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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

White House Press Secretary Holds Briefing on Iran

Aired April 7, 2006 - 12:55   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.
In a moment, we want to take you straight to the White House, where we believe a briefing will be taking place momentarily involving Press Secretary Scott McClellan. A lot for the White House to talk about, especially after -- just a few hours after the Senate agreed not to agree on an immigration bill compromise. They're going to take their two-week break.

Also we're waiting to hear questions that will be launched at the White House about the papers that were released yesterday involving the intel, the classified information that was declassified intel documents.

For now though, let's focus on weather. We've got a lot of strange weather, potentially dangerous weather in the mid-section of this country. Our Reynolds Wolf is in the Weather Center -- Reynolds.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: All right. Reynolds, thanks so much. Sorry to interrupt you.

I want to go straight to the White House now for that press briefing by Scott McClellan. Let's listen in.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And then I will be glad to go to your questions.

The latest employment report came out this morning. It showed the latest job numbers for the month of March. The employment report shows that our economy is strong and growing with robust job creation.

It is because of the hard work and the ingenuity of the American workers and because of the pro-growth policies that we have put in place that our economy is growing strongly.

Two hundred eleven thousand new jobs were created in the month of March. That's above market expectations. The unemployment rate fell to 4.7 percent; well below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. About 5.2 million jobs have been created since August of 2003.

Americans own -- more Americans own their home than ever before. Minority home ownership is at record levels. Consumer confidence is the highest it's been in four years or nearly four years. Productivity is high. Inflation is contained. But it is important that we continue to act to keep the economy growing strong.

The president talked a little bit earlier this morning about the importance of making the tax cuts we put in place permanent. He talked about the importance of continuing to move forward on restraining spending. And he talked about tools that are available to us. We want to stay on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

He also talked about the importance of Congress moving forward and acting on the initiatives he outlined in his State of the Union: his initiative to keep our economy the most competitive in the world; his initiative to address the rising energy prices that we're seeing by moving forward on his advanced energy initiative to really transform the way we power our homes and cars; and, as he talked about earlier this week, the importance of moving to a consumer-driven health care system where consumers have more control over their health care, and that that will help lower costs, particularly by expanding health savings accounts, moving forward on electronic records for all Americans, health records; moving forward on medical liability reform and associated health plans, among other things.

Secondly, I just want to talk about immigration reform.

This is an issue that is being debated in the Senate this week. Yesterday, we were encouraged to see that Republicans and Democrats in the Senate came together to reach a compromise.

The president talked about how he appreciated the fact that many members in the Senate recognize the importance of moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

This is a difficult and complex issue. It's important for voices to be heard as the debate moves forward.

Unfortunately, the Senate minority leader prevented voices from being heard and amendments from being considered. He is preventing comprehensive immigration reform from moving forward.

We call on the Senate minority leader to stop blocking this process from moving forward so that we can get comprehensive immigration reform passed.

And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.

QUESTION: Back when the NIE was released on July 18th, 2003, you were asked that day: Did he actually declassify it? And you said in that gaggle that it had been declassified that day.

And if that's the case, then when the information was passed on to the reporter 10 days earlier, then it was still classified at that time.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you're referring to a couple of things.

First of all, it was publicly released that day so that's when the portion of the national intelligence estimate that we were making available to the public was released.

The second part of your question is referring to an ongoing legal proceeding and referring to a filing in that legal proceeding.

We have had a policy in place, going back to the October time period of 2003, that we are not going to comment on an ongoing investigation or an ongoing legal proceeding. That policy remains unchanged.

But let me point out a couple of facts. Step back from this legal proceeding.

The president of the United States has the authority to declassify information. I also indicated to some reporters earlier today that the president would never authorize the disclosure of information that he felt could compromise our nation's security.

Now, the national intelligence estimate was declassified; portions of it were declassified. We made sure that we did not -- that we continue to protect sensitive sources and methods within the national intelligence estimate.

But let's go back to the time period that you're talking about, because I think it's important for the public to know or recall that time period.

There was a lot of debate going on about the prewar intelligence that was used in the lead-up to the decision to go into Iraq and remove a brutal tyrant from his position of power. There were irresponsible and unfounded accusations being made against the administration suggesting that we had manipulated or misused that intelligence. That was flat out false.

