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DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
October 22, 2001 1:25 PM EDT

Monday, October 22, 2001 - 1:25 p.m. EDT

(Also participating: Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Slides and videos shown in this briefing are on the Web at http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/g011022-D-6570C.html)

Rumsfeld: Good afternoon.

At Whiteman Air Force Base on Friday, a number of you will recall that I was asked repeatedly about newspaper reports that had appeared that morning concerning U.S. Special Forces inside of Afghanistan -- reports that appeared, obviously, as the result of someone in the Pentagon leaking classified information. When I was asked those questions, the U.S. Rangers were still in Afghanistan, which of course I knew. I knew that they had not cleared Afghan airspace or returned. As a result, I refused to respond to the questions.

The fact that some members of the press knew enough about those operations to ask the questions and to print the stories was clearly because someone in the Pentagon had provided them that information. And clearly, it put at risk the individuals involved in the operation.

I recognize the need to provide the press -- and, through you, the American people -- with information to the fullest extent possible. In our democracy, the work of the Pentagon press corps is important, defending our freedom and way of life is what this conflict is about, and that certainly includes freedom of the press. And you can be certain that I will answer your questions directly when I can and that we'll do our best to give you as much information as we can safely provide.

This weekend, for example, we released footage of those Special Forces operations -- the first time, to my knowledge, that such footage has been provided. But we cannot and will not provide information that could jeopardize the success of our efforts to root out and liquidate the terrorist networks that threaten our people. To the extent that the Taliban and the al Qaeda know the goals and the purposes of our operations, they will be in a better position to frustrate those goals and those purposes. It is not in our country's interest to let them know when, how, or even why we're conducting certain operations.

The Americans who conduct those operations are a tough and proud bunch. Their cause is a just one. It's to stop terrorists from killing Americans and others. They are dedicated to that cause, and they are ready, at a moment's notice, to risk their lives for it.

And they are not a force that's sent out against their will. They're an all-volunteer force of patriotic Americans whose fellow citizens, men and women and children, have been attacked by terrorists.

And my heart goes out to the families and friends of the two members of the helicopter crew who were killed in the helicopter accident and crash in Pakistan.

Needless to say, I'm proud of those brave Americans, and I know that the American people share in that pride.

I noticed that the press is now reporting on the meetings that Torie Clarke and I have had with members of the Pentagon press corps and with some of their bureau chiefs. I have in those meetings indicated my support for the principles of how the Pentagon and the press can deal with each other during a period of conflict. I've also agreed, as some may have read, to have daily press briefings here, five days a week. Some will have more substance than others, I suspect. It's not clear to me that it's necessary or even desirable, but I've acquiesced in that, and we will be available.

We certainly want to work out ways to work with the press that makes the most sense from all of our standpoints. Because the nature of this conflict is so different from previous ones, I suspect that old models won't work and that what we'll have to do is to work together and find ways that do make sense as we go forward, because of the notable differences between this conflict and previous conflicts.

General Myers?

Myers: Just quickly, operations are ongoing in our campaign against terrorism and are proceeding according to our plan.

I'll give you a synopsis of our weekend activity. On Saturday, U.S. forces struck in six planned target areas that included airfields and air defenses, command and control facilities, and terrorist forces and camps. We used a total of about 90 strike aircraft, with about 85 of them tactical jets, primarily off our carriers. The remainder were long-range bombers.

We continued our humanitarian airdrop mission Saturday, with four C-17s delivering approximately 52,000 rations.

On Sunday we struck in eight planned target areas that included airfields, command and control facilities, and Taliban forces deployed and in garrisons. We used, again, about 85 strike aircraft on Sunday, with about 75 tactical aircraft, principally from carriers, and the balance long-range bombers.

We flew additional airdrop missions on Sunday, with four more C- 17s, and that brings our total of rations delivered to date to about 700,000.

We dropped leaflets on Saturday in three locations in northeastern Afghanistan and on Sunday in three more in the North, South, and West. We also flew our Commando Solo radio broadcast missions, in conjunction with the Saturday and Sunday operations.

