Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 7/26/2010
1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q Thanks, Robert. Two questions, a few on WikiLeaks. What was the President’s reaction once he heard about the leaking --
MR. GIBBS: Well, I remember talking to the President sometime last week after discussions with news organizations that these stories were coming. Look, I think our reaction to this type of material, a breach of federal law, is always the same, and that is whenever you have the potential for names and for operations and for programs to be out there in the public domain, that it -- besides being against the law -- has a potential to be very harmful to those that are in our military, those that are cooperating with our military, and those that are working to keep us safe.
Q Well, I mean, was he personally angered by this? Did he demand answers or an investigation?
MR. GIBBS: Well, there is an ongoing investigation that predated the end of last week into leaks of highly classified secret documents.
Q Does the White House believe that the documents raise doubts about whether Pakistan is a reliable partner in fighting terrorism?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s understand a few things about the documents. Based on what we've seen, I don't think that what is being reported hasn’t in many ways been publicly discussed either by you all or by representatives of the U.S. government for quite some time. We have certainly known about safe havens in Pakistan; we have been concerned about civilian casualties for quite some time -- and on both of those aspects we've taken steps to make improvements.
I think just the last time General Petreaus testified in front of the Senate there was a fairly robust discussion about the historical relationships that have been had between the Taliban and Pakistan’s intelligence services.
Q So no doubts about Pakistan’s trustworthiness or reliability?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, look, I think the President was clear back in March of 2009 that there was no blank check for Pakistan, that Pakistan had to change the way it dealt with us, it had to make progress on safe havens. Look, it’s in the interest of the Pakistanis because we certainly saw last year those extremists that enjoy the safe haven there turning their eye on innocent Pakistanis. That's why you’ve seen Pakistan make progress in moving against extremists in Swat and in South Waziristan.
But at the same time, even as they make progress, we understand that the status quo is not acceptable and that we have to continue moving this relationship in the right direction.
Q One more quickly on this. What do you think this says about the ability of the government to protect confidential information if a breach like this can occur?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there is no doubt that this is a concerning development in operational security. And as we said earlier, it is -- it poses a very real and potential threat to those that are working hard every day to keep us safe.
Q I wanted to ask you quickly about Congressman Rangel and the ethics charges that he faces. Is it the preference of the White House that he reach a deal and put this behind him, put it behind --
MR. GIBBS: Ben, I don't have anything on that. I’ve been focused on the WikiLeaks.
Q Are you worried that will be a distraction if it carries on to September?
MR. GIBBS: I don't -- let me get some information on that.
Q On the WikiLeaks, one of the questions that this raises is whether it makes sense for the United States to continue to give billions of dollars of aid to Pakistan if they are helping the Taliban. And I’m wondering if that's a concern and what you think.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, as I said a minute ago, on March 27, 2009, the President said, “After years of mixed results we will not and cannot provide a blank check. Pakistan must demonstrate its commitment to rooting out al Qaeda and the violent extremists within its borders.”
Again, I am not going to stand here on July the 26th and tell you that all is well. I will tell you that we have made progress in moving this relationship forward; in having the Pakistanis, as I said earlier, address the issue of safe havens, the issue of extremists operating in the country by undertaking operations, again, in Swat and in South Waziristan -- because over the course of the past more than year and a half, what the Pakistanis have found is that the extremists that once enjoyed complete save haven in parts of their country now threaten their country. So they’ve taken steps. We want to continue to work with them to take more steps.
We understand that we are in this region of the world because of what happened on 9/11; that ensuring that there is not a safe haven in Afghanistan by which attacks against this country and countries around the world can be planned. That’s why we’re there and that’s why we’re going to continue to make progress on this relationship.
Q A blank check is one thing, but is there enough progress there to justify the aid that is being given to them?
MR. GIBBS: Again, look, we -- I think it was -- even if you look at some of the comments the Secretary of State made just last week in Pakistan, our criticism has been relayed both publicly and privately and we will continue to do so in order to move this relationship forward.
Q And I know you’re unhappy about the leak, but could you talk about how that part of the issue was characterized in the memos and whether you think it’s accurate?
MR. GIBBS: Which --
Q In terms of Pakistan’s role.
MR. GIBBS: Look, again, I would point you to -- as I said a minute ago, I don’t know that what is being said or what is being reported isn’t something that hasn’t been discussed fairly publicly, again, by named U.S. officials and in many news stories. I mean, The New York Times had a story on this topic in March of 2009 written by the same authors.
Q Shifting gears, I also want to ask you where things stand with the consumer regulator decision. How soon is the President going to make a decision?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have an update on the timeline from last week in which I said I did not think that things were immediate. I know that the President will look at this job and at several other jobs that are created as part of this legislation and make an announcement.
