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The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release

Daily Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 03/04/15

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 
12:52 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It's nice to see you all today.  One quick announcement at the top before I get to your questions.  
This afternoon -- well, this morning, the President’s counsel, Neil Eggleston, and a handful of other senior administration officials attended the arguments at the Supreme Court today.  Upon his return to the White House, Mr. Eggleston had the opportunity to give a briefing to the President, sort of a rundown of the arguments that took place at the Supreme Court today.  
I can say just generally at the top that the administration was quite pleased with the performance of the Solicitor General in making a strong case to the Court about the constitutionality of the law and the clear reading that we believe is there.  We also feel like the session was useful because it gave him an opportunity to illustrate how clearly the law reads and how strong our legal arguments are in the case.  So we're pleased with the way that developed over the course of the morning.
But with that, Julie, let’s go to your questions.
Q    Just to follow that, Josh, some of the initial analysis from Court watchers has been that the justices seem to have been split on this.  Was that Eggleston’s takeaway and what he told the President?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, what Neil reiterated, and something that we spent a lot of time talking about, about two years ago today in this briefing room, is that it is -- or I guess it was three years ago now -- that it's unwise to draw conclusions about the ruling based solely on the questioning of the justices, that that can lead to some erroneous assumptions about the conclusion, and in some cases, some erroneous predictions about the likely outcome.  
So Neil avoided doing that in his debriefing to the President, but rather noted that there were tough questions asked by the justices of the advocates on both sides of the argument.  And that is as it should be.
Q    The Justice Department has now said that it will not prosecute Darren Wilson, the police officer in Ferguson.  I'm wondering if there’s a White House reaction to that, and what you would say to people in Ferguson or around the country who feel as though there has been an injustice here and that there has not been appropriate legal action.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I want to be careful of commenting on a Justice Department investigation that's just come out.  I haven't had a chance to read it.  But it certainly was the responsibility of career professional investigators at the Department of Justice to review the facts, to conduct an investigation, to interview witnesses and to do that with their own sophisticated knowledge of the law, that based on all of that information they collected, and based on their reading of the law, arrived at a conclusion that is included in their report.  
But more broadly, what I will say is that -- it's consistent with the way the President talked about this when he met with his 21st Century Police Task Force earlier this week.  He noted that even out of this tragedy that we've seen in Ferguson, that there has been an opportunity presented for us to think carefully and to actually transform the way that we think about the way law enforcement officials relate to the communities that they serve and protect, and that as we think about those relationships and the impact that they have on law enforcement, we can ensure that everybody who lives in these communities feels safer and that law enforcement officers themselves, rather than feeling embattled, can also feel supported, which will make them more effective at fighting crime, but it will also make it safer for them to do their job.
And so I guess the point is -- and this is the point that the President made in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy -- that this particular issue is much broader than just one community, and that there are communities across the country that are rightfully taking another look at these issues, and that is a good thing for the country.  
And that doesn’t change the fact that there was a tragedy that occurred in Ferguson.  And I think people who even if they have pretty divergent views of what took place would acknowledge that the taking of this young life was a tragedy.
Q    If I could switch over to the topic of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.  Some of my colleagues at AP are reporting that Secretary Clinton not only used a private email account, but was also operating her own server that was registered to her home.  And I’m wondering if the White House thinks that that is appropriate for a senior-level administration official to be doing.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, what we have said about senior officials or, frankly, even officials at a middle or lower level who use their personal email to conduct official business is that there’s a responsibility that’s associated with that, which is it’s important to ensure that when official business is conducted on personal email, that those records are properly maintained and preserved.  The easiest way to do that is to simply take that personal email and forward it to your official email account so that it can then be properly preserved along with the rest of your official correspondence. 
But there also are procedures that have been set up by some agencies, including the Department of State, where individuals can essentially print out personal emails that relate to the conduct of official government business, and send them to the State Department and ensure they are properly maintained and preserved in that way.  
And again, it’s important that these emails are properly maintained and preserved so that they can be used to respond to legitimate inquiries from the public, legitimate inquiries from Congress, or even legitimate inquiries from historians down the line.  Now, I understand that hundreds of these documents have been produced to Congress in conjunction with a legitimate congressional inquiry.  And that is, again, the way that this process is supposed to work.
Q    But can you understand the concern that if a Cabinet-level official is not only using a private email account, but is controlling their own -- and controlling their own server, that there really is no independent way to verify that they have turned over all of the emails that involve official business?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, all I can say is that the guidelines that we have laid out are consistent with the law that the President signed into law at the end of last year, which is to establish clear guidelines for how we can ensure that work that’s done on a personal email account is properly preserved and maintained.
Now, this is also why the guidance that we have given to administration staffers is that they should just save themselves this extra step and do their official government business on their official government email account.  That is the path that the vast majority of administration staffers use.  I put myself in that category.  If there are occasions in which there happens to be an email exchange on one’s personal email account that is relevant to their official responsibilities, it’s just important for them to remember to forward that email to their official government account so it can be properly preserved and maintained.
Q    Is there anything happening either at the White House or that you know of at the State Department to go back and look at whether there were any security issues that came up with Secretary Clinton using a private email or private email server?
MR. EARNEST:  No, nothing like that that I’m aware of.
Q    One of the justices this morning suggested that the Court could give states time to prepare for the impact if it decided to rule against the government in the case.  And I’m just wondering if you have any response to that.  Would that be feasible to just wait until the next tax year for a decision like that to take effect -- practically speaking?
MR. EARNEST:  I mean, I think as a practical matter it’s important for people to understand that there is no contingency plan that could be implemented that would prevent the catastrophic damage that would be done by essentially undermining the Affordable Care Act with an adversarial ruling on this.
And we’ve been pretty clear about that; that there have been a number of questions that we’ve received about, like, well, if the case goes against you, what’s the administration going to do, or what is the administration planning to do if that eventuality comes about?  And the truth is, is that there are no easy answers.  There is no simple step, no obvious step that anybody can take that would prevent this catastrophic damage from taking place.  
We would see millions of people lose their health insurance.  We would see -- prices would likely go through the roof.  And there’s not a whole lot, frankly, that the government could do about it other than Congress passing legislation to fix it.  But I think we're all pretty realistic about the likelihood that that's going to happen, because we have majorities in both the House and Senate that, A, struggle mightily to do even the simplest, most politically popular things like funding the Department of Homeland Security, but, B, we also know that they have fought tooth and nail to try and undermine the Affordable Care Act from the beginning.  The reason that they have done that is not entirely clear to me, but that's their position, nonetheless.
So I’ve never -- I have not encountered anybody who has said, look, here’s an easy way we could avoid this problem -- other than through the legislative path, which is, frankly, not one that's available.
