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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

America's New War: Homeland Security Director, White House Press Secretary Give News Conference

Aired November 7, 2001 - 11:41   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.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get you over to the White House now. Any moment now, Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security director will come out. There he is, right on cue -- Ari Fleischer to follow him.

Live now in Washington.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TOM RIDGE, DIRECTOR OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Good morning. I thought I'd like to give you an update on homeland security activities over the past several days and then respond to your questions.

The president's directive was to coordinate a national homeland security strategy, and an integral part of that effort involves governors and local officials. And we continue our outreach to those officials this week as we had begun last week.

We've had a couple opportunities this week to talk to Governor Hodges of South Carolina, Governor DiFrancesco of New Jersey. We'll be meeting with Mayor Morial of New Orleans and five or six of his colleagues. As you know, he chairs the League of Cities.

One of the other challenges that at the Office of Homeland Security -- it's a wonderful challenge -- is to integrate all of the Americans who want to help be part of homeland security into a national strategy.

And to that end, this week, the National Organization on Disability visited the office. Obviously, they've got some unique and very special challenges that we'd have to deal with, but they also have some very unique and, I think, probably helpful ideas. We want to integrate them in the process of developing our national strategy.

I'll be meeting with the business executives of the business roundtable. Again, the national strategy didn't say just a public sector strategy, it involves the private sector, so we've got to continue to work with our friends in the private sector as well.

NASCAR dropped by and said, "What can we do to help?" And obviously, they're involved in huge outdoor public events. They've got ideas relative to security.

We think there will be ways that we could learn from them, and they may learn a thing or two from us. But again, it's just fusing all these groups and all these Americans who want to help this president and help their country. And we continue to find ways to integrate them into the development and ultimately the implementation of both the short- and long-term homeland strategy.

The first couple of weeks, we spent some time on the Hill. Today, I concluded my fourth caucus visit. Last week, I was going to try to hit the House Democrats and the House Republicans on the same day. My former colleagues from the House on the Democratic side kept me a little longer than we anticipated, so we had to postpone that meeting to the Republicans. Today, we concluded that this morning.

And the international interest in supporting our effort, not only in Afghanistan, but here at home is reflected in the visit of the ambassador from Great Britain, Chris Meyer, who spent some time with me yesterday. Again, this is a country that unfortunately has had a real-world experience with political terrorism of different sorts; and he brought some of the security people in. We will be putting together a team to sit down with him and with other members of our international coalition that are helping us on the war in Afghanistan, but they also, again, want to be participants and helpful in addressing our homeland security needs, as well.

So that reflects some of the activity of the Homeland Security Office.

Finally, you should know, I think, the four post offices remain closed -- Brentwood, Trenton, the stamp facility in Kansas City, and the Pentagon substation. You should note that the post office has received, they estimate about 10,000 hoaxes they've had to deal with, which has resulted in closing different post offices for various periods of time. They've investigated and followed up and have made 25 arrests. And obviously, the postal inspectors and the Department of Justice will move as aggressively to bring them to the courtroom and to justice as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: Do you think that the anthrax flow now has stopped really? And do you have any better idea of the source? There seems to be some indication though that the Pakistani letter turned out to be negative, is that right? Do you think it's more at home -- the whole start source?

RIDGE: Well, I am hopeful like the rest of America that the anthrax has stopped permanently. But there's nothing in...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)?

RIDGE: Well, we certainly haven't seen nor detected any other sources of new anthrax. Obviously, we move systematically and aggressively to still deal with the traces of the problem in Trenton and in Washington, D.C.

The investigation continues to preserve -- we haven't included or excluded either a domestic or an international source for the anthrax. There have been some suggestions that it could be domestic, but that has not been confirmed in any manner, shape or form.

QUESTION: On that subject, Gary Long (ph), the New York FBI is quoted in today's Boston Globe as saying it was produced in the U.S. He said quote, "It was made here," is that incorrect?

RIDGE: Well, he may have a suspicion that it was made here, but clearly, in talking with the FBI director and other individuals involved in the FBI, there is no credible evidence that points specifically, at least to date, it may be his suspicion, his instinct, because clearly a microbiologist with some sophisticated equipment that could be in this country or elsewhere. We don't know it's origin. And so I would say it may be is suspicion, but it hasn't been confirmed by the investigation yet.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up? Because he also said, he believed that an individual rather than a group is responsible. He said, the FBI suspects an individual rather than a group. Is that your suspicion as well?

RIDGE: Well, we have not ruled out whether this was an act of an individual or a collective act, whether it was a domestic source or a foreign source.

And I think, hopefully one of these days we'll be able to answer both questions. Today, we cannot.

Yes?

QUESTION: Can you tell us where we are, in terms of the FBI -- the threat that was issued last week and the state of alert in the United States? Does that...

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE: We're still on alert.

QUESTION: ... continue?

RIDGE: We're still on alert.

