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Full Text of Presser

BUSH: Good afternoon. I hope you all enjoyed your weekend in Maine as much as I did. And I hope our fellow Americans all enjoyed a Fourth of July weekend with their family and friends.

And now it's back to work. Congress is coming back into Washington, and they got a lot of work ahead of them before the August vacation.

Congress has been making some important progress, but it also has a lot of unfinished business. I urge Congress to join me in advancing -- join me in acting to achieve and advance three big goals. We need to win the war. We need to protect our homeland. And we need to strengthen our economy.

Winning the war and protecting the homeland requires a sustained national commitment. More than 100 days ago, I asked Congress to appropriate additional money to equip our armed forces and strengthen security at our airports. Four months later, the Department of Defense and the new Transportation Security Administration are still waiting for the money, and they'll run out of operating funds maybe as soon as this week.

Congress simply must fund our troops while they're fighting a war. And Congress must provide the funds to improve security at our airports.

Further delay is intolerable. Congress has got to act.

Congress must also pass the defense appropriations for next year's budget. The House has acted. The Senate must act. Our nation is at war and our budget priorities and actions need to reflect that reality.

These bills are critical. And quick action on them does not and should not preclude simultaneous progress on other legislation. Creating more jobs and strengthening our economy are critical priorities.

And Congress can act to create jobs by giving me trade promotion authority. Expanding trade means new jobs for American workers. Congress has debated trade now for more than a year. It's time to stop talking. It's time to start acting. Congress should act to create American jobs before it goes home for the August recess.

And Congress should act to make us less dependent on foreign sources of energy. Congress has the opportunity to pass legislation that gives America the energy policy it needs, one that makes us less dependent on foreign oil and promotes conservation. Reliable, affordable energy means more and better jobs.

Another key element of economic growth is consumer and investor confidence in our markets and in the integrity of corporate America. And right now that confidence has been shaken. Tomorrow in New York, I'll outline tough new laws and actions to punish abuses, restore investor confidence and protect the pensions of American workers. We have a duty to every worker, shareholder and investor in America to punish the guilty, to close loopholes and protect employee pensions, and we will.

The House has acted on the pension reforms I proposed in February and on the corporate responsibility proposals I made in March. It's time for the Senate to act in an equally responsive manner.

As Congress works on all this important legislation, it must keep a tight hand on taxpayers' money.

Excessive government spending is a drag and -- or will be a drag on our economy.

Congress is moving forward on the proposal for the new Department of Homeland Security, and it is doing so with speed and skill and a constructive spirit of bipartisan cooperation. I hope the Congress will apply the same spirit to other important legislation.

A safer and more prosperous America can also be a more compassionate country. The House has acted to encourage the charity and good works of private and religious groups throughout America. The House has also passed welfare reform that upholds the values of working families. If the Senate acts, we will improve the lives of millions of our fellow citizens.

I know that this is an election year, and both Republicans and Democrats will be focused on politics. It's normal during an election year. But we must not be distracted from the important work we share. It will take a lot of work and bipartisan cooperation to get important legislation out of the Congress before they all go home to campaign.

The agenda is full, the time is short and the nation is watching.

In the coming weeks, I'll continue to focus on pursuing the war and protecting the homeland and strengthening our economy. I urge the Congress to join me on this unfinished business.

Now I'll be glad to answer some questions you have. Why don't we start here -- David?

Q: Mr. President, the war on terrorism -- you made it very clear that it's not just a matter of seeking justice for offenders, but also preventing another act of terrorism against our country. So when it comes to corporate corruption, beyond calling for tough penalties, what can you say to investors around the country about what this administration will do to prevent abuses from occurring in the future?

BUSH: Well, let me start by telling you that I think by far the vast majority of CEOs in America are good, honorable, honest people who have nothing to hide and are willing the true facts speak for themselves.

It's the few that have stained the, have created the stains that we must deal with. And tomorrow I'm going to talk about some specifics and I'd rather kind of save those for tomorrow.

