Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 5/1/2014
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:47 A.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Hey, everybody. No announcements. I’ll go to your questions. Jon, are you ready? (Laughter.) But I’ll start with Nedra. Go ahead.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Pentagon is releasing a report today showing a 50 percent increase in military sexual assaults. How does the Commander-in-Chief view that? Does he think it’s because of increased encouragement for reporting, or is the problem getting worse?
MR. CARNEY: Well, first of all, let me say that the President has made clear that sexual assault is a crime and has no place in the military. I think you probably remember when he said very forcefully that as Commander-in-Chief the victims of sexual assault in the military should know that he has their backs.
Secretary Hagel shares his perspective and has made eliminating sexual assault within the military a top priority. He meets weekly with his senior military and civilian leaders to ensure that the Department of Defense is reaching their goal of reducing the prevalence of this heinous crime and increasing reports of sexual assault. Because of this leadership, DOD’s response to sexual assault is fundamentally different than it was just two years ago. The Department continues to implement critical reforms, including 28 initiatives directed by Secretary Hagel, and is working with victim advocates and prevention experts across the country to identify best practices.
Now, to go to your specific question, because these crimes are underreported, DOD has focused its efforts on creating an environment in which victims feel comfortable reporting, and that’s what they are seeing. An increased trust in the system has increased reporting. The report that is being issued today shows that overall there is both an increase in reporting of sexual assault and an increase in DOD taking disciplinary action in cases where it has jurisdiction.
This all shows that the Department of Defense is starting to see some progress. It also shows that much more work needs to be done. And we are continually working with them to identify ways to strengthen their prevention and response efforts. I know that the Department of Defense is having a briefing I think this afternoon, and I’d refer you to them for more details. I can tell you that there was a 50 percent increase in sexual assault reporting up just from last year. Historically, reports of sexual assault have increased about 5 percent per year since 2006.
So we believe that this increase in reporting, this sort of dramatic increase is consistent with growing confidence in DOD’s response system. Furthermore, I should say that in Fiscal Year ’13, 2013, the Department had taken -- or took disciplinary action on 73 percent of subjects in cases over which it had jurisdiction, which is an increase from a year before from 66 percent. So again, an increase in reporting; increase in disciplinary action taken by the Department in cases where it has jurisdiction.
Q So to be clear, though, you don’t think -- the White House doesn’t think that this means the problem is getting worse?
MR. CARNEY: Obviously, there’s a lot of analysis that needs to be done. What has certainly been the case -- that sexual assault has been significantly underreported because of a lack of confidence, or at least in part because of a lack of confidence in the system. And what we have seen is that as -- and what we believe to be the case, that this sharp increase in reporting is related to an increase in trust in the system, which is a result of the significant changes that have been put in place just in the last two years. That by no means suggests that more work doesn’t need to be done -- it does.
A single case of sexual assault in the military, as far as the President is concerned, is one too many. It’s unacceptable and needs to be dealt with aggressively. And that’s what the President has directed the leadership, beginning with Secretary Hagel at the Department of Defense, to do. And as you know, there’s a process in place where the DOD will report back to the President at the end of the year in response to his order that they show progress by the end of this year. So this is an annual report that is getting more attention this year because of what’s happened and the efforts underway. At the end of the year there will be a progress report made to the President.
Q On another topic -- the House Republicans put out a report yesterday that says one-third of the people who signed up for health insurance through the federal exchanges have not paid their premiums. Does the White House dispute that data?
MR. CARNEY: Yes. And here’s why: It should not surprise you that Republicans on a committee, who uniformly have voted -- I don’t know how many times now -- to repeal the Affordable Care Act, have put out a report that isn’t on the level, that doesn’t tell the full story.
I mean, let’s begin with the fact that the committee says they looked at who paid by April 15th. But as you know, because we all -- or you reported on it, we talked a lot about it -- there was a tremendous surge in enrollments at the end of the process, including those who were in line come midnight on March 31st, who were then able to complete their enrollments by April 15th. So a lot of those folks haven’t even gotten notices yet or bills yet to pay their premiums. And they certainly, if their premiums weren’t due for a month, would not be part of that population that is covered in this report.
It doesn’t match with public comments by insurance company executives, most of which have indicated that they’re seeing 80 to 90 percent of their enrollees pay their premiums. And contrary to what the report says, there are over 300 insurance companies -- they surveyed what they said was the population of insurance companies selling plans through the FFMs, and they said it was 160 firms who sell in the federally facilitated marketplaces, and, in fact, there are over 300 insurance companies.
So what you have here is partial information packaged in a way to try to undermine what must be the pressing reality to those who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- which is that millions of Americans enrolled, exceeding even our most optimistic projections and despite the enormous obstacles that were put in the way of the American people who wanted the products available through healthcare.gov by the fact that the website barely functioned for two months. I know that’s frustrating, but it’s a fact.
And what we are seeing, again, from executives of insurance companies is that high percentages of those who have enrolled are paying their premiums. And when we have complete data available, CMS will be providing that data as opposed to half-baked, partially -- half-baked reports based on partial data meant to make a political point that the companies themselves have refuted.
Q But you’re not disputing the data.
MR. CARNEY: Chuck, where were you for the last three minutes of brilliance? (Laughter.)
Q No, no, but you didn’t dispute it. But it didn’t sound like you disputed the data. You’re just saying it’s incomplete, but you’re not disputing -- they didn’t put out false numbers. Did they put out false numbers?
MR. CARNEY: Well, in the sense that if they took -- they surveyed 160 of the companies and said that they represented all the people who enrolled, and of the 8 million who enrolled only 67 percent paid.
Q But how many companies did they not?
MR. CARNEY: Well, over 300 insurance companies are selling plans in the FFM, so that’s barely more than half, right? They did surveys up to April 15th of people who had paid. But as you know, because of the enormous surge in people who enrolled at the end of March and then continuing into April during the period when those who were already in line were able to complete their application process -- that’s not even --
Q How many do you think are going to be missing out of that? You’re assuming a million people being missed in that?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I would have to -- you’d have to ask CMS about how many people came in between, say, March 15th and April 15th. I mean, people who wouldn’t have a premium due -- if their premiums weren’t due until May 1st, the people who signed up at the end of March or in early April because they were already in line might not even have gotten a bill yet.
