For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 25, 2007
Press Briefing by Dana Perino
White House Conference Center Briefing Room
1:17 P.M. EDT
Q Dana, as long as we're talking about branches of government, can you go back to Vice President Cheney again, the argument that he's not part of the executive branch. Does the President believe he's part of the executive branch?
MS. PERINO: I think that that is an interesting constitutional question, and I think that lots of people can debate it. I think when we were talking about the EO from last week, we've gone over that several times. You probably don't want me to go over it again. But the Vice President -- any Vice President has legislative and executive functions.
Every Vice President has legislative and executive functions. The executive functions are given to him by the President. For example, the Vice President's paycheck comes from the Senate. So these are -- that's an interesting constitutional question. When we are talking about this EO, it is separate and apart from -- the President and the Vice President oversee the executive agencies. Supreme Court precedent shows that the Vice President and the President are not seen as an agency when it comes to executive orders.
Q I know that's your argument about an agency, but it's very separate from the argument the Vice President is making. And what is the President -- what is the White House's view of the argument the Vice President is making on whether or not he's part of the executive branch?
Q For one, I think -- I mean, the information is clearly --
MS. PERINO: I'm not opining on it, because the President did not intend for the Vice President to be subject as an agency in that section of the EO.
Q That's an entirely different argument. So you don't Vice President's --
MS. PERINO: No, it's the same --
Q You don't support the Vice President --
MS. PERINO: I'm not opining on it either way.
Q But, Dana, how could the Vice President, earlier in the administration, argue he didn't have to turn over records about the energy task force, for example, because he was a member of the executive branch? He clearly stated that.
MS. PERINO: You could ask the Supreme Court who ruled in his favor.
Q But he did not say, I'm a member of the legislative branch, as well, so I don't have to -- I mean, he clearly stated that there was strong executive power and he didn't have to turn over these records. Now, when it suits his interest, he seems to be saying a different legal argument.
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not a legal scholar and there's plenty of them that you can find in Washington, D.C. But just that very point that you're making there shows that he has functions in both the executive branch and the legislative branch.
Q But he didn't mention those functions -- dual functions in the early legal arguments at the beginning of the administration. He only used the executive branch arguments.
MS. PERINO: Look, you can try to call his office and try to get more information. I'm not opining on his argument that his office is making. What I can tell you is that the President did not intend for him to be treated separately from himself in this executive order regarding the ISOO office.
Q So, also, though, you mentioned a moment ago that the Vice President gets his paycheck from the Senate.
MS. PERINO: Yes.
Q Does the White House then also believe he should get funding for the Vice President's office from the legislative branch instead of from the executive branch?
MS. PERINO: I don't know. These are not in position --
Q Well, you just noted that. You just noted he gets his paycheck --
MS. PERINO: I'm just -- the reason I noted that is because I'm trying to illustrate the point that he has roles in both the legislature and in the executive branch.
Q But the National Archives documents they want have to do with his executive branch functions; I mean, the secret documents one assumes are from his duties of Vice -- as Vice President.
MS. PERINO: In the executive order, the President and the Vice President are discharged separately from agencies, in which -- it might be awkward if the President, who is the supervisor of this office, was asking that office to come in and investigate themselves. And in this executive order the President is saying that the Vice President is not different than him.
Q When did he decide that? Just in 2003? I mean, he --
MS. PERINO: In terms of the executive order? I need to go back --
Q He did it for a couple of years before that. He just was doing that out of the good of his heart, or --
MS. PERINO: I think so. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. The office also has a 30-year history, which is part of why the National Archives Oversight Office is concerned, because other Presidents had provided -- other White Houses had provided this information. And so it really is a break with a pattern. Why is that necessary?
MS. PERINO: I don't know why the EO was amended in 2003, and I can try to go back and find out. What I do know is that when the President wrote this EO, it's clear in the reading of it that he does not intend for the Vice President to be seen as separate from himself. And they are not asking someone who is subordinate to them to come in and investigate them. And I think that the ISOO office has had only a complaint about the Vice President's office, not about other places within the executive branch. And so that can be resolved either by the Justice Department or, as I am telling you, as the President's spokesman, he did not intend for the Vice President to be seen as separate from himself.
Q Is the President satisfied that Alberto Gonzales has not responded yet, after five, six months of a request by this office to have this issue mediated?
MS. PERINO: I have not asked the President if he's concerned about that, and I would ask you to call over at the Justice Department to find out about their timing.
