THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:18 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me keep this mercifully short for all of you and tell you that the President would like to see -- I guess, what, the pool is about the way we're going to be doing this -- at 4:00 p.m. he's got some things that he would like to say about Tony and he also wants to say some things about the budget process. So that will make considerably more news than I'm prepared to right now, since I probably won't touch either of those subjects.
Q Will he be naming a successor to Tony?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Do you have any idea when that might come?
MR. MCCURRY: Not definitively, but as I told you earlier, he's interested in doing it sooner -- as soon as possible, given the enormous needs we have and given the President's desire to have a strong intelligence community that can help him analyze the information necessary for understanding the world we live in.
Q Where will the President --
Q Has the President met today or spoken by phone with George Tenet?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has not spoken with the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence today. There are lots going on in the world -- the President did get his customary national security briefing today, but Mr. Tenet was not the one who delivered it.
Q Are you taking the pool into the Residence for this?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that is the plan -- I think in the Blue Room.
Q Mike, when the President put his national security team together, he made a real effort to fit them in and have them mesh. What does this mean for that team and for U.S. foreign policy?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that there's a vacancy that he has to fill with the same criteria in mind -- people who will work well as members of a team and someone who's got a lot of sharp incites when it comes to thinking about the world, understanding all of the information that is out there every day that we are able to discover about the world, and then people who can pull it together so that we understand better what the implications are for policy. That's especially important in the position of Director of Central Intelligence. It is a fundamental position in helping us understand the very fast changing world and responding to it effectively through policy. And Tony would have been in some ways unsurpassed in that role given his background and his intelligence and his own wisdom when it comes to thinking about the world we live in. But there are others who I think will fit into that category quite nicely.
Q Does this narrow the pool drastically, though?
MR. MCCURRY: Does the -- you mean, does the effect of this type of process -- I mean, the people --
Q Well, yes.
MR. MCCURRY: -- come forward and say, we don't want to go through this type of process because it's ugly and it can degrade the human spirit? Yes, you bet you. There are a lot of people who are shying away from public service these days because of some of the things that people go through.
Q Mike, Tony in his letter made it clear that he thought that he could have been nominated had it gone to a full vote and that it was a determined minority that blocked this. The President had on numerous occasions made it clear that he supported Tony and said that publicly, albeit in fairly polite ways. Did he ever consider just being much more blunt and saying, look, you guys are trying to give the shaft to one of my nominees, I won't stand for it, and knock it off?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely, absolutely. He came -- he, as you know, volunteered several times his own strong feelings on the nomination. He was prepared to wage exactly that kind of fight and told that to Tony yesterday. He came very close to asking Tony to stick it out, but at the end, the President did not want to make a request of Tony that he felt was just so contrary to Tony's personal wishes that it would violate the manner in which Tony wanted to address the question.
Q If I could follow up on that, does he feel constrained? I mean, you made it clear he feels very frustrated and angry by this, but has he been constrained in his sort of public rhetoric, and that's because he needs the Republicans on so many other things and that he can't really give full vent to what he might actually be feeling?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say it a little bit differently. He continues to believe that there has to be bipartisanship brought to bear on the problems that this country faces, whether it's overseeing the Intelligence Committee or whether it's balancing the budget or whether it's addressing those questions the American people want to see addressed. We've got a Republican Congress and a Democratic President; it's a fact of life. And the President, who has been trying to work with this Republican Congress in ways that allow us to bridge differences and get on with the work that the American people sent us here to do.
So he has been constrained I think more directly by the need to keep the rhetoric down and to continue to try to repair some of the breaches that exist. That's what's so dispiriting about this whole episode is that it puts us right back into the kind of acrimonious approach to personnel issues and to, in some sense, policy issues that defined the 1995, early 1996 period. And the President really hopes that we can set aside that type of environment and get on with business and get people working together.
Q Was George Tenet meeting other officials here at the White House today?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm not -- this is a useless exercise for you to try to get me to speculate about who the President might be considering. I'm not going to do that.
