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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings Printer-Friendly Version

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 6, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

2:40 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have a statement by the President I'd like to read to you.

The President began this morning with a call to President Putin of Russia. President Putin has just returned from a trip he has taken to China, India and Kyrgyzstan. The two of them discussed the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the importance of North Korea making certain that they comply with the international community in a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And the two discussed the importance of continuing our joint efforts to make that the case.

Then the President had his usual intelligence briefings, followed up by an FBI briefing and a National Security Council meeting.

And then later this afternoon, the President will depart to the United States Trade Representatives Office to make remarks on the 40th anniversary of the Trade Representatives Office. The President believes that free trade is a key part of making sure America's economy continues its recovery, and he looks forward to meeting with the workers at the USTR's office.

And then finally today, the President looks forward to celebrating in a birthday reception for Senator Strom Thurmond on the occasion of his 100th birthday.

Now I'd like to read to you a statement by the President:

"My economic team has worked with me to craft an economic agenda to help lead the nation out of recession and back into a period of growth.

"I appreciate Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey's important contributions to making this happen. Both are highly talented and dedicated, and they have served my administration and nation well. I thank them for their excellent service."

That's a statement by the President that will be distributed to you.

Q Why are they leaving?

MR. FLEISCHER: They have each announced that they will resign, Helen. Both will be resigning to pursue other endeavors. Larry Lindsey has indicated that he looks forward to returning to the private sector. And Secretary O'Neill will pursue his interests, and a more personal front, he indicated when he left ALCOA, back when he came into the administration, that he planned to retire and devote himself to improving health care and education in Pittsburgh, and he looks forward to engaging in that endeavor.

Q Did they call the President and submit their resignations last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: This transpired this morning.

Q Does the President believe that changing the top leaders of his economic team can give the economy the kind of kick-start that he's looking for?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President, as I mentioned, appreciates the service that his advisors have given. The economy has gotten the boost in the recovery since this team and since President Bush took office. The President looks forward to announcing new names of people who will continue the administration's efforts to give the economy increased impetus to grow as we work with Congress on that.

Q Certainly he has said on more than one occasion that the economy is still bumping along and that he is not satisfied with the pace of growth. So does he believe the change in the economic team will increase the pace of growth to a level that he's satisfied with?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the President looks at the economy as a matter that is bigger than any one person or any one expert, and the President looks forward to working with the Congress to advance policies and plans that help get the economy growing even stronger.

Q Today's unemployment report, did that factor into the decision today?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it did not.

Q Let me ask about Iraq, if I can, and the declaration we're going to be getting supposedly tomorrow. U.N. officials have been telling us that they're expecting something that could run to thousands of pages, likely is going to be in Arabic, and it may well take weeks to digest, to translate. Is that acceptable to the administration, taking weeks to deal with something like that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it'll take as much time as is necessary to do the job right. We have asked Iraq, through the international community, to develop a list of what weapons it possesses and to come out with a certification of what they possess. That is Iraq's right and burden to do so. We look forward to reviewing it. Just as important as what's in there, we'll also be curious to see what is not in there. And Iraq will prepare it to turn it over per their obligations to the world, and the President will direct his administration to receive it, to look through it carefully -- this will be done through the intelligence communities -- and render a judgment.

Q Is there no fear that, perhaps by loading it up with lots of detail and leaving it in Arabic that they're playing for time?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think the language is going to be a particular impediment. It has to be translated; there are translators who do these types of things. I think that one of -- sometimes, one of the best ways to hide or to deceive is to come out with such a voluminous document that it makes people miss the things that aren't in there. You know, another way I put that is, just because Iraq turns over a phone book to the United Nations doesn't mean that nobody inside Iraq has an unlisted phone number.

And so there would be a variety of things that we want to find out about and whether or not Iraq has left information out of here. So we won't be fooled by the size of this document into thinking that the size alone dictates that Iraq has complied. We want to make certain that Iraq is listing everything they have obligation to list, full, accurate and complete, so the world knows that Saddam Hussein is serious about disarmament.

Q Ari, can you discuss a little bit the reasoning behind the goal of enlisting inspectors' help in getting weapons scientists out of Iraq to help us locate other weapons? And what sort of commitment the administration may be prepared to make along the lines of asylum, witness protection programs, what are we talking about here?

MR. FLEISCHER: History, in dealing with Iraq, has shown that one of the most valuable ways to get information about what is really going on with Iraq's weapons programs is to talk to the scientists and the weapons people inside Iraq who really know the facts about what's going on.