Q And what criteria is he going to be looking at? I know you don’t want to talk publicly about the strengths and weaknesses of the candidates, but --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think we’ve got a number of -- as we’ve talked about here and with many of you on the phone, I think we’ve got many good candidates. And, again, I think if you look back at the reason that the President and the team wanted to create a bureau that dealt with consumer issues, because even as we look back at the debate and look back at the issues that were involved in this debate, most people’s interaction with the financial system is not on a Wall Street trading level. It’s in getting a loan. It’s in getting the capital to create or expand a small business to buy a home. And I think ensuring that there are protections for those on Main Street in order to interact on a daily basis with the financial system are tremendously important.
Q Is Wall Street’s opposition to Warren going to be weighed in the decision-making process?
MR. GIBBS: I said this last week and I’ll repeat it again. I think Elizabeth Warren is a terrific candidate. I don’t think any criticism in any way by anybody would disqualify her and I think she is very confirmable for this job.
Q Robert back on WikiLeaks. A couple of times now, you’ve said in the last couple of moments that a lot of this information is not really new, that named U.S. government officials have said some of this same information publicly.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m not saying it’s -- yes, I said there weren’t any new revelations in the material.
Q So how does it harm national security if we’ve known this already?
MR. GIBBS: Well, because you’ve got -- it’s not the content as much as it is their names, their operations, there’s logistics, there are sources -- all of that information out in a public way has the potential, Ed, to do harm. If somebody is cooperating with the federal government and their name is listed in an action report, I don't think it’s a stretch to believe that that could potentially put a group or an individual at great personal risk.
Q But is part of the concern as well that this is going to embarrass government officials because maybe the war in Afghanistan is a lot worse off than this administration and the previous administration let on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, Ed, that's why I would go back to my first point, which is in terms of broad revelations, there aren’t any that we see in these documents. And let’s understand this -- when you talk about the way the war is going in Afghanistan, the documents purportedly cover from I think January of 2004 to December 2009.
I can't speak for the conduct of that war from an operational perspective for most of that time. I do know that when the President came into office in 2009, he, in the first few months, ordered an increase in the number of out troops -- having spent two years talking about how our efforts in Afghanistan were greatly under-resourced -- increased resources and troops to provide security for an election, and then, as you well know, conducted a fairly comprehensive and painstaking review of our policy, which resulted in December 1, 2009’s speech about a new direction in Afghanistan.
And I would say this: We came in talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan as a region, not as simply two separate and distinct countries, which put emphasis on our relationship and the actions of Pakistan.
Q Right, but even if there was a new policy put in place in December of 2009, does that erase the mistakes that may have been made years in advance of that --
MR. GIBBS: Well, of course not --
Q -- how can that -- but do these documents then suggest that this war is too far gone --
MR. GIBBS: No --
Q -- to turn around with one policy change?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don't in any way suggest the documents suggest that and I haven't seen anybody to suggest that -- except to say this, Ed, we agree that the direction -- this administration spent a large part of 2007 and 2008 campaigning to be this administration and saying that the way that the war had been prosecuted, the resources that hadn’t been devoted to it threatened our national security.
Remember, we had a fairly grand debate about whether or not the central front in this war was Iraq or Afghanistan. We weighed in pretty heavily on Afghanistan because for years and years and years, more troops were needed -- more troops actually had been requested by the commanding general, but no troops were forthcoming. That’s why the President increased our number of troops, heading into an important election period, and why we took steps through a, again, painstaking and comprehensive review, to come up with a new strategy.
Q But even after that painstaking review, these documents are suggesting that the Pakistani government has representatives of its spy agency essentially meeting representatives of the Taliban, plotting to attack American soldiers and Afghan officials.
MR. GIBBS: Let me just make sure --
Q How can that suggest the war is going well?
MR. GIBBS: No, no -- you’re conflating about seven issues into one question. But let’s be clear, Ed. I don’t think -- let me finish, let me finish --
Q If Pakistani officials are working with the Taliban, how can the war be going well? That’s one question.
MR. GIBBS: Again, Ed, I’m saying that the war -- the direction of our relationship with Pakistan, based on steps that we’ve asked them to take, has improved that relationship -- right?
Q Okay, because last week Secretary Clinton said that the U.S. and Pakistan are “partners joined in common cause.”
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Despite these documents, the U.S. and Pakistan are joined in common cause?
MR. GIBBS: Yes, in fighting, as I just mentioned a few moments ago, in fighting extremists that are within that border. Again, go back to last year, Ed. Remember last year?
MR. GIBBS: When those extremists decided that they were going to march on the capital in Pakistan? That became a threat to Pakistan. For the first time ever, you saw Pakistan fighting back against violent extremists that had otherwise enjoyed safe havens. When General Jones refers to in his statement the actions that they took in Swat and South Waziristan, that's exactly what we’re talking about.
The point I’d make on the premise of your question, understand that the documents go through December of 2009. I don't know if you meant to conflate actions -- let’s just say that the documents --
Q Well, have the actions stopped? Do we know for sure that the Pakistani intelligence is no longer working --
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, these documents --
Q -- with the Taliban?
MR. GIBBS: I think they're making progress, and again, I’d refer to you --
Q Making progress but it has not ended even after December 2009?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, I would you point you to the hearing that was conducted just a month ago, less than a month ago, with General Petraeus where this was talked about.