QUESTION: How long will that (OFF-MIKE)

RIDGE: I think this heightened sense of awareness -- I mean, one of the challenges is to take the legitimate anxiety and fear that Americans still have and just -- we will be on alert indefinitely. And when we have specific information from credible sources, we will appropriately give it to the law enforcement community.

Yes?

QUESTION: So there's no change in that status from last week?

RIDGE: No change.

QUESTION: The FBI was specific about something happening or (inaudible) original alert over the next couple of days. A couple of days has passed, nothing has happened, so...

RIDGE: I have talked to a variety of governors about this issue. And many of them, even before that alert, had deployed initial state police, initial National Guard, have really beefed-up their security not only in around public facilities, but work with the private sector to enhance security around their facilities as well.

I suspect that there will be an ebb and flow as governors, who are on a heightened state of alert, redeploy their resources. But for the time being, we believe America should stay on alert.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge, one of the problems with anthrax seems to have been the preliminary test taken, sometime they're right, sometimes they come back with the opposite positive-negative. And there seems to be two outfits that are coming out with new tests -- the Mayo Clinic is one, and I think (inaudible) and another one. Is your office trying to get them? They also are going to need government approval to be able to go out to the public. What are you doing about it?

RIDGE: You would be amazed at the number of -- they're not solicitations -- but inquiries we've received in the Office of Homeland Security about the potential application of this or that technology. Clearly, not only will we look to the private sector to help us identify some of the problems, but also come up with some of the solutions.

So we are in the process of vetting out some of these recommendations. And whether it's through the United States Army, through the Selective Service, but through the Office of Science and Technology, there's enough expertise within the federal government to take a look at these things.

RIDGE: And if they appear to provide a commercial solution, a quick turnaround that has application to our environment, then we'd follow it up.

QUESTION: Is it feasible, at this stage? Does it seem feasible...

RIDGE: I'm not in a position to make a technical judgment, but we want to explore all potential ideas and suggestions and particularly when they seem to be further along in terms of research and development.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you had talked to officials in South Carolina, New Jersey and New Orleans. What's your assessment right now of security at U.S. port facilities? How much cargo is actually being screened, and what prospect is there for actually securing the amount of cargo that comes into the United States?

RIDGE: The Coast Guard, Customs officials, everybody that had a remote connection or direct connection with maritime security has really ramped up all their assets and, frankly, probably deflected some assets involved in other areas to provide the highest possible state of security. One of the things that has happened, again, that is very, very reassuring is that there has been tremendous integration. There are many examples -- and Governor Hodges provided me one where some of the facilities are publicly owned by the state; others are federal facilities, and they've integrated their resources.

So again, it is a point of vulnerability because of the amount of international commerce. These are our eyes on the world, windows on the world, as it were, the opportunity for us to move in and out of our commerce, hundreds of billions of dollars worth of commerce, so we take that security -- enhanced security.

But we're looking continually, day by day, to improve it. I think we're -- frankly, I think one of the things that have been done to enhance security: They're inspecting more of the cargo than they've ever done before.

They've identified ships that they're boarding out in the sea. Instead of giving 24-hour notice with regard to cargo and crew, they're giving 96-hour notice, so they can match the crew with any lists that they may have generated. So they've heightened security. They've integrated a lot of their resources with local and state resources, and they've tried to move the perimeter outside the ports as part of the enhanced security.

QUESTION: Can I go back to John's question? When you issued the threat initially last week, you indicated that there was specific intelligence that an attack might be (inaudible) Are we still -- you say we're on alert indefinitely, but are we still getting that type of intelligence...

RIDGE: Well, the alert, as I recall, as you recall, last week, were from multiple sources deemed credible over a specific period of time.

Obviously, that frame of reference, the calendar has passed, but we ask people to stay on that same heightened sense of alert.

QUESTION: But I'm not asking about the alert, I'm asking about the intelligence. Are we getting the same kind of indications that an attack might be imminent?

RIDGE: We get threat reports on a daily basis. One of the most difficult challenges within the intelligence community is to assess these reports and to assess the credibility, and to go back and, if possible, interrogate the sources of these reports. We get them everyday. And for that reason, we keep everybody at a heightened state of alert.

QUESTION: I know you get them everyday, but I'm wondering if the intelligence that you're getting now is similar to the intelligence you got before, which said that an attack might be imminent?

RIDGE: The intelligence that we get everyday suggests that an attack or attacks could be imminent. But there has been no suggestion of the specific venue or weapon of terror that might be employed. QUESTION: The FBI counterterrorism chief testified on the Hill that they did not know how many labs produced anthrax. You, this morning, said on the Hill there were 80 to 90. Can you explain -- did you guys find that out overnight, did he just not know? Can you explain why you knew and he didn't know?

RIDGE: The reason I knew, and I don't know to be true absolutely, but I saw it was referenced during that committee hearing. And we know there are several dozen university laboratories and pharmaceutical laboratories -- there are several dozen laboratories out there that have access to the anthrax strain.

