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White House Press Secretary Holds News Briefing

Aired October 9, 2001 - 12:09   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to interrupt you and go directly to the White House. Ari Fleischer beginning his daily briefing with reporters.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president this morning called President Wade of Senegal. President Wade expressed his solidarity and support for the global anti-terrorism campaign that was launched by President Bush. President Bush thanked President Wade for his support in this effort. And President Wade expressed his powerful thought to the president about the importance of bringing peace to the region, and he said to the president that Islam is a peaceful religion and that all democracies have a common cause in eradicating terrorism.

The president earlier this morning convened a meeting of his National Security Council, and he will meet with German Chancellor Schroeder at 3:00 o'clock in the Oval Office.

A couple of other updates for you for the day: State Department spokesman, Richard Boucher, will brief at 12:30 today. Secretary Rumsfeld of the Department of Defense will brief at 1:00 o'clock today. And at 1:30 today, Dr. Condoleezza Rice and Governor Ridge will announce additional efforts to coordinate the American government's response and actions in the war on terrorism.

One final announcement: President Bush will welcome NATO Secretary General Lord Robertson for a meeting tomorrow, October 10, in the Oval Office.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Ari, should the American people be prepared next to see ground troops in Afghanistan?

FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to discuss any operational aspects of the campaign.

QUESTION: You're not ruling out the use of U.S. ground troops?

FLEISCHER: I'm not discussing it. Obviously, that type of question, if that were to be the case, that's information that those people who are fighting us in Afghanistan would love to know, and I'm not going to provide it.

QUESTION: Can you tell us why the president decided to issue the memo to the key Cabinet officials on secrecy? What prompted it, what individual leak, if you will?

FLEISCHER: Let me read to you from the memo in question, which is a memo that the president has sent to members of the Cabinet who would routinely brief Capitol Hill about matters relating to the military, relating to intelligence.

And reading from that memo directly, it states, "That administration will continue to work to inform the leadership of the Congress about the course of and important developments in our military, intelligence and law enforcement operations.

"At the same time, we have an obligation to protect military operational security, intelligence sources and methods, and sensitive law enforcement investigations."

And I think that says it all about the memo. It's an effort to make certain that Congress has the information that it needs while making certain that nobody is put in a position where they inadvertently would give any information that could harm anybody's life as a very sensitive military campaign is under way.

QUESTION: Will you tell us what prompted the memo?

FLEISCHER: It's an overall concern, to make certain that information is protected to save lives and not put anybody in danger.

QUESTION: Was there -- in general -- but was there not a specific incident?

FLEISCHER: Well, rather than focus on any specific incident, it's a reflection of the president's ongoing concern to make certain that nothing classified is released inadvertently that could put anybody's life in danger. Really what's changed here since routine notification would go up to Capitol Hill are we are at war, and the price of error is now too high. And the president wants to make certain that all people in government are protected, so that nobody can make any mistakes and put anybody else's life in danger.

QUESTION: Well, let me just follow up one more time. Was there not at least one incident where the president was upset by what was said by a member of the Congress who had received a classified briefing?

FLEISCHER: Rather than hearken back to any, if there was one event, I think it's best just to leave it as the president's overall concern. This is something you've heard the secretary of defense talk about very publicly, as well. It's an ongoing concern from the administration to make certain that nothing classified is inadvertently released that could put somebody's life in danger.

QUESTION: Has the administration opened an inquiry?

FLEISCHER: The answer on that is no.

QUESTION: There's no inquiry on any leaks that might have already occurred? FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Does the president believe that Congress in particular is at risk for leaking classified information?

FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, these warnings have gone out to everybody. This is what we in the White House staff have been instructed by the president; this is information Secretary Rumsfeld has discussed about with his employees and others in government; this applies to anybody who could possible have classified information. The memo itself, of course, is directed at Congress. But you've heard this in other ways about other government agencies, including our own White House.

QUESTION: So does he believe that the Congress is not being well-managed when it comes to maintaining the secrecy of classified information?

FLEISCHER: It's a reflection on the fact that our nation is now at war, and the rules have changed. It's a reflection of the reality that disclosure of information in a time of war is far different from an inadvertent disclosure at a time of peace. It can literally mean the loss of lives that people who are embarking on missions.