Ed, nobody is here to declare “mission accomplished.” You’ve not heard that phrase uttered or emitted by us as a way of saying that everything is going well. Understand this, that we got involved in this region of the world after September 11th, and then for years and years and years and years, this area was neglected, it was under-resourced, it was underfunded. That's what led the President to say that what we needed to do was focus on what was going on in Afghanistan. That's why we’re here.
Q Two questions, Robert. The first one is, given the apparent ease that Mr. Manning was able to obtain and transfer these documents, has the White House or anyone of the administration ordered any kind of immediate change to make sure that this is not --
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to the Department of Defense, that you should be able to discuss what changes they’ve made in operational security.
Q Do you have any insight into what Mr. Manning may have been motivated by?
MR. GIBBS: Not personally, no. I don't know if the Department of Defense would have something on that.
Q And in terms of the President’s reaction, can you give us any kind of insight in terms of, was he angry, was he concerned, was he worried?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, again, I think any time in which more than 90,000 top secret documents, which are against the law for me to give to you, would -- I think it would be safe to say it’s alarming to find 90,000 of them published on a website.
Q Last question, also on Ms. Sherrod. I wondered if you had any word on whether she’ll accept the job that's been offered and if there’s any time frame for that?
MR. GIBBS: That's a question for her.
Q Following up on -- I think I know how you feel about this, but the conventional wisdom in Washington is that the White House is trying to keep the focus on the release of the documents rather than what’s in the documents.
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q You say the President is very concerned with this release, this breach of federal law. But is he concerned with evidence in these documents about civilian casualties, about cooperation between the Taliban and the ISI?
MR. GIBBS: Chip, let’s be clear. Again, the statements that the President made in March of 2009 very much understand the complicating aspects of our relationship with both of these two countries, the existence of, as I said, historical relationships between the Taliban and Pakistani intelligence. And, look, during the recent debate about General McChrystal, remember a decent part of the Rolling Stone article discusses frustration within our own military about rules of engagement around civilian casualties.
So we’re not trying to either conventionally -- through conventional wisdom trying to deflect anything. What I’m merely saying is that what has been, I think what is known, about our relationship and our efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are not markedly changed by what is in these documents. In fact, I think if, again, you go back to March of 2009, what the President says, we are clearly taking steps to make progress in dealing with Pakistan’s safe havens; certainly dealing with civilian casualties. We all know that in efforts like this to win hearts and minds, you’re certainly not going to do that with innocent civilians caught tragically in the crossfire.
Q In reading these documents, if they’re true, you can’t help but be shocked by what you read in here about some of the horrible things that have happened. Has the President read enough of it himself to be shocked and horrified by it?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know -- look, Chip, I want to be clear. The President does not need to read a leaked document on the Internet today to be shocked and horrified by unnecessary -- and every civilian casualty is unnecessary -- casualty of innocent life. We can go back -- and I’ve been asked about them inside this briefing room for well over a year -- times in which our commander at that point, General McChrystal, Ambassador Eikenberry and former General Eikenberry had gone to see different places around Afghanistan that had seen horrific civilian casualties.
Look, each and every -- as I said, each and every casualty, innocent civilian casualty is a tragedy and it makes the job against the extremists much, much harder.
Q On the -- does the President believe that the release of these documents has harmed or will harm the war effort overall?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think anytime in which you potentially put those that could be -- whose names could be in these documents, missions and operations -- Chip, documents are classified and rated secret for a reason. And I think that’s the law.
Q So this is -- it’s a setback to the war effort?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think it’s concerning that you have -- you certainly have operational security concerns. Again, I think many of our challenges in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are the same today as they were last week. I don’t think anybody would tell you that they anticipate that progress isn’t going to be slow and difficult in both of these two countries. That’s why --
Q I’m still unclear on where you are on this. I mean, it’s a pretty fundamental question. Do these documents constitute a setback to the war effort in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: I think they constitute a potential national security concern.
Q The White House has made a point to say that WikiLeaks is not an objective news outlet, but rather an organization that opposes U.S. policy in Afghanistan. I just wonder if you could explain how that’s relevant to the accuracy of the documents.
MR. GIBBS: I think that the founder of WikiLeaks, if I read his interviews correctly today, comparing troops in Afghanistan to the secret East German police as -- certainly something that we would fundamentally disagree with and something that has -- somebody that clearly has an agenda.
Q That may be the case, but does that in any way impact the accuracy of these documents? For example, are you suggesting they selectively held back documents that would be more favorable to the U.S.?
MR. GIBBS: Savannah, I don’t -- I’m not afforded -- nobody in this government was afforded the opportunity to see what they do or don’t have. I don’t know that that question is relevant for me as much as it is for him.
Q I just wondered if by making this point you’re trying to I guess attack the credibility of the documents that are out there.
