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America Under Attack: White House Press Secretary Holds a News Briefing

Aired September 13, 2001 - 15:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: For those of you who may just be joining us, let me hopscotch a little bit around New York and give you a sense of where the situation stands. The significant concern, 30 blocks away, down at the Trade Center building now, centers on two buildings, the American Express building and this building, the building you're looking at, which is One Liberty Plaza. We talked a great deal with you about this time yesterday afternoon about One Liberty Plaza and this is a building that, this time yesterday, was seen to be in danger of collapsing. We heard, then, really just a couple of hours ago that engineers felt that the building was safe. That report seems now to have been not true or not accurate at least because officials now are very concerned about One Liberty Plaza.

They also very concerned about the American Express building, which lies to the south of the World Trade Center building. There was smoke. Smoke has been seen coming out of some of the midfloors and upper floors of the building. We had a report from one of our producers on the scene quoting an official down there saying that "the building is listing some" and so people who had been working in the building -- the building had been used on a normal business day and how long does it seem that there was a normal business day -- American Express, Lehman Brothers, others had offices there -- in recent days, it's been used as a triage center, and as so many buildings down around the Trade Center have been, it also been used as a makeshift morgue. That building is in some danger as well. So, officials have evacuated those buildings. They have moved people away from the area for their own safety. That is slowing down and complicating the search and recovery operation.

On the search and recovery side of this, we -- with some considerable joy, I will tell you -- can report that five New York City firefighters were pulled out of an SUV that had been buried in the collapse of the Trade Center buildings. They came out to the cheers of the rescuers and they are fine. Two-and-a-half days later, they are fine. So that, here in New York, is where we are. We watch these buildings and we hope for more good news out of the rescue site.

Judy Woodruff joins us now in Washington.

Judy, good afternoon.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Aaron. I have say all of us in Washington who of course have been watching the coverage of celebrating, even -- even the lives of five people is something to celebrate given the grim stories all the way around. And Aaron, I know you're watching very, very closely what's happening with those buildings in lower Manhattan. And of course, we will come back to you as soon as there are more developments but we want to bring you up to date now on the investigations, which are preceding a pace. CNN's justice correspondent, Kelli Arena has been reporting for us all day long on the progress that's been made.

And Kelli, we know that now they're talking about 18 hijackers having been involved. Tell us what you have been able to learn about that.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy. FBI director Robert Mueller and the attorney general, John Ashcroft, said that they have identified at least 18 hijackers. Now, this isn't a guess here. They say that they have names and information on 18. Justices considering whether or not to release a list of names to the public. That decision has not yet been made. They did break down for us, though, how many hijackers were on each plane, and we can -- we can show you that.

United Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center, had five hijackers, as did American Flight 11, which crashed into the World Trade Center. Both of those had five on board. United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania had four hijackers. And American Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon, also had four hijackers.

Now, unless Intelligence proves otherwise, 18 is the working number right now. It is not completely solid, though. Things are influx very much right now.

Attorney General John Ashcroft also saying that all of those hijackers, Judy, were ticketed passengers.

WOODRUFF: Now, Kelli, presumably clearly, the hijackers themselves are dead. So the focus is on the people who were working with them, right?

ARENA: That's right, on finding associates. And the FBI has spanned out across the country, trying to link the threads together, trying to find family members or friends or associates that could take them back to identifying operating terrorists cells within the United States or outside of the United States to possibly get a handle on whom may be offering financial backing, or to find if there's any link between these hijackers and the larger terrorist organization.

The FBI has questioned many people. Some of those have been detained, Judy, and let me be clear on that point. No one has been arrested in direct connection with the terrorist attacks but there has been some people detained because, as the FBI tracks people down, they find out that they are in violation of immigration laws, for example and so they're detained for that reason. There have been several who have been arrested because they were wanted on other state and local charges. But there has been some confusion out there with, you know, FBI having people in custody directly connected with this. That is not the case just yet. The FBI says that it is pursuing thousands of leads at this point.

WOODRUFF: So, Kelli, where does the investigation go from here? Do they simply just pursue these leads? You describe them as thousands, one by one and one. Or do they have sort of an overarching sense where they go from here?

ARENA: Well, right now, you know, that this is a very early stage of this investigation. The FBI is pursuing many avenues, search warrants, subpoenas, so on. First, we heard that they had 8,000 personnel working, 4,000 agents, 3,000 support staff and then not to mention nearly a thousand working in the FBI labs. We are now told today that that number has increased. In fact, there are 20 overseas FBI offices that are now directly involved in this investigation.

