House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
September 21, 2001
QUESTION: We're talking civilian casualties, we're talking the potential --
it's still more terrorist incidents within our borders.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can only look again to what the President has said.
How can he make a prediction. What the President has said, that everybody has
to remain in a state of alert and warning because we still are a free country
and that people have to be prepared to take actions. And that's why the military
and the domestic agencies remain on alert within these borders.
QUESTION: John Ashcroft apparently has warned the Mayor of Boston and the Governor
of Massachusetts that for some reason, tomorrow is a significant day, according
to their investigation. Can you share with us any of his security concerns,
or what is Attorney General Ashcroft trying to convey?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to Justice on anything specific that the Attorney
General has said.
QUESTION: A separate question. Is the United States sending a message to Iran?
Have they done that in the last few days?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States maintains contacts with Iran through the Swiss
in Teheran, and the government of Iran sent the United States a message of condolences.
The United States sent back to Iran a message of thanks for the expression of
QUESTION: Were there any other messages, besides just thanks?
MR. FLEISCHER: To the best of my knowledge, that's the extent of it.
QUESTION: When the President meets the Chinese Foreign Minister, is he going
to tell about Pakistan -- through China?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll try to get you some type of readout for the meeting.
QUESTION: Is there coverage on that, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I don't believe we're going to have an open meeting for
QUESTION: When you said a moment ago that the defeat of bin Laden and his network
would be viewed as a victory, you didn't mean it would be viewed as the victory,
correct? That's not the end of the war, if his organization and he were destroyed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has said, this is going to be a long struggle,
and there are going to be many components to it. But, again, you have to take
a look at these things through things that will be financial victories, as bank
accounts are drained, as assets are frozen. There will be military moments,
some that will be visible to the American people, some that won't be, and probably
will never be known.
So there will be a series of actions, and each one will represent a step on
the way to victory.
QUESTION: So that's a "no"? The goal of this is not just the defeat
of bin Laden and his network, it's broader, and that action, defeating bin Laden,
would not be the end of this, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I've been indicating on a regular basis, the President
has said that the goals are broad, and that is to fight terrorism where terrorism
continues, where terrorism persists, and where terrorism represents a threat
to free people in the United States and everywhere. And, again, I just remind
you that the al Queda organization is present in some 60 countries. And those
who harbor and support terrorists are the targets of the President's action
to protect our country. And there are nebulous lines about where some of these
organizations begin and some end.
QUESTION: Ari, going back to what Helen had to say, yes, the Taliban wants to
know specific answers as to why the United States is targeting Osama bin Laden.
But there are some people, even though the United States as a whole, the American
people, seem to be looking for retaliation, there are still some people here
who want to know -- to remove some of the shadow of what you have, to precisely
pinpoint Osama bin Laden as the person who has perpetrated this.
MR. FLEISCHER: April, I can only ask you, and this has been a consistent question
from Helen and from other people here who are seeking information on behalf
of the people of this country. I can only remind you that there are some questions
that, to find the answer to, reveal very valuable information about how the
United States would get that information. And to reveal that, we would provide
information to the al Queda organization, to Osama bin Laden, to any other enemies
of this country, that they would love to have. And I will not do that.
I just want to say this with the greatest respect possible. You have the right
to ask those questions. I have the responsibility not to answer them.
QUESTION: Ari, a follow up to that. But what do you say to the people here in
this country, who, as we talk about security, that we have to be mindful of
what's going on in our borders, and there still seems to be a cloak of secrecy
and people are still uncertain after what happened on 9/11. So what do you tell
those people? Just trust the Bush administration, this is it? I mean, is it
supposed to be full trust?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if there is any uncertainty, it doesn't derive from the
fact that the United States government is properly keeping details and operations
and methods and sources secret; I think the American people, frankly, are pleased
to hear that the government does that.
I think, if anything, there is still throughout the country a shock that has
been felt as a result of the fact that our country was attacked and lives have
been lost, and that is natural. Our nation is still going through a period of
mourning. People have lost loved ones. People are missing. And so I think that
is more the cause of the anxiety. Fortunately, for our nation, this is a new
occurrence. But it has happened. Our borders have been attacked, within our
borders. And I think that's the source of the anxiety.
I think, frankly, the American people take encouragement from the fact that
this government will not have loose lips.
QUESTION: To what extent will Governor Ridge be taking over as the face of the
response to September 11th? I mean, since this was an act of domestic terrorism,
will he be helping to coordinate military responses going after Osama bin Laden
and al Qaeda? Would he have an equal footing with the Attorney General, in terms
of the Justice Department investigation? Will he be handling the reconstruction
in New York City?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he will have Cabinet rank and, therefore, he will be part
of a team that always has worked very closely together. And if you notice, there's
always areas of overlap between various government agencies and between different
Cabinet departments. The key here when it comes to homeland defense is to have
one very effective person at the pinnacle of it who can help coordinate it.
Now, there will be other clearly defined missions, of course: DOD, Defense,
Attorney General, with Justice and the investigation, the gathering of evidence.
But all of that still has implications for how you combine the various interagency
groups that are working on homeland defense and ongoing protection from terrorism.
