Q Scott, what you have said in response to the Times story is that the President's highest priorities are protecting American life and preserving civil liberties. As we see in the Patriot Act fight, unfortunately, sometimes those two things conflict. Which is a higher priority for the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with your characterization of the Patriot Act, because the Inspector General at the Department of Justice has actually looked into how the Patriot Act has been carried out, and they have found no verified instances of abuse.
Q But the questions in Congress are about --
MR. McCLELLAN: But you're assuming that there are problems with it, and they have oversight measures in place. And that's what the conference committee worked on. They came to an agreement on protecting American civil liberties. They put in additional protections when it comes to protecting civil liberties and safeguarding those civil liberties.
Q But in a situation where those two priorities might conflict, which one is a higher --
MR. McCLELLAN: We can do both. They're both priorities. And we're committed to meeting both. And let me point out that in the Patriot Act that, again, not a single verified abuse of any provision has been identified, and the Inspector General has looked into that a number of times.
But there are literally dozens of additional safeguards that were put in place in the reauthorization bill to protect Americans' privacy and their civil liberties. It puts in place four-year sunsets on three of the provisions that relate to these issues. And there are a number of additional steps that are in there. I would encourage you to go and look at that.
Q I understand that. But I don't see how you can say that these two priorities at times won't conflict. I can see a situation where --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're absolutely right. You're absolutely right. These are difficult issues to address.
Q Which would be the President's priority, protecting life or protecting the civil liberties?
MR. McCLELLAN: Both. We think we can do both and we have done both. And --
Q Do you think they never conflict?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think these are difficult issues that you have to address in a post-September 11th world. Some people go back to a post-9/11 [sic] mind-set now that we're four years after the attacks of September 11th. The President said he would never forget what happened on September 11th. We are going to do everything within our power to prevent something like that from happening again.
The terrorists are determined to strike us. They are dangerous and they are deadly and they are sophisticated. They are going to continue to try to strike the American people here at home. That's why we're taking the fight to them abroad; that's why we're also working to advance freedom in the center of a dangerous region of the world. And that will inspire other reformers in the broader Middle East and help bring about real change in a dangerous part of the world. And so --
Q Do you think those priorities never conflict with each other?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say that. In fact, I said that these are difficult issues that you have to work to address and we believe we have.
Q When they do conflict, which one takes priority?
MR. McCLELLAN: They're both priorities. And we can meet both.
Q But Scott, the administration did not suggest that life is perhaps more important than liberty, is the question that's being driven at here.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I think the question is going to --
Q If there is a conflict and you can't do both, when push comes to shove, the question is, which is more important: life or liberty?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're asking me, one -- you're asking me, one, to get into hypothetical situations. But what the President has made clear is that we abide by our values, we abide by our laws, and we abide by our treaty obligations. He's made that clear in all that we do. We have a responsibility to protect the American people. And the issue we're getting in today is talking about intelligence. We have made a number of improvements relating to our intelligence in the aftermath of September 11th so that we can connect the dots and prevent attacks from happening -- go after and disrupt plots from happening in the first place.
And the point Ken gets to goes to the law. And our law has protections in place when it comes to -- and our Constitution when it comes to people's civil liberties, and when it comes to privacy. And the point I'm making to you is that those are both priorities to the President, and we can meet both. Now there may be difficult issues that you have to work to address when you're trying to fight a different kind of war and when you're trying to go about preventing attacks from happening here in the homeland.
And I'll go back. The Patriot Act helped us break down a wall that existed between law enforcement and intelligence so that they could share vital information to keep the American people safe. That's why it's so critical that Congress moves forward on this act.
But no one's saying these aren't difficult issues to work to address. But that's why there's oversight in place for these kind of matters. Some people suggest that the President is just going off and doing certain things. Well, there's congressional oversight in place, there's other oversight in place, there's our Constitution, there's the laws. And we abide by them.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. And have a good weekend.
END 1:00 P.M. EST
Friday, December 16, 2005
Life Versus Liberty: Subtitle - Another Great Question Gets No Answer
Take a gander at this exchange and tell us what you think should be the answer to the question: Which is more important, life or liberty? I think it's a good one and as usual Scotty McMessage McClellan doesn't answer it, but he does waver a bit in his reply - leaving it open as to what the answer would be if the President were forced to answer it: