THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Well, ladies and gentlemen, thank you. Our delayed arrival here at Grand Central allowed you to report, I'm sure, on the two impressive developments today with the President gaining support from the higher education community for our education challenge, the support of the American Council of Education -- 1,700 of the nation's leading figures in higher education; and also the endorsement by the American Association of Community Colleges and the Association of Community College Trustees. I know that you both are anxious to talk about those developments.
Q The President is going to another soft money fundraiser tonight --
Q -- which has nothing to do with education, but the DNC says, of the half a million they expect to raise tonight, 70 percent is in soft money.
MR. MCCURRY: I thought it was 60 -- I had heard 60 percent.
Q They told me 70.
Q It went up, going up.
Q Is there still no reconsideration being given here at the White House to this kind of presidential level participation in these events?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will continue, as we've said over and over again, to help the party raise money. They need the money. They need to be competitive with the Republican Party. As you've noticed, the Republican Party has been actively and aggressively raising money of their own. We will abide by the voluntary restrictions on soft money fundraising that the President has announced, and challenge the Republicans to live within those same restrictions. We also continue to challenge the Republican Party to give up soft money altogether.
Q And as a follow-up, now that several Democratic senators -- Feingold, Moynihan -- are suggesting that it's time for an independent counsel to take over the investigation, is the White House also beginning to think it might be time for the independent counsel to take up --
MR. MCCURRY: Right here, it says the White House. Go ask at the Justice Department. The Justice Department makes determinations based on the evidence on that matter. I don't have any comment for you on that.
Q Lott suggested earlier today that there should be a council of so-called graybeards -- economists to discuss changing the CPI. Do you guys have a reaction to that? Sorry, to change the cost of living adjustment within the CPI.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- I'm not sure if we would describe -- we've said, in effect, the same thing, that this ought to be submitted to a discussion by those who are expert in labor statistics, economic statistics, those who know how to measure the impact inflation has on both public expenditures and on the living expenses of Americans. Now, presumably some of those will be graybeards, but some of them may be female.
Q But what about -- I thought you wanted the BLS to decide this. And now you want an outside group to decide this?
MR. MCCURRY: No, well, we've talked about that a lot here. Alicia Munnell was here recently and spoke to that at some length, about the way in which experts both at the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other noted economists and academicians are looking at those sets of issues. That's where we think the debate ought to be resolved.
Q But do you think Lott's idea is a good one for pushing this problem forward, or pushing this --
MR. MCCURRY: I think most ideas the Majority Leader has are good ideas.
Q Could you walk through for us, please, the White House's decision to seek information from the Justice Department regarding those intelligence intercepts, the reason why you did it, how the decision was reached and how you made that request of Justice?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't walk through it because we will provide in due course a response to Mr. -- whoever it was -- Burton that asked for it. But I'm going to tell you the little bit that I can about it.
He apparently has gotten erroneous information. He says that we sought and received a heads-up in an open criminal investigation that potentially involves administration officials, and the Justice Department inexplicably and in short order provided records related to an open investigation. To my knowledge, that is not true. I don't know where he got that information, but maybe he can explain himself to all of you.
The President sought and obtained from the Justice Department information that allows him to properly conduct this nation's foreign policy and national security affairs. And we will respond very directly to Mr. Burton's letter and indicate that the inquiry that we made was entirely proper.
Q Well, could you characterize it?
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, we also asked the Justice Department to simultaneously convey that same information conveyed to us to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Q Did that happen?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department. I don't know whether they did or not.
Q Could you tell us specifically what was the request for? Could you release the request that was made from the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I will not. It is classified.
Q That's classified?
MR. MCCURRY: The request that we made and the questions that we asked is a national security document.
Q Well, is it fair to say that it was prompted by The Washington Post report?
MR. MCCURRY: It's fair to say that it was prompted by the President's desire to make sure that we had information necessary to conduct foreign policy and national security affairs, which is all that I am going to say in characterizing the request for the contents.
