THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the daily briefing room. If you were a reporter working out west and the far west and had to deal with the White House on a regular basis, you would know that Josh Silverman is one hell of a good press secretary. Josh has been in the office of Media Affairs and has been one of our regional press secretaries, done a great job working with Julie Green and Jon Murchinson, who just recently came over -- we stole him away from Howard Schloss's shop at Treasury.
But I am delighted to say that Josh is going to be Kathy McKiernan's replacement in lower press. So those of you who work here will get to know him better. I think a lot of you know Josh from being on the road. And he's been of great service to us when we've traveled. But he will be a most welcome addition to the White House press office staff here. And he will get to do -- he's had, I'd say, a considerable role already in dealing with on-the-record stuff, particularly as they relate to western issues. But this is an opportunity for him to ply his trade in a different setting. And we were happy, given his long history here at the White House, to give him that opportunity. We will enjoy working with him.
Q Will his bio be out later? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Kris Engskov is going to conduct a private briefing -- (laughter) -- on his behalf and walk you through his many list of accomplishments.
MR. MCCURRY: It's multiply pronounced, as you can tell. (Laughter.)
Q Is that the way they say it in Arkansas?
MR. MCCURRY: Josh reports -- like Kathy, his first real work in the Clinton orbit was at the Convention in Chicago, and his job was to sit next to Mary Ellen Glynn and answer the phone all day long. So he says his career has now come full circle, since that's most likely what he will do a lot of now, too. Anyhow -- other news to report?
Q To clarify something in regard to the California Superintendent of Public Instruction endorsement of the President's testing program, does the California Board of Education also endorse the President's program because in California, state superintendent doesn't set policy, the board does.
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that she will render her personal endorsement. The state will have to structure the testing program, and I don't want to second-guess the state of California on how they would approach carrying out the Superintendent's decision. They could conceivably need to go to the legislature as well; I just don't know. It will be up to the superintendent to let you know how she will work with the Governor and with the legislature and with the state board as they implement this decision of hers to move towards testing. But we think it is significant and certainly my own experience in California is that the Superintendent of Public Instruction in the state is recognized as the statewide elected official, as the authoritative officer when it comes to matters related to public schools in the state, and properly so.
Q Will you entertain some questions on these documents from today?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd prefer -- I can do general things, but you're going to see Mr. Davis in a half an hour if you're interested in them, and he can help you out more, because he's worked with the individual documents if you've got questions about individual documents.
Q Can we request that he brief here so that everybody doesn't have to go up there?
MR. MCCURRY: He prefers to do it over there, because it involves -- he's got a big table there, he can go page by page through any particular document. I think it's a little easier to do it over there.
Q -- chance to have someone on tape and camera?
MR. MCCURRY: He's willing to take -- he told me earlier today he'll take -- if you've got a specific question you need to get something, for those of you in broadcast, on tape. He's willing to entertain that request.
Q Wouldn't it be easier for him to come over here and do all of us all at once?
MR. MCCURRY: Not if you're working through a stack of documents yea high. And that's what he wants to do. He wants to have the documents available so they can go through them.
Q Allow me to ask a general question, then.
MR. MCCURRY: A general question.
Q How is it that each of the President's coffees had the number $400,000 attached to it? Do you have any idea how they plucked that number out of the air and how it always worked out to eventually raise $400,000?
MR. MCCURRY: They set a target -- my understanding from the DNC, and the DNC has spoken to this before, as you know, is that they set target figures for these coffees and that was the amount they generally settled as the operating amount for the coffees. But how they arrived at that number, I'd really have to refer you to the DNC.
Q And can you explain what servicing means, and why that term --
MR. MCCURRY: Servicing tends to be a term that the fundraising community uses as thank-yous for people who have already contributed, as opposed to "prospecting," which is you bring people in because you want to talk to them, get them excited about the program, try to encourage them to be supportive at a later date. Another term you see sometimes are "donor maintenance," which are people who are long-time active contributors to the party that you want to keep briefed and keep them active and keep them excited about the party and the President's program.
