CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Ari Fleischer Gives White House Press Briefing
Aired November 1, 2001 - 14:47 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now to Washington D.C. All afternoon, we've been waiting for the beginning of the White House press briefing, and just standing by for Ari Fleischer.
There he is. Let's listen in.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon.
The president this morning began his day with a call to the amir of Qatar. They discussed cooperation in the war on terrorism, as well as discussing the upcoming conference of the World Trade Organization. The president expressed his hopes that will lead to another round of trade negotiations around the world to promote free trade. The president had his usual round of intelligence briefings and FBI briefings, and then he convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council to discuss any late development or latest developments on the home front.
The president had a meeting earlier today with members of Congress who will vote shortly on aviation security, urging them to pass a strong aviation security measure that will provide protections for the traveling public and expressed his strong desire to have a bill passed that he'll be able to sign into law.
The president has met with the chancellor of Austria, and the president will be meeting shortly for another meeting to discuss the upcoming World Trade Organization meetings.
Two announcements, then I'll be happy to take questions.
President Bush will welcome French President Jacques Chirac for a meeting and working lunch on November 6, next week. And President Bush will welcome British Prime Minister Tony Blair for a meeting and working dinner on November 7, next week.
And with that, I'm happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Since your briefing yesterday, have there been any new cases of suspected anthrax or anthrax on people or places?
FLEISCHER: The update I have has no new information on any people with confirmed anthrax. Some of the suspicious cases that I mentioned the other day, results have not come in that would lend anybody to a conclusion about those cases. That's what I know about the people involved.
I think you asked about places. I think you're all familiar with the report about anthrax at FDA mailrooms. That report is accurate. There has been a preliminary test indicating a positive at four FDA mailrooms, as well as a facility used by the Postal Service to process stamps that appears to have a small level of anthrax as a result of what appears to be cross-contamination in Kansas City.
FLEISCHER: Both of those have been publicly reported.
QUESTION: Ari, we're in the middle of a major public relations blitz by the White House. You've got this new war room that's being set up with satellites in London and Pakistan. And now, we've got Condoleezza Rice telling us about a series of major speeches next week. Is there a feeling by the administration, that the president is losing the propaganda war here?
FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. There is a reflection, though, on the importance of talking to people around the world about the importance of this cause. There's also a recognition that in dealing with an enemy like the Taliban, we're dealing with a regime that has lied not only to its own people but to its neighbors and to people in the United States, the people of Pakistan and around the world.
The Taliban have made false claims about shooting down a helicopter, for example, when they never did, downing aircraft when they didn't. They've made a series of allegations that are just not true, including gross exaggerations about civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan.
And so there is a recognition about the fact, particularly with a 24-hour news cycle, people waking up on the other side of the world who may first get their information from the Taliban, before they are able to get the facts from anybody in a position of responsibility, that we will put together a capacity to respond and to have a message going out.
FLEISCHER: And as a result, the coalition of allies has created a central communications center in Washington that is linked to satellite centers in London and in Pakistan to provide accurate and timely information on the war against terrorism to the international community.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on the allies: We have Chirac and Blair coming next week; a speech to Central European nations next week about the war effort. Does the president feel like some particularly European allies are going wobbly on him here at an important time?
FLEISCHER: No, it's exactly as I indicated. There will always be a need to reach out and talk to allies, to talk to neighbors, to talk to other countries in the world who are monitoring the events. I think that's part and parcel of diplomacy.
It's no secret that through the State Department there is a very active public diplomacy organization, and this is not new. This is something, frankly, that was done with success during the war in Kosovo. At the time, the British had a lot to do with putting that together. This is an instance in which the Americans, working with our friends, are putting something together.
QUESTION: The president's address to the nation next week -- can you tell us what day that's going to be? And him coming out and talking about homeland security -- is that an indication that he doesn't believe that the people who have been out there already talking about it have been doing a good enough job; that he's got to take up that mantle and do it himself?
FLEISCHER: No. I mean, just because the president does something is not an indication that somebody else isn't doing something. The president believes that, as always, right from the first day -- on September 11, for example, the president addressed the nation three times in one day; a speech from the Oval Office at night. The president, since this began on September 11, has been very forthright in his discussions with the American people about the events, whether abroad or domestically.
