THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
10:16 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Hello. A couple of quick announcements. As you know, the President will sign the motor voter bill out on the lawn at 11:00 a.m. At noon he will have lunch with the Vice President and --
Q Do lunch?
MS. MYERS: They'll do lunch. At 5:00 p.m. he will celebrate Cuban Independence Day in the First Lady's Garden. That will be a pooled event -- pool press op.
Saturday the President will leave early, 7:30 a.m. in the morning. He will give the commencement address at New Hampshire Technical College and meet with supporters there. We probably will not add any other events.
Q Any Sunday things besides church?
MS. MYERS: No Sunday schedule at this point. Probably church but --
Q Radio address?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll probably pretape the radio address.
Q You say meets with supporters -- what does that mean? Is that a private meeting or --
MS. MYERS: Yes, it will be a reception of some kind with the folks that supported us during the campaign last year.
Q What time are we going to be coming back?
MS. MYERS: It's unclear -- sometime in the afternoon.
Q What time is he speaking Saturday?
MS. MYERS: At 10:30 a.m.
Q WMUR says that they're working on a town meeting.
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. We considered doing that, but I don't believe we're going to do that. We'll let you know by the end of the day, but I don't believe that's going to happen.
Q There had been some rumbles at one point that Clinton would get involved with this Cheers finale. Has that happened, and if so, where did it happen?
MS. MYERS: No, it didn't happen. Unfortunately.
Q Dee Dee, what is your response to this DanforthBoren bipartisan approach to the budget which would eliminate the energy tax, put in entitlement caps and other cuts? What is your reaction and what is your analysis of how this might affect the --
MS. MYERS: Right. A couple of things. First of all, we're going to wait to see exactly what the announcement is. I believe Senator Boren and Senator Danforth are scheduled to have a press conference at 11:00 a.m., and it's not entirely clear what that's going to contain at this point. However, the President, as he made clear on the Hill yesterday, is committed to his plan. He believes that it has a great deal of deficit reduction in it, a great deal of spending cuts -- over 200 specific spending cuts -- This is just me. I don't do sound and camera. Just me. And as he said yesterday, he believes that the Btu tax is the best way both to raise the money needed in his plan and to promote conservation and he's committed to that.
We will see what the Boren-Danforth plan, if that's what it is, includes. But the President is very concerned about a couple of things -- one, as he said yesterday, he doesn't support entitlement caps. He believes that would amount to cost shifting, and that those concerns about rising health costs, which he's talked about extensively in the last year and a half, are best addressed through comprehensive health reform which we're working on.
In terms of other spending cuts, I think he's concerned that the budget not be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable. And he has a plan that he believes both achieves his objective, which is disciplined deficit reduction and new investment, and it's done through a combination of new revenue and very prudent spending cuts.
Q Did the White House have any warning that Senator Boren, one of their party members and supposed allies, was meeting with the Republicans and coming up with this plan?
MS. MYERS: We knew that was -- sure, I think everybody knew that yesterday.
Q If you knew that, the President made a major effort to head off trouble on the House side. Why --
MS. MYERS: We'll continue to work on the Senate side as well. Again, we'll see what Senators Boren and Danforth propose today. I think that the results of the President's trip to the Hill yesterday were very positive. I think the House members feel good about that consultation. The President believes he can get his plan through the House. It sailed through the Ways and Means Committee. We believe it will pass the House and we'll continue to work with the Senate and believe we can get the plan passed.
Q Has anyone from here talked to Boren?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure there have been. I don't exactly what -- who's talked to who. Conversations are ongoing.
Q The President hasn't talked to him?
MS. MYERS: He has not yet.
Q What about Mack?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure.
Q They've made it clear for several days now what they're proposing as additional spending cuts instead of the Btu tax.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q The President's reaction to that is, no way?
MS. MYERS: The President's reaction to that is, first of all, we haven't seen it, and we'll take a look at what's exactly in it. But in broad terms, as he said, he supports the Btu tax. That was a decision that was made, it raises a significant amount of revenue, and it promotes conservation, and it is equally distributed geographically. It doesn't hit one particular region of the country harder than any other, and it has a modest impact on the middle class. Those are all things the President is concerned about. He doesn't believe that we ought to put more of a burden on the middle class or on more vulnerable people in this country.
Q Do you think Democrats like David Boren are being disloyal by exploring these other options?
