THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start by doing a readout of the President's excellent meeting today with Chairman Arafat of the Palestinian Authority. The President and the Chairman met for an hour in the Oval Office with all of their advisors present. They then kicked out all the advisors and met separately, privately, for an additional 20 minutes.
A lot of discussion, beginning, by the way, with Chairman Arafat expressing his condolences to the President for the loss of life in Arkansas, which he apparently had not known about, but picked up on as a result of some of the back-and-forth at the pool spray. The President congratulated the Chairman on the Hebron agreement. They reviewed the status of implementation on those issues, related issues. The President continued to express his support for those things they are doing in the Palestinian community to revitalize the economic infrastructure in the territories so that the people of the Palestinian community can have a reasonable prospect for earning a livelihood.
They talked a lot about the status of U.S. assistance, how U.S. assistance can be effective, how the international community can continue to make good on those major pledges of assistance that were made in October of 1993, when we had the Middle East Donors Conference here. By the way, there's specific follow-up on that -- that's occurring at the State Department right now as Secretary Albright has a working lunch with Chairman Arafat and his delegation, and they'll be making an announcement very shortly about some specific ideas we have for follow-up.
Obviously, they talked at great length, as you imagine from the comments in the pool spray, on the Israel decision to build in Har Homa. The Chairman was clearly very concerned and emotional on the subject, and the President certainly understood the basis of that emotion. And you heard the President himself express his concern about steps that do not work to build confidence between the parties in the peace process.
They reviewed other aspects of the Middle East peace process, talked at some length about the next steps that have to exist as you move through implementation and anticipate final status discussions. In all, a very good, very textured meeting; the first that Chairman Arafat has had with the President when he was here, in a sense, on his own ticket, because he was -- in previous occasions when they have met, he's been here in the context of some other gathering or some other event.
So the President had an enjoyable meeting, and as I say, there is follow-up going on now at the State Department. I believe Chairman Arafat is also going to be at Commerce or maybe several other stops while he's here.
Q Mike, Arafat said he was counting on the President to prevent the settlements from going forward. Is that a reasonable assumption?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he didn't say that. He said he was counting on the President for his support, and the President made appropriate remarks on the subject.
Q So what next, Mike? They both don't like Har Homa, but where do we go from here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will go where we always go in the Middle East peace process -- to a place in which we try to get both parties to understand the texture of their differences, their need for dialogue on some of the fundamentally important questions that they face. There's no issue that's more sensitive than Jerusalem and the status of Jerusalem. And we will, as we always do, work to help both sides understand the nuance and the texture in their positions as we continue to work to build momentum off of what should have been a momentum-creating event, the Hebron agreement. What we need to do is make sure that we continue momentum forward, that we don't see events that undermine confidence in the process that both parties have now pledged to carry out.
Q Mike, will the President directly ask Prime Minister Netanyahu not to build those homes there?
MR. MCCURRY: He already had made clear our views on that question in the past.
Q Is he planning to call Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: We will have appropriate follow-up with the Israeli side as we always do.
Q And did Arafat ask him to, or did he give any suggestions on ways the President might act?
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated we would continue to be in contact with all parties, including the Israeli side, continue to help parties work through issues in which they're clearly divided or see differences, and this is clearly that type of issue.
Q How frustrated is he, Mike, that there hasn't been momentum off of Hebron, that instead of going forward, there seems to have been a step taken backward?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Middle East peace process itself has to be put in the larger context of what's happening on the street, what's happening in the region. And as they talked through some of those issues today, there is a number of very positive things happening and changes beginning to occur, and the rewards of peace beginning to be felt and seen in the Palestinian community and, indeed, in the Israeli community as well.
That's where our focus should properly be, on how do we nurture and deepen those commitments to peace that have been made. And that's why they spent so much time talking about how we can follow up in a more formal way on the kinds of exchanges that are designed to lend U.S. assistance to efforts to empower the Palestinian community and build its economic infrastructure.
Q Mike, you said Arafat was emotional. Did he warn that there was going to be bloodshed over this?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been very careful about that and his restrain is admirable.
Q Mike you said that there was no momentum, or little momentum coming out of Hebron. Do you ascribe that to the Israeli side exclusively, or are there any problems on the Palestinian side?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there are multiple factors always as the sides attempt to deal with their differences, deal with their unique, dynamic cultures, and all we have said is that we believe the parties ought to continue to try to work through differences and build momentum and build confidence. We've clearly had one thing in particular we think did not work towards that end, and we've said so, but we need to move on and see how we can get back to restoring confidence in the parties and get them moving forward.
