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John Ashcroft Holds Press Conference

Aired November 2, 2001 - 10:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Attorney General John Ashcroft now taking questions. If he talks about the latest threats we heard in the West and the latest on anthrax, certainly we'll pass it along to you. But in the meantime, though, want to keep our focus on the economy. Though sweeping job cuts have left thousand of Americans filing for unemployment benefits and some of these workers say they're getting short-changed at the unemployment office.

We'll have Brooks Jackson's story in a moment, but first, as promised, here's John Ashcroft.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... basis for our speaking to the public about a threat.

I have always said and it is the position of this administration that when there are specific threats that we share those with local officials.

We believe that the notice sent to law enforcement agencies properly provided and carried out the responsibility of the FBI and this administration, as it related to the items you've mentioned. And I think we understand, in our effort, we always have to make a judgment about public safety and the degree to which what we say affects public safety, either by encouraging preparedness or at the risk of somehow eliciting a panic, we try to make a judgment about those based on two factors -- the scope of the threat and the credibility of the threat. And we believe the action we took was appropriate.

Yes, sir?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... respond to criticism that began forming mid, late week that you are here agreeing to something weaker than that was proposed by Judge Jackson, weaker even than that Microsoft itself agreeing to doing mediated talks with Judge Posner, and a kind of shrill term that you are not settling, but selling out?

ASHCROFT: I'm not what?

QUESTION: Settling, but selling out. ASHCROFT: That's totally false. And we believe that this settlement is a very strong settlement. That it not only encompasses the relief that was signaled by the Court of Appeals, but that this has additional safeguards. I think that's what provoked or prompted the response by the states on the courthouse steps to commend parts of this judgment, which were parts which carried the relief even beyond the relief signaled by the Court of Appeals.

QUESTION: What is your assessment -- just getting back to the investigation -- what is your assessment of Al Qaeda's activities in relation to the recent warning that was sent out?

ASHCROFT: I don't understand your question. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can you tell us whether there was information that you received concerning Al Qaeda's activities that led to the...

ASHCROFT: I can really say that I believe that we did was in accordance with our traditional threat assessment process, which considers both credibility of threats and the nature and scope of the threat, the specificity of the threat. And to say more would be inappropriate.

STAFF: Last question for the attorney general.

QUESTION: How about the credibility of the threat, has it been determined yet whether or not the threat is credible?

ASHCROFT: We make an assessment of all threats that come in and regarding their relative credibility. And we acted based on an assessment of the relative credibility and the specificity of the threat.

As you well know, that when we have generalized threats that have high levels of credibility, I won't hesitate to ask the public to participate in a preparedness strategy for those threats.

For more specific threats, we provide not generalized information to the public, but we frequently provide information to law enforcement agencies. And in the context of law enforcement agencies, we would, as has been indicated, we have a more comprehensive willingness to communicate threats across a broader range of credibility.

Thank you all very much.

Mr. James and others will be here to talk to you about details.

Thank you.

HEMMER: How to define what is a credible threat appears to be the issue at this point. The Attorney General John Ashcroft finishing a briefing there. Earlier he was talking about the settlement with Microsoft, that apparently has been met with some measure of favor by the states involved. That would be significant for that agreement going forward. In the meantime, though, we do know the government is sharing a lot of information with states across the country, and some cases it has left to the local officials to decide what to do with that information. We heard from the governor of California passing that information along, saying that there is a credible threat at this point to some of the bridges -- some of the main suspension bridges, four of them to be specific, in the state of California.

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