Q Doesn't that mean that they were rewarded with access to, usually, the Vice President in these cases in exchange for their donations?
MR. MCCURRY: As we've long said, sometimes these people gave before, sometimes they were solicited afterwards. It's a combination of both.
Q Right. But on the line items that said servicing, generally there wasn't money raised at those events. In other words, these are people who had already given money previously.
MR. MCCURRY: But they may have been -- I don't want to rule out that some of them were then encouraged to be supportive later, too.
Q Right, later. But doesn't that mean that for those who had given money and were at these servicing events, that this was access that they were given --
MR. MCCURRY: It means it was gratitude for their contribution and that they came here to the White House, as I think probably has been the case in this White House, previous White Houses and White Houses for a long time.
Q Can I ask you one more on the coffees?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q If you look at the documents, they're scheduling coffees months in advance, talking about dates needed. And in each case they're projected as fundraising events. I mean, they're looking for ways to raise money. Doesn't that fly in the face of the explanations the White House has given previously about the purpose of the coffees, which was just to talk to people that you hoped would be supportive; but in this case the coffees are actually being, without having a date set or even having a list of participants identified, there is just a coffee listed out months in advance as a fundraiser.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think I said repeatedly here that that's like -- that was obviously an element of the fundraising program that we had underway for the party. And I think I've even said the President would have been very surprised if they weren't actively raising money off of those events. That was the purpose, you know, to get people in, to talk to them, to get them interested in what the President was trying to do for the country and then to encourage them to be supportive, including raising money.
Q But this makes it sound as if they were conceived as fundraisers.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, how these were all conceived and the genesis of this back, if you recall, the McAuliffe document that we went through several months ago -- we kind of went through the genesis of the program at that time. These documents, I don't think add anything new to that understanding of the genesis.
Q Mike, is it still the stand of the White House that there was no solicitation done here?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding from counsel, correct.
Q This batch of documents includes the memo referring to fundraising phone calls that should be done by the President, Vice President, and by the First Lady. Has there been change since you all addressed this before and -- those people remember?
MR. MCCURRY: That document, as you know, came -- that document came to light some time ago. We looked into it at the time, asked and answered at the time.
Q Yes, but my question was, has anybody in that list had any better memory since then as to whether or not they made --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no change in the answer that we gave I guess a week or so on that.
Q There are a lot of lunches and dinners at the White House or in Washington listed in these documents. Were any of the lunches and dinners at the White House, these specific fundraising events. In other words, in addition to coffees, you've mentioned a couple of things that the DNC had hosted or helped pay for around the time of Christmas, but --
Q What's she talking about, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't figured it out yet.
Q Were D.C. dinners at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: What's the question?
Q Were any of the D.C. lunches or dinners at the White House? It's not complicated.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- I'd have to look and see specifically what event you're talking about. My understanding is, that's a generic description of some of the things we did in and around town. But that's a good question to put to Mr. Davis later.
Q Mike, this body of documents seems to have many more redactions than the past group, and some of the redactions occurred within documents that seemed to be on point. But within the very document, the redaction would say nonresponsive. Can you explain why?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. You have to go through the individual documents with Mr. Davis, and he can try to help you on that point.
Q And a follow-up -- there were also areas where the President's own handwriting was apparently replaced by typewritten inserts. What was that about?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's because his handwriting is hard to read on occasion and they type out so people will understand what he is scribbling. I believe that's the case. But again, if there's a specific notation you're asking about, please raise that with Lanny.
Q One of the documents, which is different from those released last week, specifically mentions not only the President and the Vice President doing fundraising calls, but has a certain number for the First Lady. I wondered if you had been able to check whether any actual lists of who the DNC wanted the President, Vice President, and First Lady to call ever came over here.
MR. MCCURRY: I've never had that question before. I don't know -- maybe Lanny has looked into that. But again, that's a good one to put on his table.