The FBI and the Department of Justice have been in the process of talking to individuals associated with those laboratories to follow up and determine if there's any leads, any information they can glean from the people who are participating in that research.

I cannot tell you whether they have exhausted the list and they've contacted everybody they want to talk with. They're clearly aware of the list. They're aware of the facilities. They're aware they've got the need. So it is a part of an ongoing, daily, intense investigation, as they follow up leads on anthrax, follow up leads on the New York tragedy, follow up leads on the hoaxes that they have to take as potential serious threats.

So you've got the law enforce community totally engaged in a variety of different investigations, some of which, unfortunately, lead them down a false path.

One final question.

QUESTION: On the tests, a few days ago there was apparently an apparently inaccurate report that bentonite was the binding agent in the anthrax that was tested from the Daschle letter. I assume we now know what the binding agent was, and can you tell us what that suggests about the source of the anthrax?

RIDGE: Well, there were accounts of reports that said bentonite was the binding agent. None of those reports ever came across my desk. The reports that came across my desk suggested that they were looking to see if that was a component of the anthrax. And we concluded, with our internal investigation, that it was not.

QUESTION: What was it? What was the binding agent?

RIDGE: Well, the ingredient that we talked about before was silicon, but there's no additional information with regard to additional characteristics that have come across in any of the additional tests that we've conducted since that time.

Thank you.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Let me give you an update on the president's day and a couple announcements.

The president this morning had his usual round of briefings from the intelligence community, as well as from the FBI about the status of the investigations. The president also met with the first deputy prime minister of Kuwait, Minister al-Sabah. At that meeting, they discussed bilateral and regional issues, as well as the war on terrorism. Kuwait reaffirmed its strong support for the United States in the campaign that it is waging, and the president assured the acting prime minister that the United States will remain vigilant on regional security issues that Kuwait faces, including Ira, in the midst of this campaign.

The president will depart the White House shortly for an event in Tysons Corner, Virginia, where he will visit the financial crime enforcement network. This is a joint operation center that is operated by the Department of Treasury. And at this event, the president will announce additional actions in the financial war against the terrorists. He will announce a series of measures that take on the infrastructure that Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations use to raise their funds and to support their terrorism around the world.

Following that, the president will return to the White House. He will have a meeting with Democrat members of Congress to discuss the importance of passing trade promotion authority this fall so that the United States' trade partners can have additional trade with each other and with the United States which will also, in the president's opinion, be helpful in creating high-paying jobs here in the United States.

And finally, the president will meet with the prime minister of Great Britain this afternoon in the Oval Office to discuss ongoing cooperation in the war on terrorism. I wouldn't be surprised if they also discuss anything involving the upcoming visit of President Putin to the United States. And the president will also have dinner with the prime minister this evening in the residence.

Two other announcements -- the president will welcome Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson for a meeting at the White House on December 3. And finally, the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow is scheduled to vote on the one member of the president's Cabinet who has not yet been confirmed by the Senate, and that is John Walters, who the president has nominated to be director of the Office of Drug Control Policy.

John Walters has been working on the issue of fighting the war against drugs since 1986 where he began his work at the Department of Education. He also went on to establish the Office of National Drug Control Policy serving as the chief of staff and deputy director in this office. During his time, treatment funding increased by 74 percent, and he was very effective in fighting the war on drugs. His nomination is supported by some of the largest treatment and prevention organizations in the country including the Community Anti- drug Coalition of America and the Partnership For A Drug Free America.

The president urges the Senate to take action and pass the one remaining member of the president's Cabinet so that his Cabinet can be complete. And so that the nation can fight the war against drugs. This late into a presidency, the president thinks it's only appropriate for him to have his team in place, certainly at the Cabinet level.

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

QUESTION: Can we just follow up on the alert, because I'm a little unclear after what the governor said? Based on what the FBI said last week, the alert that they issued, is that now in place indefinitely?

FLEISCHER: That's exactly what the governor just said.

QUESTION: But for example, you're telling local governments to put their resources, police and everything around what you think might be potential targets. A lot of them are complaining that they don't have the resources to do that if they're not aware of something specific. Are you giving them flexibility so that they can make adjustments or...

FLEISCHER: Well, the phone call that Governor Ridge had with the governors last week on Monday when that alert was announced, Governor Ridge made clear to the nation's governors -- and all 50 were invited to be on the call -- they do have flexibility. It is up to the governors in our federal, state and local system to make the determinations about where to deploy their resources, how best to put them out there. There is no federal dictate in a case like this. It requires flexibility for the governors working with their local law enforcement and state personnel to deploy resources as they see fit.

QUESTION: But are you updating them with information as well?

FLEISCHER: Sure, certainly.

QUESTION: They said this alert was applicable to only a few days. That time has lapsed and nothing has happened.