Q But he told us he didn't know about it before The Washington Post report, so --
MR. MCCURRY: That is correct. The President did not know about the news in that story. Now, as the Justice Department has made clear, there is also information available in channels and we will look to see if any of that matter is pertinent to a subject matter that may have been discussed.
Q Can you say whether any of the information received by the White House pertained to any investigation underway by the FBI or the Justice Department?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that any of the information that we obtained related to any aspect of a criminal investigation underway by the Justice Department.
Q Would you expect us to get that letter to Burton today?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect it to get to you when we've had an opportunity to deliver it to Mr. Burton. It hasn't been sent yet, to my knowledge.
Q But soon, do you think?
MR. MCCURRY: They were working on a number of things and they will work on that in due course.
Q Were there aspects of this the President already was aware of through routine intelligence briefings?
MR. MCCURRY: Aspects of what?
Q Of the story.
MR. MCCURRY: There was nothing about the news in that story -- and by that I mean the more headline grabbing portion of that news -- that senior officials here at the White House were aware of. I believe the letter may address through law enforcement briefings if we had information on matter that might be pertinent to the subject, which is what Mr. Burton requests.
Q Mike, did the President know that these coffees --that Rosen and others were charging $50,000 or asking for $50,000 contributions up front, before they came into the coffees ? And what would be his reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he would regret anyone attempting to market any aspect of the coffees as events that required a direct dollar donation, because that's not -- that would be contrary to his wishes.
Q That's not something he or anyone else in the White House asked Rosen and others to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, no. And if you'll recall in July of 1995 when we talked about a specific marketing brochure that had been put together by the Democratic National Committee, the President made it plain that he did not want events marketed in that fashion.
Q Mike, Time Magazine says that the radio address has also been open for $50,000 attendance tickets and that Johnny Chung was asked --
MR. MCCURRY: The radio address is very often open to friends and relatives of White House staffers and all manner of other people who are not contributors. And I'm not aware of any effort to "market them."
Q Well, but is it open to contributors?
MR. MCCURRY: Contributors are allowed to be among those who request to be invited, and sometimes are, along with any number of other people here at the White House.
Q The specific allegation was that Johnny Chung was asked to donate $50,000 in order to get to the radio address and bring his friends with him.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not familiar with that allegation.
Q Can you explain the difference between up-front donations and then hitting up someone after they came to a coffee?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What's the difference? Is there no difference?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- I'm not sure I understand the question.
Q I'm saying if somebody was brought to a coffee and asked later for a donation, is that any different --
MR. MCCURRY: I said I believe here several times in the past that it would not be surprising to us if those responsible for soliciting donations, that the Democratic National Committee followed up on some of these events and contacted those who had attended. We've made that clear.
Q When the President goes to fundraisers, as he is tonight, you get a spate of negative stories about it. I wonder if, one, the President thinks that is unfair, and number two, whether the White House thinks it does any harm. Does it have any effect to have him go to these fundraisers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President understands that will happen and he takes these opportunities when you are all there to underscore his commitment to getting campaign finance reform and to remind all of you and to remind the audience and hopefully remind the American public that we are not asking taxpayers to pay for our campaigns in the future. There's no campaign finance reform pending that requires taxpayers to foot the bill. Therefore, campaigns are going to be funded and political parties are going to be funded through private contributions that are made by individual Americans. That still fits within the context of campaign finance reform, which seeks to do all those things that the McCain-Feingold measure and other measures would accomplish.
Q Do you think it has any political effect?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not the judge of political effects.
Q Are his comments tonight going to be open for coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: The pool will be there, as is our custom.
Q With respect to the three advance and scheduling people out on the road and still being paid by the DNC, why would the White House want to keep it on its payroll and --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I don't know that we do. I think, look, they are advance people and advance people are sometimes contract employees, sometimes they are folks that work at other agencies and work on detail, and they'll work out some suitable arrangement for those folks.