Q Mike, I understand that the President is approving this leasing of the navy port at Long Beach to the COSCO, to the Chinese. But is he thinking about the possible military things that may happen someday?
MR. MCCURRY: He is very supportive, because it is foreseen as part of our base-closing process, very supportive of those efforts by local communities to take facilities that were once U.S. military installations that have been closed as a result of the base-closing and realignment process and involved local communities in exploring potential private sector uses for those. In fact, that very facility the President went to during the course of the campaign and applauded the efforts of the local community to do that. We have been supportive of the local officials when they've been here at the White House; they foresee a lot of different activities to privatize that facility. And one of them, of course, involves using that port facility for ongoing purposes. And that's the context in which local authorities made a decision to approach COSCO.
The national security implications of that are under review, as you know, at the Defense Department and even just yesterday, I believe, Ken Bacon over at the Defense Department briefed on that point, and they're looking -- the Secretary of Defense is looking into any security concerns, and as Ken Bacon reported yesterday, he's not aware of any concerns that have surfaced at this point.
Q So it's not finally decided yet, then?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he's completed the review, but I believe, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Bacon reported yesterday they hadn't seen anything develop that presented any security concerns.
Q So many people across the country are so worried about this. They feel that there's going to be a great military session sometime when China may be our enemy, and that may be a great advantage to them.
MR. MCCURRY: It's hard to anticipate how merchant vessels would be used in any military encounter with the People's Republic of China, but most of those Americans probably from time to time have purchased goods and services that represent part of our trade and commerce with the People's Republic, so they've probably been in a position to either benefit from or maybe even have some indirect economic relationship to goods that are going to and from China on those container merchant vessels.
Q Was Long Beach the only outfit that bid on this?
MR. MCCURRY: We're talking about a specific facility that is being privatized and turned into private commercial use. But if you want to see some of COSCO's boats, you can go up to Baltimore, because they're up there and they're at a number of ports in and around the United States. We have a substantial trading relationship with China.
Q Webb Hubbell was on the list you all released of people who had stayed overnight in the Lincoln Bedroom. Do you have any more information on when his overnight stay or stays took place?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I can try to check into that.
Q What was the question?
MR. MCCURRY: Presumably sometime in 1994 in and around the time he departed government, but I can try to find that.
Q One other question on the Hubbell story from yesterday. Take at face value Mr. McLarty's assertion and Mr. Bowles assertion that they didn't realize -- or know at the time the Whitewater investigation was pending with respect to Hubbell at the time they helped drum up business --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's what they've indicated, but go ahead.
Q Regardless of their motives for trying to help drum up business, is it even right for the Chief of Staff or senior aides to be trying to drum up private business, even if it is just for a friend for what they see as innocent purposes? Why is that a good practice?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- it's not a practice that's conducted in the course of one's official business. But it is probably a common practice that people try to help friends that have some need, in this case a friend who is going to lose prospects for gainful employment. And that's the way both of those indicated they approached this question.
Q But how is there a difference between what the Chief of Staff of the White House, a phone call he makes, officially or unofficially, I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, who you call. If you call a friend of 20 years, in a case of McLarty called a Truman Arnold; if you call people that you've had prior working relationships with, if you're the head of the SBA, to people you know in North Carolina -- it's an entirely different type of call. You call people, you reach out to people that you know, who you think might be helpful.
Q So you're saying the Chief of Staff can take off his hat and the person on the other end of the line isn't going to think --
MR. MCCURRY: I certainly hope that those of us who work in public life can take off our public hats from time to time and have private lives.
Q Well, you know, I think Mickey Kantor recently remarked that he didn't think it would have been appropriate for him in his government position to make those sorts of calls on behalf of Hubbell. You're saying you think it is appropriate.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's what he said. I think he said almost to the exact contrary. I think you're maybe misinterpreting something he said.