FLEISCHER: Sure. I think an example was on Thursday last week, the law enforcement community was updated about uncorroborated evidence of potential attacks on suspension bridges along the West. This is an existing network that has been in place well before September 11, through the FBI and the Justice Department to provide the latest intelligence information to law enforcement communities so they can take actions as they see fit.

QUESTION: Ari, does the alert go beyond the law enforcement communities? Does the administration want the citizenry, the people to remain on high alert?

FLEISCHER: Yes, there is no question the president does. While the president has said numerous times and this is something he's going to be addressing in a rather comprehensive way tomorrow night. The need to get back to normal lives, which increasingly, for weeks now we have seen that is what the American people have done.

People are taking their children to school, people are enjoying recreation, they're going out at night, while recognizing that life in America has changed since the 11th. QUESTION: Can I just press you on this? Isn't an indefinite highest state of alert almost a physical impossibility? Don't you risk that people's attention to the alert naturally wanes and that they can't do that and that the next time you do get a specific and credible threat you're not going to be able to ratchet them up any higher?

FLEISCHER: As Governor Ridge said, this is one of the most complicated and difficult decisions that he has to deal with and that people on the local level, people who -- just a month ago Governor Ridge was a governor who was also dealing with the aftermath of September 11 in his state.

These are difficult calls to make, but it is the conclusion of the law enforcement community, along with the intelligence community and the president, that the best manner to proceed is in a manner of living on a heightened state of alert.

What's so tragic about this is that because our nation was attacked on September 11, the United States for the first time in our modern history, since you can go back to the beginning of the 19th century when the United States was under attack in the early 1800s from a foreign nation, it's the first time in our modern history the United States has had to deal with the consequences of a soil that can be attacked.

Other nations have had to live with this for years, unfortunately. Europe has. Israel has.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Well, in the law enforcement community, to maintain their vigilance, to maintain a heightened state of alert, to recognize that there are certain critical infrastructures that lie within their states, whether they are dams, whether they're nuclear power plants, that they need to be more vigilant about.

You know, I've heard people in the law enforcement community say that, in terms of individual citizens, citizens are the eyes and ears of law enforcement in the community. If they see something in a neighborhood that they've never seen before, that they should report it, just as they normally would if there were something that would raise attention.

Citizens, particularly, this is something again I've heard from law enforcement community, people who drive trucks, take security arrangements for your trucks, make sure you lock your trucks.

People who have access to uniforms, make sure your uniforms are accounted for. It's common precautions that people can take in their daily lives that make for the life of the law enforcement community easier, because we're one nation and the citizenry is working in a helpful fashion with law enforcement to be vigilant.

And that's what our nation needs to be, is vigilant, and while going back to life. (CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... you had 10,000 (inaudible) I mean, is there any psychology behind that that you know of?

FLEISCHER: The hoaxes?

QUESTION: Ten thousand?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, again, well, prior to September 11, I think everybody's familiar with the propensity of people to engage in hoaxes or copycats when something is notable. It is something that, unfortunately, people do for a variety of bad reasons.

Hoaxes distract the law enforcement community from what they need to be involved in. The law enforcement community has to take hoaxes seriously to make certain that they are a hoax. How do they know until they evaluate it?

So the message from the federal government is: If anybody engages in such hoaxes, they will be prosecuted. And as the governor has said, there are many people who are on their way to prosecution and hopefully jail time.

QUESTION: Ari, Senator Feinstein and other lawmakers have expressed impatience with the pace of the FBI investigation, and some governors and mayors are frustrated with the handling of these national alerts. Does the administration feel a need to shore-up public support of its handling of the crisis?

FLEISCHER: The president has been gratified by the strong support he has received from the American people, not only for the conduct of the war, but abroad, but for the manner which homeland defense is being handled at home.

I think by any number of means that you, the media at least, has been using to evaluate public opinion, you can see the public's support for the president is powerfully strong. And I think the reason for that is, because the president has been forthright, the president has been wrestling with these difficult issues, as Governor Ridge just walked through about. Do you or don't you alert the public about these potential threats, even if the information the government has is nonspecific, but is deemed to be credible?

And the president has urged the members of his Cabinet to err on the side of filling the country in and sharing information. And the country has absorbed that information rather well. Obviously, it's information nobody wants to have.

But you can also look -- again, take the case of the anthrax in the mail and judge where the country is. As you've heard before, there are some billions of pieces of mail that are mailed every year -- 680 million pieces of mail that are mailed on a daily basis.

And Americans, while they're being more cautious than they ever where before, with good reason, feel safe receiving their mail. They're alert. They're on watch.

They know now what to look for because the government has given warnings. The government actually provided the evidence that was received in the case of the letter sent to Mr. Brokaw and sent to Senator Daschle, so the public would see what the handwriting was. So they are alerted that if anybody, and obviously the targets seem to be more media types of governmental types, but now that means the staff in those offices. We're talking about in the case of the media people, secretaries -- whoever opens the mail. They know what handwriting to look for. And I think that has been a source of comfort to the country that the government is providing the information.

