Press Briefing

May 14, 2013 | 59:00 | Public Domain

White House Press Briefings are conducted most weekdays from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing.

Download mp4 (588MB) | mp3 (142MB)

Read the Transcript

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jay Carney, 05/14/2013

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:09 P.M. EDT

MR. CARNEY:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here.  I appreciate your attendance.  And I have no announcements to make at the top, so I'll go straight to the Associated Press.

Q    Thanks, Jay.  For fear of stating the obvious, the White House right now is confronting a confluence of issues -- Benghazi talking points, IRS reviews of political groups, Justice Department review of journalists’ phone records.  And in every instance, either the President or you have placed the burden of responsibility someplace else.  On the Benghazi talking points, it’s been political motivations on the Hill.  On the IRS, it’s been the bureaucrats at the IRS.  And on the Justice Department issue, yesterday in your statement you said those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department.  But it is the President’s administration, so I wonder, doesn’t responsibility for setting tone and setting direction ultimately rest with the President on these matters?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the responsibility to set tone and to focus on the priorities of the American people is absolutely the responsibility of the President.  And you see and hear him do that every day as he fulfills his duties as President. 

I think you have to separate these issues, and I think if you look at the answers the President gave yesterday in response to questions, on one hand, about the clear political circus that Benghazi has become and his response to questions about the reports of activity by the IRS, I think you see something different.  He made clear that if the reports about the activity of IRS personnel proved to be true, he would find them outrageous, and he would expect appropriate action be taken and that people be held responsible.  He has no tolerance for targeting of specific groups, conservative groups, if the reporting is true on this, and he would expect action to be taken.

But this is a matter, when it comes to the IRS, that is under review by the independent Inspector General.  We have not seen that report.  It is our understanding that its release is fairly imminent, and once we have that report we'll be able to assess next steps.  So at this point, we have to wait for the action of an independent investigator, if you will, the Inspector General, before we can jump to conclusions about what happened, whether there was a deliberate targeting of groups inappropriately, and if that's the case, what action should be taken.  But you can be sure, and I would point you to the President’s response yesterday, what his feelings are about this kind of action if it, in fact, took place.

On the issue of what is a Department of Justice investigation, as I understand it, the President is a strong defender of the First Amendment and a firm believer in the need for the press to be unfettered in its ability to conduct investigative reporting and facilitate a free flow of information.  He also, of course, recognizes the need for the Justice Department to investigate alleged criminal activity without undue influence.

And as I said yesterday in my statement, other than press reports we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the Associated Press.  We are not involved at the White House in any decisions made in connection with ongoing criminal investigations, as those matters are handled, appropriately, by the Justice Department independently.

And I understand there are a lot of questions about the reports about DOJ’s actions, and from my background, I understand them well.  But in this situation where the department appears to be conducting a criminal investigation, it would be wholly inappropriate for me to have answers to those questions.  I don’t have them.  And I have to refer you to the Department of Justice.

Q    If I could then go back to the IRS issue, the President did use the word “if” these activities had taken place, but there has been an acknowledgment on the part of the IRS leadership that these things did indeed occur, so I wondered why the President used that phrasing in claiming that it was an outrageous --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, those from the IRS who have spoken about this obviously have much greater insight into what took place than we do.  We have to -- we have not seen the report.  We have not independently collected information about what transpired.  We need the independent Inspector General’s report to be released before we can make judgments. 

One person’s view of what actions were taken or what that individual did is not enough for us to say something concretely happened that was inappropriate.  I think if you look at some of what’s been said -- that the actions were inadvertent or not, or constituted something that was specific and inappropriate or not -- and I think that what we have to do, responsibly, is wait for the independent Inspector General’s report to be released before we assess next steps.

But again, if you look at what the President said yesterday, he was very clear that if there was deliberate, specific targeting of groups that would be outrageous and would require, in his view, action be taken.

Q    And that action -- would there be something that the White House could do unilaterally?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think that we have to wait and see what next steps are, because obviously there is a significant amount of independence of the IRS, obviously, as well as the IG, and we have to wait for what the IG assesses before we can decide what next steps might appropriately be taken.


Q    Jay, it’s now clear that senior tax officials knew about this extra scrutiny of conservative groups since 2011, which means also during the election and that this was withheld until after the election.  Should the White House have been informed earlier?

MR. CARNEY:  My understanding is that when there is a review, as there was and is, by an Inspector General, that when the end of that process is nearing and a report is about to be released, a notification is appropriate and routine.  And that is what happened, and that happened several weeks ago.  Prior to that, there was no knowledge here at the White House.  

Now, before I make judgments about or anyone else here makes judgments about whether the White House should have known more or others in the administration should have known more, we have to find out what exactly happened.  And that’s why it's important for us to wait for the release of the Inspector General's report, which will hopefully be fairly imminent.

Q    Based on the reporting, do you have any concerns that this was withheld when it could have been a big story during an election year?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, we have serious concerns about what's been reported.  I think you saw that reflected in what the President said.  And again, it's been reported, and we have to make sure that the independent review of this by an Inspector General is revealed, and we can assess that and assess what actually happened, what motivations there were behind whatever actions were taken, and then decide what action is appropriate and who should take it. 

Q    When did the President find out about the Department of Justice's subpoenas for the Associated Press?

MR. CARNEY:  Yesterday.  Let me just be clear.  We don’t have any independent knowledge of that.  He found out about the news reports yesterday on the road. 

