. That’s just flat my fault.
QUESTION: Can everybody get a gaggle — can everyone get a gaggle emailed to them?
QUESTION: Can we get a transcript?
TONY SNOW: Yes. And what we will try to do, I will make this a lot more predictable and regular, you’ve got to give me a little forbearance.
QUESTION: I was here, sitting out here in the hallway. I can’t even hear any of this conversation.
TONY SNOW: Okay, well, I’ll tell you what we will do then is we will move it back into the Briefing Room. I had this wonderful idea that this would be nice and collegial and relaxed, but it obviously at this point is just a mess. (Laughter.) So rather than doing that, we will go back to gaggling in the Briefing Room, and then as numbers dwindle, we may think of bringing it back here.
QUESTION: They’re probably still looking for the remote to get you up here.
TONY SNOW: Yes. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Since it’s your maiden voyage, tell us, do you have direct access with the President every day? I mean, have you made some certain rules for yourself?
TONY SNOW: Well, I think the President makes the rules, but, yes, I’ve been granted access. My predecessors all had what was called “walk-in” access. But I have access to the President, yes.
QUESTION: What about the briefings — you’re talking about the gaggle — what about the briefings? We’re hearing a whole bunch of different things about the briefings. Are the briefings —
TONY SNOW: Okay, thank you for that. The question is, are we going to stop televising briefings and all that. I haven’t made any decisions. The briefings will continue as they have in the past. If there are any changes made in the briefings, I will do that in full consultation with you guys. I’m not going to wave a wand and change things. I have a feeling the televised briefings are not something that you can undo.
But, look, I want to make this office as effective as possible getting information to you. We’ll find out the best ways of doing that. But rumors of the televised briefings demise are greatly exaggerated.
QUESTION: Tony, can you put to rest some questions about your severing your ties with FOX? You have no financial tie to them?
TONY SNOW: That is correct. I own no stock —
QUESTION: — go back to them —
TONY SNOW: Absolutely right.
QUESTION: You have done all the things you have to do with the ethics office to put your stocks where —
TONY SNOW: Correct. Yes, let me just make it clear. I had no stock in FOX to begin with. And so I don’t have to sell any stock in FOX. And there’s absolutely no agreement for further employment, no right of first refusal, no nothing.
QUESTION: No complicating for the —
TONY SNOW: No. No. And that is why I go to the bank and ask for a bridge loan. But, no. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Anything in the future — anything in the future from FOX?
TONY SNOW: No. As a matter of fact, I was even too dopey to get in on a 401(k). So there is actually no FOX pension. The only media pension I have is through AFTRA.
QUESTION: Today, back to the beginning. Can you talk about this address to the nation on Monday? And what is the substance of it? Will it be beyond immigration?
TONY SNOW: Nothing. It’s an immigration speech. It’s not immigration-plus. It’s immigration. It’s the President’s comprehensive immigration proposal.
QUESTION: Is he going to offer a specific plan? Like, he was leaning towards the Senate plan, the last time he talked about this. Is that — is he going to offer his own idea now —
TONY SNOW: He is going to tell you what his ideas are on immigration.
QUESTION: Has he changed his mind on anything?
TONY SNOW: You know what, you’re asking a state of mind question that pre-dates me. I’m not even going to fake it.
QUESTION: — why now? The answer may be obvious.
TONY SNOW: The answer is obvious. The Senate has agreed to take this up. This is crunch time on the issue. The House — the President does want comprehensive immigration reform addressed this year.
QUESTION: Tony, something a little closer to home, sort of. What’s the White House view on Congressman Davis and —
TONY SNOW: At this point —
QUESTION: — delegate.
TONY SNOW: — we have no view on it.
QUESTION: — have —
TONY SNOW: That I don’t know.
QUESTION: What about reports that the Pentagon is considering plans to put the federal troops, or National Guard troops on the border? There are some there now, but with more, as far as securing the border.
TONY SNOW: Look, at this point, the President has been consulting with a lot of people. And he obviously considers border security a fundamental concern. He will be addressing that Monday night. But I don’t want to get into the specifics of what has been in the papers about this, other than to say that there are — well, I don’t want to get ahead of my brief on this, but you’re just going to have to wait and see.
QUESTION: So, again, there’s nothing specifically new that he’s going to say?
TONY SNOW: No, there will be, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Tony. Turning back to General Hayden, will he follow the precedent set by some of his predecessors who have come out of the military and retire before he assumes the position of CIA Director or stay?
TONY SNOW: You’ll have to ask General Hayden.
QUESTION: Do you have a specific date for the tax bill signing?
TONY SNOW: We don’t have that yet. No, but it will be next week.
QUESTION: Tony, what has the White House — what’s the White House position on this report that the Justice Department investigation into the NSA program was blocked because people couldn’t get security clearance? Was that —
TONY SNOW: Dana, I’m going to toss that to you, because you’ve got a better brief on that. You don’t mind if I do that, do you?