QUESTION: But, Ari, the last paragraph of that memo says the president notified the leadership of Congress of that decision. Those conversations have been described as angry, animated, and that the president did cite a specific thing he was very upset about. Do you dispute that?

FLEISCHER: As I indicated, rather than focus on any one event that may or may not have taken place, the president's concern is broad. That doesn't mean it wasn't specific, but his concern is also broad.

QUESTION: Ari, does the release of information that there is certainty within the intelligence communities of another terrorist attack, does that constitute putting people's lives in danger with that other information?

FLEISCHER: You know, I'm not going to go down any potential line of things that may or may not be classified, if that's what you're asking me to do. But I think, again, the memo speaks for itself.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) information you think should be classified?

FLEISCHER: I don't discuss classifications. I don't make the decisions about what information gets classified.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the anthrax? What is the latest the White House knows about the investigation going on in Florida?

FLEISCHER: The investigation in Florida is continuing for the FBI's efforts in coordination with the Florida State Department and health officials as well as Centers for Disease Control. The last information I have on this is that there has been no changes in the state of Florida in terms of any additional information. So what is known right now is there is one person who was diagnosed of having anthrax, who died last week. There is a second person who they have found -- I think the word is...

QUESTION: Spores or specks?

FLEISCHER: No. It's the spores -- let me get you the precise word on what it is they have found in one nostril for the second patient in Florida's -- exposure and it's an important distinction, and that's why I wanted to make sure I got the precise word out -- I think precise information is most helpful -- suggesting exposure.

There was a report this morning, which turned out to have been apparently erroneous, in northern Virginia.

So what I think you're seeing is, as Secretary Thompson said last Thursday, you're seeing a heightened sense of awareness, you're seeing government officials do everything in the government's ability to get information to the people on the ground, to answer all questions. And I think, at a time like this, you're going to see increasing reports because people are becoming more sensitive, more aware, even if those reports deal with the flu or with other symptoms.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-up? Since so far the area seems to be so circumscribed, to a certain county or a certain city in the state of floor, are precautions being taken that there's enough medicine around in case other people need to start taking antibiotics?

FLEISCHER: Secretary Thompson addressed that on Thursday last week, and he said that there are sufficient supplies across the country that are positioned if necessary.

QUESTION: Nothing has come to anybody's attention that would indicate that it's necessary?

QUESTION: NATO aircraft are patrolling on the East Coast, or about to be, radar planes. Is this the first time we've ever called on NATO to protect us here at home? And why is this necessary? Is it a sign that the U.S. military is overextended?

FLEISCHER: Well, one, it's a sign of cooperation with NATO. When NATO invoked Article 5 saying an attack on one nation is an attack on all nations, it means we're going to work together in whatever manner that the military in this case thinks is the most effective manner to secure our national defenses, along with our NATO allies.

DOD can give you more specific information about had it been done before and exactly how it's going to work. I can confirm the report is accurate, but DOD can give you the more detailed information on it.

QUESTION: But is it because we're over extended that we needed them to come here...

FLEISCHER: I think DOD can give you the best answer about why they take the steps they take, in terms of the effectiveness. QUESTION: Ari, can I go back to the other topic? The congressional leaders who are allowed to be briefed, are they being instructed not to share information with their colleagues on the Hill?

FLEISCHER: They've been clearly told about the importance of keeping information that is sensitive, treating it in a manner so it is not released.

QUESTION: So that means not sharing it with other members of Congress, are they specifically being told that? Is it being limited...

FLEISCHER: I haven't heard every conversation that's been had with every leader, so I can't answer that fully.

QUESTION: So, Ari, what is the response from some members of Congress who feel that they're not being fully consulted, that they're being left out of the loop by this?

FLEISCHER: Well, as the memo makes very plain: It still is important to share information with the Congress, to discuss matters with the Congress, and that still will be done. The question is, discussion of any information that is of such a classified nature is classified that it would not be germane to members who are not listed as the speaker, the minority leader, the majority leader or the chair or the ranking members of the Intelligence Committee.

QUESTION: So the memo does have the effect in dramatically limiting the number of eyes, if you will, on Capitol Hill that can see this information?

