THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
9:15 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everyone. I wanted to gaggle here in the Briefing Room just so more of you could attend. I don't know, why am I doing this here?
Q Why not?
MR. MCCURRY: Why not? Let me do the President's schedule. He's in the middle right now, as you know, of the Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast. This was an idea that -- with several religious leaders in the African American community had suggested to him as part of the healing process dealing with the church fires that we gather together religious leaders who have been dealing with this issue in their states so the President now has a number of Cabinet officials with him as well as representatives of the communities that have been most directly affected by the church burnings -- particularly black churches in the South. We've got a list, I think -- have we put that out? We've got a list of material in there.
The only thing the President will tell them today as part of this gathering that I think will be interesting is that FEMA is putting together a clearinghouse for arson prevention resources. They've actually pulsed the federal government and looked for the best available information and resources on arson prevention. They're setting up a toll-free number, they're going to be offering arson prevention workshops. They'll be able to coordinate with state and local authorities on efforts that the federal government can conduct to reach out and help provide prevention services to individual communities, and I -- I know that most of you, or those of you who are following the bombing in Dhahran have been in contact with the Pentagon. They've been briefing throughout the evening; Ken Bacon has and some of his folks have.
They're also moving public affairs folks up to the base and moving a regional pool in, is my understanding. But DOD has got the best and latest information from Joint Task Force Southwest Asia public affairs people.
As to the President, the President got updates as necessary from NSC during the evening, and then did have a briefing from National Security Advisor Tony Lake this morning in the residence just on the latest reports from the site. It was probably about 7:30 a.m.
Q Does the President have any plans to go to Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's itinerary has not changed. The President -- the issue of whether or not the President should consider a visit to Saudi Arabia was raised, but the President indicated he didn't want to consider that until we had further information from military commanders at the Joint Task Force and also talk to people at the Pentagon.
If we get at some point in coming days where we actively consider a stop in Saudi Arabia, I will alert you so that your news organizations can make appropriate planning.
Q So you haven't ruled it out?
MR. MCCURRY: Haven't ruled it out, but the President was quite keen on understanding exactly what was going on there. As you know, the President did approve this morning sending Secretary of State Christopher to Dhahran and the Secretary is on his way; he's announced that already.
Q There are some -- do you have a follow-up on the itinerary -- I have another question.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first, he will meet with those who are conducting the recovery operation and get further information about the situation on the scene so he can personally brief the President. Secondly, he will be meeting with Saudi government officials to make sure that there is very active coordination of law enforcement efforts. There was after the November bombing; we expect good cooperation from the Saudi government based on our experiences last fall.
The President -- did you do the readout on the call he made last night? The President did have a short phone conversation last evening with King Fahd in which the King expressed his regrets for this tragic incident and his sympathy for the families of the victims, and the President in turn thanked the King for the efficient work of Saudi rescue and law enforcement officials and also thanked him for the pledge of cooperation in investigating the incident and hopefully apprehending those who are responsible.
Q There are a number of questions, and actually one of them -- one is that there is a report that a Saudi facility was also hit, but so far, the Pentagon is saying only Americans. Did the President learn of any Saudi casualties?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, but I'll refer to the Pentagon on that.
Q And also, what is the latest on who did it or whether the U.S. had word of at least three specific threats in those --
MR. MCCURRY: That is a region in the world in which there are threat and threat assessments made regularly. There was increased security at the facility. The Pentagon had briefed on that already; I don't have anything to add to what they've already described as the security procedures that were in place.
Q Do you think, Mike, does this event mean that the President's schedule this morning will be a G-7 statement with some remarks about last night's events, or the other way around -- more about last night less about the --
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the President will start by making reference to the incident, repeating his sense of outrage, his determination to work with the Saudi government to bring those responsible to justice. I believe he will then go on to make the point that within the G-7 there has been a considerable amount of work by the industrialized nations to coordinate counterterrorism efforts, and that has been a subject that, frankly, the United States helped raise on the agenda of the G-7 in recent years. It was already on the agenda for the meeting in Lyon, and the President will indicate that he intends to make that an immediate focus of his presentations when he meets with the other leaders.
He will then go on, because this is a very significant gathering of world leaders, to talk about some of the other aspects of the summit meeting itself.
Q Will he be having concrete proposals or ideas or seeking some further commitments from his summit partners on this issue of terrorism, doing anything that he wasn't already going to be doing on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Because of the President's very strong concern about terrorism in the post-Cold War world, we had already drawn up a series of ideas that we would share with other leaders about efforts to coordinate law enforcement efforts, data-sharing, other aspects of counterterrorism work. That was already in motion for the President's presentation, but obviously what changes now is that there is a horrible incident that raises the urgency of that type of discussion.
