For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 22, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:26 P.M. EDT
MS. PERINO: Happy Friday. One quick announcement. Today the governor of Wyoming appointed John Barrasso to fill the vacancy caused by the unfortunate death of U.S. Senator Craig Thomas. The President looks forward to working with Mr. Barrasso as he begins his work on behalf of our nation and the people of Wyoming. I should say Senator Barrasso. If there is more to update on that later, we'll get it to you.
Q Does the President think that the Information Security Oversight Office should be abolished?
MS. PERINO: No, and I don't think that anyone has suggested that. I went back and I looked at this EO -- I don't know if anyone else had a chance to actually read it. I think one thing is clear: first of all, it's the President of the United States who is the author of the EO, and is the sole enforcer of the EO, the executive order on classified materials. And it's clear from the reading of it, the Vice President is not treated separately from the President in the EO. Agencies are treated separately, for just the small section on this ISOO provision. Everything else does apply, except for that one section, for the Vice President.
Q Including the reporting provision?
MS. PERINO: Correct.
Q So that -- he is exempt from reporting? You support --
MS. PERINO: If you look at the EO, the President, in the performance of executive duties, and the Vice President are treated separately from agencies. The President did not intend -- I went back and looked into this -- the President did not intend for the Vice President to be treated separately from how he would treat himself. Agencies are to report to ISOO, and they do. I don't think there's any suggestion that no one else is complying. The Vice President was not intended to be separate from the President in this regard.
Q But part of the rationale the Vice President's office gave is that as President of the Senate, he's part of the legislative branch, almost distancing himself from the executive branch.
MS. PERINO: I saw those reports yesterday, as well, and I think that while that's an interesting constitutional discussion about the separation of powers and different branches, between executive branch and legislative branch, and different functions, under the role -- as his unique role as the Vice President of the United States. The point of Chairman Waxman's letter yesterday regarded this small portion of an executive order of which the President is the sole enforcer, and of which he did not intend for the President [sic] to be treated separately from himself.
Q I'm a little confused here. Is the President's office and the Vice President's office, are they handling this the same way? In other words, Waxman was asserting that the Vice President's office was saying, we don't want to be inspected to make sure that we are following the procedures laid out in this EO. Is the President -- does he feel the same way?
MS. PERINO: The President and the Vice President are complying with all the rules and regulations regarding the handling of classified material and making sure that it is safeguarded and protected.
What is different is, regarding that small section of this ISOO office, that they are not subject to those -- they are subordinate to the sole enforcer of the EO, which is the President of the United States, and they are not subject to such investigation -- as I understand it, as I read the EO and as I had preliminary discussions in between the gaggle and today.
Q Well, then why did the Vice President not have any issue with this in 2001, 2002?
MS. PERINO: That I don't know. All I know is what I have here, which is the executive order that was released in 2002, I think, did not intend to treat the Vice President any differently than he would treat the President.
Q So what are you saying? That he --
Q Yes, Dana, what are you saying? So the President supports the Vice President saying that he doesn't want these inspections?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that he -- it's not a matter of wanting, it's a matter of who's subject to them. And I think that it's important to remember, the Vice President, his office yesterday said that they are in full compliance with all laws regarding classified materials, as is this President, and the President expects that of everyone here at the White House and of all the agencies across the executive branch that handle classified information.
Q Then why isn't it public?
Q So is he supporting -- so he's supporting what the Vice President is doing, by saying he's not part of the executive branch --
MS. PERINO: If you go back and you read the EO, it's -- the President's intention was never to separate the Vice President out from himself. The President, as the sole enforcer of the EO, is instructing agencies on how to handle classified material on a range of issues. The issue that we're talking about yesterday -- that Chairman Waxman was talking about in his letter yesterday is a very narrow one.
Q But the people at the National Archives say that they are meeting with resistance from the Vice President's office, and only the Vice President's office, not from the White House, not from the Office of the President.
MS. PERINO: That's what I just said, I don't think that there's any -- I don't think there's been any complaint about compliance, except for, in this regards, to the Vice President's office. And as I just said, the President's intention was not to have him separate. If you read that, that's clear in the EO. In the EO, as well, the ISOO does have the capability to go to the Department of Justice and ask for an opinion, of which they have done.
Q They did that in January and still haven't heard anything.
MS. PERINO: You'll have to put that question to the Department of Justice.
Q So that they have to apply to the President for any documents that the Vice President has charge of.
MS. PERINO: All of the -- all of the President -- all of the President's documents and all the Vice President's documents are safeguarded, they are held, they are held in the Archives as part of the Presidential Records Act. And all of those rules and regulations are followed.