Q    But in that scenario it would envision, I think, giving states some time -- some period of time to set up exchanges before cutting off those subsidies through the federal exchange.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we can all acknowledge that -- anybody who has been following this issue -- that it’s not easy to set up these exchanges, that it takes a lot of expertise and it takes a lot of work.  The technology is obviously complicated. And the fact is we’ve gone to great lengths to make that technology work, and we do have a system that is now in place where no one is discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition; nobody is discriminated against in the health care system because they're a woman.  Eleven million have signed up for the Affordable Care Act.  We have seen that the growth in health care costs is the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years.  
So the system as it’s currently constructed is working really well.  And it has made a difference in the lives of millions of Americans who are getting their health insurance through the marketplace.  But it’s making a difference in the lives of millions of Americans who get their health insurance through their employer -- that they're equipped with these kinds of consumer protections that didn't previously exist that ensure that they have a voice and that they have rights that are protected when they're dealing with their health insurance company.  Some of those rights would be eroded, too.
But, again, if we're in a situation where we undermine the exchanges, we can't be in a position of suggesting that people need to sign up for health insurance because they wouldn’t be able to afford it.  And if that's the case, then we no longer have a mandate.  And that means we go back to a situation in which individuals can be discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition.  
So this is a fundamental part of the Affordable Care Act, and it’s one that is at risk because of the arguments that are being made by one side in this argument.  But, again, the solace that we take from this and that everybody who is watching at home should take from this is that the law is really clear that you have to really take four words entirely out of context in a 900-page law to contort it to mean what the plaintiffs in this case want it to mean.  But the fact of the matter is it has been clear from the beginning, throughout the congressional debates, that what the law envisioned was that every American in all 50 states would be eligible to collect tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable if they qualified.
Q    One last thing.  The White House and the President have been kind of restrained in making the points that you have just made ahead of the oral arguments.  And I’m just wondering now that those oral arguments are done, is the White House, is the President going to be out there sort of making that case and sort of talking more actively about the Affordable Care Act and these arguments that you’ve just sort of run through?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the case that I feel like I just made in response to your question is consistent with the way that we have advocated for the Affordable Care Act in the past.  We obviously have faced a lot of withering criticism of that law, some of it from Republican politicians in Congress, some of it from outside groups that have sought to use this to gain an advantage in an election.  
And, yes, I do think that the President, when confronted with those kinds of arguments, will not hesitate to talk about how beneficial the Affordable Care Act has been to our economy and to millions of people across the country who didn't previously have access to quality affordable health insurance.  So we're not going to hesitate to make that case.  But we also have been and will continue to be entirely respectful of the legal and judicial process that’s been at work here.  The reason that we can be confident and being respectful of that process is that we have the sound legal arguments on our side.
Q    The more information that comes out about Secretary Clinton’s use of not only her personal email account but her personal server, doesn’t this just indicate that there ought to be something more in oversight over this, even if it's from a security perspective, other than just guidelines and each agency kind of telling people, oh, you need to do this?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is the National Archives and Records Administration that does work closely with agencies to lay out guidelines that meet the needs of their workforce.  
Q    But doesn’t this indicate that that might not be enough?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I'm not sure that that's the conclusion that -- I mean, I guess you can draw whatever conclusion you want.  I think the conclusion that many people draw when they look at this situation is they see that the State Department recognized that they needed to make a request to former Secretaries of State, all of them, to turn over emails from their personal account that may relate to the conduct of official U.S. business.  And it's my understanding that they’ve been doing that.
And those records, then, were properly maintained and preserved, and at least in one instance, there was a specific congressional request that was made and some of these records, hundreds of them, were actually produced to Congress.  That is an indication that the records, once they were forwarded to the State Department, were preserved and maintained in a way that's consistent with the Federal Records Act.
Q    Well, so wouldn't it be helpful moving forward -- if the State Department alone felt the need to do that with all of the former Secretaries, wouldn't it be helpful of there was some kind of time frame put in these guidelines that are out there?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that is actually what’s included in the law that the President signed at the end of last year, so more specific guidelines, including related to a time frame about how this situation should be handled when there is a personal email involved in the conduct of official U.S. business -- or official government business that there are specific guidelines that are included for how that email can be moved into the official system.
Q    When you say guidance was given to people connected with the White House, can you say how that guidance was communicated and when exactly it was given?
MR. EARNEST:  Again, it is the responsibility of individual agencies to maintain this records management system in their agency.  So how that guidance was communicated was by agency officials to their workforce.  
Q    How about here at the White House?
MR. EARNEST:  I can tell you that White House staffers have gotten on more than one occasions guidance from White House attorneys about the proper handling of presidential records.  Records that are produced here or generated here at the White House are treated somewhat differently than records are under the Federal Records Act, but the Presidential Records Act does set a pretty high threshold for the preservation of records, including email.  And the guidance that we have gotten is that we should use our official government email for official government work, and when there are situations in which personal email is involved, those emails should simply be forwarded to your official government account and then they’ll be properly preserved.  
And that is at least the guidance that I have followed.
Q    Okay.  And when it was realized -- you mentioned that it was noticed by some at the White House that it was Secretary Clinton’s personal email that was being used all the time.  Given the guidance that the White House had gotten you said repeatedly on this issue, nobody thought that it should be flagged that is this being handled properly, because the State Department was giving that guidance to her? 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly can't account for any conversations or all of the conversations that occurred between the White House and the State Department, but the expectation of the President is that everybody throughout his administration is acting in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  And again, as I mentioned yesterday, if, in fact, Secretary Clinton’s team did what they say they did, and that is reviewed her email, collected all of her personal email that was related to her official government work and turned that over to the State Department so that they could properly preserve and maintain it, that would be consistent with the Federal Records Act, and that's the President’s expectation.
Q    This is all sort of interesting.  (Laughter.)  
MR. EARNEST:  I'm not sure if that's really true, but I'm doing my best to make it interesting.
Q    You have people reporting to you here at the White House.  One of your employees, one of the people in the lower press came to you and said, I love technology.  I've got an old PC sitting at my apartment in Dupont and I'd like to run a mail server using Linux on it and plug it into my Cox or FiOS wireless, and I'd like to use that full-time instead of my who email address to conduct all of the business that I conduct with reporters and other people in the White House and the government, that would be okay with you.  You would offer them guidance against it, but at the end of the day, if they wanted to do that, that would be okay?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think I would strongly suggest that they follow the guidance of White House attorneys and use their official government address.
Q    But if they did, that would be --
MR. EARNEST:  Again, if they did, it would be against the guidance that I had directly given them, but I don't know that it would be inconsistent with the Federal Records Act or, in this case, the Presidential Records Act.