MS. MYERS: I think that the legislative process is occasionally a messy one, and certainly there's room for dissent or different opinions. And we'll continue to work with the Senate to get through the President's package. And he believes that things are going well. There's great support in the House. He also believes that the package -- as he said yesterday, that the plan is better coming out of the Ways and Means Committee than it was going in. And so there's been improvements to the plan, that the legislative process certainly can make adjustments and improvements in his plan. But he is committed to the broad outlines of that plan and believes that we can get it through Congress.
Q The President said he was interested in hearing Republican ideas for ways to improve the package. Has he made any overtures?
MS. MYERS: He will. He'll have talked to Democrats and Republicans over the course of the next week in the House as the plan works its way through.
Q Does he have a meeting with the Republican Caucus coming up?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's a scheduled meeting. I wouldn't rule it out. There's nothing on the schedule now, but he will certainly talk to some Republicans in the House.
Q Does the President continue to rule out a gasoline tax even if it included some kind of relief for lower income families?
MS. MYERS: At this point he's committed to the Btu tax. We obviously looked at a number of different things including the gasoline tax prior to the February 17th announcement and decided that that hit certain regions of the country disproportionately and was not as geographically balanced or was not as well offset as the BTU tax. So the President prefers the BTU option and is committed to that.
Q Is that acceptable?
Q Does the White House think that Bob Dole is just plain wrong when he says the Btu tax promotes unemployment?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely. I think the President believes that the Btu tax is the best way to raise revenue, that we need it. Again, it hits different areas of the country. It doesn't have a disproportionate impact on one region and it has a very modest impact on the middle class.
Q Does the President, or are you on his behalf, drawing a line in the sand and saying that absolutely the Btu tax is untouchable? It sounds that way.
MS. MYERS: No, the President is committed to it.
Q So that's untouchable, he's not willing to negotiate?
MS. MYERS: He's committed -- as he said yesterday at the House, he's committed to the Btu tax and we're going to push that through. We think we can get it through the House. We feel very good about the meeting yesterday. And we'll continue to work with the Senate to get it through as well.
Q What does that do to you in the House if you can't get through to the Senate? I mean, that will be the final blow.
MS. MYERS: We think -- we're going to work with the Senate and we think we can get it through the Senate as well, obviously. But we haven't gone up to the Hill to meet with the Senate as we did yesterday at the House.
Q suggested replacing the Btu tax with either a gasoline or some other form of transportation tax.
MS. MYERS: He suggested that we look at it. We've already looked at it and ruled it out.
Q Dee Dee, The Washington Post says that Perot spoke to freshmen Republicans -- that the President was invited and they turned down -- the President turned down their invitation. Is that accurate? Has he been invited by freshmen Republicans to meet with them and are there any plans to do so?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether there's a specific invitation. He met with them -- with all the freshmen earlier. I don't know that there's been a specific invitation and I don't know that it's been turned down, but I'll get back to you on it.
Q Dee Dee, if equity is the goal on the Btu tax and other similar things, why does the President choose to exempt some industries, like aluminum and exemptions like that? Why has he chosen to exempt anyone if equity is the objective?
MS. MYERS: That is the objective. I think that those exemptions were the result of the House Ways and Means process. For example, when you make steel I think there's -- Senator Bentsen is much better at giving the sort of chemical outlines of how the process works, but when you make steel or aluminum there are high energy use processes where the fuel is not a byproduct or not -- it becomes part of the end product. And if you want a more technical description, I can certainly get it for you. But, again, I will point out that that was part of the legislative process that came out of the House Ways and Means Committee. And the President supported the compromise that was worked out.
Q He supported as a compromise. I mean, he's not in favor of not making aluminum users pay the fair share of the electricity necessary to refine aluminum?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he -- again, that wasn't part of the original proposal, but that's what the House Ways and Means Committee came up with, and the President supported the compromise.
Q A couple questions on the President's haircut the other day. Is it true, as reported, that he kept Air Force One waiting 45 minutes while he got a haircut?
MS. MYERS: He -- I don't know if "keep Air Force One waiting" is exactly right. I mean, Air Force One is his plane and flies according to his schedule. But, yes, he got a haircut in Los Angeles.
Q While Air Force One was on the tarmac ready to take off?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q How much did that cost U.S. taxpayers?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe it cost them anything.