Q    What was his reaction to that?  Does he believe that this was an overreach?

MR. CARNEY:  All I can tell you is that I cannot and he cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation or actions that investigators at the Department of Justice may or may not have taken.  It would be wholly inappropriate.  And if we did comment on it, or if we did have insight into it, you would appropriately ask why and is that correct procedure, because it would not be.

So I can't comment on the specifics of that.  But I can tell you that the President feels strongly that we need the press to be able to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism.  And you saw when he was a senator, the President co-sponsored legislation that would have provided further protections for journalists in this regard.  And he is also mindful of the need for secret and classified information to remain secret and classified in order to protect our national security interests.

So there are -- there is a careful balance here that must be attained.  But I think it's important to look at the President's past here to understand where he comes from in this broadly -- broadly speaking, where he comes from in regard to issues like this.  But we simply can't comment on the specific investigation.

Q    President Obama is being compared to President Nixon on this.  How does he feel about that?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I don’t have a reaction from President Obama.  I can tell you that the people who make those kind of comparison need to check their history, because what we have here with one issue in Benghazi is so clearly -- as we're learning more and more -- a political sideshow, a deliberative effort to politicize a tragedy.  The President feels very strongly about that.  You heard him address that yesterday. 

On these other issues, these are things that we are finding out about and we need to wait appropriately for independent action to be completed before he can in any way take action or comment specifically on it. 

I think that it is a reflection of the sort of rapid politicization of everything that you have that kind of commentary.  Everything becomes a huge political issue when if you look at the facts -- and I think Benghazi is instructive in this -- the real issue is that four Americans died.  And we need to do everything we can, as the President has committed himself to doing, to finding out who did it, finding out why, and to taking the steps necessary to ensure that our diplomatic personnel are protected and our facilities are protected, so that what happened in Benghazi doesn't happen again -- instead of trying to score political points, which Republicans have been doing since the hours after the attack.  And it's very unfortunate.

And it's not what the American people expect us to do. Because -- going back to Jim's original question -- the President is here to try to achieve the things that he told the American people he would try to achieve and that they supported him in two elections now in trying to achieve, and that is to focus on the middle class, to help in any way he can to strengthen the middle class, to help the country build the economic foundation that's essential for the kind of dominance economically in the 21st century that this country enjoyed in the 20th.  And that is what he spends his time focusing on -- that and the paramount interest of protecting the national security of the United States.


Q    Jay, you say check our history, rapid commentary -- but you have to understand and hear how it sounds like the administration might be hiding something.  So can we take these one at a time?  On the IRS, on Friday, they gave one version of the story that's changed several times since then.  So can you just say plainly, does the President believe that they're being truthful and does he think that the leadership there needs to change?
MR. CARNEY:  I don't understand how that tracks with your first sentence about -- assertion here.  We have seen the reports, as the President said, and if the reports are true, he would consider them outrageous. 

Q    Even this IRS has acknowledged that some of this wrongdoing has happened.  So the President and this administration could agree --

MR. CARNEY:  And I think you heard the President say yesterday that --

Q    If.

MR. CARNEY:  -- if it turns out to be the case -- and there's a lot of reporting, not all of it complementary, some of it contradictory.

Q    But, Jay, he also limited it to one -- he said there was IRS personnel, which sounded like it was isolated.  We've now learned that it was --

MR. CARNEY:  How could IRS personnel be isolated?  That could be the entire agency. 

Q    Well, now that he learned that it touched the Washington, D.C. office, is he concerned that this is a broader problem, that this is more widespread?

MR. CARNEY:  Jessica, he’s concerned by every report he sees on this.  You can believe that he is concerned by that.  And that is why he looks forward to finding out what the IG report says, and then deciding what next steps need to be taken and who needs to take them. 

Instead of rushing to conclusions or perpetrating consequences before we even know specifically what happened and the whole story would be inappropriate for a President to do.  And so, again, he made clear what his view of this action, if there was specific, deliberate targeting of conservative groups or any groups inappropriately, he would be outraged.  And he finds the suggestions of that to be outrageous.  But we cannot, and we should not, prejudge the outcome --

Q    And what is the consequence of his outrage?

MR. CARNEY:  -- of an investigation. 

Q    What is the consequence of his outrage?

MR. CARNEY:  We'll see.  How could he possibly say what the consequence will be before we know what the facts are.  Shouldn't we let the facts be revealed by this independent Inspector General report before we make some conclusive judgments about what actions need to be taken?

Q    Okay.  On the IRS/DOJ story, we understand that you guys can’t get involved in a leaks investigation that could touch the White House and the administration, and that it’s a legal violation and it’s a legal issue that happened.  But this involved multiple months, multiple locations, many phones.  Is the President at all concerned about the breadth of the investigation, about the breadth and depth that the DOJ is using to pursue leaks in general, which has become a priority for this President?  He’s prosecuted in this administration more people for leaks than every other President put together.

MR. CARNEY:  Jessica, what I can tell you is that this President believes strongly in the First Amendment and is a strong defender of the First Amendment.  He believes strongly in the need for the press to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism.

He also believes strongly, as a citizen and as President, in the need to ensure that classified information is not leaked, because it can endanger our national security interests; it can endanger American men and women around the world.  But I cannot, and he cannot, appropriately, comment on the specifics of an ongoing criminal investigation for the reasons that you yourself just raised.

Q    It’s not about the specifics of this investigation --

MR. CARNEY:  You listed the specifics of the investigation or at least as reported.