MR. GIBBS: No, no --
Q I mean, other news organizations --
MR. GIBBS: Again, I have not -- I certainly have not reviewed 90,000 documents. This got brought to us late last week. Again, the coverage I read off of the news documents doesn’t I think materially change the challenges that we have in each of these two countries. As I said a second ago, I don’t think the challenges that you would have listed on a piece of paper this time last week are, quite honestly, different based on what we read in this documents at this time this week.
I think the challenges that we’ve had and the historical relationships with Pakistan intelligence and the Taliban were certainly something we were working to address. So it’s not -- that in and of itself isn’t a surprise. Working on safe havens in Pakistan and their impact on our efforts in the war -- all of those things -- I think all of those things many of you all have covered.
Q Is the administration confident it has the leaker in custody?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into discussing the aspects of the investigation that’s ongoing.
Q Robert, do you think -- do you have any comment on the position taken by the U.S. government in the letter written by Richard LeBaron, deputy chief of the U.S. embassy in London, eight days before the Megrahi release, wherein the U.S. supposedly preferred the use of compassionate release over prisoner transfer agreement, and do you have plans to release that?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s be clear. One, I think the letter has been released by the State Department. Two, there was not a preference -- the preference that was enunciated in this letter, the preference that was enunciated in the President’s call to Prime Minister Brown, the preference enunciated by John Brennan and others who contacted the Scots directly was that al-Megrahi should not be released. We think that was the right decision not to -- we think the decision not to release him, we agree with that today; that’s what we publicly stated prior to the release.
The letter says -- and I think this is borne out if you look at the pictures of what happened -- in the event that the Scots make the decision that we do not think they should make, whatever you do, do not let him travel to Libya. Do not let him have a hero’s welcome coming home. We also -- and I think the letter clearly states -- and I’m not sure this was covered in the Sunday Times -- which was we asked for an independent medical examination of Megrahi to ensure that the medical representation about having only three months to live was indeed supported independently.
The preference enunciated by every level of this government was for him to continue to serve the sentence that he was serving until he died.
Q Could you tell me what effort the White House has made before the publication of the WikiLeak documents, and after, to try to contain any political fallout? Any outreach to Capitol Hill? Any efforts by General Jones or anyone else from the National Security Council --
MR. GIBBS: Jonathan, we certainly, when we learned of the story, notified relevant committees on Capitol Hill that these documents were about to go online. I don’t know that I would -- I wouldn’t put that under the rubric of containing political damage. I would put that under the rubric of understanding that 90,000 documents dating back to January of 2004, which traditionally don’t become public, were about to be, and Capitol Hill was notified.
Q And what efforts -- I know that you met with the Times. What efforts did you make to try to get in touch with Assange or any of the WikiLeak people?
MR. GIBBS: They are not in touch with us. The only effort that I made in discussing -- the only effort that I made with the Times -- who I will say came to us, I think handled this story in a responsible way -- I passed a message through the writers at the New York Times to the head of WikiLeaks to redact information that could harm personnel or threaten operations or security. And I think that’s in their story, in the Times story today.
Q And one last question. You mentioned at the beginning of this briefing an investigation into improper leaking of classified information. Is WikiLeaks part of that investigation?
MR. GIBBS: There is an ongoing investigation as to this leak, yes.
Q Is that the Manning investigation?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that. Nice try.
Q Robert, did you try to get The New York Times not to publish?
MR. GIBBS: No, never asked them that. Let’s understand a few things. The New York Times didn’t publish the documents; WikiLeaks published the documents. I will say this, had only The New York Times had this story, would we have made a case and an effort, as we have with them and other news organizations, not to compromise security? Yes. But understand that the Times was one -- The New York Times was one of three news organizations that had access to these documents. We got questions from -- I believe on Friday -- from Der Spiegel, and met with -- Tommy Vietor, Ben Rhodes, and I met with The New York Times on Thursday.
Q Robert, can you talk a little bit about any White House concern about support for the war being possibly eroded by the leaks here? Have you done any sort of assessment? What’s your thinking on that?
MR. GIBBS: No, again, Roger, I go back to the point that I made to Savannah and others. I think if you took out a piece of paper, certainly if -- the President’s monthly AfPak reviews will happen on Thursday down in the Situation Room. I’m unaware of a list of concerns that would be different today than they were a week ago based on what we’ve seen. I don’t -- again, I don’t see broad new revelations that we weren’t either concerned about and working through this time a week ago.
Q I’ll switch the topic. BP. Has the President been informed of corporate changes on their -- what can you say about that or --
MR. GIBBS: I would have you talk to BP about personnel changes that they’re going to make, if they make them. I will say this: The CEO of BP, the current CEO, Tony Hayward, if he makes the decision or the board makes the decision for him to leave, that's one thing. What is clear is BP cannot, should not, and will not, leave the Gulf without meeting its responsibility to plug the well, to clean up the damage that's been caused, and to compensate those that have been damaged. I think that is -- that is the most important lesson out of here. There are obligations and responsibilities as the responsible party that BP has. And regardless of who leads the company, those obligations and responsibilities must be met.
Q Do you have some doubt that they won’t carry those out?