Q Mike, and just to follow up, what is your reaction to Governor Romer's comments to simply want to distance all that, as he put --
MR. MCCURRY: He made it clear that he just wants to make it clear there's not mingling of White House official duties and political party duties. And I think that's an appropriate observation.
Q Are you inclined to adhere to his suggestion?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we already are. I think we already made that determination when we canceled the program.
Q Is the President uncomfortable with Mr. Fowler's contacts with Cabinet officials on requesting --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he's familiar with those contacts.
Q Do you mean that he's not read the story, or that perhaps it's not accurate?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he knew anything about Mr. Fowler's contacts with agencies. We made it clear over and over again that there were no government policies that were determined or acted upon based on the President's political work. He makes his decisions in the best interests of the American people.
Q Can we go back for a second on the statement of what the President knew about the Chinese, the allegations of the Chinese Embassy involvement? -- to say that you did not know about the news in the story, and I'm not clear on what distinction you're making.
MR. MCCURRY: What you recall -- it was in your paper, so you recall the story.
Q I do recall the story. But, I mean, you say the news, and if he knew about it ahead of time, it wouldn't be news to him. What distinction are you making by using that phrase over and over again?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in the course of routine business if there had been some law enforcement briefings that were pertinent to some of the subject matter that might have been available to some at the White House. But, again, I checked with the President, the Vice President and other senior White House officials, and to my knowledge the news in your story was news to them at the time it appeared -- or at the time the inquiries about it were made.
Q Mike, repeatedly White House officials have said that there was no direct connection between fundraising and these coffees or the Lincoln Bedroom or any of that. Yet, we seem to be getting in dribs and drabs all these confirmations that at least DNC or other Democratic Party officials were, in fact, making that connection outside the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me comment on that for a minute. You're getting information that we are, in most cases, voluntarily providing. Remember that "dribs and drabs" come about because we are working very hard to provide documentation and information to various people who are looking into these matters, including many of the news organizations in this room. And as we work hard to get to the bottom of these matters and to answer questions candidly and forthrightly, as the President has asked us to do, yes, we do generate new information and there are others that are probing the memories and the activities of those who were working in the larger universe of those involved in political activities in 1996 and, of course, there will be more information forthcoming.
I'm waiting for some of the same information to become available on things like the Eagle's program at the Republican National Committee, the Team 100 program, the Season Ticket Holder program. I imagine in due time all the same documentation and memoranda about those programs will be requested of the Republican National Committee and be provided. And I think then there will be probably dribs and drabs of information about their fundraising program, as well.
Q Well, but based on what you've told us and what we're now learning about what some of the Democrat -- were Fowler and Rosen and the DNC running a rogue operation, separate and apart from anything that the White House knew about?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I would characterize it as other than they have provided information about the activities that they had knowledge of and responsibility for in their capacity at the Democratic National Committee.
Q If I could --
MR. MCCURRY: We're moving on.
Q Mike, one more -- wait a minute.
Q What is the President's reaction to the call for a special prosecutor to investigate the campaign finance reforms?
MR. MCCURRY: The one that I just gave earlier. He had no particular reaction or comment to it.
Q Mike, I guess in the same vein, is the President just troubled by the appearance that -- whether it's the Lincoln Bedroom or all these other elements -- that they even give the appearance of policy being affected by donor contributions, even though you're saying that they're not? But is he troubled by the appearance that they may be?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not certain that they give that appearance. I think that factually we've provided information and developed information and made it available and you all characterize it as you choose to characterize it.
Q But, Mike, in the past you've said that the President was not happy about people kind of trading on their access or using it almost like an advertisement. Does he feel that he's been ill served by people who at least gave the impression that certain meetings with him were for sale?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has addressed all these subjects in the past. I don't know that I can add to it. He's made it clear what he felt was appropriate and what was inappropriate. And anyone acting contrary to his wishes he, of course, would regret and he would leave him disappointed.