We've got some videotape for you now, and I'll show you a couple of clips which depict air operations from the weekend. All are similar in that they depict strikes on Taliban armored forces. These clips are pretty representative of a great deal of the strikes in the past two days, as our operations involved a greater emphasis on fielded Taliban forces, rather than fixed structures. These should speed by pretty quickly.

The first is from yesterday. It's a hit on a Taliban tank set up in the defensive position and trying to find cover in a wadi in western Afghanistan, near Herat.

The second clip from Saturday shows a hit on a Taliban armored vehicle set up at a security outpost in the Kandahar military training facility and deployment area.

Finally, also from Saturday, here's a hit on an armored vehicle positioned in a revetment in the southern plains of Afghanistan near Kandahar.

Once again, I'd like to say, you are seeing visible military operations that are focused on Afghanistan. But this is a war against global terrorism, and you are seeing a very visible element of the military, yet other things are being done by other elements of our government. And I'm not going to go into those specific elements again, but things are going on besides what you see here on these videotapes, plus we're getting great contributions from allies and friends in a variety of ways that we're very happy about.

We're now ready to take your questions.

Rumsfeld: Charlie?

Q: Mr. Secretary, have you found out anything on how you respond to the charges from the Taliban that U.S. jets bombed a hospital near Herat, killing perhaps more than a hundred people? And adding to that, are U.S. forces now directly -- directly -- attacking Taliban forces protecting both Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif?

Rumsfeld: The Taliban have said they have shot down at least two helicopters, which is false. They have not. They have indicated that they have captured some Americans, which is false. They have not. And we have absolutely no evidence at all that would suggest that that allegation that you cited is correct.

Q: (Off mike.)

Rumsfeld: I'm sure it's not. But I don't have the kind of information that I do on the other situations.

Q: And on the attacks on the Taliban forces protecting --

Rumsfeld: It's true. The United States has been engaged in various air activities that have addressed Taliban and al Qaeda forces for the most part in the North, some north of Kabul, and some north -- en route to, yes, Mazar-e Sharif.

Myers: On the hospital, Charlie, we are -- as the secretary said, we're not quite as certain about that yet, so we're going to continue to look. The last thing we want to do is cause any civilian casualties. So we're still looking. We don't have the evidence yet. We'll spend some time to figure out what the ground truth is, if we can do that.

Q: General --

Rumsfeld: The other thing you should say is when you see these constant reports in the press and the television that the United States and coalition forces are bombing Kabul or bombing Kandahar, 99 percent of the time it's just not true. Most of the effort is outside of those cities, and to the extent it is inside the city, it is on a military target that has been carefully selected.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: General Myers, from a military-strategy point of view, what is the significance of the timing of moving now toward the Taliban fielded forces in those two areas?

Myers: Let me say first -- I'll talk about the timing in just a minute. But in a general way: This is not a linear war; this is not a sequential war. To think about this in terms of phases, as we have other conflicts -- we've just got to clear our minds of that. We are fighting an enemy that uses asymmetric means, so we're going to use all means available to us -- some asymmetric, some very conventional. You saw that today on the clips.

We have a notion of things we would like to happen, but it's not in the sequential sense or this linear sense that our brains tend to work in. We've been working this very hard, ourselves, to accommodate our thinking so we can be agile, more flexible in our responses. This is tough work, but don't think about it in terms of phasing -- in "once we're done with the bombing campaign, now it's the ground campaign" -- that is not how this is going to go.

So, in that regard, it's just simply as we said: Now we're starting to work on some Taliban targets that are arrayed out in the field against folks that we would like to help. And that's what we're about.

Rumsfeld: Yeah.

Q: Mr. Secretary, two questions, but I know by your proviso, I'll pull a Jamie McIntyre: one for you and one for General Myers, if I may.

You came down a couple of weeks ago and you were rather incensed about classified information -- leaks of classified information, and you sort of threw down the gauntlet in this building, saying that people would be sought out and punished. Are you now trying to find out who leaked the information as to Friday's raids?

And to General Myers: Even though you're not going to tell us specifically, you did give us a pretty good rundown on the Friday raids. Are commando-type raids ongoing, as we speak, in Afghanistan?

Secretary, the leaks?

Rumsfeld: As a matter of fact, I am too busy, then, to run around trying to find who did that. I don't know if anyone is, to be perfectly honest. I'd certainly hope that the people who were parachuting in don't find the person.