MR. GIBBS: It’s not ours to doubt. It is ours to ensure that it happens.
Q Speaking of the spill, Robert, it was disclosed over the weekend that you -- the White House is sending some folks down to Florida -- one to Mississippi and I think one to Alabama --
MR. GIBBS: Those numbers are wrong. I can get you better numbers. We sent --
Q What’s the purpose?
MR. GIBBS: To improve intergovernmental relations and to improve -- I daresay I’ve gotten more than a few emails from your news organizations about the inability to get information from the Joint Information Center. We’ve got people that are down at the Joint Information Center; we’ve got people in each state.
And, look, I think if you look at the progress of our response to the disaster -- go back a few weeks, and I forget the exact timeline, but oil gets into a bay that is shared by both Alabama and Florida, right? The western -- or the easternmost county in Alabama, Baldwin County, is notified. The westernmost county in Florida, Volusia is not -- okay? A breakdown in communications from the incident command to the local level.
Out of that we put on-scene coordinators in each of the four affected states and have broadened our ability to ensure that what is happening at a Coast Guard level, what is happening at a direct response level, gets down to local elected officials.
Q But the numbers are wrong?
MR. GIBBS: I can get updated numbers on where people went.
Q Back to WikiLeaks. Is it your belief that the documents themselves, to the degree you’ve either been briefed about them or they’ve been described to you by people who know a little bit more than you do, are authentic?
MR. GIBBS: I think we’ve acted as if they were.
Q Okay. There have been some who’ve talked about it and say these things should be viewed by the public as it, to the degree it does, goes through them with some degree of skepticism because they are, by nature, fragmentary. They develop or talk about one certain episode or --
MR. GIBBS: Right.
Q What would you as spokesman for the White House advise the public who may be running through these things and taking them in, in some degree of interest --
MR. GIBBS: Well, look --
Q -- what is your overall assessment of how much is true? What’s not true? Mostly true, mostly untrue? How should they weigh this?
MR. GIBBS: I think these are -- I think I’m, Major, not going to play that broad a role except to say that I think obviously this is on-the-ground reporting. What is unclear, certainly, if you read through the stories, is whether some of the events that they think might happen happened.
But, again, I think the -- I would sum this up the way I summed it up a little bit ago, and that is that what -- the concerns that are in these documents -- and they’re important concerns; they’re concerns that we’ve certainly dealt with since the time we’ve been here and certainly as it related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, what precipitated the administration from doing a comprehensive review about our policy in both areas. That is -- our goal is to get this right. Our goal is to keep America safe and to ensure that -- and ensure the safety of those that are conducting these operations.
Q Let me take it from a different point of view. There are some -- and this was part of the subtext or one of the subtexts of the Washington Post’s lengthy series last week -- that maybe too many things are kept secret. Some might look at these documents and say do these all need to be top secret? Is all this information really that vital, really that sensitive to American national security that these should all be top secret? Do you have any evaluation of that?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think that is -- those are made on a document-by-document basis. I’m not an expert in the classification process. Look, obviously if you -- I think the President would always lean on the American people knowing as much as they possibly can. Look, I think if you --
Q -- not this time.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, no. Hold on, let’s be clear. Go back to the 12 or so meetings held in the Situation Room. We announced every one. We had readouts from every one. Lord knows, you had readouts beyond the readouts from each and every one. There were photos from each. We didn’t exactly have a cloistered evaluation of our policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s not the way we’ve operated.
And, again, I think it’s -- let’s be clear, and I want to make sure that I’m clear on this -- based on the fact that there’s nothing -- there’s no broad new revelations in this, our concern isn’t that people might know that we’re concerned about safe havens in Pakistan, or that we’re concerned, as we are, about civilian casualties. Lord, all you need is a laptop and a mouse to figure that out, or 50 cents or $1.50, depending on which newspaper you buy. I don’t think that is, in a sense, top secret. But what generally governs the classification of these documents are names, operations, personnel, people that are cooperating -- all of which if it’s compromised has a compromising effect on our security.
Q And can you explain the precipitating factor for the al-Megrahi letter?
MR. GIBBS: I just have a copy of it. I don’t know -- I assume -- look, at this point -- and this is some conjecture on my part -- at this point, this is a fairly public process. I don’t know what exactly lead to this letter. I know the letter speaks quite clearly to our preference, strong preference, as communicated both in this letter and in conversations that we had directly with the government there, that Megrahi should not be released.
Q Robert, take your premise that there is nothing really new in these documents that broadly says something different than what we already knew. There are many examples in Washington where the same thing can be said and that a precipitating event like this causes political shockwaves that change the dynamic.
MR. GIBBS: I think you’re talking about the media culture, aren’t you?
Q Well, perhaps. But we know there’s some interaction there. So I guess the question is -- and it sort of goes back to Jonathan’s, which I don’t think you answered, which is are you all doing anything --
MR. GIBBS: No, I answered Jonathan’s question.