Q Mike, two questions. One is, what plans does the administration have, if any, to keep Dole abreast of developments and findings of the investigation?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a good question. It's customary, I believe, for national security information to be available for the nominated candidate. Obviously, he is not yet the nominee of his party, although we understand and fully expect he will be. I would anticipate no objection whatsoever to any security briefings necessary to the former Senator so he understands the situation and the information is available to him. I'll have to check and see if that's offered by Mr. Lake, but it would normally and customarily be available to the nominee of the party, and we certainly in this circumstance would work under the assumption that he is the nominee and fully entitled to information that we can legally provide to him.
Q What is the current administration policy toward foreign-based terrorist attacks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a whole process by which we judge acts of international terrorism, look to see what we can determine about their sponsorship, list that and report that in our annual report on terrorism, called "Patterns of Global Terrorism," which is issued by the State Department, is a matter that becomes a review item for the Secretary of State, and it affects our bilateral relations with other countries if we can determine sponsorship of a particular incident. That's well down the road in this case, since we are still establishing the facts about the circumstances of this incident itself.
Q After the bombing in Israel, we brought in a lot of antiterrorism equipment to Israel; will we be taking similar steps with Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do what it takes to protect U.S. facilities overseas, to be sure. A considerable amount had already been done with respect to that, as the Pentagon has already briefed in some detail. As to counterterrorism cooperation and planning with the Saudi government, there has been some of that already reflected in discussions that senior U.S. officials have had from time to time with Saudi officials. I'll have to check and take the question of whether there will be any additional counterterrorism work.
Q I didn't totally understand your response to the question about the report that there were three specific threats made against this compound. Is there any --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information beyond what the Pentagon has already provided on that.
Q Also, you said that -- you said it strongly last night -- the U.S. will take action against those responsible. What is the latest word on who is to blame?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding from the Pentagon and the information we've had available is that there has been no claim of responsibility made that we are aware of at this point, so we have to investigate this incident much as we investigated the incident last November which led to the successful apprehension of individuals who were later executed by the Saudi government.
Q Did the U.S. then suspect, then, that probably it's Muslim -- those within the Saudi government that believe that are angry with the U.S. --
MR. MCCURRY: That would not be proper to me to speculate on what we think. There was a prior incident -- obviously, the prior incident provides some useful guide to those who will be investigating the incident, but I don't want to speculate as to motive or sponsorship.
Q Has he expressed any opinion or concern about the level of security that was in place?
MR. MCCURRY: That question has been asked here at the White House, and we have been told by the Pentagon the information that they have already made public, that there was significantly enhanced security procedures in place because of the danger that exists very frequently in that region. That is a region that has faced an enormous conflict in the years. It is near to those that we have identified as state sponsors of terrorism, we're well aware that those who have the capacity to carry out terrorist activities are active in that region, and because of that already, there were high-end security procedures.
One thing I would point out based on the information that the Pentagon has briefed to already is the enormous size and destructive power of this bomb, made it possible to overcome clearly some of the security procedures that were in place.
Q The most prominent speculation is that this is in retaliation for those executions after the November -- is that one of the --
MR. MCCURRY: There will be lots of speculation, and I am unfortunately confined to what we know to be factually accurate, and I just don't have anything beyond what I've already told you.
Q You mentioned earlier that Christopher was going to reiterate the U.S. desire for close cooperation on the law enforcement side of this issue. Is the administration satisfied that this snafu that we had a couple of years ago when they didn't cooperate with picking up that fellow on the airliner when he stopped over in Saudi -- that that's been resolved and they will now cooperate with us in apprehending these folks?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had assurances from highest levels of the Saudi government that they will cooperate with our law enforcement efforts. I am familiar from my State Department times roughly with that incident; that was a separate type of incident not directly related to an attack upon U.S. personnel at a facility like this in Saudi Arabia.
Q One last question on that incident. This has been -- Saudi Arabia normally is sort of quiet, but does this raise any concerns about the political stability for Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: We enjoy close cooperations with the Saudi government, and the status of the monarchy is something that is within the province of the Saudi government to address; I really don't have any comment on that.
Q The U.S. would not be concerned about the monarchy being unstable?
MR. MCCURRY: We see no signs that would cause us to be alarmed about the status of the Saudi government.
Q Are there any concerns about the general safety of American citizens abroad in Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: There are already appropriate security notices that are made routinely to U.S. officials, and you can ask at the State Department for the current status of those that relate to Saudi Arabia. They would be the ones that would report any changes in that because they have an obligation to inform all U.S. citizens both in country and externally, and they'll be taking that question over there today, I'm sure.