Q It does.
Q Keeping the engines running for 45 --
MS. MYERS: I don't believe -- I don't know if the engines were running.
Q It costs per hour.
Q An hour of ground time -- cost per hour, there is a figure available, if you could get it for us, of what Air Force One costs per hour.
MS. MYERS: Hour of sitting on the ground doing nothing?
MS. MYERS: I'll look into it.
Q Well, it's cheaper than in the air, but --
MS. MYERS: I mean, if he'd gotten --
Q There is a cost.
MS. MYERS: I mean, it's part of his schedule. He has a schedule on the ground when he travels. And he does different things --
Q The haircut was scheduled?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I mean I don't think that that's --
Q Every trip has a breakdown -- time in the air, time on the ground --
MS. MYERS: I understand that.
Q and what we're asking is what was the cost in L.A., because each airport is different, for time on the ground.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that that's -- he's certainly entitled to do some personal business when he travels. I think this is something that all of us have to schedule, which is to get a haircut, and the fact that he did it in L.A. as opposed to Washington I think is irrelevant.
Q Washington haircuts --
MS. MYERS: I, being from L.A., I'm not going to say that but --
Q Did he pay for it himself and did he pay Mr. Cristophe's usual fee?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Yes, the Clintons pay for services and I don't know how much.
Q His normal fee is $200 for a haircut.
MS. MYERS: A lot of interest in the President's haircut.
Q Well, I'm just trying to --
MS. MYERS: I'd be happy to investigate it extensively.
Q? there was a barbershop in the White House.
MS. MYERS: There is not a barbershop in the White House anymore. It's been gone for some time.
Q Oh, has it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it has.
Q Dee Dee, what has the Marine Corps told the White House about the crash of one of the aircraft in the presidential fleet?
MS. MYERS: It was -- I don't have the paper with me, but it was a helicopter -- I think it's a VH-60 is the type of helicopter. It is not the white-top that normally serves as Marine One. However it is the helicopter that flew the President to the Roosevelt when we visited that carrier. All four --
Q The same one?
MS. MYERS: It is the same one, correct.
Q The exact same helicopter?
MS. MYERS: The exact same helicopter. They are investigating the cause of the crash. We don't have any additional information on that. Obviously, the President deeply regrets the crash and the loss of live and has sent his condolences to the families of the crew.
Q Were they the crew when he was on that trip?
MS. MYERS: He had met the -- apparently the pilot had flown -- or the captain had flown the President once.
Q On that trip to the Roosevelt?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. It's unclear if had been on that.
Q Not the Major who was the pilot yesterday, but the Captain who was the co-pilot yesterday?
MS. MYERS: It's said -- no, it said -- the report I got just said that the pilot had flown the President once, the co-pilot had flown the Vice President once.
Q When did the Clintons decide to put their assets in a blind trust?
MS. MYERS: I think it was something that they had considered for a while and have been in the process of for a while and are nearing completion on the details.
Q Why were we told yesterday they weren't doing that?
MS. MYERS: I told you yesterday that they didn't have it in a blind trust. I was unclear on how far along they were in that process.
Q You said that they were not doing it in specific response to a question.
MS. MYERS: The were not currently in a blind trust, and I did not know how far along the process was. It soon will be a blind trust.
Q One more question on the helicopters. Has it been decided whether or not it's safe for the President to use any of the Marine helicopters until a cause is determined in this crash?
MS. MYERS: Yes. First of all, the helicopter that he normally flies is a different kind of helicopter. Second of all, I think they've grounded a couple of this type of helicopter, the VH- 60s, pending the outcome of the investigation. But it is -- certainly, the Marine One the President flies is safe. And there's obviously routine maintenance, and good care is taken of those helicopters.
Q Now that there is apparently some corroborating evidence from an independent FBI investigation into the Kuwaiti prisoners involving the assassination attempt, what is the administration's next step?
MS. MYERS: We're waiting for complete results of that investigation. Obviously, we're taking it very serious, but we will wait for complete results before we make any final determinations.
Q Is there any meetings scheduled with the principals?
MS. MYERS: Not today.
Q When did the FBI actually start? Yesterday you said it was likely. When did the FBI actually start investigating?
MS. MYERS: This is on Iraq. The FBI Iraqi investigation started two weeks ago Monday.
Q How about the Travel Office, when did they start investigating that?