Q -- the Palestinians, though? Any problems with Palestinian action since --
MR. MCCURRY: We share our concerns and our interests, our differences and our expressions of support with both sides, and do so in a way that tries to keep the process moving forward.
Q There has been some speculation that Arafat, in retaliation, might declare an independent Palestinian state. Did the President raise that possibility and express any concern over that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not raise that.
Q Did Arafat raise it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had discussion of final status issues, and the Chairman did not specifically suggest that he was inclined to take that position.
Q Do you have anything on the Albanian situation, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q One more on Arafat. Was this more of a stock-taking meeting, exploring how to move forward, are were there any specifics that did, in fact, build a bit of momentum?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope that the specific that Secretary Albright and Chairman Arafat will announce in a short while will build something that sends a signal to the community that there are ways in which the United States will formally participate in strengthening the effort to find peace and to find a way to revitalize, economically, the Palestinian community. So there were some specific discussions of that nature.
Q How about talking about Gore, all the rash of stories? What's the real story here?
MR. MCCURRY: The real story is Al Gore also ran for reelection in 1996.
Q -- in terms for his --
MR. MCCURRY: And he ran successfully and he ran vigorously and he helped to raise money for the campaign, and he --
Q Did he do it legally?
MR. MCCURRY: -- he, like the President, was effective and, yes, he did it legally.
Q What about the special telephone lines?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to review who had faxes and pagers and walkie-talkies and telephone lines. I'm just not going to do it.
Q Who is in a position to review that?
Q What about the question, Mike, on whether it's legal to do that from the White House, even if the phone is paid for by the DNC?
MR. MCCURRY: The Legal Counsel's Office will be able to deal with the question of what's legal about equipment.
Q When are they going to deal with that, Mike? How will we find that out? Because so far they haven't taken any questions.
MR. MCCURRY: If you ask the Vice President's Office, I think they're looking into that and trying to be in a position to be responsive.
Q And so should we expect a statement today? How are we going to find this out?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you should call the -- just call the Vice President's Office is the best way to do it.
Q I called them. We've all been calling them and they are in some confusion.
MR. MCCURRY: All right, if we get an answer, we'll post it.
Q This is back to -- not a legal thing. In the Post story, Bob Woodward writes about Gore phone calls. Were all those phone calls all made from the DNC, or were there any made from -- to your knowledge --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to detail his phone calls.
Q I understand that there was a 1995 memo from then White House Counsel Abe Mikva, which essentially instructed people in the White House not to do what Al Gore did. Now, is that the case?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not the case, and we'll be happy to give you the memo. It was a general memo from the Legal Counsel's Office that went through a whole range of things about what you could and could not do as we anticipated a campaign year.
Q Can we see that?
MR. MCCURRY: We made it clear --
Q Will you make that available?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Was that memo part of a process of sort of systematically looking at this question of what can the President do, what can the Vice President do and not do? Was there such a review?
MR. MCCURRY: The memo makes clear, going into a campaign year, the Legal Counsel's Office wanted to make sure that every White House employee understood what was proper and what was improper under the law, and what burdens are on the individual to comply fully with the Hatch Act and with other aspects of federal law.
Q Do you dispute the stories, though, that point out how much more aggressive the fundraising was from President Clinton, Vice President Gore, compared to their predecessors?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what their predecessors did. I mean, I don't know how much Dan Quayle went out and campaigned using the Competitiveness Council, or went out and solicited donations from people who might have been interested in the work of that as a way of comparing to what Vice President Gore did -- I mean, some of you were here, you are in a better position to compare than I am.
Q Mike, George seemed to be saying over the weekend that, in fact, people did use the second set of phones, second set of faxes to do fundraising from the White House. Is that the case?
MR. MCCURRY: I will have to go back and check. That's a broad question and what you're interested in is specific answers. If I have specific answers I'll try to pass them on.
Q That was pretty specific, though -- he asked whether people used these phones.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a broad question -- people; what people, how many phones, who are you talking about, and that's very specific.
Q How many did you have?
Q How about Al Gore?
MR. MCCURRY: We had one here and we used it for everything that involved contact with the campaign or things in which we deemed it to be a political purpose.
Q When Kristol said on that context yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: Mara, Mara.