Q Should Alberto Gonzales recuse himself because he was White House Counsel?
MS. PERINO: I don't think that's necessary.
Q I mean, if the argument was so clear that you're making about he wasn't part of the agency, then why did he make that argument, coming back? That's not the argument he made.
MS. PERINO: I don't know why he made the arguments that he did, but --
Q Apparently it wasn't so clear to them.
MS. PERINO: It might not have been clear to them, and I don't know all the discussions that they had back and forth between the Vice President's office and ISOO. What I'm telling you is that in the reading of the EO, and in asking about the interpretation of it, that's the answer I've got.
Q Dana, is the White House comfortable with the way the Vice President is being portrayed in this Washington Post four-part series? I mean, two installments have come out now suggesting almost that he's out of control, he's operating around the President, that people like John Ashcroft, when he was Attorney General, actually had to deal with the Vice President, not the President, had to argue, I'm the chief law enforcement officer and should be included in discussions, legal arguments about how detainees are being held -- is the White House comfortable with this portrayal?
MS. PERINO: You've heard me say before that we don't do book reviews from the White House, and I think that that would -- that the length of this article --
Q This isn't a book -- it's not a book.
MS. PERINO: Look, I think any of -- a lot of what is being talked about there is classified -- dealing with classified issues, and following the attacks on our country on 9/11, I'm not going to opine on those. I'm not going to say one way or the other about the articles. What I will say is that one -- number one, this country has not been attacked again; and number two, all that we have undertaken has been lawful.
Q That is not his question.
Q Okay, but one specific example. There was a Bybee memo that was classified at one point, but has since been made public, and it's been on Capitol Hill, it's been out there, it's been in newspapers -- the Bybee memo from 2002 dealing with torture. And it basically -- this story today portrays the Vice President's team as basically helping to draft that memo about how detainees are going to be held and tried, et cetera, where the limits are on torture, and that basically it took two years before the Secretary of State Colin Powell and the National Secretary Advisor Condoleezza Rice even knew that this memo had been written -- this vast policy on the war on terror. The Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor did not know for two years. Is the President comfortable with the Vice President essentially cutting out two of his top national security officials on this critical policy?
MS. PERINO: Look, I'm not privy to internal deliberations of that level. I don't know, and I'm not going to comment on any type of internal deliberations.
Q Do you really think that's the way a White House should operate?
MS. PERINO: Look, I've been around not as long as a lot of people, but long enough to see how the process works here, and I can assure you that the debate is vigorous, and it is held -- people have strongly-held views, and they voice them, and they voice them loudly. I am very comfortable with the process that we have, in terms of how those debates get settled.
Q But how you can say it's a vigorous debate if the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor were not involved in debate for two years, two years?
MS. PERINO: Ed, I'm not commenting on that.
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on that either way.
Q But how can you make the claim -- if you're not commenting on it, how can you --
MS. PERINO: I'm commenting on my personal experience at the White House.
Q But how can you make that claim, though, that there's a vigorous debate? The top two national security officials were not involved in that debate. How could it be vigorous?
MS. PERINO: I don't know that to be true, Ed, so I'm not commenting --
Q So is it false?
MS. PERINO: I don't know that to be true, so I'm not commenting on it.
Q Can you send someone out here who can? You're stonewalling. Is the President a member of the executive branch? Is he answerable to any law, to any executive order? I mean, what is this? What's going on here?
MS. PERINO: Helen, the President, of course, is head of the executive branch.
Q Any accountability to the American people?
MS. PERINO: Absolutely.
Q Does the Vice President see top secrets in this administration as a member of the executive branch? Does he attend NSC meetings?
MS. PERINO: In his executive duties, as discharged by the President, he does see classified materials, yes.
Q And he is allowed to?
MS. PERINO: Victoria, go ahead.
Q We should get someone out here who can answer our questions.
Q Does the United States practice cruelty?
MS. PERINO: No. We have gone over this several times. I'd refer you to all the previous comments that we've had in the past. Hadley -- Steve Hadley came and briefed you all in September of 2006, the President has answered public questions about this, so has the Secretary of State on multiple occasions in front of Congress, so has the Attorney General. And we have maintained that we have protected this country in a way that does not involve torture.
Q But there's a difference between cruelty and torture, is my understanding. The cruelty, by definition, is imposition of severe physical and mental pain or suffering, which is different from torture, which is --
MS. PERINO: I'm not commenting on any type of techniques or anything else that is used in order to help get us information in order to prevent terrorist attacks on this country. I'm just not going to do it.