MS. MYERS: I thought you guys would never get to that.
Q You can count on it.
MS. MYERS: Yes, I should have known. There was a --the actual investigation will begin -- let me back up. The FBI interviewed the accountants over the weekend. And so they have some preliminary knowledge. Based on that, the decision was made that it was prudent to go forward with an investigation. Peat, Marwick did a review of the finances of the Travel Office. There's a draft report based on that review which is now being looked at by the White House Counsel. As soon as that has been reviewed and is a final, it will be forwarded to the FBI and they will be an investigation.
Q We were told yesterday that it was not certain that the FBI would investigate. But it was reported this morning that they were investigating, present tense. You say that they have not yet begun.
MS. MYERS: They have not -- what I just told you is correct, that they have not yet -- they've had a preliminary -- they've interviewed the accountants over the weekend. So they're familiar with some of the facts in the case. Based -- what we've done is we will hand the report over to them when it's -- as soon as it's final, and they will proceed from there.
Q Who asked -- at whose instigation did they interview the accountants over the weekend, and then who made the decision to go beyond that -- someone at the White House or the FBI?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, the White House administrative office asked the FBI to review it.
Q David Watkins?
MS. MYERS: David Watkins' office -- I believe it was Watkins -- it was both the Administrative Office and the White House Counsel were involved in the decision. And the FBI -- again, as I said, interviewed the accountants on Saturday, and based on that, said it was prudent to go forward with --
Q The FBI said it was prudent to go forward?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q With what?
MS. MYERS: With an investigation.
Q One of the charter companies which complained about not getting charter business from the White House partially owned by or some interest in Harry Thomason, the President's friend?
MS. MYERS: I don't know who the specific companies --
Q Could you take that, please?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Because we understand that. And the other question is, why did the White House find it acceptable to turn over the travel business to the Little Rock travel agency with which many people on the staff have links from the campaign? Does that not smack of the same kind of cronyism that you're --
MS. MYERS: It's an interim decision. The permanent travel business will go out to RFP -- a government RFP. And we'll at some point hire a permanent replacement. This is an interim move to cover the office between now and the time we get the RFP process completed.
Q Will you put it out through normal procurement?
MS. MYERS: Oh, absolutely.
Q What is RFP?
MS. MYERS: A request for proposal. It's the competitive bid process set up by the government.
Q Is there any plan for the President to see Kozyrev today?
MS. MYERS: No. He's -- I believe he's meeting with Christopher right now.
Q There's definitely no plan for him to come over?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q And what is the White House view of the Russian initiative which would repackage a number of separate proposals into one resolution?
MS. MYERS: Well, we support -- certainly support additional monitors on the Serbian Bosnian border. We support going forward with a war crimes tribunal and we'll continue to work with our allies and with the Russians. We obviously whole-heartedly welcome their participation in this.
Q Safe havens?
MS. MYERS: The safe havens we have a problem with. We believe that that is a reward of ethnic cleansing. It's something that we're not comfortable with.
Q An unrelated question. Can we ask, what is that?
MS. MYERS: That's a camera that is now -- makes these fabulous briefings available internally to White House staff on Channel 30.
Q And so at any time they can watch on the inside -- MS. MYERS: It's focused on the podium. It is not
moveable, I believe. But they can watch whoever is standing at the podium briefing. There's a lot of the offices that don't have audio monitors. This provides a way for staff throughout the White House and I believe the OEOB to turn their set to Channel 30 and find out what we're saying.
Q Is it on 24 hours a day?
MS. MYERS: No, I think it's only on -- I think WHCA turns it on -- and I'll double-check this -- WHCA turns it on when they turn on the sound system.
Q How much did it cost?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to take that.
Q Will you please tell us?
Q Is it still mismanagement and shoddy accounting --
MS. MYERS: Absolutely.
Q Is there anything that's turned up since you characterized it that way?
MS. MYERS: No. I mean, there's been no change --
Q I'm talking now about the Travel Office.
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q Not the briefings. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Clearly the briefings are mismanaged. No, there's been no change from yesterday on that.
Q I want to get back to the haircut for a second. While the President was getting his hair cut were other planes held up from landing --
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q No delays?
MS. MYERS: No delays.
Q How many police officers, security personnel were in the area waiting while the President was getting his hair cut?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether the police officers stay, or not, once the President boards the plane.
