THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
March 7, 1994
The Roosevelt Room
4:51 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is on background.
Q Shall we begin with what I was trying to point out to you a while ago? I think you said that you didn't know whether Mrs. Clinton's papers and others will be looked at or not.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will.
Q They will be?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will be. Mrs. Clinton's papers and the President's will be produced --
Q I was wondering how they could escape it with Caputo and Miss Maggie --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will.
Q Does it apply to those political consultants who are on the DNC payroll but not on the White House staff who are -- would it apply to them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't believe it would. I haven't even thought of that question, but I don't believe so.
Q What about Gergen's papers?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All White House employees, staff; that would include David Gergen.
Q What's the accountability on this search? What's to keep someone from chucking a memo or even carrying something out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To keep anyone from doing that, I would hope -- my memorandum, which has been reiterated, that to do so is a criminal penalty and obstruction of justice. And we intend that to mean exactly what it says. And if we find out about that, we will assure that proper steps are taken in the right direction.
Q So it's sort of an honor system?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is, and when you say an honor system, it's upon peril of criminal violation; in that sense, yes. The way the system works is we have approximately hundreds of employees here covered by that subpoena. Each one of them has been made to understand what his or her personal obligation
is. We intend to fully enforce it. We have said time and again, if you have any doubt about any document -- whether it's covered -- you produce it. We want the document. So that's the way the system is going to work.
Q Just to clarify -- what papers of the President's and the First Lady's will be produced?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What's covered by they subpoena. If there are papers that are within the compass of that subpoena, conversations -- I don't have the language in front of me -- those are called for; they will comply with that.
Q And there's no argument of executive privilege or anything like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say as I said in the last session, as far as any privileges, we simply have not -- I have not crossed that bridge because I am trying to get the documents together; I spent the weekend getting these memos and documents together. The privilege does not belong to the lawyers. And so at some point we will, in the next couple of days, cross that bridge and that decision will be made. Don't read anything into it other than, in trying to brief you today at 5:00 p.m., that question has not been on our screen.
Q You mean anything the President does --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it's a very narrow privilege. I'm not suggesting -- in any event, the question is, you remember last time when he turned over the Whitewater documents, he had waived all privileges at that point. That was what he did when he turned that over the last time. I have no reason to think that -- well, let me just say, it's very hard for lawyers to do background only in one sentence.
I have an obligation to my client that I cannot breach in a background meeting. But I really would beg you not to read anything into that. We are going to proceed and we are going to keep you posted on issues like that. We're not going to hide anything.
Q What is your role vis a vis the President? Do you call him your client? What is the counsel's relationship to the President in a situation where his personal dealings are under investigation?
Q Well, this subpoena that we're dealing with -- this subpoena is a subpoena to the White House -- all people here; and we're responding in that capacity. Obviously, the President has private counsel with respect to all the individual matters affecting him. Our representation, or our legal efforts are with respect to his official capacity; and responding to this subpoena on the White House is in that context.
Q So what would these papers be? Would these be the Whitewater papers? Or would these be --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q What specifically?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: These are -- the subpoena calls for papers or documents -- and you have the background, I don't have the language -- but it has to do with conversations between officials. That's what it concerns.
Q Are there papers that the President or Mrs. Clinton have about these conversations, about these meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I honestly don't know. We're in the process -- that's what we're doing today is having people collect the papers. We're going to get those papers together and then we are going to produce them. I just am -- I'm doing background sessions; I am getting --
Q Conversations with officials -- you get into some very secretive stuff there, wouldn't you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, ma'am, I mean, I -- whatever the facts are, they are. I don't think it's secretive. I think we are going to be fully forthcoming in this regard.
Q Can you tell us what you know about when the President said that he had learned of this at least -- a fact of the referral in October. Do we know any more about how he learned about that? From whom he learned about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you need to direct that to Dee Dee. In my role, I only talk about process issues.
Q Well speaking of process, then, can you elaborate a little bit more about how the process of looking at the Clinton's papers, combing through their papers, looking for items that would be covered by this subpoena -- how that process works? Who's doing it and --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just don't have that information. All I know is I was asked a specific question; I was assured that they're going to do compliance --
Q Who is they?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I said, President and the First Lady.
Q They personally are looking through their papers for this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I assume -- I just don't know how it's being done as I sit here right now, okay?
