House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
White House Briefing Room
September 13, 2001
QUESTION: But, Ari, prior to your statement yesterday on that subject, no other
law enforcement -- no law enforcement agency involved in this -- the FBI, the
Secret Service, any of the branches of the military -- gave any hint that Air
Force One had been a target. And so, clearly, once you put that out there, people
are going to want to know more information about whether or not that's a credible
assertion. And what can you tell us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that people understand it's credible.
QUESTION: Ari, this morning you would not -- you could not nail down what was the purpose
of the President's phone calls regarding coalition. But this afternoon you come
back with an answer that the President is really asking world leaders for military,
financial, so forth, help. Is that right -- do I have that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly what I said.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there a coalition now being formed formally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can say "formally." The President
-- this is exactly what you would expect; this is what Presidents do. At a time
like this, the President of the United States, as the leader of this country,
talks to his colleagues around the world, Prime Ministers and Presidents.
QUESTION: What is he asking? Is he asking for specific sums and men in uniform, and
so forth, to join in an effort?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's asking for what I just indicated.
QUESTION: It's more than moral support then?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair statement.
QUESTION: It's practical action in response to terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Ari, when the President spoke in the Oval Office he seemed to go beyond just
terrorists and those who harbor terrorists to say those who encourage their
actions. And I wonder, who did he -- I wonder, what did he mean by that, and
who -- which of the world leaders was he trying to send a message to, or did
he discuss that with? Because it seemed to go beyond what he's already said.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think when the President talks about those who carried
out this act and those who harbor them, obviously those who harbor them have
encouraged them. So it's one in the same.
QUESTION: If I could finish, how many world leaders has he spoken to since the beginning,
and can we get a list of all those?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I've been announcing them day by day. I'd have to go back
and just pull it, but that's publicly available -- you've got it all. I mentioned
yesterday he spoke to President Putin twice, President Jiang, Blair, Chretien,
I believe Chirac, Schroeder. So you can do the math.
QUESTION: Okay. Since I have you attention, just one last bit --
MR. FLEISCHER: Three questions.
QUESTION: When do you think Washington will return to normal? And what is normal, now
that this has happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think for the American people -- not just for Washington, but
for the people of New York City and for the people of Washington -- it's going
to take some time. There was an attack on the soil of the United States of America,
and people should not expect this to be over, overnight.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell has said that bin Laden is the prime candidate for these
terrorist attacks. Is that the view of the White House? And secondly, can you
straighten out for us whether or not the administration intends to use military
personnel as sky marshals, or in any other way, to secure civilian aircraft
MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, I think what the Secretary said was --
he was asked a question about is bin Laden a suspect, and he indicated yes.
I don't think he said "prime," but I'd have to check the record on
that. But he did indicate yes.
On the question of the military, Jim, I just -- I'll have to find out from the
Department of Transportation. When you asked me this morning I tried to refer
you to Transportation. I don't have that information here.
QUESTION: Well, Secretary Mineta said they were going to use the Delta Force. And then
an administration official said Mineta was "flat wrong," that that
was not going to happen, and the Pentagon indicated they might use military
people to train. Almost everyone seems to have a slightly different version
of whether or not military people will be used in civilian law enforcement.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can't get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: Two questions. Do you have any special words for what the United Kingdom has
done. The statements they've made are very strong, and today they played "The
Star-Spangled Banner" when they had the changing of the guard.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. And I noticed today also, the United States is not the only
nation that mourns. The United Kingdom has lost the lives of many of their citizens.
Other nations also had their citizens working at the World Trade Center. And
so it's a further expression of the wonderful solidarity that the world is showing
with the United States. I think it's very touching for the United Kingdom to
play America's National Anthem.
QUESTION: Ari, just one more. Can there be war without a formal national enemy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has indicated, this is a different type
of enemy in the 21st century. The President said, this enemy is nameless; this
enemy is faceless; this enemy has no specific borders. This enemy does not have
airplanes sitting on tarmacs and it does not have ships that move from one port
city to the next. It is a different kind of enemy. Having said that, the President
also knows that our nation's military is capable of carrying out whatever mission
is assigned to it to conquer any enemies.
QUESTION: Ari, could I just clarify the answer to John's question -- is it the White
House view that whatever action is taken and whatever the scale and duration
of the action, that you need no further approval from Congress. You'd like something
from Congress, but you don't need anything else from Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll say it for the third time -- the Constitution vests in the
President as Commander in Chief the authority to take actions he deems necessary
to protect and defend the United States. The President is also very encouraged
as the result of working with Congress on this joint resolution, which is a
real show of unity from the Congress. And the White House will work with Congress
on that language.