But let me just put it to you this way. We'll vigorously pursue people who break the law. And that's what, and I think that help restore confidence to the American people.

Q: What about, how do you prevent it from happening again?

BUSH: Well, there is a -- listen, there has been a period of time when everything seemed easy. Markets were roaring, capital was everywhere. And people forgot their responsibilities.

And as you know, you've had to suffer through many of my speeches, but I have been calling for a renewed sense of responsibility in America. And that includes corporate responsibility.

Because I'm very worried about a country that has -- could conceivably lose confidence in the free enterprise system. And I'm an avid backer of the free enterprise system.

But I also understand that that requires trust. And we've had some destroy the trust of the American people, and we need to do something about it.

In the future, start -- we start with calling on people's -- calling on people's better nature, and I'll do some of that tomorrow as well.

Q: Sir, the government is stockpiling enough smallpox vaccine for every American but is only planning right now to offer it to emergency and health care workers. Why shouldn't every American be able to evaluate the health risks for themselves and then decide for themselves to get the vaccine?

BUSH: First of all, I haven't made any decisions as to who is going to be vaccinated or not. We're looking at all options. I think one concern that I can share with you is that if everybody received a vaccine, there are some who, to whom that vaccine might be fatal. And I worry about that. I worry about calling for a national vaccination program and that it could cause a loss of life. And so I'm looking at all options before I make up my mind.

Q: Mr. President, the Democrats have signaled that they are going to make your behavior while a director at Harken an election year issue. There's an ad out today, which is relatively new. I know you've said this has been vetted before. I mean, I've heard that. But would you take on the charge that you were eight months late with an $850,000 stock sale report?

BUSH: First, let me take on the notion that people love to play politics. You know, you said the Democrats are going to attack me based upon Harken. That's nothing new. That happened in 1994. I can't remember if it happened in 1998 or not. It happened in 2000. I mean, this is recycled stuff.

When I made the decision to sell I filed what's called a Form 144. I think you all have copies of the Form 144, it's an intention to sell, and I did sell. But, as you said, this has been fully vetted. It has been looked at by the SEC. You've got the documents. You've got the finding where the guy said there is no case here. And just the way I view it is it's old-style politics, and I guess that's the way it's going to be.

Q: On the question that the Form 4 was eight months late, why was it?

BUSH: You know, the important document was the 144, the intention to sell. That was the important document. I think you got a copy of it. If you don't, we'll be glad to get you one, that showed the intention to sell.

As to why the Form 4 was late, I still haven't figured it out completely. But nevertheless, the SEC fully looked into the matter, they looked at all aspects of it, and they did so in a very thorough way, and the people that looked into it said there is no case. And that was the case in the early '90s, it was the case in the '94 campaign, it was the case in the '98 campaign. Same thing happened in 2000 campaign. I guess we're going to have to go through this again in the 2002 campaign.

But nothing has changed. And the nothing that changed was the fact that this was fully looked into by the SEC and there's no there there.

Q: As a way to clean up the corporate way and start the reform, Sen. McCain is suggesting that you ask for the resignation of Harvey Pitt. And says that he's inept and had to recuse himself so many times in all these cases. What do you think? And are you 1,000 percent behind him?

BUSH: Very tricky. I support Harvey Pitt. Harvey Pitt has been fast to act. He's been in office less than 12 months, I think. I mean, he was -- we sent him up to the Senate and was unanimously approved. I'm not exactly sure when the vote was. I guess it was about a year ago. And every senator said "aye" on Harvey Pitt, "aye" meaning that they thought he was the right man for the job. And I still think he is.

He has, in a quick period of time, he has taken 30 CEOs and directors to task by not allowing them to serve again on a board or serve in a CEO capacity of a company. He's encouraged what they call disgorgement. In other words, if somebody has profited based upon malicious reporting or whatever the lawyers call it, obviously trying to scam somebody, they have to give their money back. And he's been very active on that. So I think Pitt's doing a fine job.

