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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 4, 1996
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

10:28 A.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Just give you an update on what the President has been doing today and last evening. He arrived at the Oval Office a short while ago. The President has just approved a proclamation that says that as a mark of respect for Secretary Ron Brown and all those who were killed in the April 3rd crash of the U.S. Air Force aircraft in Croatia, he is ordering that flags be flown at half-staff at the White House and at all public buildings and grounds, at military posts and naval stations, and on naval vessels of the United States government through April 10, 1996.

The President will leave here shortly for a prayer service across the street at St. John's Church. This is an opportunity for the President and members of the White House staff and some others in the administration to reflect in a private way on the loss of Secretary Brown and many of our friends and colleagues.

Q Is it open for coverage?

MR. MCCURRY: The President will speak briefly to some of you at the conclusion of the service. The service is private.

Q And he'll speak where, outside the church?

MR. MCCURRY: Outside the church, yes.

The President has spent last evening and today talking with friends, getting an update late last evening on what we knew from the site. You've all been briefed now by General Estes and by Ambassador Galbraith about what we know about the crash site and what we've been able to determine about the status of the victims of the crash. There's not much that I can add to that.

The President did speak very early this morning with Mrs. Brown to tell her that Brigadier General Mike Canavan, who is the Special Operations Commander on the ground who is at the crash site, did recognize Secretary Brown's body, and the President wanted to convey that directly to Mrs. Brown, which he did this morning.

Q Will she be at the service?

MR. MCCURRY: No. This is not -- there will be a memorial service announced properly once the family has had consultations with military people and really worked out arrangements. This is really just an opportunity for today, as many people at the White House are mourning the loss of our friend, for us to privately reflect on his service and on his exemplary career.

Q Will members of the Cabinet be there?

MR. MCCURRY: There will be a number of people from the administration there.

Q Is that Brown's church, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: St. John's? I don't know the answer to that.

Q Do you have the spelling on General Canavan?

MR. MCCURRY: That's Brigadier General Michael Canavan.

Q Tomorrow in Oklahoma City, how would you foresee the President marking both the loss of Ron Brown and his colleagues as well as the Oklahoma City --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is a day when we reflect on the aftermath of a tragedy just less than a year ago in Oklahoma City, and in some sense, we celebrate the way that community has come together and overcome their grief and started the process of reconciliation and healing. That is a process that I think will be very much in need here at the White House, across Washington and across the nation as people mourn the loss of Secretary Brown and his colleagues. I think it's very appropriate to reflect on the way people do deal with grief and deal with their own sense of loss.

And the President tomorrow, I suspect, will talk about the healing that's occurring in Oklahoma City, but also about, obviously, the loss of a very dear friend.

Q Mike, how does the President plan to proceed with the line-item veto signing?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has two pieces of legislation for disposition, the Farm Bill and the line-item veto bill. I expect at some appropriate point later today he will sign both and we'll put out a written statement on both.

Q Mike, this airplane carried the First Lady, carried Secretary Perry, and now this terrible accident. We've been informed there was no black box in that plane.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't have any information on how the airplane was equipped if it differs from the information has already provided.

Q Will you still be meeting with the German opposition leader today?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that's up in the air at this point. The President plans to make a lot of phone calls today and reach out to some people, and we'll keep you advised on the schedule. The last I heard was not firm one way or another which way he was going to do it.

Q Mike, this morning's service is being conducted at the request or behest of the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: It is. We asked if the church would be willing to guide many of us here in just a short prayer service. It will be about 15 minutes in length and not elaborate by any means.

Q Mike, there's been some speculation that the President would shut the government tomorrow as a sign of respect.

MR. MCCURRY: That kind of speculation that sometimes occurs -- there's nothing to that.

Q Mike, Secretary Brown traveled all over the world, a lot to Latin America. Is the President getting messages from other leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: There are at the State Department, which will prepare a brief on this later today, expressions of condolences coming from around the world. Not only was Secretary Brown an extremely popular figure here in the United States and certainly here at the White House, but he had developed very close and warm relations with trade and economic ministers from around the world, many of whom he knew personally, had met with personally in his vigorous pursuit of a stronger U.S. leadership position in the global economy.

It was one of the hallmarks of his service that he was pretty persistent when it came to making friends on behalf of the United States and on behalf of those involved in commerce here in the United States, all in the benefit of those whose jobs and livelihoods here depend on exports to foreign countries. And his loss, as the Prime Minister of Croatia said today, will be felt in foreign capitals around the globe.