The inspectors, for all their abilities, don't have the ability to know and see everything. But there are many people inside Iraq who do know a lot more. And history has shown that some of those people who want to preserve peace, want to provide that information to the western world. And because of the brutal regime that Saddam Hussein has, many of these experts who have information they want to share, fear doing so because they know that, if they do, they risk imprisonment, torture, murder, their families will be at risk and they're vulnerable to the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime.

So in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, it makes explicit mention of the obligation on Iraq for the inspectors to have the right at a time and place of their choosing, including outside of Iraq, to interview any of these people inside Iraq. That often is one of the best ways that we can obtain information about whether Iraq is telling the truth. And so this is a very important part of the U.N. resolution.

Q Can you amplify at all on what might be done to secure their asylum and their protection in this country? I mean, is it -- there may not be a final decision. As you said this morning, modalities might have to be worked out. But is it at least in the discussion phase, this notion of protecting them along the lines the way you protect informers in mob cases in this country?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me put it to you this way. We attach great importance to the safety and the welfare and the nonintimidation of these experts in Iraq who have information that some of them may want to share with the West and with the United Nations, with the world and the United Nations. We take it very seriously and attach great importance to it. We hope the international community will do the same and attach the same amount of importance to it.

The exact way in which it could be done will be really a matter for the United Nations and the inspectors on the ground to work through. But, of course, much of the world stands ready to help because we saw in the '90s that is the way that much of the world got information about what was really going on inside Iraq.

Q Just one more on this. You don't want to utter the words "witness protection program," but there is a commitment by this government to protect those Iraqis who are willing to give the international community information that would lead to the ultimate disarmament of Saddam?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have a real and genuine concern to help protect the safety and the welfare of those inside Iraq who have information that can help preserve the peace. Because the information they have is very important information. And history has shown that there people inside Iraq who want to share it, but are fearful of doing so because of the brutal tactics of the Iraqi regime.

And under the Security Council resolution, Iraq is obligated not only to allow the inspectors to interview those scientists or weapons developers and designers, but also their families, and to remove them from Iraq. Those are the conditions Iraq has accepted.

Q And are we dangling U.S. citizenship as a carrot?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry.

Q Ari, back on the O'Neill and Lindsey resignations, is there any connection between these resignations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that each resigned for their own reasons and -- just leave it at that, each has resigned for their own reasons.

Q So is it a coincidence that they resigned on the exact same day?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think it's abundantly clear to everybody who has covered White Houses that you know that people in government service do not stay in government service for their entire portion of Presidential terms. I think the last time you'd have to find a President who had every single person stay in his administration goes back to President Franklin Pearce, in the mid-1800s.

I think this administration, much more so than any modern Presidency, has a stability in the number of its Cabinet Secretaries. People always are free in government service to take a look at their service and make their personal decisions. The President has respected their service and is grateful to their service.

Q So your position is there's no coordination or connection between these resignations?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've simply indicated to you that the President is, as I said, very grateful for their service.

Q Can I ask you, should Americans, on the day that unemployment goes to 6 percent and on the day that these two major resignations, this shakeup of the President's economic team comes, see it as a sign of uncertainty, lack of confidence, lack of direction in the administration's economic policy?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that the American people have shown that they have confidence in the direction of the President's economic policy. They recognize that the economy was in recession and the economy is now growing. And the American people have seen cycles of recession and growth before, and they know that after a recession the economy doesn't instantly grow, that often the economy will grow in fits and starts and stops. And that is, indeed, the pattern of a growth pattern that we have witnessed in this past year.

So I think the American people have actually a pretty sophisticated understanding of the economy in that sense. They've been through periods of slowdown and growth before. They understand that we are going from a period of recession into a period of more robust growth now. And when you take a look at the data for the last, basically, two or three months, while there is much data that is mixed -- and today's report on unemployment is a disappointing report and the President remains deeply concerned about any one individual who doesn't have a job in our country.

But the data has been mixed. While there have been increasing good signs recently in the data -- for example, for the last almost eight weeks in a row, first-time unemployment claims have gone down; productivity is increasing at a great rate; inflation remains quite low; and in a change in the recent trend, consumer confidence has gone up in the last couple months. So there is increasingly good signs on the economic horizon. The President wants to make sure that we work with Congress to create an environment for even more good signs to manifest.

