THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:21 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everyone. We just have distributed a statement on the President's meeting with President Clerides. I don't think I need to add to that, other than to draw attention to the fact that the President did dispatch his special emissary, Ambassador Beattie, who will be departing next month, looking at the key issues that will be necessary for a comprehensive settlement to the dispute in Cyprus, with an emphasis on security issues. Beyond that, I think the statement covers the read-out of the meeting.
Any other questions? Good, all right. (Laughter.)
Q Do we know when the President is going to give his testimony in the Branscum-Hill case?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know, no.
Q There was a wire report that it would be later this week. Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that depends on what -- they're still in jury selection, according to the news accounts I've seen. So I think it will depend on what the timing is at trial.
Q Over the weekend there was a flurry of activity among central bankers and finance ministers to stave off what threatened to be a potential financial meltdown as a result of the Sumitomo crisis. Has there been meetings at the White House to monitor the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we certainly are aware of the concern in the international financial community, but I'd direct you to the Treasury Department and to Secretary Rubin for further discussion of the specific things that we have been looking at.
Q What do you think of the Senate Whitewater committee's report which makes some pretty harsh allegations against the First Lady and other White House officials and friends of the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know, technically, it's not even out yet, but it's leaking ad hominem at this point.
Q Well, what do you think about that? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's par for the course. That's the way they do business up there when you're engaged in this type of political vendetta. And that's all this is, because the facts have long been known and there's nothing left except for them to attempt to get further political mileage out of baseless charges.
Q Mike, do you think the committee's submission of questions to Mrs. Clinton was a legitimate attempt to get the truth, or something else?
MR. MCCURRY: I agree with everything Mr. Kendall has said in his letter, which you have by now.
Q Do you know what the President thinks about this?
MR. MCCURRY: He agrees with the letter Mr. Kendall sent.
Q Mike, did Mrs. Clinton or any White House aides in any way try to limit or hinder Whitewater investigations?
MR. MCCURRY: We offered full cooperation, as Mr. Kendall's letter indicates.
Q Mike, does the President not feel any need to come to the First Lady's defense publicly in this -- in these charges back and forth?
MR. MCCURRY: He has, but I think he trusts the American people to see a political vendetta, political campaign, for what it is.
Q Mike, now that's its become known that -- for whatever reason -- the people who are handling the personnel security specifically were involved in the acquisition of the FBI files had extensive background of political activity, does the White House now think it might be a good idea to get the political operatives away from the FBI files?
MR. MCCURRY: The President thinks the policies and procedures implemented by the White House legal counsel last week are designed to protect privacy and are very well drafted and well crafted, under the circumstances.
Q Wait a minute. That doesn't answer my question.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that it makes very clear the -- if you look at the procedures that are underway, the consent that it needs to be given and the oversight of any requests for files like that very clearly puts it in the hands of --
Q No, but Mike, you've got files here. You've got files here, still here.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the files that are here now, as you know from Mr. Quinn's memo, will be reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And any that are not properly here will be immediately surrendered. That was in Mr. Quinn's memo.
Q But you still have people with access to those files, with extensive political backgrounds, who are not -- my only question is whether it would be a good idea to get the political operatives away from the FBI files, regardless of these other procedures.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is already the case now that the only access to those files are those who are authorized to have access and need to have access for the performance of their official duties.
Q Mike, related to that, following up on a leftover question from Friday, have you all been able to discern how it was that this fellow who was identified as the Army investigator detailed here arrived into this post?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the circumstances of his detail.
Q And how it was -- how was Mr. Livingstone chosen? Who brought him here?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the circumstances of his detail.
Q Will you find out?
Q Yes, those questions were asked on Friday. Is there some way to --
MR. MCCURRY: I will check and see whether or not they are within the province of things that the investigators are looking at. If so, I doubt that I'm going to be able to provide an answer.
Q On how the guys were hired?