Q The six White House officials who were subpoenaed -- I gather that that subpoena falls under the conduct of their official duties. Do you have any -- are you advising them legally? And what is the process for them? Are they actually going to appear somewhere to testify, or is it just to turn over documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me explain that to you because I think that I can be helpful. I am not advising any of those individuals legally. They will retain their own counsel, and their counsel will advise them.
The documents that are called for under the White House subpoena include their documents -- the White House documents. We will produce those documents as a mechanical matter. As for the testimony and the testimony about those documents and about these events, that will be handled by their lawyer and the special counsel. We don't handle that. All we will do is produce our documents with one of our -- the person who is responsible for the -- custody here at the White House that will have all these documents will produce them to the special counsel with the appropriate affidavits --
Q Technically, how is that done? On Thursday somebody from your office just takes them over --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really need -- the special counsel will tell us how he wants it done. And you can direct the question to him. But we will do it how he wants it --
Q How are you compiling stuff now? I mean, are you just gathering stuff in a carton somewhere?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, each individual is going to have to certify -- they're going to give us their documents within an envelope -- sealed envelope -- it's going to be certified that these are their documents, and the only documents; if they have no documents, they have to certify that --
Q specify what they are?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They just give us the documents.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Only concerning what's under the subpoena.
Q Do they only concern three meetings, or were there other meetings as well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They concern any meetings that took place. That's what the subpoena covers, and that's what this document request --
Q How many meetings is that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I -- let me just say, I am only going to talk about process. I cannot do my job and the Grand Jury cannot do its job if we get into substantive discussions, so that's just not going to --
Q On process, what are the obligations of an individual on the White House staff who may not have any records of conversations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What are their obligations?
Q I mean, to -- if they had a casual conversation in the hallway or over the phone about this, but have no documents pertaining to it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is a -- I mean, I don't know what -- obligation. I'm not sure I understand.
Q I mean, are they obliged to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, no. They are not. They're not. They're only -- right now, we're just doing the subpoena compliance issue, and that just calls for these documents.
Q Okay, so it only calls for documents that exist --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible)
Q It's not clear to me -- the President said today that people are going back through their records to see if there were additional contacts beyond these three that we're now talking about.
Your first notification of any additional contacts will come when you open up these envelopes to see, oh yes, there was a fourth meeting --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm just not going to comment about that matter -- what additional or non-additional --
Q But how will you find out if there are additional contacts that the President outlined today? How will you know that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will know that through the documents, through information. If we have questions about the documents -- information -- people will provide to us in the process. That's the way --
Q So at this point you're asking people to come forward with any additional contacts --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: At this point we're asking really to find their documents. They know, of course, what contacts they had. They will look at their documents in that context. That's the way --
Q When will you sit down and sort of say, okay, we have eight additional contacts --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In the day -- in the next several days. That's the way --
Q before they're turned over?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will look at the documents.
Q What's your definition of obstruction of justice?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to get into any legal analysis here.
Q Now, will they all go and be questioned on Thursday also, the six people?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say this -- that's up to the special counsel and their lawyers. I don't know what they will do. In my experience, what happens in similar situations is you subpoena people for a particular day, then some people may testify then, they may adjourn their subpoena for -- I just have no idea --
Q But the subpoena calls for that on the 10th, the documents have to be turned over and they have to be available for questioning.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That is subject to any individual --
Q Unless they were told, come back on the 23rd.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly.
Q you said this subpoena includes only the documents related to conversations between the officials as laid out by what this warrants. Isn't it true -- is it true that all the other documents that the Clintons had related to Whitewater were turned over in December voluntarily? So there should be no Whitewater documents in their possession.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What you said is correct. What has happened anytime since then, of course, you'd have
to direct to Kendall. But what you said is correct. All their documents were turned over --
Q Has anyone else been subpoenaed, other than the 10 within the administration?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To my knowledge no. Is it 10 -- I don't know. I thought it was nine.
Q DeVore --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- Jack, okay.
Q Has there been any request for interviews?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to my knowledge. And I'm not trying to -- (inaudible) -- but I've busy today; nobody has told me that; and I would assume I would have heard. But --
Q On this firewall issue that's been discussed, can you tell us what the procedure was -- I'm a low-ranking official; I want to talk to the regulatory agencies -- how do I do that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: About these matters --
Q future -- under -- you're apparently the gatekeeper on these contacts --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Say you wanted to talk to somebody about -- let's take the simplest question -- you want to get a press release that's been issued by somebody about --
Q Or something substantive. I want to find out what's going on with some aspect of the case or some thing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You should come to me, and I would tell you that it was absolutely inappropriate, not to make that call.