But obviously, this is a situation in the wake of September 11 that the president wishes the country wasn't going through. The fact of the matter is the government is going through it, and the president is gratified for the reaction the country has given. The president will have a lot more to say on this topic tomorrow night in Atlanta.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the domestic crackdown on these two financial networks -- where the raids have taken place, how many arrests do we have so far, and any ballpark on the amount of dollars that are tied in the U.S. to these...

FLEISCHER: OK. Let me give you some information about it. The president, of course, will provide most of the information in his announcement and I don't want to get too far ahead of the president. But the Treasury Department has added 62 names of organizations and individuals to the list of groups whose assets will be seized or are eligible for seizure.

Nine of the organizations are in the United States. Two of the individuals in question are in the United States. Beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern time this morning, Treasury and Customs agents delivered blocking orders and begin securing evidence at several locations across the United States, and evidence is being secured as a result of these raids or actions by the law enforcement community.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense of the locations in the U.S.? Is it, you know, Minneapolis, Massachusetts...?

FLEISCHER: I want to withhold on that. There will be a fact sheet that accompanies the remarks that will spell it out.

QUESTION: How difficult is this, because these are largely loosely unregulated money exchanges, that are sort of -- how difficult is it to make sure you've got the ones that might be funneling money to the Al Qaeda network?

FLEISCHER: The president has made clear that the war against the terrorists is going to be a multi-front war. We've been hearing a lot about the military campaign, obviously, and you've been receiving regular information from the Pentagon about it. But the president also believes that the war on the financial front is just as important. The ability for the United States and for governments around the world to start squeezing the source of funding that the terrorists use to operate their missions is a vital component to winning this war. The less money they have, the fewer missions they will be able to carry out.

And that is why the president has been working so regularly with other nations. Often at his meetings in the Oval Office he cites the financial war on terrorism and says if you are not able to contribute militarily, your help on the financial front is just as important.

It is complicated business. It's difficult business because the terrorists have set up these entities because they think they can hide behind them, and they're going to constantly move their money around to the best degree they can. And so this is going to be an ongoing front.

Nobody can give you any indication that any one action will bring the terrorists to their knees. But as a result of a combined series of actions over a considerable period of time as more and more nations across the world take on the responsibilities and help the United States and other nations to shut these entities down, the United States will have more success. So this is one front that will develop over time. But the president will be pleased this afternoon to provide a report about success in this ongoing financial front.

QUESTION: Yes. Two questions, Ari. On yesterday's election, you said the president called the two defeated Republican candidates -- a governor in Virginia and New Jersey -- and he's trying to call the governor -- the new mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Has he spoken to Mr. Bloomberg? And the question is, on those defeats in Virginia and Pennsylvania, what kind of negative impact will they have on the Republican Party?

FLEISCHER: The president, the last I heard, which was just shortly before I came out here, had not yet spoken with Mr. Bloomberg. He anticipates doing so shortly. And I'll try to get you an update on any of the calls the president makes on the results of the election. But I think it's fair to say, looking back at yesterday's election results, that it shows an inconclusive pattern, basically where local races are decided on local issues.

In the case of Virginia, obviously, the victorious candidate ran a campaign that sounded very much like a conservative campaign, a Republican campaign. Campaigns are often campaigns of ideas; less party labels and ideas. And, in this case, the ideas he ran on were rather right of center.

In the case of New York, obviously, I think it was a big surprise to people; a come-from-behind victory for Mr. Bloomberg, keeping New York in the Republican column although an overwhelmingly Democratic city. The Democrats, obviously, had a big win that they can brag about in New Jersey. When you add up all the legislative races across the country and taking into account the special elections that good place prior to yesterday, at the end of the year, it looks like very close elections in the state houses -- looks like a pick up of three seats for the Republicans in the state houses as a net basis. So I think that's a fair summary of what's taken place with the elections. Governor Ridge has reminded me right before he came out there that the Supreme Court in Pennsylvania has now gone Republican. And so that means in his state of Pennsylvania, for example, the governor, both houses of the legislature and the supreme court are all Republican.

QUESTION: Does the president feel he could have done more to help the candidates in Virginia and New Jersey?

FLEISCHER: No, I think the president was active in all three races. The president's taped "Get Out to Vote" messages that were used by all three candidates. The president did mail that was used by various candidates. So I think you've seen, just as I said, a series of local elections this year decided mostly by local factors.

QUESTION: You suggested that the Democrat from Virginia ran as a Republican. Is it fair to say that, in New York City, the Republican might have ran as a Democrat?

FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, Mr. Bloomberg had not been a Republican all his life, and I think people were aware of that, and I think there is something to be said about that. I mean, he is a Republican and he ran in (inaudible) Democrat city, he had not been a Republican all his life. And, again, I think it's local issues and local races.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: No. The president's going to work very closely with Democrats and Republicans -- Democrat mayors, Republican mayors, Democrat governors, Republican mayors.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge came out just now and essentially ran through his schedule, which included meeting with a disability group and a NASCAR group and some other groups like that. But he didn't -- other than, you know, four post offices remain closed, he didn't have any news to share with us it didn't seem. Given the president's speech tomorrow night is on homeland security, you said he was going to focus on people returning to their normal lives, taken their kids to school. But will the president have any news that we should expect should share? Any updates for the American people?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think you'll be in a position to evaluate that after you hear the president tomorrow. But the president will give a report on the status of the war, both internationally -- but mostly on the home front side, and will discuss with the American people what steps have been taken and are going to continue to be taken to protect our country.

But, you know, this is a profound moment for the country, given the fact that our homeland has not been threatened by a foreign foe since the early 1800s. And now in the wake of an attack -- September 11 -- where the World Trade Center was hit, the Pentagon was hit, another airplane was hijacked that was heading likely toward Washington, D.C. to who knows what target, obviously the American people have recognized that times have changed, and I think they're going to look forward to hearing the president's assessment about what those changed times mean, what those changed times represent and what actions the United States government is doing to protect the country.

QUESTION: Is the president's threat yesterday to veto spending bills that exceed the appropriations level agreed to in the supplemental -- spending levels agreed to -- is that a nonnegotiable threat as some Democrats seem to think?

FLEISCHER: There is no question the president meant what he said. The president believes very strongly that the amount of money that has been set aside per an agreement made with members of Congress for $686 billion with the additional $40 of an emergency appropriation and $15 billion for airlines is ample funding to fulfill the government's mission to protect the nation and to protect people both internationally and at home.

And as evidence of that, and this was discussed in the meeting yesterday, of the $40 billion emergency appropriation that has been spent, the government has only been able to put $3.9 billion out the door. They can't even spend what has been approved fast enough because that is the way money flows in reality. So if Congress were to put an additional $20 billion on there, it is just more money that cannot yet be spent.

So the president's point was, why rush now to make a decision about spending money when there is plenty of time next year in a more orderly, thoughtful fashion to take a look at exactly where the needs lie? Let a little time lapse so that better judgments can be brought about where money is needed.

The president never ruled out the possibility of funding additional needs next year. His point was, you can't get everything that you want even spent this year, so what is the rush? What's the hurry in the case now where $40 billion has already been approved, acting this fall? It is a rush to judgment where mistakes will likely be made, sufficient funds are already in the pipeline, and an agreement was reached. And once an agreement is reached, the agreement should be honored, in the president's opinion.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the people who were arraigned (ph) this morning. Are these individuals and entities that law enforcement officials suspect of helping bin Laden and Al Qaeda? Or are they individuals and entities that they have reasonable confidence that they think they know helped...

FLEISCHER: I will leave that to the law enforcement community to describe, because there have been a series of very specific actions in many different cities, and each one has its own unique features, and I think it is best for the law enforcement community to provide you with the information place by place. And I think they will be happy to do so.

QUESTION: The McCain-Bayh bill seems to be an effort to develop some specific things Americans can do to help in this war -- something the White House hasn't done a whole lot yet. Is the McCain-Bayh bill stealing yours and Governor Ridge's thunder? FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated yesterday, there are many positive elements in the McCain-Bayh bill, and the president is pleased to see that. Much of what is in there -- for example, the bill endorses what is called the Silver Scholarship Program, a program of getting senior citizens involved, was something the president ran on in the course of the campaign.

So the president sees this as more evidence that people are working well together on a series of national interests, and that's why I said yesterday there are many positive elements to that legislation.

QUESTION: Ari (OFF-MIKE) United Kingdom, you talked about Prime Minister Blair. He's making a tremendous effort to get here. Is all this effort just symbolic, or will something actually be accomplished? And then, tomorrow with Prime Minister Ahern, is Ireland taking part directly in the antiterrorism effort?

FLEISCHER: Well, you will have your opportunity tonight in a news conference with Prime Minister Blair and President Bush to ask him that question after their meetings are concluded and before they go to dinner. So you'll have an opportunity to ask it there.

But obviously, the president sees this as a real working sessions with one of our coalition chief allies, chief partners. And I think that people of Great Britain and the United States take great pride in how well our nations are working together.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: I'll have more on Ireland tomorrow (inaudible) tomorrow takes place.

I'm making my way across the rows. I'm making my way. You're here at the end of that row, it seems to me.

QUESTION: On the alert, on the...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Les, you are separate and apart from that row, but I'll get to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the indefinite alert, are you saying that over the next month or two there's no chance of ratcheting down? And is there even a procedure or to say, "OK, things are better." If you get intelligence that says, "OK, for the next few weeks or the next few days things are getting better," is this only a one-way ratcheting up and not the possibility of ratcheting down?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, as Governor Ridge indicated to governors, they have the flexibility to make the decisions as they see fit. Governors are used to making decisions involving their Guard, involving their state police, involving local enforcement. Law enforcement is, in many ways, a key responsibility of the state governments. These are issues they're used to dealing with. Unfortunately, terrorism is something generally new, but dealing with law enforcement is something they're used to.