Q    Is he concerned at all about the precedent this is setting and that this is the legacy of his Attorney General?

MR. CARNEY:  “This” I think refers to this investigation, so I cannot comment on that.  What I can tell you is the President absolutely believes in the need for the press to be able to pursue unfettered investigative journalism.  And you saw that in -- prior to his arrival in this office, when he was a senator and cosponsored legislation that would enhance protections for the media, and the principles that are behind that effort are ones that he holds to this day.

But I can’t -- I can’t then take that to a specific case that’s been reported in the press, again, that we learned about from the press, appropriately, because if we learned about it any other way it would be inappropriate.

Q    So you’ll comment on it after the case is decided?

MR. CARNEY:  Well --

Q    I’m joking.  Okay, go.

MR. CARNEY:  Thank you. 


Q    Jay, can you say, categorically, that nobody at the White House and nobody on the President’s political team had any knowledge or was involved in any way in the targeting of tea party groups by the IRS?


Q    Absolutely not?

MR. CARNEY:  I mean, we found out about this -- or at least the Counsel’s Office was notified about this investigation, this activity -- potential activity -- very broadly just a few weeks ago.  And beyond that, we have to -- we learn about everything we know about this from what we see in your reports.  So that’s why we have to wait for the Inspector General's report before we can assess, based on that and what it tells us, what we know about what happened and what didn’t, and what actions should be taken, and then decide on what next steps should be taken.

Q    Are people going to be fired over this?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, we'll have to see what the report concludes, and what else needs to be done to find out, if necessary, what happened.  The reports that we've seen are very troubling, and if true, and depending on the reports -- because there's been a series of different ones -- but if it is true that there was a knowing effort to target specific organizations, as reported -- conservative organizations -- that would be outrageous, in the President's view, and there should be consequences.

Q    And while you clearly can't comment on the Justice Department investigation, as a principle, does the President approve of the idea of prosecutors going through the personal phone record and work phone records of journalists and their editors?

MR. CARNEY:  I appreciate the effort to generalize the question, but obviously, that goes right to the heart of some of the reporting on this specific case.  I can tell you that the President believes that the press, as a rule, needs to have an unfettered ability to pursue investigative journalism, and --

Q    How can it be unfettered if you're worried about having your phones --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, again, I can't respond to this in the specific.  And I am very understanding of the questions on this issue and appreciate the nature of the questions, and I think they go to important issues and they go to the fundamental issue of finding the balance between, when it comes to leaks of classified information of our nation's secrets, if you will, between the need to protect that information because of the national security implications of not protecting them, on the one hand, and the need to allow for an unfettered press in its pursuit of investigative journalism. 

So this is a balance that the President believes is important that we have to find.  And how he views these issues can be seen in the actions and proposals he's made in the past.  But when it comes to this specific case, I simply cannot get into the details of our view or his view of it.

Q    Just the last question -- is all of this, all of this swirl of controversy and stories affecting the President's ability to pursue his agenda?

MR. CARNEY:  The President is focused on what he believes the American people expect from him and from their leaders in Washington, and you have seen that and you will continue to see that in the days and weeks and months ahead.

Overwhelmingly, Americans are concerned about continuing the recovery out of the worst recession since the Great Depression, building on the job creation that we've seen, continuing to expand and make more secure the middle class, taking the necessary steps to invest in our future so that our economy can grow later -- and that means bipartisan cooperation on things like investing in infrastructure or in innovation, in the kind of investment -- in the innovation hubs that the President talked about in Austin last week.

These are the issues that he’s focused on.  They include comprehensive immigration reform, which he is constantly discussing with leaders and members of Congress, a bipartisan effort that he believes can and should produce a law that he can sign that reflects the principles that he’s laid out a long time ago.

So there’s a lot of work to be done, and he’s focused on that work. 

Chip, good to see you.  Welcome back.

Q    Good to see you.  I appreciate it.  As you know, numerous members of Congress over a period of a couple years wrote the IRS and asked if conservative groups were being targeted.  Those officials did not respond.  If it turns out that those officials did know at the time that they were -- that conservative groups were being or had been targeted, should those officials be punished?

MR. CARNEY:  That goes into -- I mean, the “if” phrasing is appropriate.  If what we’re seeing in some of these reports about specific targeting and actions taken by personnel within the IRS turns out to be true, then people should be held accountable.  And what that means in concrete action we’ll have to see based on the information and the facts that are gathered, principally, at least at first, by the Inspector General. 

You heard from the President yesterday.  You heard the outrage that he conveyed at the reports of this kind of activity --

Q    Outrage or potential outrage?  I mean, he’s only going to be outraged if --

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t think you would want a President to be outraged on something that turned out -- about something that turned out not to be true.  We have to wait --

Q    The IRS apologized for part of it.  Don’t we know that part of it is fact?  It’s not in the “if” area anymore; it’s fact.

MR. CARNEY:  I agree with that, and I think that that was reflected in the tone and the nature of the comments you saw from the President.  But on the broader issue here, about getting all the facts, it really is important in our view and the President’s view, that we let the independent Inspector General complete that report, that we assess it when we see it -- because we haven’t seen it.  There have been suggestions in the reports that some of it has leaked out, but we haven’t seen it.  We don’t have access to it.  And when we do, we’ll be able to assess it a lot more specifically than we can now.

