From: Dave Boyer
Sent: Wednesday, September 28, 2016 5:49 PM
To: Rutherford, Sarah D. EOP/WHO
Subject: Travel pool 8 -- Embargo partially lifted on town hall event
Forwarding from CNN...
This clip will air on CNN near the top of the 5pmhour. Strictly embargoed until it airs.
Embargoed until 5pm
Please credit: CNN Presidential Town Hall
Location: Fort Lee, Virginia
Subject: CNN Obama Townhall Saudi Arabia Veto Question
JAKE TAPPER, HOST: I want to get back to the men and women, but I have one quick question for you.
Congress has done something today that they have never done to you before. You vetoed a bill that would have allowed 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia. They, today, overrode your veto. That has never happened to you before.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right.
TAPPER: Your reaction?
OBAMA: Well, I think it was a mistake. And I understand why it happened. Obviously, all of us still carry the scars and trauma of 9/11. Nobody more than this 9/11 generation that's fought on our behalf in the aftermath of of 9/11.
And, you know, those families deserve support and they deserve resources. That's why we set up a victims compensation fund. And on average, the families receive about $2 million each.
But what this legislation did was it said if a private citizen believes that having been victimized by terrorism that another country didn't do enough to stop one of its citizens, for example, in engaging in terrorism, then they can file a personal lawsuit, a private lawsuit in court.
And the problem with that is that if we eliminate this notion of sovereign immunity, then our men and women in uniform around the world could potentially start seeing ourselves subject to reciprocal loss, right?
So if you have a situation where we're doing disaster relief in the Philippines or some other -- or Haiti, and a traffic accident happens where, tragically, a citizen of that country is killed, if they passed the same kind of legislation that we just passed, now, potentially, that family in that country could start suing the United States. They might say we're going to take jurisdiction over that individual.
And we've set up what are called status of forces agreements so that when we deploy, our people are not vulnerable to these kinds of private lawsuits. And other countries agree to do that but mainly because we reciprocate with them.
And the concern that I've had is -- has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia per se or my sympathy for 9/11 families, it has to do with me not wanting a situation in which we're suddenly exposed to liabilities for all the work that we're doing all around the world, and suddenly finding ourselves subject to the -- the private lawsuits in courts where we don't even know exactly whether they're on the up and up, in some cases.
So -- so this is a -- it's a -- it's a dangerous precedent and it's an example of why sometimes you have to do what's hard. And, frankly, I wish Congress here had done what's hard. I didn't expect it, because voting -- if you're perceived as voting against 9/11 families right before an election, not surprisingly, that's a hard vote for people to take. But it would have been the right thing to do.
And I am -- I'm concerned -- and this is not just my concern. General Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said this is a bad idea. The secretary of Defense said it was a bad idea. And then we found out some of the people who voted for it said, frankly, we didn't know what was in it. And there was no debate of it. And it was, you know, basically a political vote.
I -- I understand that. But, you know, my job as commander-in-chief is to make sure that we're looking ahead at how this is going to impact our overall mission, because what this also means is this time it's Saudi Arabia, but let's say that there's a terrorist who comes here from Great Britain, our closest ally. We do all kinds of work with them to prevent terrorism.
But they've got some people like the radicals who are living in our country who may be British citizens. They come here, they carry out something. Now, under this legislation, somebody who had been harmed by that terrorist could sue the British government and start asking for all kinds of documents and sending in a bunch of
trial lawyers and -- and, by the way, the last point I'd make, if we know that a country was helping a terrorist, then we'd call them a state sponsor of terrorism.
And they don't have immunity and you can sue them anyway. But that's a judgment that we make based on the intelligence that we have, based on our military assessment and in this situation, we did not make such an assessment, that Saudi Arabia was as state sponsor of terrorism.
This is taking that out of our military and our intelligence and the hands of our national security professionals and putting it into the courts. And that's a mistake.
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