1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. CARNEY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to your daily briefing today, on this Monday. I do not have any announcements at the top, so I'll go straight to your questions.
Ben Feller of the Associated Press.
Q Thanks, Jay. A couple questions on the Secret Service. There's a report out that a member of the White House Communications Agency is now being investigated. Can you confirm whether that's accurate?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would refer you to questions about military personnel to the Defense Department. As you know, WHCA -- as we know it here -- is staffed entirely by military personnel, not by White House staff and it is a Defense logistics agency. And for everyone involved in the Defense Department's investigation of members of the military as related to this incident, I would refer you to the Defense Department, just as for matters involving the Secret Service investigation into Secret Service personnel we refer you to the Secret Service.
Q There's, as you know, a broader White House military office and WHCA is underneath that. As you say, they're composed of military members, but it is widely seen as part of the White House apparatus. Are you saying that that --
MR. CARNEY: But, Ben, let's just be clear. These are military personnel staffed by the military. They are not members of the White House staff. They are not chosen by the White House senior staff. They are no more members of the White House staff than Secret Service personnel, who you see every day on the grounds here, are members of the White House staff.
As is appropriate, personnel actions, investigations and otherwise, that affect members of the military are handled by the Defense Department. And I would refer you to the Defense Department for questions regarding that.
Q And are you still comfortable in your statement that to your knowledge, no one other than members of the Secret Service or the military then are being looked at?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I can tell you a couple of things -- that -- well, first of all, to make clear, the Secret Service is investigating specific allegations of misconduct by members of the Secret Service. The Defense Department is investigating specific allegations of misconduct by members of the military. There have been no specific, credible allegations of misconduct by anyone on the White House advance team or the White House staff. Nevertheless, out of due diligence, the White House Counsel's office has conducted a review of the White House advance team, and in concluding that review, came to the conclusion that there's no indication that any member of the White House advance team engaged in any improper conduct or behavior.
So, simply out of due diligence, over the last several days that review was conducted, and it produced no indication of any misconduct.
Q Okay. Glad I asked. On the comment over the weekend from Senator Lieberman, talking about one member of the Secret Service who stayed at that hotel where the President eventually stayed -- this obviously happened before the President got there -- but the quote was, "Now you're into the hotel where the President of the United States was going to stay, and it just gets more troubling." Do you agree with that line of thinking, or is that overstated?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the incident itself is troubling. The allegations that we’ve seen are troubling. The investigation in both cases -- both the Secret Service investigation and the Defense Department investigation -- they are both ongoing, so as was the case last week, I’m not going to make any broad statements about our assessment of it, it’s broader meaning, steps -- further steps that might need to be taken once the investigations are concluded. It’s too early for that.
The investigation -- speaking now specifically about the Secret Service -- obviously began right away, is ongoing but has produced results, if you will, in terms of personnel who have been separated or separated themselves from the agency. But those broader questions about what it all means, if you will, for the agency and its mission I think are better left until the specific incident itself is thoroughly investigated.
Q A Sonoco refinery, which is the largest on the East Coast, has announced that its summer closure will be delayed for -- by a month if not longer -- not all together -- and the view is that this will help ease gasoline prices. Does the administration think the gas prices may have peaked and, if so, what extent could that be a boost for the economy?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would hesitate to make any predictions about global markets, including global oil markets, so I won’t engage on the question about which direction gas prices might go. Regarding the specific question that you began with, we are continuing to monitor closely the refinery situation on the East Coast, including the potential impact that disruptions could have on consumers in the region. But beyond that, I wouldn’t comment on the specific refinery that you mentioned.
Q Okay. One other question -- a Chinese manufacturer, Hubei Sanjiang, has been implicated in supplying parts for a large missile transporter vehicle that Pyongyang showcased in its military parade last week. How concerned is the U.S. about this? And how is the administrating conveying its concern to China that it may not be doing enough to enforce sanctions against military-related sales to Pyongyang.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll say two things about it. One, the United States will continue to work with the international community, including China, to enforce sanctions against North Korea’s ballistic missile program and nuclear program. And I would say that we’ve raised the allegations with the Chinese government that you mentioned as part of the ongoing -- our ongoing close consultations on North Korea.