Q But do you believe these numbers?
MR. CARNEY: We don’t have hard, concrete numbers, but we dispute them --
Q You don’t have any numbers to push back on with their numbers.
MR. CARNEY: No, but we will, because we’re going to wait until all the data is complete.
Q When do we see that?
MR. CARNEY: When CMS has it ready. Remember, as we’ve talked about, these are private contracts between individuals and private insurance companies, again disputing the whole canard that this is government insurance. These are private companies; profit-making organizations, most of them, or many of them.
And so this is not data that is shared traditionally through the government. But we are assembling it, working with issuers. I point you to what issuers themselves, including major issuers like WellPoint, just yesterday saying, according to the CEO, “The rate of people who select a WellPoint plan and then pay the premium to begin coverage is hitting about 90 percent.” Right? So think about what WellPoint has at stake in this process versus what Republicans on a committee in the House have at stake, and then decide for yourselves who you’re going to believe.
Q Do you have a sense of where this going to come out?
MR. CARNEY: I don’t. I’m not a numbers cruncher or data. What I can say is that we have seen from the anecdotal reports from issuers that the percentages of those paying the premiums are in the 80 to 90 percent range. But we will wait until we have an accurate picture of it and provide that data when we have it.
What I can tell you is that just based on what we know to be true, which is they surveyed only a portion of the issuers and said it was representative of the whole, they surveyed those who had paid by April 15th, when, in fact, if your policy didn’t begin until May 1st and you didn’t sign up until April 10th, you might not even have gotten a bill, and a huge chunk of the 8 million came in at the very end. So look at those facts and tell me that 67 percent is a credible statistic.
Q Well, I guess what I'm curious about is, taking what you said about March and April, but I would assume HHS have some data up until then about what the general ratio was of people who enrolled and then paid premiums earlier in the process. I'm just wondering if you can give us anything that you have gleaned from that that might inform --
MR. CARNEY: What I'm saying is I don't have anything --
Q -- what you ultimately expect to have.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a partial figure for you. We're not going to put out partial information. We're not going to put out information that we don't think is reliable until we have it. And this is different from how many people enrolled because, again, once you enroll you establish a contract with a private insurance company. You commit yourself to pay the premium. They send you a bill and you pay the premium or you don't. What we have seen from those issuers, the major ones who have spoken on this, including Covered California has said that “85 percent of all enrollees have paid their first month’s premium.” Cigna says it’s in the low 80s. Aetna says 80 percent.
We'll see what the final figure for all of them is, but it's not likely to be what the Republicans are trying to say it is. And again, they’re gnashing their teeth over the fact that despite their hopes and expectations because of the fact that healthcare.gov got off to such a terrible start that the Affordable Care Act would somehow fail -- they’re upset that those predictions didn’t come true. They’re upset that their predictions about health care inflation have been blown to smithereens; the opposite has happened. Health care inflation is at its lowest level in the year since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law since than it's been in half a century or more. So they keep looking for other things. But --
Q So why don't you guys put out some partial data if you’ve got data to dispute what they’re doing? Or it sounds like you don’t have it.
MR. CARNEY: Every time we get this stuff, we put out --
Q I'm mean, I guess why not put it --
MR. CARNEY: We wait until we have all the information and we put it out. And every time it -- or almost every time, it ends up being far better than what Republicans claim it will be. And if I'm wrong when this data is compiled and all the issuers have been surveyed and we see a final figure, then we can talk about that. What I'm saying is it's not going to be 67 percent.
Q You're confident it's going to be over 80 percent?
MR. CARNEY: I'm confident it's not going to be 67 percent. I don't know what it's going to be. I know what issuers are saying about -- these are major issuers who have sold a lot of health insurance plans, and I think that reflects that the percentage of those who are paying is consistent with what you have seen traditionally in these marketplaces and reflects the fact that people want the insurance that they signed up for.
Q Thank you, Jay. German Chancellor Merkel is coming tomorrow, and I was wondering -- for her visit. And I was wondering if the President believes that Germany could be doing more to impose tougher sanctions on Russia and sort of lead the rest of the EU, and whether or not the President will be addressing that with the Chancellor.
MR. CARNEY: There’s no question that the situation in Ukraine, the continued failure by Russia to abide by its commitments in the Geneva agreement, will be a focus of the conversation between President Obama and Chancellor Merkel. They have, of course, other items on the agenda between them. This is a very important friendship and relationship, and, as you know, the President and Chancellor Merkel have been working together for a long time. The alliance between the United States and Germany is indispensable to meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities of the 21st century. One of those challenges now when it comes to Europe is the assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity that Russia has been waging against Ukraine. So I'm sure that will be an issue.
We have worked very closely with Chancellor Merkel and other members of the EU and G7 in our approach toward imposing costs on Russia for what they have done and are doing in Ukraine, and we'll continue to do that.
Q Does he think, though, that they could be a little bit stronger on it? And also, does the sort of the German uncomfortableness with the NSA spying, does that complicate matters in any way?
MR. CARNEY: Well, that's an issue that obviously has been a point of discussion between the two leaders and between our two governments and, again, may be brought up again in the conversation between the two leaders tomorrow. I don't think that it's related -- in fact, I'm confident that it's not related to our shared approach to dealing with the situation in Ukraine. There has been a great deal of collaboration and cooperation in that effort between the United States and the EU, as well as all the members of the G7.
So we expect that effort to continue, and we expect to continue a path that sees an international coalition escalating the costs that Russia will have to endure and pay if Russia refuses to keep its commitments and instead either through the means that it's been using thus far continues to destabilize the situation in eastern Ukraine and southern Ukraine or even goes further and uses its forces to cross the border, the Ukrainian border.
There was a rather remarkable statement by a senior Russian government official who said that -- who called on Ukraine to remove its forces from its country, which is preposterous, if you think about it.
MR. CARNEY: Who said that?
Q I did.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, Jessica.