Q: In your speech tomorrow you're going to talk about some of the excesses of the 1990s. A lot of money was flying around, people were playing a lot of games with money. You weren't president then. Bill Clinton was president. Do you think in some way he contributed to that, set a moral tone in any way?

BUSH: No.

Q: You asked about the SEC and the Harken Energy Company. Democrats are saying, would you have the SEC release all the papers in connection with that and end all the questions? Would you tell the SEC, release those papers?

BUSH: This is old politics, John. This has been around for a long time.

In the early '90s, key members of Congress asked for relevant documents from the SEC on this case. They were given the documents. You've seen the relevant documents.

And I want to remind you all that I sold the stock at $4, and 14 months later -- the holding period for capital gains, I think, was 12 months in those days -- the person who bought my stock could have sold it for $8 -- could have doubled his or her money.

Q: ... know, when you sold your Harken stock, that the company was going to restate its earnings. As a member of its audit committee, how could you not know that its earnings had not been properly ...

BUSH: Because that fact came up after I sold the stock. And the SEC fully looked into this. All these questions that you're asking were looked into by the SEC. And I repeat to you the summary -- which I think you've seen, I hope you've seen it; if not, we'll be glad to get it to you -- said there was no case there.

Q: First of all, my apologies for not having a tie, because I have an Indian summer suit today.

BUSH: That's OK. Therefore, you don't get to ask a question.

Q: Happy birthday -- we share the birthday the same day.

BUSH: Thank you. That's a fine question.

Q: My question is, sir, that we did a survey at India Globe in Asia today, around the United States, among Indian-American community, and also in India, and they all support your stand against fighting against terrorism.

The question is, sir, are you going to find Usama bin Laden before the first anniversary of Sept. 11?

BUSH: Well, that's an interesting question, about Usama bin Laden. We haven't heard from him in a long time. I don't know if the man's living or the man's dead. But one thing is for certain: The war on terrorists is a lot bigger than one person.

And as I told the American people, this is going to be a long and -- a long struggle.

And we're making good progress. We're rounding people up slowly but surely. We're disrupting networks. This is -- and these are like international criminals -- is what they act like: They kind of hide and order things up and hide again. And we're just patiently hunting them down.

And whether or not Usama bin Laden is alive or not, I don't know.

Q: Mr. President, if I may ...

BUSH: If you would've worn a tie, you could've had a follow-up.

Q: Let me ask a question from just before the sale of stock that you mentioned. Could you please explain your role when you were on the board of Harken and the sale of 1999 -- 1989 of its Aloha Petroleum subsidiary, which later caused the SEC to require Harken to restate its earnings. The sale has been described as creating a phantom profit to hide large losses. How did you see it, sir? And do you think that this transaction hurts your credibility on corporate responsibility?

BUSH: This and all matters that related to Harken were fully looked into by the SEC. And in this case the system worked. There was an honest difference of opinion as to how to account for a complicated transaction. You're going to find that in different corporations. Sometimes the rules aren't as specific as one would expect, and therefore the accountants and the auditors make a decision.

And then it's the SEC's role to make the determination as to whether or not the accounting procedure used in this particular instance was proper or not. And -- let me finish -- and they made the decision that Harken ought to restate some earnings, which Harken did. And that's how the system is supposed to work.

Q: Mr. President, if I may ask you, right before the accounting -- the sale itself of the subsidiary, did you favor that? Were you involved ...

BUSH: You need to look back on the director's minutes, but all I can tell you is is that in the corporate world sometimes things aren't exactly black and white when it comes to accounting procedures, and the SEC's job is to look and is to determine whether or not the decision by the auditors was the appropriate decision. And they did look, and they decided that earnings ought to be restated, and the company did so immediately upon the SEC's finding.

Q: Sir, in that SEC investigation you waived attorney-client privilege, so that the SEC could question Harken attorneys and your personal attorneys about your dealings. In light of that, do you think it is appropriate today, given the fact that you say investors are nervous about the markets, for senior executives of these companies to go before Congress and invoke the Fifth Amendment and refuse to discuss their dealings?