Myers: In terms of ongoing -- perhaps ongoing ground action, we simply can't talk about that right now. Like we said Saturday: Some things are going to be visible, some invisible.

And I'm not going to get into the details.

Q: Well, a follow-up: One could assume it would be more than just the Friday, is that correct?

Rumsfeld: That's three. (Laughter.)

Q: A follow-up, sir. I'm allowed a follow-up!

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that the recent anthrax mailings are the work of al Qaeda, and do you have any idea what the source of this anthrax might be?

Rumsfeld: I don't. And no.

Q: General Myers, can you tell us, please: Have you been able to analyze any of the material that was recovered by the Rangers in the weekend action at Kandahar and the complex? Are you able to share any of that with us at this point?

Myers: It certainly hasn't come to our attention whether we'll be able to share it or not. It remains to be seen. Part of it is just the laborious task of going through and translating it. And translators are at a premium for all the government agencies today. So it'll take some time.

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: General, I wanted you to take another crack at this tragedy question. You tried, using terms like "linear" and "not sequential or linear." In layman's language, could you give a sense how the strategy unfolding over the last two weeks is different than, say, going to the Gulf War or NATO's attacks against the Serbs in '99?

Myers: Well, I think the Gulf War is a perfect example, where we tried to set conditions with the air war, and then we had a ground component that went in and finished the job. You shouldn't think of this in those terms.

What we talk about right now, for the most part, is a very conventional piece of this problem. It's much broader than that. It includes -- we've talked about this -- it includes almost every agency and department in this government, and we're all interconnected in ways that we probably haven't been. The closest analogy would be the drug war. But things aren't going to happen in a linear sense.

Q: I'm talking military, though, not with Treasury or Justice --

Myers: Well, I know you're talking military, Tony, but that's the whole point: This is a different kind of conflict. This is asymmetric warfare. We have to use all the instruments of national power. The president has been pretty clear on this. The secretary has talked about it at length. And that's what we're talking about here. Much, much different.

Q: General Myers --

Q: General, could you --

Rumsfeld: Wait a second. Yes.

Q: Is the reason for the attacks on the front lines to help the opposition take Kabul before the winter?

Rumsfeld: The reason for the air attacks on Taliban and al Qaeda forces is to destroy Taliban and al Qaeda forces.

It happens that they are arrayed against, for the most part, Northern Alliance forces north of Kabul and in the northwest portion of the country. And our efforts from the air clearly are to assist those forces on the ground in being able to occupy more ground.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what is the rationale for not explaining where the operation forces attacked the airfield over the weekend? Inasmuch as the bad guys know what was attacked and there's no big surprise to them, why not reveal to the American people where this operation took place?

Rumsfeld: We probably could.

(Pause.)

Q: Would you? Where did they take place?

Rumsfeld: I'm trying to think if there -- what was the logic. (To General Myers) You had the press briefing.

Myers: Yes, and we said it was about 60 miles southwest of Kandahar. And it's a --

Q: But you refused to name the airfield, which made no sense to us. I was just wondering what the rationale was.

Myers: If I'd have known the name of the airfield at the time, I would have named it. This is not one that is on most -- this is not one that is in a letdown plate for --

Q: Dry lakes airstrip?

Myers: It's a relatively unimproved airstrip.

Q: That's dry lakes airstrip, then -- (inaudible) -- right?

Myers: I'll check it. [Bibi Tera, about 80 miles from Kabul]

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, you seem to be suggesting that the news-media reporting on Friday somehow jeopardized or put in jeopardy the lives of U.S. troops.

Rumsfeld: It did not. They all returned safely.

Q: And I was going to say, if that was the case, I was wondering what in particular you thought jeopardized the mission.

Rumsfeld: No, no. I just think that the idea of someone in this building providing information to the public and to the al Qaeda and to the Taliban when U.S. Special Forces re engaged in an operation is not a good idea, besides being against -- a violation of federal criminal law.

Q: Well, which information reported on Friday prior to the operation do you think crossed the line?

Rumsfeld: I think --

Q: (Inaudible) -- question.