Q On that issue, I know earlier, on Monday, senior administration officials on the call talked about making allowances for countries that would be disproportionately affected by further sanctions such as sectoral sanctions. Is Germany a good candidate for that because of its reliance on Russian natural gas and oil?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think that what is true is that each nation within the EU, and obviously the United States and other nations, have a different level of -- a different kind of economic relationship with Russia, and so sanctions will affect different nations differently. And that's something that I think we all take into account as we move forward with sanctions. And that's, as we discussed yesterday, something that the United States takes into account, the economic impact of ratcheting up sanctions on individuals and entities and ultimately, if we have to get to that point, on sectors of the economy.
As the President said at the very beginning of this process, there’s no question that imposing sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy would have a negative impact on the global economy and therefore negative impact on the United States’ economy and on economies in Europe and elsewhere -- an impact nowhere near as severe as they would have, those sanctions would have on the Russian economy. But these are something -- these are issues that we obviously take into consideration and we study as we craft sanctions and work with our partners.
Ultimately, as leaders in Europe have said publicly, when it comes to the fundamental necessity of upholding international law and respecting sovereignty and the territorial integrity of sovereign nations, there is a requirement essentially that in order to make clear that these transgressions are unacceptable that everyone opposing them has to bear some of the burden of taking action. And we’ve seen that already, and that will continue to be the case as we move forward, if we have to move forward with more sanctions.
Q Jay, I want to kind of ask something on Russia, but not this. We hear a lot about Russia, and we haven’t talked about Edward Snowden recently. What are the talks, what’s going on with the talks about Edward Snowden?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to the Justice Department for the case against Mr. Snowden. Our position on him and the fact that he should be returned to the United States where he will enjoy all the rights of defendants in this country has not changed. And our position on the fact that as senior national security officials have made clear, including intelligence officials have made clear, on the fact that those leaks were damaging to our national security remains unchanged. So I don't have an update beyond that. The case against him is what it is. I’d refer you to the Justice Department for more details.
Q And on something domestically, the President talked about the economy when it comes to increasing the minimum wage yesterday. He also talked about the Republican budget. Well, meanwhile, yesterday, the Congressional Black Caucus had a meeting with Paul Ryan about the GOP 2015 budget. Sources out of that meeting said that it went as expected, and we did not agree on much. What are your thoughts?
MR. CARNEY: We don't agree on a lot with -- or much with Paul Ryan’s budget either. This is a budget that's built on a foundation of extending and increasing tax cuts and benefits to wealthy individuals and corporations at the expense of middle-class families, at the expense of investments in our economy, at the expense of investments in education and scientific research and the like.
I mean, I could dive deep on all the problems created by a budget that essentially voucherizes Medicare and uses the savings from those kinds of approaches and slashing programs, again, to sustain or increase tax benefits for those at the very top. We just have a fundamentally different view. And it certainly doesn't surprise me that a group of Democrats within the House caucus similarly disagree with the approach represented by the House Republican budget and the chairman who wrote it.
Q And what did you think of the interview with Snowden that he had with Putin -- President Putin rather?
MR. CARNEY: The one from a while back? It seems like so long ago. Which one, sorry?
Q The one where Snowden interviewed Putin. You didn't answer. We want to know what the President thought about that.
MR. CARNEY: I didn't discuss that with President Obama. I just think it’s not useful for me to comment on that given that there’s a legal case against Mr. Snowden. I think I would make the observation, as somebody who lived and knows it, as we all know it here, that Russia is not a place that’s very friendly to press freedom or privacy rights.
Q Jay, getting back to the Ben Rhodes/Susan Rice prep call email, the House Oversight Committee hearing on this this morning, and the Chairman Darrell Issa said, “It’s disturbing, and perhaps criminal, that these documents -- that documents like these -- were hidden by the Obama administration.” What’s your response?
MR. CARNEY: I think we should review the history here. What happened in Benghazi was a tragedy. Four Americans were killed, including the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. This administration’s focus since that event has been on pursuing those who did harm to Americans, who killed Americans, and bringing them to justice, and taking action to ensure that the failures in security that helped cause this or lead to this event were addressed and changed.
What we have seen since hours after the attack, beginning with a statement by the Republican nominee for President, is an attempt by Republicans to politicize a tragedy -- and that continues today and yesterday. How much time has been spent focused on talking points that could have been spent on moving forward to help create jobs in this country and move the economy -- grow the economy. How much time also has been spent obviously on show votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act -- something that a majority of Americans have said clearly they don’t want to happen.
Q But, Jay, in November of 2012, the President said, “I think it’s important to find out what happened in Benghazi, and I’m happy to cooperate in any ways that Congress wants. We have provided every bit of information that we have.”
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q That email was not provided.
MR. CARNEY: Have you read the email, Jim?
Q I have it right in front of me.
MR. CARNEY: Okay, so here’s the thing -- back a year ago now, roughly, when Republicans on Capitol Hill were feeding information to reporters about what was in a bunch of emails that had been given to congressional investigators, feeding false information about what was in those emails and in those talking points that were produced by the CIA, we voluntarily released all the information regarding those talking points, causing news organizations to have to correct what they had reported because it turned out to be false because they were lied to by folks on Capitol Hill about what was contained within them.
You’ve seen the deputy director of the CIA testify repeatedly, including I believe last week, that he produced those -- the CIA produced those talking points, he made the decisions about what ultimately would go in those talking points, and that he felt no political influence from the White House or anywhere else about what should go in the talking points that were such a focus of conversation -- the talking points that were provided to members of Congress of both parties and by this administration to our representative who was going out on the Sunday shows to talk about Benghazi and everything else that was happening in the Muslim world at the time, which included huge protests outside of numerous diplomatic facilities, violent protests that included scaling of walls, taking down the American flag, Molotov cocktails and the like, right?
The talking points that Ambassador Rice used -- again, produced by the intelligence community for members of Congress and in the interest of having everybody use the same information used by the administration and Ambassador Rice on those Sunday shows -- were divulged. And like so many of the conspiracy theories that have been promulgated by Republicans from the beginning of this, this one turned out to be bogus, right? The documents released through a FOIA request by the State Department, that included the email that you’re talking about, are explicitly about the broader areas, separate from the attack on Benghazi --
Q But they go to talking points. It talks about the goal being to underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader --
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry, did you say protests? You said protests, right? So that is -- read the talking -- they are about -- it’s a Q&A about the protests happening in Tunis, in Khartoum, in Cairo, everywhere.
