The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 2/7/2013


James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:07 A.M. EST


Q    Senator Wyden says that the President told him last night that he’s going to launch an extensive public discussion about how the government can or cannot target Americans.  Can you explain what a public discussion about such a sensitive security topic would like?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, that discussion has already been underway, as I’ve noted in recent days, because the President believes these are weighty matters and that the questions about how we move forward in our counterterrorism efforts are so important, and the need to build a legal structure that guides those efforts, that survives and -- in place beyond this administration.  
Because of his interest in this, senior administration officials -- among them the Attorney General, John Brennan, counsel from the Defense Department and others -- have given public remarks about this issue that have been part of the very conversation, the discussion in public that the President believes needs to be had.  And that will continue.  So I think that’s what Senator Wyden was referring to.
Q    So will he now personally be involved in that?  I mean, will he be personally talking publicly about this?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, as you know, on October 18th, 2012, the President told an interviewer that “One of the things that we’ve got to do” -- and I’m quoting him -- “is put a legal architecture in place and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any President is reined in, in terms of some of the decisions that we’re making.”  He says -- he goes on to say, “Now there are some tradeoffs.  I mean, there are times when there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world and you’ve got to make a call and it’s not optimal.  But when you look at our track record, what we’ve been able to do is say we ended the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’ve gone after al Qaeda and its leadership.”  This was in response to a question from an interviewer.
So he has talked about this publicly.  I’m sure he will talk about it publicly in the future.
Q    Is the “Daily Show” a proper platform for a foreign policy discussion like that?
MR. CARNEY:  When the President is asked a question, he answers it.  And I think it is worth going back to the interviews that the President gave during the campaign, and I think you would note that that interview was more substantive than many others.
Q    So what was the thinking behind the release of -- the decision to release the classified documents to the intelligence committees, and this being done on the eve of Brennan’s confirmation hearings?  And was there some concern here that the failure to do so might jeopardize the vote for his confirmation?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, in answer to your second question, we believe that John Brennan with his 30 years of service to this country, 25 years at the CIA, his remarkable career in this effort to keep America and Americans safe makes him an ideal candidate to head up the CIA and that he will be confirmed.  
As part of the President’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the President directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional Intelligence Committee’s access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper that we’ve been discussing these last several days.
Since taking office, the President has been committed to consulting Congress, pursuing greater transparency, and building a durable legal framework around our CT efforts -- as I just noted, he’s talked about this publicly.  That’s reflected in recent speeches by the Attorney General and John Brennan and by the disclosure that the military has taken direct action against al Qaeda in Yemen and Somalia.
With regards to the decision last night, the President believes that scrutiny and debate about these issues is healthy, and he has said previously that he wants Congress to be a part of our efforts to build a durable legal framework for our counterterrorism efforts.  And we’d note that this is an extraordinary accommodation because of the unique subject matter at issue.
Q    Do you know was this strictly coincidental that he releases it on the eve of Brennan’s --
MR. CARNEY:  No, I think we -- there has been heightened interest in this -- I mean, there has always been some interest, obviously, but there has been heightened interest.  I think that what you've seen in the -- because of the public disclosure of the white paper, is that that interest reached higher levels than in the past, and therefore this decision was made to make this extraordinary accommodation to provide classified Office of Legal Counsel advice. 
The fact of the matter is, as I pointed to the public statements by senior administration officials, the effort to consult with Congress has been ongoing on these matters.  I would point you to an interview that Chairman Rogers gave -- I think I’ve got it here -- the other day, where he spoke about the fact that the necessary members of Congress have been provided information on these matters in advance of specific actions.  And that’s, again, part of the process that the President believes is important.  
And then I would point to the publicly-disclosed now white paper from the Department of Justice, which was another effort provided to Congress to explain the legal reasoning -- detached from specific operations -- the legal reasoning that undergirds the matters that we're discussing.
Q    Jay, did the classified information being provided to the Senate answer Senator Wyden's questions this morning about whether -- about how much evidence the President needs, whether the person targeted is given a chance to surrender, and whether or not he can order such an attack inside the United States?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, I won't discuss classified information.  I would point to comments that I saw from Senator Wyden that he thought this was a very good development in his view.