Q Would you agree that the appearance here is that the President was indiscreet in letting this thing go on while -- in order to get a haircut, that he was indulgent, delaying all sorts of things?
MS. MYERS: I think that it is -- certainly the President, as do all Americans, has personal business that he needs to take care of; as it is for all people who are busy, difficult to schedule. First of all, it wasn't an hour. The haircut took about 15 minutes. And I think he made good use of his time and did something that he, like everybody else, has to do, he got his hair cut. I don't think there's more to it than that.
Q Are there not enough good barbers in Washington?
MS. MYERS: I think he sometimes schedules it wherever he can. He uses barbers in Washington, he occasionally uses his barber in Little Rock, and he occasionally uses his barber in Los Angeles, depending on his schedule.
Q What's the propriety of tying up public property, which is to say Air Force One, and public safety people --
MS. MYERS: I think if the President had gotten his --
Q and overtime at great expense, while the President waits to get a haircut, which could have been done in private in his normal protective bubble either in Los Angeles in a hotel or in the White House?
MS. MYERS: I think that Air Force One still would have had to sit on the tarmac, the security personnel still would have had to wait for him. I don't think it changes things one bit, whether it's on Air Force One or in a hotel.
Q Dee Dee, I was on the pool. Air Force One sat for an hour after the President boarded. I was on the plane.
Q Fifty-six minutes.
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the delay was.
Q And that's a ramp freeze.
MS. MYERS: It did not tie up -
Q Yes, if he's on the plane that's a ramp freeze.
MS. MYERS: It did not tie up traffic. Planes were continuing to land and take off as per normal until Air Force One was cleared to takeoff, which is the normal procedure.
Q Two runways were closed
Q But it still requires --
MS. MYERS: That's not true. We double-checked that yesterday. It is absolutely not true.
Q The FAA said yesterday two runways were closed and only two commuter jets were affected. Small commuter planes.
MS. MYERS: Two small commuter jets were affected by his sitting on the tarmac?
Q During the 56-minute period.
MS. MYERS: So, I mean -- what we told was that the runway -- that the airport continued normal operations until Air Force One was cleared for takeoff, which is normal procedure.
Q It still requires, Dee Dee, this cordon of security.
MS. MYERS: But I think if he'd been at the hotel or at Valley College or in South Central, as long as he's in Los Angeles, that same cordon of security will be with him. It doesn't affect the arrangements. And, yes, it is sometime inconvenient for the President to have to take care of personal business, but I don't think it is out of the ordinary for him to need to get a haircut.
Q Does he want the people on those two commuter flights to contact their representatives in Congress to pass the economic plan? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Absolutely.
Q Dee Dee, a few questions about the press charter. One, on Saturday, when he travels to New Hampshire, will White House press staff fly on board the White House press charter free of charge? And, two, how is the charter being handled this weekend? Is it going up for competitive bid for the trip Saturday?
MS. MYERS: They are in the process of securing a charter company now, the Travel Office. I don't know what the exact process is. But, yes, White House press staff will travel on the press charter, as they always do. And I don't believe there's going to be any change in the way that that's billed. If the White House Correspondents wants to have a conversation about that, or if you guys want to have a conversation about that, I'm happy to do that.
Q So that part of the policy will remain that the press corps will still support the cost of moving your staff?
MS. MYERS: I think since those staff travel primarily to support the activities of the press, that that's been an accepted procedure. Again, if people want to raise that as unacceptable, we can certainly discuss it. But since the whole reason that they travel is to support the functions of the press corps, that's always been accepted.
Q And in terms of the Tokyo summit and whatever stops you would add after that, will you have staff people -- how will you have transportation staff people set up the facilities for that, since that's -- obviously the Tokyo summit's already -- the logistics are underway.
MS. MYERS: Right. As you know, we sent several people from the White House Press Office, along with the Travel Office on the preadvance trip. And I think --
Q And they're doing transportation?
MS. MYERS: Oh, it will all get done through the Advance and Travel Offices and the White House Press Office.
Q So the Advance Office will begin to take over some of the responsibilities of --
MS. MYERS: I think in the immediate short-term, I think that's -- yes. And I think we'll work out the longer term -- I don't think there will be any changes in the way that you -- the operation looks from your perspective.
Q I guess what I'm getting at is, will the political appointees in the White House Advance Office or the White House Press Office assume responsibilities that had been done by the Travel Office who are not your or the Bush administration political appointees?
