THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
4:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, let me do some updates. The President this afternoon has received a briefing on the FBI report by Jack Quinn. Obviously, the President concurs in the finding that there were egregious violations of privacy that occurred here. As you know, he had already expressed his apology for that.
He also concurs in the new procedures that have been outlined now in the memorandum you've received from Mr. Quinn that really will provide an unprecedented degree of safeguard for the request of background information from the FBI.
What's clear from the FBI report is that this White House inherited a system that had been in place for roughly three decades, dating back to the Nixon and Johnson administrations. But it's also clear there should have been much greater management scrutiny of the procedures used to request and obtain this material. And just as Director Freeh took responsibility for the management shortcomings that existed at the FBI, the President and the Chief of Staff and the White House Legal Counsel take responsibility here at the White House for the management inadequacies that existed in the process used to obtain this information.
Because the FBI report itself does not express an opinion on the motivations of White House employees that requested this material, and because I got a lot of questions earlier about Craig Livingstone, I'd like to read a declaration that he has made that we will have available for you later.
It says in part, "I was never asked to obtain, I never instructed anyone to obtain, I never sought myself to obtain, and I never disseminated or asked anyone else to disseminate any information I learned from any FBI background files on any person for any improper purpose whatsoever." He makes that declaration under penalty of perjury, which he acknowledges.
Q To whom did he make this declaration?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a written declaration that he has made and is being made available publicly.
Q But why would it occasion a perjury charge?
MR. MCCURRY: In making that statement he says, "I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct --
Q Did he say who did ask for --
Q Is it an affidavit or --
MR. MCCURRY: It's a sworn statement.
Q From his lawyer? Did he have to --
Q Or White House counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: It's from him. The White House Legal Counsel requested it of him because of the questions I got here earlier, and I think also because the FBI can't address that portion of the inquiry at the request of the independent counsel.
Q So this was done this afternoon, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: This was done this afternoon.
Q -- deposition or something?
Q Is he still going to be working here doing the same stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no evidence that we're aware of that would call into question the statement that he's now made.
Q I know that, Mike, but if he's not responsible for what are called egregious violations of privacy, then who is?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as I just said, Brit.
Q The President is responsible.
MR. MCCURRY: The President took responsibility for the management inadequacies that exist and he's apologized for --
Q Well, there's responsibility and accountability. Who is being held accountable for the egregious violations of privacy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- there are shortcomings in the system and the shortcomings are now being addressed by the institution of new procedures by the White House Legal Counsel. Now, as to accountability, remember we inherited a system here that has been in place for three decades. It's the same procedures, it's now been established by the FBI, used by President Bush and his administration. So it's not clear that there's something here that someone "should be held accountable for." People need to be held accountable for the fact that there was not sufficient attention to the privacy concerns, as the FBI report indicates. And we've taken responsibility for that today by instituting these new procedures.
Q You're saying, in other words, that if the system permitted abuses it makes it okay for people to have abused it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because there is no evidence that there's -- in fact, you've now got an indication that there has been no "abuse." What there has been is improper, insufficient attention to privacy considerations.
Q You don't consider violation of privacy an abuse?
MR. MCCURRY: The "violation of privacy" was not the dissemination of material from these files, it was the request of background files that were mistakenly requested from the FBI that should not have been in possession --
Q Do you really want to be quoted today as saying there's been no abuse?
MR. MCCURRY: "Abuse" would be a violation of the privacy act -- I think is what you're alleging. In other words, information from these files was disseminated to a party that didn't have authorization to have possession of materials. Is that what you mean by abuse? There's no evidence that that has occurred, Brit.
Q Well, let me try this another way. Freeh also says in his statement that the FBI and I, meaning he himself, were victimized. By whom?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not understand that statement.
Q Why did you say he took responsibility when he obviously doesn't? He's passing the buck.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he takes responsibility for the management inadequacies that paid insufficient attention to the need to protect privacy.
Q But he doesn't say that, does he? I mean, he says he's victimized.
MR. MCCURRY: Are you talking about Mr. Freeh?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't understand that statement. And in fact, in part, if his concern was that improper use may have been made of these files, we now have a statement here that indicates -- in the sworn statement of this individual that no improper use was made.
Q But he says, does he not, that the system that was in effect relied on trust and honor and that, unfortunately, he and the FBI were victimized. Do you disagree with that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't interpret that statement from you, but I think it was because there were mistaken requests for information made. And we've acknowledged that there were mistaken requests for information made.