Q    And one other question, following up on Jim’s question about what he called the confluence of issues -- you’ve got Benghazi, IRS, HHS, DOJ.  If you read some of the articles on this, it almost sounds like there’s a siege going on.  Is there a siege mentality back there in the West Wing right now?

MR. CARNEY:  Absolutely not.  We are focused on the things that we can do to help the middle class; the things that we can do to move our economy forward; to help our kids get educated; work with Congress to achieve what will hopefully be a bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill that this President can sign into law; working with Congress -- as you’ve seen over the last weeks and months -- to see if we can find common ground on reducing our deficit in a balanced way that will help the economy grow, help it create more jobs.  We are focused on these fundamental issues that the American people sent this President to this office twice now to focus on.

And I understand the effort -- I understand the natural inclination to try to bunch some of these things together, but there really is a distinction here.  And I think you heard it from the President.  The ongoing obsession -- and I’m quoting now somebody describing the Speaker of the House -- ”the ongoing obsession” with talking points and Benghazi and the attempts to politicize that constitute a sideshow that’s driven purely by -- or largely by political interest, and not the interest of finding out exactly what happened and who was responsible, and taking the steps that we need to take to ensure that our diplomats and our facilities are secure. 

That’s what the President has been focused on.  That’s what you’ve seen in the report from the ARB -- the Accountability Review Board that was overseen by Admiral Mullen and Ambassador Pickering.  And it’s what you’ve seen in the President’s insistence that the investigation led by the FBI into finding out who is responsible for the deaths of four Americans reach a point where we can bring those responsible to justice.


Q    Jay, on the AP phone records, what prevents the President from picking up a phone, calling Eric Holder and asking him, what happened?

MR. CARNEY:  Enormous -- a great deal prevents the President from doing that.  It would be wholly inappropriate for the President to involve himself in a criminal investigation that, as Jessica points out, at least as reported, involves leaks of information from the administration.  I mean, imagine the story on Fox if that were to happen.  So that’s why. 

And this is -- we have seen from the press reports the information about attempts to seek phone records from the Associated Press and we’re not involved in those decisions, and we can’t comment on an ongoing criminal investigation for reasons that I think -- I know that maybe the question was rhetorical -- but I think are pretty apparent to everyone who's covered these things over the years.

Q    Is it your understanding that no one could have ordered this but the Attorney General?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, it's my understanding that this is something that the Department of Justice does and that the investigators in the Department of Justice handle.  There is, I believe, when it comes to these kinds of things, a decision-making process.  But I would refer you the Department of Justice for who actually made the decision that’s been reported, because, again, our information comes only from press reports on this.

Q    If that turns out to be the Attorney General, or whoever it turns out to be, will the President have confidence in that person?

MR. CARNEY:  The President has confidence in the Attorney General.  He has confidence in his team over at the Department of Justice.  I think that the -- again, I'm not going to comment on the specifics of an investigation here.  I think that it is important to note that, as I said earlier, that there is a balance here that has to be struck between our national security interests and the need to prevent classified information from leaking -- classified information that can endanger Americans and harm our national security on the one hand, and the President's firm commitment to the need for reporters to be able to, in an unfettered way pursue investigative journalism.

Q    And do you believe it's possible to strike that balance, and at the same time subpoena the phone records of reporters?

MR. CARNEY:  Wendell, I just can't comment on the specific reports that you cite.  I can say that the President does believe that that balance should be sought and can be found.  But it is a balance and, therefore, something that we need to constantly work at.  And you've seen from the past, from the measures that the President supported as a senator, that he believed action should be taken to alter the balance.  But I cannot comment on this specific investigation, for all the obvious reasons.

Q    But we know it happened, just as the IRS admitted what it had done in terms of the tea party and other groups.  The AP knows its records were -- phone records were subpoenaed because the Justice Department told the AP.  Can the President find any way that that might fit in the balance that you say needs to be struck?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific investigation and the methods that have been reported.  I can tell you that it is important to protect our national security classified information.  It is also, in the President's view, essential to allow journalists to be able to pursue in an unfettered way investigative journalism. 

Mr. Todd.

Q    Jay, you keep talking about that then-senator Obama supported a certain piece of legislation -- that is a fact.  As President, he killed that piece of legislation in October of 2009 that made it so that the protections that he supported -- having judicial review on this issue --

MR. CARNEY:  The President supported --

Q    -- about supporting, and then he -- there was an opportunity for this bill to be passed, Chuck Schumer was supportive of it, and he said it was the White House that had problems with it and killed it.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I think, first of all, you're talking about separate pieces of legislation and a legislative history that bears a little more looking into.  The President's position on this is what it was as a senator.  But the fact is I cannot then appropriately apply his support for that measure --

Q    If he supported this piece of legislation, we wouldn't be having this conversation today, because there would be -- he supported a judicial review when it came to some of this protecting of sources --

MR. CARNEY:  And what happened to it in 2007?

Q    I'm asking you what happened to it in 2009, when he was President of the United States.

MR. CARNEY:  It was killed by Republicans.  Well, the legislative history here is a little more complicated than you present.

Q    Democrats were in charge.  This is 2009.  Who cares about 2007?  We know what he said on the campaign trail in 2008 in front of the Associated Press when it came to this issue. He had a chance to support this and make this bill happen.  Why did he change his position?

MR. CARNEY:  The President's position on this has not changed.

Q    Yes, it has.

MR. CARNEY:  No, it hasn't, Chuck.

Q    The administration said that they -- essentially, the President changed his position because of certain things on national security.  Can you explain why he changed his position?

