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Target Terrorism: HHS Secretary Holds News Briefing on Florida Anthrax Case

Aired October 4, 2001 - 15:42   ET


ROGER COSSACK, GUEST HOST, CNN'S "TALKBACK LIVE": All right, we're back, but we have to go right to the White House to Ari Fleischer for a White House press conference. Let's go to the White House.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... for a few brief moments, introduce you to Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and Dr. Scott Lillibridge, also of the Department of Health and Human Services, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control. They want to just share a little information to follow up an announcement that was made earlier today by officials in the state of Florida at a news conference that concluded just a little time ago.

Mr. Thompson?


And let me, as Ari indicated, just bring you up to date with the information that we have concerning an incident that took place in the state of Florida, and also following up on the information that the state of Florida has released within the last hour.

The Centers for Disease Control has just confirmed the diagnosis of anthrax in a patient in a Florida hospital. Based on what we know at this point, it appears that it's an isolated case.

I want to make sure that everybody understands that anthrax is not contagious and is not communicable, which means it is not spread from person to person. If it is caught early enough, it can be prevented and treated with antibiotics.

The Centers for Disease Control has a ready supply, and if our investigation shows anyone else needs treatment, they will be notified and treated.

Our public health report system worked in a very timely fashion, as I indicated in my testimony yesterday.

Florida public health officials promptly notified their state health department, who then notified the Centers for Disease Control and the FBI. And officials are aggressively investigating the individual's schedule for the last few weeks and the source of the infection.

I want everybody to understand that sporadic cases of anthrax do occur in the United States. The most recent one was within the past year in the state of Texas and there was a case in Florida in 1974. The last reported case that we know of was within the last year was earlier in Texas.

The rapid identification of this case in Florida certainly may be a result of the heightened level of disease monitoring being done by the public health and medical community. This is the disease monitoring system in action, and it is working. People need to understand that our public health system is on heightened alert, so we may have more public reports of what appears to be isolated cases. We will be responding very aggressively. But I want to point out, once again, that this is an isolated case and it's not contagious.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, given what you know, is there any reason to believe this is a result of terrorism?

THOMPSON: It appears that this is just an isolated case. There's no evidence of terrorism.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you know if this particular individual had contact with raw wool? Was he a gardener?

THOMPSON: We have the FBI and we have dispatched, as I said yesterday in my testimony, as soon as we heard anything suspicious -- we have our CDC officials there on the ground and they're going to go through the last couple of weeks, go to the restaurants. He traveled to North Carolina. We've also dispatched people from CDC to North Carolina to the communities that he was there. We're checking with his neighbors. We're investigating with the FBI all known places and all the things that he might have ingested.

QUESTION: What are some of the sources that could cause such an infection?

THOMPSON: That's why the doctor is here. And you want to answer that?

DR. SCOTT LILLIBRIDGE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Sure. Sporadic cases may occur from contact with wool, animal products, hides, that sort of thing. And occasionally we don't know the context of these. These are sporadic, episodic things that happen from time to time.

QUESTION: But how sporadic? You just named two cases, last year in Texas and in Florida in 1974, and that's two.

THOMPSON: It's very rare.

QUESTION: So this has occurred since 1974?

THOMPSON: We don't know that. This is a confirm, and at this point in time it's an isolated case, and there is no other indications anybody else has got anthrax.

QUESTION: Do we know if he happened to work around wool or any of the products that might have...

THOMPSON: We don't know that at this point in time. That's entirely possible. We do know that he drank water out of a stream when he was traveling to North Carolina last week. But as far as wool or other things, it's entirely possible. We haven't got all of the investigations done and we're doing a tremendous extensive job of investigating everything.

QUESTION: How did you find out about it? Did he go into the hospital?

THOMPSON: He went to the hospital. He went into the hospital on the 1st of October, and is still in the hospital. And they took a test, and just the way the system works it went up through the state laboratory, it went up to the state health department, who contacted us, and they confirmed anthrax, and we reconfirmed it through our CDC...

QUESTION: Did they automatically test for anthrax or how did they make the distinction?