Rumsfeld: I think that the release by a person in the government who had access to classified information to the effect that the United States of America was planning and was about to engage in a special operation in Afghanistan clearly was (a) a violation of federal criminal law, and second, it was something that was totally in disregard for the lives of the people involved in that operation. Anyone who decides that it's -- for whatever reason, maybe they want to seem important, maybe they want to seem knowledgeable, they totally disregard the fact that people's lives could be put in jeopardy by giving notice to the al Qaeda and the Taliban that U.S. forces were planning to make an entry into their country. That does not seem complicated to me, and it seems so self-evident, that it just floors me that people are willing to do that.

Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you, in your opening remarks, pointed out that there was video coverage of this operation for the first time -- a special operations --

Rumsfeld: I think so.

Staff: Yes, sir.

Q: But this was video coverage and selection of material that was controlled absolutely by the military and the government. Could you talk about why that's preferable, in your opinion, to having these decisions made by media independent of government?

Rumsfeld: Well, in the normal conflict you have a front and you have media embedded in the U.S. troops. In the case of the special operation, where people parachute in to a hostile environment, it obviously is not some place that the press is going to be parachuting in with a very small -- relatively small number of American Rangers and special forces doing that.

Q: Why is that?

Rumsfeld: Because -- why is it that the press should not be parachuting in?

Q: As opposed to a military photographer, who is still necessarily -- is still a cameraman with camera equipment.

Rumsfeld: Well, it seems -- I'm amazed at the question. I would think that the world would fully understand that it does not make sense, when a handful of American soldiers are parachuting into a hostile place and are going to be fully occupied in dealing with the opposition forces and shooting them, to the extent it's necessary, collecting intelligence, photographing things so that they know what's going on, and then being extracted -- the idea of embedding a press pool into that group seems to me to be outside of the realm of reasonableness.

Q: But, then again, Mr. Secretary, you can put reporters on the Kitty Hawk, let's say, couldn't you?

Rumsfeld: That's true.

Q: Will that happen?

Rumsfeld: It might. And it is possible at some point we could do that. We just have not thus far because of the discussions we've had with the people involved, and they felt that it would not be appropriate at this time. And it may very well become appropriate at some other time.

Q: Can you say why it would not be appropriate?

Rumsfeld: Yes?

Q: Mr. Secretary, you had -- actually, I have to ask two questions, because Jamie touched on one. What would you say if people in the White House were leaking this, number one? And number two, also could you clarify, over the weekend, Secretary of State Powell seemed to indicate that the military would prefer stopping its action before the winter sets on. Can you clarify that?

Rumsfeld: Sure. We're back at two questions for everybody. It would sure be easier if we did one, we could get a lot more people in.

I couldn't care less where the source of the leak is; the responsibility is the same. It puts people's lives at risk and it's just terrible.

It is terrible. And I just can't imagine people being that irresponsible that they're willing to do that.

With respect to Secretary Powell's remarks, I've not read them all. I haven't seen a transcript. I've read a few press reports. Clearly, there's been a lot of talk of the weather. It makes things somewhat more difficult in the northern part of the country.

But there's no timetables on this. The task is clear. We're going to root out al Qaeda and the Taliban leadership and the Taliban government, and that's just a part of the effort that will be conducted worldwide.

Yes?

Q: Did you -- did your guys come out with more people than they went in with on this? Did you bring someone out?

Rumsfeld: You know, here -- let me explain the problem here. The short answer is no, we did not take any prisoners or bring out any detainees for interrogation.

Q: Or defectors, volunteers, people who wanted to come out?

Rumsfeld: The answer is no.

Now I don't know that answering it that way makes a lot of sense, and let me tell you why. They may not know whether we did or not. In war, things are confused, and they may not know. And so it may have been better for me -- and I thought about this before I came down here and decided to answer it just the way I have -- but in the future, I'm not going to. (Chuckles.)

Our goal is not to demystify things for the other side. This is a very complicated set of problems. The goal is to confuse, it is make more difficult, it is to add cost, it is to frighten, and it is to defeat the Taliban and the al Qaeda.

And I answered it honestly because it just struck me it would be a useful example. But in the future I'm not going to answer it.

Q: Well, can I just ask you something, then?

Rumsfeld: Mm-hmm.