Q Mike, how much will this hurt the overall atmosphere on the Hill? Will that carry over?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends. Our hope is that maybe some members of the Senate have stopped and taken a look at this today and said maybe we should think about how we approach our advice and consent role. Maybe some of these things have gone a little too far with respect to FBI files, with respect to the kind of tactics that are engaged in sometimes -- maybe this will occasion reflection on the part of senators and they will consider about whether this is the environment that they want to establish for dealing with difficult issues. There's no -- we don't fault people for raising issues and addressing concerns. And Tony, I think, did a superb job over three days of hearings in addressing those concerns, but then you have to move on and make decisions. It was clear that they were just going to nickel-and-dime him. And that's an approach to confirmation that I think will dissuade a lot of people from thinking they should offer their service to the nation.
Q Will this cause the White House to change its strategy because of this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- look, this President is going to continue to seek ways in which we can bridge the political differences that exist in this town and get on with balancing the budget and get on with addressing the issues the President has defined. Those are what energize him and what he wants to work on. And we're going to continue to try to work with those that want to work with the President. And we just hope there will be more of them as a result of this episode rather than fewer of them.
Q Mike, it apparently wasn't just Senate -- it wasn't just Republicans who had some concerns. Senator Bob Kerrey --
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Kerrey -- Senator Bob Kerrey had concerns, and I think he expressed them entirely properly. He raised them. He asked the nominee to address them. He said publicly what his concerns were. And that's the proper advice and consent role.
That's not what we're talking about. We're talking about endless delay. We're talking about demeaning efforts to really attack a person personally. And that's a whole different type of issue. And I think Senator Kerrey spoke very eloquently to that earlier today. He made clear what the differences were, and he made clear his concerns about the process that was used in this nomination.
Q Did his raising of those concerns have any effect on the process? Apparently, he raised these concerns before Tony Lake talked to the President about withdrawing his name.
MR. MCCURRY: You mean about the process -- his concerns about the process? He's stated for some time that he was concerned about the delays and concerned that they weren't treating Mr. Lake fairly.
Q But I mean concerns about Lake himself.
MR. MCCURRY: He made those very publicly known, and we acknowledge that that was legitimate and proper.
Q Did that have any effect on Lake's withdrawal?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, Mr. Lake has expressed himself in his letter very eloquently on his reasons for withdrawal, and I just refer you to the letter.
Q Mike, when you talk about the efforts to attack him personally, what are you referring to there?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm talking about all those same things that Senator Kerrey mentioned in his press conference today -- the rush to assumption, mistaken, erroneous information put out. And there were some tactics employed by some staffers up there that I think Mr. Shelby ought to be accountable for someday.
Q Mike, the President then could have just as well issued a statement. Why does he -- what's the reason for making the point publicly about Mr. Lake?
MR. MCCURRY: He wants to address himself to this subject, and he also wants to make some remarks about the budget that I think are going to be important. There have been some important things said on the Hill about the budget. I think the President wants to respond and in the spirit of bipartisan wants to see if we can't move this process forward.
Q What kind of staffer conduct are you talking about, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q What kind of staffer conduct are you talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: Conduct that I hope sooner or later sees the light of day so that people can understand what happened.
Q Why not take the opportunity to tell us what you're talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not prepared to do that here right now.
Q Mike, on the story concerning Mr. Tamraz and the DNC and the CIA, is it clear that the NSC did not pass that information on to anybody in the West Wing, such as Leon Panetta or Harold Ickes? Was there a flag raised by anybody in the NSC to senior White House staff officials about Mr. Tamraz?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I told you yesterday the legal counsel has to look exactly at that kind of question. People, in talking about things now that are more than a year old, might have memories that are not particularly good. So he needs to work through, see what people did know, talk to a lot of different people. And I'm not going to try to give a haphazard answer to a question like that.
Q Just to check on one other question to see if you have this answer -- did Tony Lake know or is that something that still has to be reviewed by --
MR. MCCURRY: No indication that he knew, and he was prepared to address that and, I think, did address that during the confirmation process.
MR. MCCURRY: Did Tony indicate that he had thought about withdrawing earlier, but had waited over the weekend because of the President's condition?