THOMPSON: Well, they sent the center the sample, and luckily there was -- not luckily, but that's the way it works, the system works. And that individual that was at the health department has just been educated at the CDC Department in Atlanta.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do we know, was this, sir, was this inhalation anthrax? Was this fellow a hunter?

THOMPSON: It appears at this point in time it's inhalation.

QUESTION: Do we know if he was a hunter?

THOMPSON: We don't know that. We know he was an outdoorsman, so it's entirely possible that he was...

QUESTION: Can you tell us the city or the town in Florida?

THOMPSON: It was near Palm Beach. He actually lived in -- it's right here.

QUESTION: While you're looking, could you tell us about him, his age and...

THOMPSON: Sixty-three years of age, and he was of British descent.

QUESTION: What's the prognosis? Will he recover?

THOMPSON: That I can't tell you. He's from Lantana, Florida -- L-A-N-T-A-N-A.

QUESTION: What are you advising the officials -- public health officials in that area and citizens in that area?

THOMPSON: We are advising everybody to -- if they have severe respiratory ailments to go see their doctor. And we also have all of our EIS, our CDC people, that need to be, they're investigating, they're going to go to all the hospitals and emergency wards and check everything out.

QUESTION: What kind of symptoms should people look for? What symptoms did he present?

THOMPSON: Well, it's severe respiratory -- upper respiratory problems that you would have.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, are you reevaluating whether civilians should try to start taking anthrax medication?


QUESTION: Would there be enough available? Do you have...

THOMPSON: There's enough available. We have an ample supply, and I want everybody to know that. We have plenty in supply and we have enough antibiotics to treat 2 million people for 60 days. And we've also contacted the pharmaceutical companies, not just today, but have throughout our planning process. And there's plenty of supply available. So people should not go out and do anything different than what they're doing. This is an isolated case and it's not contagious.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, how likely is it that there have been other anthrax cases, in the past year, say, that just simply haven't been diagnosed?

THOMPSON: It's entirely possible.


THOMPSON: Would you say it's probable?

LILLIBRIDGE: Possible. As you heighten surveillance, you'll get more.

QUESTION: When was the last documented case of anthrax in North Carolina? Can you check that?

THOMPSON: Well, we certainly will be checking all of that, and getting information out as it goes.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, why does drinking from a stream...


QUESTION: Is that the reason it should be known, that? And why are you going us that detail?

THOMPSON: Just because he was an outdoorsman, and there's a possibility -- there's all kinds of possibilities... QUESTION: Can you contract anthrax by drinking...

THOMPSON: We don't know yet.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can we get the doctor's name?

FLEISCHER: Any additional information will be made available by either the CDC or HHS.

QUESTION: We need the doctor's name.

FLEISCHER: Oh, I'm sorry. That was Dr. Scott Lillibridge.

QUESTION: Can you spell it for us?



FLEISCHER: Don't have that.

All right. Let me get in -- let you know about the president's day today.

QUESTION: M.D. or Ph.D.?

FLEISCHER: I'd have to look that up. I couldn't tell you. You may just want to check with HHS.

QUESTION: Ari, one follow on that.

FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The president was briefed -- can you tell us if you briefed the president about this and when?

FLEISCHER: I'm going to give you a little bit of information about the president's day and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

I want to begin with a statement by the president, and this pertains to the plane crash into the Black Sea. This is a statement by the president.

"I was deeply saddened to learn today of the crash of a Siberian Airlines passenger aircraft flying from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk. My heartfelt sympathies and those of the American people are with the people of Israel and Russia and the families of the many victims of this tragedy."

Earlier today the president spoke with the emir of Bahrain on the phone. That was early this morning. The president and the emir discussed the campaign against terrorism and the situation throughout the region. The emir expressed his sympathy and condolences for the victims of the attack on our country on September. And the president thanked the emir for his strong support in helping the campaign and hosting U.S. forces, including headquarters for the 5th Fleet, which is located in Bahrain.

The president also this morning spoke with President Kwasniewski of Poland. It was a warm phone call. And the president thanked the Polish president for Poland's cooperation in the campaign against terrorism and for Poland's support of the American people. Support includes political support, including working with other Central and East European nations, information-sharing, working on financial control of terrorist assets, as well.