Q You answered the first part, but not the second part, which was have you done anything since the documents -- since the documents were released this morning to try to assess whether or not these documents provide any ammunition to your critics, any political --
MR. GIBBS: Critics like who?
Q Well, there are critics of the Afghanistan war, increasingly people who are uncomfortable with it even in the Republican Party.
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know if -- I don’t know every call that’s been made out of here. What I was trying to do was decouple the fact that we notified Congress that 90,000 documents are about to be put on a website that were, up until the moment that they go live, were classified documents is part of what is generally assumed to be our notification process. Look, I don’t know of -- I certainly have not heard of a broad effort relating to what you’re talking about.
Q Robert, I’ll change the subject, too. The President I guess is going to make a statement about the DISCLOSE Act today. And given that that’s coming up in the Senate tomorrow and you’re not expected to get 60 votes -- he campaigned a lot about corporate influence in elections and 527s and the like and for more disclosure -- do you feel like the administration sort of miscalculated or misunderestimated -- (laughter) -- the extent of opposition there would be to trying to crack down on corporate giving?
MR. GIBBS: You mean from Republicans?
Q And? Just Republicans?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special interest giving and corporate influence in elections was part of the problem, then this bill would pass.
Q -- alterations to the legislation sought by some groups on the left.
MR. GIBBS: Pardon me?
Q There have been alterations to the legislation in the Senate and the House by some groups on the left as well.
MR. GIBBS: There’s a legislative process and then there’s a vote, Major. In a vote, you get to decide what side you’re on. It’s the beauty of voting -- it’s called choosing. You get to decide whether or not you think there is too much --
Q Yes, but in the legislative process objections from the left did arise.
MR. GIBBS: And they’re supportive of the legislation. Now we get to see --
Q After they got their --
MR. GIBBS: Now we get to see who in the Senate is -- who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special interest money that dominate our elections, and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.
Q Well, especially in the wake of Citizens United, when at the State of the Union speech and such, the President has made a big deal about this, did you -- did he underestimate and miscalculate just how hard this was going to be?
MR. GIBBS: In your words, we might have misunderestimated that those in the Senate on both the Democrat and Republican side shared the President’s goal -- mostly, if not completely, on the Republican side -- in protecting the corporate influence and the special interest donors that seek to not just influence elections but ultimately influence policy.
Again, I think, as I’ve said here in the last few weeks, governing is about choices, right? You’re either going to extend unemployment insurance for those that have lost their job, or you’re not for that -- okay? You’re either for a small business -- increased money for small business lending, or you’re not for that. And in the next couple days, we’ll figure out who thinks there’s too much corporate influence in our elections, and who’s just fine with the corporate influence we’ve got.
Q WikiLeaks one more time. To follow on Michael’s question about the inflection points in public opinion in history, what do you make of the comparisons between these leaks and the Pentagon Papers?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, the Pentagon Papers are different in the sense that you’re talking about policy documents. These are sort of on-the-ground reporting of different events. I don't see how in any way they're really comparable, again, given the fact that -- go back and look at -- again, just in the past month I know we’ve talked about in here, we’ve talked about the concern about civilian casualties. It’s not something that has been -- not something that we previously hadn’t touched on that all of a sudden burst out into the public arena. Certainly, as I said earlier, the historic relationships that have been had between the Taliban and the Pakistani intelligence services -- the headline in The New York Times story says -- basically attributes the headline of that connection to U.S. aid.
So, again, it’s not -- I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of those concerns. They are serious. That's why we’ve taken steps to try to improve that relationship, for the Pakistanis to take certain steps, so that we can build in Pakistan and in Afghanistan a situation that improves our security.
Q You probably could have said a lot of those things about the Pentagon Papers, too, a lot of those same concerns were raised before. I guess my question is about the public opinion climate --
MR. GIBBS: What I’m trying to -- what I’m trying to --
Q -- does it change it?
MR. GIBBS: I don't think the material that's in the Pentagon -- again, the Pentagon Papers is a fairly exhaustive policy review by the Pentagon. I think as Major said earlier, these are a series of one-off documents about an operation here or an instance there, or a -- they're not a broad sort of -- this isn’t a broad review of aspects of civilian -- progress that we have or haven’t made on civilian casualties. It’s just on-the-ground reporting on that. I think that's --
Q But don't they kind of paint sort of a portrait, Robert? I mean it’s -- the aggregation of these documents -- don't they sort of collectively paint a portrait?
MR. GIBBS: But again, Glenn, you don't -- because there’s only a certain time period and you don't know what was and what wasn’t either leaked or posted, I think to say that you know everything is probably not the case.
Q Would you compare it to Abu Ghraib or at least the repercussions from the impact --
MR. GIBBS: I’m always -- I will say this. I’m always loath to look back and compare one event to something else when I just don't always -- I think we have a tendency to always want to compare it to something else rather than simply reporting out what -- but, again, Ann, I want to stress again that the notion that -- again, if you wrote down all of what our concerns in our relationship with Pakistan, if you wrote down what they were about our relationship and the challenges that we face in Afghanistan, I do not know that you would list one thing differently today as a result of what we’ve read in these documents that you wouldn’t have already listed a week ago.