MR. CARNEY:  Broadly speaking, the President does support the ability of journalists in an unfettered way to pursue investigative journalism.  He believes that we have to find a balance between that goal --

Q    So the balance he believed in '08 he didn't believe in once he was President?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, I think that he has addressed this some. And I think you are obviously free to ask him when -- the next time he has a press conference to ask him about this.  But the fact is as President, he obviously has responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief to ensure that classified information, that the nation's secrets that is highly sensitive information is not leaked, because the leaking of that information can endanger individuals as well as our overall national security interests.

Q    Does he believe that a third party should have -- make that decision?  That's fine.  As a candidate, he believed -- he said that the point of the press is sometimes to be a watchdog of the watchdog a little bit, and that the judiciary branch is probably the appropriate place for them to make that determination.  Look, you guys will claim classified -- and it's not just you as an administration -- any administration claims everything is somehow a national security leak and fall under the rubrics of that.  But having a third party make that decision about is it truly going to endanger lives, is it truly going to do this, and you make your case in front of a third party -- does the President support that kind of protection for media sources?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have an answer to that specific scenario that you laid out.  I can tell you that the President does support --

Q    It is what he supported in 2008.

MR. CARNEY:  He does support protections for the media.  He does believe that we need to take measures to ensure that the media can pursue investigative journalism in an unfettered way. And we have to balance that goal with the very real national security interests that we have as a nation.  And, understandably, there is great concern when classified information is leaked that can jeopardize our national security interests or endanger individuals. 

Q    I want to follow up on the IRS.  I still don't quite understand the timeline.  We had members of Congress complaining about this for two years.  Did it just never reach you guys here at the White House that there was these complaints that conservative groups felt that they were being singled out and targeted at any point in time? 

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not sure that people -- I'm sure people were aware of and knew some of the stories that had been reported about the complaints, but we were not aware of any activity or of any review conducted by the Inspector General until several weeks ago. 

Q    Should you have been made aware sooner?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I was asked that before and I don't want to --

Q    I don't understand.  Why wouldn't you want to know sooner?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, for all the reasons why there should be distance between -- why the IRS should not be politicized, there has to be that distance.  But on the specific question that you have, I want to wait and see what the report says and wait and see what we actually know happened and what the facts are before we comment beyond what the President said yesterday on this matter and before we make any decisions or pronouncements about what actions should be taken. 

You heard what the President said about what he believes and what he feels should what's reported about specific targeting turn out to be true.  But we need to wait and see if that's in fact the case, and what the scope of it is before we make decisions about how to proceed.

Q    Do you have any update about when you're going to -- I know that Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee is saying he’s been waiting for an explanation on Hamid Karzai claiming cash payments from the CIA and that these cash payments are continuing.  And he has been confirming this and claiming it in Afghanistan.  And Senator Corker was hoping for an explanation from the President.  And he says it's now been two letters and he hasn't gotten any explanation.

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not aware of the letters.  I'll have to take the question.  The specific story itself involves the CIA and I'd have to refer you to them.  With regards to the letters, I'll let you know if there’s a response.

Q    Jay, you've used this formulation about the President's support for unfettered investigative reporting a number of times here.  To what extent is he -- is the former constitutional law professor in the Oval Office torn between that philosophy and the case for going after leaks?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the appropriate way to describe is that the President believes there needs to be a balance, because there is an interest in making sure that classified information that is sensitive is not leaked, because of the consequences to national security and to individuals -- but there is also an interest, in the President's view, in ensuring that the press can pursue investigative journalism and be unfettered in that pursuit. 

And to the earlier point that Chuck was making, even after he became President, the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence -- after the President took office, his Attorney General and his Director of National Intelligence sent a letter to Congress in November of 2009 expressing the administration's support for media shield legislation.  So the position that the President held as a senator he continues to hold as President.

But that balance is important.  And again, without commenting on specific reports about specific cases, we have to be mindful of the fact that national security interests are significant and classified information needs to be protected.

Q    Well, he has to know that a reporter can't be unfettered if a reporter is subjected to a fishing expedition of personal phone records and office phone records.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, Peter, broadly speaking, I think that the President understands that a reporter needs to be shielded in the way that he supported as a senator and has supported as a President.  I cannot, because of the nature of your question, express an opinion about reported developments in a criminal investigation currently underway at the Department of Justice.

Q    Jay, you just said, categorically, that you could say no one from the White House or on the President's political team was involved.  That’s a pretty unequivocal answer on your part.  And yet, the bulk of this press conference is you saying, you don’t have all the facts; it's a wait-and-see approach. 

MR. CARNEY:  Well, that a fair point.  What I can tell you is that --

Q    What gives you that confidence? 

MR. CARNEY:  I can tell you that, as I think I said yesterday, the White House Counsel was alerted about this IG review and the general topic of it just a few weeks ago.  And I didn’t find out about it --

Q    How do we get to there from being categorically certain that no one from the White House's team or the political team was involved?

MR. CARNEY:  I have no reason to believe --

Q    So you're doing it on good faith, that this is just your assumption?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, because I can tell you that I am not aware of anyone here knowing about it.  It would be, obviously --

Q    So it's down to your direct knowledge of being aware of anyone here?

MR. CARNEY:  Hans, you can ask me if somebody who works in the --

Q    You've asserted something categorically and I don't understand how you know that.