Q But at that time that was this administration’s explanation as to what happened.
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. Let’s just get to the facts here. So in the CIA talking points it said --
Q This has nothing to do with talking points?
MR. CARNEY: Wait, you just said it did. “The currently available information suggests that the demonstrations in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and evolved into a direct assault against the U.S. Consulate and subsequently its annex.” That language comes from the CIA-produced talking points that have been the focus of discussion now for some time that produced another dry hole in the effort to prove a conspiracy by Republicans.
As Mike Morrell, Deputy CIA Director at the time, and so many others have testified, this was based on what was, as it says here, “the currently available information suggests.” The fact that some of it -- I mean, that a lot of it was murky then, that some of it turned out to be different from what an analyst thought was the case at the time is something that we’ve discussed repeatedly, right?
The fact of the matter is -- and I would encourage you to go back and look at what was happening and what was being reported during that entire week -- is that there were potentially dangerous and violent and even fatal protests happening at facilities everywhere, and so there was these basic top-lines about that. But on the specific issue of the Benghazi attack, our representative, the administration’s representative who went out on the Sunday shows, the U.N. ambassador, relied on points provided to the Congress and to the administration that were produced by the intelligence committee -- I mean, the intelligence community.
And I feel like we’ve been through that. I mean, is there nothing -- and there’s nothing in the emails yesterday. Look, if the email that you’re talking about had been -- if you had seen it earlier, what would you have said? Well, it doesn’t really have a bearing on the CIA talking points that we released because Republicans were -- staffers on the Hill were feeding them to some reporters, falsely characterizing them, and we felt it was necessary to set the record straight, so voluntarily we provided them to you, and it turned out that the charges were bogus. Well, you know what, that’s not the first charge that was bogus. The one about the idea that there was a military stand-down order that got a lot of air time on some channels -- bogus. Conspiracy theory that turned out not to be true.
Q So all of this is politically motivated?
MR. CARNEY: All of what?
Q All of these questions, the fact that these question are -- at this point, does the --
MR. CARNEY: When Darrell Issa gets up and says what he said today? I don’t know, you guys be the judge.
Q All right. Let me ask you -- does the White House have a firm understanding of what happened to those Americans that night?
MR. CARNEY: There is an active investigation to find the people responsible. There’s an active investigation into the details. The answer broadly is --
Q It was 18 months ago and there’s still no firm grasp as to what happened? I’m just asking.
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I think that, as I think many --
Q Was it a video, was it a protest? Was it a terrorist attack?
MR. CARNEY: You should ask the intelligence community what their current assessment of what happened was. What we know is that there was an attack, that there were extremists involved, and four Americans were killed. We have been saying that from the beginning. Again, if you look at the language provided at the time by the IC to members of Congress and the White House, that’s what Ambassador Rice stuck to. And as I said and others, it was based on what we believed to be true at the time, and they were caveating all the time about the fact more information might become available, more details might become available, and as they did there would be more information to provide.
What hasn’t changed has been the effort by Republicans to claim a conspiracy when they haven’t been able to find one. And what we have done is provide 25,000 pages of documents. We have provided officials who have testified on Capitol Hill. We’ve spent a lot of time in this room and elsewhere talking about it. And the focus should be on making sure that what happened outside of the diplomatic facilities in Benghazi doesn’t happen again. And yet, in the President’s budget, he proposes investing $4.6 billion to secure overseas personnel and facilities, including sufficient funding to support embassy security construction funding of $2.2 billion, as recommended by the Accountability Review Board, chaired by Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering. But Congress hasn’t acted on that. Instead, they’re holding hearings about talking points. So you might want to ask them why they haven’t acted on this.
By the way, those are recommendations from an Accountability Review Board that at various times Republicans have tried to impugn, an Accountability Review Board led or co-chaired by the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by President George W. Bush. And again and again they come back to this, instead of focusing on what the issues here are, which is there were serious problems identified in a very critical report, an independent report produced by, again, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the most celebrated diplomats serving administrations of both parties that outline 29 recommendations that ought to be taken. And the Secretary of State at the time immediately accepted all of them, despite the fact that it was a pretty critical report, and began implementing all of them. That should be the focus.
Ed, it’s your turn.
Q If the email was not about Benghazi, as you said yesterday and you say again today, why did the White House turn it over to a conservative group seeking information about Benghazi?
MR. CARNEY: You would have to ask the State Department about how they respond to FOIA requests. I would again point you to the fact that -- I mean, all you have to do is read it, Ed. Top-line points, goals, that kind of stuff. The only mention of Benghazi in the email is a question about what’s your response to a story about an independent newspaper in the UK that says we had intelligence 48 hours in advance of the attack that was ignored. “…Not aware of any actionable intelligence” was the answer. And then what does it do? It cuts and pastes the same line from the CIA talking points that, again, was what Ambassador Rice used.
Q So if it’s not about Benghazi, why turn it over in a Benghazi suit? It seems --
MR. CARNEY: You would have to ask the State Department about their process for responding to FOIA requests. Again, you can just read it and then decide for yourself, as many people have now said and written, like this a conspiracy theory and --
Q Right, so when a conservative group comes in and says we want Benghazi documents, the administration says, this is not a Benghazi document, so we’re not turning it over, right?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t -- this is a State Department FOIA request -- response.
Q The President’s State Department.
MR. CARNEY: Yes, but again, whether it was released Monday or a week ago Monday or whatever, it doesn’t change the fundamental facts about the so-called talking points, which despite great efforts by your news organization and others have been proven not to be a conspiracy. Mike Morrell, a deputy director of the CIA, served at the CIA for decades under administrations of both parties; said that he felt no political influence when he was directing the composition of those points, and it was based on what he believed was the best analysis of what happened at the time.