Q -- that there was nothing going on that was legal --
MR. MCCURRY: Mara. I'll come back to you, Bill.
Q My question is -- I mean, Mikva has laid out these rules and said you can -- the phones and the faxes were for contact with the DNC because they had to be paid for in a different way than the other phones.
MR. MCCURRY: The memo you'll see -- you can interpret it yourself.
Q But my question is, since a lot of us have been having trouble getting calls back from Gore's office, is there an effort underway to find out where Gore made the phone calls from?
MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President believes there should be precise, specific answers to questions, and I'm not in a position to give them here.
Q Kristol alleged that there -- it was illegal to make phone calls even on lines paid for by others, and George's response was, "that's just nuts."
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't watch the show, and they're pundits now and they can "pundicize" all they want.
Q Well, presumably, George comes away with some knowledge of what they believe was correct at the time.
MR. MCCURRY: He was speaking in his capacity as a pundit and not trying to provide any specific authoritative account. Once you're in the news business, the journalism business, your standards for accuracy are much lower than ours are standing here.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they are. That is absolutely correct.
Q But with all due respect, one would think he would know.
Q Don't blame us on him.
MR. MCCURRY: Our obligations are much greater than you in the journalistic community to provide --
Q Mike, how can you say such a thing?
MR. MCCURRY: It is true, because we have to be 100 -- 1000 percent correct here about the information we provide. You're free to speculate on based on one or two sources that may or not know what they have.
Q You've never been caught up in your own credibility gap?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I have. And that's why I'm especially careful about what I say and why I'm being careful right now, because I don't know.
Q Are you saying that Stephanopoulos's comments were incorrect?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying I don't know -- I didn't pay much attention to what he said. He was gabbing on a weekend Sunday talk show. And, unfortunately, I was otherwise occupied and didn't watch it and don't know exactly what it was that he said. I'm interested in providing precise, specific answers to questions that you may have.
Q But you said the Vice President's Office would have to do it.
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf. Wolf.
Q How many of those phone lines were there, and are they still in operation now?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have an answer. That's the kind of specific answer I'd like to have I don't have.
Q Does the President believe it's appropriate at any point for anyone to sit in the White House and solicit donations from somewhere in the White House or the EOB? What's his statement on that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President expects people to follow the procedures and the requirements spelled out in the memo that we'll give to you.
Q What's the answer to the question, though?
MR. MCCURRY: He expects people to follow specifically the practices and the guidelines that are in the document you will get.
Q Does that include making phone calls from the White House? You said there wasn't a proscription against that in the memo.
MR. MCCURRY: You'll see the document when we give it to you.
Q The story referred to, in one phone call, the Vice President called up somebody and said, I've been tasked to raise so much money. Who tasked -- did the President task --
MR. MCCURRY: What are you talking about?
Q It's a quote in the story.
Q The quote in the Post story said that -- quoted the businessman that the Vice President, in his call said, I have been tasked to raise X-amount of money by the end of the week. Did the President ask the Vice President to make these series of phone calls?
MR. MCCURRY: The President expected the Vice President to be supportive and to help get the ticket reelected. And I'll check on that specific aspect.
Q Some of the story said that President Clinton flatly raised to make direct solicitations of donors himself. Is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President -- I would put it a little differently -- the President's view was that there were others who were going to have that responsibility in the campaign, that he would work to do what he was doing, which was to attend fundraising events, fundraising dinners to meet with fundraisers to encourage them to be supportive. I think we've talked a lot about that here.
I think as far as going out and actually getting people to write the checks and to send them in and to track people down, I think he assumed that others were doing that work.
Q Was the President aware that one of those who was doing that work was the Vice President, and did he think that was appropriate?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in a position to say specifically how much the Vice President did, and his staff is going to attempt to address those questions.
Q Well, his staff has acknowledged that he did solicit funds --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to try to answer that, Rita. I've made that abundantly obvious to you.
Q Where, specifically, were these phones and faxes?
MR. MCCURRY: They were in different places in the White House where people felt that they might have occasion from time to time to have to do some work that would be deemed political and not official. We did some here in the Press Office; so did others in other offices.
Q Has the President's reelection campaign, like the DNC, review contributions received last year for appropriateness? And is there any effort to return those linked to the three men --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. I don't believe there have been questions or concerns raised about contributions that went to the Clinton-Gore '96 Committee, but I'll just have to check. I don't know whether they made that kind of review, or not.
