Helen Thomas To Perino: "We should get someone out here who can answer our questions"
Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino, filling in for Bush's regular Spokesliar, Tony Snow, took a bit of abuse from Thomas yesterday… Much of the daily press briefing was taken up with the subject of the administration's casual relationship with the rule of law and the extent to which Dick Cheney can switch from the executive to legislative branch of government whenever one provides the greatest cover for him.
And Thomas was in no mood for Perino's weaseling, declaring flatly at one point, "We should get someone out here who can answer our questions."
After dodging questions about Cheney refusing to turn over records while citing his home in the executive branch, Perino caught Thomas's ire while ducking the issue of Cheney setting torture policy at all, much less with no involvement from the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor's offices.
Q: ... Is the President comfortable with the Vice President essentially cutting out two of his top national security officials on this critical policy?Then Thomas, who has been covering the White House longer than Perino has been alive, asked if the press could talk to someone who isn't an empty suit.
Perino: Look, I'm not privy to internal deliberations of that level. I don't know, and I'm not going to comment on any type of internal deliberations.
Q: Do you really think that's the way a White House should operate?
Perino: Look, I've been around not as long as a lot of people, but long enough to see how the process works here, and I can assure you that the debate is vigorous, and it is held -- people have strongly-held views, and they voice them, and they voice them loudly. I am very comfortable with the process that we have, in terms of how those debates get settled.
Q: But how you can say it's a vigorous debate if the Secretary of State and the National Security Advisor were not involved in debate for two years, two years?
Perino: Ed, I'm not commenting on that.
Perino: I'm not commenting on that either way.
Q: But how can you make the claim -- if you're not commenting on it, how can you --
Perino: I'm commenting on my personal experience at the White House.
Q: But how can you make that claim, though, that there's a vigorous debate? The top two national security officials were not involved in that debate. How could it be vigorous?
Perino: I don't know that to be true, Ed, so I'm not commenting --
Q: So is it false?
Perino: I don't know that to be true, so I'm not commenting on it.
Thomas: Can you send someone out here who can? You're stonewalling. Is the President a member of the executive branch? Is he answerable to any law, to any executive order? I mean, what is this? What's going on here?The White House press corps has recently begun waking from their long collective slumber and insisting that the Bush administration actually start answering questions about how they're running the government.
Perino: Helen, the President, of course, is head of the executive branch.
Thomas: Any accountability to the American people?
Thomas: Does the Vice President see top secrets in this administration as a member of the executive branch? Does he attend NSC meetings?
Perino: In his executive duties, as discharged by the President, he does see classified materials, yes.
Thomas: And he is allowed to?
Perino: Victoria, go ahead.
Thomas: We should get someone out here who can answer our questions.
Maybe Helen Thomas has been giving lessons.