I just don't -- and I think that's partly your answer to that, Mark, that you don't have some revelation that there’s a systematic change of the course of events, that we have stepped up operations at a certain part in the war in Southeast Asia, that we’ve escalated -- that's just not -- that's not what these documents are.
Q The head of WikiLeaks tells us that he won’t identify the source of the material. He actually says, we still don't know who the source is, but if it was Private First Class Manning, who is already in custody, the head of WikiLeaks says he’s a hero. What does the President say to WikiLeaks and those who believe that they are doing the right thing in outing a policy they disagree with?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think there are ways in which one can disagree with a policy without breaking the law and putting in potential danger those who are there to keep us safe.
Again, Ann, if I were to have handed one of you these documents, I would be breaking the law. I think there are certainly better ways to discuss and register one’s opposition rather than putting people in potential harm’s way.
Q What’s Manning’s status, do you know?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into that.
Q Robert, you talked about choices. Is the President hoping to sway some choices on the DISCLOSE Act this afternoon or just shine a spotlight for the public on the choices that people make?
MR. GIBBS: We certainly hope that those in the Senate listen to what the President says and take that into account before they vote.
Q Robert, on Congressman Rangel, the President is obviously the head of the Democratic Party, and you yourself, when asked about Rangel in February --
MR. GIBBS: I’m happy to find some stuff on this, but I don’t have anything for you.
Q You don’t want to say more?
MR. GIBBS: Peter.
Q Robert, on the Shirley Sherrod case, she invited the President to come to south Georgia, lead him on a tour of some civil rights landmarks. Also, others --
MR. GIBBS: I would say this. Having listened to the call, she invited him broadly to south Georgia. I don’t remember them getting that detailed into what a visit or a tour might be.
Q And also, is there a moment where the -- is this a moment where the President might lead a national conversation on race? Do you expect us to hear more from the President on this particular --
MR. GIBBS: Again, Peter, I said this certainly a lot last week. I don’t think the President -- I don’t think you have to look at the events of last week and need the President to lead that conversation. I assume and I hope that, whether it was in the offices of this administration, whether it was in the offices of newspapers, television, radio, or whether it was in the homes of millions of Americans, that we learned a little bit about ourselves and about how we react to things. I don’t think the President has to be -- as I said last week, I don’t think the President has to be the teacher in every teachable moment.
Q Thank you, Robert. Just a different question regarding personnel. Two weeks ago, the Capitol Hill publication “The Hill” reported that a top staffer on Senator Baucus’s finance committee, Ms. Liz Fowler, was about to be named to a key position at the Department of HHS. And Ms. Fowler is also a former vice president of the WellPoint insurance company. Can you confirm that appointment, and would appointing someone of her position --
MR. GIBBS: I would say this. I hope you talk to HHS. I don’t get down to that level of detail. I have not been given that level of detail on any potential impending announcement.
Q Robert, can I ask you about the congressional briefings on WikiLeaks?
MR. GIBBS: Richard, I’ll come back around.
Q Let me follow on WikiLeaks -- let me just follow on WikiLeaks for a second. Even if there is nothing substantially new in these documents -- you’re in the communications business -- are you concerned that the public and, therefore, perhaps members of Congress will think that there’s something new here, and that perception will drive reality and it will have an impact on your policy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think inherently the last phrase of your question that you didn’t necessarily enumerate was about the politics of all this. The President made a decision to put almost 50,000 more troops in Afghanistan not based on the politics but based on what was right; based on what he believed was -- gave us the best chance at succeeding in Afghanistan, and in making the decisions that gave us the best opportunity to improve our relationship with Pakistan and create, as Ed pointed out, a partnership to go after those in Pakistan that sought to do Pakistanis harm or those in Pakistan and Afghanistan that sought to do Americans harm. That’s the filter by which the President went through the meetings. That’s the filter by which the President made that decision.
The politics of all of this stuff will settle out regardless. The question the President asked himself and the question that the team asked themselves in making this decision is, what’s the right policy for this country? What’s the right policy that keeps us safe, and what’s the right policy that prevents safe havens from being recreated in Afghanistan, where planning can happen again, unfettered, to attack this country, as happened on September 11th? That’s what we’re focused on.
Q May I follow on that, please? Is it unanimous among all the administration that this is the right policy, that it is keeping America safer? And what is the U.S. policy towards the Taliban right now? Are there U.S. troops protecting the Taliban’s crops?
MR. GIBBS: I would point you to DOD on that. I would say this, that there was a very, very large, very, very extensive, with multiple inputs, review of where we were and what we needed to do going forward. We’re in the process of implementing going -- we’re in the process of implementing that new strategy, evaluating that new strategy and moving forward.
Q But is America really safer?
MR. GIBBS: I believe America is safer, because if we were not to be in this area, if we were to -- if the Taliban were to come and overthrow a government and create a safe haven that allowed al Qaeda and its extremist allies to not have to plot in a cave but sit in the open and plot the next September 11th, our country would be much, much more dangerous, a much greater target. And I think that’s why the President has made the decisions that he’s made.