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: What I was getting at really is, that you're really not -- just to follow that -- you're really not briefing Congress, you're basically just briefing about five or six select members of Congress.

FLEISCHER: It's quite clear. It's briefing the leaders of Congress.

QUESTION: There are other members of Congress, certainly, who are cleared to receive classified information -- the chairman of the Foreign Relations and International Affairs Committee...

FLEISCHER: This is not a question of cleared to receive information. This is a question about how the administration is going to work with Congress in the dissemination of information that's classified.

QUESTION: I believe the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, ranking member; Armed Services, ranking member: Why wouldn't they be able to receive this information? Is there some doubt about...

FLEISCHER: Because the president has made the determination that at a time of war like this, he wants to make certain that every step is taken so that there cannot be a loss of life as a result of an inadvertent release of information. And therefore, the president has decided that he wants to make certain that the agencies that report to him provide information in a fashion that has a smaller circle, two members of Congress.

QUESTION: How can those committees and those committee chairmen do their proper oversight if they don't get the information.

FLEISCHER: I think they're able to do so, and that's why the information is shared with the Intelligence Committee as well as the leadership.

QUESTION: But Armed Services and Foreign Relations are directly responsible for oversight of armed services and foreign relations. How can they do that job if they don't have information?

FLEISCHER: Because not every aspect of their job deals with having immediate information that is a classified nature about what may be happening on a military operational sense.

QUESTION: But, Ari, connect the dots, a larger circle was being briefed initially. And now, you've restricted it to the four leaders, plus the chairman and ranking members of the Intelligence Committees.

FLEISCHER: Correct, exactly right.

QUESTION: Was the assessment made that in the case of the Foreign Relations or the International Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee that the chairman or the ranking members or the other members could not be trusted?

FLEISCHER: John, it's not a question of people not be trusted, as you put it. It's a question of the determination made by the president that, in a time of war, the usual rules do not apply and that the president is going to err on the side of protecting lives so that inadvertent information -- inadvertent release of information cannot occur. And that requires necessarily a tightening of the circle about who has access to all of this information that I described.

It does not mean that members of Congress will not continue to receive information. They will continue to receive information. And the president makes that perfectly plain in his memo to the agencies when he said that we will continue to inform the leadership in our critical military intelligence law enforcement operations.

But I remind you, even in peacetime, not every member of Congress had access to every bit of classified information.

QUESTION: But you did pull back?

FLEISCHER: Absolutely, I've acknowledged it. It's as plain as the memo reads...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) FLEISCHER: That information -- the circle has been diminished because the president is going to make certain that every step is taken to protect lives from the inadvertent release of information; that's correct.

QUESTION: And the upshot of it is, is that the conduct of the war policy and its oversight is now being done by the executive branch and six members of Congress.

FLEISCHER: The information-sharing on the matters that are described in this memo will be available to six members of Congress -- actually, it's eight. Eight. Eight.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Ari, is their congressional role of -- its contribution to the war policy and its oversight is now going to fall into the hands of those eight people?

FLEISCHER: I think the president is very satisfied with the sharing of information and the decision he's made.

QUESTION: Does this cover information about the possibility of threats of attacks on American soil? Or is it just about overseas military?

FLEISCHER: It's information that is classified in nature. I can read it to you again if you want. Consistent with long...

QUESTION: Any classified information. I mean, we...

FLEISCHER: I think you have copies of the memo and so you can take a look and read it for yourself, but the memo makes clear it's classified information.

QUESTION: So anything that the White House decides could be classified...


QUESTION: ... and if they don't want to share with Congress. FLEISCHER: The classification decisions are made by the appropriate intelligence officials, and again, the president is going to make certain that this information is provided to the Congress so the people who need to know it will have full ability to have it, and he wants to make certain that their circle is diminished so that nothing inadvertent can happen. And that's correct, that's what the president has decided.

QUESTION: Ari, is there any precedence -- did the White House counsel's office -- is there any precedence for limiting the circle in wartime this small in terms of briefing Congress?

FLEISCHER: I'd have to check with some historians. I can't tell you off the top of my head. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) any time when so few members of the elected leadership of this representative government have been informed of the operations of these...

