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Ari & I: December 17, 2002

Russell Mokhiber questions White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer gestures as he speaks to reporters at the White House briefing room April 2, 2003 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Russell Mokhiber: Ari, last week I asked -- why is the President appointing convicted criminals like Elliott Abrams to policy positions at the White House? You said that you disputed the premise of the question. What part of the question do you dispute?

Ari Fleischer: Did you call him a war criminal?

Mokhiber: No, I didn't. I called him a convicted criminal.

Fleischer: That's right, you called Henry Kissinger, the Nobel Prize winner, a war criminal. You didn't call him (Abrams) a war criminal?

Mokhiber: I did not. I said, why is the President appointing convicted criminals like Elliott Abrams to policy positions at the White House?

Fleischer: Russell, we can go round and round. I know if you were President, you would not have appointed Mr. Abrams. The President believes that Elliott Abrams is a superb choice for this position. He has tremendous faith and confidence in Elliott Abrams. And the President, I think, is going to be proven correct as Elliott Abrams has worked to improve democracies. Helen, I know you and Russell are on the same ticket against the President.

Mokhiber: I have a second question. The LA Times today --

Fleischer: Is it softer than your first?

Mokhiber: You have to judge that.

The LA Times today published a poll that found that 72 percent of Americans, including 60 percent of Republicans, said the President has not provided enough evidence to justify starting a war with Iraq. Is the President losing the public relations battle here in the United States?

Fleischer: Well, one, I think that I'll just state what is well known. The President will not make any decision about war and peace and the possibility of putting some of our nation's best men and women in harm's way on the basis of a poll. He will do it on the basis of his judgment as Commander-in-Chief and what it will take to save and protect American lives in the event that he reaches the conclusion Saddam Hussein will indeed engage in war against the United States or provide terrorists with weapons to engage in war against the United States, just like on September 11th with the attack. And if he reaches that judgment, he will do so because the information he has and the judgment he makes suggest that, not because of a poll.

I think it's also fair to say that when you take a look at a variety of ways to measure public opinion, you will see different things out there in the public. The Pew Research Institution has done work on this topic and has come to very different conclusions. So the President will not make judgments based on polls, he'll make judgments based on what he believes is right.

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