Q Has the request been made to China --
MR. CARNEY: I can only say that we’ve raised the situation, the allegations.
Q On Syria, there have been reports that the opposition is running out of ammunition while, of course, the Syrian government, enjoying relationships with Iran and Russia, does not that that problem. Is it time, finally, for the international community, or for the United States more specifically, to seriously consider arming the rebels there? Or do you think -- does the President think that the Annan plan still needs time to try to work itself out?
MR. CARNEY: Well, as you know, we voted in favor of the U.N. supervision mission in Syria, the vote establishing that and expanding it. And we believe it can help decrease the violence and lay the foundation for Syria’s political transition. But we are sober about the risks and very clear-eyed about Assad’s behavior with regard to the Annan mission, and its failure to fully commit to a ceasefire or honor the other provisions of the plan, the Annan plan.
We still do not believe that contributing to the militarization of Syria is the right course of action at this time. We are working with our partners and allies, as part of the "Friends of Syria" but also with the United Nations, to further isolate and pressure Assad, and to make clear to everyone that siding with Assad is making a bad choice, a choice that will not wear well as time passes -- because Assad has brutally murdered his own people. His regime will come to an end. It’s a matter of not if but when.
We believe that the measures we’re taking -- working with the international community, assisting the opposition establish itself, providing humanitarian and other nonlethal aid to the Syria people -- is the right course of action to take. But there is no question that Assad’s brutality has not ceased even as it has abated at times during the course of the implementation of the Annan plan.
Q In response to the President’s speech this morning and the discussion of the Atrocities Prevention Board, Senator John McCain suggested that there was a very -- a great significant similarity between Bosnia, during the Clinton era, and Syria today, and that in his view, thankfully, President Clinton came around to arming the victims and the opposition in the former Balkans, and that hopefully the President would -- President Obama would step up and do the same. Does President Obama consider there to be any similarity?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I have not seen Senator McCain’s comments making that comparison to Bosnia, so I haven’t had that conversation with the President. I think that the President is extremely concerned about the appalling brutality that Assad has perpetrated on its own people. He has made clear, as have I and others when we talk about the actions that we can take in response to different situations in different countries, that there is not a cookie-cutter approach; that the actions we were able to take when Qaddafi's forces were on the verge of overrunning Benghazi and, in his own words, killing the residents of Benghazi, the Libyan people there -- that we were able to, because of a broad consensus and a very specific mission that was open to us, take direct action that prevented the overrunning of Benghazi and eventually prevented Qaddafi from taking over the country again.
So the President said today at the Holocaust Museum in his speech, that we cannot -- we have to do everything we can to prevent these kinds of atrocities. It does not mean that in response to every action, using our military is the right answer. We cannot do that and we should not do that in response to every action. There are other tools that we have, and we have to use them. And right now, that is the case with regards to Syria and that's the approach we're taking.
Q In terms of the White House Counsel's investigation, how long did that go on for? When did it begin interviews?
MR. CARNEY: It began on Friday and concluded over the weekend.
Again, I think it's important to note, the incident we're talking about here involved specific allegations of misconduct by the Secret Service, by members of the Secret Service and members of the military. The decision to conduct a review here, internally, was simply done out of due diligence. There are no, to my knowledge, and have been no credible or specific allegations of misconduct by any member of the White House advance team or White House staff. But out of due diligence this review was conducted, and there is no indication of any misconduct by members of the White House advance team or staff.
Q And how many interviews did that entail?
MR. CARNEY: I don't have, and I'm not going to give you, a blow-by-blow of what was involved in the review. I can simply tell you that, again, not because of any specific allegation of misconduct, not because of any credible allegation at all, out of due diligence, the White House Counsel's office led this review, and it produced no indication of any inappropriate behavior or misconduct.
Q Was this in response to Senator Grassley's letter inquiring about --
MR. CARNEY: No, it was a decision to simply act with due diligence and out of an abundance of caution to do this review. Again, not because there was any -- there are specific things that happened that we know that happened that led to the revelation of this incident. There are specific individuals involved in the investigation by the Secret Service of the Secret Service, and the investigation of military personnel by the Department of Defense. It was in the context of a presidential trip, and out of due diligence, this review was conducted. And again, I think I made the point that there was no indication of any misconduct.