So Dr. Rice came out earlier to brief and to take your questions; also shared with you some preliminary information about events next week. I just gave you some specifics on the meetings with France and with Britain.
QUESTION: Do you set a date for the homeland security address?
FLEISCHER: We'll have more details on that; not today.
QUESTION: To get back to the allies, it is a fact that surveys of public opinion in Britain, France, Germany and elsewhere show that support for military action in Afghanistan is waning substantially and markedly.
QUESTION: The president has said there's going to be a long campaign, hard slogging. Is the president willing to continue military operations in Afghanistan in the face of declining support in Europe?
FLEISCHER: Let me answer that one, and then jump over to what David just asked about, too, because I want to make sure nobody has any misperceptions.
The exact mechanism for the president's remarks to the nation next week are still yet to be determined in finality, so don't leap to any conclusions that there's going to be, you know, an address of one type or another. It could be in a variety of different forms. Just so you're aware of that.
QUESTION: Because other people in the administration are saying, "No. It's going to be any kind of prime-time address." You're saying that's under consideration?
FLEISCHER: When you said his address to the nation, I assume you were asking about prime-time address to the nation. What I wanted you to do is make no judgments about the form in which it will take until we announce it. It can come in a variety of different forms. That's all.
FLEISCHER: No. We've ruled out nothing. But I just don't want people leaping to conclusions even though we're not, today, telling you exactly what mechanism it will be. I just want to make sure...
FLEISCHER: I know the press has never leapt to a conclusion before.
On your question about waging wars by polls, the president does not think that anybody should take a military action because the polls say people are for or against it.
The United States will take a military action to defend our country, because our country has been attacked. And the president is resolute and determined to continue in that campaign. He is very grateful to have such overwhelming support from the American people for this effort, support for the government, support for the military. You said, I think, that polls in Britain are waning. This is being done because it is the right thing to be done. That poll that you site also shows very strong support of the people of Britain for the war. So that's the second side of that poll number.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up: Does the United States need a victory of some kind right now -- the capture of major Al Qaeda leaders or the capture of a town by the Northern Alliance, at least to give a shot in the arm to the effort right now?
FLEISCHER: Let me remind you of what the president has said, which is a message I think the American people have received very well.
The president announced to the American people that he will pursue this war for as long as it takes to bring justice to those who attacked our country. When he addressed the Congress, even before the first shot was fired by the United States in self-defense, he said it may take years.
The president is not putting a timetable on it, because the president will pursue this until its justified end, which is the elimination of the Taliban as an entity that harbors terrorists, the Al Qaeda organization, and of those who harbor terrorists. That is the goal the president has announced for this endeavor, and he will continue at that, and he's very pleased with the support he's received for it.
QUESTION: Ari, could you give us a readout on the meeting with House Republicans on airline security, how that went?
FLEISCHER: This was the third meeting the president has had with members of the Congress to discuss the upcoming vote, which I believe is this evening, in the House of Representatives on aviation security. He met earlier with one group of Democrats, one groups of Republicans, and this was another group of Republicans.
The president was able to make his case about why he thought it was important to pass a bill that provided for stronger cockpit doors, for increased federal marshals, that provided for stringent and tough federal standards for background checks and screening standards, and why it's important to learn the lessons of Europe and Israel and not respond to this crisis by putting every screener on the federal payroll.
FLEISCHER: They were when they went into the meeting.
FLEISCHER: We'll know when they vote tonight.
QUESTION: Along the lines of what we were discussing before, I imagine there'll be a preview briefing probably next week, but could you give us some kind of preview of what the president feels he needs to say to the United Nations next week?
FLEISCHER: I think it's a little early for that. That speech is some nine days away. And so I think you'll hear more about that next week.
But next week the president will have a lot to say about a lot of these issues -- internationally, homeland -- just as he has for the last several weeks.
FLEISCHER: You've heard a regular, consistent message from the president; a message that I think the country has responded to very well. And you're going to just hear more of that from the president along with these meetings.