The president noted that now more than ever, we must work together for the goals of what President Bush discussed in his speech in Warsaw on June 15, a Europe whole, free and a peace that is essential to meeting the challenges of the 21st century.

Following that, as you know, the president traveled to the State Department to announce the new package of humanitarian aid for the people of Afghanistan. He had a lunch meeting with various members of Congress to discuss working together with Congress on vital issues in the domestic agenda. He also went to the Department of Labor, where he announced a new package of assistance for dislocated American workers.

And the president later this afternoon will be meeting with the emir of Qatar to discuss the strong cooperation that we have received from our good friend in the region and to reaffirm the strong U.S.- Qatar relations.

And that is my update for the day. I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, does the president believe that the crash of the Russian airliner was an accident?

FLEISCHER: We are in the process of working with officials in the appropriate nations to ascertain all information that is available. But it's too soon to say. And there are no conclusions that have been reached.

QUESTION: Has he talked to Putin about this?

FLEISCHER: The president has not.

QUESTION: The British government today released a 20-page document outlining some of the evidence against bin Laden. Is there any reason that the British government released this kind of report as opposed to the United States government? And they were silently suggesting from Secretary Powell at one point that the government might or might not. Why is this coming out of the British?

FLEISCHER: I don't speak for other governments. I can't give you an answer to that.

QUESTION: Did we review it? Did we have early copy of it? FLEISCHER: I don't know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Was the White House aware that the British government was going to release this evidence?

FLEISCHER: I know the first I heard of it was on its web page. So I don't know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Does anybody have a problem with that being released?

FLEISCHER: Again, I don't...

QUESTION: You went to great lengths not to...

FLEISCHER: As far as I understand the document does not contain any classified information. It's a good strong look back at the activities that have been done by the Al Qaeda organization -- Osama bin Laden.

QUESTION: It does contain new information. It does include information that's not been in the public.

QUESTION: Going back to the anthrax, was the president -- he's obviously been informed. When was he informed? Who informed him?

FLEISCHER: The president was informed this morning. It was part of his -- I think he may have been informed by Dr. Rice.

QUESTION: Ari, is there any plan now for the United States to release a document similar to the one released by the British? And if they're releasing a document that they say was cleared by the U.S., why aren't we releasing one?

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of that statement that they said it was cleared by the U.S. I just indicated that I don't have any information on that topic.

QUESTION: Do you have any information that the U.S....

FLEISCHER: There's no change in anything I've indicated to you previously about United States dissemination of information about this.

QUESTION: OK. And on the other point of evidence, apparently we are now sharing evidence with Pakistan. I thought earlier indications were that the U.S. thought it wasn't necessary to share any information with Pakistan.

FLEISCHER: I'm not sure where you were led to that conclusion. As I've indicated many times here, the United States will continue to talk with its allies and share information as we consult.

QUESTION: Evidence?

FLEISCHER: A lot of information. QUESTION: Ari, speaking of Pakistan, does the U.S. think it's good for the Pakistanis to continue to have at least diplomatic relations with the Taliban or would the U.S. prefer that country to sever ties?

FLEISCHER: Well, prior to this, as evidence of how oppressive the Taliban regime is, only three nations in the world had relations. Two of those three have now severed ties. Pakistan, as a free nation, does as it sees fit.

QUESTION: Does the administration, though -- I mean is it, sort of, feeling that at some point, to totally alienate the Taliban, that the Pakistanis should sever ties?

FLEISCHER: I have no comment beyond that.

QUESTION: Ari, any particular reason why Secretary Thompson made the announcement here instead of at HHS?

FLEISCHER: Well, the reason is he actually was here for another meeting, and so there was a practicality to it as well. But it's important to share information with the American people, and that's what you can expect. I think one of the things, as the president has said, as the nation goes through all the effects of everything from September 11, is keep the public informed. And we've talked about this before: The best way for our nation to win this war is through the forthright sharing of information. That's important.

QUESTION: ... the evidence against bin Laden?


QUESTION: In addition to the steps that Secretary Thompson outlined, specifically public health officials in Florida, is the administration taking any actions elsewhere in the country, within the military, that you can share to deal with a possible anthrax outbreak?

FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I'd be careful in your words when you say outbreak, because this, as the secretary just said, appears to be an isolated case, which is exactly what the officials on the ground, the health officials in Florida who briefed the Florida press about this matter earlier today, said.

But, you know, the Department of HHS has for years -- as you heard Secretary Thompson say, has been working on preparation plans, and those plans included the training of local officials, and the secretary just alluded to that as well. So there are a series of protections that have been put into place.

QUESTION: Do you know of any specific threats concerning this kind of potential terrorist activity that the country has received?

FLEISCHER: Nothing specific that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: Just one more question on the anthrax: When Dr. Rice informed the president, did she know at the time that that was an isolated incident or was there still cause for alarm several hours ago?

FLEISCHER: That was the first report. And as always with first reports, you collect information to ascertain as fully as you can and as quickly as you can all the facts. And you just heard them from the secretary.

QUESTION: When was the government able to determine that it was an isolated incident? An hour ago? Fifteen minutes ago?

FLEISCHER: That information would be a question you need to address to the CDC to see precisely when they were making that determination.

QUESTION: But just for clarification, when Dr. Rice informed the president, the administration was not aware that this was just an isolated, or appeared to be just an isolated case?

FLEISCHER: Again, all the facts as they were being developed were shared at various points throughout the day, so it's impossible to put an exact timetable on what information was developed, when it was shared over the course of the morning and into the afternoon.

QUESTION: Ari, can you give us some more details on this $320 million in aid? You know, how is the food going to get into the right hands? How are you going to make sure it doesn't fall into the hands of the Taliban, et cetera?

FLEISCHER: Well, unfortunately, there is a history of working to give food to people who live in repressive regimes, and there's always a concern to make certain that the food is kept out of the hands of the Taliban, who will deny it to their people, while getting it to the people who are suffering.

And in this case, the United States government will work with world food programs, with the United Nations, to get food into the regions where it can do the most good.

QUESTION: Is the idea here to -- aside from feeding the people -- to win the hearts and minds of Afghans who might be willing to abandon the Taliban?

FLEISCHER: Two points on that. One, the purpose is to feed people who are hungry. There is a grave humanitarian crisis shaping up in Afghanistan, as a result of the actions of the Taliban. And as the president said in his remarks at the State Department, one of the great things about our nation that enables us to win wars and to be such a good people is that our nation has a good heart. And you're seeing that put into place when we help feed the people of Afghanistan.

But even before September 11, the United States was Afghanistan's largest supplier of food, because it's the right thing to do and it's the humanitarian thing to do. So the United States has always made that distinction between the people of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime. QUESTION: Apparently now, judging from Dr. Rice's remarks, the U.S. does, in fact, embrace the notion, first mentioned by Tony Blair, to go in and do something in a major way to help build and develop Afghanistan to end hunger and that sort of thing once the chips fall where they may on whatever happens in the near future.

FLEISCHER: Well, to repeat what I've said many times, the United States is not engaged in nation-building in Afghanistan. But the United States will help those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan that's free from terrorism.

QUESTION: On the stimulus package, does the president believe that the $60 billion to $75 billion should be split evenly between corporate and individual, as Senator Daschle and others have recommended? And also, in setting these parameters, does the president believe that House Leader Dick Armey's suggestion of a $150 billion tax cut package would adversely affect the economy and increase long-term rates?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president has already established his range. And so you know where the president stands. And the president is going to work with Congress to find the right mix and the right balance so that enough goes to stimulate investment on the demand side by getting it into the hands of consumers, while also providing enough to get into the hands of corporations and businesses that stimulates investment so they can keep their workers employed.

QUESTION: Ari, I have a related question. On the stimulus package, would the president like to give a holiday for payroll taxes as a way of boosting the economy?

FLEISCHER: The idea of a rebate is one of the ideas that is under consideration, and the president will take a good look at that.

QUESTION: Is he inclined...

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's too soon to say what the ultimate shape of this package is going to be. The president announced the parameters yesterday. He gave the three principles about stimulating consumers, helping to provide incentives for business, as well as the placement of aid for displaced workers. So he's going to work with Congress on a series of things that can fit that bill.