Q Mike, why did Mr. McLarty and Mr. Bowles wait until press inquiries were made about this when, in fact, there's been pretty consistent reporting with Mr. Arnold's name in it and others?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, most of the reporting related to other matters and, in fact, it was a press account that Mr. McLarty saw that he thought was in error that brought him forward and said, look, I think -- you know, I want to make sure that we get out publicly this piece of information. Which is why the White House looked into it and established what it could about these matters.
Q Mike, are there other -- have you determined whether anybody else who works in the White House or who worked in the White House helped -- tried to help Mr. Hubbell get a job?
MR. MCCURRY: We can't say with 100 percent certainty that no one else did. But, clearly, hoping to try to be as thorough and reliable as we could possibly be, yesterday we made some effort to see if anyone else had any knowledge or memory of any contacts like that. And that's the best we could do based on our contact with people who are here at the White House currently.
Q But, Mike, in the past you've always said that it would be impossible for you to kind of poll everybody and say --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. That's why I can't say with any certainty that that's dispositively the sum total of any contacts. But it's the best that we can do having made some effort.
Q But what was the effort that you made? You sent out a --
MR. MCCURRY: Talked to people.
Q Individual people or you sent out a --
MR. MCCURRY: We talked to people that we thought might have been in a position to have been of help to Mr. Hubbell, who either knew him or had some contact with him, and then tried to find out what they may or may not have known.
Q Mike, just a brief change of subject. Given the food safety scares in schools, are you aware of the request from some advocacy groups that want independent food safety agents -- and they said they were going to be contacting the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware that some people have said things publicly. I can tell you that we have had, through our Cabinet Affairs Secretary, good contact today with the Agriculture Department and with Health and Human Services specifically, because they're overseeing the work that the Centers for Disease Control and the Public Health Service are doing with respect to the concerns about hepatitis.
My understanding is that those agencies or some combination of those agencies are going to brief later on today just on what they are doing, and I'll refer you to them. They are preparing for us an interagency memo that brings the President up to date on what's happened. But we are certainly monitoring the work that those agencies are doing.
Q Just a quick follow on that. You know there are two separate illnesses, you've had recent scares of both hepatitis and meningitis recently. Have you -- what have you been kind of generating to kind of look at the fact that these are growing public health problems?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have an ongoing interest in food safety issues and public health matters related to contagious diseases. And you know the President has spoken to that fairly frequently. So we have a very active interest in that, pursue those matters with the Department of Health and Human Services on a regular basis. And the President himself from time to time speaks to that. You know, he's had a very public interest in food and safety and public health standards.
Q Mike, in the documents there is a reference to the President holding a breakfast in 1994 to raise money for the health care TV ad campaign. Were those breakfasts at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. But again, that's a good thing to raise with Lanny.
Q Mike, do you have anything more on the Middle East strategy that the President was talking about yesterday in terms of the run up to Netanyahu's visit on Monday, or is that really the next step?
MR. MCCURRY: We have got a meeting now planned for Monday with Prime Minister Netanyahu. We'll be working what is a very delicate and tough problem and we'll be exploring a lot of different ideas about how we can get the parties reengaged, but we'll be doing very little talking about it.
Q Do you have a time on the meeting?
MR. JOHNSON: Late morning.
MR. MCCURRY: Late morning.
Q Back to the papers' release today. Could you explain what a media-directed donor is, or was?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q A media-directed donor? There were several people who gave money.
MR. MCCURRY: Sounds intriguing.
Q Right. Exactly.
MR. MCCURRY: That you all suggested to us that we should go solicit? I'd love to know more about that. I don't know what that is. That may be someone who is prominent in the news who they then decided they wanted to go approach for potential support. But you should raise that again with Mr. Davis.
Q You were asked yesterday about George Tiller being solicited by the DNC the same time he was getting Marshal Service protection, and you said you wanted to look into it.
MR. MCCURRY: I looked into that and saw that the Justice Department had spoken very authoritatively to that. I don't have anything to add to what they said about it. People who come into contact with the government in a variety of ways contribute to politics in this country and there's not any reason why that should bar anyone from participating in politics as a contributor.
