THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MARK GEARAN, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR The Briefing Room
6:59 P.M. EDT
MR. GEARAN: First of all, let me apologize for the delay in getting to you. We thought it would be helpful to take your questions and to try to clear up as much as we can on this. We've been, over the course of the previous few hours, putting together as much information as we can on the facts as we know it at this point.
So why don't we proceed at the beginning with your questions.
Q How about telling us about --
Q How many helicopters were there? Who's paying for it?
MR. GEARAN: First of all, the first question in terms of the helicopters, let me retrace Mr. Watkins' steps to give you a sense of what he did. He went from Anacostia, which is where the base is, on the helicopter to Camp David; stayed at Camp David for 30 minutes or so; went from Camp David --
Q Why did he go there?
MR. GEARAN: As head of administration and management here, Assistant to the President for Administration and Management, he is the principal staff person in the White House responsible for Camp David. And he went there for site inspections and a brief meeting.
Q About what?
MR. GEARAN: There had apparently been some new construction at Camp David that he was doing a site inspection.
Q What was the construction on?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that.
He proceeded from Camp David then to Holly Hills golf course. And the helicopter then returned to Anacostia. He and Al Maldon golfed for the afternoon. The helicopter came back from Anacostia, picked them up at Holly Hills and then they returned.
I have observed Congressman Bartlett's press release where he indicates that there has been sightings of a second military helicopter. To the extent that there were -- first of all, there were no other White House personnel on the first helicopter with Mr. Watkins. That was the entire manifest -- that there were some questions on.
Q What about Commander Cellon?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, Cellon, Maldon and Watkins.
Q Is Cellon based in Washington -- and he went up to Camp David with them and came back to Washington with them after the golf game, or is he based at Camp David?
MR. GEARAN: He's the Commander at Camp David. Whether he started in Anacostia or not, I'll have to get back to you.
Q Why was he getting on the helicopter at Holly Hills to come back to Washington if that's where they came back to?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, I'll have -- I don't know his --
Q Did he play golf with them, too?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, he did.
Q He's the guy being saluted in the picture and boarding the helicopter for departure, so if they didn't go back to Camp David, you'd wonder where he went.
MR. GEARAN: Right. I'll just have to get back to you on that, Frank.
Q was there?
MR. GEARAN: Okay, I'm sorry, I thought there was some other -- there were other missions in the area that day. So to the extent of these sightings, we're unsure what specific residents would be aware of. There was a helicopter that was from four to 20 miles away from Holly Hills. No other helicopter landed at Holly Hills. There was a helicopter in the area. It did a regular training mission that's routine as they do. There were 11 other missions that day in this area based out of Anacostia with this fleet. It was a routine training mission. And as I said, there was no other White House personnel on board that.
Q These are the same types of helicopters --
MR. GEARAN: Yes, it's within the same fleet.
Q Eleven other missions? I mean, 11 other helicopters -- there's that much helicopter traffic in that area?
MR. GEARAN: Not this specific area. Let me clear. Just in terms -- I was trying to give you a sense of the day. Within this fleet going from Anacostia or around Andrews, Quantico training, the Vice President's flight, there were 11 on this fleet that day. There was another helicopter that was in that area, within 4 to 20 -- one of them -- within four to 20 miles of Holly Hills. So that -- my point is, that could be the siting that residents might be referring to, as best as we can determine.
Q Mark, to your knowledge that helicopter flight was not associated in any way with the golf helicopter flight -- it wasn't providing back up or anything like that, it just happened to be in the same location?
MR. GEARAN: No, it's my -- it left Anacostia around the same time as the other helicopter. It did not fly in tandem. They don't actually mirror the other helicopter unless the President were on it. It was there to stay in communications with the helicopter at Holly Hills. But it was on a separate training mission on its own, if you will.
Q Would that helicopter have flown that mission were it not for the helicopter that took the golfers to Camp David and Holly Hills?
MR. GEARAN: Probably not.