The national intelligence estimate was a document that was provided to members of Congress that is the collective judgment of the intelligence community. And because of the public debate that was going on and some of the wild accusations that were flying around at the time, we felt it was very much in the public interest that what information could be declassified be declassified, and that's exactly what we did.

QUESTION: I understand the reason why you thought it needed to be declassified, because of the debate at the time. The question was: When was it declassified? And you were asked that day -- the question was: When was it actually declassified. And you said: It was officially declassified today.

If it had been officially declassified on July 18th, 2003, then 10 days before, when the information was given out, it was still classified at the time.

MCCLELLAN: Again, you're going back to an assertion that is made in a filing related to an ongoing legal proceeding when you talk about the second part of your question. There is no way for me to separate that question and talk about this issue without discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. And I can't do that. We have a policy that's been established. And I've obligated to adhere to that policy.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MCCLELLAN: Yes, but you can't separate that question from the legal proceeding...

QUESTION: Was it declassified...

MCCLELLAN: ... because of the one of the assertions that was made in the filing.

Well, you can go back and look at comments that were made at that time. That was when it was publicly released at the time. I have not looked back at exactly what was said at that time...

QUESTION: So let's be really clear about this. It says right here, on July 18th, "When was it actually declassified?"

"Mr. McClellan, answer: 'It was officially declassified today.'"

Is that correct?

MCCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me to get into the timing I'm not backing away from anything that was said previously. That is when the document was released so that's when it officially...

QUESTION: They don't say released. They say declassified.

MCCLELLAN: I know. Let me tell you, that's when it was officially released. And so I think that's what I was referring to at the time.

I'd have to go back and look at the specific comments, but I'm not changing anything that was said previously. So let me make that clear.

Now, secondly, the question you're going to, again, relates to the timing of when certain information was declassified.

QUESTION: I'm not going to that question.

MCCLELLAN: Well, but there is no way to separate that question out from the ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: You are very careful with your words here. I think if you wanted to say released, you would have said released. You said declassified.

MCCLELLAN: OK. That is when the information was released publicly.

QUESTION: Did you not know...

QUESTION: Scott... MCCLELLAN: Now, for the national intelligence estimate, it did go through a declassification process; you are correct. And information was carefully looked at by the intelligence community before the portions of the national intelligence estimate were made available to the public.

QUESTION: It's declassified on that day. It wasn't declassified before.

And you're saying you're sticking to -- you're not taking back anything you said before and what you said that day is it was...

MCCLELLAN: I'd be glad to take a look at exactly what I said and I'll do that. I can't do that here in this room right now, but I'll be glad to take a look at it.

QUESTION: Then why are you saying you're not backing off...

MCCLELLAN: Well, what I'm saying is that -- I think what I was referring to is the fact that that was when it was made available to the public. So all that information is officially declassified at that point.

QUESTION: Then why are you saying you won't back off anything you said before if, in fact, we have transcripts here where you say that's when it was officially declassified? Are you still saying that's when it was officially declassified?

MCCLELLAN: That's when it was made available to the public, so it's officially declassified at that point. I think we're talking past each other a little bit.

I'll have to go back and look at the specific transcript, and I'll be glad to do that. And we can talk about it further later.

QUESTION: But was it officially declassified?

MCCLELLAN: Again, in terms of the timing of when information may have been declassified, that gets into a question relating to the legal proceeding, in a filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald earlier this week.

QUESTION: So you're referring to on July 18th, then? Was that the official release or official declassification?

MCCLELLAN: Well, that's what I'll have to check. I'll have to go back and look.

But my sense is and my recollection is, while we're sitting here talking about it, is I was referring to the fact that was when it was officially declassified for the public.

QUESTION: In terms of releasing information and leaks, you know the president has been highly critical of people...

MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. QUESTION: ... (INAUDIBLE) not just classified material. He has said in the fall of 2003, "I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks."

Now, whether the argument from the administration is he declassified this, so it wasn't classified information -- I know you're not going to get to the legal issues here -- but he has criticized people who leak, not just classified information, and there were clearly leaks...

MCCLELLAN: What was the context of those comments? About leaking of classified information, I believe.