MS. MYERS: I think -- certainly in the interim, some of those duties will be handled by advance people. And that may be the long-term result as well. I think we're still working out the details of that.
Q Dee Dee, I'd just to follow up on a couple of questions that you took yesterday that were not addressed in an open briefing since then. First of all, how much money was involved? That was a question you said you would take.
MS. MYERS: Peat, Marwick looked at a period from January of '92 until May of '93. And I believe it was about $10 million, $11 million -- somewhere between $10 million and $11 million that passed through the White House Travel Office during that period.
Q What are saying was mishandled, what amount?
MS. MYERS: It's not a particular amount, it's the process that we have a problem with. There were no -- very few receipts. Peat, Marwick went in with the intention of performing an audit. There weren't enough documents to do an official audit, so what they did was an accounting review. And there were very few records of -- for example, I believe there were no contracts for a lot of the domestic travel. There were some contracts for international travel. There were very few receipts. There was just not enough documentation there to even do an official audit.
Q You also said yesterday in your open briefing that the press was overcharged.
MS. MYERS: I said I thought that the press was overcharged.
Q No, you said --
MS. MYERS: Yes, I did. Check the transcript.
Q Read the transcript.
MS. MYERS: I did.
Q I've got it marked downstairs.
MS. MYERS: I've got it.
Q You said, we believe there were serious overcharges.
MS. MYERS: That's right.
Q In any event, you mentioned that subject more than once. Was the press --
MS. MYERS: No, I mentioned it once.
Q Was the press overcharged?
MS. MYERS: We -- that's one of the things that we're going to look at. I don't know that it's possible to know for sure, because there aren't enough records and there was no process for reconciling estimates with actual costs. It was done on a very -- on a guesstimate basis, so it may be impossible to determine with any certainty exactly what the discrepancies in what you paid and what it should have cost.
Q Are you aware that those charges include charges for rooms, services, that is telephones, press rooms, all of that -- ground transportation?
MS. MYERS: They did -- we had an auditing firm go in and look at this, and obviously they interviewed people in the travel office to try to ascertain what the charges were. But there's no records.
Q I understand that it wasn't broken down, but what you're looking at is not just the charter --
MS. MYERS: Absolutely, they spoke to people in there and tried to get from them an understanding of how this system works.
Q Dee Dee, another question from yesterday was who is Chris Walton and what are his qualifications to handle the travel of the Executive Branch.
MS. MYERS: Right. He's a staffer. I'm sorry, I didn't get any further information. Let me make one more point just to clarify things. There will be somebody -- a person who is not yet named, who is a financial manager who will come in to oversee the operation of the travel department. Katherine Cornelius will do sort of the day-to-day contracting with charter plans and things like that. But there will be a financial person who will oversee the Travel Office who will be basically in charge.
Q Do you consider these people to be political appointees, the people that are coming in to run the Travel Office?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think by definition, all the people who are not protected by civil service are political appointees.
Q I'd like to get you to deal with two issues. One, you said in your briefing yesterday that you all took this action after this review that was started as part of the review of government -- overall government, the Vice President's thing. But some people who talked to staffers in Little Rock during the transition indicate that you all were talking then about replacing the Travel Office staff. How do you deal with that? Have you all been planning to fire these guys since the beginning?
MS. MYERS: No, no. I think that we will always or for quite awhile have planned on reviewing the management practices of a number of offices. I think we've been very straight forward about that. We have launched this national performance review to look at things and we started with what they call the cash accounts -- people that deal with large sums of money. And this was the first -- one of the first offices we looked at with some detail. We believe that this action was taken on the basis of what we found through that review process and for no other reasons.
Q And the second thing that I wanted answered --there were a number of questions that were posed to you during the briefing yesterday regarding the specifics which you will refer to later, with "we'll get back to you" and that sort of thing. Apparently, you and George and, apparently, Eller as well, and the accountant from Peat, Marwick decided to go over these specifics with a selected group of reporters last night on background back here. Why did you all choose to do that instead of coming out and making your accusations on the record?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we made any accusations that were any different than the charges of mismanagement that we made -- that I made here during the briefing yesterday. I think we thought that given the deadlines, given what was happening, that the best way to handle it would be to bring some people in and try to walk them through it. I understand that some people got left out, and I apologize for that. We did what we thought we needed to do in order to set the record straight. And one of the reasons we brought the wires in was so that everybody would have access to that information.