Q And it's concluded? The review is now concluded?
MR. CARNEY: Yes, it's concluded.
Q `And then let me just ask you about another story. The GAO is coming out with a new study today, a new report, that Medicare is wasting more than $8 billion on this experimental program that rewards providers, it says, of mediocre health care. It's not producing the kind of results -- it's a waste of money and should end. Do you agree with that? Any comment on it?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would say that before the Affordable Care Act, private insurance companies received Medicare payments that were too high and had nothing to do with the quality of care. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the new health care law, we are on track to cut $200 billion in unwarranted payments. This was a much focused-upon element of the Affordable Care Act.
Medicare continually monitors its programs to ensure they are achieving their goals, and the temporary demonstration program that you're referring to is important to identifying ways to improve the quality of care in Medicare Advantage.
And since we're on the subject, I would call your attention to a report from CMS today indicating that the health care law will save the Medicare program over $200 billion through 2016. Additionally, people with Medicare will save nearly $208 billion, thanks to the new law.
Q Can I just follow on that?
MR. CARNEY: Sure.
Q `My understanding is that under the Affordable Care Act that Congress cut Medicare payments to these managed care plans, known as Medicare Advantage, as you pointed out, and authorized these bonus payments to provide high-quality care. The investigators with the GAO found that in fact the bonuses went to average performing plans --
MR. CARNEY: I understand what the report says, but let's put it in context here. One, we think that the demonstration project that you're referring to -- program -- is important to identifying ways to improve the quality of Medicare Advantage. One of the things we found in the policy process that led to the Affordable Care Act is that Medicare Advantage -- that there could be significant savings from Medicare Advantage because of overpayments. And in fact, we're phasing out over $200 billion in overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, on schedule.
Before health care reform, everyone with Medicare, even those who weren’t in a Medicare Advantage plan, paid higher premiums to support those Medicare Advantage programs -- those overpayments, rather. So the context here is one of squeezing savings out of Medicare Advantage programs, reducing overpayments through these programs. And this demonstration project is simply a way to, we believe, ensure that these programs are as cost-efficient as possible.
Let me move around a little bit. Mark.
Q Jay, did White House Counsel launch the review on their own authority?
MR. CARNEY: Yes.
Q Was it instructed by Chief of Staff or the President?
MR. CARNEY: Well -- the President, no. But this was led by the White House Counsel's office. The decision to do it was certainly -- she has the authority to do this, but it was in consultation with the Chief of Staff's office, yes.
Q And those questioned were White House staffers that were part of the advance team?
MR. CARNEY: All White House advance team.
Q All White House advance team.
MR. CARNEY: Right.
Q When the President met with Director Sullivan --
MR. CARNEY: And again, without getting into the specifics of what the review entailed, it was a review of the White House advance team and those people on it.
Q But you weren’t in --
MR. CARNEY: No, I was not in Colombia in advance of the President's arrival. I got there when he did.
Q When the President met on Friday with Director Sullivan, did the director offer his resignation?
MR. CARNEY: No.
Q I have a couple questions about the executive order this morning. The first is, why is it limited to just Iran and Syria? Why not -- there are other countries that needs technology to suppress -- in a variety of human rights abusive ways. So why is it limited to those two countries?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think I would take that in two ways. First, I can get back to you with more specifics about the narrow focus. One obvious reason is we have a circumstance where the use of technology to suppress human rights is very clear and evident by these two regimes, and the EO degrades the ability of the Syrian and Iranian governments to acquire and utilize technology to oppress their own people. It sends a clear message that the U.S. recognizes and is committed to combating this new and growing human rights threat. It holds accountable those government officials, companies and individuals committing or facilitating human rights abuses, and, as part of that process, further isolates both Damascus and Tehran.
So you’re certainly right that, unfortunately, in this world these are not the only regimes that oppress their people or use technology to do it, but these are specific cases that we are focused on right now that this EO can have a direct impact on.