Q So the resignation of the Treasury Secretary and the President's chief economic advisor on the same day shouldn't shake anybody's confidence in the direction and certainly the administration?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think people recognize that respected leaders like Paul O'Neill and Larry Lindsey come into government service to perform their duties on behalf of a grateful President and a grateful nation and they are free to pursue other endeavors, too.

Q Today, close to 1 billion Muslims celebrate Eid, the festival. The President arrived yesterday at the Islamic Center, where he made several statements, of course, about no doubt that Islam is a religion of peace. But most of the terrorist activities were involved by the Muslims. So today, other than what he said on the Eid and about Ramadan, what message would be to the nations who are supporting, harboring and assisting the terrorists against the United States and victims are basically, Islam one side, Hindus, Muslims -- Hindus, Christians and Jews. So what would be the future --

MR. FLEISCHER: No. No. No, Goyle, no. People who commit these acts defy their own religion. The President means it when he says from the heart that the Islamic religion is a religion of peace. And just because certain individuals have twisted and distorted that religion for their own barbaric purposes, should not and will not in this President's mind indict a good religion. And that's how you have to look at this, as these individual terrorists are individual terrorists; they are not a reflection on a faith.

Q Can I just follow? President Putin was in India and both Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Putin both made a joint statement, and they are saying, calling on Pakistan to stop incursions into Pakistan. And also at the same time, they said that United States military action in Iraq will not solve the problem. So where do you put these two leaders and countries as far as support -- Pakistan's support of India's terrorism and Iraq's --

MR. FLEISCHER: The war on terrorism is a global war on terrorism. We fight it in numerous ways on numerous fronts and different nations lend different strengths to that war. They make different contributions to that war as they see fit and that's how we see it.

Mr. Sanger, and then we'll keep moving.

Q Ari, back on the resignations, is it the President's hope, when he appoints a new Treasury Secretary and a new head of the National Economic Council, that the Treasury -- that these two institutions will move more to the center of both foreign and domestic policymaking than they have been? I think there was a widespread sense, even within the institutions themselves, that they were more there in the 1990s at the center of the table than they are today?

MR. FLEISCHER: I make no comparative basis. The President will do as he has always done, and that is appoint experts to his Cabinet, people who are well qualified, people who have a good and strong understanding or background in both the private sector and the public sector, people who are respected widely in their fields, including in the marketplaces. That's what the President will look for in the selection of a new -- new members of his team.

Q And why announce the resignations before you have the new members ready to go, since these do not appear to have been entirely voluntary resignations?

MR. FLEISCHER: The resignations were announced, as you know, this morning by the Secretary of the Treasury and by Mr. Lindsey, and they speak for themselves.

Q Ari, just to be clear on this, did President Bush ask either O'Neill or Lindsey to resign? Or did he request anybody else to ask for them to resign?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered it as directly as I can. The individuals resigned, as you know.

Q Is that a yes or a no?

MR. FLEISCHER: The individuals resigned, as you know.

Q So are you denying that they were asked to resign?

MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question and that's what I intend to say about it.

Q Actually, you haven't answered the question. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: The individuals, as you know, have resigned. And the President appreciates their service to the country and the work that they did in terms of the tax cut that got passed into law; terrorism insurance has been enacted into law; the trade legislation that is now law of the land, the President is very grateful for their service to our country.

Q But he did not ask them to resign? You're saying he did not ask them to resign or --

MR. FLEISCHER: You asked the question just minutes ago. The answer remains the same.

Q I want to follow on Terry's question, which basically is the question that most everyone is asking now. Is it a coincidence that the President's two most senior economic policy advisors offered their resignations on the same day?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that was a follow to Terry's question; that was a carbon copy of it. (Laughter.)

Q Well, you haven't answered that question.

Q It was a good question. (Laughter.)

Q Let me ask it again --

MR. FLEISCHER: I would give you the carbon copy of my answer to Terry's question. (Laughter.) Just because you ask it twice doesn't mean I will answer it differently the second time. The answer is the same.

Q Did the President talk at all --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q Did the President talk at all with either of the two men this morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm checking to take a look at that. I don't have an answer at this time.

Q Do you know, did they reach out to him or did he talk with them or --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I'm -- that came up this morning and I'm checking on it.

Q What about the Vice President?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm checking. I didn't ask that question, though, David.

Q Do you know, had there been prior to this morning -- you said events transpired this morning. Had there been an ongoing series of conversations about their status back and forth with the President? And had they indicated prior to today that either or both of them might be thinking about leaving?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I do not discuss any conversations that may have taken place between the President and his Cabinet Secretaries. They took the actions this morning and it speaks for itself.