MR. CARNEY:  I can say that I am certainly not aware of and am confident that no one here was involved in this.  We found out about it just a few weeks ago, and only -- and when I say "we," I didn’t, the President didn’t, but the White House Counsel's Office only found out about the review being conducted and coming to conclusion by the Inspector General.

Q    So what gives you the confidence?

MR. CARNEY:  I think I can say that I feel confident in that, but I don’t have anything --

Q    But do you have any facts?

MR. CARNEY:  You're asking me to prove a negative, Hans.

Q    Well, you've made the assertion.  You've asserted that you're confident that no one -- you're the one that actually put the -- put it out there.

MR. CARNEY:  Again, you heard the President express his views.  And we're going to wait and see what the facts are, based on the independent Inspector General review.  And then we will make judgments about those facts and what next steps might be taken and by whom, and what actions might be taken.  But I'm just not going to get into any more details about it because it would be inappropriate to do so.


Q    I want to follow up on a question Jessica asked that has nothing to do with the specific investigation.  This administration, in the last four years, has prosecuted twice as many leakers as every previous administration combined.  How does that reflect balance?

MR. CARNEY:  I would say that the President is committed to the press's ability to pursue information, to defending the First Amendment.  He is also, as a citizen and as Commander-in-Chief, committed to the proposition that we cannot allow classified information to be -- that can do harm to our national security interests or to endanger individuals to be leaked.  And that is a balance that has to be struck.

Q    But the record of the last four years does not suggest balance.

MR. CARNEY:  That’s your opinion, Ari.

Q    No.  It’s twice as many prosecutions as all previous administrations combined -- that’s not even close.

MR. CARNEY:  I understand that there are ongoing investigations that preceded this administration.  But again, I’m not going to -- I can tell you what the President’s views are, and the President’s views include his defense of the First Amendment, his belief that journalists ought to be able to pursue information in an unfettered way, and that is backed up by his support for a media shield law both as senator and as President. And it is also true that he believes a balance needs to be struck between those goals and the need to protect classified information.

And you’re not going to hear him say that it’s okay for the nation’s secrets to be freely reported when that information can endanger our national security and do harm to individuals and endanger individuals.

Q    Do you think a fair analysis of this administration’s actions reflect the views you’ve just described?

MR. CARNEY:  I believe that the President supports balance and that he has made that clear both as President and within his administration.  I cannot comment on a specific case, but I can tell you what the President believes and what his actions have been in the past.

Q    The Pakistani elections?

MR. CARNEY:  Let me move around a bit.

Q    You just mentioned that you said the President has made this goal of balance clear within his administration.  Can you describe how he’s communicated that within the administration or within the -- to the Justice Department as far as guidance?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the President’s position -- I think I just cited a November, 2009 letter to Congress from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence, expressing the administration’s support, the Obama administration’s support for media shield legislation.  So that is a clear expression from several components of the administration about the President’s views.  I can tell you that, as somebody who spends a lot of time with him and speaks about the press frequently, that he firmly believes in the need to defend the First Amendment and the need for reporters to be able to do their jobs. 

He is also, as Commander-in-Chief and a citizen, interested in the protection of sensitive information that can, if released, endanger our national security or endanger individuals.  And I think that is a balance that every American would expect a President to seek, both in his views and in his actions.

Q    He’s talked about that with you privately, or with Eric Holder or --

MR. CARNEY:  I’m just saying that I know because I’ve spent time with him what his general views about this matter are.


Q    Jay, a couple of questions.  Did you know that the Attorney General has recused himself of this investigation?  Did you know that?

MR. CARNEY:  I did learn that before I came out.  It was reported right before I came out.

Q    So you said earlier that it wouldn’t make any -- it would be inappropriate for the President to talk to him.

MR. CARNEY:  As a general matter, for the President to pick up the phone and call the Attorney General about an ongoing criminal investigation led by the Department of Justice into, in part, the administration, I think it’s safe to say that would be inappropriate.  And I think everybody in this room would consider it inappropriate.

Q    Okay, well, let me ask you two more questions.  Is there an expectation around here at the White House that this leak investigation can expand to more news outlets beyond the Associated Press?

MR. CARNEY:  Again, this is not something we would have knowledge about, and I would have to refer you to the Department of Justice. 

Q    And one more question.  At any time during this administration, do you have any knowledge of any wire taps or any tapping of workspaces of reporters?  This is a serious question.

MR. CARNEY:  No.  And again, this is --

Q    You don't?

MR. CARNEY:  I don’t.  And any suggestion that somebody here would goes to the heart of what I'm saying.  These are questions for the Department of Justice, and I would refer you to what's been reported. 

First of all, Connie, happy birthday.

Q    Thank you so much.  Is there a possibility that any of the private Obama administration, people who support the President or the Democratic candidate could have instigated these leaks on the IRS or anybody?

MR. CARNEY:  Instigated the leaks?

Q    Instigated --

MR. CARNEY:  I have no idea.  I think that the reporting -- people are -- sources are cited.  I mean, you're asking me sort of hypotheticals about things that I wouldn’t be able to answer.

Q    And one more question.  The President is human.  When he first found out about these, especially the AP story, did he curse?  Did he scream?  What was his reaction?

MR. CARNEY:  I'm not going to read out a private conversation, but I can tell you that he found out about it yesterday.  (Laughter.) 


Q    Jay, three quick questions.  Can I just follow up -- when you were saying that the President doesn’t involve himself in an ongoing criminal investigation, just to clarify, which ones are we talking about?  I'm thinking about Trayvon Martin, and I'm thinking about (inaudible) case.  Just could you explain and clarify what you mean?