QUESTION: On airline security, can you tell us what more the president is doing behind the scenes today? Has he been on the phone?
FLEISCHER: He has. He's been making a couple of phone calls to Democrats and Republicans.
QUESTION: Do you know how many calls he might have made?
FLEISCHER: I don't know if I have a hard number, but he has made a couple. is what I've been told.
QUESTION: As part of his message, also we heard from maybe one lawmaker that he puts this together with the campaign against terrorism, and as a president fighting this campaign against terrorism, he needs their support. So is he framing the message in that way at all?
FLEISCHER: Well, I've sat in on two of the three meetings, and I don't think the president has quite framed it in that way. The president has framed it in the direction of making certain that we take the right steps to pass a bill that protects the traveling public, and in a way that the president can sign into law, and he's made it clear that he want to sign it into law.
QUESTION: Are you confident that...
FLEISCHER: About the vote?
FLEISCHER: Well, I worked there long enough to know that you should never be confident before a vote until the vote is done, and then you can be confident if you win it. I think it's likely to be a close vote.
QUESTION: The president has been telling us for some time now one of the ways to stimulate the economy is to go out and spend. So today, the consumer spending in September was down 1.8 percent -- the lowest in 14 years. Does this make the president fight harder for a stimulus package? Or is he still willing to let Congress work its way? FLEISCHER: There's no question in the president's mind that the latest release of economic statistics today is another reason for Congress to take action to pass an economic stimulus bill to help the economy. Yesterday's release of information, today's release of information indicate weakness in the economy.
And the solution is not for Congress to do nothing. The solution is for Congress to pass an economic stimulus bill, and that way consumers can have more money to spend to stimulate the economy. Much of what you saw in those data released today is a reflection of the attack in September and the way the entire nation basically paused or stopped in the wake of September 11 for a considerable period of time. So it's important to have an economic stimulus package in place.
QUESTION: This coalition information service that you were talking about, can you tell us some of the nuts and bolts? Where is it going to be located? How is it actually going to operate? Will we have any contact with it, or is it totally aimed at foreign news organizations?
FLEISCHER: It's really -- well, first of all, it's located in the Old Executive Office Building here in Washington. It's also located in London and there will be people representing the effort as well in Pakistan. And their purpose is to work to counter the misinformation of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. There are regular conference calls that are chaired by the counsel to the president, Karen Hughes, And I think their focus is really outward. If you're asking if you can stop calling the press office, I hope you won't do that.
QUESTION: Well, for example, if we wanted to hear these conference calls could we?
FLEISCHER: No, those are internal White House conference calls.
QUESTION: Well, they don't brief us, Ari. Who is your target audience here? Unless you're going to brief in Pakistan, you're still going to be behind the time curve as you chase the 24-hour news cycle. You're still going to be behind reports from the Taliban by a number of hours unless you brief us. Do you intend to do that? Or is this...
FLEISCHER: Well, the purpose of this is to have people in Pakistan, to have people in Europe. As I indicated, they have an operation in London that is working the news cycle in London on European time. Similarly, that will be done in Pakistan. Today, of course, you were briefed by Dr. Rice. This week you've had two briefings by Governor Ridge. So you're being briefed as well.
QUESTION: Ari, about the speech next week, there have been a number of daily developments, whether it was anthrax, the war abroad, the state of the economy, homeland security. What is going on that the president decided that now is the time next week he wants to speak about this rather than days before? Is there something specific that he said, "Now is the time"?
FLEISCHER: No, I think it was just a good opportunity for Dr. Rice to take your questions and to give you -- you know, I usually do the week ahead on Fridays. She provided you with a preview of it today on Thursday. There's nothing unusual of announcing to you the outlines of events a week ahead.
QUESTION: I am wondering who the president -- was there something specific that happened and he said, "Oh, you know, I want to talk about this next week; it's time for me to do it"? He has spoken to us before, but to do a speech. FLEISCHER: No, you just have a very good compliment of events coming together next week where you have the satellite speech the president is looking forward to in Poland, which is a rather unusual gathering of nations that used to be aligned against the United States, as part of an alliance that are now aligned with the United States in an alliance.