Q Would you expect, I mean with them gone now, that we can anticipate a change in direction in terms of policy, or are we going to see more of the same policies that have been in place and are currently --

MR. FLEISCHER: The policies that the President seeks are the policies that the President sets. And those policies include pursuing policies of low taxation, making the tax cuts permanent, providing a stimulus to the economy, energy independence. And you can expect that next year the President will return to many of these same issues that were not addressed by the Congress in the last session. He hopes that the Congress will take a look at these ideas with fresh eyes next year.

Q Two questions on two different subjects. First of all, regarding Iraqi scientists, you made it clear this morning that you expect, the United States expects the U.N. inspectors to take full advantage of that provision in the resolution allowing for interviews outside the country.

What about a situation in which there is someone who the United States believes, or the U.N. believes, does have material knowledge of this issue but is unwilling to be interviewed by -- does the United States believe that they should be forced, that the U.N. should attempt to, you know, in effect, involuntarily take these people outside --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, that's why I indicated that the modalities of this be worked out on the ground by officials inside Iraq. But, obviously, there are many people inside Iraq and its history has shown who wanted to come forward, would like to find a way to come forward, but are fearful of coming forward. And the resolution speaks to that. The resolution makes plain that Iraq must allow individuals to leave the country, and include their families with them.

Q What about a situation in which someone is not willing to come forward -- do you believe they should be --

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak -- I can't speak to all scenarios. Obviously, if somebody is willing to leave the country, it's a much easier matter, a rather straight and plain forward. I can't speak to any scenarios about somebody who might not. That's why I said these modalities are often worked out by the United Nations on the ground.

Q Another question, on the --

MR. FLEISCHER: You only get two. We're going to try to come back because --

Q No, no, no. I said I had two questions on two different subjects.

MR. FLEISCHER: But you've taken two.

Q No, no, that was a follow-up. On the Putin phone call --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm in a giving mood to you today, Ken.

Q -- the only subject you mentioned was North Korea. Is that the only subject they discussed, was North Korea?

MR. FLEISCHER: That was the heart of their discussion, yes.

Q Did they discuss Iraq at all?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it did not come up, as I was informed about the phone call. And they very briefly did talk about India-Pakistan, because President Putin was in Pakistan. That came up very briefly as part of the phone call. But other than that --

Q Who initiated the phone call?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know who initiated this one, if it was reaching out to each other, et cetera. I said he was in Pakistan, I meant to say he was in India. That's what I said at the top. He was in India.

Q How long was the phone call?

MR. FLEISCHER: Fourteen minutes.

Q Just to follow on Greg's question a little bit, Lindsey was intimately involved in crafting the stimulus package. Does his departure affect in any way the President's intention to propose a stimulus package?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President continues, as I indicated last week, to review the economic data, to make a determination about what steps are necessary to keep the economy moving so we can continue to move from recession into higher growth. The President will review that data and make a determination as he sees necessary.

Q And also, similarly, O'Neill was probably the most forceful advocate in the administration for tax reform. He also was supposed to issue some recommendations on that issue early next year. Does his departure change the schedule or intention on that subject?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you can assume that on all these issues -- Social Security reform and all the issues that are under the purview of any of these individual offices -- that their offices and their successors will of course take a look at the same issues and work with the President. And, as always, the President will be the one who sets the policy and dictates the direction, and he welcomes the workings of a good team as he does that.

But all those issues, you can anticipate, will be looked at, of course, by their successors.

Q And did the President ask either of them to stay?

MR. FLEISCHER: Answer is the same as when Suzanne asked it.

Q The administration has told a number of news organizations that the President asked for the resignations. So is there someone in the administration who is putting out bad information? We need to know for news reporting purposes.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's a very clever way of asking Suzanne's question parlayed off of Keith's question into a new bank shot. The answer remains the same.

Q Why don't you answer it then?

Q Ari, I have a question and a follow-up. Both the President and the Secretary of Defense say that there is hard evidence -- my word, not theirs -- that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. There is growing criticism that it's not enough just to say it, that you've got to release the evidence so the world can see that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Who is that criticism by?

Q Well, it's coming by a former congressman and some world leaders and some others.

MR. FLEISCHER: Anybody you care to name?

Q It's a long list, I'm afraid, but I'll supply you with it if you'd like.

MR. FLEISCHER: But nobody off the top of your head?

Q Well, I'm trying to think of the former congressman who is now -- somebody help me here --

Q Lee Hamilton.