Q So what are the criteria you use as gatekeeper now -- from now on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, right now I have gotten -- that is, the criteria I will use is my best understanding of law and ethics and propriety. Those are the criteria I will apply. And I will tell you, because the President has said it, if somebody comes to me and says they want to call any investigative agency, somebody in the White House or so forth, to talk to them about any ongoing investigation, my answer to that is no.
Q permissible under your criteria?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Under my current criteria, for example -- I don't want to start developing common law here with you -- but let me -- the easiest one would be public documents information like that. When the President said a firewall, he meant the firewall. And it's not a wall that's easily breached. I don't expect there will be many contacts, but right now what -- the example I would give you is for public information. That would be allow --
Q Can you tell me, is there any law or rule that says that people cannot get together to try to put out president? There's a big move on in the country by individuals and by organizations and by political parties to try to -- and they openly say that what their purpose is, is to embarrass Mr. Clinton so that he will resign. They want to avoid impeachment. And they want to avoid delay. And they have been so organized that April has been put as a deadline for
this, to try to embarrass him so much that he will resign. And that's openly spoken of, not just -- one individual or one organization. Is this -- is there any law against people doing this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The Constitution protects their right to --
Q Constitution takes care of it. What did you mean --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, the Constitution protects people's right to organize, express their opposition at any point, absolutely.
Q Do you have any evidence at this point that there were any contacts between any officials here and the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am just not going to answer substantive questions. I'm not trying to -- I just cannot perform here to background you on process. I'm sorry about that. It is unfair to -- I think all of us have to understand -- it's unfair to the integrity of the whole grand jury process. We cannot have a discussion of the substance. We are complying fully. The information is going to go through the process. We've got to protect the rights of everybody in the process and the integrity of the process. And we can't do that if we talk substance.
Q At some point, if you learn about more meetings at all, will the White House decide that it's best to -- (inaudible) -- and announce that there had been some other meetings or some other developments?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will deal with those matters as -- as we come to them. We will deal with them in a proper fashion.
Q After 8:00 p.m. tonight, perhaps through the press office, in the morning or whenever, would you be in a position to just give a rough result of your procedure today? In other words, how many documents were turned over to you that you'll be passing on to the counsel to show that the process worked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I assume I can, but let me just tell you one thing so that you don't misunderstand what I'm saying. As I read the subpoena, every press clipping that talked about any of these events would be covered. So if I said to you we had 1,000 or 10,000 pages, it would be meaningless number if they were all press clippings. So let me see what the documents are, let me see -- again, I am trying to balance two things which I hope you understand. I want to give you people information so that you understand what we're doing. I also have to protect the integrity of the process. He's calling people into testify; he's got to make sure that he can do what he's got to do. So consistently with that, I will try to give you information about the magnitude of the documents.
Q I don't understand why this would cover press clippings. This is supposed to relate, I thought, to conversations or meetings --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It says all documents -- this is sort of what it means to be a lawyer is you end up reading subpoenas -- it says all documents relating to. . .; the word "relating to" means anything. If I have a New York Times article that says, Mr. Altman testified yesterday, that relates to a conversation; so that includes press clippings.
Q Well have you already received some documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have not. I am sure the lawyers who are in the back, who are doing this process -- people have probably given them documents, given them signed statements if they have no documents. I just don't know where the process is, I've been out here.
Q To what degree was Kennedy involved in any of this handling of this type of documents or this type of search or explanation of the subpoena?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He is not involved in this process. This process is involving four lawyers, I believe, in addition to myself, in the White House; and Mr. Kennedy is not one of them.
Q Was Kennedy was omitted by design because of his background?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no, no. The people who were chosen -- try to deal with people who basically we felt were the proper people to work on this project, and that's the way it was done. We're not going --
Q Who are they?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What?
Q Who are they?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Who are the people that are working on it? We have one -- Cheryl Mills, who's an associate counsel; Marvin Krislov, who's an assistant counsel; we have one detailee from the Office of Administration -- there's a whole lot of issues here about computer files and stuff like that; Christopher Cerf, who's the counsel over there. I think we have a volunteer counsel and somebody else. But anyhow, those are the key people on it.