Q But you would say that we do not practice cruel --
MS. PERINO: I can tell you flatly, as has been previously stated by the President himself and by members of his Cabinet, that this administration has not used torture.
Q What? You've got photographs.
MS. PERINO: Goyal.
Q Two questions. One, -- schools (inaudible) President talking about No Child Left Behind. My question is that as far as No Child Left Behind, according to a report, U.S. education system has gone down and violence has increased in many schools here, and as far as children are concerned.
MS. PERINO: What's your question?
Q Immigrant children are doing better in schools, but is the President going to talk about as far as increasing violence in schools today, and education system has gone down?
MS. PERINO: The President today is going to talk about the move to reauthorize No Child Left Behind so that we can make sure that every child is reading at grade level by 2014 and that we have accountability for students, parents and taxpayers.
Q And second, if I may --
MS. PERINO: Bret, going to go to Bret.
Q Can I just rewind to the executive order one more time? I'm trying to see, is the White House saying that you disagree with the argument the Vice President's office is making?
MS. PERINO: No, I didn't say that.
Q I know, but what are you saying? I don't get it, really. Is the White House at odds with what the Vice President is saying the reason he's not --
MS. PERINO: I'm not opining on that, and I'm not going to comment on it. But what I'm saying is that I think that it's irrelevant in this regard. The Vice President and the President are treated as one in the same in this EO. And the argument that is being made by ISOO, that disputes whether or not the Vice President should be seen as an agency, has a disagreement with that. That's their right. They can have a disagreement with that. But the President never intended for the Vice President to be treated as an agency in this executive order.
Q But that's -- rationale. I'm talking about living up to the executive order, as the President signed it. Is the Vice President --
MS. PERINO: Yes, absolutely. The Vice President is in compliance with the executive order, you bet.
Q Dana, is the Office of the President and the Office of the Vice President -- not are they being treated the same way -- are they acting in the same way, in terms of --
MS. PERINO: When the Vice President is doing duties that the President has asked him to do, under his executive function, then, yes, he is performing similar duties to what the President is doing.
Q Is the office of the archive able to get a degree of compliance with the EO from the Office of the President that it's not able to get from the Office of the Vice President?
MS. PERINO: The Vice President is in compliance with the EO, as is the President. So that shouldn't be a question.
Q So any kind of inspections they want to make, any kind of procedures that they want to --
MS. PERINO: This does not apply to the President or the Vice President, who have the responsibility to discharge and oversee.
Q Does the NSC? Does the National Security Council?
MS. PERINO: The NSC does, they do comply.
Q The case of Alan Johnston, the BBC prisoner in Gaza, is getting much more serious. Does this administration have any advice, either for the people who hold him, or British people in favor of military action against, or do you favor compliance --
MS. PERINO: We stand behind our British allies in calling for his unjust holding to end immediately, and for him to be returned safely to his family.
Q Is there any desire in the President's strategy to comply with some of their demands --
MS. PERINO: I'm not going to comment on that, and I have to refer you to the British authorities for that. They're leading that.
Q Dana, on the British --
MS. PERINO: I'm sorry, I was going to go to Roger, and then I'll come back.
Q I think she's got the same question.
MS. PERINO: How convenient.
Q Any new information on Tony Blair becoming an international envoy? And has the President talked to him in the past two days?
MS. PERINO: No, I don't believe the President has talked to him in the past few days. And if there's more to report on that, we'll let you know as soon as possible.
Q Well, there are reports out that he is going to be named tomorrow. So is that true?
MS. PERINO: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Back to the Oversight Office. They've asked for an opinion from the Justice Department -- you're declaring from the podium that the Vice President is in compliance. So this sounds like there's nothing for the Justice Department to render an opinion on.
MS. PERINO: If the Justice Department wants to review it -- and it is under review, as you pointed out -- they've not responded yet, but what I'm saying is that -- I hate to be repetitive, but -- (laughter) -- the President meant for the Vice President to be one and the same with him in this executive order.
Q It sounds like if the Oversight Office is waiting for an opinion, they shouldn't hold their breath. You've already rendered it.
MS. PERINO: I've given them what the President's interpretation is.
Q You mean complying with the order, you don't mean "complying," that he's turning over documents. You just mean --
MS. PERINO: They're complying with the executive order, correct.
Q -- complying with the executive -- as you read it, as the President reads it.