We did hear earlier from FBI director Robert Mueller who explained some of the investigative tactics that FBI was using.


ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Throughout the country, when we receive leads, we have followed those leads. We are interviewing any number of people across the country. The number of special -- the number of FBI offices that are involved in the investigation -- directly involved in the investigation has expanded and they are interviewing witnesses. They are, where necessary, obtaining search warrants, obtaining grand jury subpoenas, and whatever is necessary to obtain the evidence to identify the -- more particularly, identify the particular hijackers and anyone associated with them.


ARENA: Now, Judy, what could provide even more help would be the black boxes. None of those have been retrieved yet. But today, we heard that the one that was most likely to be retrieved is the flight that did crash in Pennsylvania because it is the only one that went directly into the ground rather than into a building. And investigators actually have access to that -- to that crime scene -- back to you.

WOODRUFF: All right, Kelli Arena who's been following this investigation for the last several days, ever since these acts -- incidents took place on Tuesday morning.

And now, we want to go to the White House to our senior White House correspondent John King for an update on what President Bush has been doing today.

John, we know the president, today, dealing both with his own emotions and also proclaiming that America will be victorious through all of this.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're seeing - that's right, Judy, we're seeing many sides on the president on this day even just in the past several hours. And you may see cars pulling into the driveway behind me now. That part of the president's role as well. Members of the Virginia and New York delegations, obviously the two states most affected by this tragic terrorist strike now here at the White House to meet with the president and other administration officials on the ongoing relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts as well to get an update on the status of the investigation.

Now the president will also meet later today with his National Security team yet again. CNN told by senior administration sources that increasingly, those conversations turning to potential -- emphasis on potential - U.S. military responses to these strikes as the investigation, as Kelli Arena just updated us on, continues and as part of that a broad effort by the entire administration to build an international coalition of support.

And as part of that, some interesting developments just in the past hour or so. We know Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke earlier today to the Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf. Mr. Powell presenting a specific list, we are told, of what the United States wants in cooperation from the Pakistani government. Now, Pakistan is a neighbor of Afghanistan, the home of the suspected terrorist Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan, one of the few governments that recognizes the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan.

After that conversation, the State Department said it was a favorable conversation, and CNN just moments ago, received a statement from President Musharraf. General Musharraf saying - quote - "Pakistan is committing all of its resources in an effort coordinated with the United States to locate and punish those involved in these horrific acts".

Now, the Bush administration saying it wants to put that promise to the test. But that could be a significant development in the diplomatic effort here and in the investigation as well as the U.S. government believes that the Pakistani government has quite a bit of information about the operation of the Bin Laden network.

Now, the president discussed all of this earlier today. A telephone call placed to the governor of New York and the New York City mayor to offer them more federal support in the ongoing relief effort up there. The president also, then, turning -- looking toward the investigation. He called this the first war of the 21st century. And Mr. Bush said "make no mistake about it, the United States would react with resolve."


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now is the time for this country to be united. And, you know, through the tears of sadness, I see an opportunity. And make no mistake about it, this nation is sad but we're also tough and resolute. And now's an opportunity to do generations a favor by coming together and whipping terrorism, hunting it down, finding it, and holding them accountable. The nation must understand this is now the focus of my administration.


KING: And as part of that effort, Judy, we've heard earlier today the undersecretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz talking about the fact - he said as a matter of factly that fighter jets are flying combat air patrols over Washington, D.C. and other major U.S. cities as a result of this. And just in the past few minutes here at the White House, we have seen the Secret Service, once again - and they won't tell us why just yet -- push back the security perimeter. They had opened up Lafayette Park, across from the White House. In the past 10 minutes or so, uniform Secret Service agents going back out across the park and clearing the park, saying they are extending the security perimeter a bit farther away from the White House. No word as yet as to whether that is being done simply as a precaution or whether there was some new specific threat here at the White House - Judy.

WOODRUFF: Now, John, we know that you are waiting there at the White House for the daily briefing from the president's spokesman, Ari Fleischer. As we wait for that, why should the public focus on Pakistan? I mean, Pakistan is surely not the only country that has offered, you know, some sort of, if not, support at least turned a blind eye in some instances to what these -- the Bin Laden groups and other groups involved in terrorism have been involved in.

KING: Certainly not the only country to offer support. The administration saying it is overwhelmingly encouraged by words of support from key U.S. allies like Great Britain, like France, like Germany. Also words of support from less predictable nation like China and Russia. But remember the United States government has been displeased with what it has heard from the Taliban in Afghanistan saying earlier, right after this attack, that they saw no way that Mr. Bin Laden could be responsible for this.