Q Is there a channel through which White House employees can give documents directly to the inspector, rather than have them go through your -- go through the White House Counsel's office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If any employee asked me that question, the answer would be yes, they should turn them over to the special counsel. In other words, if they said they didn't want me to see the documents or something like that. In the routine course it would be normal for the attorneys to see the documents because there might be issues about privilege and so forth, that's the way it works. That hasn't come up, and we would obviously deal with it if it came up.
But we are not trying to -- far from it, we are trying to encourage our employees -- we have put the word out -- as I've said, it's an obstruction of justice not to get the documents to us. And I will tell you that when we get the documents, it is our job to turn them over in proper order. That's what we intend to do.
Q But it's not necessarily an obstruction of justice to violate the firewall? That's just internal management, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.
Q You're going to inventory everything before Thursday that's sent over?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah. I'm not sure we'll inventory every single press clipping, as I imagine we'll get a lot of them. But otherwise, we will make our own inventory of documents.
Q So, for instance, Mr. Lindsey's personal files about Whitewater and all the stuff he maintained in order to answer questions -- all of that will go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To the extent it is responsive to this subpoena, it will go.
Q But most of it would not be -- as the subpoena suggests, most of Lindsey's files dating back to the 1970s and Whitewater would not be responsive to the subpoena. Is that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to this subpoena right now, that's correct.
Q Is this search anything like something you've ever handled before in your career? Are there any parallels to this kind of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, when you do a corporate matter, you can do a large corporation where you do a corporate-wide search; it is similar. The one difference, of course, is they usually don't do press briefings in the afternoon. (Laughter.) Other than that, the process is quite similar.
Q thousands of pages of material coming out of this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just don't know. As I said, I don't know who the packrats are on the press clippings or not. But just to give you an amusing example so all of you at least know what it feels like to be here, if I got a phone call that says, Mr. Smith from the XYZ Journal is calling re: contacts with Altman, that phone call message is covered by this subpoena. So that's the whole package.
Q You're expecting to get an envelope from every staffer, whether they have papers or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For everybody on the White House staff, either an envelope with papers or a signed statement that they have no such papers.
Q And that is also the same with Treasury -- the Treasury Department?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am dealing with the White House; and since I am the firewall, I am just dealing over here.
Q The Treasury's doing it their own way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I just -- you can direct those questions to Treasury; I just don't have any idea how they're handling --
Q Have you had any meetings with Mrs. Clinton in the past couple of days?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have not, no.
Q Anybody from your office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I -- those are questions I'm just not going to get into, no.
Let me just -- I just have a 5:00 p.m -- if there's anything else --
Q Can you answer a couple of --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're still on background.
Q How did Ickes, being so new, how did he get involved? He was at the meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Who?
Q Ickes -- how did he get involved since he was so new on the staff?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, he was the press counsel -- indicated he was at one of the meetings.
Q So what have you found out about what the President knew and how he found out about the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All I can tell you about that is that the President found out sometime in October. He doesn't remember precisely who told him or when. But all indications are that -- from memories of people here and what the President remembers about being told -- was that it occurred after the subpoena -- I mean, after the referral actually went to --
Q When did it go?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: October 10th, apparently, which we didn't learn until recently. But the reason is because we started to get press inquiries after October 10th about it; and I think, to the best of our recollection, the President was told subsequent to the press calls.
Q So it was not directly after the first meeting, which was what, July, June, I mean, September 29th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, --
Q Somewhere between that and the next --
Q Bernie Nussbaum talked to the Treasury Department and they said, Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are about to be named in a criminal referral --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q He didn't tell the President?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right, he did not tell the President.
Q How about the First Lady? Any -- (inaudible) -- today to figure out --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Bernie didn't tell the President or the First Lady.
Q Do we know what she knew and when she knew it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: First of all, I think you can't assume that Bernie was told that -- what he may have known
about it was that in 1984, Clinton's governor campaign, it was maybe mentioned.
Q But not the President and the First Lady themselves.
Q You said that Bernie didn't tell Mr. and Mrs. Clinton. So we know -- the President doesn't know how he learned, but he knows it wasn't from Bernie? It was someone else other than Bernie after October 10th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Bernie -- the President didn't remember who told him. Bernie did not tell the President, according to Bernie.
Q What about --
Q Why didn't Bernie tell him if he knew that? Didn't he have an obligation to tell him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It just -- he didn't. He didn't think for whatever reason -- I mean, that was his judgment.