Q But, generally speaking, when you request an FBI file of this nature, don't you have to notify the subject matter of that file, the person?
MR. MCCURRY: No. To the contrary. You do now as a result of the changes we made today.
Q No, but I thought in testimony on the Hill that was a point made. If a congressman wanted, for instance, to see somebody's FBI file you'd have to notify the subject.
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not -- the report addresses very clearly what the process is for requesting information.
Q A technical question. Each time the report is re-requested, does the person have to give consent? In other words, not when the initial investigation is made, but each time somebody has some new reason to get a hold of the file, they once again have to be notified --
MR. MCCURRY: I take that from Mr. Quinn's memo. He indicates the individual's consent must be current specifically and must have been signed by the individual within 30 days of the White House request to the FBI. I think that's pretty clear.
Q Had the President talked to Freeh at all about this and his victimization and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q It's a very odd statement I think for a head of an agency.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't interpret his statement. I'm not -- as I say, I don't know what he meant by that.
Q Mike, are you going to release the list of the 71 additional files?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me run through that so you've got some understanding of that. We will give to you an exchange of correspondence with Mr. Shapiro -- between Howard Shapiro and Jane Sherbourne, the assistant counsel, and attach to it the 138 names of individuals both currently employed at the White House and previously employed at the White House for whom there were questions about the files made. They were included in the request and made during the period covered by the White House.
You will recall, what we had released previously was a list of about 380-plus names that represented the index compiled by a worker in the office of Personnel Security who had compiled an index of material that had gone into archives. That was kind of an archives index. Working with the FBI they determined what were the requests made during this period of additional names in that Aa to Go alphabetical category that came in in that period.
You also will see, by the way, that we had surrendered those that we should not have, kept those that we should have. You'll see that there are names included on the list of 138 people that are currently employed at the White House, so we kept those files that we properly should have, surrendered those that we shouldn't have to the FBI. And as you saw in Mr. Quinn's memorandum, we're also asking the FBI to come in and make a review of those files that we currently have. So you can make absolutely sure that those that we have here are here properly.
Q Does that exchange of letters include the names of those individuals?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but attached to the exchange of letters will be the list of 138.
Q Mike, in this case and in the previous case of the White House Travel Office, individuals either accidentally or otherwise created great embarrassment for the President. And yet in no case has anyone been fired. Why is that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been changes in personnel since the time that we're talking about here, December of 1993, in several cases. And as to the particular director of the office involved here, there's a statement here that says that nothing improper was done. And we have no information that contradicts that.
Q Well, Mike, why were these files mistakenly -- why were these mistaken request for information made? This statement --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because as the President has indicated, the information available to us at this point appears to be that it was an innocent bureaucratic mistake, that it was --
Q I mean, has Livingstone explained how, why, who told him to do this, if anyone told him?
MR. MCCURRY: You have this statement now that complements the statement that was made by Mr. Marceca that explains that they were working to update background files here, as something called the Update Project.
Q Wouldn't you agree that when Director Freeh says "I've been victimized," that the clear implication is that the White House -- that some people in the White House were the victimizers?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not going to interpret that statement. I don't know what he meant by that. I think he --
Q Why don't you ask him what he meant?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're in a position to do so as well.
Q No, we're not. He won't see anybody.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what I have done is provide to you that, in a sense, as the FBI report says itself, it was a process here, if anything, worked too smoothly -- and it worked smoothly and it worked efficiently, but it didn't have sufficient management scrutiny, because there are special requirements that attend to government officials, especially now in the years since passage of the Privacy Act of 1974, that require greater attention to the privacy needs of American citizens, including those who would like to work for their government or for the White House. And there is a lapse in management when those privacy considerations have not been adequately safeguarded. And by all accounts, and certainly by information in this report today, there have been insufficient attention to those privacy considerations.
Now, we acted today to correct that here at the White House. The director of the FBI acted today to correct that at the FBI. To my knowledge, no one in a senior position at either the White House or the FBI was aware of the inadequacy of these procedures until last week, when they came to light.
Q Mike, is anyone being otherwise disciplined for this bureaucratic mistake and, if so, who and how?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no indication at this point that there has been events that would call into question the confidence that we would have in people who are responsible here. We will continue to look at -- we've obviously made some changes in procedures here today and we'll continue to look and examine the facts here. And, as you know, the independent counsel will continue to investigate this matter.