So that will be his charge, and he'll work as a member of a team.
QUESTION: Let's follow up on that. Still this is not very well defined, what
he's going to be doing. Will he, for example, have any role in overseeing the
investigation of terror attacks? Will he have any oversight authority in retribution
for terror attacks? Or is his job only to protect the country in the event of
a terrorist attack?
MR. FLEISCHER: The investigation part will continue to be in the hands of the
Department of Justice. But of course, as they develop their information, there's
going to be things that can help in preparing to protect our country. As Justice
Department uncovers leads, for example, that would indicate the types of action
that were taken against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, those could
be valuable clues that somebody like Governor Ridge will want to know about,
so he can say, these are the types of patterns we saw, these are the types of
things we need to know so we can protect America from anything in the future.
QUESTION: But Justice still takes the lead on the investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The mission of the Governor, of Governor Ridge
and this homeland office, homeland security, is to develop a coordinated, integrated
and comprehensive national strategy to combat domestic terrorism, strengthening
our homeland preparedness and security at all levels of government. And there
are a lot of different agencies. His job will be to coordinate them in preparing
for the homeland defense. It is not to replace the existing agencies that are
doing their work in investigation. It is not to replace the Department of Defense,
where it has taken the lead, of course, on things military.
QUESTION: One more question. Are you -- do you have any idea how many people
are going to be in the office? And I take it from this morning, you are leaving
open the possibility that the White House would ask for additional money to
pay for this office?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, those matters are still being considered. I think the best
analogy, I gave you one this morning on something administrative, but I think
the best way for you all, people very familiar with the White House, to think
of this, too, is the National Security Council provides a real coordinating
capacity involving State, involving Defense, involving CIA, and does so in the
position of security.
This will do something similar in the direction of homeland defense. And there
are subtle differences, but that's your best guide.
QUESTION: Will it be like some of the agencies, there will be people on loan
from Justice and other departments working the White House rather than hiring
a new staff here? Is that
MR. FLEISCHER: It could be any combination of the above. It's early, and we'll
keep you fully informed as that develops, but it's early.
QUESTION: What was the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Will it be new hires, will it be people on loan from Justice
or other agencies.
John, you had one?
QUESTION: Ari, can you tell us more about this other radar track that you were
mentioning this morning, that gave clearer evidence that American flight 77
was headed for the White House initially?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service is going to handle all the inquiries concerning
any tracks involving the White House and the security of the White House, and
they'll give you a full explanation. In fact, I think they may already have,
in the case of CBS.
QUESTION: In Israel, the newspaper, Haaretz, reports that every political party
in the Knesset denounced the manifestations of Palestinian joy following last
week's terror attacks on the United States, except the Israel-Arab parties,
who also refused to sign the Knesset's letter of sympathy to the American people.
And my question, surely after last night's unforgettable and specific, very
specific Presidential address, the White House is not going to evade comment
on these Israeli-Arabs, are you Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I took that question when you asked me a question two days ago
about anyone around the world, including the Palestinians, who would rejoice
at the loss of American life. And I said at the time, that the United States
QUESTION: Given the fact that during Desert Storm, 100 percent of our female
POWs, two of them, were both raped, the Commander-in-Chief does not intend to
send any women into what appears to be coming combat, does he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President has the highest regard for the military, believes
it is fully prepared for this mission. And the military, as currently constituted,
is the best in the world. And the President supports their structure.
QUESTION: But there are no females in those special forces --
MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said --
QUESTION: He won't send women into this, will he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I stand by what I said about the President knows that we have
the best military in the world.
QUESTION: On which day did the President approach Governor Ridge with the job
offer? And was he the President's first choice for the job?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I have no information on the second part. I have not
talked to the President about that. According to the information I have, it
was Wednesday night, and then again Thursday morning.
QUESTION: In order to respond fully to the terrorist attack, is the administration
willing to exhaust all surplus funds and, if necessary, even resort to deficit
spending or consider rescinding part of the $1.35-trillion tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Paula, I've taken a look at the financial condition
of our country at times of previous wars. And as much as the President has indicated
because of things operational that this is a different kind of war, it is also
important to note that this will be the first war that will have begun when
the United States government was in a position of surplus.
All previous wars in which the United States engaged, our nation was in deficit.
The surplus is the second-largest in history, and that does provide an important
and helpful cushion. But the President's focus will always be in times of war
and peace to keep an eye on taxpayer dollars because in no case, war or peace,
will taxpayer dollars be wasted. But the President is prepared to wage this
war, and to do what is necessary to keep the country free.
But right now, I'll just follow the projections, but we do have a very large
surplus, which puts us in a stronger position to begin this effort.
QUESTION: -- projections were based on mid-session review prior to September
11th. If it does look like your surplus is exhausted, are you willing to reconsider
rescinding the tax cut or resorting to deficit spending?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypotheticals. Obviously, the President
is talking with Congress about an economic stimulus package that actually would
have additional tax cuts in it. So I don't think what you've suggested on a
tax cut is in the cards at all.
QUESTION: Have we gone into a war with this level of accumulated debt?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the percentage of the GDP, I would have to take a look; I
couldn't tell you.