Q Mike, do you know if the President asked anyone over at the Pentagon why that plane had not been diverted yesterday during that storm?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is not -- will be very interested in the answers that are developed by the accident board. He's had a number of questions, as all of us have questions, of how something like this could happen. That's why the United States Air Force has empaneled an accident board to appropriately deal with those kinds of questions.

Q Is the President sending notes to all of the families of the CEOs and staffers and so forth who were aboard?

MR. MCCURRY: He is -- in one way or another, the President and many in the administration want to reach out to all of the families of those who have lost loved ones. And the President will be involved in some of that -- as a matter of fact, already has been in one case -- and will be doing a lot of that I think in the days ahead.

Q Is that by telephone, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: By telephone, notes.

Q Any personal visits planned?

Q Is anything going on yet in terms of naming a successor to Secretary Brown?

MR. MCCURRY: No, and I've already seen some speculation about successors. If you get a hold of anyone here at the White House who engages in that kind of speculation, tell them on my behalf that they ought to be fired. There's been no discussion of that. I've seen one name surface of someone who serves here at the White House who is, frankly, mortified that his name was even mentioned in that connection. And it will be many days before we get to that kind of question.

Q Mike, I know this is a difficult question for you. Can you give us your reflections on Secretary Brown, what he meant to you and to the party and to the White House?

MR. MCCURRY: As some of you know, I had the honor of serving Ron at the Democratic National Committee right after the 1988 presidential election when he was elected National Party Chair. He and I had a fun and interesting and sometimes peculiar relationship, but it was one that was marked by his command focus -- I'll use a word that comes from really his counterpart, Republican National Chairman Lee Atwater, who talked a lot about that. They became Chairs of their respective parties at the same time.

Ron kept a command focus on winning the presidency for the Democratic Party in 1992, and he never wavered from that objective. And at times when a lot of people thought it was a bit foolhardy to even predict it could be done, he went around this country having meetings and encouraging Democrats to believe that we could change this country and we could elect a Democratic president. And I think along with my other dear, departed colleague, Paul Tully, it is absolutely true that Bill Clinton would not be President of the United States were it not for Ron and for Paul and for the work that Ron did at the Democratic Party to rebuild and revitalize a national political institution.

Because of that service and because of the extraordinary work he did, he really earned the opportunity to serve the entire nation as Secretary of Commerce. And his achievements as a political party leader have only been surpassed by the extraordinary service he's rendered as Secretary of Commerce.

Q The reaction, obviously, was shock and disbelief when you got word of it. Do you know what the President's exact words were when he got word?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know his exact words. I mean, the information, as it came to us yesterday, came in such conflicting reports, there was not a moment when we knew for certain until late in the day that the Secretary's plane had likely crashed. So I think there was a sense of disbelief at first, certainly an urgent desire to get more information.

But the President throughout this has, I think, been very saddened by the developments, in a very somber mood, I would describe him as being today, but also very reflective on the service of his friend. He was extremely proud of the work that Ron Brown did for this government. And I think in the coming days he'll have many opportunities to reflect on that service and to talk about it with you. And I think we will all be sharing our memories of someone that we admired greatly.

Q Mike, is the schedule next week all up in the air, for instance the corporate event?

MR. MCCURRY: The April 10th Conference on Corporate Responsibility that we have planned we will postpone and hold at a later date. There are other events that we had given some consideration to, but I think, given the likelihood that we'll be doing a fair amount of grieving next week, it's probably not likely we're going to have a lot of public events that had been previously anticipated.

Q Mike, has the President been briefed on the arrest of this Unabomber suspect?

MR. MCCURRY: We've got the information -- information that we've got available to us is consistent with that which I think you have already heard from Justice. We believe that at some point later today in Montana there will be court proceedings in which and individual will likely be charged with some allegations of breaking federal law. But I'll leave that up to the Justice Department to comment upon in an appropriate time.

Q Had the President been kept up to speed on this prior to yesterday or --

MR. MCCURRY: The White House Legal Counsel's Office had been getting some updates from the Department of Justice and they were shared occasionally and appropriately with the President.

Q Are those the only two bills still here -- I mean, here yet?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm getting a note now that they're saying they are not going to deal with line-item veto today. Is that right? That was a change. But they will deal with the Farm Bill today. And when are they going to deal with the line-item veto?

MS. TERZANO: I don't know.

MR. MCCURRY: They will do that -- we will make a further announcement when we know what we are going to do on line-item veto. That's a change from our planes earlier today.

Anything else?

Q Are you going to brief again?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't plan to. If it's necessary, if there are any developments later in the day, I can be available, but I don't plan right now to do any further briefing today.

Okay. Thank you.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 10:42 A.M. EST