FLEISCHER: I very much appreciate your desire to have a large group as possible of people who have this information, but I've said about all I'm going to say on this topic. The president has done this for a reason. The president stands by it, and it's the right thing to do in the president's opinion, and that's why he's done it. He's aware of the types of questions you're going to ask about this.

But the president has done it deliberately because this is a time of war, and in his judgment, this is the best way to save lives -- protect lives of the people that he is putting in harm's way in the course of this war.

Yes, this is a determined decision by the president.

QUESTION: It's very hard to argue with the idea of saving lives, but there's another principle at work, as well, as you're well aware, and that is the oversight that is usually provided by Congress.

FLEISCHER: I think we've exhausted this topic. This is about a half an hour briefing. We can spend all half hour on it, if you like. I'll be here for that.

QUESTION: Pakistan's president has said he expects the military action to the bombing runs to be brief. Is he speaking from knowledge? Is he voicing his hopes? Is he trying to camp down dissent within his country?

FLEISCHER: I can't give you my analysis of his reasons. I don't speak for the president of Pakistan. Suffice it say, anything dealing with operational issues like that, I'm not going to indicate how long something may or may not last.

QUESTION: Ari, you mentioned at the gaggle, for the record, can you tell us about Vice President Cheney is still not at the White House? Is there a time he may return? How is he being kept abreast of what's happening here?

FLEISCHER: The vice president remains at a secure location, where he is fully and completely informed of all events and is participating. And we will try to keep you informed on a daily basis.

QUESTION: Participating -- he participates in the meetings that are taking place here through special...

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Ari, you said part of an ongoing pro forma precaution, or is there some specific credible threat that is keeping...

FLEISCHER: It's ongoing, and it's general. I mean, as you can notice just by walking around the White House, security is tight. This is a time of war. I mean, I know that everyday everybody in this room and all of us to who work here come in, and there's a certain normalcy to the routine, even in wartime. But it's very important for everybody in this room and for all people to remember, it remains a time of war and threats remain. And the tragedy about what took place on September 11 and beyond, the lost of lives and the disruptions to so many of us is that, with one exception, December 7, 1941, this is the first time our nation has been hit by action of this nature in 150 years or so, and it has changed things. And that is why these steps have been taken. And this is a time of war. It is a time to take all proper precautions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the vice president is traveling on any kind of mission out of country?

FLEISCHER: I can rule that out.

QUESTION: You use the phrase often, "this is a time of war." Has there been a formal declaration of war; is it necessary? How much further would American society change if there was a formal declaration?

FLEISCHER: There has not been, and I can speculate about how much further it would change.

QUESTION: Ari, could I return you to the general subject of anthrax? Separate and apart from the Florida case, and whether or not this may be terrorism or something else, during the Gulf War, you'll recall, there was a very specific warning given to Saddam Hussein that if he used chemical or biological weapons the response may also be with a weapon of mass destruction or some kind of proportionate response. It was made as a disincentive. Is there any plan afoot to issue any kind of similar warning to Al Qaeda on that issue?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to discuss anything involving our operational details. The president has said he would give the military the tools they need to get their job done, and he will.

QUESTION: Would you help those of us with deadlines prior to this 1:30 event by telling us what Richard Clarke's mandate is? And how what he'll be doing is different from what he's doing now?

FLEISCHER: I think you already have that in writing. We, I believe, distributed that already. And there will be an announcement made by Governor Ridge and Dr. Condoleezza Rice about additional steps to protect America's homeland defense and take action on the war on terrorism.

General Wayne Downing will be announced as the national director and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism. And Richard Clarke will be announced as the special adviser to the president for cyber-space security.

QUESTION: What does that job entail? What will he be doing?

FLEISCHER: Cyber-space security involves coordinating efforts to restore and prevent disruptions to critical information systems. And you'll have plenty of information on that forthcoming in about half an hour or so -- a little more than that.

QUESTION: One of the major grievances of our British allies against the Taliban is over drug smuggling. The British have said that the majority of the heroin that finds its way onto British streets comes from Afghanistan. Is that a particular target of what we're doing? Are we trying to do things that are aimed at curbing or perhaps even eliminating drugs emanating from Afghanistan?

FLEISCHER: At this stage the only way I can answer that question is, anything dealing with targets you need to talk with DOD about.