Q Lee Hamilton, yes. Anyway, if that bothers you, strike that, I'll just go back and ask it at the time. The President and the Secretary of Defense say there's hard evidence that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. When will that evidence be released? Once this white paper from Saddam is gone over, or when?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, per the United Nations Security Council resolution, the obligation is on Saddam Hussein to disarm. I think there's been no secret and everybody has recognized this -- including Democrats, Republicans, previous administrations, arms experts, United Nations officials -- that Saddam Hussein has claimed that he didn't have weapons of mass destruction when it was obviously the conclusion of all that he did.

Those conclusions are based, Ivan, on a variety of information that is available to administrations, and there is always the issue about protecting the sources and methods of how we receive that information. But I don't know anybody who takes what the administration and administrations and people in both parties have said, and the United Nations experts have said that Iraq does, indeed, have weapons of mass destruction, and thinks it's inaccurate or discounts it. And the President has made it perfectly plain, and I refer you to his Cincinnati speech where he walked people through why we believe and have concluded that they have weapons of mass destruction.

Q Let me do my follow-up, if I may. The follow-up, if I want to go back to the Pentagon alive, I've got to ask you this question. The Army-Navy game is tomorrow. The President went last year, he's not going this year. The question is, which side does the Commander-in-Chief favor?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President tomorrow will very strongly cheer for Middlebury.

Mr. Sammon.

Q How do you react to reporting that this was timed for after the mid-term elections. I mean, this is the biggest shakeup --

MR. FLEISCHER: The Army-Navy game? (Laughter.)

Q No, the resignations this morning. This is the biggest shakeup of this entire administration. Can you give us any tick-tock as to how long you've known about this, how long it's been in the works?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that everybody recognizes that public service is a very noble endeavor and people choose to exercise that desire to be in public service for a period of time of their choosing. This morning, each of them made their announcements about the resignation.

Q Did those come as bolts from the blue to the President? Or did he have some indication that this was going to happen?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President understands that there is always the potential for people to decide that their tenure in government has come to an end and they made their decision and their resignations.

Q So they decided. You said, "for people to decide." So it was their decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated that they have resigned.

Q Ari, markets responded very positively today to the news that Treasury Secretary O'Neill and Larry Lindsey were stepping down. Is market confidence at all a factor in their decision to leave the White House, given the administration's concern about the stock market at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, you know, as a matter of policy and accuracy, the White House does not speculate about what makes markets go up, down, stay the same on any given day. And I think that Washington's experience in guessing what makes markets go up or down has proved to be pretty wrong in almost all counts. I don't think even New York is very good at predicting what makes markets go up or down.

But, again, I have nothing further on the topic other than the reasons that have been expressed earlier. Go ahead.

Q Do you believe that Treasury Secretary O'Neill and Dr. Lindsey had the confidence of the marketplace? Because, as you said, you are looking for individuals to replace them who have that respect?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would refer you again to what I said at the beginning. You have a statement from the President about their service to our nation.

Q Ari, related to that, would you say that the President regrets the resignation of these two individuals? Larry Lindsey was with him all through the campaign, O'Neill was brought to him through Dick Cheney.

MR. FLEISCHER: You have the statement from the President. And as I've indicated --

Q Would you indicate that he regrets that they have had to leave --

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President understands that people make sacrifices to come into government in terms of their families, in terms of the hours worked, in terms of the demands imposed and the difficulties of the job. And the President respects the decisions that people make and, in this case, the decisions to resign.

Q Considering the importance of the Treasury Cabinet post, is the President -- his ambition is to have someone confirmed by the Senate, maybe

by mid-January, soon after the Senate gets back?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I wouldn't try to guess the timing of anything of that nature. Again, there will be announcements about successors, of course, and I won't predict to you what the timing of that will be.

Q But considering the importance of the position, you don't want to say that the President hopes to have someone in that position as soon as possible?

MR. FLEISCHER: I just never put an artificial deadline on any appointment, no matter how important the appointment is. And these, of course, are going to be important appointments.

Q Ari, on Monday, former President George Bush is going to participate in a ceremony on the 10th anniversary of signing of NAFTA. And he's going to be seated with the former President of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Is there any worry by the President that he -- his father will be sending the wrong message to Mexicans, where more than 90 percent of Mexicans believe that Carlos Salinas was one of the most corrupted Presidents of Mexico?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I have a pattern of not commenting on former Presidents and I apply that to all of them.