Q How does it look for people to go -- move on without the appearance of unpunished for what has been called an egregious mistake?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the egregious mistake was not being pristinely sensitive to the need to have procedures that protect privacy. The procedures were inadequate, and we've acted today to correct those procedures. But to our knowledge, no one in positions of responsibility were aware of the inadequacies of those procedures until this matter came to light.
Q Mike, I just wonder if you could describe to us how it came about that the Livingstone statement was adduced and by whom? The reason I ask is that we were given to understand that the counsel's office and other White House officials felt precluded from consulting with someone such as Livingstone because of the other inquiries.
MR. MCCURRY: The issue, since it came up in my earlier briefing today at some great length, and because the report itself is silent on the question of motive -- at the request of the independent counsel -- the judgement of the White House was that it would be helpful to have a statement from Mr. Livingstone if he was in a position to make such a statement. That request was relayed by the White House legal counsel's office to Mr. Livingstone's attorney.
Q Was there any thought of --
Q Wait a minute. How does that square with the statement that it's not appropriate to approach him?
MR. MCCURRY: It was not appropriate for us to do any type of independent investigation of this matter or take any independent deposition --
Q It's a little unclear how you can be in a situation where when asked questions about this, bombarded -- your counsel's office has been bombarded with questions about how this came about, motivation, all that all week long. Can't answer those questions, we were told; not conducting any independent inquiry. The FBI comes out with a blistering report and all of a sudden, presto, you've got a statement from this guy that basically buttresses your assertions here.
MR. MCCURRY: We are not in a position to do an independent inquiry and Mr. Livingstone's decision, through his attorney, to release this statement is his decision.
Q But you asked for it.
MR. MCCURRY: We suggested it would be helpful, yes.
Q And in the briefing this afternoon we repeatedly asked and you said, no, we can't go to him, it would --
MR. MCCURRY: I said we weren't doing an independent investigation of this matter.
Q Mike, not as a matter of discipline, but just as a practical matter, is it not a problem for the White House not to be able to talk with one of its members of its own staff except through an attorney? How can that person be said to be doing his job properly if you have to go through a third party just to communicate with somebody who is on your own staff?
MR. MCCURRY: His current work is subject to the supervision by the legal counsel's office, and he's being supervised.
Q Can you tell us about the 17 files that were unaccounted for, at least in the FBI statement?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently they just have not been able to reconcile whether those people are either currently employed. They're still looking at those 17 cases. And, as I said earlier and as Jack Quinn's memo says, the FBI will come in and they will resolve those 17 cases shortly at the request of the White House legal counsel.
Q In the FBI report it said that about 400 files were -- did not have justification for their request during -- they said part is the normal flow of requests. That's over a three month period. How many files do you request over a three month period, normally.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I don't know the total number. The volume of requests generally in that period is addressed in the FBI report.
Q Why, Mike, was this problem not discovered and remedied when you first scrubbed the documents asked for by Clinger's subpoena?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the problem was not discovered because in place was a process used both at the White House and at the FBI for some three decades. It just was in place and when people inquired as to the process they said what we're using is, I think, generally, as the FBI hints here, generally people would say we're following the same procedures that have been used by the prior White House. So people didn't question whether or not those were adequate procedures or not. This came to light because of the form itself requesting Billy Dale's file. It went to Clinger and that then occasioned the opportunity for both the FBI and the White House to discover that these procedures are inadequate.
Q Why did not that form trigger, or catch the attention of the person who scrubbed the documents -- that form and the many others?
MR. MCCURRY: Principally, because it was a standard form used and, as I had indicated to you before, no one noticed the date on it, which would have then triggered the concern.
Q Have you come up with anything on questions you were asked in the briefing today about previous relationship between Livingstone and Marceca, and how Livingstone came to be in his post?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have anything further on that.
Q Former Senator Dole just now, hot on the campaign trail, is raising new questions about the relationship between Livingstone and Marceca, saying that Marceca was not simply some innocent civilian Army employee, but was a political operative.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm sure since Senator Dole raised the issue he would do so only after having information that he could substantiate, so he should provide that information --
Q Oh, come on, Mike. I mean, the guy worked here. Isn't it a reasonable question to ask if what he says is true?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure the question will be asked.
Q What's the answer?
Q We're asking you at the moment.
MR. MCCURRY: During the course of the independent counsel's --
Q Well, can you answer that question? Are you able to answer that question?