You also have an arrival in town next week, something that you've been used to for the last three or four weeks, which is a regular stream of visitors to the Oval Office from foreign countries. As I mentioned, Austria is here today.
FLEISCHER: So what you're seeing is the usual things you see. Condi shared it with you one day ahead of time.
QUESTION: Ari, it's been about a month since the first anthrax attacks, and we seem to have made, even with all the resources we're devoting to the investigation, very little progress in identifying the source of these attacks. Is the president getting frustrated at this lack of progress, and is there any talk about a change in strategy of how we go about this?
FLEISCHER: You know, I was asked this same question yesterday, and no, the president has a lot of faith in the investigators, both at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, at the Centers for Disease Control, the people who are working this in the communities on the ground in the various states -- the New York City Department of Health, for example. And he is confident that their work will end in capturing the people or the person who is responsible for this.
This is an investigation, and, you know, I think the American people understand that these things can often be complicated, and this one is.
QUESTION: And he sees no need for a change in strategy at all?
FLEISCHER: The president -- I've heard him say this numerous of times in private meetings, and I think you've heard the president say this publicly, the president knows that the actions taken by the government have saved lives. There is somebody out there who is responsible for this who is trying to murder Americans by sending anthrax in the mail. Make no mistake: They are the people, or this person is the person responsible for the anthrax outbreak in America. And the president knows that it is the agencies of the federal government working with the local governments that are responsible for saving the lives of people in the face of these attacks.
QUESTION: So are you talking about specific cases that he knows of that have been avoided? And if you're talking about specific cases, can you share any of those with us?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's self-evident that in the case taken in the media organizations in New York, as soon as it was reported that they received anthrax, the Department of Health arrived, the Centers for Disease Control arrived. They prescribed the proper medication for the patients. The patients went on that medication.
There have been four fatalities, and the president regrets that, and no one can make up for those loses. But that doesn't indicate that lives have been saved as a result of putting people on treatment via medical community that has responded very quickly to each of these instances.
QUESTION: The fact that officials in New York say it looks like this Nguyen woman did not contract the anthrax bacteria through the mail, does that create new concern here at the White House that there's another method of inoculations?
FLEISCHER: Well, as I said yesterday, it did. Yesterday when we discussed this, I said this was matter of concern, because we do not know how she contracted the fatal case of inhalation anthrax. And that is something that the investigators are pouring into trying to identify.
I spoke to the FBI this morning. They told me that they have already been to her apartment in the Bronx and have interviewed her neighbors, which shows the diligence of the instant response to it.
But, yes, as I said yesterday, it is a cause of concern.
QUESTION: But I mean, is there a sense here that, "If not the mail then what?"
FLEISCHER: Well, there's a sense of we need to find out how this happened and what took place. These are investigative matters and there's not a sense of "then what?" It's a sense of let's proceed with these investigations. Let's interview the neighbors. Let's check the air ducts. The air ducts came back as a negative in the apartment. So they've been doing all the proper diligence that they should be doing.
But I just want to remind anybody in this room who may be impatient, that investigations can take time. And investigations need to be done right, need to be done in a methodological way and in a thorough way.
QUESTION: Is it safe to say at this point you have no idea how she contracted?
FLEISCHER: No conclusions have been reached.
QUESTION: Back on the coalition information centers, can you tell us who did the briefings and interviews in Pakistan, in London today? What the message was? And what the message from the Taliban that you were trying to rebut was today?
FLEISCHER: This morning I released some information about some of the interviews that American officials were doing, and I indicated some of the stations in the Middle East, for example, that were carrying these interviews. That's the only information I have at this point about that.
QUESTION: Those interviews on television station...
FLEISCHER: And this is also a way, if you can imagine, in London there's a similar group of reporters who ask the briefers there questions. And the information that is gathered is shared with our coalition allies, and so they're in a similar position to answer their questions locally.
QUESTION: In Islamabad there's a similar scene where there's an American briefing?
FLEISCHER: I indicated that there will be. There will be an office set up in Pakistan for the purpose of providing information to the Pakistan press.