QUESTION: He was asked about leaking classified information. The president said, "I've constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks."

MCCLELLAN: The president believes the leaking of classified information is a very serious matter. And I think that's why it's important to draw a distinction here.

Declassifying information and providing it to the public when it is in the public interest is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious, and there's a distinction.

Now, there are Democrats out there that fail to recognize that distinction or refuse to recognize that distinction. They are simply engaging in crass politics. Let's make clear what the distinction is...

QUESTION: The question was leaks, not just classified leaks, though, Scott.

MCCLELLAN: Right.

QUESTION: Scott, can I follow on that for a second? Because in December of 2003, to follow on this, he says, "If there's a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is."

Now, is there a question -- and we're not talking about legality here -- while he's saying that, according to the court filing, which I know you can't get into the specifics of, but as he's saying it, he certainly is aware who would have allowed the information to be disseminated. So at best, isn't the statement, "If there's a leak out of the administration, I want to know who it is," at best, isn't that just inconsistent?

MCCLELLAN: Absolutely not. That's referring to the leaking of classified information.

QUESTION: Only the leaking of classified information. What about if it's a political...

MCCLELLAN: I think that's context of what that question was responding to.

QUESTION: And if it's in political -- if there's a political purpose to it, then it's fine?

MCCLELLAN: If it's in the public interest, it's another matter, and the national intelligence estimate was declassified because it was in the public interest to provide portions of that national intelligence estimate to the American people.

As I said, there were people that were out there making irresponsible accusations, that intelligence was manipulated or that intelligence was misused. There's been no evidence to back that up whatsoever. And if you look at the national intelligence estimate -- you weren't here at the time, but some others in this room were -- it shows the collective judgment of the intelligence community.

And then you go back and look at the bipartisan Robb-Silberman commission, and they said there's no evidence of political pressure on the intelligent analysts.

You go back and look at the Butler report. The Butler report said that there was no evidence of deliberate distortion. You go back and look at the Senate Intelligence Committee report. They say they did not find any evidence that administration officials attempted to coerce, influence, or pressure analysts to change their judgments.

So this was part of the debate that was going on at that time in the public. And so it was in the public interest that information be declassified.

QUESTION: I understand that. My only question is...

MCCLELLAN: And this information, too, in another distinction, this was prewar intelligence we're talking about. So it was historical context that was being provided, not information that could compromise our nation's security.

QUESTION: My only question is, looking ahead, when he then says, "I want to know who the leaker was," doesn't he know, since...

MCCLELLAN: Actually, go back and look at the filing that was made by Mr. Fitzgerald, because Mr. Fitzgerald talks about that very issue in his filing, and contradicts what you're suggesting.

QUESTION: I'm not suggesting -- this has nothing to do with Valerie Plame -- nothing to do with it.

MCCLELLAN: I think that's what the question was about.

QUESTION: My question is, though, at the same time -- at the same time -- even if there is nothing to do with Plame, there is some disclosure of that NIE information.

MCCLELLAN: Let's draw the distinction here. Again, there is an important distinction that people need to make when they are looking back at this issue. I just laid out what that distinction is.

You're talking about information that was declassified and provided to the American people because it was in the public interest that they have that information, so they could see what the facts were. And the facts were that this was the collective judgment of the intelligence community.

Now the intelligence was wrong and that is why we put in place a bipartisan commission, independent commission, to go and look at the intelligence, and they made recommendations about how we could improve our intelligence gathering. And we have implemented many reforms to make sure we get the best possible intelligence.

QUESTION: Scott, I've got a couple of things here. First, did you have any personal knowledge on July 18th when you answered the question that started off this run of questions -- did you have any personal knowledge of discussions between the president and the vice president about declassifying portions of the NIE?

MCCLELLAN: That is a question that gets into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding. And I just can't do that because the policy of this administration -- this White House is that we are not going comment on it while it's ongoing. So I'm adhering to that policy. And I would hope that you can appreciate that.

QUESTION: You have at times at this podium told us that you had had assurances from people, and that's caused you a lot of trouble from this podium. Are you saying that statement was true at the time that you knew it?

MCCLELLAN: Which statement are you referring to?