QUESTION: So that's a yes, right? That's you need no further approval?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I made it very clear.
QUESTION: Just to follow on that note. The War Powers Act does call for approval if
troops are going to be put in harm's way.
MR. FLEISCHER: As with many previous administrations, there are questions about
the constitutionality of some aspects of the War Powers Act, and this administration
shares those questions.
QUESTION: Yes, but in most of those previous cases, we're looking at largely air assaults.
But is it your position that --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not accurate. There have been some 125 military actions
that took place in the United States, and I believe only 5 involved declarations
QUESTION: Ari, can you tell us anything about the special security precautions tomorrow
for the President's trip to New York? Are there going to be fighter jets on
each wing of Air Force One, for example, like there were on Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, I do not know the answer to that question, and
if I did I'm not sure I'd be able to share in all cases. But suffice it to say
that the President has full confidence in the Secret Service and those who protect
QUESTION: Will he travel with his whole contingent? Will he -- the usual presidential
motorcade that we see, the enormous beast that lands in a place and takes over
town -- will he do that in New York tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, Terry, it will be a smaller enormous beast.
QUESTION: Ari, when he's going to travel -- you said that we wouldn't go to New York
as long as his being there would create a hindrance to those trying to rescue
workers, people cleaning up the debris.
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly right.
QUESTION: When they're still pulling people alive out of that rubble, how do you keep
him out of the way and from being a distraction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because in conversations with Mayor Giuliani and Governor Pataki,
they talked about how it would be appropriate -- it would be appropriate and
meaningful for the President to go to New York. And so all factors are taken
into consideration. And of course, the President wouldn't go under any other
QUESTION: So are you saying he'll keep his distance from actual "ground zero"?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll see. Just as when he visited the Pentagon yesterday, you'll
QUESTION: What is he going to do there --
QUESTION: You talked about the business -- or the individuals with mortgage help, et
cetera. What about the businesses that have been wiped out? Where is the administration
thinking of putting some help in that direction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, also, as a result of the $20 billion supplemental appropriation
bill that is moving its way through Congress, that will provide the means to
give assistance to many people -- businesses, otherwise, all who have suffered
QUESTION: Ari, Secretary Powell is saying bin Laden is a prime suspect. Is the administration,
the U.S. confident, or does the U.S. know of his whereabouts, where he is?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to give any answers to that question.
QUESTION: Since the mid-1970s, the U.S. has had an executive ban in place on assassinations.
Is the President considering lifting that?
MR. FLEISCHER: All the President's actions will be in concert with all laws,
and I have no information for you beyond that.
QUESTION: Ari, on that point, is there anything, any restriction, that the administration
believes is hampering the intelligence community's efforts to deal with terrorism?
Are there any restrictions, either self-imposed by the agency or by the intelligence
community, or by Congress, that you think need to be eliminated?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard of any such conversations. As always, on all
these matters, as the President indicated today, the government will keep you
informed of any steps it thinks are necessary. But I have not heard anything.
QUESTION: On the $20 billion supplemental, OMB, as you know, says there's only $1 billion
left in fiscal year 2001 that's on budget, or that's not Social Security. Is
it accurate to say that that money can still be expended and be considered,
without use of Social Security surplus funding, depending on the timing of when
that funding is released?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's been a virtually universal, if not universal,
recognition by members of the Congress and by the President that our national
security will always come first.
QUESTION: I'm sorry, just for clarification purposes then, this is considered a severe
emergency and, therefore, it's money that's being taken from the Social Security
surplus fund under that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated two days ago that this was a severe emergency.
QUESTION: OMB was giving differing advice, and it depended on the time that the money
is actually spent. And it does not necessarily mean you even have to use those
funds. I'm just trying to get that clarified.
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated this is a severe emergency. I also said that the
fiscal year, of course, does not close until September 30th, so we will know
more at that time. But national security will come first.
QUESTION: Ari, the word "war" is being bandied around here so much. But that
word, in and of itself, carries such a constitutional connotation, et cetera,
and creates a confrontation with Congress, or whatever. Is it possible we'll
see a ratcheting down of the rhetoric with the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're going to see consistent actions by the administration,
and statements of resolve and determination by the President, just as you've
QUESTION: Ari, the 1991 war resolution that Congress passed put some limitations on
what the President could do. Would that be -- something like that be satisfactory
to this President Bush? Or would you like something that's more open-ended?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're dealing with hypotheticals here. Congress, today, is considering
a joint resolution to express its support for the President as a show of unity.