They apparently, according to those familiar with the fundraising of the campaign committee, had in place different type of screening procedures than those that clearly should have been in place at the DNC, or were in place and then dropped, or were in place and failed.
Q Were people here at the White House surprised by Senator Torricelli's criticism of this practice as indefensible, given all the fundraising work that the President and Vice President gave --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't surveyed the entire White House to see what the reaction was.
Q Did you talk to the President about his -- to Vice President Gore on raising money last year?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, back on the President's -- whether or not he was making solicitations. I mean, obviously, if the President turns to somebody and said, your President needs you to give $50,000, they're more likely to do it than if some third-level fundraiser does so.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has said he didn't do that at the events that we've talked about that occurred at the Residence. But I think the President knew that that work would have to be done and he just assumed that others would continue to do that work.
Q Do you know that the President made an affirmative decision not to do that for any particular reason, or just --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it was a division of labor. He knew what he was going to be doing and working on. I don't know that he violently objected to doing it, I just think that he felt that there would be others working to do that on his behalf.
Q Can I follow up on the Harold Ickes document from last week? Has anybody here ascertained whether anybody, any big donors got Air Force One seats or White House Mess privileges?
MR. MCCURRY: They are working on making sure that we have a reliable answer with respect to all 10 of those items. They don't have it yet.
Q I'm still trying to figure out -- maybe I didn't ask the question right, but was the President aware ever that Vice President Gore was directly making solicitations?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the degree of his awareness or unawareness.
Q Could you take the question and ask him?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll consider taking it.
Q I may have missed this -- just for clarity. Is a determination trying to be made now whether all the activities were legal, or has that determination already been made, in terms of the phones and the faxes?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the effort now is to determine what all the activity is.
Q All right, and then from there, determine whether --
MR. MCCURRY: Correct.
Q And who is doing that? Is it the Counsel's Office?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Vice President's Office, which wants to be responsive to your questions, is leading the effort to do that.
Q You say there were some phones and faxes in the Press Office as well? You didn't mean to suggest that the Press Office was used for fundraising.
MR. MCCURRY: No, but from time to time we did things that we didn't deem to be official in nature that they would more directly relate to the campaign committee, or if we needed to send material to the campaign committee, it would be more proper to do that on machines that were not paid for by the taxpayer. They would be properly reimbursed by the campaign committee.
Q Mike, what would be your guess on when Gore --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to guess.
Q Today, tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to guess. When the answer is accurate, complete and reliable.
Q Did the President, in any of his conversations with senators on the Hill, particularly Senator Daschle, give his view as to whether the Thompson investigation should be fully funded or whether it should be linked to campaign finance reform?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q So the White House is not lobbying on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a matter for the Senate.
Q Another subject. What's the President's reaction to the Dan Glickman discrimination situation policy that he's trying to change in six months?
MR. MCCURRY: What -- Secretary Glickman's announcement from last week? I think he feels that the mission statement adopted by the Secretary and by the Department is an appropriate one. There should be zero tolerance for discrimination. He appreciates the work the Secretary has done to both review the report of the Inspector General, to really look at the past practices, and then make sure that we make an affirmative response to them. And he thinks things like the action hotline that has been established are very sensible and knows that that will be, under the Secretary's leadership, a good way to address any examples or vestiges of discrimination or prejudice in the department.
Q Mike, there seems to be a lot of discontent on Capitol Hill about the certification of Mexico, and there seems to be a movement to try to change it. Is the White House trying to do something about it? Are you waiting for the vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll be working with members of Congress to understand their concerns. I think we'll also be affirmatively making the argument about why the President took this step, why he believed it was the right one, why it was consistent with the law and why it also is consistent with our national interests.
By the way, I forgot to tell you earlier, I did not know about it -- Senator Moynihan, Chairman Helms, Congressman Hamilton and Congressman Combest are expected down here this afternoon; in fact, they may be in talking with the President now. They are actually here for a different purpose, which is to present the President and discuss a congressionally-mandated report on secrecy, which was set up as result of legislation passed, I believe, two years ago. But in the course of that conversation, I think the President intended to raise his Mexico decision and to talk about his reasons for deciding as he did.
Q Secrecy in what?
MR. MCCURRY: They did a general review of classification issues, secrecy -- whether there are too many secrets -- a subject that Senator Moynihan has been quite outspoken on -- and ways in which the federal government can make more information accessible and open, which is something many of us here believe is important.
