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White House Holds Press Briefing

Aired July 3, 2002 - 12:30   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to go to the White House news conference. Ari Fleischer at the podium there talking about the threats at Fourth of July. Let's listen in.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... have brought together security measures before as precautions, because when Americans gather in a large number it does present, for terrorists, tempting possible opportunities from their point of view, and we always take precautions in this country. That's why I alluded to the Super Bowl and the Olympics as prime examples.

Tomorrow, July 4th, is the first July 4th celebration since the September 11th attack on our country. So as a precaution, the law enforcement community, the FBI, the federal government are joining together to take precautions around the country to help protect the American citizens from any type of generalized threat that we may think is potential.

QUESTION: And at the same time, you're not discouraging any crowd-gathering.

FLEISCHER: No. The president of the United States would encourage the American people to gather, to celebrate, to enjoy America's independence. The law enforcement community of the United States will do the worrying. They will take care of the precautions, and that's true at the state, the local and the federal level.

QUESTION: On the issue of the president's stock sales in Harken stock, you talked about this this morning, that the explanation is that it was a clerical mistake, that the reporting was made very late. During the campaign, Bush said that it was a -- that it had been misplaced. Are you saying that, because of your explanation now...

FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, during which campaign?

QUESTION: His, in 2000.

FLEISCHER: OK, go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you saying that the president was misspeaking at the time?

FLEISCHER: OK, do you have a quote that you can read to me?

QUESTION: He said at the time that he believed it had been filed and that the SEC must have lost it.

FLEISCHER: Right, at the time. And I think that's a reference to what the president at that time, George W. Bush, said back in 1990, 1991 or 1992.

This is one of the most widely reported stories of the '90s and then going into the campaign. That has been an issue in his campaigns that political opponents have raised against him, going back to 1994 in his first campaign ever for office.

In this case, the president filed, as he was required to do, his Form 144s, which is a Notice of Intent to Sell. That was filed on the day that it was supposed to be filed, on time, June 22, 1990.

Additional forms, a Form 4 as it's called, was not filed at the time. The president thought it had been filed at the time, and indicated so publicly. What happened as a result was it was a mix-up with the attorneys dealing with the Form 4, and it was filed later. But it was indeed filed.

QUESTION: Can you be specific about where the mix-up occurred? Was it with the president's attorneys or with the SEC's attorneys?

FLEISCHER: The Form 4 is required to be filed by corporations, and so it was corporate attorneys.

QUESTION: The reason, of course, that this is now back in the news is because of the president's point in his 10-point plan saying corporate leaders should be required to tell the public promptly when they buy or sell company stock for personal gain.

FLEISCHER: Right. Absolutely.

QUESTION: And the SEC concluded that the reporting hadn't been according to the regulations, even though they decided not to prosecute.

FLEISCHER: You're mixing up two issues involving filing and involving some other incident that the SEC took a look at and concluded there's nothing there.

And in this case, the key issue is the public notification. The president believes very much that corporate officers should disclose their sales, which is what the president did. And that is available. You all have seen it. And that's the Form 144 with the president's signature on it -- then George W. Bush's signature on it -- filed a Notice of Intent to Sell, filed with the SEC on the day of that sell.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) clarify then. So he said in 1990 that the SEC must have lost it. That what he thought at the time. But since then, he has said to you today that the attorneys -- there was a mix- up with the attorneys. When did he become aware... FLEISCHER: Well, we've got two issues here. When somebody -- the Form 144 was indeed filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. But when you say, the president said in 1990, what was the question he was asked?

QUESTION: What happened to the -- OK, but could you just help us here? I'm not trying to trip you up here. I'm just trying to get some information.

FLEISCHER: But I just want you to be precise in the question you say, when he said that in 1990, there are two forms involved. He...


FLEISCHER: Well, what was the question about? When the question is vague, the answer applies to whatever forms the president was familiar with.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) form that it was filed on time. We're interested in the second form that wasn't filed on time.

FLEISCHER: But they're both important. The form that was filed on time clearly shows the president made public his intent to sell, which took place that day.

So if somebody says, "Did you make the SEC aware of your intent to sell," obviously he signed the form, filled it out, sent it in on time. So I don't think anybody would be surprised if he says, "I filled out the form and sent it to the SEC."