Now, let's go inside and listen to the White House secretary Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. I want to give everybody a report on the president's activities for the day and then share with you some information about what the various agencies are doing to combat this terrorist attack.


FLEISCHER: There is no evacuation of the OEOB.



QUESTION: Lafayette Park?

FLEISCHER: I'll be explaining everything.

The president today has made a series of phone calls to world leaders. He has spoken to Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan, Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, Lord Robertson of NATO, Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Mubarak.

As you know, earlier today he spoke with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki to express his concerns about events up in New York and inform them, of course, that he will be going there tomorrow.

The president also visited a local hospital today. I'm going to have a little bit more to say on that shortly.

And beginning in just a few minutes, the president will meet with members of Congress from the Virginia area and the New York area to talk about the ongoing efforts of the federal government to be of assistance to the families and to the victims.

Tomorrow will be a national day of prayer and remembrance. The president will attend a church service here at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. And the president is asking all Americans at their lunch hours to go and attend a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a place of their own choosing for worship, to say a prayer in assistance to the families and the victims of this horrible incident.

As for the activities of the federal government, let me fill you in on several activities, including the one Helen just asked about.

The Department of Defense will be announcing the names of those who were killed in the Pentagon disaster, if families have been notified, for those families that have been notified.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that they will direct all FHA-approved lenders to provide relief to families with FHA-insured mortgages affected by the recent attacks by providing additional mortgage flexibility and not to start or threaten foreclosure actions for at least 90 days. Secretary Martinez has also asked all major mortgage lenders, including those who are not insured by FHA, to consider providing relief to families as well.

The Department of Treasury, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, has announced a deployment of agents from the U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Border Control and U.S. Customs at designated airport security checkpoints throughout the country as part of the heightened security measures that have gone into effect.

The Secret Service has expanded the security perimeter around the White House -- this is what you have seen here -- as a precautionary matter. All further questions on that I'll refer to the Secret Service.

The Department of Transportation, Secretary Mineta has ordered that national airspace will be reopened to commercial and private aviation. They did so earlier this morning. Airports will reopen on a case-by-case basis only after implementing a more stringent level of security.

FLEISCHER: The Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Department of Treasury, I indicated has beefed up the security at the airports. The president has directed Attorney General Ashcroft, and he announced it earlier today, to streamline the application, approval and payment process for benefit claims of eligible survivors of firefighters, police officers, medical rescue personnel and other public safety officers who died in the line of duty as a result of the act of terrorism around our nation on September 11, 2001.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson is in New York. He has announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will be working with the Federal Emergency Management Administration to provide coordinating counsel and service to victims, their families and rescue workers. The director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Whitman, was also in New York today, and she'll be having a briefing at 5 o'clock.

Finally, let me just say this: The president was very touched by his visit to the hospital today. At the hospital, he met with people who are in a burn unit now, who have survived. Some people are there as a result of the heroic actions they took in saving lives. The president met with one family where a mother stood by the bed of her son in the company of the soldier who rescued her son. And she said, "Mr. President, you have no idea how much this means to my family that you are here."

He and Mrs. Bush were very touched by the courage that they saw at this hospital and by the determination of our nation and its military and all the people who were affected by this and by the people in New York City.

The president is also aware there are people in this room who haven't seen their children in days. The president is determined, is resolved, is clear and strong, and America is united.

I'm more than happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: The president is not legally bound to seek a resolution from Congress authorizing the use of military force against whoever is responsible for these terrorist acts, and indeed, he already has a resolution from Congress showing solidarity in any response that he chooses to undertake.

QUESTION: Why does the president believe it's necessary to have a separate resolution authorizing the use of military force?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president views this as a real show of unity by the United States Congress that this is a real result of the expression of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership that met with the president two days ago to discuss Congress' role in this matter.

So the premise of your question is accurate, per the Constitution, the president as commander in chief has authority vested in him to take actions as he deems appropriate. It is also a recognition of the unity of our nation, as expressed by the Congress.

QUESTION: May I do a follow on that, Ari, please? If it is actual war, as the president and others of the administration have declared, does he indeed not need a congressional approval to wage war on anyone?

And the second part of the question, yesterday you said from that podium, that the plane that hit the Pentagon was destined to hit here. And yet, the plane came up from the south along I-95, and hit the West Wing. It doesn't seem to figure. Can you perhaps clarify it for us?