Q Mike, one of the early explanations we got for the list that was drawn up was that it was an outdated Secret Service list. Over the weekend, the Secret Service told Republicans that is not possible, that there is no such thing as an outdated Secret Service list with people on the pass -- who haven't had passes for a year. Is that explanation now to be regarded as inoperative, and do you have a new explanation?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House legal counsel is working with investigators from both the FBI and the independent counsel to determine the nature of the list that was used to request the files. Because of that, I don't have anything that I can add. I don't know the nature of the lists or how the lists were generated that were used for the update project.
Q Mike, does the President still say it was all a bureaucratic snafu?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Is the White House going to amend any previous comments about Mr. Marceca in light of things, like today's Washington Post editorial which shows him to be more or less a political veteran?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Does the White House have hard copy of the list itself?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Do you have hard copy of the list itself -- presumably they were working from a list. Do you have it? Is it dated?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answers to that. That clearly would be something that the investigators properly will be looking at.
Q Mike, back to Whitewater. Are White House aides mentioned in the leaks apprehensive about further investigations regarding perjury and obstruction of justice for them?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how seriously they take these baseless political charges that are emanating from the committee.
Q Will Mrs. Clinton -- will this have an impact on Mrs. Clinton's role in the campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Does the White House consider it acceptable for people with a political background to be in charge of the Office of Personnel Security?
MR. MCCURRY: That has been the history of that office, to my understanding.
Q Why is it necessary to have anybody running an office of political security -- personnel security, I mean?
MR. MCCURRY: That office, historically, has the assignment of assisting people as they go through the background check process, as they get the necessary credentials to work here, and as they maintain the security clearances they need to perform their work here. So that is work that is not done within the province of the Secret Service.
Q Mike, you mentioned on Friday that the President would be wrapping G-7 tentative plans today. Are there any plans to meet with the Japanese Prime Minister? And will he be discussing trade issues?
MR. MCCURRY: They do have, I think, a scheduled bilateral during the course of the meeting. We'll be able to get you more on his full schedule for Lyon later on.
Q One of the news magazines today quotes three former Clinton White House officials as saying that Craig Livingstone used to say to them, I read your FBI background report, alluding to that he knew all about their own personal peccadillos or whatever. Is anyone asking Craig Livingstone if he has made these kinds of statements to former officials, because that does raise questions about whether he is qualified to be in such a sensitive position?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether that would be in the province of the investigation that is underway.
Q Which investigation would that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's an investigation underway -- the White House has dealt with both the independent counsel and with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Q What you're saying is the White House legal counsel is working to find out the nature of the list and how it was developed or where it came from.
MR. MCCURRY: We're working to provide answers to the inquiry that is now underway.
Q Would that include the discussions, perhaps, of Mr. Livingstone and Mr. Marceca by the White House counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be those that the investigators are required to complete their work.
Q But there's still no internal investigation?
Q Does that mean members of Starr's staff has been over at the White House in the last couple, three days?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been contacts with the independent counsel.
Q What kind of contacts?
Q When did they occur?
MR. MCCURRY: You would have to ask the legal counsel's office.
Q Mike, the President had said in the past that he wouldn't tolerate abuses of files and anyone responsible would be fired forthwith. Can you explain to us why Craig Livingstone still works here and why, if this is inexcusable, there's been no disciplinary action against anyone?
MR. MCCURRY: In a sworn statement indicating he understands that the penalty for perjury applies, he specifically denies that any improper use was made of any of these files.
Q Do we know what he meant by the word "improper"?
MR. MCCURRY: If anyone has evidence to the contrary, I think that you should come forth and provide it to the investigators.
Q Did the President have any visitors at Camp David over the weekend? Were there any meetings at Camp David that you're aware of?
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of. He had a nice Father's Day with his family, but I'll check and see if he had anyone else.
Q Mike, Billy Dale and the others weren't afforded the same sort of courtesy when they were accused of mismanagement of the funds. They were summarily fired and found not to have done anything other than a little sloppy bookkeeping. Why is there a different criteria for Mr. Livingstone?
MR. MCCURRY: Because personnel matters are different in each and every case.