QUESTION: And will that be an American or a Pakistani?
FLEISCHER: We're working with Britain on the exact people. And if I have a name to provide, I'll provide it. There's none to provide at this time.
QUESTION: Just operational or is it -- what's the nature of these briefings, in terms of who will be giving them?
FLEISCHER: Well, it's a person available to answer questions to the press in that country. So, for example, if the Taliban alleged that they have shot down an American airplane, the person on the ground in Pakistan will be able to get information quickly, and that way they can distribute that to the Pakistani press so that people in Pakistan don't have to wait for the news to be made in the United States, which can often be many, many hours later.
QUESTION: Ari, can I follow up? To give you a chance to counter some of the Taliban propaganda in this news cycle, do you have any reaction to the alleged statement by Osama bin Laden calling on Muslims to embark on an anti-Christian, and presumably anti-Jewish, jihad?
FLEISCHER: I think it's just more of the same propaganda that people have been hearing, and I dismiss it as such.
QUESTION: Have you verified that they are his statements?
FLEISCHER: No, I'm not aware that anything is verified at this time.
QUESTION: Is there any change in the administration's position since this morning with this executive order on the presidential records? And also, what do you plan to do, if anything, to counter what seems to be, if you listen to talk radio, a relatively quick response from some folks who seem to think that you have something to hide by doing this?
FLEISCHER: No, the president will soon be issuing an executive order which is a recognition of a new law that has just gone into effect this year for the first time, that changes the way that presidential papers are provided to the public and to historians, to academicians and, of course, to the press.
Under the existing procedures, existing law, a former president has the right to withhold anything for any reason if they don't want to make it public. So if a historian were to ask somebody at a presidential library to provide a certain document, they could if they wanted to; they didn't have to if they didn't want to.
As a result of the new law that is now going into effect, and thanks to the executive order that the president will soon issue, more information will be forthcoming, and it'll be available through a much more orderly process. The executive order will lay out the terms of that process and it will help people to get information.
There will be a 90-day time line put on it so that academicians or whoever can get that information upon request to the archivist of the United States. Archivist will then get in touch with the former president, with this administration. And unless an objection to releasing the information is raised on the basis of those objections that are allowable under the law, the information would then become released. QUESTION: Is there any provision, or will there be a provision for conflicts of interest?
QUESTION: I mean, it's pretty easy to imagine that a current administration might have some employees from a former administration now on board. Is there anything to do with records involving those people who are now in this administration?
FLEISCHER: Well, there is actually a lengthy body of law that governs what can be subject to a restriction on release. And the law that Congress passed that is now coming into effect for the first time, while it provides for release of more information than the previous system, is explicitly clear. In fact, if you go to the law itself -- not to the executive order, but the law itself, the law has a section 2204 that is entitled "Restriction On Access To Presidential Records." So those who passed the law have clearly created an allowance for instances in which it would be necessary for papers not to be released.
So the criteria you raise would not likely match what the law prescribes, and anybody taking that case to a court would likely lose. But what the law does allow for are exceptions on the basis of such things as a national security concern. But the purpose of this is to provide for an orderly process so that information can be shared, releasing the records of former presidents to historians, to the public and to the press.
QUESTION: So is the administration then going to continue to block the release of about 70,000 pages of conversations between President Reagan and his top advisers under this executive order?
FLEISCHER: Once the executive order is signed, it will immediately go into effect. And as a result, it will allow for, in accordance with the executive order, release of any information. So it really is just the opposite. It begins the process under the executive order of releasing information as requested, so long as it comes under the terms of the executive order and the law.
QUESTION: So this White House is not objecting if the Reagan Library and National Archives wants that information to be released?
FLEISCHER: No, what I said is the process would then immediately to into effect. And as I just walked you through, the process would be if you wanted to request, for example, a Reagan paper, you would make a request to the National Archives. The National Archives would then inform the Reagan Library and this White House that Kelly Wallace of CNN has made a request.
FLEISCHER: Unless an objection was raised by either the Reagan Library or this White House on the grounds already provided in the law and on the grounds already protected in the Constitution, the information would be released. If there are no cause, if there are no grounds for it to be withheld, it would logically be provided.