QUESTION: That on July 18th it was officially declassified.

MCCLELLAN: Well, again, that question was asked at the beginning. And I think what I was referring to is this is when it's now being made available to the public, so it's officially declassified at that point.

I'll have to take a look at it.

QUESTION: We know that's (OFF-MIKE)

MCCLELLAN: No, I think that's what I was referring to.

QUESTION: There is a distinction, though...

MCCLELLAN: Hold on. I'll be glad take a look at it. And we can talk about it. I'm around all day.

QUESTION: We're trying to give you an opportunity here.

MCCLELLAN: I haven't gone back and looked at every single word that was said at the time. But, again, based on what Deb just said, my recollection is that I was referring to the fact that, yes, it's officially declassified today.

QUESTION: All right, let's talk about the politics of this.

MCCLELLAN: But that doesn't get into the issue of when everything was declassified.

QUESTION: The purpose of releasing portions of this clearly had a political implication for the administration. There was a debate going on and you wanted to counter that debate, and yet you're criticizing Democrats, saying that they are engaging in crass politics for saying that that this was leaking. How do you not see that there was...

MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. For the reasons I stated. That's a very good question. Let's talk about the distinction.

There is a difference between leaking classified information that could compromise sources and methods which could be harmful to our nation's security. The terrorist surveillance program is a prime example. There was an unauthorized disclosure of this vital program that is helping to prevent attacks and save American lives. This is a program that is aimed at intercepting international communications involving known Al Qaeda members or suspected Al Qaeda affiliates. And it is vital to our nation's interest. General Hayden, the number two man in our intelligence community, said its disclosure is harmful to our nation's security.

So there is a clear distinction here. Democrats refuse to recognize that distinction. That is engaging in crass politics.

On the issue of the national intelligence estimate, that is something that was in the public interest that it be disclosed because there was a lot of debate going on. And we will vigorously set the record straight when people are putting out misinformation or trying to suggest things that simply are not true.

QUESTION: Did the president know that Joe Wilson was married to a CIA agent before Novak revealed it?

MCCLELLAN: Again, this goes to -- and you can go back and look at previous comments, but this goes to an ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: It's a simple question.

MCCLELLAN: And I would encourage you to go and look at the filing that was made just the other night, because Mr. Fitzgerald touches on that subject in the filing.

QUESTION: You mean the president did not know?

MCCLELLAN: I can't get into discussing an ongoing legal proceeding. That's a question relating to the ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: I think it's a very simple, important question.

Your refusal to comment on this on the grounds of it being an ongoing legal proceeding...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Hang on. Let me just say why and remind people why.

There is an ongoing legal proceeding under way. It is headed toward trial. We want to see a fair trial. We want to see due process. We don't want to do anything that could compromise this ongoing legal proceeding or compromise or jeopardize the trial. And that has been our policy with other matters as well.

And so this has been a policy that has been well-established for a long time.

Now to your question.

QUESTION: This inevitably leads to the conclusion that you are not disputing the allegation that the president was involved in the leaking, or authorized the leaking of classified information. Are you satisfied with that? And is that really...

MCCLELLAN: I'm not getting into confirming or denying things because I'm not commenting at all on matters relating to an ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about the issue of credibility.

Isn't the fact that you're up here having to vigorously defend and make the distinction between what some people see as leaking and what you are saying, from what I understand, is a sharing of information to provide historical context -- isn't that illustrative of the fact that the president's credibility has been damaged by this?

MCCLELLAN: I think the Democrats have a credibility problem when they try to suggest that we were manipulating intelligence or that this is about something other than what I just said. That's crass politics. And they're the ones who have an issue when it comes to what you bring up.

QUESTION: I want to see if I can sort out with you (INAUDIBLE) earlier, sort of talking past each other earlier.

There's a process for declassification, and the president has declassification authority.

MCCLELLAN: That's correct.

QUESTION: When the president determines that classified information can be made public without jeopardizing sources and methods, that it's an appropriate thing to do, can that supplant the declassification process? Is that, in effect, an immediate act? Is it de facto declassified by that determination?

MCCLELLAN: The president can declassify information if he chooses. It's inherent in our Constitution. He is the head of the executive branch.