And we're talking with the Congress very productively about the appropriate
language to use in that. And that's where the administration is focused today.
QUESTION: So you would see this as more a general resolution of support, and not the
kind of thing that his father sought, his father got from Congress in 1991?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, to be parliamentary, it is a joint resolution.
QUESTION: Well, it's not binding.
QUESTION: Did you understand my question? I mean, I'm saying -- it's one thing to pass
a, you know, "resolved, we support the President," and quite another
to pass what was enacted in 1991, which said the President can take military
action under these conditions.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is all very public. This is a joint resolution that is going
to move on Capitol Hill. And you'll be able to review the language of it yourself.
And I think there are going to be some comparisons that may be apt to 1991,
others that will not be. This is 2001, and this is different.
QUESTION: Did the White House suggest language for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. We're working with Congress on the language.
QUESTION: Ari, as law enforcement officials proceed in trying to apprehend individuals
inside the United States who may have knowledge or have been involved in the
attack, what is the President telling law enforcement officials in terms of
what actions can they take? Should people be prepared to see, say, phone taps
that haven't been used in the past? What kind of civil liberties does the President
think should be -- or defended?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to the Attorney General about the actions
that they are taking. They will be in accordance with the law, of course.
QUESTION: Ari, earlier today, White House officials expanded on the threat against Air
Force One, saying that there was a telephone threat to the Secret Service, that
Air Force One was on a target list. As the three successful attacks were all
sneak attacks with no prior warning, why did you put credence in the telephone
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you're getting into evaluations that involve the area
of how the administration -- in this case Secret Service, the White House --
obtains information. And I think we've exhausted that.
QUESTION: Earlier today, the President said that fighting terrorism would be the main
focus now of the administration. I'm curious, what does that do now on the pipeline
to other priorities -- education and so on?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you talk to the American people, you would hear from
them directly, and from their hearts, that our nation has no higher priority
than the security of our people. Make no mistake: American soil has been attacked.
And I think the American people fully understand and appreciate what the President
said. It is a reflection of what the American people are thinking and are feeling,
and the President shares those thoughts.
QUESTION: I'm sure he's aware of -- but his own thinking. How does he now sort of program
or sequence some of these other items on his agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the domestic agenda will continue. The President will continue
to work with Congress. I think that the pace of action will be determined by
the Congress, and, of course, the administration will remain engaged with the
Congress on all these issues. In fact, there is a meeting that will begin shortly,
if it hasn't begun already, that I will need to go to with congressional leaders
and the President.
QUESTION: Ari, just to follow that, does the President believe as a general rule that
Congress ought to -- you know, in the interests of unity, ought to set some
of these controversial issues aside, and do them maybe next year, specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think what you're going to see is Democrats and Republicans
alike uniting on all kinds of areas. I can't guess with specificity what the
domestic future will look like. But based on the meeting the President had with
the congressional leaders yesterday, I think it's fair to say that there is
a different domestic mood.
QUESTION: So they should put those things aside, then, is that correct? Do them next
year, and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our nation's leaders in Congress remain men and women of principle,
and they will take the actions that they think are in the national interest.
And I think as events unfold on the domestic front this fall, leaders of Congress
and the rank and file of Congress will show those principles, and our government
QUESTION: Ari, former President Bush spoke today, and expressed dissatisfaction with
the quality of our human intelligence. Does the President, the current President
Bush, share his father's concern about failures in human intelligence? And if
so, what does he plan to do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Joe, at an appropriate time, the President will be more willing
to look back. But his focus right now is on what needs to be done in the wake
of the attack on the United States.
QUESTION: To what extent was the former President serving as a proxy for this President
when he made those remarks? And was there any coordination?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, if I'm not mistaken, all the former Presidents issued
statements and had things to say. And former President Bush, even though he
is the father of the present President Bush, is fully able and does express
his own opinions.
QUESTION: But to what extent was he expressing opinions of this President?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President is focused on the terrorist attack
and what to do about it. He is not focused on the past.
QUESTION: But Ari, does he believe, though, as his father said, that he thinks the CIA's
hands happen to be tied, and that it needs, the agency needs to be able to deal
with those "unsavory elements" to get the really good --
MR. FLEISCHER: My answer is the same as I indicated earlier. Thank you, I've
got to get into the meeting. Thank you.