Q That's very different from what I understood before what you were saying. I mean, my understanding before was that they were completely unconnected, that there were training missions in the area but they had nothing to do with that --
MR. GEARAN: Well, let me clear. Let me be clear. The first -- let's call it first and second. The first helicopter that went to Holly Hills had David Watkins and Maldon. They went there, golfed, they came back. The second helicopter was on a separate training mission that went to -- in the local area around Frederick, around Gettysburg. It was on a separate training mission that was sent out by the squadron. It was a squadron decision to do that.
The question is -- Ruth's question was, would it have been there if not for that? Probably not.
Q Can you explain that? What do you mean probably not? It means that it's attached to it, then.
Q Is part of that whole thing --
MR. GEARAN: It didn't do the exact same route by any means. It didn't mirror it identically. It didn't land. But it was in that area --
Q For what purpose, Mark? We're all totally confused.
MR. GEARAN: First of all, Ginny passed me -- we have resignation letters here that we should get to you. Thank you.
Q Did -- (inaudible) -- go to Camp David, too, Mark?
MR. GEARAN: I did not go to Camp David.
Q Was there any relationship -- official relationship -- between those two flights?
MR. GEARAN: Official relationship?
Q Yes, I mean, was there any purpose, joint purpose in those being together? Was there any relationship?
MR. GEARAN: Well, let me try to be as clear as I can from our understanding from the Military Office.
The second helicopter was on a separate training mission. They were doing other things in that area. If the question is -- Ruth's question is, would it have been in that area if not for -- which is I think what you're saying -- my answer is, probably not is what they would -- the military --
Q communications, right? You said it was doing --
MR. GEARAN: That's what they like to have them in touch for that purpose as part of these training missions.
Q So helicopter number two would not have done this but for helicopter number one, and it did it in order to maintain communications with helicopter number one.
MR. GEARAN: That's how they would describe it.
Q Clinton himself has said he wants that $10,000 paid back. So now, does this double? I mean, from your all's standpoint --
MR. GEARAN: Well, the -- DOD's going to calculate and bill it. I think the President was quite clear in terms of making sure that the taxpayers were not out any money.
Q So will they pay for both choppers, then? I mean, Watkins was only using one, but the other one -- so they will pay for both?
MR. GEARAN: Both --
Q The second chopper -- will they pay for the flying time?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, yes, yes.
Q Watkins will pay for both those choppers?
MR. GEARAN: Well, no, David Watkins is not paying for all of them. There have been other officials in the White House that have --
Q taxpayers will be reimbursed for the cost of both of those --
MR. GEARAN: Correct.
Q Who's chipping in?
MR. GEARAN: Seniors.
Q Wait a minute, didn't you tell us earlier that the other one was unrelated?
MR. GEARAN: It is. It was on a separate training mission.
Q What does that mean?
MR. GEARAN: It means it was doing something separate from the Holly Hills. It did not land at the same time as Holly Hills. It had no White House personnel on board. But it was in that airspace.
Q I know, but shy should he have to pay for it if it was on a legitimate other training mission? Or did he cause it to happen?
MR. GEARAN: He did not cause it to happen. It was a decision of the squadron. It is typical -- and that's why I said probably -- that they would have this out at the same time. They don't like to have them out --
Q Why did you not tell us this an hour ago?
MR. GEARAN: We have updated information that we wanted to make clear to people.
Q it's typical that they would have this out because they don't like to have one chopper up alone because of communications issues?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to -- I don't know -- I don't know why that the case -- why they don't want one up by themself. It is certainly the case that that is the usual course of events. I don't -- why they do it for communications or other purposes.
Q We could accurately call this a back-up helicopter.
MR. GEARAN: I don't know what the Military Office would say --
Q Decoy helicopter?
MR. GEARAN: I don't want to have -- I am not versed enough in the terms of art -- in terms of how it's --
Q On the payment, you say everybody's going to pay in the White House?
MR. GEARAN: No, no, no. Some senior staff members in the White House have offered to assist in the payment, along with David Watkins.
Q Can you tell us who they are?