Q And this is a final --
MR. MCCURRY: Final report from the Commission on Government Secrecy.
Q Will we see it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's classified. No. I think it is going to be made available, but I'm not sure under what circumstances. It actually arises from the commission established by Congress.
Okay. Thank you. And as soon as -- if we get any information from the Vice President's Office, obviously, we'll pass it on.
Q When do we get the Mikva memo?
MR. MCCURRY: The memo, we can make available.
Q One last question.
Q Arkansas trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Arkansas trip is tomorrow.
Q And President Fujimori has just been to the Dominican Republic, and he's either in Cuba right now or going to Cuba, presumably to talk on the hostage -- is the U.S. still keeping tabs with the Peruvian government on the hostage situation?
MR. MCCURRY: We are, both through our embassy in Lima; also we get report from Embassy Tokyo, which we put into the mix, and we've been monitoring very closely, especially at the State Department, how the discussions have been going.
Q You don't have any problem with his going to Havana to discuss with President Castro --
MR. MCCURRY: We well understand his desire to do what he thinks is necessary in order to advance the prospects of a peaceful settlement of this incident.
Q What is the subject of the Michigan speech?
MR. MCCURRY: Education, and it will touch on welfare reform as well.
Q -- Ickes documents today or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what, if anything, we will do with respect to those documents. That's still being evaluated.
Mark? Oh, what late-breaking news, Mark?
Q Mike, is there any agreement with Chairman Shelby about making the complete FBI report on Tony Lake available?
MR. MCCURRY: They apparently are going to talk further with Chairman Shelby. Our legal counsel is reviewing that with Mr. Lake later today, and then they were going to continue discussions on the Hill appropriately to resolve concerns. Nothing new to report.
Q Is the President going to have his news conference on Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: We're projecting it for Friday at 2:00 p.m.
Q Is that official already?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Let's make it official -- 2:00 p.m. Yes, 2:00 p.m. Friday.
Q Can we try and get that Mikva memo out in a reasonable amount of time as opposed to 6:28 p.m. or something like that?
MR. MCCURRY: There is it.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Is that reasonable enough? We'll make other copies available to you.
Q Is the President going to fly over northern Arkansas --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, say it again.
Q -- to tour damaged areas by the tornadoes in Arkansas?
MR. MCCURRY: Say it again.
Q Tomorrow, what is the plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- hold on -- I can't --
Q Tomorrow, what are the President's plan as far as surveying damage? Can you just describe --
MR. MCCURRY: Do you want me to run through what we're doing?
Q Disaster declaration?
MR. MCCURRY: It's already -- that is already done. He will inspect damage in College Station outside of Little Rock, and in Arkadelphia. He declared a major disaster in the state, as you know, Sunday night and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts.
He's had a federal action team down in place that consists of Transportation Secretary Slater, FEMA Director James Lee Witt, our new SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez. They have been down there and looking at damage and also assuring the President that nothing about his visit would complicate any ongoing recovery or disaster relief efforts. And then we've gotten those assurances.
I think as you know, earlier today the President said that he had talked over the weekend several times to Arkansas officials, and he'll be doing an aerial tour of damage in southwest Little Rock and then go to Arkadelphia, come back by way of College Station and then return here to Washington.
Have we got a schedule that's almost ready to go?
MS. GLYNN: Any minute now.
Q Is there somewhere where he's going to have comments summarizing or --
MR. MCCURRY: I assume at some point he will say some things to the pool or whatever the occasion is. And then I expect that as I said to you earlier, he'll have some thing to say about campaign finance reform on Wednesday, when he has an event here. We may have one other brief statement that he would make tomorrow before departing, so be alert to the fact that we might have some --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know. Science.
Q Discoveries on Mars?
Q What's the event on Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a campaign finance event. We'll tell you about it tomorrow.
Q What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that it will be another opportunity for the President to continue to say we've got to get campaign finance reform in the end of the day.
Q Here at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, here.
Q New guidelines, by chance?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it will be about the effort to create public support for campaign finance reform.
And then looking ahead -- Thursday, Michigan; Friday, a press conference.
Q D.C. event?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's not going to happen now Friday. We may hold that and do that the following week.
Q What was that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm talking further about ways in which we can stimulate interest in the economic revitalization of this nation's jewel of a Capital City.
Is that enough for you? Okay, let's go.
END 1:47 P.M. EST