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The White House

Gaggle by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs aboard Air Force One, 4/22/2009

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release        April 22, 2009
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Newton, Iowa
11:47 A.M. EDT
MR. GIBBS:  How are you guys?
Q    Good.  How are you?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm good.  I'm good.  A little worn out, but that's par for the course.  Fire away.  
Q    Is the President aware of David Kellermann, and has he -- what are his thoughts on that?
MR. GIBBS:  I'm sorry?
Q    Is the President aware of David Kellermann's apparent suicide, and his thoughts on that.
MR. GIBBS:  I haven’t talked to him about that.  I would just say that -- I don't have any comment on it as the police look into the matter.
Q    Any clarity from yesterday on the President's position on torture memos, and any reaction to Dennis Blair's memo that appeared in papers today?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, on the first question, what exactly -- what clarity are you looking for?
Q    We're looking -- you said you were going to talk to -- get back to us with clarity on the President's remarks.
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I think what -- maybe what I wasn’t clear about yesterday and -- because what was said yesterday was exactly what the President has said for not just the past week, as we've dealt with these OLC memos, but for the past many months.  Let's just go through the whole sort of decision in general.
The President, at the beginning of his administration, banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques because he believed they were -- they opposed our values and, on balance, they made the country less safe.  As part of an ongoing legal proceeding, the President released these memos because there was no legal justification for continuing to keep them classified; that a lot of the information that was contained in the memos, that the types of techniques were in the public domain.
So that is part of the backdrop of where we are.  The President also believes that the memos and their release should be a moment for us to reflect, but not a moment for retribution. The President, as he said yesterday, has a lot on his plate and he believes that our focus looking forward should be on the crises that we have in the bank industry, in unemployment, the financial sector, and as he and the Attorney General have said, that while no one is above the law, those that worked within the four corners of the legal advice they were given, and those that acted in good faith based on the advice they were provided should not be subject to interrogation.
That's what the President said -- that's what the President has said all along.
Q    Should not be subject to what?
MR. GIBBS:  Should not be subject to prosecution.
Q    The President said yesterday that he wanted to ensure that if there was any kind of investigation, politics were not part of the equation.  Given that, would he be supportive at some point appointing a special prosecutor to look into these Bush-era officials?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, look, I think this goes into the -- in some ways, the non-clarity of yesterday.  Let me use an example. If you go in the back of the plane, Air Force One, and spray-paint the walls and smoke in the bathroom, the President isn’t going to determine whether you broke the law; a legal official is going to determine whether you broke the law.  That's the determination that will be made in any instance whereby anybody knowingly breaks the law.
Q    But due to the fact that his AG, Eric Holder, is a political appointee, would it not be less political to have a prosecutor to look into these issues?
MR. GIBBS:  I think that the lawyers that are involved are plenty capable of determining whether any law has been broken.  I want to stress that that determination is not going to be made by the President, or the Vice President, or anybody that works in the White House, because that's why many, many, many, many moons ago we created a Department of Justice.
Q    To switch gears, can you tell us a little bit more about this planned summit with Zardari and Karzai?  What does the President hope to achieve with this, what I understand is going to be a three-way?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes, it will be a trilateral meeting in early May.  Look, obviously, without getting into a lot of the technical details, these are -- this is part of the ongoing new policy and process that was put into place at the conclusion of the review of where we are in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Understanding that this is a very important and very dangerous part of the world, the President wants to be personally involved, as he has been throughout his administration, in seeking to find solutions to the problems that are in this region and to protect the United States.
Q    He said before that he doesn’t -- that they're not going to have a blank check.  Is that something he's going to communicate to them again when he meets them?
MR. GIBBS:  Absolutely.  And I don't -- the President will reiterate his hopes and his belief of the opportunities, but also the responsibilities that each leader has.
Q    There are lots and lots of news reports today saying that what the President did yesterday was open the door, change his policy, make a surprising announcement.  Are all of those stories just flat wrong?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  And let me -- again, I'll use the example that I used with Jonathan to you -- I think you were getting a pen or something.  If you spray-paint the back of this plane, if you tear up one of the seats, even though it's Air Force One, the President doesn’t make a determination as to who broke the law.  That's a legal official.  The notion that the President is open to anything is -- I think misses the point.
If somebody knowingly broke the law, that's a determination that will be ultimately made by a legal official, not by the President of the United States, or not by anybody else.
Q    Another topic.  On the panel, or whatever it would be, to look into this, no change in his position yesterday? 
MR. GIBBS:  I think he said quite clearly in the transcript that he's not proposing this.  Again, there have been --
Q    But everybody is reporting he left the door open to it.  Is that wrong?
MR. GIBBS:  No, I don't -- well, maybe they didn’t read as clearly as I did the notion that -- the words, "I'm not proposing this."  Because what he's saying -- he was asked, what about these commissions, and he said if Congress were to decide to set one up, it has to be done outside of the realm of politics. 
And that's the truth -- that's why he believes that these memos and the release of these memos provide a moment of reflection, not of retribution; that the President believes that we have to look forward.  And that's I think what he said Thursday, Monday and yesterday.