QUESTION: Well, I'm talking about policy, though. I'm not asking about the specific targets. As a matter of policy, are we trying to deal with this British grievance by doing things that...

FLEISCHER: The American government's position of long-standing about the importance of diminishing the supply of drugs remains unchanged. That is always a concern, even in time of war.

QUESTION: Are we trying to do things...

FLEISCHER: Well, there you have to talk to DOD.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on how much in financial assets have been seized from the Al Qaeda organization?

FLEISCHER: I do not. That'll be from Treasury.

QUESTION: I believe this morning you said you would check on how casualties are being tracked here. Do you have any new information about that?

FLEISCHER: I do not have any information about that. I think that, again, will be something from DOD.

QUESTION: There are other continuation-of-government protocols in addition to keeping the vice president away, like keeping a member of the Cabinet out of Washington at all times, a member of the congressional leadership out of Washington at all times. Are those still in effect as well?

FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of. I have not gotten the information on that. Cabinet members often do travel, but I have not heard anything about that. And the Congress is coming back this week, but that's a question to them. I don't know.

QUESTION: One of the things the president and other administration officials, including the attorney general, have said is that it's time for Americans to be vigilant. About what? What should they look for?

FLEISCHER: Well, this is a question that I've been asked repeatedly, and the answer remains the same: When the president says that and the attorney general says that, it's a message to not only individuals, but also the law enforcement community broadly writ -- and that means local police officers, local fire officials. There are all kinds of jurisdictions in this country where that can be a very help statement, where they can be the eyes and ears of the communities locally to make cretin if they see anything that they recognize as a suspicious activity in their community, that they can be vigilant to make certain that all protections are taken.

And that's another reflection of what the president means when he says that this is a different kind of war, a war on terrorism. Again, it's not as if our worry is going to be that a foreign nation is going to launch a fleet that's heading toward our shores. This is much more insidious. This can be individuals; this can be small numbers of people. And that's what makes it terrorism. And that's why law enforcement plays a very important role in it.

QUESTION: For people getting back to their lives -- going to the mall, going to ball games, things like that -- what should they be looking for? What constitutes a suspicious...

FLEISCHER: I think you really need to have the Department of Justice get into that. They are the ones who are in charge of law enforcement. From the president's point of view, it's a reminder to the law enforcement community, which is already on alert, to maintain that sense of vigilance. And I think people take a sense of comfort from knowing that. You can see it in the streets around many cities as the National Guard is out.

Again, it's just another reminder that in previous wars, they were wars that we fought abroad, and this time it's a war that could have implications back at home.

QUESTION: This is the third day of attacks. Has the president given each day the order of attack or has he given a blank agreement to the generals to conduct?

FLEISCHER: Well, if you remember in the speech to the nation on Sunday, the president said that he has ordered targeted actions to disrupt the use of Afghanistan as a base of terrorist operations and to attack the military capability of the Taliban regime and to destroy the terrorist training camps.

The president has given the military its mission and that is its mission in this case, and they are carrying it out. As they carry it out, the president, of course, as I mentioned, every morning has a National Security Council meeting. It's discussed with the president. So he concurs in the actions that are taken, has full knowledge of the actions that are taken. But if you're asking me "is the president micromanaging what's going on," clearly he's not. The military has its mission.

QUESTION: How will we know when those goals that you mentioned -- harming the Taliban military and disrupting the use of terrorism that emanates from there -- how will we know when those goals are met specifically?

FLEISCHER: I think that's one of the reasons that the secretary of defense is out briefing every day. He will be in a position to keep you apprised of the status of the military campaign.

QUESTION: I don't want the status of the campaign. I'm wondering how we'll know when the specific goals that are outlined are met. These goals seem rather nebulous to me that you've outlined and I really don't understand how we're going to know when we're suppose to stop bombing the Taliban.

FLEISCHER: Well, for example, when I said the destruction of the terrorist training camps, that's something that you're going to be able to hear from Secretary Rumsfeld as events develop. You know, when I talked about what the president said, part of the mission is to attack the military capacity of the Taliban regime. I noted some stories on the wires already suggesting that there have been defections in the ranks of the Taliban. So I think there's going to be continual signs of success and you will see them.