MS. PERINO: That’s fine. The Justice Department has spoken to their office of professional responsibility. I think that they put out a statement I think last night, or on Tuesday night, when it was first reported back.
MS. PERINO: Excuse me?
QUESTION: We can’t hear any of the discussion.
TONY SNOW: I’ll tell you what, I’ll speak up. You’ll forgive me, but I’ll just — I will do the talking points on this
because, again, as the new kid on the block, I’m not fully briefed into everything, but here it is.
The Justice Department has, in fact, spoken about the issue. Only those involved in national security with specific need-to-know are given details about the classified program. That includes several more members of Congress on the intelligence committees. The TSB has been subject to extensive oversight. The review includes a scrutiny of the NSA inspector general, who, unlike the office at the Department of Justice, is specifically charged with overseeing the lawfulness of employee actions.
I hate to read from a sheet of paper, but that’s —
QUESTION: Is there some effort to say — this is highly unusual, that these people wouldn’t be granted security clearance —
TONY SNOW: I’m not going to — as a lawyer, I’m not going to argue with legal experts.
MS. PERINO: There’s a very limited number of people who are fully briefed on that program.
QUESTION: We’re not asking you — isn’t it peculiar that Justice Department lawyers cannot get security clearance to look into the NSA?
TONY SNOW: Honestly, I can’t answer the question.
TONY SNOW: Because I don’t know enough about it.
QUESTION: Can you find out?
TONY SNOW: Yes, I can find out.
QUESTION: Tony, just on your time here, what would you like to see changed? I know you’re still getting used to things, but what do you think you should do —
TONY SNOW: Well, apparently the gaggle. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Good start. We’d agree with that one. What would you like to see improved, what would you like to set your mark on?
TONY SNOW: Rather than — you know, it’s a funny thing. You will find this odd, but I don’t come in trying to draw comparisons with the status quo or anything else. I just want to do the job, and it’s really that simple. So I’m not trying to say I want X, Y, Z improved.
QUESTION: Can you just talk about what you see as doing the job, then.
TONY SNOW: Well, doing the job is maintaining, to the best of my ability, the flow of information. Look, we want to get the information to you about the President’s policies and what’s going on in the administration, and to make sure that, to the largest extent practicable, the relations are smooth and cordial. There are going to be times when we bump heads, I understand that. But I want to be effective in that sense, yes.
QUESTION: Can you comment on what Representative Boehner said about this call that was conducted — necessary information to have and collect?
TONY SNOW: Again, no, because I can’t — Representative Boehner, also not having been fully briefed in on the program, I’m not going to get into an argument with him, but nor am I going to comment either way about the existence or non-existence.
(Cell phone rings.)
TONY SNOW: Somebody has got a worse phone ringer than I have. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It was my opportunity to say, are you going to do a week ahead on a Friday morning?
MS. PERINO: Let’s do the week ahead.
TONY SNOW: Okay, let’s do the week ahead. Here we go. And thank you all for your forbearance.
Sunday, the presentation of a White House tree at the Australian Ambassador’s Residence. Monday, remarks at the Annual Peace Officersâ Memorial Service at the United States Capitol.
Tuesday, South Lawn arrival ceremony for Prime Minister Howard of Australia, and Mrs. Howard. The President will meet with the Prime Minister on Tuesday, have a joint press availability with the Prime Minister. He also will be meeting with the Sacramento Monarchs, the 2005 WNBA Champions. There will be an official dinner with the Prime Minister and Mrs. Howard on the evening of the 16th.
QUESTION: Official, not state dinner?
TONY SNOW: It says, official dinner.
Wednesday, photo opportunity and remarks to the 2006 United States Winter Olympic and Paralympic teams. He will sign H.R. 4297, the Tax Relief Extension and Reconciliation Act of 2006 — so we do have a — the answer is, Wednesday; I should have read my own paper, I apologize. Attends the Republican National Committee Gala at Constitution Hall.
Thursday, TBD. Friday, attend a Thelma Drake for Congress Reception in Norfolk, Virginia, then on to Northern Kentucky, remarks on the American Competitiveness Initiative in Highland Heights, Kentucky, and a Geoff Davis for Congress Reception in Florence, Kentucky. That’s the week ahead.
QUESTION: Will there be a briefing today, then?
TONY SNOW: No. And no briefing, obviously, on Monday. We’ll gaggle, and I will do my first official briefing on Tuesday.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, first official briefing?
TONY SNOW: Tuesday.
QUESTION: And can we, indeed, get a transcript of this one for people who missed the beginning?
TONY SNOW: Yes, we’ve got the steno here. I’m sorry, what, Ann?
QUESTION: Is Madeline Albright invited today? She was critical of the last session.
TONY SNOW: Yes, she is. She is in attendance. And you will — I’m sure she will be available at the stakeout.
QUESTION: Thank you.