Q But is he angry? I mean, we get a story every day and today he gives a speech saying, well, it's hand-wringing and Washington's in a lather. And the feeling is that he's not as angry as you all have kind of portrayed him.
MR. MCCURRY: But the President -- he's not. The fact is the President has worked today on expanding educational opportunities for Americans. He's devoted his time to those things he pledged to do in his State of the Union address. He's been working on how we're going to make welfare reform a success. He's been working on his educational challenge, elements of it, and will continue to do that. Tomorrow we're going to work on fighting drugs in America. And I think he wakes up, comes to work every day concentrated on doing those things that he believes the American people elected him to do. If that's not your focus, that's fine. That's his focus. His focus should be --
Q Does he believe it's important to the American people for campaign finance reform?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, of course he does, and he's addressed that subject and said so publicly and will continue to say so publicly, presumably even tonight.
Q Mike, he seems to be making very light of it in the comments about --
MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't make light of it.
Q -- we're all in a lather up here in Washington.
MR. MCCURRY: He would not make light of the need for campaign finance reform, has spoken to it publicly and continues to speak to it publicly and encourages members of Congress to pass the necessary legislation.
Q Well, then what did he mean by his hand-wringing comment?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it speaks for itself.
Q Speaking of public statements, for the second time within a few days, he and the Vice President made a point to lobby for Alexis Herman's nomination, and this time in front of what is admittedly a friendly crowd to Ms. Herman. How worried is he about her nomination at this stage?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he wants Senator Jeffords, Chairman Jeffords to set a date for a hearing. And we hope that happens soon. We believe Chairman Jeffords is a fair individual and will do so, and we hope he does so soon so we can get Alexis Herman confirmed as Secretary of Labor. She will be an excellent one, as the President said earlier.
Q I mean, he wants to set a date, but I'm just trying to get a sense of -- it seems to be repeating itself. Just how worried is he that the Chairman may not set a date, that the nomination will essentially die?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is confident he will set a date and she will be confirmed once she has the hearing she deserves.
Q Does the President see an element of racial bias in the difficulty in getting Alexis Herman?
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of.
Q I realize this is a DNC matter, but have the voluntary limits -- it's early days yet, but have the voluntary limits, to your knowledge, hurt at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. You would have to put the inquiry to the Democratic National Committee. I think they have had to restructure the way they've planned their fundraising program for the year in light of some of the voluntary restrictions we've enacted.
Q Mike, talk about restructuring, have fundraisers -- or, not fundraisers, but political gatherings like coffees or whatever, that may have planned or that were planned for this year, have they now been taken off campus?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that --
Q -- getting them pulled out because of the ongoing attention to this?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that any events of that nature had been scheduled.
Q Mike, you keep saying -- getting back to Alexis Herman -- you keep saying that Senator Jeffords is fair. Do you think it's actually fair that he's let Alexis Herman's nomination just linger on this long before a date has been set for the hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm reluctant to say that it's unfair, but I think it would have been appropriate to have that hearing so that she could address any concerns that members of the Senate have. But we believe that Senator Jeffords is a fair person and will schedule a hearing and do so soon so that we can move on to her hearing and, we hope and expect, to her confirmation.
Q Can you take the question on the proportion of hard to soft money tonight? Because the DNC did say --
MR. MCCURRY: It's their event and whatever they say is accurate, I would imagine.
Q The drug policy meeting tomorrow, who is he meeting with?
MR. MCCURRY: General McCaffrey and other members of the President's drug control strategy team will be here to outline their efforts in the coming year. They'll talk about the President's drug control budget for fiscal year 1998, as proposed, which calls for some $16 billion to fight drug use. The President wanted a public opportunity to remind Americans, and especially young Americans, of the danger of using drugs and this is an excellent opportunity to do so.
Q The certification decisions or the recommendations to come out of the State Department this week, and he's to make his recommendation by Friday -- will they also be discussing that?