And on a related point, one of the differences right now between the administration and the Senate bill on corporate responsibility is the Sarbanes proposal to have this independent board appointed by the SEC police the accounting industry. You have opposed that so far. Are you prepared today to endorse that?

BUSH: I'll give you my opinion on that.

Look, I think people, obviously if they're called up, ought to tell what they know, but lawyers have different opinions. And these people are listening to the advice of their counsels.

Q: Does it hurt the very market confidence ...

BUSH: Well, I think what hurts the market confidence is the -- in the recent cases was the inflated numbers. And so people look at balance sheets and wonder if they're real.

And now, as to the Sarbanes bill, we share the same goals, and I'm confident we can get a good piece of legislation out of the Congress. I, too, called for an independent board. My concern in the Sarbanes bill is that there's overlapping jurisdiction which will make it harder to enforce rules and regulations, not easier. If you have overlapping jurisdiction it creates confusion as to who is in charge of what. But I'm confident we can work that out. I am.

Q: You gave your speech on the Mideast nearly two weeks ago now, and after your previous speech on the Mideast you repeatedly called on the Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank. You made a brief allusion to that in this most recent speech. You haven't discussed it since. And of course they're still there. Should they take your silence as an indication that they should stay where they are or that they should stay there while Yasser Arafat is still in power?

BUSH: I said in my speech, as security improves. I also will call upon the Israelis as security improves to allow for more freedom of movement by the Palestinian people.

At the same time, we are working to begin the reforms necessary amongst the Palestinians to create enough confidence in all parties so that security will improve as well.

Undersecretary Burns was recently there in the Middle East. He's back to report this week. Colin Powell will be following up on his meetings. And I haven't had the briefing yet, but I believe some progress is being made toward the institutions that I talked about that are necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge, which will give us all confidence in its ability to fight off terrorist activities. Its ability to receive international aid without stealing the money. Its ability to develop a judiciary.

And what's very important in the Middle East today is that those institutions evolve and grow so that the true will of the Palestinian people can be reflected in the government. And that the institutions grow and evolve so that there's, in fact, separation of power so that all hopes of the Palestinians don't rest on one person. And I believe we're making some progress there.

Q: With security at its current state, do I understand you correctly, and you're saying, things are in its current state, you're perfectly comfortable to have the Israelis where they are?

BUSH: I would hope that everybody got the message that we all have responsibilities to fight off terrorist attacks.

Q: Mr. President, good afternoon. Since shortly after Sept. 11, you said that you would like to see Usama bin Laden dead or alive, and you've also said that American is after justice and not revenge.

BUSH: Right.

Q: Could you please tell us, to your way of thinking, what is the difference?

BUSH: Between justice and revenge?

Q: Yes.

BUSH: I think it's a difference of attitude. I mean, I seek justice for the deaths done to American people. You can be tough and seek justice. And you can be disciplined and focused and seek justice. But it's a frame of mind. We don't take -- we take lives when we have to protect the people and to hold people accountable for killing thousands. That's how I look at it.

Q: Yes, Mr. President, thank you. We continue to see reports on the state of planning to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. I know it's unlikely that you'll share any details with us, but we'd be delighted to hear them, sir.

BUSH: Somebody else thinks they are.

Q: But I wonder, Mr. President, regardless of when or how, is it your firm intention to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq ...

BUSH: Yes.

Q: ... and how hard do you think it will be?

BUSH: It's a stated policy of this government to have regime change. And it hasn't changed. And we'll use all tools at our disposal to do so.

I actually didn't read the whole story about somebody down there at level five flexing some know-how muscle. But there's all kind -- listen, I recognize there's speculation out there, but people shouldn't speculate about the desire of the government to have a regime change. And there's different ways to do it...

Q: How involved are you in the planning, sir? We know that you meet with Gen. Franks. You meet with Rumsfeld to talk about this. How involved are you?

BUSH: I am involved. I mean, I'm involved in the military plan, diplomatic planning, financial planning -- all aspects of -- reviewing all the tools at my disposal.

But in my remarks to the American people, I remind them I'm a patient person. But I do firmly believe that the world will be safer and more peaceful if there's a regime change in that government.

Q: Earlier, you signaled your staunch support for Harvey Pitt. On Aug. 8, his one year will have come up, and he will no longer have to recuse himself. Do you think that he should voluntarily recuse himself after that point? Would that be ...

BUSH: I think Harvey Pitt was put in place to clean up a mess. And he's working hard to do that. It's an amazing town where -- the man barely got his uniform on, barely got a chance to perform, and now, for whatever reason, people think he ought to move on -- the very ones who voted for him.

And I would ask them to look at this record. And I'm going to -- since I am the decision-maker, I'm going to give him a chance to continue to perform.

Q: The accounting procedures ... have been compared to what went on at Enron. Would you agree with that?

BUSH: No.

Q: Why not, sir?

BUSH: Again, this is -- there was no malfeasance involved. This was an honest disagreement about accounting procedures.

And the SEC took a good look at it and decided that the procedures used by the auditors and the accounting firm needed to, were not the right procedure in this particular case, or the right ruling, and therefore asked Harken to restate earnings, which it did.

I mean that's the way the SEC works. That's the proper role of an oversight group. There was no malfeasance, no attempt to hide anything, it was just an accounting firm making a decision along with the corporate officers as to how to account for a complex transaction.

Q: Mr. President, to put your speech tomorrow in a larger context, at the turn of the last century, Theodore Roosevelt complained about what he called "the malefactors of great wealth," and he asked in a very famous speech, "Who shall rule this country?" -- the people or what he called those who hide behind the breastworks of corporate organizations. I wonder if you feel this era is comparable to that one, and if you feel you should respond as aggressively as Roosevelt did.

BUSH: Well, of course, he was referring to trusts. I'm referring to a lapse of ethics and of people forgetting the fact that they represent things other than their own compensation packages, however inflated they may be, that they have a responsibility to employees and shareholders, and I am -- I also understand how tender the free enterprise system can be if people lose confidence in the system. It can be hard to attract capital in the markets. And that's one reason I've reacted so steadily against what I have seen. And I don't like it a bit, and I'm going to talk about it tomorrow.

David asked an interesting question about how do you prevent the things in the future?

It's like asking how do you, you know -- if somebody has, doesn't have that ethical compass, they'll find ways to cut corners. There are ways that people should hold people accountable. I mean investors need to be -- pay attention; there's investor groups that'll do that.

Obviously, boards of directors need to hold CEOs accountable. But if you get a bunch of people together that have no sense of ethics, you're going to get this kind of behavior.

BUSH: And so, then what the government must do, and it's a legitimate role of government, is to step in and hold people accountable.

Q: Mr. President, one way to establish or restore investor confidence being quoted right now as making public the tax returns of corporations. Would you favor that policy?

BUSH: Making public -- I need to look at that. I'll take a look at that.

Q: The NAACP is meeting this week in Houston, as you probably know. And there's been some criticism that you've not attended their convention since the 2000 campaign. How would you respond to that and respond generally to suggestions from some critics that your civil rights record in the administration is not a stellar one?

BUSH: Let's see. There I was sitting around the leader -- the table with foreign leaders looking at Colin Powell and Condi Rice.

Q: Sir, on the Middle East, to follow up. Realistically, can anything be accomplished in the Middle East before the Palestinian elections? And does the White House have anything to say about the rise of anti-Semitism which is sweeping Europe? Are you concerned that that could spread to this country?

BUSH: We're concerned about anti-Semitism anywhere. And, yes, progress can be made. We can help write a -- encourage the writing of a new constitution, a reformulation of security forces, prepare aid packages that will be disbursed if there is transparency. So progress can be made into the elections.