Q    But the Federal Records Act --
MR. EARNEST:  But this is pertinent, though, because this is the context by which people are asking this question, is whether or not --
Q    No --
MR. EARNEST:  Well, this was a direct question that I got from another of your colleagues, was whether or not she was following the law here.
Q    Right.  But let’s set that aside for a minute because the Federal Records Act is a question of preserving documents and that's relatively interesting -- maybe not interesting, but it's relevant.  But there’s also security questions, right?  There’s questions about -- regardless of whether or not something is kept for posterity, there’s questions of I'm sending you an email, you're sending me an email, I'm emailing Schultz, is somebody hacking?  Is the contents of that information getting out?  Maybe Schultz is emailing somebody inside the government that’s got a classified document or it’s got a secure document that should be secure.  That has nothing to do with the Records Act.  That has to do with security issues.  And would it be okay for Schultz to have his little server on his Linux box?  (Laughter.) 
MR. EARNEST:  I can’t believe that Eric is being both unfairly defamed and -- (laughter) -- I also think you’re greatly overestimating his technological prowess -- (laughter) -- just based on some of the conversations that he and I have had in the context of this line of questioning.  
Q    There are serious security issues, and so I’m just saying, aside from guidance and preservation of records, you’re saying there’s no way in which that would be wrong?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me get to a couple of points that you raised in your question -- and I do think that this is a line of questioning that is relevant.  The first is that there is a separate email system that does pertain to classified information.  So this question of classified information being passed around on these kinds of email systems, that is certainly not supposed to occur and, frankly, raises much more significant problems than compliance with the Federal Records Act.  So there is an entirely separate classified system for transmitting classified information.
Q    And we think Secretary Clinton had access to, or had some kind of email address on that system that was separate from the one we’re talking about?
MR. EARNEST:  Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question.  So that is something that the State Department may be able to tell you.  I’ll tell you that I don’t have an email -- a classified email address, and so I wouldn’t have been trading emails with --
Q    So put classified aside, there are still sensitive documents that you guys wouldn’t want to be going around, right?
MR. EARNEST:  That’s true.  That’s true.  And we do take cybersecurity very seriously, and I know that the private sector does as well.  And obviously the President has put forward legislation related to cybersecurity to try to not just strengthen the defenses of private sector email networks, or computer networks more generally, but also try to strengthen the defenses of the computer networks, including the email networks of the federal government.
So this security question is one that we’re very mindful of. It’s hard for me to sort of assess what sort of vulnerability may have been created by the establishment of a separate network.  Obviously, even large networks like ones that I operate on and ones that employees at the State Department operate on are not invulnerable to intrusion.  We’ve talked about the fact that there has been activity of concern detected on what otherwise are very strong federal government computer systems.
So I guess the point is that we certainly are mindful of security online.  Some people call it cyber hygiene.  I think it’s a strange term, but it’s one that people try to be mindful of to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to protect our cybersecurity.  But this is something that doesn’t just have an impact on the federal government.  There are private sector institutions that are also grappling with this question as well.
Q    I guess I won’t belabor it, but just -- what you just said about cybersecurity and the fact that even a network as secure as the White House or the State Department, or other parts of the government or big corporations can be hacked, that is exactly why everybody is raising questions about the idea that somebody could be operating -- whether it was a Gmail account or an AOL account, or their own private hosted thing, or some server, if he is right in the house -- that raises questions.  Those systems are even less secure potentially, right?  
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know that I could reach that assessment.  I think this is a place where I think your line of inquiry might actually be more interesting than some of the lines of inquiry that we’ve had on this topic.  But it probably is a worthy discussion for a computer science expert to sort of examine the situation.  I could imagine a case --
Q    We’ll talk to Eric.  (Laughter.)  
MR. EARNEST:  There you go, you can talk to Eric.  (Laughter.)  But I’m certainly not a computer science expert, but I could imagine a scenario where you would say that a smaller network is less likely to attract the attention of hackers or others who might want to do harm.  
Q    Unless it had the name “” -- that probably attracts a lot of attention.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, a computer expert would probably be better equipped to talk to you about this.  But what we have been focused on is primarily ensuring proper compliance with the Federal Records Act in this instance, but also, more generally, ensuring that we are putting in place all of the cyber defenses we can to try to protect the security of government information.
Q    Josh, can I just follow up with a quick question?  You may not know the answer to this, but did the taxpayers of the United States pay for the devices that Mrs. Clinton used as Secretary of State?  And did they pay for the system that she maintained at her home?
MR. EARNEST:  You should check with Secretary Clinton’s team.  I don’t know the answer to that.  I’m not aware of all the details of the arrangement.
Q    Secondly, can you preview the President’s event in South Carolina?
MR. EARNEST:  Let me see what I’ve got on that.  I mean, I can tell you that the President does intend to travel to South Carolina on Friday.  He’s looking forward to spending some time at Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina.  This will be an opportunity for him to talk a little bit about middle-class economics and meet with some of the students there who are trying to make sure that they are equipping themselves with the skills and training that they’ll need to compete in a 21st century global economy.  
Never before has a college education been more important to getting the kind of good-paying middle-class job that previous generations of Americans have relied upon for success.  And the President is very interested in making sure that more Americans and more middle-class families have the opportunities to send their kids to college so they can get that skills and training, and pursue those kinds of jobs.
So the President will have more to say about this on Friday. I’d also note that Friday is also the day we anticipate the latest jobs numbers from the Department of Labor.  So the President may have an opportunity to talk about that as well.
Q    Back on the email question.  You said that the guidance is to use your official government email address for official business, and if you happen to use a personal email at a given time or two, that you need to preserve that either by emailing it, forwarding it to your government address, or in some agencies maybe making a copy of it and submitting it to the agency.  Let me ask you just another more specific -- let’s say you were working here in the federal government and you worked for four years, and during that time you sent tens of thousands of emails from your personal email.  Does it qualify as meeting that requirement if you don’t turn them in until almost two years after you leave office?  Or are you supposed to do this in kind of real time?
MR. EARNEST:  The agencies themselves have been tasked with setting up guidelines for how to comply with the Federal Records Act.  What I can tell you is that based on the legislation that the President signed into law at the end of last year, it clarified those guidelines and standardized them across agencies. And they were more specific about how and the time frame in which individuals should ensure that information kept on their personal email system should be moved over to the official email system.
Q    Well, let’s just talk about the guidelines here at the White House.  And let’s go back to Eric Shultz, if we're going to use him as the example.  (Laughter.)  Would it pass the test for you?  Would he be abiding by your guidelines if he was using his personal account and then not turning over those emails until -- in some cases, not till five or six years later?  He works for four years, doesn't turn over anything, and then nearly two years after he leaves, is it okay just to then say, okay, here’s, let’s say, 55,000 pages of emails?