And in the very first sentence of those points, it said, “currently available information” -- in a situation which, by the way, was incredibly murky and chaotic; halfway around the world, not in a capital but in a regional city at a diplomatic facility. So --
Q Putting aside Republican Darrell Issa, retired Brigadier General Robert Lovell testified today he was at AFRICOM. I have no idea if he’s a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent. He testified under oath that by 3:15 a.m., after the 9/11/2012 attack, they dismissed the video and very quickly identified this as a terror attack -- by 3:15 a.m., he testifies under oath.
In light of that, why on 9/14, two and a half days later, was Ben Rhodes writing an email about the general state of affairs, as you say, highlighting the video and not highlighting terror?
MR. CARNEY: Ed, the email was about the protests around the region. If you want to tell me today that the protests --
Q Benghazi was part of that, right? Cairo, a lot of places. But Benghazi was part of it, right?
MR. CARNEY: Right. And I would refer you to the CIA-produced talking points on that that referred at the time to currently available information suggesting that the protests -- there were protests outside of the facility in Benghazi inspired by demonstrations outside of Cairo. What inspired those demonstrations outside of our embassy in Cairo, do you even remember?
Q There was -- Cairo, I don't remember specifically. There was a flag being burned.
MR. CARNEY: Does anybody remember, anybody able to recall in response?
Q They were trying to get the Blind Sheikh out, Jay. And then they’d get more people in, they started talking about a certain video.
MR. CARNEY: Okay. I think there was a lot of tumult in the region.
Daily Caller has been heard from -- backing you up, Ed. (Laughter.)
Q That was your call.
MR. CARNEY: But the -- I think it’s fair to say that most people remember that there were demonstrations around the region -- right, Scott -- that were in reaction to what people felt was an offensive video. And there were demonstrations outside of U.S. facilities because the video was produced in the United States. So again, that's what -- like, it’s pretty clear if you read it that that's what it’s about.
When it comes to the connection between the protests in Cairo and what happened in Benghazi, that's drawn directly from talking points produced by the intelligence community, as testified to by the deputy director of the CIA on multiple occasions.
Q To your point earlier about you were working in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack with the current information that was available -- on 9/12, you were asked about Benghazi -- whether it was premeditated. And you said, “It’s too early for us to make that judgment. I think -- I know that this is being investigated. We’re working with the Libyan government to investigate the incident.” So you were being cautious, you were saying, there’s an investigation here. That's 9/12. Why then, on 9/14, is Ben Rhodes writing an email that is making judgments that this was inspired by a video? Why is it not -- hey, we just don’t know; we're investigating it?
MR. CARNEY: Do you need a copy of the CIA talking points? Because I can get them to you.
Q I’ve seen them, and you can read them out all you want. Go ahead.
MR. CARNEY: The only thing in that email that refers to Benghazi is a cut-and-paste from the talking points, which, much to your disappointment and your boss’s disappointment, turned out to be produced by the CIA. Whatever information in there that turned out not to be accurate has been addressed multiple times by folks at the CIA and elsewhere.
It's a human enterprise, intelligence-gathering and analysis. Those men and women who serve in the intelligence community do so in service of their nation and they do the best job they can every day. And what they produced was what they thought was what they thought they knew at the time in a very difficult and murky situation. And, by the way, separate from the connection between the video and what happened at the attack in Benghazi, a lot of what those points said turned out to be true, right? But it was based on currently available information. And as you could imagine, in the days after an attack in a regional city in a faraway country, that information was not complete -- which is what we said repeatedly.
MR. CARNEY: And yet you’ve got the House Majority Leader today going on Twitter saying it's time for the White House to come clean on Benghazi and urging his followers to retweet his Twitter.
MR. CARNEY: Well, as a representation of the superficiality of the partisan attack, I think you’ve made a good point. But the fact of the matter is, again, voluntarily, in response to some bogus partisan claims made by Republicans to reporters about what had happened in the compilation of the original talking points around the Benghazi attack, we produced that material publicly, which showed that we were right and they were wrong, that they were mischaracterizing what those emails and those points said. And so that is part of an effort that includes something like 25,000 pages of documents produced, hours and hours of testimony given, all in pursuit of a clearly partisan agenda because the conspiracy theories keep falling apart.
They claimed the ARB report was a whitewash and didn’t look at senior State Department officials. Well, Admiral Mullen knocked that down, right? They claimed that there was a military stand-down order. Some news organizations went hard with that. Well, it turned out not to be true. And they claimed that the White House directed the CIA talking points. Well, the CIA says that's not true, and the traffic shows that wasn’t true, that the product was one that the CIA took responsibility for. The deputy director said he didn’t feel any political influence when it came to producing them. They were producing those points, by the way, not for us but for Congress, for members of both parties.
And in the interest of a novel idea, which is that in a time of crisis and tragedy, everybody in Washington -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- ought to be singing off the same song sheet or the basic facts based on what the independent intelligence community assesses, we used the same points.
Q So you believe the White House has been as forthcoming and open as it can be on this issue?
MR. CARNEY: I really don't know how to answer that except to say that we have provided an enormous amount of information; we have answered a ton of questions. We have, again, in a rather unprecedented way, provided documents that normally White Houses and administrations have not or would not provide because they were being mischaracterized. Obviously, they’ve been provided as part of our cooperation with congressional committees to Congress, and then reporters were called up and lied to about what was in them, so we felt we had to set the record straight. That was the focus of attention, those talking points about the attack in Benghazi. So we provided that.
This release through a FOIA request has revived this story, but it doesn’t mean that the facts have changed. They haven't.
Q By the way, is there a joint news conference tomorrow by Obama and Merkel?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, you can expect that.
Q Jay, do you wish this email had been given to Congress earlier?
MR. CARNEY: Here’s what I can tell you. We provided --
Q I'm not asking anything about the broader -- just do you wish this had been included in the process of communicating --
MR. CARNEY: I wish that --
Q -- administration communication to the Congress that was requested?
MR. CARNEY: I wish that rather than spending so much of their time -- and we all have limited time -- Republicans in Congress on this and on repealing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans actually got about the business of helping the economy grow and helping it create jobs, and making the necessary investments for the economy to grow in the future.