Q Robert, one short question?
Q Robert, granted documents in the WikiLeak date back to 2004, is this a direct slap in the face to this administration’s intelligence efforts in Afghanistan?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think if it says anything, it speaks to some concerns about operational security. I don’t believe that that’s directed at us personally.
Q Okay, well, and let me -- and also on that, on the intelligence, but more so on a broader scope on intelligence -- after 9/11 the Bush administration kept saying it was not about “if” but a matter of “when” another attack would happen on U.S. soil. Is that still the case, as you deal with intelligence on a daily basis?
MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into discussing the same type of material I’ve said I wouldn’t discuss here, we are -- there are a group of people within this government and within this White House that work each day to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Q And on another -- wait a minute, on another subject really fast, the President is going to “The View” this week to have a conversation with the women of “The View.” And he’s also going to be at the Urban League talking about education. Last year at the NAACP, the President talked about education and he put in a lot of civil rights issues as it relates to education. And then he’s going to be talking on “The View.” Will the issue -- will he have a cursory possibly conversation with the women of “The View,” who have a tendency to be politically astute on matters in the news on some issues?
MR. GIBBS: Will he have a conversation with them?
Q On race possibly. Could he generate that --
MR. GIBBS: Oh, you -- I missed that word. You didn’t -- I thought you said, are they going to ask him questions, and I think I can confirm that, as a senior administration official, that that is entirely the case.
Q On the matter of race.
MR. GIBBS: You know, look, I have no idea what they’re going to ask and I presume the President will answer their questions.
Look, I know that we talked about last week that the President has long been scheduled to go the Urban League and will deliver again a speech about what has been done in this administration to change and improve the educational system in this country, and ultimately the opportunity that our children are given as a result of that, and the responsibilities that they and their parents alike have.
Q Will civil rights be infused in that speech?
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s safe to bet.
Q One short question? Just one short --
Q Les -- Les, it’s not your turn, buddy. Hold on, hold on. (Laughter.)
Q Wait a minute. Why is it your turn back there and I’m up here?
MR. GIBBS: Because I said “Sam.”
Q You said Sam?
MR. GIBBS: I said “Sam.” You were too busy yelling, Lester. (Laughter.) This is instructive.
Q You’ll come back? Thank you very much.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, Sam.
Q You said you all reached out to Congress last week, and I get that most of this information predates the President --
MR. GIBBS: I think that -- honestly, I think that most of the outreach was probably done less last week and more, quite honestly, Sam, over the course of the last 24 hours.
Q Well, the message that this -- that most of this information predates the President’s new strategy doesn’t seem to have gotten through to people like Senator Kerry, who said today that this information raises serious questions. Are you all trying to tamp that down and make sure that there’s a real --
MR. GIBBS: No, no, let me first be clear about -- I think it would be hard to identify anybody that has done as much as Senator Kerry has. He was obviously intimately involved in, met several times with President Karzai around the election and the aftermath on that. He has been -- he’s traveled to both countries and I think has been an important leader in ensuring that our policy is the right one.
Q Well, then he should know more than anybody that these aren’t new concerns, but he’s still saying it raises serious questions.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, it -- again, I’m not minimizing that this information is out there. What I’m simply saying, Sam, is I think if you asked this of Senator Kerry, I think if you asked this of most on Capitol Hill -- and this doesn’t have to do with whether this stuff predates it. I will say that, again, our concern about the direction of the war, the funding and the resources that were being given to it -- and, look, that is your strategy. If you’re not going to fund your strategy or if you’re going -- if your strategy is going to be predicated on 25,000 troops rather than 100,000 troops, that limits your ability to impact that strategy.
But, look, I think Senator Kerry has been a leading voice on this and I think our responsibility and his responsibility as the leader of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is to do all that we can to get this right.
Sam, we have weekly -- the President hears weekly from commanders on the ground in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and we have monthly meetings -- as I said, that will happen just this Thursday in the Situation Room -- to evaluate where we are and to make adjustments. Nobody is writing -- nobody wrote anything in stone and is then just hoping that it all happens. We will continually evaluate where we are, what needs to happen, how do we build Afghan capacity, how do we train up the Afghan national police and the Afghan national army as part of a comprehensive national security force that gives us the ability, once areas are cleared, to be able to transfer, again, both from a governance and a military perspective. I think all of that is important, and all of that will be continually evaluated.
Q Thanks, Robert. Just one short -- one short question.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, sir.
Q What assurance has the President received from his Secretary of State that in 2012 she will not run for President? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I will --
Q Just a brief question.
MR. GIBBS: I am unaware of any assurance that this President needs about his Secretary of State.
Q You think she’s not going to run?
Q Is he going to the wedding?
MR. GIBBS: No.
END 2:06 P.M. EDT
May 22, 2015
May 22, 2015
May 22, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 21, 2015
May 20, 2015
May 19, 2015