MS. PERINO: As the President intended it -- not just as I read it.
Q Has the President turned over documents and allowed inspections that the Vice President's office has not done?
MS. PERINO: In terms of the White House office?
MS. PERINO: I don't believe we did. No.
Q So the White House also has not allowed those same inspections that the Vice President's office --
MS. PERINO: The President has discharged, as their supervisor, the ISOO to do these investigations, on-site inspections at agencies of which the President and the Vice President are not a part.
Q Okay, so the President has not had those inspections either -- that's what you're saying?
MS. PERINO: No.
Q Okay. Has he been asked to have those inspections by the National Archives?
MS. PERINO: Not that I -- not that I'm aware. But again, it's the President that's discharging the EO, he's the sole enforcer.
Q Okay. And just lastly, it's a little surreal -- I mean, how is it possible --
MS. PERINO: You're telling me.
Q Well -- that you can't give an opinion about whether the Vice President is part of the executive branch or not?
MS. PERINO: All I know is that --
Q It's a little bit like somebody saying, "I don't know if this is my wife or not." (Laughter.)
MS. PERINO: I think it's a little bit more complicated than that.
Q No, but honestly, I mean, there's no --
MS. PERINO: No, honestly, I think it's more complicated than that. I do.
Q But, Dana, one difference is, from this podium came the explanation that the President never intended for this to apply to the Vice President. When there was communication from the counsel of the Vice President's office to ISOO, the rationale was different. It was that there was a split in the duties, the role of the Vice President, and that's where we're getting this -- he's part of the legislative and the executive. So it seems that it was not -- everybody was not on the same page when they were first responding to the National Archives.
MS. PERINO: I don't know that to necessarily be true, but I can see if I can get from the Vice President's office more of an explanation -- because they could have been thinking of one in the same argument, and I'm just -- I don't have the legal mind that can draw those two together.
Q What if one of the staff members of the Vice President was asked to turn over material and the staff member was afraid that they would get in a Scooter Libby type situation if they don't turn it over -- do they have the same protections? Now, we're talking about staff members, not the President and Vice President.
MS. PERINO: I think you're talking about apples and oranges, because I think that the Vice President and the White House -- the President and the Vice President, I think that extends to their offices and the people who actually work for them, as well.
Q That's very important, because --
MS. PERINO: I think I just answered it, but I can look into it again.
Q Dana, for 200-plus years, everybody from civics class on up has had a certain understanding of the way our government works. And this EO clarifies more than 200 years of constitutional scholarship about the way our system works?
MS. PERINO: Maybe it's me, but I think that everyone is making this a little bit more complicated than it needs to be. The President writes an executive order; he says --
Q I'm talking about the part where the Vice President says that there's a question about whether or not he's part of the executive branch.
MS. PERINO: And the point I was trying to make to you before is that I --
Q This really falls into "sky is blue" stuff.
MS. PERINO: For the past two centuries the Senate has provided payment to the Vice President for his duties as a member of the government. I understand that he has roles in both branches. I am -- I don't think that it's as clear-cut as you're trying to make it.
Q That the Vice President of the United States is --
MS. PERINO: I think there is no denying that he has functions in both the legislative and the executive branches. That is a fact.
Q But it seems like the Vice President is saying he's not responsible for the rules of either of those --
MS. PERINO: No, I think that he was saying -- especially when it comes to the executive branch -- is that the duties that he is given are given to him solely by the President of the United States. And some Vice Presidents don't do as much as he does in the realm of national security or in policy development as this Vice President does. But this Vice President was given executive duties to handle --
Q But how is being a part of another branch -- I guess it's debatable -- but how is that an out?
MS. PERINO: It's not an -- that's irrelevant because the President never intended for the Vice President to be subject to the executive order.
Q No, he introduced the topic. The Office of the Vice President introduces that into the argument, into the debate; "well, we're not part of the executive branch."
MS. PERINO: I think that that is also a fact -- and as I said to Kelly, I'll see if I can get more from the Vice President's office to see if they -- how they connected the two, or if they did.
Q He can argue he's part of both, but he can't possibly argue that he's part of neither. And it seems like he's saying he's part of neither.
MS. PERINO: Okay, you have me thoroughly confused, as well.
Q He doesn't know his wife -- (Laughter.)
Q On North Korea, the BDA issue was briefly resolved back in February. Can you comment on why it took so long? And did the transfer actually finish taking place this morning?