Q How about the PTech raid in Boston? Could you talk about what, if any, role the White House had in overseeing this or even being involved in it? And also are you completely assured that there's no problems with any of the software that this company --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, thank you for asking that, because earlier at this morning's off-camera briefing, somebody said -- described this as White House orchestrated. And I went back and took a look at the actual report that accurately described it as White House coordinated, meaning the White House is coordinated with it. The White House didn't orchestrate this; this is a law enforcement matter.

But, as you can always imagine, and has happened before and you're very familiar and aware with it, that anything that may be terrorist related, of course, gets coordinated with the White House. The White House wants to know about things of this nature. But these things are done by the law enforcement community for law enforcement reasons and for law enforcement purposes, and that was the case here.

This is a law enforcement matter. The U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts is the proper authority to discuss any of this. It was a Customs Service operation involving the potential for terrorist connections in this company and, beyond that, it's law-enforcement sensitive.

The one thing I can share with you is that the products that were supplied by this company to the government all fell in the nonclassified area. None of it involved any classified products used by the government. The material has been reviewed by the appropriate government agencies, and they have detected absolutely nothing in their reports to the White House that would lead to any concern about any of the products purchased from this company.

Q Who are they talking about -- a cyber office here or --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's more some of the experts in technology and software, things of that nature.

Q Ari, given how common resignations could be, I wonder if the White House expects any others in the economic arena? Glenn Hubbard or Mitch Daniels, are they all secure?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm just not in a position to speculate about the future of White Houses, as you know. I'll just go back to what I said, the President is very gratified by the service of all who are in this administration. It has been compared to the history of a very, very stable White House. But, certainly there will come times when people who have made the sacrifice of entering into government service will make the decisions to leave and pursue other endeavors. And the President is grateful and recognizes that fact.

Q Ari, the White House has taken somewhat of a standoffish attitude toward the imminent bankruptcy of United Airlines. And I was wondering, with the new economic team coming in, will they be looking at problems like this collapse of a large chunk of our transportation grid? And also we have, going into 2003, AMTRAK is also facing a possible bankruptcy -- will they look at these with new eyes?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you can expect that all people in the administration, whether they're the current people or future people, will be guided by the law. And the law in the case of the airline industry created a fund that could be made available for finite and set purposes limited to law, which is to provide assistance and to make certain that the assistance went to organizations who would be able to use the taxpayer funded assistance in a way that would not lead to money that could no longer be reimbursed to the Treasury because the financial entity -- in this case, the airline, in this case -- did not have, as the Transportation Board stated, a viable financial plan. And so these matters are decided by this board, and per the criteria established by the Congress.

Q Ari, you'll be surprised -- I know the President is already getting a lot of advise about who to fill these jobs. Steve Forbes is reportedly recommending two Texans, Bill Archer and Phil Gramm, for the Treasury Secretary slot. What's the President going to be looking for, for both the Treasury Secretary and the Lindsey job?

MR. FLEISCHER: Just as I indicated before. The President is going to look for people who are expert in the marketplace, in financial matters, that have the confidence of the marketplace, a knowledge of government service, and are well versed in both fields. He will look for experts in these fields. And I make no distinction about whether that means he will pick somebody from the private sector, from the government sector. The President casts a wide net as he looks for the most qualified for each position.

Q Will he be consulting with the Hill or Wall Street? Or who will he be talking to?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think he'll -- the usual way personnel works is the President, who has pretty strong ideas about what he likes to see in his top staff, will work with his personnel office, with his Chief of Staff, and make determinations. And the President will make the final conclusions, of course. The Vice President is often a part of that process. And that's how I think you can see it play forward.

Q Ari, has the President made any calls or talked to anybody to try to assure the markets in this interim period?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the markets before have seen people come into government service and decide to leave government service and return to the private sector or to other endeavors. This is not new to the markets, that markets need assurance in that sense.

Q Briefly, you said the President is going to celebrate Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday. Yesterday, Senator Lott, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, said he was proud that Mississippi had supported Senator Thurmond when he ran for President in 1948 on a platform supporting racial segregation based on white supremacy. Does the President agree with that? And Senator Lott also said he thought the country would be better off had Senator Thurmond and that cause won. Does the President support that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, first of all, I haven't heard that statement before, so in terms of whether it's accurate or not, I'm not in a position to judge. Second of all, the President looks forward to having an enjoyable day celebrating a distinguished Senator's 100th birthday. And many people have spoken on the floor of the United States Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, in praise of Senator Thurmond. And I think this is a day in 2002 to celebrate Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday with pride.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:13 P.M. EST


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