QUESTION: Secretary Ashcroft today said he was disappointed with the grandfather clause. He claims that the terrorism battle is going to take longer than the time the Congress wants to put.

FLEISCHER: By the grandfather clause, I presume you're referring to the House anti-terrorism bill that includes a sunset.


FLEISCHER: Well, the president shares that concern. It is entirely possible, if not likely, that this war against terrorism is going to last beyond the sunset, and it's important that policy-makers have a realistic understanding of what this different type of war will involve and how long it will require giving the law enforcement agencies the tools they need so we can prevent further attacks on our country.

QUESTION: Will he get involved with the Congress in trying to increase the time or changing...

FLEISCHER: I just made clear the president's position.

QUESTION: Can you spell out why the administration opposes notification of a court after grand jury information is shared with intelligence agencies? Why is the administration opposed to notification?

FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to Justice particularly on that. That's a matter much more legal than I can entertain.

QUESTION: Ari, Daschle says the worker assistance plan the president announced today is not enough. Is this a limit or is this just, sort of, a first step that the president's taking here for worker assistance?

FLEISCHER: Well, this is the president's proposal. This is what the president believes is the best way to help workers get back on their feet and to help them as they go through any of the effects of unemployment, including loss of health care, since the attacks.

QUESTION: But he's open to other proposals possibly, and maybe spreading some more money as well?

FLEISCHER: Well, as always, he will work with the Congress. But this is the president's proposal, this is what he is calling on the Congress to pass. The president has announced that he believes it's important to extend unemployment benefits for 13 weeks and to provide $3 billion worth of national emergency grants through the state, so people can get health care, so they can get job training. The president believes this is the best solution.

And also the president said one thing that's very important when he said it's important also that people in Congress don't start inventing or designing new systems, newfangled notions. There are a series of existing protections that need to be beefed-up, that need to be lengthened, but the existing provisions on the books have proved before capable of doing the job to help people who've lost their livelihood, and the president is confident they will do so again. He also thinks it would be a mistake if people try to engage in a whole series of new government programs, new creations, while there are a series of existing ones that need to be strengthened.

QUESTION: Along those lines, is the president concerned about what the legislative process might do to any stimulus package and, of course, whether or not it can be done in three or four weeks?

FLEISCHER: Well I think everybody in Congress has said that they would like to get it done in that type of time frame. You know, Congress typically adjourns sometimes in the fall. And so, the president will obviously work with the Congress. That is our system. But make no mistake: The president feels strongly about what the best package is.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) this package the president put forward today should satisfy Democratic concerns about laying off workers, and that therefore the airline security bill should go forward without any further hold-up?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president does think that the question of how to help people who have lost their jobs is best considered in the context of a stimulus bill, and it should not be part, or bog down an otherwise important aviation bill.

QUESTION: This should reassure Democrats that the president is going to be faithful in addressing that thing, so that airport security should go ahead...

FLEISCHER: I think the substance of what the president's proposing speaks for itself; that it's very important to help people who have lost their jobs so they can have an extended period of unemployment at a time like this. People who lost their jobs, they right away get concerned about their health care. And the president is addressing that by providing $3 billion worth of grants so that people can get their COBRA coverage paid for.

But there's also a tendency at times to -- done by both parties -- to turn everything into a Christmas tree and to start funding everything for everybody in all times and for all reasons. And throughout this, it's always important to protect taxpayer money while bringing help to those in need.

QUESTION: Any indication the Democrats are satisfied by this, in the first instance?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president just announced, just an hour or two ago, so I think it's important to let the Democrats think.

QUESTION: Democrats are saying -- they're saying it's a good first step. But one problem they have is the unemployment benefits. They could settle with an additional 13 weeks, but they're concerned about all 50 states. So what would the president's plan do for a worker not in a state that is hardest hit, but who is laid off because of the affects of the September 11 attack? That's the question they have.

FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the focus of the package is on those states that are impacted the most. And that's where there is the greatest amount of unemployment as a result of this. But keep in mind, of course, you're talking about an additional 13 weeks on top of an existing 26 weeks. That's half a year. That's six months. So it's also premature on some of those questions.