MR. MCCURRY: The international aspects of our counter-drug trafficking strategy will likely be an element of the discussion, but there will not be any specific review of the annual drug certifications. Those are made upon recommendation of the Secretary of State. She's already indicated publicly she would not be turning her attention to that matter until she returns from her current trip, which will not be until mid-week. I don't expect any action by the President on this matter until the end of the week or over the weekend.
Q There's a story that Johnny Chung, though he was cleared, someone in the NSC felt that he was somebody who should be very circumspect about letting in here, was actually allowed in and wandering around with two six-packs of beer. Do you find it a troubling image? Do you know if it's true?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know the story said that. I think that he was prevented from doing so. And that is a troubling image.
Q Is there one drug related event tomorrow, or two? It's one?
MR. MCCURRY: Just the one at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow that I'm aware.
Q Mike, once Secretary Albright makes her recommendations for certification or decertification, does the President go back to his advisory board and consult with them? There's going to be a couple of countries involved. Does he get feedback after he gets her recommendation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will consider the recommendations of the Secretary of State, but those are developed and discussed in an interagency process in which the National Security Council participates directly and the National Security Advisor is represented. But there will be an opportunity for the President to review and discuss any recommendations that come from the Secretary of State, which is why I suggest that his decisions on that will be very late in the week, if not over the weekend.
Q Is there a set date by which --
Q March 1, right?
MR. MCCURRY: They're due on the Hill I think by March 1, and so I don't rule out the possibility that it might not happen until Saturday.
Q One of the representatives from the community college groups that sent a letter to the President today indicated reservations on the HOPE Scholarship plan, at least as far as its requirement for a B grade average. They're contending that this is really holding students to a higher standard, that in general when they're student assistants the student only has to be in good academic standing. Is the White House considering revisiting that particular --
MR. MCCURRY: No. We think it's important to set some standard that encourages students to give maximum effort in return for the opportunity they've been given. Again, it's consistent with the President's view that the opportunity extended, in this case the scholarship itself, ought to be met with the responsibility to do the very best to keep a grade point average at the B level or above. And the experience in Georgia -- there were speakers today at the ACE from Georgia who actually addressed the experience there -- it has been a worthy standard because it has encouraged students to work harder to maintain their eligibility for financial assistance.
Q So the question, though, is why do you need to maintain a B average to maintain the $1,500 tax credit, but not maintain a B average to maintain a $10,000 tax deduction.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are two different programs designed to operate in two different fashions. One is to be a deduction for college expenses; the other is an incentive program to encourage people to do well in school in exchange for a targeted tax credit, which is two different programs.
Q Yes, but you can only do one, you can't do both.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's correct, you can only take -- I think you can only take one. It's an either-or in the case of what one would do.
Q Mike, and the other point that they were making is that it would be harder to regulate and administer in terms of having to go down to a grade level criteria.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have addressed that. We take some issue with that. Colleges and universities already administer many financial incentive programs. There are a number of insurance underwriters in this country that provide lower-cost auto insurance to students that maintain B averages. Colleges and universities are familiar with those programs, administer them with some ease. We've designed the program and work closely with the community of higher education leaders to make sure that this would be an easily administered credit. And we believe it can be done with a minimum of disruption for any administrative procedures that colleges and universities maintain.
Q Mike, when the President talks about the literacy program, he says right now 40 percent of students in 3rd grade can't read on their own. He rarely says the same thing about the numbers of kids who don't go to college because they don't have $1,500. Do you have -- have you determined how many people are not going to college who want to because of the lack of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to ask the Department of Education whether they've studied that. I don't know that that's the argument. The argument is that this would be an incentive to students who might not consider going to college to seek the opportunity to do it, not that anyone is prevented from doing so for financial reasons. Obviously, we're talking about a $1,500 credit, but this makes it easier and might thus spur some to take advantage of opportunities, particularly community colleges, that they might not otherwise seek.