The governors will make their judges in their decisions as they see fit. They will deploy their resources as they see fit. They'll assign their officers hours as they see fit. And so these are decisions that will be made by the governors.

I think in some cases you may see standing up, standing down, but those will be decisions that governors are left with the flexibility to make in the overall rubric of being on alert, because the threats have not gone away.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) tell them standing down, you know, that it might be...

FLEISCHER: Well, again, you'll get continued updates from the federal government as events warrant. But as Governor Ridge said, for an indefinite period, people need to be on alert, because that's a realistic reflection of the threats our country faces.

QUESTION: Ari, you and the governor just touched on the problems confronting the Postal Service. They say they're going to need a federal bailout. How's the administration going to respond to that need?

FLEISCHER: Let me try to get something more for you on that and evaluate that.

I really have not had any good conversation with the people about anything involving that.

QUESTION: What's the administration's evaluation of the scope of the unperceived problems that are facing the Postal Service?

FLEISCHER: Well again, let me get back to you in the full context on that.

QUESTION: Ari, if I may, on the Blair visit, there are sources in Britain who say that Tony Blair does have a real influence with the president on certain obvious issues like the way in which this campaign has been presented. There has been a lot of coordination certainly around your office in that sort of sphere.

And also, on the question of Iraq, Tony Blair has made it quite plain behind the scenes that he doesn't want to see the campaign broadened toward any move against Iraq in the near future.

So my question is basically a blunt one, how influential is Tony Blair inside this White House?

FLEISCHER: Prime Minister Blair is very influential. He and the president stand shoulder-to-shoulder. The president values his counsel, he values his wisdom. He appreciates the strong support of the people of Great Britain, and they will continue to work very closely together.

QUESTION: Does he have the ability to change minds, change the president's mind on certain issues?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, he's very influential. I'm not prepared to go down and tick tock various issues. But the two work well together. They really, from the beginning, when they met, their first meeting at Camp David, began a very strong relationship. And I think it has done nothing but grown since then. The president went to Chequers and met with him, and has met with him on several occasions, has talked with him on the phone very often. It's interesting, too, because they come from different parties, but they have strong ties.

QUESTION: Ari, two things. What does the White House see in reference to outgoing New York Mayor Giuliani for Washington, possibly? And also, is the White House now admitting that the script is being written as it goes on the anthrax situation? Since you did say this morning that the president thinks there is more of a coordinated effort on these anthrax letters, especially in the wake of the Brentwood situation.

FLEISCHER: OK, on the question of Mayor Giuliani, which is a question I understandably get just about every day, my answer will be the same every day. And that is, I'm not in a position to speculate about any personnel involving the mayor or anybody else. That's long- standing White House policy. I think you need to talk to Mayor Giuliani to get his sentiment about what his intentions are first.

As for the question about anthrax, I think your question is, is the administration writing a script every day? The administration is doing two things. One, it is basing its decisions on all available evidence, on whatever knowledge exist about how to treat anthrax from the Centers For Disease Control, from the scientific community and the medical community.

There is certain information that existed prior to the attacks that has proved itself to be very useful and relevant. There is other information that has been changed as a result of for the first time anthrax being sent through the mail. It is without precedent. No one had ever sent anthrax through the mail.

So of course the government is learning as a result of now unfortunately having empirical data to judge what actions need to be taken as we learn from the anthrax episodes.

QUESTION: Can you tell us if the president welcomes the owners of baseball vote to close down two major league baseball teams?

FLEISCHER: Baseball is not a topic that I intend to do any talking about until next April when the Yankee season resumes. I have not talked to the president about that so I don't know.

QUESTION: Would you (inaudible) a broadcast report that he does welcome the idea of setting up a special memorial park stadium in northern Virginia and having one of the Florida teams there? Can you confirm that? FLEISCHER: I have not talked to the president about this. He hasn't talked to me about it, and frankly we do talk baseball quite often. So if there is anything on it, I will try to let you know, but I haven't heard anything from the president one way or another on this.

QUESTION: Since Virginia voters increased the state House representatives from barely more than half to two-thirds Republican, and elected a Republican attorney general, does that provide the president with a sense of relief, since the New York Times this morning twice reported -- not once, but twice -- that Warner campaigned like a Republican?

FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated earlier, I think the races in sum were decided by local issues. Obviously, the president is a Republican. the president is pleased with Republican victories. But when you take a look at this in sum, I think it is fair to say it was a close election throughout the country, and it was mostly decided on local issues, local campaigns.

QUESTION: Since long-time Democrat Bloomberg also, like Warner, campaigned as like a Republican, does the president believe his fellow Republicans should be gracious enough to forgive Bloomberg for contributing to Barbara Mikulski?