FLEISCHER: Well, on your first question, the answer is the same as I indicated to Mr. Roberts. The Constitution vests in the president the authority, as commander in chief, to take action in that capacity he deems appropriate. Nevertheless, our nation should be heartened to see the joint action with the Congress as the United States government unites, and the president and the Congress discuss the terms of any type of joint resolution that the Congress may offer.

On the second question, I think we've really exhausted that topic. I've got nothing further to add.

QUESTION: Ari, the president said this morning that he wanted to give Pakistan the opportunity to demonstrate that it can cooperate in this coalition he's trying to develop. State Department sources are telling ABC that the administration has asked the Pakistani government for permission to transit through its air space in the event of a military operation, to close its borders with Afghanistan, and to stop providing fuel to the Taliban government. Why, and what would happen to Pakistan if it did not comply?

FLEISCHER: The president indicated that Pakistan has a chance to cooperate with the United State government. And the president is pleased to see that Pakistan may take this chance. Secretary Powell indicated earlier today that the United States government has friendly relations with Pakistan. I want to broaden your question and try to explain it to you in a broader context.

When the president talked to these leaders...

QUESTION: Did the administration make those requests?

FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to share with you any private information of the president or others in the government expressed on any communications. If they did, and I'm not saying they did, but...

QUESTION: There are government officials sharing that information, and it's pretty significant. Are we looking to transit through Pakistani air space?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with any type of specifics about the actions that we are taking or are not taking with regions around the world, with nations around the world.

FLEISCHER: Well, let me say this: As the president calls world leaders and as they join him in combating terrorism, the actions that the president has discussed -- is discussing with these leaders involve all forms of cooperation. It can be diplomatic cooperation. It can be military cooperation. It can be financial cooperation. It can be political cooperation. All of those are areas that are part of the coalition building that the president is discussing.

Secretary Powell indicated earlier today that that is the purpose of all the phone calls, that can include any of those actions. QUESTION: And the president seemed to put Pakistan on notice. What if they don't comply? He said, "We'll see what they mean by their agreement to cooperate." What if they don't?

FLEISCHER: I typically don't deal in hypotheticals. I certainly will not deal with them now.

QUESTION: In the sense, though, is the message that actions speak louder than words here? That the Pakistani government can say that it's pledging to stand united with the U.S. government, that it will do what it takes, but is your sense or the White House sense that we want to see what the Pakistani government will do and that actions are more important than statements?

FLEISCHER: This is the beginning of a process that can be lengthy. And the cooperation around the world is going to take many forms with the government of the United States. And the president, as you've seen by his actions today and the phone calls that he's making, which incidentally he will continue to make, are aimed at the various specific areas I mentioned. And, you know, the president understands that this is a process that will take some time. And he will proceed throughout that process with a resolve.

QUESTION: How significant, though, for the Pakistani government to come forward with such a statement? Was the U.S. putting some pressure on the Pakistani government?

FLEISCHER: I'm going to let the State Department discuss that specific-by-specific, country-by-country. Suffice it to say, the president, as a general matter, is very pleased with the conversations on the behalf of leaders around the world.

The world is uniting against terrorism. And the president sees this as a real opportunity for the world to do something that can save generations and protect generations from something that obviously has wreaked havoc on our nation and has killed thousands.

QUESTION: Could you tell us about what is happening in Lafayette Park? And could you also tell us whether the White House and Secret Service think that tourists and the American public are safe visiting the White House right now, and indeed are they safe visiting downtown Washington, D.C. and other parts of the city?

FLEISCHER: Yes, they are safe visiting the White House. Yes, they are safe visiting Washington, D.C. Suffice it to say, it is not business as usual, and that's one of the reasons why the Secret Service has expanded the perimeter around the White House.

FLEISCHER: But it is not business as usual. The president said to the American people the other day that the government will take all appropriate precautions, and that's what you're seeing.

QUESTION: Is that a permanent expansion and we'll be seeing further road closures in addition to Pennsylvania Avenue? What can you tell us about that? FLEISCHER: The Secret Service will have the most authoritative answer on that, but my understanding is it's not permanent.

QUESTION: When you reopened the White House yesterday to public tours and wanted to get that word out, are you now rethinking that decision for some reason?

FLEISCHER: Let me check on the public tours. I don't know what the status of that is.

QUESTION: When Mr. Wolfowitz talked about putting an end to states that harbor terrorists, are you saying -- did he mean to say that U.S. policy is to wipe out governments that sponsor terrorists?

FLEISCHER: Well I can only say in the president's words, and as the president said, the U.S. will use all our resources to conquer the enemy. And I think anybody who chooses to be America's enemy will have to think about what that means.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, we have people telling our reporters that they have been evacuated from the White House. Is that inaccurate?