Q: I mean, I do understand what you're saying, but as members of the news media, with great respect, how do we evaluate your credibility when you are answering us? Can you say to us, "I'm simply not going to answer," or are you opening the door, with great respect, to the possibility of less than truthful answers?

Rumsfeld: No, absolutely not. I've already announced that from this podium. You will receive only honest, direct answers from me, and they'll either be that I know and I'll answer you, or I don't know, or I know and I won't answer you. And that'll be it.

Yes?

Q: Can you give us any --

Q: Mr. Secretary, could you go back to the civilian casualties question again? You probably know that al Jazeera television has the last 24 hours been presenting pictures of children all bandaged, and old people, and so forth. They're claiming they came as a result --

Rumsfeld: There's nothing we can add to that at the moment. I mean, the general's answered it to the best of his ability, and I've answered to the best of my ability.

Q: If you could go back on al Jazeera, what would you say about that?

Rumsfeld: Well, we have seen repeatedly things that are not true put out by the Taliban. We have seen them escort people to things they wanted seen, and we have seen the things they wanted seen, and the lies they have been putting forward, carried across the globe on television and in the press.

Now, what can one do about that? All one can do is to answer directly when we know for a fact it's true and say so; when we know for a fact it's not true, we'll say so; and when we don't know, we'll say so. And that's what we just did. We have no evidence that that's the case at the present time.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said on Friday that there was some coordination between U.S. troops and the rebels in the north on the ground; in fact, the U.S. was --

Rumsfeld: That's true.

Q: -- providing direct assistance. But you said it was less so in the south.

Rumsfeld: That's true, also.

Q: Has that changed at all over the weekend? Is there any greater coordination now than there was on Friday?

Rumsfeld: Not from the standpoint of air-ground coordination, to my knowledge.

Yes?

Q: Can we return to the Northern Alliance and your sense of timing, which I -- it baffles me that you are now hitting certain troops that they've been begging you to hit for several weeks, and you seem to be indicating there is no sense that you are now ready to have them advance. Is the United States now ready to have the Northern Alliance advance toward Kabul because you are taking down these front-line troops?

Rumsfeld: Well, first, let me parse that question a little bit.

Q: It's just one question.

Rumsfeld: The impression that you have left by the question is that it's true that they have been begging us for weeks -- several weeks, to be precise, I think -- to hit the troops in front of them. That, to my knowledge, is not true.

First of all, there is no "they" in singular. The Northern Alliance is a group of separate elements that have somewhat consistent interests, but, on the other hand, they also have competing and conflicting interests. And they do not always agree with each other as to what should be done.

You will find that throughout this effort, you will be hearing, I suppose via cell phone, from people who are talking to people on the ground in the various factions that comprise the Northern Alliance, as well as in the south. And people will be saying things that they believe will advantage them -- not only vis-a-vis Taliban and al Qaeda, but also vis-a-vis some of their fellow Northern Alliance forces or factions, if you will.

The United States and the coalition forces have, for a period of days, been seeking out concentrations of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. We have had uneven success. To the extent we have excellent ground-to-air coordination, the success improves. To the extent that some of the forces move forward against Taliban and al Qaeda forces, our success improves because it flushes them.

I have heard the same stories you have. But the correct answer is the one I've just given. We are happy and eager and willing to do what we can to help seek out and destroy the Taliban and al Qaeda forces.

Q: Can either of you --

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Rumsfeld: Excuse me. Excuse me. He asked another piece of the question, which I believe was: Are we now ready to allow the forces to move? We have been ready and we certainly are ready to have the alliance forces move, both north and south.

Q: And that is an indication that some of the other political pieces of the puzzle, which I understand are not your problem on the one hand, but are your problem --

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: -- because we're part of the same -- you are part of the same government -- those pieces are beginning to fall into place?

Rumsfeld: The pieces are being worked on, but I think it would premature to say they're falling into place. There are a lot of people who are working on them. The reality is that we believe very strongly that the threat to the world has not disappeared, and that the sooner the al Qaeda and Taliban forces are dealt with, the sooner the threat will begin to moderate. And therefore, we're not holding back at all.

Q: Can either of you --

Q: Is there --

Rumsfeld: And to the extent the other pieces have not quite fallen into place, we'll keep working on those.