FLEISCHER: That's not a topic that I'm aware of that the president has discussed. And as I indicated, the president looks forward to working with everybody that this nation elects -- Democrat or Republican -- and he thinks that everybody...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... to the Democrats. He should be forgiven for that, shouldn't he?

FLEISCHER: He's the duly-elected mayor of New York and the president looks forward to working with him.

QUESTION: Governor Ridge this morning said he hoped the anthrax attacks have stopped permanently. Do you have any concrete information to base that hope on? Or is that just a result of the fact there haven't been any new reports?

FLEISCHER: I think hopes are hopes, and he is speaking, as every American would, that we all hope that is the case. That is a totally different question from expectations. The governor was clear to say that there is no way of knowing about what the future will hold. Obviously, there is somebody somewhere who mailed anthrax on at least three occasions -- AMI to NBC and to Senator Daschle; other examples. And so the investigators are continuing their work.

This is a complicated case, but obviously everybody hopes that the anthrax sent to Senator Daschle will be the last. I gave you a report this morning about the anthrax that was sent to Pakistan. The alleged anthrax sent to Pakistan has turned out to be negative. It was tested as a United States laboratory last night after being received from abroad, and it has tested negative, which is a good sign, good news. But I am not willing, and others -- Governor Ridge or the president to make any predictions about what the future will hold.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) through with this veto strategy? Do you get to a point where the administration would endorse a long-term CR rather than try to do individual appropriations?

FLEISCHER: Well, let's just see what Congress does here. I think Congress received the president's message yesterday. And I think, now, Congress is absorbing that message. And Congress has some decisions to make.

I think the appropriators have to go back and meet with their members and decide what their next course of action is.

Obviously, there are many people up on Capitol Hill who agree with the president and were pleased with what he said. So let's just see what the implications and the results are from yesterday's meeting.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the administration would every entertain the idea of a government shutdown versus a veto?

FLEISCHER: Well, actually, if you take a look at what's happening across the board, the president has already signed into law two of the appropriations bills. Three other conferences, I think, have been complete. Several others are getting ready to be complete.

So with the exception, perhaps, of one bill, Congress is sending the president legislation, and the president is working well with the Congress on what they're sending to him.

So I'm not sure that's even an issue.

But the president made crystal clear in the course of the campaign that he does not believe government shutdowns are a way to do the people's business. He does not support that.

But I don't see anything leading anybody to the conclusion that that's in the cards this year.

QUESTION: There were Republicans on the Hill yesterday who are saying that they are unlikely to be able to move anything out of Congress without adding additional money.

Even they want $2 or $3 billion. They figure, if they compromise with the Democrats, you'll be in the $6, $7, $8 billion range. What does the president do about that?

FLEISCHER: Well, an agreement is an agreement is an agreement. And when the Congress enters into an agreement with the president of the United States and says $686 billion is the amount of money that we agree to spend, it's important for agreements to be kept.

After all, if it's easy to walk away and break an agreement, what good is the next agreement? What value does that carry if you were willing to break the one that just preceded it?

So an agreement has been reached, and the president thinks it's important to hold to that agreement.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say times have changed a little bit. There are more concerns...

FLEISCHER: Well, the attack took place on September 11th, and the agreement was reached with Congress in the first week of October. So clearly, it was three weeks after the attack took place, and that agreement was reached in full consideration of the fact that we are a changed nation.

QUESTION: And to Democrats who say they find it impossible to think that the president would veto something that is calling for additional money even for homeland security around the holidays, they just think there's just no way he'll do it...

FLEISCHER: Well, the president could not have been more plain yesterday when he said, "If I need to, I will veto that bill."

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the president take any more Cabinet officers with him to Atlanta? And how long is his speech tomorrow supposed to last...

FLEISCHER: I'll have a time estimate on the speech a little bit later. The president has been working on it. He's still revising it to some degree.

As always, the length of speech sometimes depends on how much applause there may be. I can't predict that.

Thank you.

HEMMER: Ari Fleischer, and before that, Tom Ridge, the Homeland Security director. A lot of that talk today had to do with how you define the word "alert" and whether or not the United States still remains in that mode, Tom Ridge saying, rather emphatically, we remain on alert at this time, and that goes for an indefinite period, going back to October, when the attorney general, John Ashcroft, first talked about that alert nationwide.

The other two bits of news had to deal with money. One of them is a terrorism cash crackdown. That was announced earlier this morning. We are going to hear more about it from the president a little later. This goes to overseas and also here in the United States. In fact, we are getting a report out of Seattle, Washington, that one man has already been arrested. Sixty-two names and organizations are now released on this new list with suspected ties to the al Qaeda network.

At the end there, you heard more about the economic stimulus package, the White House right now quite firm in its position, saying it had reached a deal on how much would or would not be able to be spent on this new economic stimulus package, telling Congress not to go beyond that at this point. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


 
 
 
 


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