MR. EARNEST:  Eric is a prolific emailer.  And the guidance that he has gotten and I’m confident that he has followed is to ensure that he is primarily using his official government email address.  And that is the guidance that he has been given by White House lawyers, and that's guidance that he carefully follows.
Again, it’s slightly different because the Presidential Records Act -- and it’s the way that it governs the preservation of records at the White House -- does vary in some complicated ways from the Federal Records Act.  But the fact is that it is the responsibility of the agencies to establish these guidelines. As a result of legislation that the President signed into law at the end of last year, those guidelines across the agencies have been clarified.
Q    Okay, but let me -- there’s a finer point here.  So if Secretary Clinton had been on the White House staff, had been a senior advisor here, maybe the National Security Advisor, the Chief of Staff, whatever, she had been working in the White House, there’s no way that she would have been in compliance with the guidelines you have just outlined if she had spent four years emailing people from a private account and not turning over anything until nearly two years after she left office.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there are two things about that.  The first is, had she worked at the White House, she would have been covered by the Presidential Records Act as opposed to the Federal Records Act.
Q    Okay.
MR. EARNEST:  She also would have gotten guidance from the White House that was much more specific, I assume, because the guidance that I got when I started at the White House was very specific about the use of official government email when conducting official government business.
I can't speak to the guidance that she may have received when she first started at the State Department, but it may have been different than that.  Ultimately the responsibility of individuals who have worked in the federal government is to ensure that they're preserving those federal records properly and in a way that's consistent with the Federal Records Act.  And based on what we have heard from Secretary Clinton’s team, that's what they have done.
Q    So keeping your records back at home on a server that you've created, that qualifies as preserving those?  So keeping them --
MR. EARNEST:  No, what qualifies -- 
Q    -- back home, and again, not turning them over until nearly two years after you leave office, so, yes, she kept those, but she kept them.  So we have to completely trust her word that they were all kept, none were deleted, that she was keeping a full accounting of her emails.  That counts as preserving?
MR. EARNEST:  Again, to go to the process for how those emails were preserved or whether any were deleted, I would refer you to Secretary Clinton’s team.  When I’m talking about ensuring that those records are properly preserved and maintained, I’m talking about them being preserved and maintained at the agency. So they're properly preserved and maintained when Secretary Clinton’s team does the work of going through the email, pulling the ones that are related to her official government responsibilities, and sending them to the State Department so that they can be properly preserved and maintained there.  Because it’s ultimately the State Department that does have an obligation to ensure they're being responsive to legitimate requests from the public and from Congress.
Q    So by your definition, her emails were not properly preserved and retained until they were turned over to the State Department?  So for those four years where she was serving as Secretary of State she was not properly retaining them and preserving those emails, by the definition you just used?
MR. EARNEST:  What I’m suggesting is that you would have to talk to Secretary Clinton’s team about the way they maintained those records in those four years.  When I’m talking about making sure they're maintained in compliance with the Federal Records Act I’m talking about them being properly turned over to the State Department, as apparently they were.
Q    Not until after she left office.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the reports are that she turned those emails over to the State Department just within the last few months.
Q    Right.  So I want to come back to the question Major asked and I’m trying to follow up on just to see if there’s been any change since yesterday.  Does the White House believe that Hillary Clinton broke any laws here?
MR. EARNEST:  Again, Jon, based on what we know about this situation, it is clear that Secretary Clinton’s team has gone to great lengths to collect the emails on her personal email account that relate to her official government.  They have turned them over to the State Department so that the State Department could properly preserve and maintain them and use them to respond to legitimate inquiries from the public and from Congress.  That is consistent with the Federal Records Act, as it’s been explained to me.
Q    And then last question.  What is the President’s view of this?  Does he believe that Secretary Clinton is getting a bad rap because of all the attention on this?  Or is he saying, what was going on here?  Is he a little bit miffed by all of this, or does he think it’s all much ado about nothing?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I did have the opportunity to talk to him a couple times yesterday, but I didn't talk to him about this.
Q    You didn't bring this up?
MR. EARNEST:  I did not bring it up. 
Q    Okay, thank you. 
MR. EARNEST:  Cheryl.
Q    Thanks, back to middle class.  Congressional Democrats -- this is a tax question -- congressional Democrats are looking to expand a lot of middle-class tax benefits.  And I’m wondering if you think they should try to come up with ways to pay for it themselves, or if they can borrow from the President’s budget.
MR. EARNEST:  I think I would say it this way.  The President, in his budget, did put forward a lot of good, constructive ideas for how we can put in place policies that will benefit middle-class families.  And one of -- I think sort of the core idea as it relates to tax reform is this idea of closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations and not middle-class families -- closing them, and using the revenue from closing those loopholes to invest in things like infrastructure that benefit everybody; that it’s not just wealthy, well-connected corporations that benefit from a new modernized airport terminal, everybody benefits from that, including middle-class families.  
And the President thinks that that is not just the fairest way to reform our tax code, but also would be a way to reform our tax code in a way that would maximize the economic benefits for middle-class families.
Q    Let’s go to Ferguson for a second.  I’ll get back to Hillary in a second.  
MR. EARNEST:  Okay, great.  I have that to look forward to.  (Laughter.)  
Q    Yes, exactly.  So has the President had a chance to look at the Justice Department report that describes a pattern and practice of discrimination by the Ferguson Police Department and also unveiled some racist comments by police officers, some of them directed at the President himself?  Does he have any comment on the report or what it found, both in patterns of practice and some of the unsettling emails and conversations it also brought to light?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t believe the President has had a chance to read the report.  It was just released publicly within the last hour, so there have been --
Q    It’s been in the works for a good long while.
MR. EARNEST:  It has.  And there have been some details about that report that have leaked out in advance.  I have not spoken to him about any of those specific details that did leak out in advance.  But obviously the President is focused on this issue of trying to address the situations in those communities where there does exist some distrust between law enforcement officers and the communities they’re sworn to serve and protect.  
And this is an issue that has emerged as a very difficult and thorny one in Ferguson, Missouri, but we know that there are other communities across the country where legitimate concerns have been raised, both by some community leaders but also, in some situations, by law enforcement officers.
Q    Related to that -- 
MR. EARNEST:  And so trying to address this is a priority of the President’s and it’s part of this 21st Century Policing Task Force that --
Q    Well, let’s try to drill down on that a little bit.  Because in a couple of exit interviews, Attorney General Eric Holder has said he believes -- and I wonder if the President agrees -- that there needs to be an adjustment of federal law so the Justice Department can more actively prosecute cases either like Darren Wilson or George Zimmerman, or bring police departments that have a pattern of practice the Justice Department finds outside the boundaries of the Constitution into a criminal legal proceeding.  