Q    Given that he's not pushing for one of those commissions, but that he did yesterday outline what he would like to see were one of those created, would he be open to pursuing not just torture but also questions relating to rendition, wiretaps, sort of Bush-era issues besides torture?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, despite the fact that I think I was pretty clear that he wasn't proposing this, the hypothetical -- the hypothetical of the fact that he wasn't -- might propose what he didn't propose, leaving aside all of those exceedingly large number of caveats, again, the President I think stated once again yesterday that he's looking forward.  This is -- the number of topics on his plate each and every day, the many crises that face this country and this administration, we're all better served looking forward.
Q    Robert, the op-ed piece by Secretary Chu and Solis was pretty tough about making polluters pay -- it was pretty tough about making polluters pay.  Is that a reference to how you're going to handle cap-and-trade?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, I mean, look, I think the notion of a cap-and-trade system is to provide a monetary incentive for renewable energy, similar to what the Northeast did in the '80s, late '80s and early '90s dealing with acid rain, that you put a price on pollution because we know that there's a negative economic consequence to it, and that you reduce the level of that cap, thus providing incentives for people to find ways to conduct their activities while producing less pollution.  It's a market-based system that has worked in the past and can work in the future.
Q    -- the initial credits are going to come with a price tag, or may the initial credits be free?
MR. GIBBS:  The initial -- the outline -- the President's plan outlined in the campaign would monetize those credits on the front end.  But I think what's important and what you'll see today -- as a little background -- I think a little bit on the trip today, you know, you've got a manufacturing facility, a former Maytag manufacturing facility in Newton that closed up shop and now is producing valuable parts for wind turbines that -- if you take a look at some of the statistics, Iowa now is the second largest wind producer in the nation.  About half of their -- a little more than half of their wind-making capacity was added just last year. 
This plant has hired some former Maytag employees.  They're looking to probably expand, based on the incentives that the recovery plan provides to further make wind energy cost-effective.
So I think there are many messages that when we move to a clean energy economy, when we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, we're creating the jobs of the future.  We're taking care of not just our energy problems but we're dealing with our economic security.  And I think today is a perfect backdrop and the site is a perfect backdrop to demonstrate that clean energy means good jobs.
Q    I just want to go back to the other.  Is he spending time today dealing with the fallout from the interrogation issue yesterday?
MR. GIBBS:  What do you mean, "the fallout from" --
Q    A lot of talk on Capitol Hill; Blair had his memo that he -- statement that he put out today.  I mean, it's -- in Washington, it's an issue that's dominating the scene today.  Is he dealing with any of that fallout?
MR. GIBBS:  -- in Iowa dealing with wind energy and the economy.  Here's what I would say about -- I mean, I would point you to the statement that the Director of DNI put out about this, and understand, as I said earlier, that on balance this has not made our country safer, that the costs were extraordinary.
Q    Has the President spoken with Dennis Blair about the memo?
MR. GIBBS:  I don't -- I could check.  I don't believe that -- I don't believe that's the case.
Q    Thank you.
Q    Just one other thing, just -- on the plane today, Ellen Moran, but she won't -- she won't be with the White House much longer.  Can you tell us about that a little bit?
MR. GIBBS:  Well, you guys asked me how I was doing when I came back here and my first answer was that I was worn out.  She had the opportunity to go work as the chief of staff for the Commerce -- the new Commerce Secretary.  It's a position that greatly interests her and it gives her a chance to spend more time with her husband and her children. 
And I don't doubt that we're all in many ways uniquely jealous of the opportunity to continue being a public servant at a level as high as that, but at the same time, having more time to see your family.  I saw my son last night, but it was about 11:00 p.m.  So I can understand what that means.
Q    One final thing.  But on the IMF revised numbers for growth, drastically revised and the economy contracted, has the President seen those?  What are you guys' reaction to those numbers?
MR. GIBBS:  I have not gotten to that, but let me -- I'll take a look at that; we'll talk about it on the way home. 
All right?
Q    One last Iowa question.  What does it mean for the President coming back here for the first time since being sworn in, the state that sort of started it all for him?
MR. GIBBS:  Yes.  Well, I mean, look, Iowa will always be a special place for the President and a special place for those that spent, I think we figured, one out of every three or four days in 2007 here.  The President and I were joking that we had no idea you could come to Iowa and just do one stop and go home. (Laughter.)  A normal day for most of 2007 --
Q    Were you guilty at all in that -- (laughter.)
MR. GIBBS:  Completely.  (Laughter.)  Most days were anywhere from four to seven stops and a hotel room that you rarely unpacked in because all you wanted to do was go to sleep. 
So, I mean, I do think it is -- I think Iowa is a place that has, with a lot of different renewable energy, has in many ways led the way for this country, whether it was first in biofuels and now in wind energy.  I mean, if you think about the recent -- they're number two in wind production; they now exceed California, a state that is obviously far, far bigger.  But the investments that the leaders in Iowa made -- Governor Vilsack is on the plane with us -- I think are a testament to a state that was looking forward not just to help the country become more energy independent, but to help its people get jobs when more traditional manufacturing was leaving. 
But the truth is, we'll never be able to -- we'll never be able to go back to Iowa without thinking about all the hard work and all the fun we had here.  It was -- it was a memorable, memorable night, there's no question about it.
Q    Thanks. 
12:04 P.M. EDT