QUESTION: Let's talk about the second form when he said, "The SEC must have lost it." He was referring to second form in the early '90s.

FLEISCHER: That's not clear from the question or from in the articles that you're looking at. The president's aware of the form that he filled out. There is nothing in the question that you're looking at that would lead you to believe that that's a reference to the Form 4 as opposed to the Form 144. The point is...


FLEISCHER: The point is, the president believed that all the forms were filled out properly by the attorneys and filed with the SEC, because he knew that he filed his form with the SEC.

And then, it turned out to be a mix-up with the attorneys where the Form 4's were not filed, and we were able to ascertain that this week.


QUESTION: ... four weeks late, right?

FLEISCHER: The Form 4 was filed late.

QUESTION: Thirty-four weeks late, according to this SEC memorandum.

FLEISCHER: And that's something that's been known for more than 10 years.

QUESTION: But you're saying that he was not responsible for that late filing?

FLEISCHER: That's a corporate form to be filled out.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify. You're saying that it was the corporation and not George W. Bush's responsibility...


FLEISCHER: Form 4's are filled out by corporations, under the SEC rules.

QUESTION: But what's unclear is when the president said that he had filed the appropriate forms, the SEC must have misplaced them or something. What was the president referring to, to both? Or to the one dated of the -- the notice of intent to sell...

FLEISCHER: I don't think that's clear.

QUESTION: Did you ask him?

QUESTION: I mean, can we find that out? I mean, the president...

FLEISCHER: The president believed at the time that he had filled out all the paperwork that was required, and that was filed, and that the lawyers did as they were required to do. That was the president's understanding at the time.

QUESTION: Including...

FLEISCHER: Whatever forms were required to be filled out, the president thought had been filled out. He knew, of course, the one that he had filled out, because he signed it and it was submitted on the proper date.

And if there were any other forms that were required to filled out, the president was under the impression they had been. And then it was determined later that they had not been, and that's why the Form 4 was later filed.

QUESTION: When did the president discover that the Form 4 that was supposed to be filed -- that's an announcement of stock sale by the corporation -- so when did he learn that this was not filed on time, that there was a mix-up with the attorneys?

FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you when he learned that.

QUESTION: Well, you just said about something just this week. He said just a minute ago that, we just learned this this week. FLEISCHER: That's involving the mix-up by the attorneys. That's when I first heard that information. That's why I shared it with you this morning.

QUESTION: But you don't when he learned that this mistake had been made?

FLEISCHER: Probably right before the form was filed.

QUESTION: Ari, Form 4 is a disclosure of an individual selling stock, not a corporation, correct?

FLEISCHER: They both apply to individual sales of stock. One is filled out by the corporation; one is filled out by the individual.

QUESTION: But it's the individual selling stock that's being reported, not the corporation.

FLEISCHER: Well, reported by the corporation, is what David asked.

QUESTION: But the individual is selling the stock.

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Who's legal responsibility is it to file the Form 4? Is it the individual selling the stock?

FLEISCHER: I cannot tell you. You'd have to check with somebody else. Don't know.

QUESTION: Ari, this weekend the Indian-American community held a function for Connie Morella in Maryland. First, she was very thankful to the president for the great job he's doing, especially on India and Pakistan. And India (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Americans and they are supporting of the president as far as fighting this terrorism.

But the question is now we are here at the Fourth of July celebrating Independence Day and Americans are still living in fear of terrorism, not only from terrorism but also now from corporations or from the big companies cheating, some fraud and all that.

So what message we have, I think, for the Americans that -- where should the small investors -- now what is their future for the future?

And also, president said that before September 11, 9/11, this year, he will bring to justice top and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leaders, including Osama bin Laden. He has any information, where he is or how he's going to bring him?

FLEISCHER: I'm trying to work the connection between the small investors and your follow-up question.

Nothing has changed with Osama bin Laden in terms of any information that we have. We do not know whether he is alive or dead. And in terms of small investors or any investors, the president has tremendous faith in our system, in the economy, in our free- enterprise way of life. And the president believes that in our country individuals are free to make those decisions, and that is one of the strengths of our system, that people can decide what to do with their money, where to invest it. And that's one of America's freedoms to choose.

QUESTION: Any Fourth of July message from the president?