QUESTION: Is it possible then for a declassification process to be under way, or perhaps not yet even started, but perhaps in the middle of it the president can say this is declassified or this is something that is worthy of the American people seeing, and it can happen on separate tracks?

MCCLELLAN: I want to be careful here because that is touching on something that is brought up in the legal proceedings. And I've got to stay out of that.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: But the president is authorized to declassify information as he chooses.

QUESTION: So just one other question, if I can. You have already taken a couple of shots at Democrats, but the minority leader this morning has gone to the Senate floor and demanded a whole series of questions to be answered.

At one point he says that only the president can answer the question as to whether or not the buck stops in the Oval Office or the leaks start, and has suggested that what he has now seen of the -- Harry Reid, the minority leader -- in his opinion, he speaks to a pattern of misleading America by the Bush White House that raises somber and troubling questions about the Bush administration's candor with Congress and the American people.

This does seem to be yet another example of the Democrats' ability to criticize the president for not coming clean on all of this.

How would you explain to the nation the president's assertion that anybody who leaks information would be prosecuted when they are now, the Democrats now, see that the president...

MCCLELLAN: Leaking classified information.

QUESTION: Right.

MCCLELLAN: I mean, there's a distinction here.

That is the kind of crass politics that I am referring to. Democratic leaders like the one you brought up are refusing to acknowledge an important distinction here.

First of all, the national intelligence information was declassified information that was provided to the American people.

Now, the other issue I brought up was the issue of the terrorist surveillance program. And you bet the president has spoken out about its unauthorized disclosure, because what its disclosure has done is shown Al Qaeda, our enemy, the playbook.

This is an enemy that watches us very closely. This is an enemy that adapts and adjusts when they learn information about our tactics.

And it's important as we carry out this war on terrorism that we don't do anything that could compromise our nation's security. The terrorist surveillance program has been a vital tool that has helped to save American lives, and it's one tool in an overall arsenal of tools that we are using to take the fight to the enemy and stop attacks from happening on American soil.

QUESTION: But I just want to make sure I understand. In effect, your answer to the Harry Reid criticism is that the president has the authority to declassify; therefore, the discussion of leak is inappropriate?

MCCLELLAN: My response to what he said is that that's just crass politics, because he is not acknowledging an important distinction.

MCCLELLAN: And the distinction is that, one, the information that he was referring to was declassified. And the other information, he is trying to twist and put into that is a separate matter. These are two separate issues. Go ahead.

QUESTION: As far as U.S.-India-Syria nuclear...

MCCLELLAN: Let me stay on this topic, and I'll come back to that.

QUESTION: You won't talk about the court filing; you said that. But you seem to want to convey the idea that if what happened in the court filing happened, then it's OK because it wasn't classified at the time.

MCCLELLAN: I'm not conveying any ideas about the court filing. What I'm talking about is the facts at the time and trying to put in context for people in this room and people that are listening the time period and what was going on during that time period.

But the national intelligence estimate was declassified in part because there was a lot of debate going on. And there was a lot of misinformation out there. It was important for the American people to have that information.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) trying to come up with a definition of the word "leak," which is that if it's not classified, and it's not endangering national security by revealing it, then therefore it's not a leak. Is that...

MCCLELLAN: No, that is not what I'm saying. What I'm saying is that there is a difference between providing declassified information to the public when it's in the public interest and leaking classified information that involved sensitive national intelligence regarding our security.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to this original statement that the president said about, "I constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly leaks of classified information"? I get the impression he doesn't like any leaks. Can you give us an idea about how the president feels about leaking information, since if this information...

MCCLELLAN: I think we have to draw distinctions here in what specifically you are referring to. I mean, if people are going out there talking about a potential policy decision-making process that is still in development and the president hasn't come to a decision on, then that is not helpful information and, of course, we look down on something like that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) something to you, and it's declassified...

MCCLELLAN: No, if it is in the public interest. It's important to be able to.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... it's OK.

MCCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that. What I'm saying is that the issue here is the national intelligence estimate and declassifying of the national intelligence estimate.

QUESTION: I'm talking about a statement the president made...

MCCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to draw a broad conclusion or make a broad statement. If you've got specific instances you want to refer to...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Let me give you a specific instance. A specific instance is the leaking of classified information that could harm sources and methods or put them at risk or harm our nation's security. One is the terrorist surveillance program.

