Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route Los Angeles, CA, 10/9/2014
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Los Angeles, California
1:01 P.M. EDT
MR. SCHULTZ: Good afternoon. Welcome aboard. Are we ready? Thank you for joining us on the trip.
This afternoon the President will hold a town hall at Cross Campus in Los Angeles where he will speak directly to millennials about how they’re faring in our economy, and this administration’s longstanding commitment to expanding opportunity for their generation, in part by creating good jobs and unleashing more startups and entrepreneurs.
Specifically, the reason we are going to Cross Campus today is for one simple reason: It’s a shared workspace that fosters the kind of creativity and innovation that will help millennials continue to create good jobs, start new businesses, and unleash the next wave of great American economic growth.
With that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Q On The Washington Post report today on the Secret Service, can you address whether the White House individual who was named in that report was involved in anything wrong, and whether the White House tried to cover that up?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Darlene. I do think it’s worth just taking a minute to review a lot of the facts here. Because as most of you will remember, a lot of this was reported over two years ago. In April of 2012, when the allegations first surfaced, the White House proactively initiated an internal review of the White House advance team that traveled to Colombia. At that time, White House Counsel requested that the United States Secret Service send over any information related to White House personnel engaging in inappropriate conduct.
As part of that review, a hotel record of a volunteer with the advance team was provided to the White House. We considered this evidence, and found no other corroborating materials to suggest this volunteer engaged in inappropriate behavior. And in fact, there’s at least one other instance of a similar hotel log falsely implicating a Secret Service agent who was subsequently exonerated.
The White House review, which took into account the information received from the Secret Service, concluded that there hadn’t been any misconduct by the White House team -- White House advance team.
Now, in September of 2012, the acting DHS inspector general published the results of this investigation into the Cartagena incident. The report, which was released, again, in September of 2012, discussed allegations regarding a White House advance volunteer. And these were reported on extensively at the time, I believe, by many of you.
Then, in April of 2014 -- that’s six months ago now -- a bipartisan Senate investigation led by Senators Claire McCaskill and Ron Johnson concluded that changes made to the IG report were “part of the ordinary process of editing the report,” and found that allegations that changes were made because they were embarrassing could not be substantiated.
Q It almost sounds as though you all are saying faulty hotel records came into play here. Are you saying that the hotel records were not correct -- the records that suggested that he brought someone to his hotel room?
MR. SCHULTZ: That hotel log was examined as part of the White House review. The White House review also talked to officials who were on the trip, talked to the individuals in question, examined contemporaneous materials, and found no corroborating evidence to that log. In addition, we know that a very similar log falsely implicated a Secret Service agent who was subsequently exonerated.
Q In that same log? Is that what you’re saying? You’re saying that was at the same exact time?
MR. SCHULTZ: Same exact?
MR. SCHULTZ: Yes, yes, yes.
Q So the implication from this Post story is that it was some sort of election-year cover-up to protect a donor. Could you address that?
MR. SCHULTZ: I can, Steve. And more than me addressing it, I’d like to draw your attention to the bipartisan subcommittee report, again, chaired by Senators Claire McCaskill and Ron Johnson, who could not substantiate those allegations. In fact, to the contrary, they found that changes were made to a draft of the IG report on Cartagena were “part of the ordinary process of editing the report.”
Q Can you speak a little bit to the discrepancy in how this White House staffer was investigated and how these Secret Service agents were investigated? The Washington Post article said that some of those agents were subject to polygraph tests. Why wasn’t the same -- why weren’t the same measures used on this White House staffer?
MR. SCHULTZ: Thanks, Kevin. I think it’s worth remembering that when the allegations of a White House staffer first surfaced, the White House Counsel immediately conducted an internal review that included interviews with the White House advance team, and looking at other materials, including contemporaneous accounts. In addition, the White House Counsel had requested Secret Service to send over all information related to the White House personnel engaging in inappropriate conduct.
Based on that careful review, which concluded the hotel log discussed by The Washington Post and many of your articles months ago -- based on that, the White House -- based on an absence of information corroborating that log, the White House Counsel concluded that there had been no misconduct by the White House advance team.
Q I think the question is, did his volunteer status affect sort of the intensity with which the White House felt that it had to investigate? And did his father’s status as a donor have anything to do with either him being on that trip or how you treated him once there was a potential problem?
MR. SCHULTZ: The second question you asked, the answer is no. The first question you asked -- again, two years, three years ago now, when the White House initiated this review, it looked at any possible member of the White House team who may have been engaged in inappropriate conduct on the ground on that trip.
Q But you wouldn’t investigate a volunteer the same way you would investigate, like, a senior advisor or a member of the President’s protective detail. I mean, isn’t that true?