MR. MCCURRY: Tony talked to a number of us about doing to this even prior to his hearing because his level of concern for the process had grown sufficiently at that point. He had drafted much of the letter that he gave to the President last night even prior to the hearing. And a number of us tried to prevail upon him to stick it out. And a number of us may be wondering whether we should have.
Q And were those concerns getting more acute over the course of last week?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q And was his was his withdrawal put off because of the accident?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, he had wanted to get some sense of what the likelihood of a vote was. I mean, the belief was, he did a very good job. He addressed these issues publicly. I think he did a spectacular job fending off questions that grew repetitive and at times ridiculous during his confirmation hearing. But he did that with uncommon grace given some of the anger that I think he rightfully felt.
And it was -- our belief was that we would get the a point where there would be a vote certain this week. I mean, there were some indications after the hearing, they would proceed to a vote this week. And it was clear yesterday that they were just going to let this thing drag on and on and on, and Tony knows that the President needs to have a Director of Central Intelligence in place. So he did what he thought was the right thing to do.
Q What's the likelihood that he'll announce a new nominee before they leave for Helsinki tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule it out. The important thing, obviously, obviously, is to get the right nominee out there.
Q But, Mike, can the President realistically come up with a new nominee, submit the name and get him in place any sooner than they could have gotten Tony in place?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hoped we would have had Mr. Lake in place quickly. If there had been a vote this week in the committee and they had proceeded to Senate action quickly, he could have been in place in rather short order. But we'll have to deal with the other situation.
Q -- people that Lott was talking about? You're still going to be getting a new nominee in there at about the same time, aren't you?
MR. MCCURRY: Unfortunately, yes.
Q Mike, from a practical foreign policy standpoint, what do you lose by not having a DCI in place now as you go into these trips?
MR. MCCURRY: Our intelligence community is a very sophisticated conglomeration of organizations. And they need leadership, they need effective management. They are disparate in that they do different kinds of work and they're located in different places. And they need to be pulled together by someone who is a capable Director of Central Intelligence. And the Agency itself needs good, inspired leadership for all the reasons that would be perfectly obvious to anyone who has read a newspaper over the last several months.
I mean, that's an agency that is desperate for good, strong leadership. George Tenet, who is the Acting Director now since John Deutch left, does a spectacular job and has got a great reputation inside the Agency. I think he's very well liked on the Hill. In fact, that's the reason why Tony had already indicated publicly that he was going to remain in that position, because they've very close personally, too.
Q Mike, with the end result of Tony Lake, do you think -- well, is the White House and Herman scared about what's happening?
MR. MCCURRY: She says so far things are going well. But mostly so far we've just heard senators giving the opening statements. But I think she will do a very good job during her confirmation hearing. And, as did Tony, she's prepared to address the issues, then let senators make a decision. But goodness hopes that they will make a decision and move on.
Q Did Tony Lake think that he would not eventually be confirmed, and did the White House think he would not be confirmed?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the exact opposite. He was confident that he would be confirmed and we were confident that he had both support within the committee and on the Senate floor sufficient for confirmation -- but it would have come at such a price, both human and otherwise for Tony, as he said in his letter, that you had to really wonder whether it was worth paying that price.
Q Wasn't it just a matter of waiting for one more month?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it was clearly going to be much longer than that, at the expense of other people being unfairly hauled before the committee, likely, and other -- and at the risk of additional tactics that might have been very damaging over the long-term to relationships between the White House and the Oversight Committee on the Hill and, ultimately, damage to the Agency and it's morale, as Tony said in his letter.
Q The President, you said, accepted his letter reluctantly. Were there any voices in the White House that actually agreed with Tony that he was probably doing the right thing, that it was time to cut the process off?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, from the President on down, people wanted to fight and wanted to fight for Tony. Privately, there probably were a number of people who certainly understood the human dimension of what Tony was going through and understand, in human terms, why he made the decision he did.
Q Can I ask two things? One, in light of the need for continuing bipartisanship that talked about, does the President feel like the mood has gotten a lot worse, or that's about the same? Does he agree with the assessment that Washington has gone haywire?