This small section regarding just the reporting requirements to the group that -- the ISOO that's out of the National Archives is different.
Q Why? He's a public servant, paid by us. He's accountable.
MS. PERINO: And all the laws and regulations regarding classified materials are being complied with. And that's what you, as a taxpayer, should expect.
Q How do we know that?
MS. PERINO: Because I think that if there weren't, there are other ways for people to challenge and find out.
Q Dana, what do you make of what Congressman Waxman referred to as "absurd," which was the Vice President's contention that his office is not part of the executive branch?
MS. PERINO: As I said, I think that that is an interesting constitutional question that people can debate. What I think is absurd is --
Q But do you agree with his contention?
MS. PERINO: -- it's -- I think what was heard is Chairman Waxman --
Q Hang on a second, do you agree with the --
MS. PERINO: -- asserting -- I think what's absurd is Chairman Waxman asserting --
Q Hang on a second. Do you think with --
MS. PERINO: I think what is absurd is Chairman Waxman asserting some sort of authority over the President regarding an executive order, of which he is the sole enforcer.
Q Do you agree with the contention that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the executive branch?
MS. PERINO: What I know -- and I am not a lawyer; and this is an interesting constitutional question that legal scholars can debate and I'm sure you'll find plenty of them inside the beltway -- is that the Vice President has a unique role in our United States government. He is not only the Vice President of the United States, but in that role he is also the President of the Senate. I will let him go ahead and --
Q So there's a fourth branch of government.
MS. PERINO: -- I will let that debate be held. But what I'm answering questions on in regard to this morning was Chairman Waxman's accusations about this small provision, going back and reading the EO and realizing that the President did not intend to have the Vice President treated any differently than himself; and remembering that the executive order is enforced solely by the President of the United States. I think this is a little bit of a non-issue.
Q But, Dana, the director of the Information Security Oversight Office, in his letter to the Attorney General, says that the Vice President's office did initially comply in 2001 and 2002, and then stopped complying. They view that the Vice President's office should be participating and is not, and further suggest that the response from Counsel to the Vice President was to eliminate the role of this office in handling and supervising how these classified documents are dealt with.
MS. PERINO: I am not disputing that there is a dispute in regards to how this executive order should be -- who should comply with the executive order in regards to ISOO's questions about the Vice President's office. They have the right to seek a clarification from the Department of Justice, of which they've asked for. That has nothing to do with the President or our office, in terms of the timing of when that's released. I'll ask you to take that to the Department of Justice; I haven't talked to them about that today.
Q Does the President think the Vice President is too secretive?
MS. PERINO: I think the President thinks that the Vice President is a great representor of the United States and that he complies with all the laws regarding secret documents, classified documents, and that he's someone who truly believes in the institution of the presidency and in keeping that intact.
Q Does the President think that the Vice President -- does he agree with the Vice President's handling of this matter?
MS. PERINO: I don't see any reason not to agree with it, especially --
Q So that's a yes?
MS. PERINO: -- when you read the plain face of the EO.
Q So he's not going to tell him --
Q And he's not concerned at all that there's too much secrecy; that he complied with it before; or why he wouldn't want to do the same thing he was doing before?
MS. PERINO: I think that what the President wants to make sure of is that all of the rules and regulations regarding classified materials are being followed, and he is assured that that is the case.
Q Even though it's still being looked at, and even though they're looking at this as an executive branch?
MS. PERINO: I don't think there's a question of the handling of the documents. I think there's a question of the reporting. In the handling of the documents, we are confident that we are in full compliance.
Q And does he have concerns about the reporting?
MS. PERINO: I didn't talk to him about that. I don't believe so. Especially since, as I just said in the EO, he's the sole enforcer of the EO, and he never intended for the Vice President to be treated separately from himself.
Q Dana, can I just clarify -- since he's the sole enforcer of this executive order, was the White House's Counsels Office knowledgeable about the letter trail, the dispute trail, when you consulted them today to ask about --
MS. PERINO: Well, as you know, I think that this letter trail goes back many years, and we have a new Counsel and many new people in the Counsel's Office. So I'm not exactly clear on that.
Q But you have members of the Counsel's Office who preceded Mr. Fielding, so I'm curious, when you consulted, can we write or say that the White House Counsel's Office, on behalf of the President, was fully knowledgeable of the dispute before --
MS. PERINO: I can't tell you that right now, because I don't know, but I can check. There are a lot of new people, and I can't tell you that the people that I talked to were here before.
Q But, I mean, there could have been a paper trail --
MS. PERINO: I'll go back and check. The people I talked to weren't necessarily here before.