Q    Well, he called it a step in the right direction, but will it answer his questions?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I would ask you to ask those questions of Senator Wyden.  What I can tell you is that the information is classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of targeted attacks that was discussed in the Department of Justice white paper.  We believe that it will provide information to members of Congress that they are seeking.  And I would note, again, pointing to what Chairman Rogers has said, this does not represent the first time that members of Congress have been provided this kind of information.
Yes.  Sorry, go ahead.
Q    Jay, two questions.  Do you intend -- does the administration intend, in light of this, to release publicly any form of this document -- redacted form of this document so that other interested parties can also participate in this discussion?  And are you going to provide them to the Armed Services Committee and the other committees in Congress that have jurisdiction over other parts of the military that are prosecuting the war on terror?
Q    This is not an open-ended process.  This is a specific and unique accommodation in this circumstance.  The fact is, when it comes to public disclosure, we have been -- not with the kind of attention that’s been given it this week -- but we have been publicly discussing these matters at the highest levels of government for the very reason that I’ve given, which is the President understands that these are core issues about how we conduct ourselves in war, how the President of the United States -- any President -- balances his constitutional obligation to protect America and American citizens, and his obligation to do so in a manner that is lawful under the Constitution and reflects our values.
The President takes these issues very seriously, and he believes that the conversation about this is valid and that the questions about it are legitimate.  And that's why he has been leading this process internally to -- as has John Brennan, by the way -- to provide public information as much as possible, mindful of the fact that we are talking about here very sensitive matters, and that these kinds of things -- they’re classification -- information is classified for very legitimate reasons that go right to our national security interest.
But within that, there is an effort underway to provide Congress information -- those who have oversight over these matters -- classified information as well as unclassified with the white paper and the public information as much as possible.
Q    But so, there are legal groups obviously that are highly interested in the sort of fundamental questions that you talked about and the debate you say the President is interested in who say that there is no way to really have those kinds of legal arguments without some form of the documents in question.  So the answer is that those folks should not expect to be seeing any --
MR. CARNEY:  Again, this is an extraordinary accommodation because of the unique subject matter at issue, and this is provision of classified OLC advice to members of Congress who have oversight.  The fact is, if they're looking for legal rationales, there has been an effort, and that effort will continue.  I’m not saying that the effort to provide information and engage in this discussion will not continue.  It will.  I’m just not going to address specific classified information beyond the action that was taken last night.
Q    If the President wants a legal architecture, especially one that survives this administration, why doesn't he -- or is he drafting, or is someone here drafting a law? 
MR. CARNEY:  Well, we’ve been working with Congress on these issues, and we’ll continue to work with Congress.  The broader set that includes, for example, the closure of Guantanamo Bay requires congressional action and congressional cooperation.  So one of the issues here is the need for combined action with Congress to help build that legal structure.
Q    So is someone here drafting a law that they would like to see --
MR. CARNEY:  Again, I’m not going to get into specific actions -- I called it modalities yesterday -- about how what’s -- (laughter).  I mean, you guys have on your -- 
Q    The cameras aren’t on, so you don't have to reuse those big words with us.  (Laughter.) 
MR. CARNEY:  But the microphones are on.  No, but we don't have to -- I can't -- I’m not going to send everybody scurrying after somebody writing a piece of legislation.  That's not what I’m talking about here.  I’m just talking about the overall effort here that has, at the President’s direction, been underway to try to develop a framework that, as the President said last fall, reins in not just his authority but Presidents in the future, their authority, and that will guide those who make decisions about these issues well into the future.  The people who hold positions of power now here in the executive branch, but also in Congress, won't be there forever, and there need to be -- but the conflicts that we have, sadly, won't go away in the near term and the methods of war will continue to be with us.  So we need -- the President believes we need to develop a legal architecture to guide that.
Q    So I'm right in thinking he would like to see a law at some point?
MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I don't know what you mean by “a law.”  Because there are a variety of issues that need to be addressed here, including, for example --
Q    An architecture is -- it means a law.
MR. CARNEY:  Well, legal architecture doesn’t mean a law necessarily; it could mean several laws, but it also means guidelines and procedures and processes when it comes to, as we've seen with closing Guantanamo Bay, that requires congressional action because this President remains committed to that, but there has obviously been strong resistance in Congress.
Q    Is he going to give a speech on this?
MR. CARNEY:  I have no announcements to make about possible remarks.


Source: The White House