Q Mike, today being the anniversary of the downing of the two Cuban-American planes, has the President been in contact with any Cuban-American groups after he issued the communique?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has not directly been in contact, but the President did mark the occasion today of the shootdown by saying that the Cuban government's continuing repression of human rights activists and independent journalists underscores the need to continue working for a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba.
And the President encouraged the entire international community -- with the United States in the lead -- to achieve just that. He noted that we've been working with our friends and allies to bring pressure to bear on Cuba to make that type of democratic change. The work on that certainly is active even today as we deal with issues related to pending -- legislation pending, adjudication of measures before the World Trade Organization.
But with the memory of the four victims of the illegal Cuban shootdown in the thoughts and prayers of Americans today, the President took the opportunity to reaffirm the commitment of our government to democracy, to the promotion and advancement of human rights in Cuba, and to prosperity for the people of Cuba who have been denied those benefits for too long by a very brutal, totalitarian regime.
Q Also on an anniversary, we're approaching the beginning of the Waco siege and we understand that the FBI is tracking two guys and a truck loaded with diesel fuel. Any comment on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to refer you to the FBI. If there is anyone that has anything for you on that shortly, it will be over there.
Q Mike, I'm going to try to ask a serious cloning question if you don't mind. Does cloning raise any moral or ethical considerations that the U.S. government should be concerned about?
MR. MCCURRY: It does. And in fact, the President today has asked his National Bioethics Commission, which he appointed last summer to review the ethical and legal issues associated with this development in technology. Some of you know Dr. Harold Shapiro who is the President of Princeton University is the chair of that commission appointed by the President last summer. The White House has asked the advisory commission to review that to make a judgment as to whether we really need to focus more clearly on the dimensions of this scientific and technological development that might pertain to any activity involving human beings specifically.
Q Does the President have any opinion about this himself?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's -- it's a very troubling subject in that he -- the President signed in December of 1995 an executive order that bans the use of federal funds to create human embryos for research purposes. So clearly, denying federal funding for that type of human embryo research is a position that the -- is consistent with the President's executive order in 1995. Congress has also banned funding for that type of embryo research.
Now, those restrictions obviously only apply to federally funded research, and the advisory commission will be in a position to look at the issue of whether those doing private research through their own academic pursuits ought to be sensitive to these issues or whether there are any policy implications that arise from this development.
Q Mike, on Chung, did I understand you to say that you feel that the story about him and the beer is wrong? The story is that he was --
MR. MCCURRY: I read the story and I -- frankly, I don't -- I thought the story was that he had been prevented from doing what he had wanted to do. But why don't you ask Lanny Davis.
Q Mike, on the balanced budget amendment, what kind of direct conflict has there been in the last couple of days from the administration to undecided members? Who's called whom?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been -- we've been very publicly making the case against that. The President spoke to that issue on Saturday. I'm not going to detail any of the private work that we've done with individual members of the Senate, but it's been a source of concern of the President. He's had private and personal conversations with a number of Senators about it.
Q Including Landrieu and Torricelli?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to detail specific members that he has talked to.
Q This morning, you had said that it was your understanding based on Rubin's comment that in fact those conversations -- Rubin and the President talking to Landrieu and Torricelli -- had occurred several weeks ago and you said you'd double-check that.
MR. MCCURRY: I think they had occurred some time ago. I'm not aware at this point of any conversations in the last couple of days, although I don't rule out that the President would be working the phones on that, although I don't think we would detail specifically who he's talked to.
Q I just want to make sure I understand what the commission is going to do -- the Bioethics Commission. They could come back and recommend federal legislation or scientific guidelines, or --
MR. MCCURRY: We've asked them only to review the legal and ethical implications of this technology and report back to the President within some defined period -- probably about 90 days. We're not asking them to reach any conclusion or make any specific recommendation.
Q And the President was prompted to make this request by the stories about Dolly the sheep?