Q So there was no impropriety or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Marshal Service and the Justice Department made clear the criteria under which he was a protectee, and I think they have answered that authoritatively.
Q Mike, just one of those overarching questions. When you look at the documents, don't you get a sense that the White House is worried just a little too much about how much money it was raising and how it went about its fundraising practices?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you look at that set of -- and recognize that it's a subset of documents that were worked on in 1996 -- and you see the President was running for reelection.
Q I mean, over and above, it's one thing to be concerned about trying to get reelected. It's another thing to have a sense of frenetic attitude that's --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- we've spoken to that issue before. I think if you would ask the Republican National Committee to present you with the analogous set of documents from its files, you might see the exact same thing; you would have to ask them.
Q Are you saying that all of this has been done before?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question that's been raised in the past and we've answered it in the past.
Q Could you reanswer it now?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No reason to add to, there's nothing new pending.
Q Yes, but I don't think this has been a big mystery as the stories evolve, but is it still the official White House line that the DNC was a separate operation as distinct from being controlled here at the White House, because I think that's rather --
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have said -- the President has said repeatedly that he is the chief political officer of the Democratic Party and the titular head of the party and we worked as we would in a campaign year in close coordination with the DNC.
Q I'm not talking about titular control, I'm talking about day to day, operational control as reflective in Harold's --
MR. MCCURRY: It's long been abundantly apparent that we worked very closely with the DNC day in and day out during the '95-'96 campaign cycle. I don't know that that would be startling to anybody.
Q Mike, several of the documents show that the DNC or various party functionaries were worried about, for want of a better word, competition from the Clinton's defense fund. What do you make of that, and do you know of any efforts to -- by the President or anyone on down to mediate that friction?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Remember, at the very -- prior to the establishment of the President's Legal Expense Trust Fund, there was some discussion you see reflected in these documents about how they would go about soliciting. Once the Office of Government Ethics looked at the parameters for establishing the fund, they established that there could be no solicitation, so there then was no contact between the two entities and no such competition for donors, because the legal expense trust is not allowed to solicit.
Q Right. But what I'm referring to is a memo where they were talking about canvassing some donors, and donors were asking them, well, what's the address of the Legal Expense Fund and they raised concerns about money being drained in that way.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that specific document, so you're going to have to raise that with Lanny. But as a general practice, as you know the Legal Expense Trust could not solicit, so I'm not sure why that would have been a concern for any of the fundraisers at the DNC.
Q Under the President's vision of campaign finance reform, which of the activities listed in the documents that we got today would he see done away with, eliminated?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- I mean, you go back and look at McCain-Feingold, those activities directed to the raising of soft money contributions wouldn't be necessary because you wouldn't have soft money donations. I mean, that's kind of an expansive question. You could best answer that question for yourself by just looking at the proposed statute and then figuring out how life would change under campaign finance reform.
Q Are there things on the list that the President could envision retaining, that he would keep?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. I mean, there will still be -- as I've said repeatedly, there will still be fundraisers, there will still be an effort to kind of get your supporters excited about your program and keep them actively involved. There would have to be, because we're not talking about creating a system of public finance in which the taxpayers are paying for our politics. And as long as that's the case, there will be fundraisers, there will be efforts to raise money.
So some of that activity would naturally continue. But it would change considerably given the environment, and change considerably because the need to raise such large amounts would be reduced because the overall cost of campaigns would be reduced.
Q You were going to look into tonight's dinner to see what that was going to raise?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. My understanding is the DNC has already put that out and I read it on your wire, as a matter of fact. I can't remember what the figures are, but they've answered it already.
Q The Legal Defense Fund -- so to your knowledge the DNC never gave its fundraising list to the Legal Defense Fund?
MR. MCCURRY: Right. As there's some discussion in there on that point, and my understanding from counsel is that there were discussions about whether the trust would be established originally in a manner that would permit solicitation of contributions. But ultimately the trust was set up not to solicit contributions. That was consistent with the opinion that was given by the Office of Government Ethics. And at no time did the Trust or any of its trustees engage in any solicitation. The trust did not ask the DNC for a mailing list.