Q You’re focused on these because it’s very clear and evident in these cases, but not as clear and evident in others?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can work with you and get more information for you on the decision behind focusing the EO on these two bad actors, but I don’t think there’s any disagreement really anywhere, outside perhaps those regimes themselves, that these are two bad actors.
Q The other question is, does this have any impact on companies that supply the technology directly to these governments? There’s a lot of examples of cases where you’ve had companies, perhaps knowingly, sell technology used to do this.
MR. CARNEY: I’ll have to get back to you on the implementation of the EO and what its impacts and ramifications are. I know there are designations involved with the EO, similar to other sanctions and things that were done, but in terms of the companies involved, I have to get back to you.
MR. CARNEY: Thanks.
Ed and then Kristen.
Q Thanks, Jay. Just wanted to go back to Norah’s question about Medicare. What Republicans have said about this bonus program is that it’s rewarding folks because it’s trying to kind of mask other cuts to Medicare from the President’s health care reform plan. And you say to that -- because you answered it with a question about overpayments and whatnot. That’s not really what Republicans are alleging -- that these bonuses are covering up the fact there are cuts elsewhere in Medicare. It’s sort of making up for other cuts the President put in, in his health care plan.
MR. CARNEY: Well, we’ve been highly transparent about the savings that are produced because of the Affordable Care Act, the -- as described by the CBO -- the significant deficit reduction brought about by the Affordable Care Act after 10 years, and the truly substantial deficit reduction created in the second decade after implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The savings that are part of that are very important, but this is not -- Medicare Advantage, as you know, prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, had a big problem with overpayments that the Affordable Care Act addressed and will bring about a reduction of $200 billion in overpayments. As part of the Affordable Care Act’s overall treatment of Medicare Advantage plans, this demonstration project, we believe, is important to increasing the efficiency of the Medicare Advantage plan. So we just have a disagreement about this, I think.
Q More broadly on Medicare -- I know Secretary Geithner is going to be talking in a few minutes about the trustees report. But more broadly, the early reports have suggested that Medicare is going broke faster than expected, maybe as early as 2018. I know he's going to address the details. But how does the President go to voters this year and say that he's protecting senior citizens if Medicare is going broke faster than people expected?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, I don't want to get ahead of the trustees report, but I think -- the President's approach has been, from the beginning, when it comes to deficit reduction and the need to reform entitlements in a way that both ensures the guarantee remains for our seniors through Medicare and Social Security but stabilizes our deficit and debt -- that is the approach he's taken with every negotiation he's had with members of Congress, leaders in Congress on deficit reduction.
And what I can tell you is the President's approach remains what it was last summer and what it is -- what it was in the fall when he put forward his plan, which is that we need a balanced approach. One way we can ensure that we make -- we maintain our commitment to seniors through Medicare and through Social Security is not to cut them so substantially in order to give more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. We don't need to do that.
If we take a balanced approach to deficit reduction, we can, as the President has proposed and as he has -- the position he took in his negotiations with members of Congress, leaders of Congress, if we cut discretionary -- non-defense discretionary spending, which he has done and signed into law to bring that spending to its lowest level since the Eisenhower administration -- if we cut our tax expenditures, if we reform our tax code in a way that increases revenue and then we reform our entitlements in a way that preserves the guarantee, we can make huge strides towards getting our deficits and debt under control, without doing it on the backs of senior citizens and the most vulnerable.
Q Last year's report said Medicare is going broke in, like, 2024. Now it says it's going broke in 2018. So doesn't it sound like everything you just said is not really working because it's going broke --
MR. CARNEY: Well, part of why it hasn't worked yet is because Republicans in Congress refuse to accept the basic premise that we need to take a balanced approach to our deficit and debt reduction. They are out there telling the American people, through the Ryan/Republican budget, that we need to dramatically cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans -- dramatically -- and we will pay for that in large part by gutting discretionary spending programs -- investments in education and innovation and basic research and infrastructure -- and by ending welfare -- I mean Medicare as we know it -- ending Medicare as we know it by basically turning it into a two-tiered system that's half-privatized through vouchers, that results in the healthiest seniors gravitating towards one system, and the sickest, oldest seniors in the other, which basically ends the program and the guarantee as we know it.