Q: Can either one of you offer an explanation for the television pictures we've seen that appear to show landing gear or some other part from a U.S. helicopter? Have you got any idea what that is we're seeing?

Rumsfeld: No.

Myers: No, not at all.

Q: General, could you talk about --

Q: The leader of Pakistan, Mr. Musharraf, has asked that the bombing stop when Ramadan begins in a couple of weeks. What's your reaction to that? Is there anything you can say from this podium to assure him or other allies, Muslim allies in the region, who have similar concerns?

Rumsfeld: I would say two things. First, that we have great respect for the views and concerns of the many countries that are cooperating in this effort. And as I have said on a number of occasions, the sensitivities and the perspectives vary from country to country.

We also have to recognize two other things. One is that there continue to be terrorist threats in this world, and the sooner we deal with this problem, the less likely it is that you're going to have additional terrorist attacks. And third, history is replete with instances where Muslim nations have fought with -- among themselves or with other countries during various important holy days for their religion and it has not inhibited them historically.

Q: General, last week there was a lot of focus toward the end of the week on the situation around Mazar-e Sharif. You've talked -- you and the secretary have talked about U.S. air strikes in the North. And yet the Northern Alliance doesn't seem to have been able to take advantage of the air strikes around Mazar-e Sharif to move closer to the town. Could you talk about the situation there and why, if there have been the American air strikes there, the Northern Alliance hasn't been able to make progress?

Myers: Well, I think our view is that -- and I'll piggyback off what the secretary said about that overall situation in the North with the Northern Alliance, that this is a confederation of various groupings. We think they're outnumbered, for one reason. So that impacts how fast they can move. And I would say that's probably the biggest factor. But I would also just piggyback again on what the secretary said. I think that that's starting to come to a head and we may see some progress in that area here in the not-too-distant future.

Q: Along those same lines, the Northern Alliance is saying they're seeing the Taliban reinforced their front-line forces. Have you seen any evidence of reinforcements?

Myers: Let me just say this about that. Part of what we did with some of the air strikes earlier was to try to set the conditions for what was going to come next. When we took out most of their transport aircraft, and certainly not all of their helicopters, but we took out a large portion, they are unable to reinforce -- the Taliban, that is -- they are unable to reinforce as they had planned on it. So that hurts them. We think they are trying to reinforce. They're also trying to bring back wounded. They have to --

Q: Reinforce where?

Did you say --

Myers: Well, in the North, and they're trying to do that with vehicles, and they're trying to get wounded out of the North. So studying these conditions, as we have done, I think, are having some affect. How much effect we're going to have to wait and --

Q: So reinforcements both in Mazar-e Sharif and Kabul, can you say, or --

Myers: I can't say both. I know -- what I'm referring to is -- the parts we're picking up is in the North.

Rumsfeld: We'll make this the last question.

Q: Sir, if I could return to what we were discussing earlier --

Rumsfeld: You bet.

Q: -- without in any way impugning your promise that you're not going to not tell the truth to us, do you worry, however, that by withholding so much information and by withholding so much access, that may undermine the credibility, ultimately, of the United States government's story of what's going on?

Rumsfeld: First of all, we're not withholding so much information. I am admittedly withholding some information that I think would put American lives at risk, or would jeopardize the effort we're engaged in. But in terms of saying it's a lot, it isn't. The press in this -- this is a very open society, and the press knows, you know, almost as much as exists and almost as soon as it exists. And the idea that there is some great iceberg down there that's not known, below water, it's just not surprising that people would imagine that, since they know, by our own testimony, that there are things they do not know, and therefore they imagine the worst or the biggest or the most. But it's just not true. The press does know the overwhelming portion.

And you will find that we will be uniformly honest from this podium -- not just Rumsfeld, but Myers and everyone else that we send down here, to the best of our knowledge.

And to the extent we make a mistake, we'll come down the next day and clean it up.

But clearly, we do not want to undermine the effort, and it strikes me that how the press handles this new conflict will also contribute to the success of it.

Q: Do you have time for one policy question?

Rumsfeld: I don't. (Laughter.) I really don't.

(Laughter, cross talk.)

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