Attorney General Holder said, “If we adjust these standards, we can make the government a better backstop, make it more a part of the process in an appropriate way.”  Does the President believe federal law needs to be changed to give the Justice Department more authority and strength in this particular area?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is an active conversation underway right now as it relates to, more broadly, criminal justice reform.  And there has been bipartisan interest expressed in this area by members of Congress both in the House and the Senate.  There aren’t too many areas like that, so this could be a potentially fruitful opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together on something in Congress and --
Q    But that's been generally confined to sentencing and prison populations and things like that.  You would add this to that conversation?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think that there are some members of Congress -- I think they’re probably mostly Democrats -- who do believe that this should be added to the conversation.
Q    Does the President?
MR. EARNEST:  The President would certainly be willing to consider those kind of proposals.
Q    Does he think federal law is too weak in this category?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President would be willing to consider proposals that some people may have for making reforms to the law that relate to this.
Q    Has anyone here produced something that he can propose?
MR. EARNEST:  Not that I’m aware of off the top of my head. +But at some point, as the President continues to talk about some of these issues -- and he will -- he may either mention it proactively or one of you may have an opportunity to ask him about it.
Q    There’s been something going on Tikrit in the last three or four days we haven’t had a chance to ask you about, and I wonder what the administration believes is at stake there and what it believes the coalition and this government that’s leading it is hoping to see, and what the stakes are involved there.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Major, this is an operation that the United States has been aware of for some time.  The United States was aware of the planning for this operation and was obviously aware when it was begun.  This is an operation that is led by Iraqi security forces.
The good news is that this operation includes a multisectarian force.  And this is consistent with the language and the ambition that has been expressed by Prime Minister Abadi. You’ll recall that the United States last year, under Mr. Abadi’s predecessor, expressed deep concerns about the political leadership in Iraq and whether or not that political leadership could succeed in uniting that diverse country to confront the threat that is posed by ISIL.
So what is critically important in the minds of the United States and many of our coalition partners is that Iraq’s central government continue to focus on this priority.  It is critical to their success both in governing the country, but also in actually carrying out military operations against ISIL.
So that is why we are gratified that there aren’t just Iraqi security forces involved, but there are also fighters associated with local Sunni tribes who are engaged in this effort.  We’ve also seen positive statements from Sunni leaders, including the governor of Salahuddin Province, where Tikrit is located.  We’ve also seen a statement from the spokesperson of the Sunni tribal council of Salahuddin articulate their support for this operation.
It is important -- and Prime Minister Abadi himself has indicated this, even in the context of a speech that he gave to parliament -- that this operation should not be used as an excuse or as cover for individuals taking sectarian-motivated retribution.  That would tear at the fabric of the country and weaken the ability of the Iraqis to confront this threat to their country.  So we’re mindful of that.
The other thing that we’re mindful of is that Iranian forces are also involved.  And we have said from the beginning that the United States will not coordinate militarily with the Iranians, but the fact that some Iranian military personnel are involved doesn’t change the priority that the Iraqis can and should place on this operation to ensure that it’s inclusive and multisectarian.
The last piece on this is I do anticipate that the Vice President, as he often does, will have a conversation with Prime Minister Abadi via telephone to talk about a wide range of issues, not just this situation -- although I wouldn’t be surprised if this situation came up.  But obviously, the Vice President has deep ties to a wide range of political leaders in Iraq, including Prime Minister Abadi.  They speak on the telephone every several weeks, and I know they’re planning to do that later today.
Q    Fair to say this is a dress rehearsal for Mosul?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s hard to say.  It is a dress rehearsal in that we would anticipate that any operation in Mosul would be led by Iraqi forces, would be commenced at a time and place of the choosing of Iraq’s military leaders and their political leaders.  And we would expect that any sort of operation on Mosul would also be multisectarian, that it would reflect the diversity of that country, and if necessary, include the backing of our broader coalition, including military airpower.  
I mean, the thing that I will clarify here is that U.S. or coalition airstrikes are not taking place in support of the Tikrit operation.  This is something the Department of Defense has said.  I do think we would envision a scenario where an operation against Mosul would certainly have the possibility of being backed by coalition airstrikes.  
Q    Real quickly on Hillary.  You’ve mentioned several times “legitimate congressional oversight.”  Just for the record, what is that?  What’s the committee and what’s the inquiry that’s legitimate?
MR. EARNEST:  I think in this case, it is a specific request from the committee that Chairman Gowdy is leading.  
Q    The topic would be?
MR. EARNEST:  The investigation into the terror attack in Benghazi. 
Q    Hold on a second.  Let’s just step back for a second on this email thing.  Hillary Clinton did not arrive at this administration like any other Cabinet Secretary, okay?  As you have often said from this podium in the last two days, she brought with her a team.  She brought with her a formidable, political backing, and the strenuous campaign against this President, who was elected.  Is it fair to say that a certain amount of latitude was given, deference was provided to her and her team about how she conducted her email practices because of that history and because she arrived as a Cabinet Secretary, let’s say, with a higher status than any of her other contemporaries?  Because that’s the way it seems.  Because you’ve talked about guidance and all these other procedures that she clearly did not abide by, and it appears here no one cares about that.  So it just seems to me she was given a deference and a space unlike anybody else.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the fact that I’ve tried to engage in this line of questioning at some length over the last couple of days is an indication that this is something that we do care about and we take seriously the responsibility that Obama administration officials have to be in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  And there’s --
Q    But you also left it up to her and her team to do that.
MR. EARNEST:  Let me finish on this.  And the way that we do for every agency -- and again, that is the responsibility of every agency to decide and to figure out what the guidelines should be and to ensure that all of the employees at that agency are in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  And that was true at the Department of State as well.
Now, there’s no doubt that Secretary Clinton, as a national figure, as a former First Lady, and as somebody who ran a very competitive campaign for the presidency, did enter the administration in a unique way, and in some ways that contributed to the remarkable success that she had as the Secretary of State. But what was true of Secretary Clinton at the State Department, was true of Secretary Vilsack at the Department of Agriculture, was true of Secretary Gates at the Department of Defense, and it was true of Secretary Geithner at the Treasury Department, and other places, that all of the agencies are responsible for making sure that their practices for preserving government records are in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  That was true at every agency, including the agency that was ably led by Secretary Clinton.
Q    So no special deference, no special latitude?
MR. EARNEST:  When it comes to ensuring that the employees at that agency were in compliance with the Federal Records Act, the Department of State was held to the same standard of every other agency.