Q This guy -- (inaudible) -- profile that comes from the House Judiciary Committee -- kept secrets from bosses.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Bernie did not tell Mrs. Clinton.
Q No, but has Mrs. Clinton, today, at any point said --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Said how she knew? No, I don't know the answer to that.
Q How did the President and Mrs. --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President doesn't remember.
Q Can you describe how Mack helped to set up this meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q But it had to be, by definition, Bernie telling someone who told the President and the First Lady --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q How else could they have -- (inaudible) -- Bernie was in the meeting?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Press inquiries. You can't assume that.
Q You're suggesting that he might have learned just from reading in the newspapers that he had been named?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. Before it was in the newspaper we got calls about it. It was something that was, I think, reporters were in the process of working on for a while before. I don't think --
Q But wasn't the second meeting the result of press inquiries?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, the October 14th the meeting was to discuss --
Q October 14th, was that the date of the second meeting?
Q How would press inquiries work their way up to the President? What would the process be? Who would actually walk in the door and say, people have been calling?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, it could be any number of people who would do that. And I just can't be anymore specific because the President doesn't remember who told him. Other people may talk to him about it, but it's unclear who the first person obviously, was -- but all indications are --
Q Do you know what the President and Mrs. Clinton are doing to comply? I mean, just physically have they going through files? Are their assistants going through papers, or anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, you've got to understand that the scope of the subpoena is fairly limited. I mean, it's documents relating to conversations among and between RTC, Treasury and White House officials regarding these meetings -- just to be clear about it. And whatever documents they might have regarding those would be turned over. I have no idea whether they have any documents.
Q And do you know anything more about the process to find them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I have no idea. I don't think -- I don't know.
Q Is the White House overflowing in garbage today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not too bad. It wasn't that -- we just went through the weekend, so there's really two days of trash -- some people who were here over the weekend.
Q Have any other meetings or contacts been found or discovered today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't -- as my colleague pointed out, we can't talk about the substance.
Q Do you know if anyone else has been subpoenaed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not that I know of.
Q Do you know if anybody from the First Lady's office has been subpoenaed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Nobody other than those already mentioned.
Q I can understand why your colleague didn't want to talk about substance, why cant' you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: For the same reason --I can't -- we've been told not to -- on the substance of this stuff, I just don't think we can talk about it.
Q Who has told you not to say anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Counsel. I mean, the White House is not discussing the substance of this. The special counsel is looking into it and we're going to comply with it. I think that's the prudent course.
Q On what basis did the President say today that there had been no efforts in the White House to influence any government agencies on this matter -- the exact wording but it was something like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To the best of his knowledge. I mean, conversations.
Q But it's -- of course, he doesn't know what's going to turn up in these envelopes and all this stuff.
Q Has anybody on the staff done like a little round of phone calls, or a little investigation for him so that he can answer these questions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What, about what happened at the meetings?
Q No, whether there was any effort --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think based on his information, based on his conversations that is what he believes.
Q I'm not saying that it isn't true, but --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's no suggestion -- I don't think anybody has suggested otherwise, period. I don't think anybody has suggested --
Q Implied, but not with any evidence.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, questioned, but not even implied. I don't even think there's evidence to imply that that might have happened.
Q He obviously talked to Bernie. Did he talk to Altman?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q At the meeting?
Q So do you think it was after it was referred on the 10th -- do you know if it was after the spin meeting on the 14th, or not?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't --
Q somewhere in that period.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, at somewhere in October all indications are that it, again, was after the 10th -- after the RTC referral actually happened because we started to get these -- learned about this, more about this from press calls --
Q And probably before the 14th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: (Inaudible)
Q Is that right? It's probably in that window between the 10th and the 14th?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not necessarily.
Q Would the meeting of -- the larger meeting, October 14th, have occurred without the President's knowledge?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The inquiries, if you go back and look at what happened, what prompted that meeting, the inquiries came first to Treasury.
Q What's the status of the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- and then to us through Treasury, originally.
Q Does the firewall prevent the President conducting any routine business with Altman in Altman's capacity as Deputy Treasury Secretary that he might need to do on a whole range of matters?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not a lawyer, but he recused himself from Madison, and so dealing Treasury matters, I don't think that it would affect that.
Q RTC -- where are you on that? And how will this affect the person you choose?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's moving forward. I don't know how close we are to an announcement on it.
Q What's the status of the search for a replacement for Nussbaum?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As the President said, he's actively engaged in the process. We expect to have an announcement soon.
Q Who's heading the search? Is there a specific person who's in charge of that job?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Mack.
Q By soon, do you mean this week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, yeah. Well, I think that's the hope.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Beyond saying we hope to get it done this week, I don't even want to speculate.
Q Is -- still the leading candidate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't answer that.
Q kitchen table question here -- with all the months that have lapsed, this whole subpoena, isn't it too late? I mean, why would anyone by hanging on to documents given allegations of shredding and everything that's been going on for all these --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No one has alleged that anybody in this White House ever shredded a single document.
Q All I'm just saying, is this too little, too late? Why now after all the news, everything that's been going on --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Wait a minute, all this subpoena applies to is documents related to the conversations.
Q True, but that's even been months.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, but the subpoena came on Friday. We received it around 7:00 p.m.; by 8:00 p.m., the memo was circulated to staff to tell them not to destroy their documents. I don't know how much more quickly we can act.
Q It also wasn't initiated until -- public.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that is as quickly and effectively and as forthcoming as anybody could expect. I mean, within an hour a memo was out to all 400-plus White House employees to protect and preserve all their documents, their trash, their computer records, their notes, any other records they might have of conversations that -- specifically outlined in the subpoena. I think we are bending over backwards here to comply, and I think the Counsel's Office has done everything it can to make sure people understand how important this is and what the consequences are. For doing something like you suggest is an obstruction of justice punishable by criminal law.
Q Can I ask you about the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Why don't people here break the law everyday? Because they don't. It's not the way we operate.
Q Can I ask you about this rather stirring defense of the First Lady by the President? Had he talked to his aides about the need to make those kinds of remarks during this presentation today? He clearly was anticipating an opportunity to do that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that all you have to do is pick up the morning paper over the last couple of days and anticipate that this question was coming. It doesn't take a rocket scientist. I mean, there's clearly been a number of attacks on her, and he is not happy about it. I don't think anybody had to prompt him to defend his wife.
Q But has he expressed his unhappiness in other contexts -- internally?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely.
Q How has he done that? What form is it taking?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just by talking with aides about how he just is very unhappy about it. And I think his comments today speak for themselves, but that basically reflects his feelings about it.
Q When did she find out about the RTC -- did he tell her that period?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know.
Q You don't know if she knew first, or afterwards, or when?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q How angry was he at Bernie last Thursday and Friday when all this reached critical mass?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, I think that the President's letter speaks for itself about that. I think he thinks Bernie served him loyally and well.
Q He thinks he served him well?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q What did he tell the President about that meeting when he heard that? If he was serving him loyally and well, why didn't he tell him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that hindsight was the right thing to do under any circumstances.
Q The President says he wants to be as forthcoming as possible. Either on the CNN or ABC, McLarty is quoted as saying that the President didn't know anything about what happened at these meetings. And the President today says that --
? Q (Inaudible)
Q I thought he did.
Q He didn't say they knew they were having meetings, he just said he knew about the referral, I think.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't understand the question?
Q Well, I'm just trying to figure out -- it's been unclear what the President has done, or even if he has known anything about it -- (inaudible) -- aides. And the President today said -- at what point did somebody go in and ask him to make this statement, or did somebody go in and ask him what happened; did you know about the referral or whatever happened --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Prior to today's --
Q Yeah, yeah.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think people asked him what he remembered about it today. I don't know about before that -- over last day and a half, maybe.
Q Not Thursday, after the Post story ran? You would think the first thing he would do is --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, no, I think about the other meetings, I think, which we said was that he learned about them as the press inquiries came in. So the first story broke on Wednesday; I think he learned about it either Tuesday night or Wednesday morning; instructed Mack to issue the memo. The next couple meetings were revealed I guess on Thursday, Friday?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thursday -- which he also learned about in the context of press inquiries either the night before or the morning of, actually -- and that's what he knew about those meetings, which he said at the time.
Q but it was a total surprise to him, because at some point in October he knew that these meetings occurred.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he learned about the meetings when the press started to inquire about them. He did not know about the meetings before that.
Q Did you check out what the press was telling you about these meetings? Or was it just passed on that the press has these questions about some meeting that took place in the referrals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't remember the exact conversation. I generally try to present him with the facts, not just questions from you guys --
Q Does anybody know what Foster was going to talk to the President about when he said on Monday night --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure don't, Sarah.
END5:22 P.M. EST