MR. GEARAN: And obviously to avoid even the appearance of any impropriety, obviously payment of both would be appropriate.
Q How much?
MR. GEARAN: The Department of Defense is going to do the calculation. Our understanding is that the cost per hour is $2,380.
Q Per helicopter --
MR. GEARAN: Per helicopter, per hour.
Q How many hours are we talking about?
MR. GEARAN: Well, they're going to calculate this. We don't have the total of both.
Q So you have a rough guess.
MR. GEARAN: I don't have a good estimate. Now, to make sure of the second helicopter.
Q What's the name of the squadron in Anacostia? Do you know what the official --
MR. GEARAN: The name of the squadron?
Q The number of something or another .
Q HMX something.
MR. GEARAN: HMX is the fleet.
Q HMX-3, I think.
MR. GEARAN: Yes, H-3.
Q Mark, what is the -- is there a fund being set up? Who is contributing? How much is Mr. Watkins contributing?
MR. GEARAN: We will have to get you the amounts. But let me give you some of the individuals that will be contributing. Mack McLarty, Phil Lader, Harold Ickes, David Gergen, George Stephanopoulos, Bob Rubin, Lloyd Cutler --
MR. GEARAN: Can I finish?
Q Finish the list.
MR. GEARAN: Okay. Eli Segal, Pat Griffin, Alexis Herman, Carol Rasco, Christine Varney.
Q Does it occur to any of these people that perhaps this man has done a disservice to this President by what Mr. McLarty has referred to as an "unfortunate error"? Do they wish to associate themselves and support him in this in some way? Is that what this is about?
MR. GEARAN: I think what this is is a gesture of friendship to Mr. Watkins and Mr. Maldon. I don't think we have anything to add to what Mr. McLarty said in his letter was the unfortunate error. We have the resignation letter before you, as well as the President's letter. So I think that's the best way to characterize it.
Q How much of the -- is this group paying? They and Watkins will provide it all into equal shares?
MR. GEARAN: We will have to report back to you on how it's going to be done.
Q Well, have people agreed to pay a specific amount, like $1,000 or something?
MR. GEARAN: That's being worked out. We need the calculation from the Department of Defense.
Q Is somebody organizing this? Is there a leader here that's running this?
MR. GEARAN: Phil Lader.
Q Did he suggest it?
MR. GEARAN: I don't have that information for you.
Q Did Mr. Watkins decline to pay the full amount?
MR. GEARAN: I think there was agreement -- or my understanding is there is an agreement that senior officials in the White House wanted to assist in this. And that was --
Q Well, Mark is there anybody concerned that this -- the fact of this might cause some to think that what the people around the President believe was not -- that this was bad, but that it merely looked bad, and therefore they want to chip in to make sure he doesn't get stung too badly for this?
MR. GEARAN: Again, Brit, I don't have anything to add from what other White House officials said beyond what the Chief of Staff said -- which was this is an unfortunate error.
Q Well, I know but --
MR. GEARAN: And David has resigned.
Q But does anybody -- what I'm asking you, Mark, as the Director of Communications here -- is there any concern on your part or anyone else of the appearance created by the rallying around of an official who has done something that is labeled an error? There has always been a certain sense that the reprimands that occurred in the wake of the Travelgate incidence were for external consumption only and that neither of these -- that no one who was -- least of all Eller and Watkins, suffered in any way internally from the reprimand. And now you have everybody gathering around to help this guy pay the cost of an embarrassing incident. It's puzzling. Or isn't it puzzling, I should say.
MR. GEARAN: I would argue it isn't puzzling. I think, number one, David Watkins has resigned, and that brings to an end his White House service, despite his contributions and his letters before you. I think in the instance of the Travel Office, I think those that received a reprimand would not view it in the way you described it.
Q I didn't say they liked it.
Q Some people are going to look at the fact that nearly every senior adviser to the President who has contributed to this to say that sends a signal that they didn't find anything wrong with Mr. Watkins behavior.