Q What's the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: I just answered it. I said I didn't have any further information. Okay.
Q Hang on. Wait a minute. Mike, about the 70 names, the extra names, in addition to the 330 that you've already released?
Q And is Brasseux one of those names?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Well, it's established. What you'll see in the letter is -- again, do I need to -- was that not clear when I walked up here, that before?
Q No. Try again.
MR. MCCURRY: The 380 names that you've got -- you got a list of 380 names before. That was an index of files that went into an archive.
Q The 330, you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: Three-thirty, or whatever. What was the number?
Q Yeah, right.
Q The original list.
MR. MCCURRY: The original list was a list that had been generated by an employee who was sending these files to archives. So this was an archive index. That was not --
Q -- Marceca? I'm sorry, who --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that was the successor to Marceca.
Q Compiled a list of the names that they got improperly?
MR. MCCURRY: Right. So in working and looking and examining this, the FBI said, well, you also have fitting into this series what we have identified as 138 additional requests. Now, you'll see that they thought it was 142 but, in fact, they gave us two duplicates and there were two that they had already -- that had already been returned and covered in the previous request. So the actual number as we'd established it was 138. This is all covered in this exchange of correspondence, though, you'll see that.
And out of the 138 additional names, some of those are people who are currently employed at the White House, so we need to have their background information available here. There were an additional, I think, 74 that were not previously known to have been in possession of the White House improperly. They've now been surrendered back to the FBI. The 17 that are still at question and -- asked the FBI to come and do a thorough review of the files that we do have in our possession to make sure that we have them properly.
Q Why don't you tell us who the additional 70 are.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are in the list of 138. Someone could probably go through and do that, but some of the names you'll recognize as current employees. Most of the names, frankly, I did recognize.
Q Mike, just to understand how the procedure works with the FBI doing a background check, which then comes to an agency that the White House controls, how -- for example, if there was an aide who was a member of the Freemen, for example, and the administration decided to overlook that, I mean, where's the -- it's almost as if you're policing you're own organization here, rather than --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a clue what you're asking. What are you trying to ask?
Q Yes, the question wasn't phrased right. I'm sorry, I'm trying --
MR. MCCURRY: Want to try it again?
Q Yes, let me try it again. The FBI makes the background check, but then it comes to the White House and the White House decides whether that information qualifies or disqualifies a person for employment here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the -- the information is properly used according to the statutes, but probably there's a good review of the statutory already in the FBI report, and that information can be used to make judgments on the fitness of a candidate for employment either here at the office or for employment by the President. Yes, that's the way it --
Q Back to that list, though. You said it's got both wrongly obtained names and people who were rightly obtained, plus the 17 you don't know. But you haven't given us the list of the 138. Are you going to release that?
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to give you the list of all 138.
Q And the exchange of letters, you said?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It's going to be attached to the exchange of letters.
Q How soon is that likely to be available?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's probably available -- are they right outside? You can probably get it now, yes.
Q This might be a technical question, but you were talking about the files as if they exist only in hard copy. But I'm assuming that some of this is also computerized, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that question was addressed in the FBI report, what the magnetic data is that's available and I don't know --
Q It exists -- presumably it exists here on paper only, right?
MR. MCCURRY: And I don't understand that sufficiently to --
Q So no one here would have access to a computerized record?
MR. MCCURRY: No one?
Q Outside of the Counsel's Office?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- I don't believe that any of this data is electronic data; I believe it's hard copy data. But I don't know that for certain as a fact, so I have to look further into that. The process indicated in the FBI report is that they make photocopies of the material and then stamp and log the photocopies and then send them by courier here. That's the way it's explained.
Again, I'm just going to close this by saying, you know, you guys, everyone has a responsibility to be scrupulous in their reporting. But I'm not aware of any evidence that's developed in any of these discussions here that indicate any improper use of this material or anything that contradicts the President's assertion that this appears to be an innocent bureaucratic mistake. And if Senator Dole or anybody has information to the contrary they should come forward and provide that to the independent counsel who is investigating the matter.
Q I think somebody asked this earlier, I'm not sure if it got answered. Who -- Livingstone swore to this statement before who? His lawyer?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll see, it's just a -- it's a declaration, a sworn statement and he signs it and says --
Q Is it notarized? Is it notarized?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no -- in the copy I have no indication of a notarization. Okay.
END 5:08 P.M. EDT