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Bomb Threat Causes Partial Evacuation at White House

Aired July 12, 2001 - 14:12   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We understand Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, has just come in to the Briefing Room. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ...and that area included portions of the West Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the North Lawn, including the press area here.

The vehicle was inspected and it was cleared and all events resumed at normal pace and schedule at the White House shortly before noon. The president and the vice president were never affected at any time by this incident. And that is my statement on the matter dealing with the Secret Service this morning.

Let me make a second announcement. The Senate just recently this morning also, in an important victory for Americans who believe in promoting conservation and exploration of America's energy supplies, voted by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 67-33 to secure agreement for the proposal President Bush made to develop America's energy resources in a conservation-friendly way in the Gulf of Mexico. Today's vote is a victory for all Americans who want to see environmentally responsible energy production to help protect consumers from wild fluctuations in energy prices and increase America's energy independence from foreign supplies of oil and gas.

This vote shows that bipartisan consensus can be reached on a plan to address America's needs. The vote represents yet another example of how President Bush is working and will keep his word to balance the need to address our energy needs with local concerns.

The president worked very hard with officials of all states in the Gulf of Mexico in development of that plan, and the president is pleased that an effort to overturn the compromise that he reached was not agreed to by a very overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate.

QUESTION: Ari, who did the automobile in question belong to? And what was the nature of the material that caused the dog to react?

FLEISCHER: The automobile in question belonged to a staffer of a member of Congress who was here for a meeting with the president.

QUESTION: Who was that? FLEISCHER: That's a matter for the Secret Service. I'm not going to name whoever it was.

QUESTION: Do you know what it was that the dog hit on?

FLEISCHER: It's unclear. I think the Secret Service might have more specific information on it. Obviously, what the dog hit on did not develop.

QUESTION: Just one more question if I could follow-up real quickly. Have you been able to find out if this is the first time that a portion of the West Wing has been evacuated?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware. I have not previously been asked that. I'll be happy to try to find out.

QUESTION: Was the president in the Oval Office during the time that the car appeared?

FLEISCHER: No. The president was on the patio behind the Oval Office and then he had lunch with the vice president. They were initially out on the patio and they had their lunch in their routine office where they also do, the small dining room just off the Oval Office.

QUESTION: In addition to your office, there was some suggestion that Condoleezza Rice's office, because of the proximity to the vehicle, was also evacuated. Can you confirm that?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the areas that were evacuated included portions of the West Wing. Those would be all the northern portions of the West Wing. In other words, any portion of the West Wing that had glass in the area where the vehicle was found, in the proximity -- the closest proximity to where the vehicle was found.

The vehicle was very close to the gate so it was a lengthy distance from the vehicle to the West Wing. Nevertheless, the entire northern portion of the West Wing was evacuated. That would include the offices of the national security adviser. Also, of course, the North Lawn where many reporters were -- I'd like to thank the reporters for your cooperation with the Secret Service in agreeing to leave as quickly as you did -- and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building as well -- the northeastern portions of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building were also evacuated.

QUESTION: Where did you go and where did the national security adviser go during this period of evacuation?

FLEISCHER: I went into the vice president's office and made some phone calls from there and then I met with the president down on his patio.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea where Condi went?

FLEISCHER: I do not. QUESTION: How do they calculate this area that you were saying that they've calculated an area? We have these things happen from time to time.

FLEISCHER: Well, the Secret Service are some of the nation's leading experts in this type of protection for the people who are fortunate enough to work within these gates. And they made the determination about how many feet were necessary to evacuate from within the reach of that vehicle. And that is the reason why they evacuated these portions of the White House complex.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) different about this incident from others -- you've had other incidents in the driveway where the guy came out in the, you know, Michelin Tire-looking outfit to check things and...

FLEISCHER: It was the reaction of the dogs, which are trained in these matters.

QUESTION: Was there another dog brought in for an effective second opinion or just this one dog?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I'm serious about that.

FLEISCHER: I think you should double-check with the Secret Service. My understanding, it was a solo canine opinion.

QUESTION: And do they know how experienced this dog was?

QUESTION: Had the dog ever had a false...

FLEISCHER: You should ask the Secret Service that.

QUESTION: And was the mansion at all affected by evacuation?

FLEISCHER: No, it was not.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) returned or is the Secret Service still going over it?

FLEISCHER: My understanding is everything was cleared and the owner took the vehicle back.

QUESTION: In general, the cars which have congressional tags are not checked at the gate; as a courtesy they are allowed to drive in. And does this incident -- would that spark any reconsideration of that?

FLEISCHER: I cannot get into the manner in which the Secret Service asks for security purposes at the White House gates. I will simply say, as with all incidents, the Secret Service is always reviewing actions to make certain that the White House, the president, the vice president and all the guests are safe as always. And so, they always conduct a review and...

QUESTION: Are those cars exempt?

FLEISCHER: You're asking questions about specific security matters at the White House, and you know those are not topics I can talk about.

QUESTION: Because of this scare, is there a thought that there might be a change in how cars or what cars are allowed in the northwest driveway area?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the Secret Service always review their activities to make certain that they are taking all appropriate steps to protect people within the gates of the White House. And that'll be something the Secret Service, if they decide to look at, will look at.

QUESTION: Will this have an affect on the president's decision about reopening Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic?

FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say if there'll be affect of this whatsoever. I don't see a connection.

QUESTION: Yesterday when you said in the gaggle that -- on the Salvation Army story -- "that if people had checked deeper they would have seen it does not reach the senior staff level of the White House." Did you known then that Karl Rove and the number two person at the faith-based office had some involvement in this issue?

FLEISCHER: Keep reading.

QUESTION: Oh, OK. "If people had checked deeper they would have seen that this did not even reach the senior staff level of the White House, comma, that the words, 'firm commitment,' were obviously a misread of the White House."

WALLACE: As you hear, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, addressing questions from reporters on other matters. He did, though, talk about the incidents surrounding this morning, the evacuation -- the partial evacuation of the north side of the West Wing. And also, the evacuation of the northeastern side of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Ari Fleischer saying that the Secret Service determined this based on suspicions raised by a bomb-sniffing dog, about a car parked here at the White House on the White House grounds in the driveway.

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