MR. SCHULTZ: Well, I would tell you that we actually asked the Secret Service to send us any documents that implicated any White House officials on that trip.
Q So is this article going to prompt you to review this again, look at it again, investigate it again?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think that the review that was conducted several years ago now, again, looked at these allegations and found there was nothing to them.
Q Congressman Chaffetz is asking for documents related to the White House review on this. Is that something that -- I mean, will the White House consider giving him what he’s asking for, or turn over the documents?
MR. SCHULTZ: I saw that request. I don’t have a specific reaction to you. As you know, we do comply with all legitimate oversight requests, and I would point you to, again, the oversight that’s been done heretofore on this, which was released by a bipartisan panel chaired by Senators Claire McCaskill and Ron Johnson, who found that changes made to the draft IG report on Cartagena were “part of the ordinary process of editing that report.”
Q Is Mr. Dach going to keep his job at State? There’s no reasons that that status would change, is there?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’d refer you to the State Department on any personnel, but I don’t know anything about that.
Q Can I ask you just real quickly also -- this has been brought up long before this anyway, but is there now consideration of moving Secret Service back under Treasury? Is that something that you guys have sort of taken a second look at? And what’s the status of those discussions?
MR. SCHULTZ: I have not heard any discussion of that.
Q Was the President aware that there was a White House staffer under investigation at the time? And was he satisfied with the investigation that you all completed?
MR. SCHULTZ: I know that we have -- we stand by the review. I don’t have information regarding sort of the President’s visibility into this.
Q Kathy Ruemmler is obviously very involved in this, and she’s also being discussed as a potential nominee for Attorney General. Is this going to affect those deliberations about when -- who you would pick for the nominee and when that would happen?
MR. SCHULTZ: Let me answer that a couple of ways. First, I’m not going to speculate about any potential candidates for the Attorney General slot. As you know, that’s a general rule that we’re pretty strict about.
On the matter of this White House review, we stand by it. We thought it was conducted by White House Counsel -- Kathy -- in a careful, thorough way, as you -- anyone who knows Kathy knows that she’s a former prosecutor. She is a renowned attorney who is respected by members of both sides of the aisle.
Q So there’s no concern about this drawing attention to conduct that obviously is questionable to some people, given that she’s in -- she might be in contention for something else?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, I’m not going to address whether any particular individuals are in contention for any particular slots, but I would say that, again, the review was conducted in an aggressive, thoughtful and thorough way.
Q How close are you to naming an AG nominee?
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, that is a priority. Attorney General Holder, over the past six years, has accomplished a lot. It will be tough shoes to fill, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. And so that’s something we’re looking to fill as soon as we can. I don’t have any specific updates for you on it though.
Q On the fundraisers on this trip, will you address why some of them are open to the media and some of them are closed? How was that decided?
MR. SCHULTZ: I could speculate on your interest on some of them, but I won’t. Darlene, as you know, all of the events on this trip are in accordance with the sort of established guidelines that we’ve used over the past six years. Those guidelines include increased access for the first time to fundraisers at private homes where the President is giving remarks. And because of our commitment to transparency and because of our opening of those to press access, you’ll be able to hear those remarks.
Q But we won’t be able to go into the ones that are described as roundtables. So what does he do there?
Q Why are they so secret? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, again, these access questions are all consistent with how we’ve handled this in the past for the past six years. As you know, when the President gives prepared remarks, even at a private home, for the first time, the press has access to them. When there are no prepared remarks and it’s more of an informal discussion, we believe that’s more conducive.
Q Has the President met Gwyneth Paltrow before? And what’s kind of like -- has she been a supporter of his in the past? And does she represent millennials do you think?
MR. SCHULTZ: Margaret, I had not anticipated that question. (Laughter.)
Q What does he think of “Shakespeare in Love”? (Laughter.)
MR. SCHULTZ: I vowed I would not speak in the third person in this gaggle, but I can tell you I’ve never met Gwyneth Paltrow before.
Q On the millennials event today, how much is this event about getting young people to vote in the midterm elections? Those contests aren’t typically frequented by younger people. Is the President specifically in his statement in the town hall today going to tell these people to go out and vote?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think it’s fair to look at what was in the report yesterday, which I encourage you to review thoroughly. I think that what you saw were issues and a record from this administration of focusing on these issues for the past six years.
So if you look at the top issues we’re focused on, it’s job creation, wage growth; it is making college more affordable. Those are issues that we have been talking about for the past six years.
Q So he’s not going to tell them to go and vote in the midterm elections?
MR. SCHULTZ: I don't have a preview of the President’s remarks for you. But again, I can tell you that this event is going to build on what you heard the President talk about last week -- some of you were fortunate enough to join us on that trip -- when he put forth his vision to continuing to build on the foundation we’ve laid for a strong, durable economy with a secure middle class.