Q Can I ask a non-Saudi question? The Republicans on the Hill are talking about doing as a continuing resolution since they're so far behind on the appropriations bills, doing a continuing resolution to get them through the election into maybe March or so. Does the President have any thoughts on that, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's last meeting recently with the bipartisan leadership went in a somewhat different direction. There was much discussion there about regular appropriations bills that might emerge from the budget process on the Hill, and we expect there will be some regular appropriations bills that will see final action by Congress and be sent here to the White House for the President's consideration.
How they deal with remaining parts of the government, whether we might be in a continuing resolution situation is really entirely within the province of Republican leaders to address at the moment. Our hope would be that we would continue to work toward the goal of a balanced budget because the President's firmly convinced that there are strong bipartisan majorities in both the House and the Senate that want to enact a balanced budget plan, and at the moment, the best guide or framework for that type of balanced budget plan, in the President's opinion, is our own budget submission.
Q Does this say anything about the Republicans' management of the House or of the Senate and of the appropriations process?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the degree to which they have indicated they're going to consider a continuing resolution. We have said often, both last year and we would say it again this year, that this President managed to finish regular appropriations measures in the timeliness suggested by the Budget Act, and it is unfortunate when that does not happen.
Kevin -- what news? Tell us all at once.
Q Claire Shipman has arrived.
MR. MCCURRY: There's been a Claire Shipman sighting on the premises? (Laughter.)
Q Are any White House officials remaining behind planning to react to the testimony today on the hearing?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that some of you will be following the hearings today. The White House Legal Counsel's Office is principally responsible for following the testimony that's given on the Hill today. If there are any news developments connected to those hearings today, Mark Fabiani, who is in the Legal Counsel's Office and has been doing public response on some of these issues will be here and will be in a position to respond.
Q However, can you say -- the latest word is that 300 new files, including Brent Scowcroft and Bob Gates -- what can you say about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say very little. Remember that the FBI report done by Mr. Shapiro is the one that established their count of files. Jack Quinn's memo from two Fridays ago indicated that the White House had requested of the FBI that they make an inventory of the files in the possession of the White House so that any files that were not properly in the possession of the White House be surrendered back to the FBI, as we have done with the other files that we're aware of.
So as to the number of requests that were made, the best information that we have is the information that was in Mr. Shapiro's report, and it would be up to the FBI to amend that count based on their own review of the requests that they received.
Q So it's your understanding this was part of the legitimate request?
MR. MCCURRY: It may be, but the circumstances of those requests will have to be reviewed very carefully, and presumably will be reviewed very carefully by investigators. Mr. Marceca said in the material he provided he was making requests for people who may have been holdover employees, and there may have been people who were holdover employees who needed to have active security files here at the White House included in some of his requests. But that will have to be established properly in testimony that he and others give to those who are investigating the matter.
Q I'm surprised Scowcroft's name and Bob Gates -- that raised no flags.
MR. MCCURRY: I have no information at all related to individuals whose files may have been requested.
Q What about the issue of the -- some information from the files were on this computer disk -- that seems like -- before we were told that they never left the vault, and --
MR. MCCURRY: That is all the information that he has provided to the Committee and presumably would be testifying about today so I don't have anything to contribute at this point.
Q I've seen a couple of references in stories about the President being very angry over this. How has he demonstrated it?
MR. MCCURRY: He's let his anger about the performance of his staff be known several times to several of us.
Q How has he done that?
MR. MCCURRY: In the way you might imagine.
Q I have a limited imagination.
MR. MCCURRY: On this matter I don't think anyone lacks imagination.
Q The Washington Times report about this computer database -- can you talk to us about computer database? Can you talk to us about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the Washington Times has a determined point of view on this subject. This is -- when people are invited to receptions, to official functions at the White House, when they are invited here for issue-related briefings on the President's program, the White House properly maintains lists of those who are included. My understanding from those who are familiar with this system is that this was a way in which the White House could keep track on computer of those who had been invited to these types of official functions here.
I am told by those familiar with this system in no way is the information on this system shared with the Democratic National Committee, the Clinton-Gore Campaign Committee outside the official purposes for which the system can properly be used here at the White House.
Barry Toiv, who works for Mr. Panetta, knows more about this than I do and he will be available today if you have any official questions. But my understanding is that the story in The Washington Times reflects their viewpoint and the way they have covered some of these matters and also mischaracterizes and inaccurately portrays a system that is simply designed to increase efficiency at the White House in keeping track of those who are properly invited to events at the White House.
Q One more. This FBI person telling the committee that three White House officials tried to get information on Billy Dale and other people --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about it and he will provide testimony, presumably, to those who are looking into the matter.
Q Going back to the anger question one second. Was the President -- did he express any anger this morning at the new revelations of the other 300?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He was concentrating on the incident in Saudi Arabia this morning.
Okay. Thank you.
END 9:35 A.M. EDT