MS. PERINO: The North Koreans have said that the transfer has taken place. For a final confirmation of that, I'd have to refer you to the Treasury Department. And I think it took a long time because it's a complex financial maneuver of which I also don't understand. But the Treasury Department can provide you more information.
Q Can you also comment on -- I mean, do you think that this financial measure was an effective tool for diplomacy?
MS. PERINO: I think that what we're doing is we're moving now to the point where North Korea is saying that it is going to dismantle and halt enrichment at Yongbyon facility. And I just heard that Chris Hill is giving a briefing at 2:00 p.m. today, so he'll have a lot more first-hand information than I do.
MS. PERINO: Anybody else? Okay, Les.
Q Dana, thank you. Two questions. First, does the President believe that it will be perceived by most American citizens that the United States really has equal justice under law if Scooter Libby is allowed to be sent to prison while Sandy Berger and Marion Barry remain free?
MS. PERINO: I'm going to give you the standard "no comment" line on that, Les. I know how disappointed you are.
Q Yes. Yesterday New York Times published a column which contended that Vice President Cheney is -- and this is a quote -- "bordering on lunacy" and referring to him as "Crazy
Dick." And my question: Neither the President nor the Vice President would tolerate any of their staffs referring to "Pinch Sulzberger, the left-wing lunatic," would they?
MS. PERINO: We don't refer to him at all. (Laughter.)
Q You don't refer to him at all, okay.
MS. PERINO: Is that it?
Q Then I'm right?
Q Could I just follow up?
Q The President would not --
MS. PERINO: Let me go back to Jim.
Q Just one last big-picture question about -- sort of the cumulative effect of all this. You have this big series in the Post out about the Vice President. You've had this steady series of ways in which it is easy to see that he has created a certain number of questions for you and others to answer in the administration. Does the President consider him a liability, or does he consider him more of a liability now than maybe he did at any point in the past?
MS. PERINO: I don't think he thinks of it that way. I think that the President thinks of the Vice President as a very close and trusted advisor; somebody who has nothing but the country's best interest at heart. And I think that there's been a lot of accusations about this Vice President going back for many years. And as much as we would like to always get fabulous, glowing press, that's not always the case. And so we take the good with the bad, in terms of press coverage. But I think that every day the President relies on the Vice President's good advice.
Q Given the way that a number of initiatives and ideas and policies that the Vice President has been driving on have turned out, do you think the President wants to rethink, or should rethink his reliance on the Vice President?
MS. PERINO: Let me give you three examples. First of all, as I mentioned before, this President has -- was over -- was President during the time of 9/11 when 3,000 of our citizens were killed by terrorists. We have not had another terrorist attack on our soil. And that, as the Vice President has said, is not an accident.
Secondly, the other policies that this Vice President has worked on include things such as tax cuts, of which the entire country benefited and we continued to feel the benefits from with this good economy. So I think that the Vice President's impact is broader and deeper on lots of good policies that have come out of this White House.
Q Are you saying the end justifies the means, following up on the first part of your answer?
MS. PERINO: I don't -- what do you mean --
Q You're saying that we haven't had another attack --
MS. PERINO: -- that I say --
Q -- therefore everything the Vice President --
MS. PERINO: Now, Jim, I think that's a little bit unfair, since about three or five minutes ago I just finished saying and reiterating that this administration has not tortured. But I will say that the policies we put in place -- for example, the terrorist surveillance program, of which we are listening in on phone calls coming into or out of this country, where one person on that phone call is a suspected terrorist -- has saved lives. And that came from General Hayden, now the Director of the CIA. And that's what is not an accident.
Q But does the administration support waterboarding, for example, which is written about again today? It's been considered a war crime since 1901. Do you -- does it --
MS. PERINO: Ed, I appreciate you trying. I'm just -- I am not going to comment.
Q But you said you don't believe in torture, but that's one tactic that --
MS. PERINO: I'm not -- I appreciate it. I am not commenting on it.
Q Are you saying we have not tortured?
MS. PERINO: That's what I'm saying.
Q How can you say that? In every report --
Q Dana, has the Vice President's influence in this administration waned in recent months? Do you think he's as influential as he has -- he was at the beginning?
MS. PERINO: I think that the storyline that a lot of people have tried to explore, I have not witnessed it myself. He was there today at the meeting with the Estonians and he was there last week when we met with the President of Vietnam, and I see him regularly. He was actually there at the SVTS this morning with Prime Minister Maliki. He's influential, his staff is good to work with, and we enjoy having him around. [...]