Q To fulfill your commitment of providing, as the President said, all relevant information, do you wish this had been included in that relevant information? Can you imagine -- not being a partisan, not be a conspiracy theorist -- someone hearing that a conservative group sues the State Department or a FOIA application is requested, this comes back because their request is about Benghazi, and then you say, well, it's got nothing to do with Benghazi. Can you imagine somebody being legitimately confused about that sequence of events?
MR. CARNEY: Well, sure. What I can say is --
Q And so all I’m asking is why not include that in the --
MR. CARNEY: And I know the focus --
Q -- data dump to the Hill?
MR. CARNEY: You’d have to ask the State Department about its FOIA release processes.
Q But just, does this White House wish it had been included?
MR. CARNEY: Again, the focus was on the talking points around the attack on Benghazi. Those documents in full were provided to Congress -- not to be publicly released because a lot of it was sensitive national security stuff, but provided to Congress in the interest of cooperation with Congress. Staffers in Congress started calling reporters and mischaracterizing what was in those documents. And then so, voluntarily, we provided to the public those documents, which were the focus of everyone’s attention and all the allegations and assertions.
So this document changes --
Q It just slipped through the cracks.
MR. CARNEY: But it doesn’t --
Q I'm just asking.
MR. CARNEY: It explicitly talks about the broader protests in the region, which you can't --
Q Yet handed over in the context of a request about Benghazi, which is --
MR. CARNEY: Ask the State Department about what the request was, how they respond to FOIAs. What I can tell you is that in dealing with Congress on the so-called Benghazi talking points, they were provided a long time ago and they were made public a long time ago. And the only reference in this email about Benghazi is a cut-and-paste from the talking points that you guys have had for more than a year, or roughly a year. Right?
Q Right. My only question is, if it was okay to divulge those other documents why wasn’t this one included? That's all I'm -- and do you wish it had been? I'm just asking you the simple question.
MR. CARNEY: What I wish is -- well, I won't even get into what I wish. (Laughter.)
Q Ukraine. Administration officials are asking, seeking, urging U.S. CEOs, presidents, top leaders of business not to attend the economic forum in St. Petersburg later this month. I'm wondering what kind of cooperation you're getting from businesses.
MR. CARNEY: I don't have a conversation-by-conversation readout, but obviously administration officials are having those conversations in keeping with our current approach to Russia and what Russia has been doing in Ukraine. So I can confirm that those conversations are taking place, but I don't have anything more than a general sense that a lot of these conversations have to do with that specific trip but also about answering queries about what the sanctions that we've imposed mean, how they’ll be enforced and how they’re interpreted. And we obviously have those conversations -- or not “we,” not me -- but others in the administration have those conversations to provide clarity and information to U.S. businesses.
Q A lot of U.S. businesses have big stakes in Russia. So suppose some of them do go -- is there any fallout or consequence?
MR. CARNEY: I would simply say that --
Q Won’t get invited to the next forum here at the White House?
MR. CARNEY: I think these are just informational conversations and making clear that we don't think it's appropriate given the flagrant violations of a sovereign nation’s territorial integrity and its consistent efforts to further destabilize Ukraine, that it's the appropriate thing to do. But I don't have further information on those conversations.
Q One more question about the testimony of General Robert Lovell who was on duty the night of the attacks at AFRICOM headquarters. He testified that there were discussions about what should be done there at AFRICOM in response to the attack and that they were “waiting for a request for assistance from the State Department” and in his view, we should have at least tried something. I'm wondering your reaction to General Lovell’s testimony.
MR. CARNEY: I thought I had it here, but I would encourage you to read Admiral Mullen’s testimony on this. And he made abundantly clear that in his view -- again, an admiral, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed by President George W. Bush -- that the military did everything that it could and acted appropriately in every way in response to this attack. I wish I had the language in front of me because it's quite powerful.
So I don't -- I'm not familiar specifically with the testimony you cite, but what I can tell you is the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs who investigated this thoroughly and felt -- again, characterizing or paraphrasing his words -- felt particularly compelled, as the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to investigate this charge thoroughly, came to the very clear conclusion that the military did everything that it could.
Q And, in fact, General Lovell doesn’t necessarily dispute that, but the point that he seems to be making in his testimony is we should have at least tried. Is there any feeling here -- I mean, are you satisfied?
MR. CARNEY: I'm not sure -- well, again, I would refer you to the -- thank you. A trusty deputy. (Laughter.) Quote from Admiral Mullen: “We looked at every single U.S. military asset that was there and what it possibly could have done, whether it could have moved or not, and it was in that interaction that I concluded after a detailed understanding of what had happened that night, that from outside Libya, we had done everything possible that we could.”
Now, again, I'm not familiar with this -- in detail with his testimony or the perspective that it offers, but I would point you to the words of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appointed by President George W. Bush, who led a thorough investigation of this, and this particular point included, and he came to that conclusion.
Q Jay, away from the talking points and the memos for a moment, you’ve said a number of times -- the President has said a number of times that the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack, you're pursuing them, et cetera. How is that possible, in a sense? What is the status of that investigation? I just had to look this up myself. Libya is in a state of political and physical chaos. How do you view the situation in Libya right now to try to bring these people to justice?
MR. CARNEY: Well, it's a challenging case, to be sure. I would refer you to the Justice Department and some of the statements that have been made about progress in that case. But I can assure you that the President’s direction is that those who killed four Americans will be pursued by the United States until they are brought to justice.
And if anyone doubts that, they should ask, if there are any, friends and family members of Osama bin Laden. It took a long time, but in this case the United States is going to find and bring to justice those who killed our ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi that night.
Q What’s the status of relations in a sense with Libya?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have an update on the situation in Libya. We’ve obviously worked with the Libyan government in dealing with the aftermath of the Qaddafi dictatorship and the challenges posed by the new era in Libya. I can certainly get you more information on our current efforts there. But as is the case in many countries in the region, there’s a difficult dynamic in place there that has been -- which is the result, a positive result in the sense that Qaddafi is gone, but you have a situation in these countries where a dictator held together a nation through intimidation and force, and attempts to move forward with a democratic government are challenging and are not often successful; at least every step is not forward.