Q    Thanks, Josh.
Q    So, Josh, if they were held to the same standard, after dozens of questions over two days, why can’t you just once say Secretary Clinton did not follow that guidance?
MR. EARNEST:  Because the guidance that has been given to these individual agencies is to ensure that they are in compliance with the Federal Records Act, which actually indicates that when personal email is used for official government business, it’s required for that personal email to be stored, properly maintained and preserved at the agency.  And that according to President [sic] Clinton’s team, is exactly what they did.  
Q    Secretary Clinton. 
Q    Years later. 
Q    Yes, years later, at her home, not preserved by the State Department.  
Q    This was over years.
MR. EARNEST:  No, again, Ed, those records right now reside at the Department of State so that they can be properly preserved and maintained --
Q    That's what they did just in the last few months.
MR. EARNEST: -- so that they could be used in response to legitimate inquiries from the public --
Q    -- after you asked for it.
MR. EARNEST:  -- and from Congress.
Q    But after you asked for it, years later.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, to be clear, it’s the Department of State that asked for it.  And they asked it not just for Secretary Clinton --
Q    Well, why should it just be seen as politics and you protecting -- I mean why can't -- you have all these rules and laws.  Why can't you just say she exercised poor judgment even if you don't know if she broke the law?  This is your guidance.  It was not followed.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Ed, the question -- and this is what was raised by Mike -- is whether or not she was in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  And again, it requires that personal email that was related to official government work be properly turned over to, preserved and maintained by the State Department. And in this case, again, if Secretary Clinton’s team did what they said they did, then they would be in compliance with the Federal Records Act.
Q    Okay.  And specifically, did the White House know that Secretary Clinton had her own server?
MR. EARNEST:  I don't know the answer to that.  As I mentioned earlier, I think the extent of knowledge about Secretary Clinton’s email was her email address.  And she used that email address that, as we all now know, was not at, but that she was in -- but that she was emailing White House officials -- that's something that I acknowledged from the beginning and it shouldn’t be a particular surprise that the Secretary of State is emailing senior White House officials -- the expectation at the White House, as was the case for every other Cabinet agency, is that she and her team are in compliance with the Federal Records Act.  
Q    So you're acknowledging for four years she did not use a State Department account and, to Major’s question, every senior official here at the White House just deferred and said, that's okay.
MR. EARNEST:  Every senior official here at the White House was interested in making sure that Secretary Clinton and every other employee in the Obama administration was acting in compliance and consistent with the Federal Records Act.  And based on the fact that Secretary Clinton’s team has turned over those emails, forwarded them to the State Department so they could be properly preserved and maintained is consistent with the Federal Records Act.  And we know that those records, hundreds of them, have already been used to respond to a congressional inquiry.
Q    A couple other quick ones.  Since you said it’s not just Secretary Clinton, it’s throughout the government -- it’s been known and confirmed on Capitol Hill that former EPA chief Lisa Jackson had a whole other account that she was using, used the name Richard Windsor, to talk to officials and talk to outside groups.  Did anyone here at the White House ever challenge that?  Was Lisa Jackson ever held accountable, admonished in any way?
MR. EARNEST:  But that has nothing to do with the Federal Records Act because they --
Q    It has to do with maintaining a different email account under a different name for official business.
MR. EARNEST:  But the official business is properly maintained with the EPA at that agency, as it’s supposed to be.
Q    Under Richard Windsor, it was properly maintained.
MR. EARNEST:  Ed, it was preserved at the Department of -- 
Q    Under another name.
MR. EARNEST:  -- of the EPA.  
Q    Under another name.
MR. EARNEST:  So that individuals, like individuals in Congress, could have access to that information based on legitimate inquiries.  That is entirely consistent with the Federal Records Act.
Q    Okay.  Last on this.  In cooperating with Congress, the Benghazi terror attacks were in 2012, and shortly thereafter, as we all know, Republicans started asking for documents.  Now, we learn that Secretary -- 
MR. EARNEST:  Seven different committees.
Q    Seven different, in fact, yes, and now you mention -- 
MR. EARNEST:  Yes, all of which found not a single instance of wrongdoing by the administration.
Q    All of which did not -- 
MR. EARNEST:  So we're starting -- 
Q    Hold on a second.  
MR. EARNEST:  So we're starting with the eighth --
Q    All of which never got emails from Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST:  We're starting with the eighth committee --
Q    Okay --
MR. EARNEST:  -- who is going to take a look at this.  So they have received now hundreds of pages of documents.  I have not seen Chairman Gowdy or anyone else on that committee who’s reviewed those emails -- I have not -- indicate that they provide any additional evidence or any additional insight.  Now --
Q    A fair question for -- let’s see what he presents.
MR. EARNEST:  They’ll have an opportunity to --
Q    That's not my -- my question is, you just said there were seven committees.
MR. EARNEST:  That's correct.
Q    That looked at Benghazi before Trey Gowdy.
MR. EARNEST:  None of whom found any evidence of wrongdoing.
Q    But -- hang on.  Will you acknowledge none of those seven committees got any emails from Hillary Clinton?  She turned over these emails to Trey Gowdy we hear two weeks ago.  So you've stood there and Jay Carney stood there for years saying seven committees are investigating this, they're not finding anything. Will you now at least acknowledge those seven committees did not get any emails from Secretary Clinton?
MR. EARNEST:  What I will say is that those seven committees concluded that no wrongdoing was done by anybody in the administration, no wrongdoing was committed by anybody in the Department of Defense --
Q    But -- and the ARV -- and the ARV did not get emails from her, right?
MR. EARNEST:  And I’m confident that the evidence that is uncovered and reviewed by this select committee will have evidence that indicates that same thing.  We’ll see if they arrive at the same conclusion.
Q    Okay.  Last thing, on Netanyahu’s speech yesterday.  One of the things moving forward substantively is Congress taking a look at whether or not they're going to be able to -- there’s legislation specifically that Senator McConnell is moving forward.
MR. EARNEST:  That's right.
Q    And so -- and there are some Democrats, like Menendez, who like that bill, who co-sponsored that bill, but are saying they disagree with McConnell about moving so quickly.  So where do you stand on that?  Will the President veto that if they move forward and say, we want an up or down vote?  And are you committed to giving Congress an up or down vote, whether it’s through this bill or some other means, will they get an up or down vote on the Iran deal?
MR. EARNEST:  Our view of this legislation is the same regardless of when it moves through the legislative process, that if it moves through the legislative process as this agreement is being negotiated and signed off on that it would have the potential of undermining those negotiations.  And that's why the President has indicated that he is strongly opposed to it and would veto it.