MR. MCCURRY: Certainly by the very startling news from Scotland, yes.
Q Over the weekend, the bombing in Atlanta -- some of the folks down there complained that the President was very quick to condemn the bombing at the abortion clinic and at the Olympics, but he's been quiet when it happened to be a club that catered to gay Georgians. Is that -- is he not taking a stand on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that he is quiet or has any less a sense of outrage that anyone would target any group of Americans if that is, in fact, what happens. The point is, based on what federal officials, including the FBI and the ATF now know as they work aggressively on this matter is that we cannot declare a motive or declare that this has been directed against any particular community, but the possibility of that is sufficient that the President wanted to make sure that ample federal resources were available and, of course, if it is established that this is directed against gay and lesbian groups in particular, he would find that deeply troubling and would find that something that all Americans should join in condemning.
Q Any word on the Empire State Building shooting? Is there any -- as far as the White House goes -- connection to terrorist organizations or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm only aware that it's being explored by local law enforcement. I think there's been cooperation with federal authorities, but I don't know that they've -- there's cooperation going on between federal and local authorities, but I do not believe they've established any particular link suggesting that type of cause.
Q Mike, why was that Bioethics Commission formed last summer, and has it done anything between then and this --
MR. MCCURRY: They're looking -- we can work up some --there are a number of issues with respect to biotechnology and genetic research generally that caused the President to want to establish a very high-level group to review both legal and ethical issues surrounding all that type of research. They've been in formation, developing their agenda, beginning their work, and adding to it, and now will be this very interesting, perhaps troubling development with respect to the cloning in England.
Q Has he had them look at any other specific issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They have a number of things and we can go back and pull for you the paper and some of the issues that were identified at the time that we announced it. They're both in terms of animal husbandry, biogenetic research, biotechnical research underway, a number of issues within the scientific and technological committee that will be in the purview of the commission.
Q Okay, Mike, I'll ask a non-serious question. Several of my colleagues want to know, if the President could clone one individual, who would that be? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's more likely that I could identify for you those who he would wish to see uncloned. (Laughter.)
Q A serious follow-up -- so the way it stands now, it appears that this kind of research that was going on in England could go on here as long as it's not human research?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is research in the general area of bioengineering, biotechnology that is underway here, where some of the leading experts in the field are here. Now, to my knowledge, with respect to animal husbandry and animal cloning, I'm not aware that we've had any developments here like those that have been reported in Nature Magazine. But I'm not aware of anything that prevents it. I think it would be -- with respect to any human aspect, there would be federal restrictions that apply because of the restrictions on federal funding.
Q I have a follow-up, too. Does the President give them any deadline when to give the report --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the draft letter circulating was going to suggest they would try to report on this specific issue within the 90-day period.
Q And would he favor a law that forbids this --
MR. MCCURRY: He would favor a very good, thorough, accurate review by his commission and would consider recommendations they would make.
Q -- tomorrow -- give us a little --
MR. MCCURRY: The meeting tomorrow is an opportunity to review the bilateral relations between the Kingdom and the United States; opportunity to talk about regional security issues, the security of the U.S. forces deployed in Saudi Arabia; issues pertaining to ongoing investigations of their security, the Khobar bombing, in particular; and the full range of measures that are normally on our bilateral agenda when we meet with the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Q To your knowledge, have there been any requests for military arms sales?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said earlier, Prince Sultan has indicated publicly that he does not plan to raise the issue and we do not plan to -- we're not planning for a discussion of it.
Q On the Empire shooting for a second. Does it highlight any flaws in the Brady Bill and the need for more stringent gun control laws?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't address that without fuller understanding of what local law enforcement have developed there. I think the Mayor and others have addressed many of those issues. I'd want to check further to see if there are any implications that involve federal authorities or federal statutes.