QUESTION: Wouldn't that be important, though? Because the surplus is sort of
a momentary thing, comes and goes, it seems like. Isn't the more important figure
whether or not, you know, what level of debt we're in?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think economists could differ on that question, but I think
the important question is debt as a percentage of GDP, and I don't have that
off of the top of my head.
QUESTION: Will this coalition have a restrictive effect on the President? Will
it tie America's hands, as did the coalition, to some extent, in the Persian
MR. FLEISCHER: No. And that's one of the reasons I indicated earlier that this
will be a coalition where people contribute differently, and it will change
over time. There will be moments where people contribute more, and then they'll
contribute less. There will be moments where they contribute fully throughout.
It will be a coalition with changing needs, with changing requirements. And
the President will continue to work with all nations of the world to accept
their contributions to helping defeat terrorism as those nations see fit.
We have to get to the week ahead, I just want to remind people.
QUESTION: You said the other day that the airline companies have a legitimate
claim on the U.S. government for having their planes put down on the ground
and some of the ensuing problems that have flowed from that. What about the
airline workers? Do you feel that they, many of whom, tens of thousands of whom
have lost their jobs in the last week or two, do they have a legitimate claim
on the U.S. government?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the action that was ordered affected the airline
companies. They were told to put the planes down on the ground. And that's all
being considered as part of the package to help the airline industry. As I mentioned,
there are other factors that are being taken into consideration to help the
economy, to help unemployed workers, and those will be addressed, as well.
QUESTION: One question before you go to the week ahead?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, go ahead.
QUESTION: About my former homeland. The President did not mention Canada last
night in his address, and it's being taken north of the border as a snub because
Prime Minister Chretien has not stepped up to the plate to support this effort.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, no. Oh, no. No, the President would hope nobody would take
it in that manner. In fact, Prime Minister Chretien was among the first people
that the President called on Wednesday, September 12th, to thank Canada for
the role that they played in helping the United States. And he'll be coming
here next week, as you know, which is a sign of the high esteem that the President
holds Canada in, and that all Americans do. I just think American support for
Canada is so strong it speaks for itself.
QUESTION: So why didn't he mention it last night?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I think that American support for Canada is so
strong that it speaks for itself. And the President is looking forward to visiting
with Prime Minister Chretien next week. Canada has been stalwart, and always
QUESTION: One quick question. Just a quickie. Going back quickly to proof and
culpability, can you say definitively from the rostrum, without divulging sources
of intelligence or anything else, that Osama bin Laden and his organization
are responsible for the attack of last week?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will refer you right back to the statements that have been
made by the President, where he called him a prime suspect; the Secretary of
State, who said, all roads lead to the al Qaeda organization. Their remarks
speak for themselves.
QUESTION: That's not really definitive. That's not quite definitive.
MR. FLEISCHER: Their remarks speak for themselves. Let me give you the week
QUESTION: What are we doing next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you the week ahead.
QUESTION: -- there is a -- every terrorist group of global reach. And this has
been interpreted by some in one country who say that unless the administration
has a global reach, they are free to carry on terrorist attacks on neighboring
countries. So can you clarify, the President -- terrorism, period, whether it
is global, local or cross-border?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President's message to terrorists is clear: that
those who carry out acts of terror that threaten freedom will find a very strong
foe in the United States and in the coalition.
Tomorrow, the President will chair a meeting of the National Security Council
from Camp David via teleconference, and then --
QUESTION: What time will that be, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the exact time, Ron, and there will be no read from
that. It will be, obviously, a private conversation the President will have.
QUESTION: Will it be multed in? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Video conference you said, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a teleconference, correct.
On Sunday morning, in accordance with the proclamation that the President issued
on Tuesday, September 11th, to lower flags across America to half-staff, the
flags will be resumed at their full staff on Sunday morning. The President will
take part in a brief ceremony up at Camp David, along with members of the United
States Marine Corps, to proudly return the American Flag to full staff on Sunday
morning. And I would anticipate you will see similar events across the country
as the flags are brought to full staff.
QUESTION: What time and remarks?
QUESTION: Do you expect he'll make remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as it becomes clear for Sunday.
QUESTION: How about remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the times out to you and any other description of the
event, Ron. It will be a pool event.
QUESTION: Will that be before or after the fire fighters' memorial in New York
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get the time out to you as soon as it's immediately clear.
The radio address, which is being done in collaboration with the office of House
Minority Leader Dick Gephardt -- the President's speech writers have been talking
with Congressman Gephardt's speech writers. Both the Minority Leader and the
President will talk about the economy and how we're going to work together to
take actions to help strengthen the American economy.
The President and Mrs. Bush will return to the White House on Sunday. On Monday,
the President, as I indicated, will meet with the Prime Minister of Canada;
on Tuesday with the Prime Minister of Japan. The President will continue next
week with meetings with his National Security Council, as well as with his domestic
consequence group, as he prepares to focus on the fight against terrorism, and
to get the American economy back on track.
The President will turn his attention next week to also some domestic matters,
including education. And the Senate, for example next week, it looks like it
will pass the Jordan free trade agreement. So there will also be other domestic
issues that start to take place next week as well.