QUESTION: Couple of questions about the asset freezing: Why were the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad missing from your list of suspected terrorists? FLEISCHER: They're already covered on existing lists.

QUESTION: And have the Saudis complied with requests to freeze assets of 27 people and organizations?

FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to Treasury specifically for case- by-case on all the various people that have been mentioned in the president's executive order from the Rose Garden. But suffice it to say, the administration and the president are very satisfied with the cooperation of Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: The other list that the Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are on, does it crack down as hard as the list that the president put out there today?

FLEISCHER: When you say, crack down as hard, that's a hard distinction to make. I think the question is, is it effective?

QUESTION: For example, go after the banks that don't comply.

FLEISCHER: I'd have to check on that.

QUESTION: Going back to the Afghan relief a little bit, one way to feed Afghan refugees is by a military airdrop of humanitarian meals-ready-to-eat or MREs. Is the president in favor of doing that?

Also, possibly setting up tent cities or other refugee camps in neighboring states, staffed, perhaps, by the military...

FLEISCHER: At this point I'm not going to comment on some of the questions about means of delivery into Afghanistan. Obviously, anything involving that information could be misused by people who might hear what I say. And so I'm going to be careful about how I indicate food aid is going to be brought into the people of Afghanistan.

QUESTION: The House leadership -- the GOP leadership is coming in to meet with the president. Can you tell us what that meeting's about? Is it a follow-up to their meeting earlier with Mineta? And where is the president now on federalizing airline security?

FLEISCHER: This is a follow-on to a whole year-long series of meetings that the president is going to continue to have with members of Congress. He's having a group down tonight. He had a group over for lunch today. As you know, he met with the four leaders yesterday. He's going to continue to have different members of Congress down to talk to them. That's how you make progress on many of these issues that you're asking me about. Will Congress agree? Will Congress have other ideas? The way you get Congress to agree is to listen to their ideas and bring people together.

QUESTION: On airline security (OFF-MIKE) is the president more open to that idea now?

FLEISCHER: On the federalization question? No, the concerns of the president remain about putting all screeners on the federal payroll. And let me give you a "for instance" about one of the items of the president's concern, and that is, as you know, when somebody is put as a member of the federal Civil Service, it's virtually impossible to ever take any type of action or disciplinary action if their work is not up to standards.

And the president thinks it's very important that in the case of the screeners and the workers, that the managers have the ability to make certain that their work is up to all relevant standards and can take disciplinary action if appropriate or if necessary.

So there are a host of issues that can involve diminishment of safety as people are put on the federal payroll, and these are types of things that need to be worked out with the Congress.

QUESTION: But is the president willing to compromise on that if that's what it takes to get the airlines...

FLEISCHER: Let's just see what develops on the Hill.

QUESTION: In view of the president's gratitude to the many Americans who donated blood for the wounded at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, what is the White House reaction to the Harvard Crimson news report quoting a Harvard undergraduate organization leader, named Clifford Alexander's (ph) e-mail to all members, quote, "On the Red Cross form you will be asked, 'Are you a man who has had sexual contact with another man since 1973?' This applies to many of you. You should lie," end of quote?

Since the AIDS-tainted blood donations also killed Arthur Ashe, surely the White House deplores this statement urging such lying, don't you, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with that report.

QUESTION: I've got it right here. You can read it.

FLEISCHER: You can keep it.

QUESTION: Right there. It's on the net. Now just if this is true...

FLEISCHER: Do you have a follow-up?

QUESTION: Yes, I do. But if it's true, you deplore it, don't you, Ari?

FLEISCHER: What's your next question?

QUESTION: Last Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, CNS reports that they videotaped President Clinton being confronted, interrupted and shouted at by a member of ACT UP who said, Mr. Clinton was a liar, responsible for his lover's death, because Clinton never launched a Manhattan project to conquer AIDS. Does the president -- the president doesn't agree with this charge against his predecessor, does he? And he deplores such behavior, doesn't he? FLEISCHER: I'm also not familiar with that report.