Q Maybe you push for a national card that would be issued ever two years to someone who wants to buy a handgun. What's the White House's --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've advanced the measures with respect to Brady act restrictions -- I think you know what they are. I'm not aware that that's one of them, but I think we've got good, sound reasons for pursuing some of the measures we proposed.
Q Any reaction to reports that Kenneth Starr has concluded that Vince Foster did, in fact, commit suicide?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if that's what he's concluded.
Q Mike, has the President been watching as Madeleine Albright has been tripping around the world, and does he have any reactions to her maiden voyage?
MR. MCCURRY: He likes the hat thing. That's really good. That's big. (Laughter.) He's not been surprised at all that she's had what I think is accurately being described as a triumphant tour. She, in her first outing as Secretary of State, has demonstrated an admiral ability to communicate effectively with those that she's met and, more importantly, with the people of the countries that she's visited. Sometimes, of course, in languages that are more user-friendly. She has pursued a range of menu items that reflect all of the work that we're doing in the field of public policy and foreign policy in the coming year.
She has ably articulated the six strategic objectives we have in this world ranging from the future of Europe to the future of Asia and all the subjects in between that reflect the new world that we live in. She's done so with a great deal of grace in reflecting the instructions of the President to work very vigorously to advance those strategic objectives he has outlined for the year ahead.
Q What are the couple of concrete things she's achieved in this trip that you would point to?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, she's had some very specific progress with respect to Europe coming together on the subject of NATO enlargement and how we will advance the work plan for NATO enlargement as we think ahead to Madrid, and then very importantly how that relates to the very important relationship we will develop with the Russian Federation.
A lot of the work that she's done, of course, comes back into the bilateral diplomacy that we will further in the coming years. She's had excellent and very cordial meetings with our closest European allies and had full exchange of views with them and advanced a number of specific objectives with respect to our relations with key allies in Europe.
And of course, she's just concluded very important meetings in Asia in which she had a very important, sensitive and delicate time -- has been able to explore a range of issues with respect to our relationship with the People's Republic that will contribute directly to the Vice President's visit there later this spring and presumably to the highest level exchange of visits that we foresee.
She's also done some impressive work with respect to promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula. As you know, during the course of her visit, we were able to announce that the briefing for the four-party talks will proceed and in Japan she reaffirmed our very close relations with the government of Japan, worked through a number of issues that the President and the Prime Minister will be able to explore later this year, but again, touching base with a very key strategic ally of the United States in the Pacific region.
So, in short, on many of those very key issues the President identified as his strategic objectives for 1996, she moved the ball in each and every case. And it was, in short, a triumphant journey.
Q And eleven out of ten -- how about human rights in China? Human rights in China.
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q Did they deal with human rights at the Chinese meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. She said -- as Secretary Albright said, the Chinese knew she would raise it and she did, and they explored those issues. The United States reiterated any importance it attaches to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and human rights subjects generally. The response of the Chinese is the one that she has now reviewed publicly with the press corps traveling with her.
Q Mike, President Yeltsin yesterday reiterated his opposition to expanding NATO and suggested that there was some compromise that he and the President could reach during their visit together in Helsinki. What compromise could he have been talking about? Is there a compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no compromise on the central fact that we will explore with our treaty ally partners the expansion of NATO at the Madrid summit later this year. But there is ample room for a productive exchange with the Russian Federation and working a relationship with the Russian Federation that reflects Russia's greatness and its importance to the continent of Europe and the role it will play, we believe, in the future of an undivided democratic, peaceful Europe as we think of the decades ahead. There is ample room for dialogue between the two Presidents on that subject, and we would also affirm that the United States is willing to be, as Secretary Albright said, flexible in our discussions with the Russian Federation on how to best evolve the partnership that should exist between Russia and NATO on those subjects germane to the future of Europe.
How about some on NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: How about some more?
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: It's better than those other subjects.
Q You've got it down cold, though.
Q Anything more on the Hawaii trip? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We were going to send you out on a scouting party.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:24 P.M. EST