QUESTION: Understood. But that is not the issue here.

MCCLELLAN: Sure it is part of the issue, because that's...

QUESTION: It's part of the issue, but not the part of the issue I'm trying to get to.

MCCLELLAN: ... that's exactly what the president's referring to when he's talking about leaking of classified information. That's exactly the kind of information he's talking about.

QUESTION: I know. But what I'm saying is the president expressed displeasure about leaks, not just classified leaks...

MCCLELLAN: Sure, he's talked about that in the past.

QUESTION: So he has displeasure about leaks even of declassified material.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I mean, again, you have to look at what specific instance you are talking about.

QUESTION: Well, you won't talk about the specific instance...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: No, I just gave you an example. I just gave you an example.

QUESTION: So in general, if you leak something, he has no problems as long as it's not classified.

MCCLELLAN: That's not what I said. What I said is what I said, and you ought to listen to what I said, not try to put words in my mouth. You're trying to put words into my mouth...

QUESTION: No, I'm not.

MCCLELLAN: No. And go back. If you've got a specific instance of a leak, bring it up.

QUESTION: Did he have a specific instance when he said his displeasure about leaks?

MCCLELLAN: Yes, he was being asked about classified information being disclosed.

QUESTION: "I constantly expressed my displeasure with leaks, particularly classified...

MCCLELLAN: Right. And that was in the context of people leaking classified information.

But, sure, this is a town -- I mean, this is a town where it happens a lot. And a lot of those are not helpful things to have happen. But you're asking me to make a broad statement, and I'm not going to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Scott, what was the president's reaction to this story?

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: What was the president's reaction to this story?

MCCLELLAN: The story.

QUESTION: The story, as it's published.

MCCLELLAN: The story as it's published. Which story as it's published.

QUESTION: You sound like Donald Rumsfeld.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCLELLAN: The story -- I'm just asking you to specify what the story is.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: The filing by Mr. Fitzgerald.

I can't get into talking anything relating to the ongoing legal proceeding.

QUESTION: I'm asking did the president say anything about this?

MCCLELLAN: Again, I can't get into talking about an ongoing legal proceeding. That relates to an ongoing legal proceeding. I just can't do that.

QUESTION: A slightly different topic but you yourself said they're linked: When the attorney general said yesterday that the president might have authority to do warrantless wiretapping...

MCCLELLAN: Let me come back to it. I'll come back to it.

QUESTION: Is there a bit of an appearance problem for this White House when the president speaks so strongly against leaking, when the counsel's office orders ethics classes, and then today you're talking about, effectively, good leaks and bad leaks?

MCCLELLAN: Boy, you're trying to lump a lot of things in there, and I don't think I would do that.

In terms of ethics classes, I mean, those are ongoing throughout the time period we're here in this administration.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: Let's not lump things together. Well, let's not lump those things together.

QUESTION: There were some that were ordered...

MCCLELLAN: You're lumping things.

QUESTION: I'm lumping only because the timing of the last public lumping was in the fallout of some of this, as you may remember, that was made public.

So the president is very vocal about leaking at a time when now it appears that he sees some value in releasing some...

MCCLELLAN: We are a nation at war. And the leaking of classified information particularly during a time of war is much more harmful and much more dangerous.

You bet the president's going to continue to speak out about leaking classified information. It is wrong and it can have serious consequences.

And what he has said about the leaking of classified information stands. He is very firm in his belief that leaking classified information, particularly information that could be harmful to our nation's security, is a serious matter and it is dangerous.

MCCLELLAN: And when people do it, they put our nation at risk. They put lives at risk. They put sources and methods at risk.

This is a different kind of war that we are engaged in, against a deadly and dangerous enemy, an enemy that is lethal, an enemy that is sophisticated. And that is what the president often refers to when he talks about the leaking of classified information and how serious that is.

QUESTION: Is the information declassified when the president says it is or when the process is done...

MCCLELLAN: He can authorize the declassifying of information.

QUESTION: And at that moment, does it become declassified?

MCCLELLAN: If he's authorized the declassification. He has the authority to do that.