FLEISCHER: No, there is no evacuation under way. If anybody in the OEOB is listening, there is no evacuation under way. These are the security precautions that I indicated, for precisely the reasons I indicated.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Lafayette Park?

FLEISCHER: I believe the perimeter...

QUESTION: Why don't you just say what's happening? Are people being moved out of the EOB? No? And Lafayette Park?

FLEISCHER: I just said no. The perimeter is being expanded, but that deals with entre to the White House. But the White House will continue to have visitors -- for example, there's a congressional delegation visiting now.

QUESTION: Can people be in Lafayette Park?

FLEISCHER: You have to check with the Secret Service.


FLEISCHER: Because the Secret Service knows exactly how their perimeters work.

QUESTION: Is there credible information of a new threat? Or what prompted them to do this on day three?

FLEISCHER: This is just ongoing security issues for the Secret Service.

QUESTION: I mean, they had a broader perimeter on the first day, then they came back, now they're expanding it back out. Is this the result of some new information?

FLEISCHER: I think if you look across cities across the United States, if you look at all the actions that have been taken as the president said, it's not business as usual. Security's been beefed up around the nation as a result of decisions that local security forces make as they see fit.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) information, or just a -- they decided, for today, to expand it to Lafayette Park?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I think the Secret Service can explain the reasons with better precision than I can, but the president did tell the nation it will not be business as usual. And I think what you're seeing is a sign of that.

QUESTION: Ari, I know you don't want to go back to this subject, but the president, when he was asked today about the threat to Air Force One said, "I will not discuss the intelligence that our country has gathered."

And yet, you and other senior administration officials have discussed the intelligence. Does he have a problem with that? Is there some, sort of, different policy? Is this something that he has authorized you to share with us?

FLEISCHER: No, what the president said is he's not going to discuss how the resources and the methods for how any information is collected. And that's exactly in keeping with what I've done and what I've said.

QUESTION: But, Ari, prior to your statement yesterday on that subject, no other law -- no law enforcement agency involved in this, the FBI, the Secret Service, any of the branches of the military, gave any hint that Air Force One had been a target. And so, clearly, once you put that out there, people are going to want to know more information about whether or not that's a credible assertion. And what can you tell us?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that people understand it's credible.

QUESTION: Ari, this morning you would not -- you could not nail down what was the purpose of the president's phone calls regarding a coalition. This afternoon, you've come back with an answer that the president's really asking world leaders for military, financial, and so forth, help. Is that right -- am I right? Do I have that right?

FLEISCHER: That's exactly what I said.

QUESTION: OK. Is there a coalition now being formed formally?

FLEISCHER: I don't think you can say formally. The president -- this is exactly what you would expect. This is what presidents do. At a time like this, the president of the United States, as the leader of this country, talks to his colleagues around the world, prime ministers and presidents... QUESTION: Is he asking for specific sums and men in uniform and so forth to join in an effort?

FLEISCHER: He's asking for what I just indicated.

QUESTION: It's more than moral support, then?

FLEISCHER: That's a fair statement.

QUESTION: It's practical action in response to terrorism?

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Ari, when the president spoke in the Oval Office, he seemed to go beyond just terrorists and those who harbor terrorists, to say those who encourage their actions. And I wonder, who did he -- or I wonder what did he mean by that? And which of the world leaders was he trying to send a message to, or did he discuss that with? Because it seemed to go beyond what he's already said...

FLEISCHER: No, I think when the president talks about those who carried out this act and those who harbored them, obviously those who harbor them have encouraged them, so it's one and the same.

QUESTION: If I could finish, how many world leaders has he spoken to since the beginning?

QUESTION: And can we get a list of all those?

FLEISCHER: We'll have an announcement day by day. I'd have to go back and just pull it, but that's publicly available. You've got it all. I mentioned yesterday he spoke to President Putin twice, President Jiang, Blair, Chretien, I believe Chirac, Schroeder. So you can do the math.

QUESTION: Could I have your attention just for one last bit of that? When do you think Washington will return to normal? And what is normal now that this has happened?

FLEISCHER: I think for the American people...

WOODRUFF: You're looking -- while Ari Fleischer briefs at the White House; you're seeing pictures of St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City, five firefighters who were found alive in the rubble around the World Trade Center being brought to this hospital now. We just caught a glimpse of them just a moment ago. And we're looking now to see where they are at this moment. But we are told they were being brought to St. Vincent's Hospital.



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