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White House Press Secretary Gives Daily Briefing

Aired October 15, 2002 - 12:43   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, is over at the White House right now. He's answering questions about the sniper on the loose.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... law enforcement at the federal level and the state level are doing everything in their power to help resolve the crimes.

QUESTION: With so much on the president's plate, why is the fear that the sniper has instilled in this whole community and so forth, everything else -- why does the president want to go to war?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain that there's -- I'm not sure I understand the connection between what you're saying and I also have to again dispute the president does not want to go to war. The president wants to preserve peace. The president has gone through the United Nations...


QUESTION: ... sending thousands of soldiers and people to the Persian Gulf, including planes and tanks and carriers and so forth if he's not planning a war?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think if you take a look at the actions of Saddam Hussein, he threw out the weapons inspectors in 1998. I think there would be absolutely no discussion by Saddam Hussein...

QUESTION: All these years he's been contained. And everybody knows that.

QUESTION: So why do you want to go to war?

FLEISCHER: Are you opposed to having the weapons inspectors return?

QUESTION: No, no. I think it would be good to have them go back. But I don't think you should keep threatening war everyday.

FLEISCHER: Well, I think one of the reasons that there is even now talk of the weapons inspectors going back is because the president has been firm and tough. If the president had not been firm, there would be no discussion in the United Nations about the return of the inspectors. So one of the things the president believes is that, the best way to preserve peace and to make certain that Iraq does what it promised to do, and that's to disarm, is for the United States to show and to mean it that we are resolute, we are determined to enforce the peace and make certain that Saddam Hussein disarms.

QUESTION: But how about the other countries in the Middle East, are you willing to have them be inspected?

FLEISCHER: The president is for enforcing the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, that's why he went to the U.N.

QUESTION: All the resolutions? You think no other country's violated them?

FLEISCHER: Not like Saddam Hussein has and not when it's a clear call for action by the U.N. to enforce disarmament. There are other issues, of course, in the Middle East involving Resolutions 242 and 338 involving Israel.


FLEISCHER: Well, those agreements call for -- those resolutions call for a political dialogue. That's not what the U.N. called for in Iraq.

QUESTION: Ari, there's a policy issue that emerges from the sniper attacks, and that's some gun control advocates are calling for a national ballistic fingerprinting system where every gun before it was sold would be test-fired, the ballistic fingerprint would be entered into a database and law enforcement, like Montgomery County and Northern Virginia and federal law enforcement, could call on that. Does the president support that?

FLEISCHER: There are a variety of technical issues involving the reliability and accuracy of that program that bear looking into, and those issues will be explored.

That will also of course involve an act of Congress and a determination, the will of Congress to make that happen. But there are a series of steps that the president has taken that he believes can be very helpful and should be helpful on the federal level, principally involving, and giving local law enforcement communities and the prosecutors enhanced resources and more prosecutors so they can more quickly bring people who commit crimes with guns to account, hold them accountable, bring them to justice and try them before a court of law.

QUESTION: But on this issue, on ballistic evidence, the president has doubts about its reliability and accuracy.

FLEISCHER: Well, the experts who have questions that have been raised about its accuracy and reliability. And those questions are rather -- those issues are rather straightforward. And that involves over time whether or not this trace in technology remains accurate. The more a gun is used, the less accurate the tracing can become. The ability of somebody who's obviously in the business of committing crimes and therefore wants to figure out ways to protect his ability to commit a crime without being caught. To alter the barrel of a gun. Such things as a simple nail file put down the barrel of a gun can alter the amount of tracing that's on a bullet, and therefore change the accuracy of the fingerprinting, very unlike any fingerprinting of human beings. A nail file can not alter the fingerprint of a human. A nail file can alter the fingerprinting of a weapon.

QUESTION: These are arguments generally raised by defense lawyers. Prosecutors rely on this evidence. And I went to the ATF website today, after you mentioned these concerns the president has about reliability and accuracy. And the ATF on its websites for the National Integrated Ballistic Information Network, where guns that have been used in crimes are fingerprinted. It says as each fingerprint is different, a firearm leaves unique, identifiable characteristics on expelled ammunition. Is the ATF wrong?

FLEISCHER: If you keep reading on that same web page, I think you left something out. That same web page continues to say that "no investigative tool is perfect, or will be effective in every situation. The availability of an open-case file of many thousands of exhibits, searchable in minutes instead of life times that we've required for an entirely manual search, provides invaluable information."

And that's what it does, it provides information that is crime- specific.

QUESTION: About guns that have been used in crimes? So guns that commit crimes are in this data base, but the president doesn't want all guns in the data base?

FLEISCHER: Well, again that gets into the same issue as I got into with finger prints, and there is an issue about finger prints, of course, is a very effective way to catch people who engage in robbery or theft.

Is that to say that every citizen in the United States should be finger-printed in order to catch robbers and thieves?

And these same issues are raised here. The president does believe in the right of law-abiding citizens to own weapons.

QUESTION: Fair enough, so it's about liberty and privacy.

FLEISCHER: Well, it's also about the other issues I raise in terms of accuracy and reliability. These are all various factors of why this is not a simple solution or a simple matter.

And certainly in the case of the sniper the real issue is values. And that's what is at stake here. The real issue is values and these are the acts of a depraved killer who has broken and will continue to break laws.

And so the question is not new laws, the question is, the question is the actions he represents, the values in our society. QUESTION: Congressman Gephardt is calling for a short-term economic stimulus, long-term budget responsibility, and he says the president is playing politics with the economy.

How do you respond to that?

FLEISCHER: Well the congressman gave an interesting speech today, he called for $75 billion-worth of tax cuts or rebates. He called for incentives for businesses, an interesting proposition.

He went on and talked about several other issues that involve triggers and caps and it's interesting that he's talking about tax cuts. The president does believe that the tax cut that was enacted into law with the help of a great many Democrats has helped bring the economy back to the point where it has come back from the recession that began early in the president's term, even before the president took office.

And so, we'll take a look...

BLITZER: Ari Fleischer talking about A proposal made earlier today by the House minority leader, Richard Gephardt, an economic stimulus package that he's putting forward -- the White House not surprisingly being a bit cool to Gephardt's proposals.

Earlier, the White House press secretary, Ari Fleishcer, saying the sniper in the Washington area, acts of a depraved killer, reluctant to get into a serious discussion right now about whether this latest series of killings in the Washington area would justify further gun control legislation.


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