And none of that is necessary if you do not accept the premise -- if you do accept the premise that we need to take a balanced approach. So I certainly hope, and the President hopes that, under pressure from their own constituents, Republicans will reconsider the refusal to adopt a balanced approach -- the same approach that every bipartisan commission that has look at this has endorsed, the same approach that not just Democrats but independents and Republicans across the country endorse. The only outliers here are elected members of Congress of the Republican persuasion.
Q Last thing, on Colombia -- did the White House Counsel check the hotel records down in Colombia to see if any White House advance or White House staff --
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into the specifics. I would simply say that the review that the White House Counsel oversaw and led produced no indication of any misconduct.
Q But then how did they --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I’m not going to get into --
Q -- just by asking people, or did they check records?
MR. CARNEY: I’m not going to get into specifics of it. And what I also won’t do is engage in speculation about --
Q It’s not speculation.
MR. CARNEY: There is no specific --
Q The Secret Service has been checking records down there.
MR. CARNEY: Hey, Ed, do you have a specific allegation you’d like to --
Q I’m just saying, did they check --
MR. CARNEY: -- because there has been no specific allegation of misconduct. And again, I’m not going to get into all the details of the review, except to say that --
Q -- say yes, they did, and there was nothing there?
MR. CARNEY: Because I am not going to describe every aspect of this review. I will simply say that the review has been conducted. There is no indication of any misconduct by any member of the White House advance team.
Q Jay, on this review --
MR. CARNEY: Kristen and then -- sorry.
Q It’s okay.
MR. CARNEY: Sorry, I did say you. Brianna, go ahead.
Q Outside of the White House, who will you provide details of this review to?
MR. CARNEY: Can I just make clear, we have an incident where there were specific allegations of misconduct by members of the Secret Service, specific allegations of misconduct by members of the military, and there are investigations into both those matters by the Defense Department and the Secret Service. There is no allegation of misconduct by anyone on the White House advance team or staff.
Q But there’s been concern by --
MR. CARNEY: No, there’s been rumors published on the Internet by people with no editors and no conscience. But there is no specific allegation of any kind of misconduct here. And only out of due diligence have we conducted this review, which revealed what we thought to be the case, which there was no misconduct by members of the --
Q There are concerns on the Hill from Republicans; also Senator Lieberman felt that the scope should be -- I’m just wondering if they're being looped in.
MR. CARNEY: Right. And what I’m saying is that the review has been conducted and there is no indication of any misconduct.
Q But I’m just trying to be clear. So it’s purely for internal White House consumption, the results of the review?
MR. CARNEY: Again, what I can say, if someone comes to us with some credible allegation that anybody at the White House was involved in any inappropriate conduct, I’m sure that we’ll look at it. But there isn’t that. There is some attempt by some to throw rumors out there. But again, there's no -- we had specific behavior that led to this investigation, specific actions that led to the investigation by the Secret Service and by the Defense Department of their personnel. We've conducted a review simply out of due diligence of our people -- White House advance team -- and it produced nothing. So I think that's where we are right now.
Q Will the President continue to receive regular updates from Director Sullivan?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I don't know about Director Sullivan. We are in contact regularly with the Secret Service about the investigation, and I'm sure that he'll be briefed accordingly. I don't have any meetings or conversations between the President and the Director to preview for you.
Q Okay. And then, Egypt canceled its natural gas deal with Israel. In 2005, Egypt and Israel described the deal as enhancing peace and stability in the Middle East. How does the White House view this development?
MR. CARNEY: Well, we've seen reports of that nature and we're seeking more information. I think it's important to note these are private companies, and I'd refer you to the companies involved for more details. They're companies, they're not governments. It's important to note that both Egypt and Israel have both said they remain committed to their peace treaty. And as we've made clear in abundance, we strongly support the peace treaty and the Egypt-Israel relationship.
Q Will you see it, though, as an indication of -- I mean, are you prepared to --3041
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would point -- when we talk about peace treaties between nations, and in this case a peace treaty between two nations, we look to the governments for what they say about them. And both Israel and Egypt have said that they remain committed to that peace treaty. And the two companies involved -- the action that was taken with regard to this matter involves two companies, and I would refer you to those companies for more details.