Q Is that broad failure of policy that the email is talking about the difficulty of having a government in Libya that would protect our people? Or is there some other broad failure of policy that you’re talking about?
MR. CARNEY: Neil, let me answer your question. Again, I’m sure you won’t write it this way, but that email refers to protests in the region, talks about all the demonstrations around the region. And the point was, as the protesters themselves in a variety of places, including Cairo and Tunis and elsewhere around our diplomatic facilities were making clear is that they were angered by a video produced in the United States that they found offensive.
So the point was simply that that was our understanding of what was causing those protests. And it wasn’t -- they weren’t protests directed at overall U.S. policy, but specific -- that the spark had been the video -- again, in the protests around Tunis and elsewhere.
Q You just described a state of chaos in Libya after the President helped depose the government. In that chaos, there’s no controlling the jihadis, and they attack our embassy. Is that part of the background --
MR. CARNEY: We don't have an embassy. It was a -- our embassy is in Tripoli.
Q -- a broad failure policy of the President’s policy that you guys wished to distract by talking about the video then and now?
MR. CARNEY: You can wish it to be so. What I can tell you, Neil, is that from the moment this happened there has been an effort underway, by this administration, to first bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of four Americans; and two, to take a very clear-eyed look at why four Americans died, why there was inadequate security, what could have been done and what needs to be done to ensure that something like that doesn't happen again.
The independent Accountability Review Board chaired, again, by Admiral Pickering -- I mean, Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering and very unsparing in its critical assessment of some of the security challenges and failures, recommended 29 steps be taken. All of them are being implemented.
Q So there’s no broad failure of policy?
MR. CARNEY: What would be nice is -- what would be nice is if Congress would focus on the critical need of protecting Americans who serve us often in dangerous places around the world by fully funding the President’s budgetary request for construction and other needs around diplomatic security.
Q Allow me to write then there’s no failure of policy.
MR. CARNEY: I would never tell you what to write.
Q When you say the -- is the Libyan government being cooperative in this investigation?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Justice Department. I haven’t spoken to them. It’s an investigation being led by the Justice Department.
Q So this is investigated by Justice. Is the intelligence community working on this?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to Justice. I just -- I don't have details on that.
Q So no update on the investigation itself?
MR. CARNEY: I’m sorry. I don't have that, yes.
Q Let me ask you about minimum wage. Has the President talked with congressional leadership, Republican congressional leadership about a compromise piece of legislation to actually getting something passed? When was the last time the White House worked with congressional leadership --
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been actively engaged in an effort to try to --
Q He campaigned on it. I understand. You’ve been campaigning on minimum wage.
MR. CARNEY: No, we --
Q But is there a --
MR. CARNEY: I said yesterday, somebody asked me about Senate Collins’s suggestion that somehow Republicans who have adamantly opposed any raise in the minimum wage would be convinced if we went from $10.10 to $9.99 or something, right?
We disagree with the premise because when you look at Speaker Boehner’s statements and other statements, the logical -- if you take the logic in those statements and their opposition to raising the minimum wage to $10.10 to the end, you realize that it represents a lack of support for any minimum wage. Not that they would say that.
Q The President would sign a $9 bill? The bill that he called for in January 2013?
MR. CARNEY: No, the bill on the -- what he has supported -- there isn’t a $9 bill.
Q Yes, he called for one in January of 2013 in the State of the Union.
MR. CARNEY: There isn’t one.
Q But if that was the compromise, would the President support something like that?
MR. CARNEY: What does Speaker Boehner say? If “ifs” and “buts” were candy and -- (laughter.)
Q What is it that the White House -- is there active negotiations?
MR. CARNEY: We support -- for a lot of --
Q Is there active talks about actual legislation?
MR. CARNEY: Have you seen any concrete interest by Republican leaders in --
Q I’m asking what you guys are doing. Are you having your own meetings? Are you trying?
MR. CARNEY: We’re pushing for Congress to pass an increase in the minimum wage.
MR. CARNEY: And we have been greatly encouraged --
Q Beyond holding events -- what are you doing beyond holding events?
MR. CARNEY: We talk with -- we are engaged with Congress all the time, including Republicans. What we have been told is what they're telling you, which is that they adamantly oppose increasing the minimum wage, which is a problem because it’s the right thing to do. It’s supported by a majority of the American people.
They seem to think that the current minimum wage, which puts families in poverty, even when the head of the household is working full-time, is okay and adequate.
Q But a lot of guys want a piece of legislation, and you want something -- and you try to get something passed, and you hear about different back-and-forths; you’re trying to do different negotiations. That doesn't seem to be the case here.
MR. CARNEY: I just disagree, Chuck.
Q There doesn't seem to be any evidence that you guys are actively trying to work with -- whether it’s a list of Senate Republicans --
MR. CARNEY: But if you tell me that there are Republicans who are interested in raising the minimum wage -- we can’t negotiate against ghosts who don’t --
Q So we’re supposed to do the negotiation? I mean, are you guys actively --
MR. CARNEY: No, no, no. No, Republicans are.
MR. CARNEY: But they’ve come out and said they oppose raising the minimum wage. We’ve said they’re wrong; we want them to change their minds.
Q I understand in the campaign back-and-forth that you’ve done this.
MR. CARNEY: It’s a piece of legislation.
Q But what meetings have you had up there with Republicans to try to figure out a compromise?
MR. CARNEY: Believe me, when we talk to Republicans, when representatives of the White House talk to Republicans, we make the case for the minimum wage. We don’t hear back from Republican leaders, “well, I can’t do $10.10 -- I could do $9.50.” Right? That’s not what they tell you and it’s not what they tell us. They say they’re opposed to raising the minimum wage. That’s the wrong approach. It’s not good for America, it’s not good for the economy, it’s not right for those families.
Q Let me try to ask Neil’s question in a slightly different way. The policy failure that Ben refers to -- so in 2011, at a time when the President is trying to get out of Iraq, getting out of Afghanistan, beginning the glide path out of Afghanistan, he helps lead an international coalition to use military force in a new country. Qaddafi is opposed. A year later, the city where -- that he invoked to justify the intervention, to protect the people of Benghazi, his ambassador and three others are murdered.