Q Can you elaborate on your comment this morning that you're getting the job done on the Wisconsin welfare plan. What's happening actually?
MR. MCCURRY: The Department of Health and Human Services is working on the waiver request, and they intend to get it done.
Q Do you have a time?
Q What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It's currently within the 30-day review period.
Q In hindsight, Mike, does the President regret having spoken what might seem precipitously about that plan in the radio address? Has he asked any aides to sort of say why they didn't do a better job reviewing what was actually in the plan?
MR. MCCURRY: No, absolutely not. The Wisconsin welfare reform experiment is an important one. It's an exciting one because of all of the things that Governor Thompson has pledged to do and the state legislature has now enacted. And the waiver request, though it's a complicated one, is being worked on diligently by the Department of Health and Human Services, and they're going to get it finished so that the experiment can go forward.
Q So they're going to grant it.
MR. MCCURRY: They've made it quite clear that they're going to get it done so that the experiment can move forward.
Q What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: They are going to get done a waiver that will allow the kind of experiment that Wisconsin has put forward, put it in place. Governor Thompson --
Q But not one which necessarily follows the Thompson plan to the letter?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's the Wisconsin plan. The state has submitted a waiver request pursuant to the action by the legislature.
Q So, in other words, it will grant all of the waivers that Wisconsin seeks?
MR. MCCURRY: It will -- there are specific waivers sought in two separate sets of batches and it's a very complex document that everyone at HHS is working with, on the waiver request with the goal of getting it done.
QQ So the President has no more reservations about it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's fully supportive of the Wisconsin model for welfare reform.
Q Does the President share the reservations about the Wisconsin proposals that the HHS officials have?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure which reservations you're referring to.
Q Medicaid --
MR. MCCURRY: I've seen a statement from Mr. Thurm indicates as much as I've just told you, that they're working to get it done. I'm not aware of any other --
Q But when you say, "get it done," you're saying they're negotiating with Wisconsin on all the various details, they have some problems with --
MR. MCCURRY: But we have to negotiate -- when a state submits these waiver requests, we negotiate with the state and make sure that we get something that meets the test of federal law. The last administration failed to do that, and since they had a waiver thrown out. And we don't want to see the welfare reform experiment in Wisconsin challenged in the courts and struck down.
Q Well, picking up on that point, there is apparently at least one aspect of this waiver request that it's not in the power of the administration unilaterally to grant, because it would be violative of federal laws, as I understand it -- I forget whether it's the Medicaid provision. There's one provision, as I understood it explained in the paper on Saturday, that the administration cannot overturn an existing federal law by granting this waiver. There's one narrow --
MR. MCCURRY: Can you specify that? I'm not sure what provision --
Q Now, I can't remember, but it's one of these
Q It's the appeal for --
Q It's a fair hearing.
Q Yes, it's a fair hearing thing, yes.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look into that. Maybe you can contact HHS and find out specifically about that.
Q Is the President going to take a train ride to Chicago to the convention?
MR. MCCURRY: He certainly thinks that's a dandy idea if it can be worked out.
Q From here or from --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll give you details when we have details.
Q Mike, were you at all encouraged by Senator Lott's comments over the weekend regarding Kennedy-Kassebaum and minimum wage? And is there any follow-up today?
MR. MCCURRY: We've been encouraged by his conversation, by his remarks, by our conversations with his staff over the weekend, continuing today. There seems to be a good-faith effort to reach some agreement that would allow passage of the Kassebaum-Kennedy measure. And that would be good. We look forward to seeing if we can't make progress on a piece of legislation that will make health care coverage portable for those who are changing jobs.
Q Mike, one of the things we have learned in the FBI files story is that another invasion of Billy Dale's privacy took place, which the White House says was inexcusable. Would the White House like to encourage Senate Democrats to go ahead and approve the bill that would pay Bill Dale's legal fees?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, I'm not sure what the status is. The last I heard it was pending in the House. I don't know what the status of that is.