Now, what I also understand is that many of the Democrats -- including some who do support the legislation -- are now changing their mind about the bill because of the partisan tactics that are being employed by the Republican majority in the Senate.  So it may be a situation where the President doesn't even have to veto it because there are now legitimate questions that are being raised about whether or not it’s actually going to even pass the Senate.
More broadly, the administration does believe that Congress has a legitimate role in this process.  As I mentioned a couple of times, one of the important ways that Congress has already contributed to our success here is passing statutory sanctions that have placed enormous pressure on the Iranian economy.  We’ve seen their currency plummet.  We’ve seen their oil exports plummet.  We’ve seen their economic growth projections lapse into the negative category.  So they're under enormous pressure, and that has succeeded in compelling them to the negotiating table.  
That's why the President believes that we should pursue this diplomatic option to see if we can actually reach a negotiated agreement that would resolve the international community’s concerns with Iran’s nuclear program, shut down every avenue that they have to building a nuclear weapon, and put in place rigorous, intrusive inspections that would ensure that we have clear insight into their peaceful nuclear program and that they're only using it for peaceful means.
Q    Back on the emails.  So you're saying that the White House -- even given the potentially sensitive nature of emails that are unclassified -- did not know whether she -- or that she had a personal server, who set it up, or how the cybersecurity was in place on it?  
MR. EARNEST:  I’m saying I don't have information about what somebody at the White House may have known about that.  It is the responsibility of these agencies to make their own decisions about ensuring that federal records are properly preserved and maintained and in compliance with the Federal Records Act.
Q    Understanding that, would you agree that at least the Secretary of State, given the nature of the type of correspondence and the type of work that she does, probably handles more sensitive and classified at least-related information than most other people on that level in the government?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don't know that I would stipulate to that.  I would stipulate that there is a substantial amount of sensitive information that is included in her email.  I would stipulate to that.
Q    Do White House officials know how exactly then that her email was kept secure -- so you don't know?  Or has anyone spoken to the State Department if they feel confident that this private server had proper levels of cybersecurity?  Because there was a senior -- a State Department official who said, we have no indication the account was hacked or compromised.  And I’m just wondering how the administration would know that if they were not responsible for the cybersecurity.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it sounds like -- again, somebody at the State Department was in touch with Secretary Clinton’s team about this issue and about the range of issues, ensuring the proper compliance with the Federal Records Act.  So I’d refer you to the State Department for questions about the cybersecurity precautions that were taken around this email address.
Q    But this new information that has come out now that you're not sure if the White House knew or not -- the White House isn’t coordinating or talking to the State Department about -- just to make sure that there’s a level of confidence about the level of security surrounding her emails?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m not aware of any conversations like that.
Q    And you also suggested that you've had a number of conversations within the White House about your own briefings on -- or what your responsibilities are in terms of preserving and maintaining.  Have any of those happened since, like in the last few days, since all this information has come out about Secretary Clinton in any of these briefings?
MR. EARNEST:  No, I have not had any -- received any briefings like that.  But given the level of attention this has received, I’m not sure it’s necessary.  
Q    And finally, if I could just ask you about the Supreme Court today.  You said -- and I think there are an awful lot of exports who would agree with you -- that the impact should the ruling go against the White House could affect millions of Americans, both those who would lose insurance and those who may see their premiums go up.  Given that, is it responsible not to have a plan B?  What would you say to Americans who are concerned that if this Supreme Court ruling doesn't go your way, that they're sort of left wondering what’s next? 
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I would say to them two things.  One is there is no easy or obvious fix here.  The good news, though, is that we strongly believe -- and I think that was evident in the course of the arguments today -- that the law is on our side, that the plaintiffs in this case had to take four words out of a 900-page law and distort them to try to make their point.  
The fact is, we have seen that everybody who has read the law read it the same way, even in the context of the broader congressional debate, that every single American who was eligible to receive tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable should be able to receive them.  And there was no mention in the lengthy congressional debate about this that contemplated a scenario where some Americans who were eligible for tax credits would get them, and some who were eligible for tax credits wouldn’t get them based on what state they lived in. There were hours of debate in committees on Capitol Hill in both the House and the Senate.  There were reams of pages of floor speeches that were entered into the official congressional record.  There was even an eight-hour session at the Blair House that was carried live on C-SPAN.  And in none of those settings did anyone raise the prospect that people should be treated differently in this circumstance based on the state that they lived in.  
So that’s why you hear me say that the plaintiffs had to pull this one phrase out of context and torture it to try to make it mean what they say it means.  
Q    But even if we stipulate to everything that you just said, you cannot say unequivocally to people who are worried about whether they’ll have insurance or not, or where their premiums are going to be six months from now or a year from now, that you guarantee them that the Supreme Court ruling is going to go your way.
MR. EARNEST:  It’s a separate branch of government, and they will have to decide this on the legal merits.  The reason I’m feeling confident today is that we feel confident that the legal arguments are on our side in this matter.  
Q    So you’ll have nothing to present?  You’ll have no bill that you’d be willing to put forward or back on the Democratic side?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, there is a very easy legislative fix. But as I mentioned earlier, easy things don’t make it through this Congress.  Even the politically popular easy things, like funding the Department of Homeland Security, took months of wrenching gyrations to just slip it across the deadline days before the funding was supposed to lapse.  And that’s on something, like the Department of Homeland Security that essentially is not subject to the kinds of political attacks that the Affordable Care Act has been.
So there is an easy legislative alternative, but there’s nobody that has any confidence that Congress is up to the task, even though the stakes are really high.  Even though we’re talking about the ability of millions of Americans to have access to quality, affordable health insurance, there’s not any confidence that the Republican Congress is going to be capable of solving what should be a problem that’s easy to solve.  
But again, fortunately, the good news is the one saving grace here is that the law is clear and it’s clearly on the side of those who are interested in ensuring, like the President is, that the American people have access to the tax credits for which they’re eligible that makes their health insurance affordable.
Q    Last one.  So there’s nothing in any of the proposals that have been put forward by Republicans that could even be a starting point or a compromise if that happens, if it happens that the Supreme Court ruling doesn’t go your way?  
MR. EARNEST:  For years, we have been seeing Republicans promise to put forward an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, and that’s yet to materialize.  And I haven't seen anybody put forward, on the Republican side, a good-faith proposal that would solve this problem.  
And again, that speaks to congressional dysfunction and it speaks to the way in which this issue has been politicized and used by political opponents of the President to try to score political points, even if it means taking away health insurance for millions of Americans.  That’s a shame, and I think it’s disappointed a lot of observers of our political process.  And it certainly is part of what contributes to the abysmal approval ratings of Congress.