QUESTION: What signs? But we could attack -- we could -- there will probably be a few guns that are left after a couple of months. I mean, when do we stop specifically attacking the Taliban military? When is it enough? I don't hear a clearly defined goal here. I hear a goal, but I don't hear one that's clearly defined where we know when it's over.

FLEISCHER: This is likely to last for a long time. And throughout the process, the secretary of defense, officials at the White House, the president, the vice president, others will continue to talk to the American people to share their reflections on the status of the campaign.

QUESTION: On that, then President Musharraf is wrong?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: On that, then, Pakistani President Musharraf is wrong?

FLEISCHER: Your question to me was specifically about a statement made by President Musharraf dealing with air operations.

QUESTION: Yesterday you said that Osama bin Laden is but one man. And we now also have the letter to the U.N. which clearly implies that we're on the verge of a much broader campaign. How much more quickly are we going to get into that?

FLEISCHER: The letter to the U.N., as I think, was reported yesterday, is in accordance with the United States' obligations under article 51 which grants the United States and other nations the right to self-defense in accordance with the U.N. charter. And that's the purpose of the letter. And the letter, of course, said that the United States will reserve the right to act in self-defense as we see fit. And that could or could not involve other nations. But that's not an unusual letter. A letter of similar nature has been sent by many nations when they invoke their article 51 rights.

QUESTION: You have just told us this is going to be long, including with the Taliban. We have every reason to believe. If I go back to the wording of General Musharraf yesterday, he said that he had received, quote, "definite assurances" that the military strikes would be short-targeted and without major civilian casualties. Do you know...

FLEISCHER: I'm reiterating to you what the president has said on numerous occasions, what you've heard from the secretary of state, secretary of defense, about the duration of the campaign.

QUESTION: My question is, did anybody to your knowledge -- senior officials of the United States -- give any such assurances to General Musharraf?

FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge, but again I think the question was, as originally put to me, was why did General Musharraf say this. And I think you have to address that to General Musharraf.

QUESTION: Will you just take as a question and go back and see if you can figure out for us if somebody in the course of communicating with him might have left him with this impression or misimpression?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I am...

QUESTION: He was what he believes.

FLEISCHER: I am not going to get into operational details about the lengths of various individual missions of that nature. I'm more than happy to discuss with you the overall objectives of it, as the president has enunciated.

QUESTION: I'm not asking you to tell us lengths. We're asking you to find out if a senior American official or the president gave an assurance to General Musharraf.

FLEISCHER: That's another way of trying to ascertain an operational detail.

QUESTION: If I could follow on that, I gave you a couple of options.


QUESTION: Clearly, he could be speaking to his people. There are sensitivities there that he wants to deal with, and it would be understandable if you were speaking to his people. It would also be understandable if you were reluctant to tell us military operations -- the duration of such. So...

FLEISCHER: So you're asking me to tell you the duration of the military operation?

QUESTION: I'm not talking about the duration of any military operations. I'm asking you to tell us is Musharraf speaking to his people? Is he trying to deal with the reaction within Pakistan?

FLEISCHER: I don't speak for any foreign leaders. QUESTION: Is the president going to do anything this week to get his economic stimulus package through Congress?

FLEISCHER: Congress comes back today and it is going to be an ongoing topic of conversation with the congressional leaders. The president does still strongly believe that it is very important to take action to help our economy so that it can grow and recover from current economic conditions. So the answer is yes, and we'll see as a result of the efforts made with the congressional leaders how quickly it can move.

QUESTION: When does he expect to meet with them next?

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Is he having breakfast with leadership again?

FLEISCHER: I will have something out as soon as there's something final. You can anticipate another meeting with congressional leaders likely this week, but again once it's final I'll let you know.

QUESTION: Going back to this letter, apparently a lot of these congressional leaders or congressional persons were given this information because many people in the White House and in the Cabinet felt they had some kind of critical input. Now that the circle has been closed, the input has been stifled somewhat. Do think that it could hurt the mission that you're trying to accomplish right now by closing the circle?

FLEISCHER: No, the president does not think that.

QUESTION: But I know you say it's inadvertent information that's going out -- you want to prevent the loss of life -- but those congresspersons that were told in the beginning, they were told for a reason -- for their critical input.

FLEISCHER: And they are still being told. The leadership is still being told.