So I think what you're going to see is an orderly process that results in the release of the information, except in those rare instances which there is already recognized exception in the law.
QUESTION: You've mentioned the national security reasons as being a reason to withhold the information. I don't think anybody would dispute that in a bona fide case. However, some of the other exceptions include such things as deliberative process. Isn't the whole purpose of a presidential library to release information about the deliberative process? And if that's going to be a category to withhold information, isn't that a loophole so large that virtually everything could be withheld?
FLEISCHER: I would draw your attention to the law. You have cited the law of the land, and the law of the land, separate and apart from the executive order, contains a class of activities which, by definition, as passed into law, can legitimately be withheld. And there is a series of those. But that is the case whether there is or is not an executive order; that wouldn't matter whether this executive order was or was not issued.
QUESTION: You're not broadening that at all? You're not broadening those categories in any way?
FLEISCHER: No. Those are granted under the Constitution and under the law and cannot be changed by an executive order.
QUESTION: And also there's a discussion in here about people having to demonstrate their need for the information. Do you foresee a system where someone going to a presidential library would need to tell the archivist why they need that information, because that's not currently the way things are done?
FLEISCHER: What you I think are referring to is that, in the event that somebody requested a document of the former president or the incumbent administration -- and when I say incumbent, that means any incumbent administration; this executive order, of course, would apply to all future administrations, unless they put a different procedure in place. So if the administration or a previous president said, "That is a matter of security," for example, "it should not be shared," and you were to take that person to court and say, "I disagree, give me that document," as I understand the law, the government would have to show a compelling need to not release it as defined in the law.
FLEISCHER: But that's a matter for the lawyers.
And again, those criteria, are clearly written, not as part of the executive order, but as existing law of the land. So it doesn't matter if there is or is not an executive order. The former president, for example, could exert his rights under the law not to withhold.
QUESTION: Ari, this executive order, in the draft, creates another impediment to the getting of information from past presidents by setting up this president or any incumbent president as another gatekeeper not envisioned in the original executive order, which this one would rescind. That certainly creates the perception, it seems to me, that you are trying to withhold rather than release. And it gives you an out to screen information which could be embarrassing or otherwise simply unpleasant.
FLEISCHER: I think you're making judgments about events that you have not yet seen. And I think you will see a flow of information to the public in accordance with the spirit of the law that was passed. And that law also does include, as we have discussed, exceptions and exemptions.
But I'll give you a for example on why there is a system now for previous president and the incumbent, and the national security need is a classic case in point. There very well may be a decision by an administration that had been out of office for 12 years to release certain documents. Those documents could still have national security implications. A previous administration that is not currently in power, would not be as aware as a current administration of ongoing national security issues. So that provides for the ability of a current administration to review it.
But as Judge Gonzalez has made very clear, except in very compelling cases, if a former president were to say, "That should go out," this administration would say, "It should go out."
So you're making guesses and judgments all of which would indicate malfeasance or withholding of information by this administration. And I just can't accept that; that's not the case.
QUESTION: And you are saying, "Trust us, it will all be fine."
FLEISCHER: I think you are saying, "We don't trust you."
QUESTION: Both The Washington Post and the Washington Times this morning reported that ABC News President David Westin, after he was nationally exposed by Matt Drudge and the New York Post Online, apologized for telling Columbia journalism students that he had no opinion on whether it was right or wrong to blow up the Pentagon with a plane. In the event that you haven't talked to the president about this, as his chief spokesman, you are surely glad that Mr. Westin finally felt obliged to apologize, aren't you Ari?
FLEISCHER: It sounded to me from reading those articles this morning that the issue was addressed and the case was closed.
QUESTION: All right. The Media Research Center reported that ABC's Dan Harris (ph) admitted that he accepted an invitation from the Taliban to see and film what the Taliban claims are rising civilian casualties which he admitted was, in his words, "an enormous public relations boon to them." Since the Media Research Center notes the Taliban couldn't have picked a network more eager to showcase supposed victims and willing to relay...