Q So it would have been a violation of ethics rules to solicit?
MR. MCCURRY: It would have been in violation of the rules and regulations governing the operation of the Legal Expense Trust because they're not allowed under the rules to solicit contributions. Under the rules established for that fund. Some people wonder whether that's the best way to run those funds, but that's the way it was established.
Q What was the date of that decision by the Office of Government?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'd have to -- I think if you ask Legal Expense Trust they can get that. But that was, in any event, set up after, I think, some of the discussions, some of these documents.
Q Mike, was there some sort of group that was raising funds for him before the establishment of the trust?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q I was just curious after reading a column in the paper this morning about the Vice President's fundraising phone calls -- the column taking issue with, there was a suggestion that there was nothing wrong with him -- the column flatly called it a felony. Is there anyone outside the White House, to the best of your knowledge, who is taking an objective look at the Vice President's fundraising phone calls to determine who is correct in assessing whether or not they were wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't possibly answer that question because if anyone would be, it would be the Justice Department, which has got a task force working on these matters. And I don't want to answer for them on what they are or are not looking at. But, you know, they're the place to go with that question, obviously.
Q Are there any prospects of a near term visit by Yasser Arafat?
MR. MCCURRY: Near term as in Monday? Not that I'm aware of. Not that I'm aware of. But, obviously, we will remain very closely engaged with the parties and remain very directly in contact with the Chairman.
Q And about the contact with the Chairman, what is the state of dialogue or communication with the Palestinian side and the U.S. side these days?
MR. MCCURRY: We have intensive contact with them, largely through our Consul General in Jerusalem at Abingdon. But we have other contact, as well as Martin -- tends to be more -- sometimes Martin, often Dennis Ross and on occasion and frequently on occasion, Secretary Albright.
Q Are you going to organize a summit at a later date between Arafat and Netanyahu?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- I'm not aware of any plans for any type of summit meeting. But we are actively working -- again, I'd say actively working a number of ideas related to the process and to getting the parties to reengage.
Q When you talk about a summit meeting, you mean a summit meeting with the President or just a Netanyahu-Arafat summit?
MR. MCCURRY: You can tell from AFP's question there's a lot of -- in the region, a lot of speculation about how this dialogue will commence, proceed, recommence. And I'm just not offering much detail on that for the obvious reason that we're trying to work these parts and get a process underway.
Q Both yesterday and now you said you're not aware of any plans for a summit meeting. And all I was asking is, what do you mean by a summit meeting in terms of participants -- when you use the term, do you include the President of the United States or --
MR. MCCURRY: The heads of state get together and they meet. That's a summit meeting. Heads of state get together and meet, and that's generally called a summit.
Q So you --
MR. MCCURRY: It can be two, more than two, a combination of many.
Q So you don't anticipate a summit meeting with anybody?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not aware of any plans right now for a summit meeting.
Q Mike, Arafat's spokesman has said this morning that the Americans are trying to organize such a summit at a later date. Is he wrong or was he given wrong information?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd say we've explored a number of ideas on how we can get the parties to reengage. I'm not aware of any plans for a summit meeting.
Q What's up for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow. The Chicago Bulls are here. The Prime Minister of Portugal is here. And the President and the First Lady and a number of people from the White House will be attending a memorial service for the victims of the crash that killed former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
Q Will the President have anything to say over there, or is he just going to attend?
MR. MCCURRY: He's speaking. He is among the speakers at the Celebration of Lives event and memorial service in honor of the former Secretary of Commerce and those who died with him in the plane crash in Dubrovnik. The President and the Vice President will make remarks.
Q Mike, does an invitation to the Bulls mean that he's supporting the Bulls in their quest for another championship?
MR. MCCURRY: He's gotten multiple candidates for NBA championship, and the playoff lineup is not even set. So it would be premature to speculate on any preferences that he might have.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST