THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. It's a quite day at the White House.
Q Early lid?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's keep it that way. Early lid we hear from the camera crews here to my left, your right. We'd certainly entertain that notion. Okay, see you later.
Q Mike, in the wake of Mr. Aldrich's book about what he alleges to be life at the White House, I wondered if you had been assured or if anyone at the White House has been assured of how the current -- and I presume there still is a current team of FBI agents -- view their job and whether you've had any discussion with the FBI about the kinds of people that they send over here.
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but the procedures that are in place, because of the FBI's work on the question of how background files are requested and managed, because of their report, as you know, the White House legal counsel instituted new safeguards and procedures that really professionalized this whole operation. And we certainly would expect those who work on all aspects of handling that type of sensitive material that must be protected, because individuals are entitled to privacy, will be handled by career professionals -- and professionals in every sense of the word.
Q No one here has called up to the FBI and said, gee, it would really be nice if you might send somebody over here who didn't consider themselves to be spying on us?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any such conversation.
Q Can you tell us more about that the White House now seems certain that it was Vince Foster who, in fact, hired Craig Livingstone?
MR. MCCURRY: I got the same information that was available to Mr. Stephanopoulos when he answered that question yesterday. The best that we can reconstruct, based on the information available to us, is what he outlined yesterday, and I don't have anything further to add.
Q Where did you get that information from?
MR. MCCURRY: That was based in part on testimony that's now been given on Capitol Hill and the recollection of some of the people that we have either spoken to or who counsel has spoken to other counsel about.
Q You didn't know it last week? I mean, this only recently became obvious?
MR. MCCURRY: It was able to -- we were in a better position to put some of these facts together in light of the testimony that was given on the Hill last week.
Q Has the President spoken to General Downing, and what -- anything in addition you can tell us about when Downing will report back to Perry on the security?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm Not aware that the President has talked directly to General Downing, Ret. But he's certainly had a lot of contact between the National Security Council and the Pentagon, Dr. Perry's office, and they have developed a very good charter for the assessment that will be drawn up by General Downing. It's specific, and it will look into a range of security issues.
Q Has he gone to the region or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to refer you to the Pentagon on that. I know that they were going to get him up and running rather quickly, but they will be able to tell you more about what his plan is to execute the directive he has been given by the President and by the Secretary of Defense.
Q Mike, on that, what about the political aspect of Senator Specter's comments over the weekend about Perry continuing on in his position?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House gave a full vote of full confidence to the Secretary yesterday, and that stands.
Q What does he make of those kinds of comments, though?
MR. MCCURRY: Senator on a Sunday show in the middle of summer. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, I'm trying to square what George Stephanopoulos said with Livingstone's own testimony on Friday, which I would like to read to you:
Senator Hatch, to Livingstone: Did you have anybody at the highest levels of the White House advocating for this opportunity for you?
Livingstone: I'm sorry, the highest levels would mean --
Hatch: Mr. Foster, that level or higher.
Livingstone: I didn't know Mr. Foster.
How can you expect us to believe that Foster was the guy who pushed for his --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was another individual present when Mr. Foster talked to Mr. Livingstone, so clearly they talked. They may not have known each other as friends, but that information that Mr. Stephanopoulos provided, as I said, is the best that we have got available to us at this time.
Q Mike, if I may follow up. I'm trying to understand -- is it your contention then that Foster didn't know Livingstone, but was so impressed by him on first meeting he decided to hire him?
MR. MCCURRY: My contention, as Mr. Stephanopoulos said yesterday, based on the information that we have got available to us, is that he was referred over by the Inaugural Committee. He came over. He had a meeting with Mr. Foster and with another associate counsel in the Counsel's Office. They had him temporarily in the security office and his employment arrangements were later finalized by William Kennedy. That's what we know.
Q And who at the Inaugural Committee referred him over?
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding is that he may have been put on to the opening, or a job opening, by Christine Varney, as George said yesterday.
Q Mike, I know you addressed some of the Perry questions over the weekend, but do you rule out a resignation by Secretary Perry over Saudi Arabia?
MR. MCCURRY: It's so laughable it hasn't even been seriously considered.
Q Mike, can you run down the White House reasoning for attempting to convince ABC to keep Mr. Aldrich off the air?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because as ABC's questioner's thoroughly demonstrated yesterday, his book is not based on any fact; it is filled with lies and distortions and mischaracterizations and trash. And there ought to be some threshold for a major news organization putting such an individual on the air. But by putting him on the air yesterday, ABC certainly established for a fact he should never have been on the air in the first place.
Q With all the emphasis on the globalism at the Lyon conference and the presence of the gang of four in an honorary position, is this a change in the G-7 format; is this permanent? Will the four have permanent seats at the table and, if so, will they have an equal status with the governments, or what, actually, is the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, himself, found the participation by the leaders of these international lending institutions and some of the international organizations to be a very positive aspect of the G-7/8 discussions over the weekend. In fact, he complimented President Chirac on the idea of including them in the discussion.
President Chirac, as you know, had made the theme of this summit globalization, so it was very appropriate to have these heads of international organizations there. But the President thought they made a very useful contribution to the discussion and certainly is entertaining the notion that at the Denver summit in 1996, if he is hosting it, or as we prepare for it, that we consider having that type of contribution again from the leaders of those organizations.
Q Mike, has the White House been looking at the Supreme Court rulings that have come down today, the affirmative action ruling, the S&L ruling, and the tobacco billboard ban? And if so, what, if any, reaction?
MR. MCCURRY: They are. In fact, the Counsel's Office on all of those is making a review of each of the decisions the Court rendered. Today on the Hopewood case, involving the University of Texas, it's still not quite clear what the impact of that decision will be. Obviously, the opinions by Justices Ginsburg and Souter recognize the importance of the issue and don't rule out future consideration of the issue. But we understand now that, at least within the Fifth Circuit, there is going to be some level of uncertainty as they sort out the case law. And our counsel will be looking at that.
We were in that case, as you know, on an amicus brief. On the Penn Advertising case, we think that the ruling by the Court in no way jeopardizes the proposed rule that the Food and Drug Administration has promulgated. That rule, we have determined to the best of our opinion and legal review is fully consistent with the '44 liquor mart decision. And this case today is based on the same legal reasoning that applied in '44 liquor mart. So given that standard we believe that our own proposed rule would meet any First Amendment scrutiny that would be applied to it.
On the S&L case, that one is still being looked at because both the implications legally and also whatever it would mean in terms of federal expenditures -- I just don't have a thorough assessment yet of what the impact of that decision will be.
Q So you don't know who's going to foot the bill, especially in the S&L case, on up to $10 billion?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know, and that's exactly the type of question we're looking at now.
Q Are you disappointed in the affirmative action ruling?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. I think they just ruled that that would not be the case to test some of the underlying legal propositions, in part -- according to our best understanding at this point of the opinion -- because the state had discontinued aspects of that program already. So I think that a court may have been searching for a better test case. That appears to be part of the reasoning, but we'll be looking a lot more closely at the decision itself.
Q Could you please give a preview of what the President's going to tell the seniors tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I will. He's going to go visit with the National Council of Senior Citizens tomorrow in Chicago. He will have a speech that really outlines for this audience the importance of the economic program that the United States has pursued since 1993, not only with respect to seniors, but how we are creating economic opportunity for all generations. He'll talk about things like the importance of raising the minimum wage; moving as quickly as we can to pass legislation that would expand health insurance availability, for example, the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill; talk about the importance of balancing the budget, but doing so in a way that protects the fundamental commitments we've made to the elderly in programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
He'll again call upon Congress to take advantage of the savings that have been agreed to in Medicare and Medicaid already in the elements that are in common in the proposals that have been advanced by the Republican Congress and by the administration, to do those things that will extend the solvency of the Medicare trust fund in the short-term -- since that's the smart thing to do -- while we work on long-term solutions.
Q Is there still a feeling that Medicare is a very potent issue for you to pursue?
MR. MCCURRY: The President continues to believe that is a very important program not only for the nation's elderly, but for those who worry about taking care of elderly parents, for those who wonder about their own health care arrangements in the future. And the structure of that program as it has existed for decades is something that the President intends to protect. That goes far beyond politics. It goes to the fundamental commitments that he has made to the nation in fighting for budget priorities that he thinks makes sense.
Q Does he still believe, though, that, as many congressional Democrats do, that there is this analogy that, you know, the Republican plan on Medicare means tax cuts for the wealthy -- I mean, that's how it's going to be paid for with the so-called savings on Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is no question, if you look back in the history of the Republican budget as advanced during 1995 by the Republican majority in Congress, that in order to get the very large tax cuts they were proposing that went disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans, you had to get about $270 billion worth of savings out of the Medicare system. The only way you could do that was to trim back benefits and services available to the nation's elderly. And everyone by now, I think, knows that that is the fact of the Republican budget as it was debated, as it was discussed during Congress in the course of 1995 and early 1996.
Q But they came out with a new budget plan, and I'm just wondering if the White House has sort of pulled back on that kind of harsh position on the Republican's Medicare savings plan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are some changes that they have made, I think in part probably reflecting the anger the American people felt about their budget, so they have made some new budget proposals. But the President is looking beyond that, says, you and we agree on a package of savings that can do some important things both to restructure Medicare in a way that protects beneficiaries and also achieves savings that advance our fundamental budget goals, so let's take advantage of that opportunity rather than going down the road of another gridlock debate that will not serve the American people well.
Q Is this event paid for by the campaign or by -- is this an official business event?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that the travel to and from Chicago will all be paid by the Clinton-Gore '96 Committee because there are political events in the evening. Is that correct? They're doing --the President's doing a fundraiser for a candidate for Congress, and also, I think, raising money that will help our host committee in Chicago host the '96 Democratic Convention.
Q So do we know you classify the senior event?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know --
MS. GLYNN: It's an official event, but all costs associated with it are political.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the costs -- the travel costs -- because one aspect of the President's appearance is political, the travel costs to and from are deemed political. There may be -- the appearance of the President at that specific event may be deemed official, but the large portion of the travel costs have to be paid for by the campaign.
Q Are you still looking for a statement from Senator Dole or his campaign that, I think, as you put it, somebody working for his campaign should not be helping to publicize this Aldrich book?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it would be nice, but we're not holding our breath.
Q Now, is somebody working for the Dole campaign publicizing the book -- is that your contention?
MR. MCCURRY: Our contention is that Craig Shirley has done some work as an adviser for the Dole campaign. The Dole campaign has acknowledged that publicly, and he is -- has been identified as a person who's coordinating publicity for this book; indeed, was present at ABC yesterday.
Q But he's not anymore.
MR. MCCURRY: He's an adviser, and there are news articles in which he's been identified as a person who will be running a radio surrogate operation for the Dole campaign this fall. Now, maybe -- perhaps the Dole campaign would wish to disassociate themselves from that idea and discount those who have reported that he will having a role in their communications structure in the fall.
Q Mike, is there a written record of Vincent Foster having hired Craig Livingstone? Is there a piece of paper anywhere that would show that he actually did this and the date and the time and everything?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't directly know the answer to that, Mary. I do know that Mr. Clinger's committee has requested personnel records related to Mr. Livingstone, and I believe they have been delivered or are in the process of being delivered by the White House to Mr. Clinger.
Q But there was supposedly someone present, a person whose first name, I believe, is Cheryl.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Who is she?
MR. MCCURRY: She is an associate counsel in the office of the White House legal counsel.
Q And her last name is?
MR. MCCURRY: Mills, M-i-l-l-s.
Q I know you weren't here at the time, Mike, but does the White House now recognize that maybe based on -- if it indeed happened that way -- based on a lucy-goosey recommendation from somebody on the Inaugural Committee you hire somebody for such a sensitive position in the White House, that's probably not the best way to conduct affairs here?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it is a tacit admission in the procedures that Mr. Quinn has now put in place, and acknowledged in a statement by Mr. Panetta issued about two weeks ago, that personnel security issues ought to be in the hands of career professionals. Clearly, the decisions taken related to personnel in 1993 did not make that happen. And by instituting new procedures and correcting this problem, it is more than safe to assume that we saw a need for much different handling of personnel questions related to individual privacy and security-related concerns, as they relate to White House staff and those who work for the Executive Office of the President.
Q Following the report Friday, human rights groups are calling for the release of more documents on Guatemala, the human rights abuses there. Is there going to be a response to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been a very significant public release of information dating back to the government's work in Guatemala in the 1980s -- over 5,000 pages by the State Department alone. And then the Intelligence Oversight Board's report was made public last week, as you know.
That was a considerable piece of work. It shed a lot of light on events as best as they are known in the 1980s in Guatemala. But it also pointed to some important changes that need to be made, specifically with respect to the relationship between our intelligence community and those who serve as ambassadors or diplomats in individual posts around the world.
The White House credits Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch for doing a fabulous job instituting these procedures. He has already moved very swiftly to put a lot of these recommended procedures in place. And the President has a great deal of confidence that that type of abuse, given the ethic and direction and management of this CIA and this intelligence community under John Deutch -- he feels very confident the American people can be assured that that type of abuse is not occurring and will not occur.
Q And on their request, I think it's today, for more documents dating back --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- it may be that whether it's Sister Ortiz or Jennifer Harbury or others, it will be hard to satisfy them because some fundamental things that they want to know as human beings may be unknowable, based on the record. But the report itself, which goes into exhaustive detail on what was known by representatives of the government and those who were assets of the United States government at the time presents the most compelling record that we believe can be assembled as to what happened in the 1980s with respect to those two cases and the other cases that were under the purview of the intelligence oversight board's review.
Q Mike, in Mr. Livingstone's personnel file, are there letters of recommendation either from Harry Thomason or from Peter Knight and Roy Neel, whom he specifically mentioned as people who might have pushed his candidacy?
MR. MCCURRY: That -- as you can imagine, I'm not at liberty -- partly for Privacy Act reasons -- to disclose the contents of his personnel records. But as I indicated earlier they are being made available to Chairman Clinger and his committee.
Q But if I could ask you to recap then -- the White House account is that even though Mr. Livingstone has said he didn't know Foster, that Foster alone made the prime hiring decision, presumably based on a meeting with this very impressive figure, Mr. Livingstone?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. As I said, he was referred by someone within the Inaugural Committee, who had also worked on the campaign or alerted to a job opening. At the time it was very common, because many people currently on the White House staff have said various people might pass on a good word or say that they know so and so or that they had seen so and so do good work during the campaign. So I'm not ruling out the possibility that others weighed in on behalf of Mr. Livingstone. That would have been a very common practice during the early period in 1993 when people who had been working in both the campaign and the Inaugural Committee were referred to and won employment on the White House staff. What I'm telling you, and what we've established is that after this job lead was given to Mr. Livingstone, he came here, he met with people in the Counsel's Office, and ultimately he was hired by the Counsel's Office.
Q Is it necessarily that a contradiction -- would it have been possible at that time for Vince Foster to have hired him without Livingstone knowing Vince Foster?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, there were many people who were meeting each other, getting to know each other in the early and middle years in 1993. What is known is that he was temporarily put into an assignment by Mr. Foster. I don't think anyone's alleging that he was actually the formal hire, because the formalization of his employment, as Mr. Stephanopoulos said yesterday, based on the information we've been able to assemble, occurred later in 1993 and was largely completely by William Kennedy, the Associate Counsel.
Q And Kennedy said last Wednesday at the House hearing that Foster gave the okay, and that he just inherited Livingstone.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I was out of the country during his testimony, so I didn't have an opportunity to review that. I don't dispute that if he, in fact, said that.
Q -- my question, though is, is it possible -- is it consistent or a contradiction, could Foster have signed off on Livingstone without knowing him?
MR. MCCURRY: What I've already think I've answered, the best of the recollection of people who are familiar with these details, he had met with Mr. Livingstone, at least at some point --
Q But I'm not clear if that's a yes or a no.
MR. MCCURRY: -- and that the employment -- the permanent employment was finalized by Mr. Kennedy. Is it possible that Mr. Kennedy finalized that employment arrangement without checking with Mr. Foster? That is possible. But if he has testified to it, his account would be more verifiable than the information I have. I can only report to you the information that's available to me.
Q When was that, Mike? When was he made a permanent hire?
MR. MCCURRY: It was during some time during the course of 1993, but I don't know the exact date. It will be reflected, mostly likely, in the personnel records that have been delivered now to the committee.
Q Back to Saudi Arabia -- what are the White House regrets that Saudi Arabia did not expand the buffer zone as we requested?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, for several days now the Pentagon has answered that question very direct. But we think important security precautions were put into place. The Pentagon reports those. They no doubt saved lives at Khobar Towers and in Dhahran. The need -- if there had been a need for additional security measures on the spot at the time based on what the assessment of the threat was, that information surely will be developed by General Downing as he does his review.
Q As of this morning, apparently all media access has been cut off at the base there in Dhahran. Is that a Pentagon decision, a Saudi decision and, if so, did the White House concur or --
MR. MCCURRY: I was not aware of that. I don't know about that. You should ask at Pentagon public affairs.
Q Is there any follow on the Bosnia, sort of back and forth over Karadzic, beyond what you talked about yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new on that that I am aware of, unless -- there hasn't been any follow up with Carl Bildt today that I have heard of reported.
Q Is there a worry here that, despite the fact, as you said, that Aldrich came off, I don't know, in a bad light yesterday -- or, as you said, he did enough damage to himself on ABC, is there still a worry that the book is out there and there's so much publicity on the story now that it's going to hurt the President and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Our chief fear is that news organizations that are less scrupulous than ABC news will not do as effective a job of discrediting him as ABC did.
Q And what would then be -- are you afraid that this new storm of allegations is --
MR. MCCURRY: It is -- I'm afraid, then, that the Republicans who have been a running a non-stop smear campaign against this President in an attempt to destroy his reputation will succeed by innuendo, rather than by a clear, accurate examination of fact.
Q What else would you categorize as a Republican smear against the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say pretty much now a two-month period in which there have been non-stop daily assaults by everyone from the Speaker to Bob Dole to others on the President's character. It's a consistent pattern. They're now using various congressional committees consistent with the Speaker's orders to those committee chairs to attempt to find dirt on the President. This has been in print a directive given by the Speaker to the committee chairs.
Q Are you lumping the committee investigation into Filegate as a Republican smear, or is that --
MR. MCCURRY: No. Although, I will -- I'd say there are certainly legitimate questions there that need to be explored and they are being in a bipartisan way by Democrats and Republicans. But there were some initial statements by people responsible for that investigation that were consistent with the effort to cast doubt, to spread innuendo before there were access to facts.
Q Mike, the President has received any report from the National Security Council about the new Mexican group on Friday, and what is the White House opinion of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check on that. Not that I'm aware of, but maybe the NSC guys will be able to help you with that.
Q Mike, on the Russian election, did the President have any chance to speak directly with the Russian officials over the weekend in Lyon about Mr. Yeltsin's health? And, if so, if he inquired can you tell us a little bit about that?
MR. MCCURRY: He did. That came up in the meeting he had with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. As I reported, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said to the President much of what he said to all of you in public on Saturday.
Q Can you just sort of give us some details of that?
MR. MCCURRY: What they have said and what subsequently our embassy has been told is consistent with what the Russian Federation officials are saying publicly, that he is suffering from some form of laryngitis or voice loss, that he is resting and that he expects soon to return to official duties. And beyond that, we don't have any other information available to us.
Q Did anything in Yeltsin's appearance strike you as odd? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We met with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin not with President Yeltsin.
Q What are your plans for office hours on Fourth of July, the President's schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll be maintaining a duty roster throughout the weekend, and we'll be treating Friday as if it was a typical Saturday.
Q Thursday he has travel?
MR. MCCURRY: Thursday we expect the President to be traveling. We expect him to be somewhere doing an environmental event in Maryland an then going to Youngstown, Ohio, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of that town's Fourth of July celebration. We'll go into more details on --
Q When would he be returning to Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: Returning early evening so he can be here in time for fireworks.
Q Back on the senior's speech tomorrow. Will the President level with the seniors in that even in a possible second Clinton administration that there will some cutbacks in the growth of Medicare and Medicaid?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll repeat some of the things I said just a little while earlier; that we've got to find ways to generate savings in the Medicaid system so that we can extend the solvency of the trust funds, especially in the short-term. But we need to do so -- Medicare and Medicaid -- but we need to do so consistent with the obligations to our nation's citizens.
Q Do you consider this paving any new ground?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. It's always paving new ground when the President is out there fighting for his budget priorities. Is there any big headline coming out of this? That's up to you.
Q Is this also going to be some kind of announcement about returning some land for an air base tomorrow in Chicago?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about that, but Mary Ellen might be able to help you on that.
Q Mike, you have issued a number of statements from officials challenging -- can you release anything from Livingstone challenging --
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't be because he is no longer employed by the White House, as you know.
Q But you released a statement from Mr. Kennedy, who is no longer employed here.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I don't -- I'm not aware of any statement like that, but I haven't -- I don't --
Q Could you check?
MR. MCCURRY: Could I check with him?
Q Oh, no. I can check with his lawyer, but can you double-check that there has been nothing released by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. I'm not aware of anything.
Q Mike, logistics of reaction to the Russian run-off election -- how will that be put forward by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect it will be Thursday at the earliest before we have a final -- at the absolute earliest it will Thursday or Friday. And I anticipate most likely a written statement. But we will keep you apprised of what are plans are.
Q On minimum wage, is there any indication that the Senate Republicans might back off of the amendments that would prompt a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: We sure hope so, because they know they're flirting with something that is not going to work, but it's a real simple -- raising the minimum wage is a pretty easy thing to do. It's just, you go in, you change the Fair Labor Standards amendments and get it done. And they have -- still looking at ways that they can bollix up the process by attaching additional amendments or provisions. And we just hope that don't so the American people can get the increase in the minimum wage that they think is justified and that will help millions of Americans who struggle to make ends meet day to day.
Q Mike, is the Lake trip to China firmed up? Who will he be meeting, and will he be talking about the possibility of a presidential trip to Beijing?
MR. MCCURRY: When are you guys going to get around to announcing that Lake trip to China? Why not get it done today?
MR. JOHNSON: Before it takes place.
MR. MCCURRY: Before it takes place. Any better word -- seriously, any better word on when we know?
Q Unlike the previous administration.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're welcome.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT