Ari & I: February 26, 2003

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)

Ari & I: February 26, 2003

Russell Mokhiber questions White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer

Russell Mokhiber: Ari, you said yesterday that if we go to war with Iraq, the Iraqi leadership, including Saddam Hussein, would be a legitimate target under international law. Does this mean that if we go to war with Iraq, our leadership would be a legitimate target under international law?

Ari Fleischer: I think you should address that to an international lawyer. But the point remains the same -- our nation is threatened, all people in our nation are threatened by Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction. We know that terrorists desire to strike the United States. We know terrorists desire to strike the leadership of the United States. We don't know definitively if that fourth airplane was heading toward the White House or the Congress. So we do know that we are at war with people who want to seek maximum damage on our country and its leadership.

Mokhiber: But you made a judgment yesterday under international law, that Saddam would be a legitimate target. So does that mean our leadership would be a legitimate target?

Ari Fleischer: Russell, I have no intention of becoming Saddam Hussein's international lawyer. You can find another one.

Mokhiber: Okay. Second question -- can I take from what you said earlier that the reason Lawrence Lindsey was fired was because he made an estimate about the cost of war with Iraq?

Ari Fleischer: No, I was having fun with Dick. That's why I said that. And I wanted to get myself out of having to dodge the question again.

[Here's the back and forth with the other reporter, Dick:

Question: Ari, you said many times -- whether in reference to foreign protests, domestic protests, questions from the Hill, wherever, that the President welcomes an honest and open debate about how we move forward on Iraq. But given the concerns over the deficit, given the concerns over the economy, isn't it fair to include in that debate, even with all the caveats he wanted to attach to it, some preliminary figures on what this might cost -- best case scenario, worst case scenario -- so that people around the country and people on Capitol Hill can make up their minds about how we move forward?

Ari Fleischer: You're asking the same questions over and over again -- my answer is exactly the same. Nothing has changed.

Question: The reason we're asking over and over again is it doesn't seem unreasonable to get at least a cost range, with all the appropriate caveats. You know everybody in this room is careful about reporting those. What's the harm in putting that out? I mean, it's --

Ari Fleischer: For the exact reasons I gave earlier. As soon as something is knowable, we will have additional information to share on it. I'd think you would also not want the White House to engage in any speculation about numbers that could fluctuate or be dramatically different. So it's too soon to say.

Question: A recently departed Larry Lindsey put forward an estimate back in December based on a percentage of GDP which was in line with the spending --

Ari Fleischer: Are you asking me to follow the example and be recently departed? (Laughter).

Question: That's a decision you can make --

Ari Fleischer: Thank you.

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