Q But I mean, it's seen as a breach of an agreement. It's not seen -- it's widely seen as something to be concerned about.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, but this is an agreement between two companies, not an agreement between two governments.
Kristen, then Roger.
Q Thanks, Jay. If the White House review started Friday, why are we just learning about it today? Why not announce it Friday instead when it started?
MR. CARNEY: Kristen, it’s an internal due diligence review. It’s not -- there are a lot of things that -- well, let me just say specific allegations of misconduct by the Secret Service, specific allegations of misconduct by members of the Department of Defense, specific investigations accordingly.
As a matter of due diligence, we have taken a look at our personnel who were involved in the President’s trip to Colombia, White House advance personnel who were there in advance of the President, and there’s no indication of any misconduct by them. So I think a couple of days to conduct this review and reach that conclusion is pretty -- both enough time and hardly a long time.
Q And going back to the President’s meeting with Director Sullivan, can you give us a sense of the tone of that meeting?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get into details about specific meetings or conversations the President has in the Oval Office. I think you can -- you would not be surprised if I told you it’s a serious matter and so it was a serious discussion. But beyond that I can’t really describe it.
Q Can you explain why it took the director a week to brief the President? Was that because the investigation was going on --
MR. CARNEY: I think I told you daily, when you asked me, that the President was being kept updated on the Secret Service investigation and this matter, that the director himself was personally in contact with senior members of White House staff, and senior members of White House staff were in contact with other senior members of the Secret Service. So there was plenty of communication happening.
The President has a lot on his plate. This is an issue that warrants investigation and it is being investigated appropriately. But it is not something that is his highest priority. He’s dealing with trying to keep our economic recovery going, trying to help the economy continue to create jobs -- as it has done now for 25 straight months -- and working to ensure that our national security interests are protected. So he has been appropriately briefed. He met to be briefed directly by the Secret Service director on Friday, and he’ll continue to be briefed appropriately.
Q And also, Jay, Senator Susan Collins said this weekend that Secret Service supervisor Paula Reed -- who we all read about this weekend -- "acted decisively and appropriately in Cartagena, and I can’t help but wonder if there had been more women as part of that detail, if this ever would have happened." Is there a point there? Should there be more women as part of the Secret Service?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I would simply say, as I did earlier, that assessments of the institution, culture, broader questions about the mission, I think need to be held in reserve while this investigation into a specific incident is completed. And in many ways, I think that those questions will be looked at broadly, but also specifically by the Secret Service, as is appropriate. So I don’t have a comment specifically to that beyond what I’ve said.
Q I understand you can’t necessarily speak to that, but if the percentage of women in the Secret Service is indeed 11 percent -- you can speak to that, correct?
MR. CARNEY: Again, I can’t. I’m not familiar even with that figure. I would simply say that questions about the mission, the institution, broader questions about the Secret Service that arise from this incident and this investigation, I think, at least from here, I will resist answering because it’s not appropriate while this investigation is ongoing.
And I think that those questions in many ways will be and should be to the Secret Service itself. But they are focused on this investigation into this incident at this time. And it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make broad observations about the institution during this period.
Q Would you agree that if that figure is correct it’s really -- it’s very low?
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, you’re saying “if that figure is correct what do I think about it?" I don’t know that figure to be correct or incorrect.
Q -- 11 percent as a percentage.
MR. CARNEY: Well, again, it’s a law enforcement agency. I don’t know how that compares to other law enforcement agencies. I would simply ask that -- you can ask the questions, but I would ask for understanding for why I’m not going to make broad assessments of the institution itself, its mission, its culture while this specific investigation is going on.
Sorry, Scott then April -- I mean, Roger. Did I call on you and then I didn’t? Okay, Roger, Scott, April.
Q Thank you. There was a story over the weekend in The New York Times about Wal-Mart store officials in Mexico allegedly bragging local officials to get stores opened faster. Is this -- do you have any comment, number one? And is this something that the U.S. government would have an interest?
MR. CARNEY: I mean, I read the story, but beyond that I don’t have a comment, and I’m not even sure that that’s an issue that we would be involved in. So I would refer you to Wal-Mart for now.