In the aftermath of the initial strike, right, he said this is a new model, this is a new way we can use force -- we’ll do what we can do and we’ll leave a lot of it for the rest. Is that part of the policy that Ben is referring to? Or is it broader Muslim outreach that --
MR. CARNEY: Let me read the sentence: “To underscore that these protests are rooted in an Internet video” -- again, this is a series of questions and answers about protests about a video. And the only point that that was trying to make is that the protestors were not around the region, around the Muslim world in places far away from Libya, not just in Libya.
Q But what policy did Ben think was going to be on trial in the Sunday shows?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think as is the case when we prepare for appearances on television or briefings like this, you try to anticipate questions and criticisms or charges. And I think that the general thing is that the world is -- the Muslim world is in protest over U.S. policy. What this point makes is that these protests outside of our embassy in Cairo, in Tunis, in Khartoum, and elsewhere, were about fury over an Internet video. That was what your news organizations were reporting, that was what we understood to be true. And that was simply the point that was being made by Mr. Rhodes.
Q I’m asking in part because the lesson -- have you drawn the lesson from this episode that these sorts of interventions are not worthwhile and it should not be applied in the future, for example, in a place like Syria? Which I know has different dynamics.
MR. CARNEY: You anticipated my -- no, I think that the --
Q But are you gun-shy, effectively, as a result -- excuse the poor pun -- to intervene in places like Syria because of what happened in Libya?
MR. CARNEY: I think the President, as he said at his most recent press conference, evaluates the question of using military force with an eye to its effectiveness and whether or not it advances U.S. national security interests. And I think if you look at the example of his approach to Libya and the coalition that was assembled and the burden-sharing that was brought to bear there, the support of international organizations, including the Arab League behind that effort, you have a very unique circumstance in where the application of force could be effectively used to save many, many lives and to advance through that U.S. national security interests.
There was not a belief that doing so would suddenly make Libya a calm place, given all the upheaval that was taking place throughout the Muslim world and, in particular, in the Arab world. There was a belief that it was the right action to take in conjunction with our allies in order to save many, many lives. And the President believes that to this day.
The circumstance -- and I won’t go into the differences -- obviously, the circumstances in Syria are different, but the judgment or the lens is the same in terms of would the application of force bring about -- have a good chance of bringing about the policy objective that we pursue.
And if you look at how the situation in Syria involving its use of chemical weapons unfolded, the President made clear that there would -- the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated. When the Assad regime used them, he made clear that there was a potential use of military force in response. Because of that credible threat, we saw Russia and other nations, including the Assad regime, come together to take action and agree to, by the Assad regime, remove its stockpiles of chemical weapons. At this point, while the regime remains behind schedule and has not met all of its deadlines to be sure, 92 percent of those chemical weapon stockpiles have been removed.
Q Ninety-two percent of what?
MR. CARNEY: Its chemical weapons and precursors, as I understand it. For the technical details --
Q You just threw out a very specific number, though. You didn’t -- the President didn’t --
MR. CARNEY: This is OPCW. It’s not us.
Q I understand that. You put out a very specific number -- of what?
MR. CARNEY: Those numbers coming from the OPCW.
Q And the 8 percent that’s left, is it 8 percent of what?
MR. CARNEY: I can tell you that some of the 8 percent is the top tier most dangerous chemicals.
Q The 92 percent is a little misleading. The 8 percent basically -- some of the most dangerous stuff is left.
MR. CARNEY: No. Again, these aren’t our figures. This is a removal overseen by the OPCW. This is what they are reporting. They are also reporting -- and let me get the precise language here -- that when it comes to the remaining 8 percent, less than 8 percent of the chemicals designated for removal remain in Syria. That 8 percent is comprised of the most dangerous Priority One and Priority Two precursor chemicals -- which is why we are making clear that Syria must abide by its commitments, the Assad regime; complete the removal of its CW, including the remaining 8 percent.
There are protests, of which we heard when they were at 20 percent and 10 percent, that they can’t -- it’s not safe enough to get those stockpiles to Latakia, the port for removal, are no more true today than they were when they said they couldn’t do it and they were at 10 or 15 percent. We and our partners intend to hold them accountable to those commitments.
I think you said -- yes, Jen. Last one.
Q Thanks, Jay. The Vice President said yesterday that he doesn’t see any downside to the President taking executive action on LGBT workplace discrimination. Does the President agree?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the complete statement was that what we’re focused on -- the big accomplishment, which would be passage by both houses of Congress and the signing into law by the President of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
I think it’s -- points have been made, and I think in response to something I said earlier, that it’s clear that executive orders aren’t necessarily completely overlapping with what would be achieved by legislation. I think there’s no doubt that the legislation would be a far greater accomplishment and more broadly applied. And that is why we continue to push the House to follow the Senate’s lead and pass that, because those who oppose it, I hope -- at least their children -- will regret the reasons they put forward for opposing it, because they sound a lot like the reasons opponents argued against civil rights legislation in the past. And they were wrong there. They’re wrong now.
So I don’t have any updates on suggested or proposed executive orders. What I can tell you is that we still call on Congress, the House, to follow the Senate’s lead and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
Q What is there a reluctance to do something on the executive order when it could complement this broader push that you guys really want?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I just don’t engage in discussion about speculative executive orders. When the President decides to take action using his administrative authority, some --
Q But the Vice President speculated. He said that he didn’t see any downside.
MR. CARNEY: No, I think he answered a question about it, as I have repeatedly. And I’m happy to. I think this is an incredibly important issue, and I think it is remarkable how much progress has been made and remarkable that there is still resistance to the progress that remains to be made. That’s certainly the President’s view.
I just don’t -- I try not to engage in speculation about any executive action the President may or may not take. What I can tell you is that there is legislation on Capitol Hill that we strongly support and would like to see passed by the House. Thank you all very much.
Q Jay, do you have anything on the Nigerians, the kidnapped Nigerian girls? The U.S. government involved at all in helping?
MR. CARNEY: I think we took that question yesterday. I don’t know what we provided. But I didn’t see any traffic on it. Thanks.
12:55 P.M. EDT
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