THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Lansing, Michigan)
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The State Capitol Lansing, Michigan
12:47 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Knowing that you all want to know a lot more about our -- the directive to the National Science Foundation and -- you can tell it passed with flying colors here in Michigan.
Q Mike, since you are soliciting questions on the subject, did you ever answer the question from the briefing the other day on why Michigan was chosen, what the origin of that was?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first the Governor's interest and the discussion of the issue here -- it's been a very active debate within the state about improving the quality of the state's local public schools. And secondly, the interest that Michigan has in moving towards standards of excellence that would be measured through the kind of testing that the President has advocated.
Q Did the White House solicit the invitation, or did Governor Engler --
MR. MCCURRY: We had good conversations with the state, with the Governor, with Democratic leaders here in the legislature, and were warmly welcomed today and glad of it.
Q Mike, Lott today said it is absolutely essential that the President embrace a CPI commission. Any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: It's absolutely essential for Congress and the President to work together to balance the budget. And the issue of measuring inflation may be a factor in those discussions if there is a need to get a more accurate measure of inflation.
That's not the linchpin of success when it comes to reaching an agreement. The key is for the President and the bipartisan leadership to sit down go through the issues that would lead to a balanced budget by a date certain. And the most important thing that can happen at this point is for Congress to work seriously on the President's budget proposal, mark it up, and begin the work necessary to meet the statutory deadlines in the budget resolution.
Q On that subject, apparently, Newt Gingrich is saying today, this budget has got to be first draft, the White House has got to resubmit the budget. Anything new on that?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- the spokesman biting his lip, looking for a wickedly pointed barb in return, said only, "The Speaker knows better." The Speaker knows they have serious work to do, and we should get on with the serious work.
Q Mike, apparently, Lott and others are still calling for an independent counsel, and I guess Reno came out today and said at this point it's not necessary. But is there any value maybe to the White House simply saying, let's do it and clear the decks and get over with this?
MR. MCCURRY: It's the same answer, and it's been asked and answered every day recently, and we don't have anything new to say on that subject. As the President said yesterday, it's a legal question that the Attorney General addresses based on the study of the evidence, as she herself said today.
Q Could you clarify your remarks to the pool -- we haven't seen them yet, but there's been buzz about them -- you were asked apparently whether you would have accepted the check had you been in the same situation as Maggie Williams.
MR. MCCURRY: I said that the President expects White House employees to follow the procedures that are approved by the Legal Counsel's Office, and apparently that's what Maggie did in this situation.
Q Mike, is this the only instance that the White House knows of where a staffer accepted a donation?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe Ms. Lewis, Ann Lewis, is answering questions today. I am told that she is saying that it's the only instance that Maggie Williams recalls. And I believe the legal counsel is checking with others who would have had contact from time to time with political people or with donors to check. Nothing that I've heard leads me to believe it is a common occurrence. But they're checking further and by the end of the day you might be able to connect with Ann Lewis and then she can tell you more.
Q Mike, just to clarify, are you saying that Maggie Williams does not recall any instances that she --
MR. MCCURRY: I am told by Ann Lewis, who is answering questions on this, that Maggie doesn't recall any other occasion.
Q In which she herself took part -- is that what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: Correct, correct.
Q Do you know why they were meeting? I mean, was that the only reason that they were meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been widely reported for months now that Johnny Chung was a frequent visitor to the White House and often sort of hung around the anteroom of the First Lady's Office in the Old Executive Office Building. That's been -- most of your papers have reported that.
Q Well, do you dispute that he was looking for access and looking for favors in return?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information on his motive. His attorney apparently has addressed that.
Geez, you guys are wimps today. What's going on?
Q That was a great speech --
Q -- stands by itself.
MR. MCCURRY: The speech stands on its own. Do you want some more on the -- we've got some of our education folks. We can pump that up for you.
Q You said the Counsel's Office was checking to see if there were any other examples like Maggie's. Do you know of any?
MR. MCCURRY: As I am here now, I am not aware of any. And as I say, anecdotally, what I've heard from my colleagues is that no one believes it was a common occurrence. But I would never be so foolish as to say categorically that it never happened on any other occasion. And as you know, the fact that contributions arrive at the White House is foreseen in the Mikva memo which you all have a copy of.
Q The calls the Vice President made were -- he says were legal, but he would not do it again. Maggie accepting a check, you say is legal. Would the President hope that next time a White House staffer is offered a check, that they not take it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would hope that White House employees follow the procedures that are approved by the Legal Counsel's Office. And it is foreseen in the law and in the regulations that there is a distinction between handling a political contribution and accepting or receiving a political contribution, and there are good reasons why at the White House you can direct and route any information that you get to the proper destination. That happens from time to time when people want to raise an issue, a regulatory issue, we can forward it to the appropriate agency. It is foreseen in the regulations in the Federal Code that a political contribution can be "handled," sent to the proper destination.