MR. CARNEY:  Alexis, the President -- the federal investigation that has been reported, again, based on news reports.  And we do not, appropriately so, have any insight into that investigation or communications about that investigation.  So we have no knowledge independently of any attempt by the Justice Department to subpoena phone records of the Associated Press beyond the press reports that we've read.

Q    Second question -- about the IRS, following up on what Chuck and Hans were asking you.  It was reported in very estimable news organizations for several years the complaints from the organizations that felt that they were being targeted by IRS.  We have very prominent lawmakers on the Republican side of the aisle who actually gave speeches about it and talked about it long before you would have known about the IG report.  So I just wanted to make sure -- are we going to find out, because of the President's animosity or his feelings or shortcomings about Citizen's United, that he himself appreciated or wanted the IRS to be looking and scrutinizing those --

MR. CARNEY:  That’s a preposterous assertion, Alexis.  And the fact of the matter is you heard from the President that if this turns out to be true, he would be outraged.  And he specifically said if there was specific targeting of conservative groups, that would be wrong and outrageous, and there should be people held accountable for it.  It's not who we are.  It's not the way the IRS should ever operate -- if it turns out to be true.

Q    Third question -- can I just follow up?  Third question, quick question on Benghazi.  CNN obtained part of an email leaked as part of that email trail that was sent to the Congress.  So my question is, because we're eight months into what you call the political circus, and part of that email has come out, will the White House --

MR. CARNEY:  I think the entire email -- the report I read showed the entire email, and what it showed is that Republicans who were leaking these press -- these emails that have been shared with Congress didn’t just do that; they decided to fabricate portions of an email and make up portions of an email in order to fit a political narrative.  And I think -- I'm not surprised by it because we've seen it again and again.  We've seen it in the -- remember the issue in the committee's report, the Republicans committee report, about Secretary Clinton's signature, and the fact that they, of course, didn’t include the truth behind that, that this was an automated signature and she had no involvement in that email.

So I think it just reinforces what we've seen, which is an ongoing effort to politicize this, to take -- to cherry-pick information, or in this case, just make it up, in order to fit a political narrative.

Q    So my question to you is, after eight months of what you call the political circus, why not just put out the emails now, do the data dump now?

MR. CARNEY:  Well, I'd say a couple of things -- because not in your question is the fact that we provided these emails to Congress, to relevant committees, as well as leaders several months ago.  At the time, some Republicans said they were fairly satisfied with the information, that they felt they knew what they needed to know.  This was about the confirmation of John Brennan as the new head of the CIA.  They moved forward with that nomination and confirmed John Brennan in that position.

The Speaker of the House is reported to be "obsessed" with Benghazi and the political benefits of this pursuit.

Q    But you’re --

MR. CARNEY:  Well, hold on, I'll get to it.  I'm just doing a great prelude to the answer, which is that -- (laughter) --

Q    If you do say so.

MR. CARNEY:  Preface to the answer.  So the Speaker of the House is “obsessed” with this, has made all sorts of demands, and that it turns out that his office was provided the information, but obsessed as he was, he didn't show up to get the briefing and spend the time with the emails.  But a staffer did, so he has known all along what these emails contain and what they don't contain.

So I think the evidence is pretty overwhelming. 

Q    The answer is --

MR. CARNEY:  The answer is what I've said before, which --

Q    We're going to see them or we're not?

MR. CARNEY:  -- is that this is, as has been consistently the case with administrations of both parties, the internal deliberations of an -- Alexis, shake your head and editorialize, but let me finish.

Q    -- other administrations when it didn't work and the information comes out -- just put it out.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, the information comes out, but not -- if people leak information, as they have on the Hill for political purposes, that's one thing.  As a matter of course, releasing internal deliberations is something that goes to the kind of protections that have existed for the executive branch for many administrations of both parties. 

And the fact is -- and I think, again, in the full reporting of this story -- we did something rather extraordinary, which is provide these emails to the committees, the relevant committees, in camera -- fancy legal term for meaning they could spend all the time they wanted with them, make notes, copy them verbatim -- or not so verbatim, as it turns out -- and then go on their way and make their assessments, which is what we did.

Q    Has the President spoken to Pakistan's incoming Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after the election?

MR. CARNEY:  He has.  Today, the President spoke by phone with Nawaz Sharif, President of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, to congratulate him on his party's success in the May 11 parliamentary elections.  As you know, over the weekend the President also commended the people of Pakistan on the successful completion of their parliamentary elections.  The United States stands with all Pakistanis in welcoming this historic, peaceful and transparent transfer of civilian power, which is a significant milestone in Pakistan's democratic progress. 

It really is important to note the significance of consecutive democratic elections and the transfer of civilian power from one government to the next. 

The United States and Pakistan have a long history of working together on mutual interests.  And this administration looks forward to continuing our cooperation with the Pakistani government that emerges from this election as equal partners in supporting a more stable, secure and prosperous future for the people of Pakistan.

Q    In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the incoming Prime Minister spoke about the drone strikes and he wants them to stop.  Did that issue come up during the conversation?

MR. CARNEY:  I think the contents of this conversation were reflected in what I just said.

Q    Does the White House, amid all those nice words about the Pakistan election, have a position on the fact The New York Times Islamabad's bureau chief was asked to leave the country with 72 hours' notice literally on the day of that election?