Q In that briefing a senior administration official said that the first warning that the administration had had that there might be something amiss in the Travel Office came from complaints from other charter operators who alleged or conveyed hearsay that payoffs might have been requested for charter business. Other people have suggested that some of those charter operators were either friends of the President or acquaintances of the President or friends of friends and that they complained directly to him, and that that is what triggered this long before the performance review. Can you please take that question --
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q and tell us who they were and what the specific instances were which triggered this?
Q Dee Dee, one of the things you might take as well -- when the President was asked in his photo opportunity -- and said that, in essence, he knew nothing at all whatsoever other than some people had told him it had to be done left some of us a little bit curious that this would have happened completely without the President's knowledge with a relative of his involved in it, particularly someone who had been with him during the long haul through the campaign.
MS. MYERS: I think that's appropriate.
Q The President would have known nothing about a shakeup this massive that involved a relative of his?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not sure that seven people qualify as a massive shakeup.
Q It's an entire White House office.
MS. MYERS: But I think, again, I don't know that that qualifies as a massive shakeup. I think that he was told as he indicated that there were some problems, that there had been an investigation and that the results of that investigation led administrative officials there to conclude the best course of action was to dismiss the people involved. I don't think the President makes it his business to second-guess those kinds of administrative decisions. And so he was informed about it and allowed the judgment of the people that work here to go forward.
Q Getting back to --
Q And he wouldn't have known that a cousin of his was being shifted from one area of the White House into another?
MS. MYERS: No, that's not something --
Q Getting back to the use of Worldwide Travel in this interim period, we understand this will be until bids go out. But given the fact that they will stand to make thousands of dollars in ticket commissions for booking travel for Executive Branch personnel and whatever they get for arranging charters, doesn't this raise eyebrows or questions, given Ms. Cornelius' past association with them?
MS. MYERS: She did not work for them. I saw that a few places. That is not accurate. She worked for the campaign. Worldwide was the travel agency that contracted to the campaign, but she never was employed by them.
Q Well, but given the Little Rock connection with a Clinton outfit -- and again, they're going to be -- in this interim they can make thousands and thousands of dollars on ticket commissions. Why not give it to someone who is like neutral or not involved, has no past track record with the organization, with the Clinton organization?
MS. MYERS: I think given the fact that the decision was made quickly and it was the judgment of the administration to move quickly on this, that is would be prudent for us to bring in a company that had worked with us before and one that knew how we operated in order to facilitate the transition. It will be for a relatively short period of time. I don't know how much -- I don't know what the terms of their contract is, but I think in the interest of continuity and in providing the kind of service that we think is necessary we thought that was the best course of action.
Q One of the questions that was hanging from yesterday was the release of the audit itself.
MS. MYERS: It's not done. It's in draft form right now. And it is a review, not an audit because as I pointed out there weren't enough documents to do a formal audit. And I don't know -- when the document is final we'll take a look at it.
Q Dee Dee, when the individuals were fired yesterday, where they informed of the allegations that were made from this podium?
MS. MYERS: I think that they knew about them. In fact, I know they knew about them. They were interviewed during the financial review process and knew that the management of that office was under serious review.
Q Who actually fired them?
MS. MYERS: David Watkins talked to them.
Q Several of them claim that what they were told was that the administration planned to restructure this office and that since they served at the pleasure of the President their services were being dispensed with and that was it.
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure that's entirely accurate.
Q Dee Dee, they also said that they were not aware of any FBI involvement. Were they actually told that the FBI was going to be involved in this?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q Don't believe what?
MS. MYERS: That they were -- that they have not yet, as far as I know, been interviewed by the FBI. But I will refer all further questions about the FBI investigation to the FBI, other than to say that I don't believe that they knew about the FBI.
Q Are you now confirming that a Little Rock travel agency is going to start issuing tickets for all White House staff travel and make commissions on that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what their financial relation -- I don't know how that's structured. Yes, Worldwide Travel, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, will provide interim travel services for the administration until we can get an RFP out and hire somebody on a long-term basis.
Q And they -- and it's all right with the White House if they keep any profits they get? As any normal travel service works, they get payments every time they issue a ticket and they will profit from this?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's a problem. I will review what the financial setup is with the White House, but it is our belief that they provided a good service during the campaign and they have offered to come in on an interim basis and to serve our needs on very short notice.
