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White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer Speaks of Possibility of Military Retaliation

Aired September 13, 2001 - 15:30   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And now, back to the White House and spokesman Ari Fleischer.

QUESTION: I have two questions. Do you have any special words for what the United Kingdom has done? The statements they've made are very strong, and today they played the Star Spangled Banner when they had the changing of the guard.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I noticed today, also, the United States is not the only nation that mourns. The United Kingdom has lost the lives of many of their citizens. Other nations also had their citizens working in the World Trade Center. And so, it's a further expression of the wonderful solidarity that the world is showing with the United States. I think it's very touching for the United Kingdom to play America's national anthem.

QUESTION: Can there be more without a formal national enemy?

FLEISCHER: Well, as the president has indicated, this is a different type of enemy in the 21st century. The president said this enemy is nameless. This enemy is faceless. This enemy has no specific borders. This enemy does not have airplanes sitting on tarmacs, it does not have ships that move from one port city to the next. It is a different kind of enemy.

Having said that, the president also knows that our nation's military is capable of carrying out whatever mission is assigned to it to conquer any enemies.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) verify an answer to John's question. Is it the White House view that whatever action is taken and whatever the scale and duration of the action, that you need no further approval from Congress? You'd like something from Congress, but you don't need anything else from Congress.

FLEISCHER: I'll say it for the third time. The Constitution vests in the president, as commander in chief, the authority to take actions he deems necessary to protect and defend the United States. The president is also very encouraged, as a result of working with Congress on this joint resolution, which is a real show of unity from the Congress, and the White House will work with Congress on that language.

QUESTION: So that's a yes, Ari. That you need no further...

FLEISCHER: I think that made it very clear.

QUESTION: Just to follow on that, the War Powers Act does call for approval of -- if troops are going to be put in harm's way. Now...

FLEISCHER: As with many previous administrations, there are questions about the constitutionality of some aspects of the War Powers Act, and this administration shares those questions.

QUESTION: But in most of those previous cases, we're looking at largely air assaults. Is it your position that even...

FLEISCHER: That's not accurate. There have been some 125 military actions that took place in the United States, and I believe only five involved declarations of war.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about special security precautions tomorrow for the president's troop to New York? Are there going to be fighter jets on each wing of Air Force One, for example, like they were on Tuesday?

FLEISCHER: Actually, I do not know the answer to that question. And if I did, I'm not sure I'd be able to share it in all cases.

But suffice it to say, the president has full confidence in the Secret Service and those who protect him.

QUESTION: Will he travel with the whole contingent? Will he -- the usual presidential motorcade that we see that is an enormous beast that lands in a place and takes over a town, will he do that in New York?

FLEISCHER: I think it'll be a smaller, enormous beast.

QUESTION: Ari, he is going to travel, you said that we wouldn't go to New York as long as his being there would create a hindrance to those trying to -- rescue workers, people cleaning up the debris.

FLEISCHER: Exactly right.

QUESTION: When they're still pulling people alive out of that rubble, how do you keep him out of the way and from being a distraction?

FLEISCHER: Because in conversations with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki, they talked about how it would be appropriate -- it would be appropriate and meaningful for the president to go to New York. And so, all factors are taken into consideration.

FLEISCHER: And, of course, the president wouldn't go under any other circumstances.

QUESTION: So are you saying he'll keep his distance from actual ground zero?

FLEISCHER: Well, you'll see, just as when he visited the Pentagon yesterday, you'll see tomorrow.

QUESTION: You talked about the individuals with mortgage help, et cetera. What about the businesses that have been wiped out? Where is the administration thinking of putting some help in that direction?

FLEISCHER: Well, also as a result of the $20 billion supplemental appropriation bill that is moving its way through Congress, that will provide the means to give assistance to many people -- businesses, otherwise -- all who have suffered in this.

QUESTION: Ari, Secretary Powell is saying bin Laden is a prime suspect. Is the administration, the U.S., confident or does the U.S. know of his whereabouts, where he is?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to give any answers to that question.

QUESTION: Ari, since the mid-1970s the U.S. has had an executive ban in place on assassinations. Is the president considering lifting that?