MR. MCCURRY: If you can wait 25 minutes, I suspect you might hear him address that himself.
Q Also, you mentioned twice that this entire process possibly dissuading others from wanting to get involved in public service. Is there evidence that others have been dissuaded already?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we have evidence every day, when we go out and actively recruit people for jobs. We're in a position now where we're filling vacancies at the sub-Cabinet level, and we have a lot of people who just politely say no because they don't want to go through the process. They see what it's done to people and they just don't want to do it.
Q Mike, taking into account what Mr. Gingrich had to say about taxes, is the President prepared to forego the tax cuts he's proposed also to the end of the process?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has got a good, credible balanced budget proposal. It's on the table, and he's going to say some more things on that subject in 25 minutes.
Q You said Senator Shelby should be held accountable for the actions of some of the staffers on the committee. Will the White House attempt in any way to hold him accountable?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's Chairman Shelby's responsibility, and I think he knows exactly what I'm talking about.
Q Tomorrow, Mike, the Helsinki schedule -- has it been impacted -- can you just give us some ideas of specific ways it's been impacted by the need of the President to get around on crutches, et cetera?
MR. MCCURRY: I just think -- I mean, they've done some -- our advance team is doing some work just to map out where he's going to go. Most of what he was going to do was sitting talking to Yeltsin, so I don't think there's that much practical effect.
Q -- is he getting over cabin fever and is he excited about getting out?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't shown any sign of anxiousness about his current condition. Sitting in the Residence, he gets to see a lot of people and he's enjoying himself. He's actually getting a briefing right now for the trip tomorrow, and that was the main piece of business he was doing today in addition to work out some of the issues that he'll address in a short while.
Q Mike, is he going to have a departure statement tomorrow evening?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we were still up in the air at this point. I was recommending yes, but I don't know if we're going to do it, or not. Maybe; don't know at this point.
Q Will the President contact Senator Lott or anyone else on the Hill to talk about this atmosphere and what they can do to smooth things out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't think necessarily this subject, but we talk to Senator Lott daily, and the President talks to him maybe not daily, but frequently.
Q Mike, on the summit, can you tell us, aside from Secretary Albright and Mr. Berger who else is on the official delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have a delegation list that will be available for you tomorrow. Can you go check and see how we're doing on time?
Q Mike, do we know what Tony Lake's going to do next?
MR. MCCURRY: What he's going to do next? We don't. In fact, he has to think about that, he has to think about what he would like to do. He's got enormous talent. He is very provocative and he's got a lot of things to say, and I hope people will provide him opportunities to say it. And the depth of his thinking about all of the issues that are relevant to the post-Cold War era should be of exceeding interest to any number of potential future employers. I'm putting out a want ad for him right now, I guess.
Q He's not going to stay in government?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- given his feelings about this process, I'd be surprised if he sought another opportunity in government.
Q Is there anything else going on here tomorrow? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else what?
Q Going on here tomorrow besides the President possibly giving us a statement when leaves?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and you'll learn more about it shortly.
Q Mike, Berger was pretty vague this morning on Mexico and the progress of the talks --
MR. MCCURRY: Excellent. (Laughter.)
Q Have things become any more clear over the course of the day?
MR. MCCURRY: He was vague on purpose.
Okay, anything else? Let me -- I've got one other thing I want to do before --
Q Just a mood question, just in the tone of people talking about Lake being out of this place -- there's just a sense that a lot of people feel they were kind of kicked in the stomach. Accurate? Overstating it?
MR. MCCURRY: That's accurate.
All right, let me do one other thing. A lot of you have been attempting to contact Ed Appel who is a very talented career professional FBI agent who's put in 28 years of good service to his country, who long ago -- before his name ever was drawn to your attention -- notified the National Security Council that he was going to take retirement in May. And he appreciates all your efforts to contact him and his family and his relatives and people with similar names in the phone book. But he has asked me a very serious way to please knock it off. You're really causing him a lot of damage. You're making his family very upset. And he's taken retirement, had decided to do it a long time ago. It's got nothing to do with any of the business that's been in the news. So please respect his privacy. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:40 P.M. EST