FLEISCHER: Is there a question here?
QUESTION: ... Taliban propaganda, my question is, do you disagree? And if so, why do you disagree?
FLEISCHER: Your question was so long, I forgot the premise of it.
QUESTION: Early in this briefing, you were asked about whether we were losing or not this war in public diplomacy, and you said we weren't. Last week, the secretary of state...
FLEISCHER: Speak a little louder. You said earlier I was asked about public diplomacy...
QUESTION: You were asked whether we were losing this propaganda war, and you said absolutely not. Last week, the secretary of state said on the Hill that we were definitely asleep at the switch on public diplomacy. How does that square with what you just said?
FLEISCHER: I was asked what the president's perceptions are about the international effort, and I shared with you the president's reflections. I don't think that's anything inconsistent with the president who also is setting up a program and has acknowledged we can do better in many different areas. The president is always pushing everybody in the government to constantly look for ways to improve. QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the Nigerian president, and how much of this is part of an effort to get African nations to help the U.S. reach out to the Muslim world?
FLEISCHER: Well, the president has had a series of phone calls and meetings with various leaders throughout the world, including in Africa. And Africa is an important region to the United States, and there are many nations who are playing helpful roles in the war on terrorism. And the meeting should be seen in that context.
QUESTION: Ari, could you give us a sense, please, of how carefully the president has been following the Microsoft negotiations and what his opinion is of this new settlement?
FLEISCHER: The president understands that that's a matter for the Department of Justice to determine.
QUESTION: A real quick one on the anthrax: Looking back on my notes, on several occasions when you were talking about the hunt for whoever is responsible, you said, "this person," "the person responsible." Has it been narrowed down to one person?
FLEISCHER: No. I said "this person" or "the persons."
FLEISCHER: I did. I did.
QUESTION: Quick follow up on the Microsoft question, are you saying the president has washed his hands of this case and is not going to sign off or approve?
FLEISCHER: These determinations are made by the Department of Justice is the answer.
QUESTION: What's the president's role in it?
FLEISCHER: These determinations are made by the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: The president has no role in...
FLEISCHER: Settlement decisions are made by the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: And not the president?
FLEISCHER: They're made by the department. And that's the answer.
QUESTION: Well, no. Yes or no, does the president have a role on the settlement? FLEISCHER: The president has a role in appointing a Department of Justice that he has faith in that they will make good decisions that serve the national interest.
QUESTION: Ari, on the stimulus package, since the package is outside the bounds of the budget resolution, it will require 60 votes to get out of the Senate. Since your goal seems to be to get it to conference, would it be appropriate for nine or 10 Republicans to vote in favor of whatever that package is in order to get it to conference to be negotiated?
FLEISCHER: Yes, you know, I can't comment on the final outcome of what's going to take place in the Senate. There are going to continue to be meetings to discuss it with senators. And the president is hopeful that the Senate will realize the importance of this moment, to protect the economy at this time of weakness, and get that bill to the conference.
QUESTION: Ari, apparently the anti-terrorism package that the president signed into law this week contained a provision that could require foreigners to carry ID cards. Would the president like to see that implemented?
FLEISCHER: Let me take that question and get back to you on that. That's one of the specifics of a bill that I want to take a deeper look at.
QUESTION: Governor Ridge said on Monday, I believe, that he would come out and brief at least three times a week.
QUESTION: He briefed Monday and Tuesday; does that mean we get a briefing tomorrow?
FLEISCHER: That would be what the math would indicate to me, yes.
KAGAN: We have been listening to a lengthy White House press briefing by White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. Among the things we learned, President Bush faces a very busy week next week, including a visit from French President Jacques Chirac, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Also the president will be addressing the nation once again next week. Details as to when that will happen have not been released or decided yet.
Also during that briefing, there was a reference to this House aviation security bill that will be voted on later today. The president backing a plan that does not federalize the 28,000 baggage screeners. Instead, it would have supervisory role for the federal government, but in the main part, those baggage screeners would remain employees of private companies.
Jonathan Karl telling us earlier that that vote should be coming around 6:00 or 7:00 later today. We will track it.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com