Q Can we just go back to this phrase that the President never intended for the Vice President to be treated any differently than -- I'll confess, I'm missing the whole thing here. The Vice President is not getting treated any differently, he's acting differently, according to the National Archive.
MS. PERINO: No, but in the EO, who is directed and how they respond -- if you look on page 18 of the EO, when you have a chance, there's a distinction regarding the Vice President versus what is an agency. And the President also, as the author of an EO, and the person responsible for interpreting the EO, did not intend for the Vice President to be treated as an agency, and that's clear.
Q But the Archive doesn't have an issue with, say, the way the President is handling this; the inspectors, the procedures, the protocols are all being followed. It's the Vice President who is acting differently.
MS. PERINO: Right, but that's because the President never -- the President treats him differently in this EO, separate from an agency. And again, I'm not disputing that there's a dispute that the ISOO has with the Vice President's office, and they have a right under this EO to take that to the Justice Department. But the Vice President was not to be treated -- to be interpreted to be treated separately from the President in this executive order.
Q Can we expect to hear from the Vice President as to why his office did comply for two years, and then made a decision to stop complying?
Q Bring David in here.
Q Why is it separate?
MS. PERINO: If I could -- I'll ask the Vice President if he'll come to the press briefing room and answer your questions.
Q I mean, it is a little curious that all of this -- this breaks, and all we get is like a line response from the Office of the Vice President, we're confident that everything is kosher. I mean, I --
MS. PERINO: I'm here today to try to flesh it out a little bit more for you, and I'm doing the best I can with all that I've got.
Q But why does the Vice President not want to be seen to be in compliance?
MS. PERINO: There's no question that he is in compliance, in terms of the meat of the issue, which is classified -- the handling of classified documents. It's just simply a matter of a small portion of an executive order regarding reporting requirements, of which he is not subject to, and -- the interpretation of the EO.
Q But if he's not monitored, we don't know that --
Q Why isn't he subject to this?
MS. PERINO: Because the President gets to decide whether or not he should be treated separately, and he's decided that he should.
Q Why did the President decide that he shouldn't be subjected to this?
MS. PERINO: And if you look at the EO, throughout the Vice President's office is called out on many other issues, and making sure that they are complying, just as with any other agency. But in this regard, it's different.
Q But if he's not monitored, how do we know that, that he's in compliance?
MS. PERINO: I think there are many other ways -- I'm not a lawyer, but --
Q How? Because it's not as though --
MS. PERINO: Well, Victoria, maybe we can let you in there and you can have an interview and check out his classified materials.
Q The office is not giving away information.
MS. PERINO: Right, they're not giving away classified information, either.
Q Who is making sure they're in compliance?
MS. PERINO: That's a good question. I'm not positive.
Q But you can stand up there and say they're in compliance, but you don't know why or how or who is checking on it.
MS. PERINO: What I said is that the Vice President's office says that they are in compliance, and I can tell you on behalf of the President that we are in compliance with all matters regarding classified materials.
Q And it's just them saying we're in compliance?
MS. PERINO: I'll see if there's any other ways. The ISOO is not the only -- I would believe that ISOO is not the only agency that can check that.
Q Dana, when you make requests to the OVP about this, could you please specify that the big, large, takeaway question is, why no problem in 2001, 2002, and it starts in 2003? Does it have to do with the war, does it have to do with Scooter Libby, does this have to do with what? Why then?
MS. PERINO: I will check into it. I don't know when -- I don't know why the change, and I'll see if there was any different interpretation --
Q Why is an exemption at all? Why is he exempt?
MS. PERINO: He's not exempt from following the laws of the United States. He's exempt just from this reporting requirement in this particular executive order.
Q And why was an announcement not made back then when they stopped reporting, that in fact this was the case, that he was to be treated the same as the President?
MS. PERINO: Why wasn't there a press release announcing it?
MS. PERINO: We issued the EO. You could have -- it says it right here. It was released publicly.
Q There was no announcement like this. In other words, nobody knew.
MS. PERINO: I think that's kind of a backwards way to treat us. We could go back through and we could find any possible EO that the President has issued in the past seven years, and try to figure out, maybe the press might be interested in this five years from now. I think that's a little bit of a stretch to require us -- I think that we put out information, and you're welcome to read it.
Q What was the date of the EO?
MS. PERINO: Go ahead, Elaine.
Q I was going to ask, these questions, obviously, were kind of percolating yesterday, as well, when we were all asking the Vice President's office about this. Why didn't they cite page 18 of this executive order?
MS. PERINO: Well, I was on the road, and I was with the President in Alabama, and I got back today and was able to get you what I can, right now. I worked hard to do it.