Q Director Sullivan’s briefing of the President on Friday -- was the general counsel in that meeting?
MR. CARNEY: The general counsel of the Secret Service?
Q The White House General counsel?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, the White House counsel? I’ll have to take that question. I don’t believe so, but I can find out.
Q And one other question. Apparently one of the agents that’s been implicated is said to have taken a woman back to his room at the hotel where the President was staying -- five days before he arrived, but that hotel. Does that raise your concerns over the President’s safety?
MR. CARNEY: I got a version of the question earlier. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of the allegations against any of the individuals involved. I will say, as the President said, I believe -- or I said I know -- pointing to the Secret Service, that they have said that neither the President nor his party’s security was ever compromised because of this incident. We depend on, the President depends on -- any President depends on -- the Secret Service for protection and security. And I think it’s important to note that what the President said and I have said, that we have great respect for and admiration for those agents who, on a daily basis, put their lives on the line to protect the President of the United States and his family. And it's very hard work and the President appreciates what they do.
This is an incident that absolutely merits investigation and action needs to be taken when allegations of misconduct prove to be true. But it is also true that the work that they do is extremely important, not just to the individual but to the institution of the presidency, to our democracy. And it is hard work and it is dangerous work.
Q On a couple of issues -- getting back to the President's speech this morning, he's outlining the Atrocities Prevention Board. With that, has there been any movement on U.S. action, potential or actual hostile action as it relates to the Sudan? I asked you last week, and I'm following up.
MR. CARNEY: Well, the President -- I would point you to the President's remarks about the Sudan and South Sudan, the creation of a new nation -- an effort that we were very much a part of -- the ongoing diplomatic efforts to try to bring about stability between those two nations and in the region. I don't have anything more specific for you on that as it relates to the Sudan.
Q Could you find out if he talked to Chinese officials about their efforts to try to help bring peace in between northern and southern Sudan?
MR. CARNEY: I'll have to -- again, April, I apologize, I'll have to take that.
Q All right. In a request for transparency, could you at least tell us, yes or no, straight up or down, if advance -- White House advance officials who were on the ground in Cartagena -- were they interviewed by the White House counsel?
MR. CARNEY: I don't think it's useful to get into the details of how that review was conducted. I think that that's --
Q I didn’t ask how, I just asked if they were --
MR. CARNEY: -- through what modalities the review was conducted, if you will. What you suggested stands to reason, but I don't want to get into something where -- well, they did that, did they do this, did they do that? There was a review conducted. There was no allegation that led to the review. There was a review conducted and the result is there is no indication of any misconduct by White House -- members of the White House advance team.
Q You just said what I just asked stands to reason. Are you saying yes they were interviewed? (Laughter.)
MR. CARNEY: All I'm saying is I don't want to get into -- there's no point in getting into the details of this internal review except to say that it was conducted; that the results of that are that there is no indication of misconduct by members of that team.
Q North Korea has threatened to take specific military action against Seoul and President Lee. Is this just the normal propaganda and a demand for attention, or is there any reason to fear that this might be a sort of precursor to any military action similar to the shelling of the island a few years ago?
MR. CARNEY: Well, North Korea -- the regime there is certainly known for its provocative acts. It is known for engaging in provocations in a series, so I wouldn’t rule out provocative behavior by the North Korean regime. The specific claim made I don’t have a reaction to except that behavior by the North Korean regime has resulted in international condemnation, has resulted in our inability to move ahead with the nutritional assistance program that we had discussed moving forward with because we cannot provide that assistance with any assurance that it would get to the right people because of the lack of credibility and the behavior of the North Korean regime.
So what is absolutely the case is that provocative behavior by the North Korean regime does nothing to feed its people; in fact, it does the opposite. It does nothing to grow that economy; in fact, it does the opposite. It does nothing to reduce the isolation of that regime from the rest of the world; in fact, it does the opposite.
There is a door open to Pyongyang, a door open to that regime if it chooses to walk through it, which is to renounce its nuclear weapons program, to abide by United Nations Security Council resolutions and to reenter the community of nations. We would very much welcome if they took that step.