MR. CARNEY:  I don't have a specific reaction to that from the White House.  We obviously have a broad interest not just in the matters that we've been discussing here today, but in general, including in international reporting and in governments around the country [sic] permitting journalists -- American and otherwise -- to operate freely. 

I don't have the specifics on this case, at least in an official capacity.  I certainly have followed it and read about it.  But it's a general principle that we believe reporters ought to be able to work and to work safely around the world.

Q    Can I follow on one thing on Benghazi?  Does the White House -- and this goes back to the talking points -- does the White House believe that the State Department had valid equities that needed to be protected in the drafting of those talking points?

MR. CARNEY:  I would point you to the CNN story about a particular email that was misrepresented in the reporting about it originally where there was actually no discussion of the State Department specifically.  But in general, the process that we've described where agencies with a stake in an issue like what happened in Benghazi obviously are part of it and present their views.  In this case, the CIA had the lead when it came to drafting the talking points.

Much unreported is that many of the iterations of these so-called talking points or at least the discussions about what should be included contained changes made from within the CIA, as I think people have recognized.  But in the end, what was produced by the CIA was a distillation of both the view of the agencies involved, but most importantly reflective of what the CIA felt at the top was a fair representation for public use of what they knew at that time. 

And as we know, and as was made clear in the talking points themselves -- because they were caveated to explain that more information would become available, that our picture would change and evolve of what happened -- some of what was originally put forward as what we believed to have happened in Benghazi turned out not to be true, which we acknowledged and talked about when that became evident.  So as the President said yesterday, the head of the NCTC went up and talked about just that just a few days after Ambassador Rice was on those Sunday shows.

Q    But the key misrepresentation in that email was the fact the email, as reported, had the State Department singled out, and it appears the valid email did not have the State Department singled out.  So I guess my question is -- the State Department raised a series of concerns.  Are we to believe that those concerns were not as uppermost in the minds in the White House?

MR. CARNEY:  I think you should believe that, as I understand it, it was a -- there was an effort here, a focus here and elsewhere, on making sure that what we said as an administration and what we provided to Congress was as accurate as it could be and did not -- there was a lot of misinformation, as is always the case in an incident like this in the initial hours and days afterwards, and a lot of assessments about what might have happened but contradictory information about what might have happened.  And it’s the job of the intelligence community, in this case, to sort of filter through that and assess what its position is and what those points for public consumption can reflect.  And that’s what happened.

So I don’t think it was about one particular agency.  I think it was about the community at large, led by the, in this case, CIA.

Q    One more, Jay?

MR. CARNEY:  One more.

Q    Turkey.

MR. CARNEY:  Turkey.

Q    Thank you.  Turkish Prime Minister is right now on the plane to come here.  My first question -- two quick questions.  In Reyhanli, a border town with Syria, 50 people got killed and dozens of injured.  What’s your reaction?  We have not heard any reaction from White House.  And is this going to change any of your approach to spillover effect -- one of your allies.  And second question I’ll ask afterwards.

MR. CARNEY:  Well, first of all, the United States condemns the car bombings in Reyhanli over the weekend, and we stand with Turkey against such horrific violence.  We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims and our thoughts are with those who are wounded.

It’s important to note always, but particularly appropriate with the arrival of the Prime Minister, that Turkey is one of our strongest partners.  We have worked shoulder to shoulder with the Turks to counter terror threats, and this attack will only strengthen our resolve to work together to protect our people and fight instability and violence in the region.

This is something that I fully expect -- this incident will be a matter of discussion between the Prime Minister and the President.  As friends and NATO allies, the United States and Turkey are partners in addressing a range of critical global and regional issues.  They will clearly discuss Syria, which is an interest that they share.  They will also talk about stability in the Middle East, trade and economic cooperation, and countering global terrorism overall.

The Prime Minister’s visit underscores the close friendship between the U.S. and Turkey, and the strategic importance we place on broadening and deepening that relationship moving forward.

Last one.

Q    On chemical weapon in Syria, the U.N. chemical weapon chief said that time is running out.  He said this a few days ago, and he said that traces of an attack might be impossible to obtain very soon.  And it has been over three weeks that your administration admitted that it was used.  What’s the latest update?  Is there any other evidence you have?

MR. CARNEY:  We are working with our allies as well as with the Syrian opposition to gather evidence.  We continue to call on President Bashar al-Assad to allow the United Nations to conduct an investigation into the use of chemical weapons -- an investigation that President Assad said he wanted but has now blocked.  But we’re not relying on the U.N. alone.  We are pursuing and gathering information independently of that and working with our allies and, most importantly, the Syrian opposition. 

I don’t have the depth of information about the progress that’s being made to assess whether or not the report you said about the evidence available -- whether or not that’s the case.  I know that we have been, for some time now, working in an effort to build on the intelligence community’s assessment about the use of chemical weapons to make sure that we have a case, if you will, a set of facts that can be corroborated and reviewed, and from which we can make assessments about possible policy actions.

Even as that takes place, as you have seen, at the direction of the President, we have stepped up our humanitarian assistance; we have stepped up our assistance to the Syrian opposition; we have made assistance available directly to the Supreme Military Council of the opposition -- nonlethal assistance, but we have stepped it up.

And that process of constantly assessing the options that are available to us in this situation, assessing the ways that we can provide assistance to the opposition will continue even as we gather facts about possible chemical use.

Thanks very much.

2:07 P.M. EDT

Close Transcript