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White House Briefing

Aired July 22, 2003 - 12:56   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen in to Scott McClellan. He may be having some housekeeping announcements first. And then we'll follow with a question and answer session.
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... Task Force has compiled a strong record in combating corporate fraud and punishing corporate wrongdoers. Coordination by federal authorities has been significantly enhanced by drawing on the expertise of the task force's membership. And by aggressively investing and prosecuting fraud the task force has helped to restore investor confidence.

Through fair, swift and decisive actions, the task force is helping to remove suspicion, doubt and uncertainty that pervaded the marketplace one year ago and the actions are successfully working to restore confidence in the marketplace, provide fair and accurate information to the investing public, reward shareholder and employee trust and protect jobs and savings of hardworking Americans.

The task force has worked in unparalleled coordination, and as of May 31 the task force has obtained over 250 corporate fraud convictions or guilty pleas, charged 354 defendants with some type of corporate fraud crime, investigated over 320 potential corporate fraud matters and attained restitution fines and forfeiture in excess of $85 million since its inception.

The president was pleased to receive that update today and is pleased by the work they are doing in just one year.

The president also met with his National Infrastructure Assurance Council. This is an advisory council that works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and is an example of the public sector and private sector working together in partnership to better secure America and to enhance cybersecurity.

The president was pleased to receive an update on their activities, as well as provide them with an update on the war on terrorism.

And with that, I will be glad to open it up to questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that Saddam's sons were among those who were killed in this morning's raid (OFF-MIKE)?

MCCLELLAN: I am aware of the reports. I'm not in position at this time to confirm anything. There was a military operation earlier today, and I think that any additional updates or information about that particular raid will come from the Department of Defense. And so I think you should stay in touch with them.

QUESTION: When was the president informed?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the president has been in touch with the secretary of defense today, earlier today. They have talked more than once. And he will be kept apprised of any updates as they become available.

QUESTION: What did Secretary Rumsfeld tell the president and what was the president's reaction?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not in position right now to confirm anything at this point, nor have we received confirmation of anything as I came out here. This is a breaking news story. We are aware of the military operation, and as we get more information we will try to update you at that point.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, Rumsfeld said, "We think we got him, we're not sure, we're going to try to verify..."


MCCLELLAN: I would not characterize the conversation at this point. Again, I'm just not in position to confirm things. But the president is aware of the reports and is aware of the military operation that took place early today. And for now I think I will leave it at that. And, again, if there's any additional updates or information I expect that'll come from the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Scott, a U.S. official said just a few minutes ago, quote, "We probably got him." Is that a fair characterization...

MCCLELLAN: I understand, and this is a breaking news story, and so I'm not going to get in position of characterizing anything at this point until we receive further updates.

QUESTION: Let me ask you this question. If in fact it turns out to be Uday and Qusay does this take a lot of the pressure off of the White House from some critics who have spoken out quite loudly against your inability to find the top Iraqi leadership?

MCCLELLAN: No, again, you know, I think that this is a breaking news story. That's getting into speculation about, "what ifs?" Let's let the Department of Defense provide any additional updates and then we will go from there.

QUESTION: How high a priority is the capture of Saddam Hussein and his sons, capture or killing, for the president in postwar Iraq? How important is that to him?

MCCLELLAN: Well, let me put it this way. The former regime in Iraq is gone. They are out of power. And, you know, we continue to make significant progress in moving towards a free and democratic Iraq. The governing council, some of the representatives from the Iraqi governor council were at the U.N. earlier today, and there has been a meeting going on. Again, I want to resist getting into a specific discussion about these reports. This is a breaking news story.

QUESTION: Just as commander in chief, where does he rank in postwar Iraq the importance of getting rid of the Saddam Hussein family?

MCCLELLAN: Well, you know, I think that I would leave it characterizing it that we're making important progress in Iraq, we're making important progress in stabilizing the country, we're making important progress in going after the remnants of the former regime, in going after foreign terrorists who are in the country, those who are enemies of peace, those who are enemies of a free and democratic Iraq, those who are enemies of the Iraqi people.

And we're making some important progress. We continue to carry out military operations seeking individuals that are part of what I just described and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Has he expressed any anxiety, displeasure? Has he wanted to get after this problem, the fact that these top leaders of that regime were still at large?


QUESTION: As Saddam's sons, as Saddam Hussein himself, has he expressed an urgency about that problem?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, ridding Iraq of people that remain loyal to the former regime, people that are foreign terrorists who are trying to disrupt our efforts to help the Iraqi people have a better future remain -- those remain priorities in our military efforts and part of our efforts to secure and stabilize Iraq.

QUESTION: What's your best intelligence on the role of the sons in the assaults on Americans over there?

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, this is going back to a breaking news event. I want to avoid getting into specifics here until we receive further updates from the...

QUESTION: Even if whether they're dead or alive, do you know whether they...

MCCLELLAN: ... until we receive further updates from the Department of Defense.

But -- well, I'm not -- I think that's a question for the Pentagon or Central Command to address, in terms of military operations or the specifics that are happening in Iraq.

QUESTION: I'd like to ask about Liberia, too. Oxfam, the relief agency is pleading with the administration to, quote, "show its hand and end this waiting game that's costing lives in Liberia."

You said the president's monitoring the situation in Liberia. What exactly at this point would his decision hinge on?

MCCLELLAN: Well, it's not only monitoring events closely, because it is a dynamic situation over in Liberia right now.

It's also remaining actively engaged with the United Nations, actively engaged with the Economic Community of West African States so that we can get back to a cease-fire, so that we can make sure that that cease-fire takes hold. And that's what we are doing.

The United States strongly condemns the latest round of violence and we strongly condemn the escalation that has taken place. We continue to call on all parties to immediately cease any military activity and focus on the peace talks.

QUESTION: What will the president's decision turn on at this point on sending the military?

MCCLELLAN: Well, the discussions remain ongoing.

What we want to do is make sure, as the president noted as recently as yesterday and has talked about over the recent couple of weeks, is enabling ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, to get in there and make sure the cease-fire takes hold. And we are looking at ways that we can provide that help. But I would not speculate on any decision at this point. It hasn't been reached.

QUESTION: What's the holdup on that, Scott? Why hasn't this thing -- I mean, they're talking about several days. We're talking about several days. Things are clearly deteriorating there at a much faster pace than anyone anticipated. What do you see as the possible date for ECOWAS to get involved? What's slowing this whole...

MCCLELLAN: I would not try to put a time line on this.

What I would try to emphasize to you is our active engagement with the United Nations and our active engagement with the Economic Community of West African States. It's an important priority that we continue working with them so that they can get in there and make sure that a cease-fire -- we get back to the cease-fire, one, and that a cease-fire takes hold. Helen -- go ahead, I'm sorry.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: White House Press Secretary Scott Mcclellan there addressing reporters. Obviously, a lot of questions to the background behind this raid that may have killed Saddam's two sons in Mosul. Not really saying much to reporters there, just confirming there was a military operation. The whereabouts of Saddam Hussein's sons would, no doubt, be quite a cue for U.S. military that is occupying Iraq right now.


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