THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Sacramento, California)
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Old Spaghetti Factory Restaurant Sacramento, California
12:58 P.M. PDT
MR. MCCURRY: I just wanted to check in with people since we're in California and since it's getting to the end of the day.
Q Mike, can you maybe clarify Mr. Panetta's remarks about chemical or other residue being found on the bodies of crash victims? This has caused a great deal of confusion.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me be very precise. Mr. Panetta relayed the following information. The debris that is being examined by the FBI is now undergoing laboratory analysis. Any further comment on that subject will come from the Department of Justice and not from the White House. That's precisely what he meant to say.
Q Well, are his comments of this morning inoperative?
MR. MCCURRY: I would refer -- it would be most appropriate for you to contact the Justice Department and they speak authoritatively on the status of the investigation.
Q We just want to make sure we don't put out incorrect information --
MR. MCCURRY: I would rely on what you hear from the Justice Department.
Q -- what we heard from Mr. Panetta?
Q -- ignore what Panetta said?
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest you rely on the Justice Department's account because they are the authoritative source of information regarding their investigation.
Q Mike, did he speak prematurely when he made reference to --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he was trying to help people who have heard a melange of news accounts and help straighten people out. And the best way to do that in the opinion of the White House was for people to contact the Justice Department. How many times do you want me to say "contact the Justice Department"?
Q We understand that, but we're trying to figure out whether you're withdrawing the phrase "chemical residue," which has a lot of people --
MR. MCCURRY: We are repeating whatever the Justice Department feels appropriate to communicate publicly.
Q Could I just ask, though, in all fairness and not to be hard on him who was trying to help people get the most up-to-date information he had --
MR. MCCURRY: He's a helpful person.
Q -- if he inadvertently or however well-intentionedly disseminated information that turns out not to be correct, does it really -- you or the White House to simply say he misspoke, misstepped, spoke out of turn --
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot authoritatively say that he misspoke. I can authoritatively say the best source of information is the Justice Department, and they can help you understand the precise nature of the evidence that they're examining.
Q He may have just been giving a fuller version of the truth than --
MR. MCCURRY: He may well have been. The Chief of Staff is very good about getting to the heart of matters. But I think it's more appropriate for the Justice Department to comment publicly on the status of their investigation, their status of their analysis of any evidence.
Q There's a contradiction out there.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm suggesting that you refer to whatever the Justice Department says because that's authoritative, and the Chief of Staff is not an expert in forensic analysis and the people who are, are the best people to comment on this matter.
Q Mike, you're not retracting it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just suggesting that you not use Mr. Panetta's statements, that you go to the Justice Department and get an authoritative statement on the status of their investigation and the evidence. That would help your readers and your viewers, because they want to, obviously, know what is precisely true and that's the best place to go to get precise information.
Q We're trying to figure out, Mike, if you're telling us that it's very inaccurate --
MR. MCCURRY: You're trying to get me to burn the Chief of Staff in public and I don't want to do that. I just want to suggest the Justice Department.
Q No, we don't want that at all. That couldn't be further from our objective.
Q No, we're not. We're trying to figure out -- that is outrageous to suggest. We're trying to find out if there's accurate information or inaccurate information out there.
MR. MCCURRY: What I'm telling you is I can't tell you authoritatively how accurate that comment is, but the Justice Department can help you because they will be the source of authoritative information on the subject.
Q Is the President going to go visit the crash site and visit with any of the families? Has he telephoned any of them?
MR. MCCURRY: I couldn't hear that, Anne, say that again.
Todd, look, you understand the situation here? I'm trying to steer you to the Justice Department because I think they can best help you understand the nature of the evidence they're looking at and what their forensic analysis of that evidence is. And they will be able to give you the most precise answers to these questions so that your viewers and your readers will be well-informed.
Q Have you talked to the Justice Department? Have you talked to them since Panetta made that statement? I mean, did they tell you whether it was accurate --
MR. MCCURRY: We have had constant contact with the Justice Department during the course of this investigation.
Q That wasn't my question. Did you talk to the Justice Department specifically about what Panetta said to find out --
MR. MCCURRY: Did I, personally talk to them? No.
Q Well, where did Panetta get -- when he said there was chemical residue on the bodies?
MR. MCCURRY: He relayed some of the briefing that he got based on the interagency call that has been occurring daily.
Q So he got that information from the Justice Department?
Q Why shouldn't we take that to be the truth then?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the best place to get the most accurate and most thorough account would be those who are conducting the investigation, who know the status of the investigation, know the status of the analysis of whatever evidence has been gathered.
Q -- but you now raise the possibility that Leon, in fact, spoke a higher truth, but spoke out of turn and has been called to account by the investigators, said don't go off telling that, and it is right, but we can't say it --
MR. MCCURRY: I've been told -- look, we're in California. We're dealing with the subject of domestic violence. We're not running the investigation which is going on in New York and elsewhere. And our problem here is that, for that very reason, I've been told the Justice Department has already indicated to some people perhaps on a background basis that they're not certain that Mr. Panetta is right. So that's why I'm suggesting if you go to the Justice Department you might get the best information that is available at this point.
Q But, Mike, sorry, but if he got that information from an interagency call, it would suggest that the Justice Department was in that call. And so it was based on information that he got from the Justice Department --
MR. MCCURRY: And so we are now relaying a briefing that he got which was relayed to him by folks back at the White House. So I'm suggesting the best place to go is to the primary source of information rather than rely on our relaying information that is better to get firsthand.