QUESTION: It was other than those eight prior to.

FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of exactly how widespread briefings were prior to it, but the president's memo speaks for itself on this topic, and I think we've covered it extensively at the beginning of the briefing.

Thank you.

WOODRUFF: White House Press Secretary and spokesman Ari Fleischer wrestling, if you will, with some reporters there, figuratively speaking, with some very tough questions. How long is this going to go on? How will we know when the United States has won the war on terrorism? Americans should be vigilant about what? Ari Fleischer saying there's only so much I can tell you, you've got to look to other departments of the government. Just quickly, his confirmation that the vice president, Dick Cheney, is not at the White House. In his words, he's in a secure location, but he is being fully informed of what is going on.

Most of this time during this briefing, though, was spent on the president's decision in the last few days to limit the number of people in the government and particularly in the Congress who will be given classified information about the progress of the military campaign.

CNN's congressional correspondent Jon Karl joins me now to talk about this for just a moment.

Jonathan, the president sent a memo out saying certain members of the Cabinet and only eight members of Congress -- and we heard Ari Fleischer saying, well, this is because the president is concerned, we are in a time of war, lives are at risk. He's obviously, it's now been reported, the president is upset because some information got out last week.

But what's the reaction now on the Hill to this?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, within the hour, Judy, I spoke to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham. He's one of those eight members of Congress that under the president's new policy would still be getting access to this classified information. I asked him about this. He said that his interpretation of this new policy is that he would not be allowed to share that classified information with anybody, no other member of the Senate and not even other members of his own Senate Intelligence Committee.

He said he understands the policy, he understands some of the concerns about classified information that has come out after Senate briefings, after briefings in the House. But he is concerned about whether or not the Congress can continue to do its job of oversight, particularly that Intelligence Committee, which has long held classified briefings, long been briefed by the CIA, which has oversight power over the Central Intelligence Agency.

I also spoke with Joe Lieberman, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's concerned about that committee being left out of the loop on military action, a point also reiterated by the ranking Republican on that committee, John Warner.

Big questions remain here: Why only those eight members of Congress? Why wouldn't the chairman and ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee be allowed access to classified information, especially in a time of war, given that they have oversight over the armed services?

So, Judy, the bottom line here is widespread concern in the Congress over this new policy. One key member of Congress also on CNN earlier today raised the question about whether or not the president actually has the power to so restrict flow of information to the Congress. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Members ought to know better than to talk about things they shouldn't talk about, but in order to do our job, we have to get the briefings. And the CIA works for both the Congress and the president, so I'm not sure that we can be cut off.


KARL: Bob Graham, again, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he believes the president, in fact, does have the power. He says, especially in a time of national emergency, the president has great latitude to determine the dissemination of classified information -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl, thanks for that. And I want to go back to the White House for just a moment to our senior correspondent there, John King, who was in the briefing. John, you and some of the other reporters were pressing Ari Fleischer on whether this means the president doesn't trust some of the members of these crucial committees.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And he would not give us that answer directly, Judy, but it is clear -- and when we first reported this story yesterday on CNN, White House officials told us after we obtained that memo that that was the reason, that the president was furious, we were told, that White House press spokesmen were being about classified information, that he was seeing things in the newspapers attributed to congressional sources that he believed was classified and sensitive information.

We were told the president was quite angry. That is why he relayed his decision directly to the leadership in Congress and then sent that very strongly worded memo to friends of his, the leaders of Cabinet agencies, the secretaries of defense, treasury and state.

We're also told, though, Judy, that the president understands the sensitivity of this, understands the anger on Capitol Hill. And while he is no way about to change that policy, they are trying to arrange a meeting here for members of some of those other committees, the rank- and-file on the Intelligence Committees, and the members of the armed services and the foreign relations and international affairs committees. The message to them will be will we bring you up-to- speed, we will keep consulting you on the details of the operation, but we're just simply not going to share the most sensitive, classified information, either on the military buildup or on the investigation into the events of September 11th. That information just as critical, the administration says, because of the continued terrorist threat here in the United States and overseas -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John King, we can only imagine the pressure on the White House to work out some accommodation, must be enormous, because these committee chairs are very much involved, as you say, in oversight as these crucially important decisions are being made.




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