Q So he would not mind if another White House staffer did exactly what Maggie Williams did?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he would expect people to follow the procedures that are in place, as I said, and those call upon White House employees to direct people who are interested in political activity to the appropriate political entity.
Q But isn't it a fact, Mike, that the President would prefer that people not be a conduit for checks, political checks to the Democratic National Committee?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he would probably expect that it's not a common practice.
Q Regardless of the procedure, Mike, and the legal standards, isn't it a bit unseemly for someone who is hanging around the White House to try and set up meetings to bring a check in and to deliver it to the First Lady's Office?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm here to present you facts and you're in the business of characterizing things.
Q Mike, what's the President's mood, with a new revelation practically every day in the papers and all?
MR. MCCURRY: He's well aware of the fact we're in a feeding frenzy and you just have to endure it. I mean, he's not furious, frustrated, upset; he's enjoying working on the things he got elected to do. That's what he's doing today, that's what he spends his time doing, and he, frankly, is pretty used to this environment because he's been in it for much of the last four years.
Q Mike, these rules apply to you. Do you understand the difference between accepting or receiving a check and handling it, and could you explain it that to me?
MR. MCCURRY: "Accept" means to come into possession of something from a person officially on behalf of a candidate, a campaign, a political party or a partisan political group, but does not include ministerial activities which proceed or follow this official act. "To receive" means to come into possession of something from a person officially on behalf of a candidate, a campaign, a political party or a partisan political group, but does not include ministerial activities which proceed or follow this official act.
In the development of the regulation that I just read to you, it was foreseen that the definitions of "accept" and "receive" would cover only the acts of accepting or receiving something from a person officially on behalf of a candidate, campaign or political party or partisan political group. Ministerial activities which proceed or follow the official acceptance in receipt, such as handling, disbursing, or accounting for contributions are not covered under the definitions of accept hand receipt.
Thank you for your question, Mr. Harris.
Q What are you reading from?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm reading from, if you want the citation, it's the Federal Code, Part 7 -- let's see -- citation is Federal Code, Friday, July 5th, 1996, Federal Register, Volume 61, number 130, page 35099. And it's the authority -- it's the -- I'm trying to figure out which act this is actually interpreting.
Q So you're saying Maggie Williams received it, but didn't accept it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that accept and receive are clearly defined in the statute and in the regulations and the distinction is made between handling a political contribution and officially, on behalf of a candidate, accepting or receiving. And that's the law and it's not my tortured explanation, it's in black and white. We'll give you a copy if you're interested.
Q But it's basically because she was passing it on to the DNC as opposed to accepting it --
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing that says it is foreseen that -- you'd have to wait to direct the contribution to the place that it should go, that you should not accept it, acknowledge it and do anything with it other than send it to where it should properly go to.
Q Mike, has Maggie explained why it was given to a member of the First Lady's staff as opposed to the President's staff?
MR. MCCURRY: She's been in discussions with Ann Lewis and Ann Lewis is taking questions on her behalf.
Q Mike, why did this guy have so much access to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: That's been widely reported on. I can get you clips on that.
Q I read them, but I'm wondering, because you want us to set this standard -- I'm wondering what your reading is.
MR. MCCURRY: My reading is that he went to the White House a lot and I'm not going to try to characterize what his motive is.
Q Doesn't it raise questions about a lot of people why someone would come to the White House so often -- 50 times -- as you said, hang around outside of the First Lady's official area?
MR. MCCURRY: I have ceased wondering what raises questions and dispenses with questions. That's your business, not mine.
Welcome, to our colleagues from Michigan. Anyone want to ask a Michigan-related question since we're in Michigan.
Q Are you worried that all of these distinctions between handling receipt and acceptance are going to be lost on the broader population that's going to see somebody who got a check, took it in their hand --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a reasonable argument this whole matter is lost on the larger public. I think some of you have reported all of that. I don't pretend to want to judge how the American people draw distinctions. I think what they want to know is what's legal and what's illegal. That's why I just ran through the law and the interpretation of the law as best as I could.
Q This memo simply said you can't receive a contribution in the White House. It didn't set out this complicated distinction between handling and receiving.
MR. MCCURRY: It made it clear that -- it addressed the question of mail contribution, contributions that arrive by the mail, and made it clear that the process I just described, which is you direct them through an established procedure to the DNC, is foreseen.
Q But it did not make an exception like that for somebody handing it --
MR. MCCURRY: You're correct, it did not address that. But the same principle should apply, that you direct it to the destination that it's intended to go to.
Q -- have said that if the same principle applied? I mean, the purpose here is to keep the money out of the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I think as a practice that's not foreseen that you -- I mean, that's not an activity that is a common practice going to occur at the White House. But if it happens in a case like this there should be a process and the process should be followed.
All right. Thank you, everyone.
Q Do you want us to accept your explanation or just hold it? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I want you to receive it as it was officially given and can be officially received on your part. In fact, more importantly, I want you to accept it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EST