QUESTION: After the statements that President Bush made yesterday about the possibility of Palestinian state, does he intend to speak with Yasser Arafat? I don't think he's had a conversation with him, since he became president.

FLEISCHER: As always, we keep you informed of all the discussions that the president has or whenever I can with foreign leaders.

QUESTION: Back on humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, how can we work through the U.N. food program and other NGOs when most of those organizations have, if not all, have pulled their people out of Afghanistan? Reports in the region indicate that there's nobody left. How do we work through those programs?

FLEISCHER: I think USAID, the Agency for International Development, and the State Department addressed many of those questions in the briefing they provided earlier today. So I'm going to refer you to that. They're the experts.

Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: White House press secretary Ari Fleischer answering a ream of reporters' questions. The news coming out of this briefing came at the very beginning, when Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson confirmed that one case of anthrax had been found in the state of Florida.

He said it appears to be an isolated case, a man 63 years old. He said -- apparently, he said there is at this point no sign, no evidence that terrorism was involved, that this was some sort of an attack. And since that statement by Secretary Thompson, the FBI has added its views that this is not a case of terrorism.

Again, one case of anthrax diagnosed, confirmed in the state of Florida, a 63-year-old man who is being treated. And the secretary of Health and Human Services confirming that anthrax is not contagious, and also stressing that the United States at this point, in his words, is "well supplied to take care of an outbreak of anthrax," which they said at this point they have no reason to believe this was any part of.

Let's go down my colleague, Joie Chen, in Atlanta -- Joie.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Judy, want to get more on that now, because I think some folks in our audience might be a little confused by this, and very disturbed by these latest reports that this man in Florida has been confirmed to have anthrax.

Joining us from our medical unit is CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who is one of our medical correspondence. Sanjay, explain this to us. The Health and Human Services secretary saying "isolated case," but obviously very serious for this individual. And according to all the officials, they do not believe this is bioterrorism. Put this together for us.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. What they are saying, telling us at this point is this that there -- this is inhalational anthrax, something you actually inhale, which is the more rare of the three -- the three being: cutaneous, going right through the skin, GI, something that you'd actually swallow, or inhalational, as the case is here.

And there hasn't been a documented case of this in this country since 1976, so it is something that's very unusual. Certainly, most doctors that have trained -- you know, my age have never seen a case of inhalational anthrax. So there's a lot of interest, a lot of curiosity. There will be a lot of searching around of other people in that area, certainly, to find out if perhaps there are other cases around there.

CHEN: Not to put too fine a point on it, but when you talk about inhaled anthrax, the thinking is that if a bioterror attack was to occur, it would be through something inhaled, is that right? I mean, I don't want to stress people out unnecessarily, but that is the thinking.

GUPTA: Exactly. And you certainly want to be as responsible as possible, but inhaled anthrax is the most serious of the three, and it has been reputed to be one of the most serious of all potential bioterroristic agents, and that's because of the limited information that we do have about inhaled anthrax, it is likely to cause death, causing death 90 to 100 percent of the time.

There haven't been good treatments for it, but I should stress as well that we haven't really been given an opportunity to study because no studies actually would actually knowingly expose people to a potentially deadly agent. There are antibiotics out there that have worked well in the laboratories and in animals. And certainly, I'm sure they'll be tried here.

CHEN: If somebody was exposed to inhaled anthrax in some sort of broad sense, I mean, it would be even, for example, the 10, 15 people in our immediate vicinity. Wouldn't there be more than one case diagnosed?

GUPTA: Yes, and very likely, there could be. What I've heard from talking to a lot of the infectious disease experts is that you have to inhale a large quality of spores. The spores actually come from the bacteria that causes anthrax, and they can be buried in the soil for years and years. That's animals will sometimes get it. But you have to inhale a large number of spores, you know, 10-, 20,000 spores. So depending on how many spores were actually in the area, certainly a few people around the immediate vicinity could good it.

CHEN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta from our medical unit. And again, Judy, the emphasis from the Health and Human Services secretary and the FBI, as you noted, that they do not believe that this is an act of bioterrorism -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: I know all of us are relieved to hear that, Joie. Thank you.




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