MR. GEARAN: No, I think that would be a misread of the situation. I think you have Mr. McLarty's letter. He's the Chief of Staff. I think -- I don't have anything to add beyond his characterization --
Q What signal do you think it sends, Mark?
MR. GEARAN: I think the entire situation is characterized by the Chief of Staff. I think the payment of the --of some of the funds that are offered here is a gesture of friendship to Al Maldon and David Watkins, understanding the view of the Chief of Staff -- and I don't want to speak for this entire group, but I would suspect agreeing with it, at least some of them. And that's what's been offered to them as a sign of friendship. Understanding that David has been a longtime aide to the President and a member of the White House staff.
Q -- were you asked to contribute to this?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, I was.
Q Are you on this list?
MR. GEARAN: I should have been. Did I not --
Q You did not mention --
MR. GEARAN: I'm so modest. (Laughter.)
Q Well, either that or you --
Q Is the President on it?
MR. GEARAN: No.
Q Is he aware of the fund -- I mean, the --
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that, Helen.
Q Mrs. Clinton, I take it, is not either.
MR. GEARAN: No.
Q But, Mark, you are contributing as well?
MR. GEARAN: Yes -- let me -- I must -- I don't know if I skipped names.
Q And it was Lader's idea.
Q Do you want to go back over them?
MR. GEARAN: Whose idea was it, Helen, I don't know whose idea it was. Phil has coordinated.
Q Is Mr. Maldon also being asked to contribute a share here?
MR. GEARAN: I would suspect, and I don't know the answer to that. I'll have to take the question.
Q Mark, I've been told -- I mean, it seems obvious, but I've been told that the Military Office ordered this mission up, calling it a training mission, and that with those -- basically those two conditions, Maldon might be more culpable than Watkins. Where has he been transferred to, and why --
MR. GEARAN: There's not a decision made at this point of where that is. Al reports to David Watkins within the organizational structure of the White House.
Q Can you confirm that he did order up the mission and designate it a training mission?
MR. GEARAN: Whether he ordered up the mission?
Q Military Office at his direction, ordered it up and that it wasn't -- the training mission ordered by someone else?
MR. GEARAN: It was arranged by the Military Office. Whether that was authorized by Al Maldon and designated -- we'll have to take the question.
Q And the Military Office described it in a way that you now acknowledge was not accurate, correct?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know how they described it.
Q Well, in the paper that was given out by the country club. Can you address the question of why that's obvious -- that story that you now say is not an accurate reflection of the purpose, meaning of the mission and of defense that you no longer stand by -- why that was originally given to reporters as the story?
MR. GEARAN: That was the best information at that time, received from David and Al Maldon to the Press Office.
Q Well, Watkins repeats that in his letter to the President. He says, "my sole motivation was determining how you could utilize Camp David more frequently and enjoy the same opportunity for exercise and relaxation." The White House does not accept that as a legitimate explanation for the use of a helicopter to play golf for an afternoon. Is that correct?
MR. GEARAN: I think I don't have anything to add from Mr. McLarty's characterization of it as an unfortunate error.
Q Mark, have you determined whether this was an isolated incident, or is there any investigation -- Mr. McLarty or anybody else -- looking into to see whether there was improper use of government helicopters on other occasions?
MR. GEARAN: There has been a review that the Chief of Staff's office has reviewed today the records of other flights and we're not aware of any other instance. There was a use of one of these helicopters to go to look at the George Washington -- the U.S.S. George Washington -- in preparation of the President's trip, when it was docked nearby here. That's the only other --
Q Is that considered proper use?
MR. GEARAN: Which was viewed as a proper use -- to advance --
Q How far away--
Q Where was it?
Q would have the drive have been?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that. It was to actually -- because of the way the President was getting there --
Q Could I follow up? Can you give us any, can you give us any estimation or line of command or explanation as to exactly how these particular helicopters are ordered up and how Watkins would possibly ever have the authority to order up one of these helicopters?
MR. GEARAN: Well, he would have that responsibility. He is the Assistant to the President who would have the appropriate responsibility.
Q So what is the line of authority? Who all can order up these helicopters?