But again, the reason that we continue to feel confident, and are even more confident today, is that the law is on our side.
Q    So it’s fair to say that you disagree with Justice Scalia who said that he’s confident that Congress would act quickly to fix any problems that the Court’s decision might cause?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, Justice Scalia is, of course, a well-credentialed legal scholar and is entitled to draw the conclusions that he would like.  But I would just observe as somebody who is not at all a legal scholar, but is somebody who 
--some might describe it as an occupational hazard -- has been closely watching the activities of Congress over the last couple of months, and it is not clear that Congress can do even easy non-controversial things.
Q    Okay.  On the Secretary’s email, you’ve said a number of times when addressing whether there was compliance with the Federal Records Act, you’ve described it as “if” Secretary Clinton’s team did what they say they did.  It suggests that you’re not fully confident that they did do what they say they did, or at minimum, that it may never be known whether they did what they say they did, and people should just take the Secretary’s and her team’s word for that.  Do you have full confidence that she -- her team did what they said they did?  And is it fair to say that people are just probably going to have to trust her word on this and that it actually may never be known?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the reason that I say that is -- and you’re right, I’ve said that a few times -- the reason that I’ve been saying that is that it was the responsibility of Secretary Clinton and her team to review her personal email and turn over the ones that related to her official role as Secretary of State of the United States.  And so they were the ones who were reviewing those emails.  
And they, to their credit, turned them over to the Department of State so they could be properly preserved and maintained.  I can take responsibility for ensuring that those emails are properly preserved and maintained because that’s what the State Department’s role is.  But there was not an Obama administration official that was responsible for reviewing those emails.  And so that’s why I have deferred to Secretary Clinton’s team on this matter.  
I don’t mean to suggest that I somehow think they’re not being honest.  I’m just making it clear that it is not something that was -- that was not a task that was performed by an Obama administration official.  It was a task that was performed by Secretary Clinton or someone on her team.
Q    So you have confidence and you feel the public should have confidence in the way that this was handled?
MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen any evidence to indicate that they didn’t do what they said they did.  So I think from that standpoint, I haven’t seen the evidence to indicate that they’re not being forthright about this.  But I also want to just be crystal-clear about the fact that this is a responsibility that they assumed, to review her personal email, and make sure that it was properly transmitted to the Department of State so that it could be preserved and maintained.
Q    I want to ask you about Ukraine.  A number of top military leaders have spoken out in favor of giving lethal aid to the Ukrainian army.  There’s also support -- bipartisan support in Congress.  The Ukrainians want this.  How close is the President to actually making a decision on this?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any update on the President’s thinking on this.  He was asked about this a couple of weeks ago when he did a news conference with Chancellor Merkel during her visit to the White House.  
The White House continues to call on Russia and the separatists that they back to live up to the commitments that they made in the context of the September 2014 Minsk agreements, and the more recent Minsk Implementation Plan.  That implementation plan calls for first steps that include a verified cease-fire, the verified withdrawal of heavy weapons, the verified withdrawal of all foreign fighters and equipment, as well as safe access for OSCE special monitors to ensure that both sides are living up to their agreement.
We have made clear that these actions are a prerequisite for a truly inclusive and sustainable peace process.  And those steps must be completed prior to the beginning of the next phase of implementation steps, which include political discussions between the government of Ukraine and the separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
That is the state of affairs right now.  But I don’t have any update in terms of the President’s thinking about the provision of additional military assistance to the Ukrainian military.
I’ll just say one final thing, which is that the President did have the opportunity to speak to his counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the European Council yesterday where they all expressed their support for continued efforts toward a negotiated solution to this matter.
Q    Can you talk about who’s on the other side -- since you have all of these top military leaders and intelligence leaders saying they’re in support of lethal aid, you have Congress saying the same thing -- who is giving the President advice maybe not to do so?  
MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President is very mindful of the fact that there are consequences for making decisions like that; that he is aware that adding additional military equipment to this situation is likely to contribute to greater bloodshed.
So there are some who make the case that adding additional military power to the Ukrainian military could raise the costs that are imposed on the Russians who are backing these separatists, but the fact is it’s also likely to result in the Russians ramping up their investment, as well, and exacting a heavier cost on the Ukrainian military.  And the fact of the matter is the whole reason that we’re trying to reach this negotiated solution is to prevent bloodshed, not contribute more of it.  
So the President is mindful of this dynamic, and it’s why this is a difficult decision.  And it’s why the President hasn’t made a final one at this point.  But once he has, we’ll do our best to let you know.
Q    Another question on Russia.  The Russian Security Council today basically has accused the United States of trying to subvert Russia and of financing the opposition as a way of ousting President -- or Vladimir Putin.  What’s the response to that type of accusation?  They have even said that the murder of the opposition leader over in Russia is potentially a way of trying to spark unrest and regime change in Russia.
MR. EARNEST:  That’s an outrageous and false claim.  And it is why the President, as he said in his interview with Reuters earlier this week, indicated the importance of a transparent, legitimate, professional and prompt investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Nemtsov’s murder.
Q    And just one more on Venezuela.  Is the President concerned about the rising tensions there, the call to move out the American embassy staff and some pretty harsh words from President Maduro?  Is the President personally getting involved? Is he reaching out to the officials there in Venezuela --
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that the President is aware of the situation in Venezuela.  I don’t have any updates in terms of his thinking or any steps that he may be contemplating. But we have seen for too long now, frankly, an attempt by the Maduro government and by other Venezuelan political leaders to assign blame to the United States and other external forces for problems inside Venezuela.  The fact is it’s the responsibility of the Venezuelan government to step forward and try to solve those problems for the people that they are supposed to be serving.  And too often, they’ve tried to blame outsiders for problems that they’re responsible for solving.  
Pam, I’ll give you the last one.
Q    Okay.  Also on Russia, it appears Edward Snowden wants to leave.  Are there any negotiations ongoing that would bring him back to the United States to face charges?  And is there any kind of a deal that the President would accept to bring him back? Any kind of a plea deal?
MR. EARNEST:  Pam, there’s been no change in our position.  Mr. Snowden is accused of leaking classified information and faces serious felony charges here in the United States.  We do believe -- we also would like to see Mr. Snowden returned to the United States.  And if and when he does, he will be accorded full due process that all U.S. citizens get through the U.S. legal system.  And we believe that that is consistent with the way that any individual who has been charged with a serious crime like this should be treated.
Q    Are there any efforts to get him back?  Is there a way to get him back?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have any updates on that process right now, but certainly if Mr. Snowden says that he wants to return to the United States, we would certainly welcome his return, but also ensure that he is, as soon as possible, accorded full due process in our legal system.
Thanks, everybody.
2:02 P.M. EST