Q No, it's passed the House. It's pending in the Senate and caught up in the gridlock, and presumably if the White House said it was interested, it would go through.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it might -- you know, my recollection is when it was in the Senate, or pending on the Senate floor, the issue was the same one that has -- the Senate Democrats have attached to every piece of legislation moving in the Senate, which was the minimum wage. They want to see the minimum wage increased. And we are, frankly, hopeful that we might get some movement on that as well.
Q So it's okay with you if Billy Dale suffers in that fight?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's got substantial relief pending in a piece of legislation, to my knowledge, doesn't face opposition; it's tied up in the strong support the Senate Democrats have for raising the minimum wage. And the President, obviously, also wants to see the minimum wage increased. And we hope that the legislative impediments to a variety of pieces of legislation can be broken. And the way to do that is to raise the minimum wage.
Q Mike, the Southern Baptists -- does the President have any comment or any feeling about the Walt Disney boycott?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't expressed one publicly. Several of us have talked to him about it, and he thinks that -- just as he does from time to time in positions taken by his denomination, he doesn't agree with that particular position. It doesn't change his faith or his membership in the denomination.
Q Mike, you've talked about the President's response to the Republican Whitewater report, but he's also Mrs. Clinton's husband. As a husband, why isn't he out there today defending his wife against those charges?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because you have been suckered into reporting selectively a leaked document coming from the President's political opponents. And the President has got a great deal of faith in the American people that they will see that type of political campaign tactic for what it is. It's an unfair charge against her. Now, he has spoken to his support of her, his love of her and his utter confidence that she has told the truth. She has come forward again today and provided additional answers to questions that were submitted at the eleventh hour by this committee.
I mean, Senator D'Amato is, in our opinion, not a very credible or trustworthy presenter of fact when it comes to matters of ethics. So, you know, most Americans, the President believes, see through a political charade when they see one as clear as this one.
Q But, Mike, this report is not just from Senator D'Amato. It's from the entire Majority.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's clearly cooked up by Senator D'Amato, who is very active in Senator Dole's campaign and this has been a pattern and a part of their effort to make political advance on these issues and matters that were raised and answered long ago.
Q Really? The question of what happened to those files and why they didn't turn up all that time was answered a long time ago? Really? Well, then who did it?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not what the question was about, Brit, and you know that.
Q Well, is it how the files disappeared from the Rose law firm? I mean, there are several questions involved in this that have not been answered.
MR. MCCURRY: That question is specifically answered yet again in the affidavit that you just got.
Q No, Mike, it's specifically unanswered --
Q It's not.
MR. MCCURRY: It's answered to the best of Mrs. Clinton's ability to provide an answer.
Q That she doesn't know.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. And neither does the committee. So all the committee -- the Majority is left is doing is speculating and raising innuendo that is designed to impugn her character.
Q Mike, leaving aside the committee majority's conclusion, do the President and First Lady think there are lively, reasonable questions of fact that people --, whatever their partisan politics -- might legitimately have about this ongoing matter? Or are any questions about it, and the providence of these files and the appearance of them and the disappearance of them, are they all illegitimate political questions? Are there any legitimate questions still on the table?
MR. MCCURRY: Those questions that are unanswerable that everyone would like to have answers to, prosecutors or people working for the independent counsel have examined. They have tried to do so in an atmosphere of fairness and judicial prudence, unlike this committee. This committee has operated, entirely almost, in the political realm and have done their work in a very political fashion. Would the President and the First Lady have preferred there had been answers to all these unanswerable questions so we could get this matter behind us a long time ago? Of course. Any sensible person would have. But that's not possible based on what is known to be a fact at this point.
Q Those are some -- many White House officials have said that Kenneth Starr is also motivated by partisan feelings. You just said that you feel that his prosecution is proceeding in an atmosphere of fairness?
MR. MCCURRY: At times. They certainly -- in comparison to the way this committee has conducted itself, they have attempted to be more fair. Have they always been scrupulously fair? You should ask the lawyers that work closely with the counsel's office their opinion of that now.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:40 P.M. EDT