FLEISCHER: All the president's actions will be in concert with all laws, and I have no information for you beyond that.

QUESTION: On that point, is that anything, any restriction that the administration believes is hampering the intelligence community's efforts to deal with terrorists? Are there any restrictions, either self-imposed by the agency or by the intelligence community or by Congress, that you think need to be eliminated?

FLEISCHER: I have not heard any such conversations. As always, on all these matters, as the president indicated today, the government will keep you informed of any steps it thinks are necessary, but I have not heard anything.

QUESTION: On this $20 billion supplemental, OMB, as you know, says there's only $1 billion left in fiscal year 2001 that's unbudgeted that's not Social Security. Is it accurate to say that that money can still be expended and be considered without use of Social Security surplus funding, depending on the timing of when that funding is released?

FLEISCHER: I think there's been a virtual universal, if not universal, recognition by members of the Congress and by the president that our national security will always come first.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for clarification purposes then. This is considered a severe emergency and therefore it's money that's being taken from the Social Security surplus...

FLEISCHER: I indicated two days ago that this was a severe emergency.

QUESTION: OMB is giving differing advice, that it depended on the time that the money's actually spent and that it does not necessarily mean you'll even have to use those funds.

QUESTION: We're just trying to get that clear.

FLEISCHER: I indicated this is a severe emergency. I also said that the fiscal year, of course, does not close until September 30. So, we'll know more at that time, but national security will come first.

QUESTION: Ari, the word "war" is being bandied around here so much, but that word, in and of itself, carries such a constitutional connotation, et cetera, and creates a confrontation with Congress or whatever. Is it possible we'll see a ratcheting down of the rhetoric with the administration?

FLEISCHER: I think you're going to see consistent actions by the administration, and statements of resolve and determination by the president, just as you've been seeing.

QUESTION: Ari, the 1991 war resolution that Congress passed put some limitations on what the president could do. Would something like that be satisfactory to this President Bush? Or would you like something that is more open-ended?

FLEISCHER: We're dealing with hypotheticals here. Congress today is considering a joint resolution to express its support for the president, and a show of unity. And we're talking with the Congress very productively about the appropriate language to use in that, and that's where the administration is focused today.

QUESTION: You wouldn't see this as more of a general resolution of support and not the kind of thing that his father got from Congress in 1991?

FLEISCHER: Well, to be parliamentary, it is a joint resolution.

QUESTION: Did you understand my question? I'm saying, it's one thing to pass a -- you know, "Resolved: We support the president," and quite another to pass what was enacted in 1991, which said, "The president can take military action under these conditions."

FLEISCHER: This is all very public. This is a joint resolution that is going to move on Capitol Hill. And you'll be able to review the language of it yourself. I think there are going to be some comparisons that may be apt to 1991, others that will not be. This is 2001, and this is different.

QUESTION: Did the White House suggests language for this?

FLEISCHER: Sure, we're working with Congress on the language.

QUESTION: Ari, as law enforcement proceeds in trying to apprehend individuals inside the United States who may have knowledge or been involved in the attacks, what is the president telling law enforcement officials in terms of what actions can they take? Should people be prepared to see say phone taps that haven't been used in the past? What kind of civil liberties does the president think should be protected or suspended? FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to the attorney general about the actions that they are taking. All will be in accordance with the law, of course.

QUESTION: Ari, earlier today, White House officials expanded on the threat against Air Force One, saying that there was a telephone threat to the Secret Service that Air Force One was on a target list. As the three successful attacks were all sneak attacks with no prior warning, why did you put credence in the telephone threat?

FLEISCHER: You know, again, you're getting into evaluations that involve the area of how the administration, or in this case the Secret Service, the White House, obtains information. And I think we've exhausted that.

WOODRUFF: White House spokesman Ari Fleischer going to some lengths this Thursday to demonstrate the president's resolve and determination to strike back at whoever was behind this week's acts of terrorism, saying at one point the United States will use all its resources to conquer the enemy, and at another point saying the world is uniting against terrorism. He said this is a real opportunity to prosecute the war against terrorism.



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