MR. GEARAN: David Watkins would authorize it.
Q He's the only one in the White House who could?
MR. GEARAN: Yes.
Q What is Mr. Watkins' financial status?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Is he financially embarrassed?
MR. GEARAN: Is he what?
Q Is he financially embarrassed or in financial straits of any sort?
MR. GEARAN: I'm not aware of his financial -- he filed a financial disclosure form.
Q The reason I asked the question is because I'm trying to figure out why it is that you all would feel it necessary to take up a collection for him. Is he unable to afford whatever cost is --
MR. GEARAN: I'm not aware of David's financial circumstances, and I don't think it would be appropriate to comment certainly from here. I think in terms of describing the best way we can describe this for you is that senior White House officials elected to, as a gesture of friendship, to assist this.
Q When is this resignation truly effective? Did he work today for instance?
MR. GEARAN: He was here today cleaning out his office.
Q Does that mean his pass is turned in at the end of the day?
MR. GEARAN: Yes. Yes, it does.
Q? Mark, one other thing on the second helicopter. I"m just curious, is it part of routine procedure when you have senior White House officials in a helicopter to have the second one for communication? I mean, was it the fact that there was senior officials on the first helicopter that made the second one necessary for communications?
MR. GEARAN: Let me be as precise a I can on this. That alone would not necessitate that as I understand it. It is usual for them, because they want to do the practice missions and different training missions, this literally happens every day in this area --as I said, with 11 other missions that day -- to have these training missions ongoing.
Q Do they travel in pairs normally?
MR. GEARAN: Normally. And that's why I said in answer to Ruth's question, probably. Because that is the normal though --as in this instance, did not exactly mirror helicopter number one. That is, it didn't land. It went to Frederick -- or it went to Gettysburg. You know, it was around, but it was not an exact flight.
Q How many of these helicopters are there that look like that?
MR. GEARAN: I do not know the answer.
Q To the extent that part of the trip was apparently legitimate in that he was going to do, to check out some construction at Camp David, are they going to pro rate the cost and just make him pay for the part that was a diversion to the golf course or will he pay for the cost of both helicopters or the fund pay for the whole cost of both helicopters going from Anacostia to Camp David to the golf course and back?
MR. GEARAN: In the instance of the first -- we're going to pay for both. Is that what you're saying?
Q Part of the trip was apparently legitimate to go on this, to check out construction at Camp David.
MR. GEARAN: Oh, no. The whole thing's being paid for.
Q But do you think it was appropriate to use the helicopter to get to Camp David?
MR. GEARAN: Part of David's responsibility is Camp David. And it is not -- there are instances where that could be appropriate. We are reimbursing it to avoid any appearance because of the nature of this trip and the resulting controversy to --
Q inappropriate in this instance?
MR. GEARAN: That's not for me to judge.
Q Can I just try my question again about whether Mr. Watkins declined or balked at the idea of paying the whole cost of the reimbursement?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know the sequence of events. I do know that senior White House officials did this and Phil Lader's been coordinating..
Q Can you say, was this fund discussed at senior staff this morning?
MR. GEARAN: No, it was not.
Q Was it brought up after that? Or before that?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know if Mack and others --
Q Were you called and solicited individually?
MR. GEARAN: I was. I don't know how the others were done.
Q How were you called? How were you notified?
MR. GEARAN: Phil Lader.
Q He called you up individually and said what?
MR. GEARAN: He explained that several people were working on this and people were wanting to --
Q And asked for a particular amount?
MR. GEARAN: No.
Q He said, will you kick in whatever we eventually ask for?
MR. GEARAN: I'm sorry?
Q You made an open-ended commitment to kick in a share or a specific --
MR. GEARAN: I have not made an open-ended -- (laughter) -- you may want to visit with Mr. Rubin on -- (laughter) --
Q committed to commit, to put in?
MR. GEARAN: Well, we will get back to you. Here's the deal -- once this is finalized. We have not received a calculation from the Department of Defense. We have senior White House officials that are doing this. We will be happy to -- we've released the names of that. How much the entire bill is is not available to me to give to you right now. We'll be happy to --
Q divvy it up, or what?