QUESTION: At that moment. He says today I want this declassified, at that moment...

MCCLELLAN: I'm not saying he has or hasn't of any specific example, but he has that authority, yes.

QUESTION: Immediately? Immediate effect?

MCCLELLAN: Again, he has that authority. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: See, you're encouraging others to do this.

I'm glad to stay here all day, though, because this is an important subject. And I'm glad to make the distinctions for everybody.

QUESTION: It seems to me from what I'm hearing in terms of the way you're explaining this, classified information is leaked. Declassified information is provided.

MCCLELLAN: Well (INAUDIBLE) declassified information, like we did with the national intelligence information, that was provided to you all, that was provided to the public through you all, through your colleagues.

QUESTION: OK, but when Judy Miller gets it, it's being provided or is it being leaked, because then it's still classified?

MCCLELLAN: Now, see, that is something that I cannot and you cannot separate from an ongoing legal proceeding. So I cannot get into responding to that specific question, because how can you separate it from the legal proceeding and the filing that Mr. Fitzgerald made? I just can't do that.

QUESTION: One more question, because you...

MCCLELLAN: See what you encouraged. QUESTION: This has been invited by your discussion of the need to educate the American public in the throes of what you say was a lot of unfair information from the...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCLELLAN: ... provide facts.

QUESTION: Just provide facts.

MCCLELLAN: And Congress had those facts, way back when they made the decision to authorize the president to use force if necessary.

QUESTION: What do you say to critics who argue that the president's decision to disclose this information, to effectively declassify it, in the context of that debate to provide facts was, in fact or at least in their argument, a political use of intelligence information?

MCCLELLAN: It was in the public interest that this information be provided, because there was a debate going on in the public about the use of intelligence leading up to the decision to go into Iraq.

This is regarding prewar intelligence. And there was a lot of misinformation being put out. There were accusations being leveled against the president and against this White House and this administration that intelligence was misused or manipulated.

The fact of the matter is that the intelligence was based on what is laid out in the national intelligence estimates, which is the collective judgment of our intelligence community.

The fact is that people have looked into how the intelligence was used and they have seen, as I pointed out, no evidence of such manipulation or misuse.

QUESTION: As far as U.S.-India nuclear agreement -- civil nuclear agreement -- is concerned, the president is a household name in India and now Dr. Rice, because she vigorously defended the deal on Capitol Hill in the House and the Senate.

My question is: How serious is the president lobbying the U.S. Congress? Because Dr. Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India, is doing the same thing in the Indian parliament.

So how serious is the president...

MCCLELLAN: Well, I think you're seeing today that there is good bipartisan support to begin the process of ratifying this agreement.

And this is an important agreement. It goes to our strategic relationship. It goes to our energy security and India's energy security.

And it also, for the first time, will bring India's civil nuclear program under international safeguards, and that's an important development.

As the president has pointed out previously, India is not a country that was engaged in proliferation. They had a good nonproliferation record. And we had to look at the reality of the situation.

But you've had Senator Biden and I think Senator Obama and others that have expressed a willingness to support this agreement, because they recognize the importance of moving forward on it to both our energy and national security interest.

And so I know that Undersecretary Burns has been working very closely with members of Congress, as has Secretary Rice. And the president has discussed it with members that he's had here to the White House.

It's an important agreement. And we look forward to continuing to work with Congress in hearing any issues that they might want to bring up and talking to them about the importance of this agreement, answering their questions.

QUESTION: Second quick one is, former director general of the Indian television, Indian-owned television (INAUDIBLE) who interviewed the president before the visit. And also somehow he tried to meet the president...

WHITFIELD: Well, you've been listening to just earlier a war of words of sorts in the White House press room involving the press secretary, Scott McClellan, as well as members of the White House press corps, all trying to, perhaps, seek clarification on language, semantics, time lines, all as it relates to the declassification of intelligence information.

Of course, we'll have more on this story later on this hour. Meantime, please stay with us as we get back to other coverage, as well. For our CNN Pipeline subscribers, you can follow this live coverage right there from the White House press office on CNN Pipeline.

When we come back, severe weather moving in. It is tornado season, after all. Reynolds Wolf has an eye on the sky, and he'll give us his look when we come right back.

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