Q But they haven't come in -- offered to come in pro bono or anything. They're still going to make money on it.
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so but I will double-check.
Q How do you respond to Billy Dale's allegation that he tried -- he requested meetings with you and George from the beginning of the administration to find out what their status was and what you wanted them to do and he was refused?
MS. MYERS: I can't speak for George, but I know Billy Dale never ever asked me for a meeting. I would have been happy to meet with him.
Q Have they been treated fairly, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: I believe they have given the -- this is not pleasant for anyone; I want to make that point. This isn't something we sought to do. It isn't something that any us have enjoyed. I think it's an unpleasant, unfortunate experience for everyone involved. But the point is we began a review as part of an overall administrative review. That turned up information that we thought forced us to take very direct action, and we did so. It's too bad.
Q Dee Dee, is there any way to specifically assess for us how long this has been going on -- the shoddy mismanagement?
MS. MYERS: Oh, I have no idea. I don't. I can't speak to that.
Q Dee Dee, refresh my memory. Is David Watkins also from Little Rock?
MS. MYERS: Yes. He was the Deputy Campaign Manager for Administration and runs the administrative office.
Q And what was he job in Little Rock?
MS. MYERS: He the administrative person. He was sort of like the CFO of the campaign.
Q No, I mean before the campaign.
MS. MYERS: He's a businessman.
Q Which businesses?
MS. MYERS: A variety of different businesses. I can get you a bio on him, if you'd like.
Q Did he have any association with this Worldwide Travel?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q Did anybody in the campaign?
MS. MYERS: I don't know how they first came to us. Obviously, somebody in the campaign brought them in. They're a LIttle Rock-based company, which is something -- we used a lot of Little Rock based vendors. It was something that we thought was a good thing for the community since we ran our campaign from there.
Q You don't think it shows evidence of favoritism in this instance?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that given the short-term nature of the contract and our immediate needs, that it's natural that we would turn to somebody that we had worked with before that understood us and knew some of the folks here.
Q I believe you said in the public briefing yesterday that several charter agency -- several other airlines had wanted to bid for a White House travel and had not been able to. And I believe the Correspondents Association was involved during the period that the former charter, Pan Am, went under, and the Travel Office had to search for and find people to do the White House charter. Would you provide to us the names or the contacts of any of the charter agencies that were denied the ability to bid on White House travel?
MS. MYERS: I took that question.
Q That's a different question.
MS. MYERS: Slightly different variation. But you want to know what --
Q I wasn't asking particularly about ownership of it, and it was not based on a background. I'm asking about your public comments yesterday that others had asked to bid and had been denied.
Q Can you go get us the names -- the principals in Worldwide Travel who now stand to profit? And I'm curious, since there have been a lot of complaints from people who traveled during the campaign about Worldwide's operation, have you thought of perhaps auditing the travel campaign to see whether there was similar mismanagement by Worldwide?
MS. MYERS: I believe -- Worldwide is a private business. It's not our business to audit or not to audit. We believe we got good service from them. It is our responsibility to audit money managed by the White House and that's why we chose to take that course of action. I think we have found Worldwide has provided us good service. They're a reputable company. I'd be happy to get you more information about Worldwide.
Q The principals and the -- also, on the haircut, is it not correct that the President had another haircut in New Mexico the day before that?
MS. MYERS: That is not correct.
Q The stories about the President being made up and shaved and so on at this guy's place in New Mexico on Monday are not true?
MS. MYERS: What guy's place -- made up --
Q There was an AP wire story on it yesterday.
Q What kind of make-up? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I believe I was with the President all day in New Mexico and did not see him -- I'm quite sure he did not get a haircut.
Q Sounds like you're splitting hairs. (Laughter.)
Q Dee Dee, one last thing on the very same subject. Can you confirm that a couple of weeks ago when the President came back from a trip at Andrews that they sat on the runway while he had dinner on Air Force One? Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: This is the first I've heard of that.
Q For another hour or 45 minutes.
MS. MYERS: I'll be happy to take it. I never heard that.
Q When you come back with answers for a number of these questions that you've taken here today --
MS. MYERS: I'll do so in a public forum.
Q Thank you.
Q That would be nice.
Q Thank you.
END 10:55 A.m. EDT