Q But we -- somebody out who is with the expanded pool asked Leon again whether he meant to say that and he said yes. So --
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta is trying to be helpful. But I think the best way to be accurate is to go to the folks who can tell you directly what their information is. I'm just suggesting that's the best thing to do.
Q Did you just say he wasn't talking in the interagency call, that someone else --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he wasn't. He got -- right -- he got this as a call that's taking place at the White House while he's traveling with the President. He gets relayed to him by those participating in the call. That's why I'm saying, as information passes through different hands, you can move away from what is the most accurate information. And the most accurate information on this matter is coming from the FBI and from the National Transportation Safety Board. And I believe they may have already had some things to say about Mr. Panetta's comments. But we're in California and we're removed from it, and I'd prefer that you go, if you're interested in this subject, directly to those who can give you the best information available.
Anything else? Domestic violence?
Q The police departments I think in every city and town in this country have non-emergency telephone numbers. They're seven digits long. Why don't you just try to encourage people to use those numbers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we're looking for here is building on the example of the 911 number, which was developed beginning with a presidential advisory commission in 1967 --build on that model to alleviate the stress for the 911 system. What we would like, ideally, is for any American to know instantly what number they can call if they're reporting something that is non-life-threatening or reporting something other than a crime in progress.
And you're right that there are seven digit numbers in every community around the country, and in most communities they might differ from community to community. We're looking for a national number, a nation response to a problem that we heard about as we worked with local law enforcement officials. I believe you've got now some of the statements that have come from the National Troopers Coalition, the National Sheriffs Association. These are all responses we heard as we worked on community policing issues at the local level and we began fashioning a response a couple of months ago. And today's directive to the Attorney General and the FCC to put a national number together we hope will respond to what we're hearing at the grass roots by those who are fighting crime in communities.
Q And then the way of paying for this will be part of that plan you come up, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is -- the administrative cost of developing a number, which is within the jurisdiction of the FCC -- they allocate the number; that's part of their function, so that's paid for -- and the Attorney General's work with law enforcement officials is an administrative cost. It won't be excessive.
We believe that the telecommunications industry, which has been very responsive to our efforts to fight crime locally -- witness the cellular telephone announcement just recently -- will work to help establish the technology to make this effective. And we believe it can be done in fairly short order.
In fact, you may keep on the lookout -- the FCC, itself, we can't speak for them because they're an independent regulatory body, but they may have some more to say on the subject later today.
Q Mike, will you give us any update after --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q Will you give us some more updates on conversations between James Lee Witt and the President --
MR. MCCURRY: Between who and who?
Q James Lee Witt -- the pool report said --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes. If we have anything to report in from James Lee Witt I'll pass it on, probably to the pool, because I don't think we'll have a briefing situation later today.
Q Mike, I'm sorry, did you answer Ann's question about the President visiting the crash site or the families, or whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: There are no plans at current, but we'll be hearing from James Lee Witt and see what his recommendation is. Remember, as I said yesterday, we don't want to do anything that would detract from the law enforcement resources that are properly devoted to the investigation. There's very extensive use -- you've heard from the Mayor, the Governor, on what they are assigning locally, and you also know that when a President travels into that metropolitan region, there's always very extensive drain on local law enforcement resources. So we want to do what's right to help the investigation, to help the families, and to help the local jurisdictions deal with their own needs.
Q -- with James Lee this afternoon? I couldn't hear your answer.
MR. MCCURRY: We will get an update if there's something to report. In general, the President has asked to, in any significant development or news or discoveries as they go along, to be kept apprised of that. And who will do that, mostly likely, James Lee relaying to Leon, relaying to the President.
Q Mike, on our part, our concern is that there was some speculation -- premature speculation perhaps after leaving California the President would be arriving on the East Coast at a time in which he could do something. And I think a number of people have travel plans that aren't necessarily coming back overnight.
MR. MCCURRY: I have heard nothing about --
Q Can you knock that down?
MR. MCCURRY: I would discount any speculation that we're going anywhere other than back home. Haven't heard anything different.
Q You just said that -- I'm sorry, you just said that there are no plans now, but you sort of --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we're going -- the schedule is as we had published it.
Q What does the President do tomorrow, any --
MR. MCCURRY: The President has the day off because, obviously, we're flying overnight. There has been some discussion of whether or not he might see one of the soccer events tomorrow, but that's for planning purposes only at this point, just so that you know. We haven't firmed that up yet. I think it will depend on whether he wants to and whether they can accommodate him.
Q Is he still going to Atlanta?
MR. MCCURRY: He still plans to go to Atlanta on Thursday. Full day and a late evening planned -- very late evening. He wants to stay very late.
Q Is he seeing a series of events, including gymnastics?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've established which events he's seeing. Kath, have you heard? Yes, I haven't heard which events --
Q Who did he call --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know. I just wanted to let people know that he plans to from time to time call -- I don't know that he's connected with anyone yet, but we'll try to let you know if he connects with individual people. His plan is to kind of make calls to some of the Olympians who are participating in the games as we go along. Someone had asked me that earlier, so I just said that.
Q Can you put on the record anything about a Louisiana trip or any details of a Louisiana trip?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I'll see if -- see if we can get a travel schedule, because I had heard that we were going down there. Sunday? There's speculation about a Sunday trip down there, but I'll see if I can get more.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. EDT