MR. GEARAN: I don't think it got that far.
Q you didn't mention Dee Dee's name. Is she --
Q You're looking at dividing up bill of several thousand dollars.
MR. GEARAN: Dee Dee's out of town. I don't know.
Q Were all assistants to the President asked --
Q What are you talking about? About $20 grand? I mean, you surely have some estimate.
MR. GEARAN: All we have the estimate is $2,380 per hour.
Q Were all the assistants to the President asked to contribute?
MR. GEARAN: I don't know that.
Q Our understanding was -- from another senior administration official -- was that the payment would be based only on the flight time, not on the time that it was sitting on the ground. So, is that correct?
MR. GEARAN: Yes. DOD will calculate this based on their standard procedure, which is per hour of flight time, is my understanding.
Q Only flight time. So let's say that they played for four hours or something.
MR. GEARAN: The helicopter left.
Q Right, that's what I'm saying. So the helicopter goes back to Anacostia. Are they charged for not only the time in the air, but the time that it sits in Anacostia?
MR. GEARAN: No -- flight time.
Q The other helicopter is flying around for its mission, will be charged, is that correct?
MR. GEARAN: Yes.
Q If it went up to Gettysburg and -
Q It didn't go back to Anacostia with the first one and then come back on the second trip?
MR. GEARAN: I don't believe so. I'll have to --
Q Considering how controversial this little trip was, could you let us know what it is he was going to inspect, what the new construction is at Camp David?
MR. GEARAN: I'm not certain what any security items are relevant to that and what can be appropriately --
Q Could you find out, and if it's not something top secret, let us know?
MR. GEARAN: Sure.
Q Mark, is the review of the log now completed? In other words, there is no more investigation of the possibility that other aides to Mr. Watkins could have been on the flights?
MR. GEARAN: On flights --
Q On helicopter flights. In other words, as far as the White House is concerned, is this all behind you now?
MR. GEARAN: Yes. I think maybe I should just close with this. Let me try to just close and summarize what we've done.
We have reviewed the helicopter situation. We have an exchange of letters that we provided to you, including the resignation and the circumstances surrounding Al Maldon. We have worked to get as much information as we can to you in terms of flights and the arrangements of that and the manifest of that. We've had a review of other flights that would fall into anywhere near the circumstances, and have discussed with you the instance of the George Washington. We've discussed the other senior officials that will be assisting Mr. Maldon and Mr. Watkins in the repayment of this.
And I think that's consistent what the President said from here at this podium yesterday, that the taxpayers will not be out any. The Chief of Staff's letter speaks for the Chief of Staff on how this is best characterized. And I think that's how it's appropriately --
Q You seem to leave it open -- the whether or not Watkins refused to pay this bill. Your senior officials are doing this because they're friends. But you're not addressing whether or not Watkins said, I'm not going to pay all that. Is that because you don't know or --
MR. GEARAN: It is because I do not know whether -- as I said, what the sequence of that was. I'm not aware that that's the case. I do know that senior officials are offering to do this.
Q It's not a question of sequence. Regardless of what order things happened in, the question is, did Watkins say, I ain't going to pay it?
Q Can you take that question?
MR. GEARAN: The question is whether what?
Q Did Watkins refuse or decline to pay some or all of the cost of the reimbursement the President demanded?
MR. GEARAN: He is certainly paying some.
Q Well, or even express reluctance to pay it all?
MR. GEARAN: I'm happy to get as much information to you as we can.
Q Mark, one more time, just for the record, could you read those names?
MR. GEARAN: Yes, sorry. Terry Hunt -- (laughter ). Mack McLarty, Phil Lader, Harold Ickes, David Gergen, George Stephanopoulos, Bob Rubin, Lloyd Cutler, Eli Segal, Mark Gearan, Pat Griffin, Alexis Herman, Carol Rasco, Christine Varney.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END7:22 P.M. EDT