Q Jay, a couple. One on the Syria executive order -- how committed is the President to going after Western companies that provide the regime of Damascus with the kind of surveillance technology that he discussed today?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I got a version of this question earlier and I will have to get more specifics for you on it.
Q And on Afghanistan by way of France, the front-running candidate there wants French forces out by the end of this year. Is that something that the President’s strategy on Afghanistan can overcome?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the French election, as you might imagine. We’re working with all our partners in Afghanistan and ISAF, in NATO. Afghanistan will obviously be a focal point of the discussions at the NATO summit in Chicago. As you know, we are closing in on finalizing a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghan government, which is an important step towards the future for our involvement, for our drawing down of our forces and standing up of Afghan security forces as they take security lead in 2014, and in ensuring that we have a long-term partnership with the Afghan government.
With regards to specific countries and their commitments, I think we should wait for Chicago, for the NATO summit, and certainly for the election results.
Q Thanks, Jay. Now that the President chose the Holocaust Museum to bring more attention to what’s happening in Syria, how long is he willing to wait for the Kofi Annan plan to do something before deciding that direct intervention is needed to stop history from repeating itself in history?
MR. CARNEY: Well, I appreciate the question. I think I would point to one of my previous answers, which is that we are very clear-eyed about the failure of Assad to abide by the points of the Kofi Annan plan in full; very clear-eyed about the continued violence being perpetrated by the Assad regime. We support the monitoring mission of the United Nations, but we understand the sobering challenge it represents in the atmosphere that has been created by the Assad regime.
I don’t have a timetable for you to discuss contingencies. What I can say is it is our position that we need to work with our partners and allies to continue to pressure and isolate the Assad regime, to make clear to everyone internationally that siding with the Assad regime is a folly because Assad will go down as a brutal dictator who brutally murdered his own people -- not the kind of friend you really want in the world.
And we will continue to work with the United Nations and with the "Friends of Syria," and all other partners in providing assistance to the Syrian people, to helping the opposition function and organize itself and function more efficiently, and isolating and pressuring the Assad regime.
Q In Greensboro, North Carolina today, the trial of John Edwards got underway. It's being led by the Department of Justice. Why is this a priority for the administration?
MR. CARNEY: I would refer you to the Department of Justice, Bill.
Q Well, if I just can follow, this started under the Bush administration, so there had to be a conversation with the Attorney General whether or not to continue the trial or not. Do you know if the President was involved in that discussion --
MR. CARNEY: Again, I don’t. And I think this is a matter for the Justice Department.
Leslie, did you have something?
Q Yes, and it's sort of along the lines that Laura was asking about on the Syria and Iran sanctions, and whether or not it could be extended at some point, or if there's talk of other countries, like China, that uses technology to keep tabs on dissidents.
MR. CARNEY: Well, I think the executive order specifically targets two countries for their behavior and their use of technology to engage in human rights abuse. I don’t have -- the executive order targets those two countries. It does not include other countries within it, but we obviously have a very clear stand on human rights abuses writ large by all countries. And this specific executive order has to do with two countries and their behavior and their use of technology to suppress their own people.
Amy, last one.
Q On the President's trip this week to the colleges -- the Romney campaign has sort of seized on this data, basically saying that a lot of young people are unemployed. Are you guys -- how are you guys responding to that?
MR. CARNEY: You know, I saw that report, and the logical conclusion of that critique is that they believe Americans shouldn’t get educated because it's not worth it. And there's not a single economist with a degree worth more than the paper it's printed on who would agree with that assessment.
It is absolutely a fact that those who have college degrees are half as likely to be unemployed as those without. Now, there is no question that we continue to be in a period of recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression -- a recession -- a terrible, terrible recession that led to the loss of 8 million jobs; a terrible, terrible recession that was precipitated in part by the policies of the previous administration, policies that some of the critics that you mention want to return to in whole. I think that’s a bad idea. And I think their assessment of the value of education in the current economy is a little suspect.
Thank you all.
Q Is he going to make mention of that, though?
MR. CARNEY: Oh, I don’t want to steal his thunder. So I urge you to listen to his speech. Thank you.
END 2:13 P.M. EDT