FLEISCHER: The president's Fourth of July message tomorrow is going to be focused on celebrating America's independence, celebrating America's national unity, focusing on the strengths that unite and bind us together as a nation, particularly in a time of war.

QUESTION: Back to the SEC filing, did the attorneys have a reason, did they give the president -- (OFF-MIKE) -- did they give him a reason for why there was a delay, since this is something they should do right (ph) away (ph)? Did they have an excuse for him?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, this is something that -- this is now in its eleventh or twelfth year of being reported. This is something that you all have the paperwork on; you've looked at it yourselves extensively. As I say, it's been used as an issue by every political opponent in every campaign in which he has run. When he ran for president, your investigative reporters all looked into this, and you have the documents.

And I think that the best explanation is that the attorneys thought the form had been filed, which is what led then George W. Bush to say that he thought it had been filed and that SEC must have lost it. That was not the case.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something about the security measures for tomorrow, which are not only in this country. The State Department has issued warnings for all American citizens traveling abroad, again citing unspecified charges. There seems to be a big going on (ph), we don't specify charges. Is this because it's the Fourth of July and we figure its a good target?

FLEISCHER: That's the biggest reason, yes. And that the Fourth of July is a time of great gathering for the American people. There are large celebrations in cities, not only on the Mall in Washington, but across our country.

And as I indicated with the examples that the American people are very familiar with, such as the Super Bowl, the Olympics, large gatherings can become targets for terrorists. And that's why when people go out to stadiums now, they see enhanced security. They are used to changes in procedures involving what they can bring in, what they cannot bring in, searches at the egresses or the entrances into these facilities. This has all changed since September 11th.

This is the first July 4th since September 11th, so it's proper and a wise precaution that additional security measures are put in step, into place across the country. QUESTION: I'd like to add, on a different subject which I think is important also, the president of Argentina has just announced that he will hold elections six months earlier. The situation there is absolutely dire. many people are asking this, why is the U.S. government just standing by?

QUESTION: And now, the International Monetary Fund is going to wait until the new president gets elected. And meanwhile just contagious. Now, it's not just Argentina...

FLEISCHER: The United States and neighbors in the region, as well as the contributing supporters of the International Monetary Fund, have been very supportive and helpful to Argentina, working with Argentina, as Argentina focuses on a sustained recovery package.

So there's been a lot of aid provided, as you know, directly to Argentina. That continues to be something that the Treasury Department and the IMF have been working on very hard to help Argentina find its way to reform.

QUESTION: Yes, a couple things. One on the Form 4, you said you weren't sure whose legal responsibility it is to fill out the form that's filled out by corporations. But I gather from your explanation that you're saying the president believes that it was the corporation's responsibility and not his own.

FLEISCHER: It is a corporate responsibility to file the form. The question was legal liability, and I don't know the answer to that.

But also in terms of legal liability, I think when you take a look at this, the SEC is well aware of this, as you all have reported now for more than a decade. The SEC has been well aware of this issue involving the Form 4, the filing of the forms. And they've looked at all of this, and the SEC has concluded that this is not anything that's actionable.

QUESTION: Legal liability, not legal responsibility for filling it out in the first place...

FLEISCHER: It is a separate question, that's correct.

QUESTION: Now, on the ICC today, can you give us some sense of what the state of play is at the U.N. and in New York, and what is what you believe is going to happen or at least where things are now?

FLEISCHER: Meetings are continuing in New York to try to bring resolution to this issue. The United States is working very hard through the United Nations and bilateral conversations to try to reach agreement to give our peacekeepers the immunities that we seek and that they deserve.

Under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, the Security Council can provide protection for the ICC participants in U.N.-authorized and U.N.-approved peacekeeping operations. And we've asked the Council to provide that protection by extending immunities that already exist for U.N. peacekeepers... PHILLIPS: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer giving the daily briefing there at the White House, talking there about the U.S.- Afghan coalition going on to keep the peace in Afghanistan. Also talking about the increased security around the country to protect Americans from these Fourth of July threats that have been circulating; and also talking about the case back in 1990 when the White House did acknowledge that President Bush, when he was corporate director, that he failed to properly disclose stock sales as required by a federal law. Later on, though, the president was proved to be cleared after the SEC investigated him for possible inside trading.




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