Q: Mr. President, how do you respond ... that your administration and you, particularly, are more interested in protecting the interest of corporate America than the needs of ...

BUSH: What I'm interested in protecting is the confidence of all Americans in the marketplace so that people feel comfortable investing, because investment means jobs, and so that people feel comfortable that their savings' plans and pension plans are protected. That's why I put out the pension reform package.

Remember, in February, I laid out a pension reform package and in March I laid out 10 steps for good corporate governance. And I'm waiting for Congress to act. And it's been a while.

But I'm a believer in the free enterprise system. But I'm also a strong believer in holding people accountable when they betray the trust of employees and shareholders. And that's exactly what we're going to do.

Q: On Iraq, can the American people expect that by the end of your first term you will have effected a regime change in Iraq, one way or another? And by the same token ...

BUSH: It's hypothetical.

Q: But can the American people expect that? Should they expect that?

BUSH: It's a hypothetical question.

Q: What about Usama ...

BUSH: They can expect me not to answer hypothetical questions ...

Q: On Usama bin Laden, does your promise still hold ...

BUSH: ... on sensitive subjects.

Q: Sir, on Usama bin Laden, does your promise still hold that he will be caught dead or alive at some point?

BUSH: What? Say that again.

Q: Does your promise on -- or your goal of catching Usama bin Laden dead or alive, does that still stand?

BUSH: You know, I don't know if he is dead or alive, for starters. So I'm going to answer your question with a hypothetical.

Usama bin Laden, he may be alive. If he is, we'll get him. If he's not alive, we got him.

It's a -- but the issue is bigger than one person. It's what I keep trying to explain to the American people. We're talking about networks that need to be disrupted, plans that need to be stopped. These people are cold-blooded killers. They're interested in killing innocent Americans still. And therefore we will continue to pursue them.

And I understand the frustrations of this war. Everybody wants to be a war correspondent, they want to go out there and see the tanks moving across the plains or the airplanes flying in formation. But that's not the way this war is going to be fought all the time. There's a lot of actions that take place that you'll never see. And some of it hopefully will continue to take place as a result of the actions of our friends, such as that which took place in the Philippines. Abu Sayyaf, the leader evidently was killed by Philippine troops, and that's positive, that's a positive development.

We're constantly working with nations that might become havens for terrorists to make sure that there's no place for them to bunch up or train. And we're making progress. But it's a long journey, and that's what people have got to know.

Q: Mr. President, you mentioned that sometimes the accounting laws are just too difficult to calculate ...

BUSH: No, I said sometimes there's difference -- ability to interpret one way or the other.

Q: There are differences of opinion. But isn't that -- wouldn't that provide a handy excuse to some of the folks who are involved in these scandals today who say ...

BUSH: Sure.

Q: ... well, internally we had ...

BUSH: Sure. This is a handy excuse.

But good prosecutors and a strong SEC will determine the difference between what becomes a handy excuse by somebody willing to, you know, defraud, and somebody who has just a difference of opinion. And that's the difference. And that's the role of the SEC. And that's why the SEC has to be strengthened.

And tomorrow, I'll call for a stronger SEC -- more investigators and more budget. But that's precisely what the role of the SEC is, and that's what it does, and -- I know the Democrats are trying to divert attention from the major goal, and I hope they -- I hope we can work together to get good legislation.

The important thing is to restore confidence to the economy. And we can. But -- go ahead.

Q: I just wonder if you think, then, that some of the companies that are in play today, in terms of scandal, could actually be places where the accounting was just ... disagreed over accounting ...

BUSH: It could be. It's not my role to judge, or the Congress' role to judge. It is the SEC's role to judge. And that's why we need a strong, vibrant SEC -- to make those judgments.

And -- but I think it's pretty clear when somebody's trying to defraud. And when you've got an error of $3.4 billion, I think it was, it's a pretty clear indication that something might be there. But everybody ought to have their day in court. We ought not to rush to judgment on every single case that comes up. And the SEC ought to do its job. It can do it, and do it well.

Thank you all very much.