Q The economy has been kind of tough on younger people, though, partly because they were entering the job market at a time when it was really hard to get a job. So this was once like the President’s most enthusiastic -- one of his most enthusiastic groups. And they have sort of waned a bit. Is he hoping that he can win them back over by talking about the things that he has done? I mean he obviously -- if he thought he was going to hurt Democrats by talking to young people, he wouldn’t be out there talking to young people three weeks before an election. So what’s he kind of hoping to do -- even if it’s a purely policy speech with no political implications?
MR. SCHULTZ: That's a good question, Margaret. As you know, this is a policy speech. And the millennials, as you’ve referenced, came of age -- some of us are included -- during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. In the face of those challenges, President Obama acted quickly to rebuild opportunity for all hardworking Americans, including millennials.
But there are still challenges to meet, and no generation has been better equipped to overcome them than millennials. They're skilled with technology and more education than previous generations. And like you said, there are still challenges to meet. But I would point out that thanks to the Affordable Care Act, for example, the number of uninsured young Americans has dropped nearly 40 percent over the last four years. And I also happen to know that unemployment is down by five percentage points for workers aged 18 to 34.
Q Can I go to Syria? I want to ask -- you want to ask?
Q Eric, is it important with the speech last week and with what he’s going to be speaking about on this trip, does the President feel like his accomplishments have been lost, that people aren’t paying attention to them, that he needs to assert them?
MR. SCHULTZ: I think, Isaac, you heard the President last week, at a speech that I was privileged to join, lay out both the record of this administration for the past six years and also talk about the challenges and opportunities we see moving forward, as well as the common-sense measures we can take. So this is what drives the President day in and day out. You can certainly expect to hear more from him on this moving forward.
Q But does he feel like people aren’t paying attention to those accomplishments?
MR. SCHULTZ: I believe that there’s a lot in the news, and there are certainly an array of international -- complicated international situations that have taken up a lot of attention, both in the press and by the American people, and by the President. That's not to say we shouldn’t be also focused on the domestic economic challenges we face here at home. And that's why the President is.
Q How often will we see him or can we expect to see him out on the road trying to campaign through these remaining weeks before the election? Once a week, twice a week, every day? Weekends?
MR. SCHULTZ: Darlene, I’m not going to steal the thunder for tomorrow’s week ahead. (Laughter.) But I will tell you, because you asked, that on October 15th the President will travel to Bridgeport, Connecticut for a campaign rally with Connecticut Democrats, featuring Governor Dan Malloy. Additional details will be made available in the coming days.
Q So how closely is the President tracking what’s going in on Kobani? Does he wish the Turks would get involved? Apparently there’s a Facebook message going on by the Kurds, urging the President to get more involved in protecting Kobani.
MR. SCHULTZ: I admit, Steve, I haven’t had a chance to check Facebook today, but I will say we remain deeply concerned about the people of Kobani who are battling against ISIL terrorists. We continue to conduct airstrikes in the Kobani area, including five strikes last night south of the city that damaged an ISIL training camp, destroyed an ISIL support building and destroyed two ISIL vehicles. These strikes were, indeed, conducted as part of the President’s comprehensive strategy to degrade and destroy ISIL.
The destruction of targets in Syria and Iraq further limits this terrorist group’s ability to lead, to control, to project power, and to conduct operations.
Q So Turkey, should they be getting involved?
MR. SCHULTZ: Steve, I think as we’ve said a couple of times, ISIL is obviously a threat to Turkey’s security. In fact, there are few countries that have felt the ripple effect of this crisis as much as Turkey has.
We’ve also said that Turkey has unique capabilities in a wide range of potential contributions that can play a very important role in the growing international effort to counter ISIL. I think that's why General Allen is in Ankara today where he’s scheduled to meet with leaders from the Syrian opposition, members of the Turkish government, and from NATO.
Q What are the expectations for that meeting?
MR. SCHULTZ: I’m not going to preview that at this time. I can say that we’ve been in constant discussion with our Turkish partners about the range of possible ways that Turkey can contribute to support the anti-ISIL coalition. And I’m going to leave it to General Allen to continue those conversations.
Q So you feel the United States is doing all it can to help Kobani?
MR. SCHULTZ: Again, we remain deeply concerned about the situation there, as we are always concerned with the welfare of those who are threatened by ISIL’s inhumanity. I think that's why you’ve seen the Defense Department read out information about airstrikes last night.
Q Who is the national security staffer that's traveling with the President on this trip?
MR. SCHULTZ: Suzy George, the chief of staff for the National Security Staff.
Are we good?
Q Thank you.
1:19 P.M. EDT