THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:07 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: You will recall, in April of 1995, the President signed Executive Order 12958 -- you'll recall that. It was on classified national security information and essentially it was the result of a lot of interagency work and established a new classification protocol, new guidelines on classification for the government. It really had the goal of both reducing the amount of information that's classified in the first place by the United States government, and also to accelerate the declassification of older classified records, consistent with national security requirements.
There was a report, a new report by the Information Security Oversight Office within the National Archives and Records Administration, a new report to the President, available of you contact the National Security Council press office -- and in it you will learn the following facts.
In 1996, agencies declassified nearly 200 million pages of historical records, which is close to one-half of the total number of pages of classified material declassified in the 15 previous years. In other words, almost eight -- just over eight times as many documents as were declassified in any single year in any of the period in the previous 15 years -- so, adding considerable volume to the ability of the American public to understand historical activities by the United States government that were previously secrets.
And the President also -- part of this declassification order reduced -- called on reducing the number of people who are authorized to classify materials in the first place, and 1,000 fewer people now are classifying secrets in our government. That's down 25 percent. And not surprisingly, because of this, the number of overall secrets authorized by the United States government declined by almost 37 percent last year. So we're becoming more open, more accessible, and less secret. And I should think that you in the press should applaud that.
Q Why is the State Department complaining?
MR. MCCURRY: The State Department advisory board -- historical advisory board has a longstanding dispute on a separate set of records involving their Foreign Relations in the United States series, the FRUS series. And that dispute is over documents related to Guatemala, among other subjects. And the reasons for their concern were set forth by a very prominent historian, Warren Kimball, who read about that recently.
Q Well, is the President going to intervene to loosen them up?
MR. MCCURRY: There is an interagency process that is attempting to reconcile the differences that exist between the agencies. That is a small subset, though, and should not cloud the fact that 200 million pages of previously classified records have now been declassified.
Q But it isn't just Guatemala that the State Department is complaining about.
MR. MCCURRY: They have some additional complaints, too, about a specific series that they're encountering disagreements with I think both with CIA and with DOD.
Q How far back does this go, Mike? Does it include any JFK assassination material?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I don't have a breakout on the substance of all 200 million pages.
Q Just because a document has been declassified doesn't mean it's available for public review, does it?
MR. MCCURRY: It's up to individual agencies, once it's declassified, whether they make it public, whether they release it publicly. Sometimes they are -- it frees these things up so they can be available under Freedom of Information Act. One of the good things about this declassification process is that when there are a lot of FOIA requests pending on documents that in the past have been turned down because of national security information reasons, this then loosens the document up so it can be made available subject to FOI requests.
Q Did President Clinton meet with Governor Weld yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Let me do one other item. I'll tell you a little bit more about Governor Weld's activities yesterday.
We also have a written statement out shortly from the President applauding a decision by the Smith & Wesson Company, which is the world's largest manufacturer of handguns. They have apparently forged a partnership with the Master Lock Company and in the future will provide child safety locks with every handgun that they sell for commercial use. And the President, obviously, being a strong proponent of child safety locks on handguns and fighting to get that included in the juvenile justice legislation that will make its way through Congress later this year, we hope, naturally applauds that decision and commends the company for taking an important responsible step for children's safety.
Governor Weld. Governor Weld was here very briefly yesterday morning, met with Erskine Bowles and John Podesta and some others, and --
Q Others on the White House staff?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q And what did they talk about?
MR. MCCURRY: His pending confirmation.
Q Can you tell us, characterize in some better way --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he had -- he just stopped by here just to have a check-in with us so that we could review some of the things we have underway to continue to press for his -- the fair hearing he deserves in front of the Foreign Relations Committee, and talked a little bit about strategy for the fall and things that we can do to loosen the confirmation process that's currently locked up.
Q There has been some criticism of the White House for not being more aggressive on the Weld nomination. Are things going to get stepped up anytime soon?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know on what basis there would be criticism. We've been working very hard to get Governor Weld confirmed, and continuing to find the right way to press the argument for his confirmation on Capitol Hill. And he, meanwhile, is continuing the preparatory work that goes into preparing for an ambassadorial posting overseas.
Q Mike, if you recall, Senator Lugar was very blunt in saying recently he saw very little activity, if any, on behalf of the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe he wasn't looking hard enough, but there is a lot going on.
Q Did Weld request this meeting, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he just -- I think we wanted to see him. We've touched base with him from time to time, but he'd been off the week before and he was kind of checking back in as he began doing the work he's doing at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center -- Foreign Affairs Training Institute.
Q Was there any discussion whether he should be willing to accept maybe the ambassadorship to India?
MR. MCCURRY: None whatsoever.
Q Mike, has the President been in touch with Senator Lott about the Weld nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out. I don't know specifically that he has, but others at the White House have certainly been in contact with the Majority Leader and I wouldn't rule out that the President privately has discussed the matter with him as well.
Q He already has?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule that out, right. I don't know for a fact that they have, but I suspect they may have.
Q Has he talked to Lugar at all, who seems very supportive and trying to work out some sort of strategy?
MR. MCCURRY: We will consult with as many members of the Foreign Relations Committee as we can -- not only allies, but those that we want to have seriously consider the nomination. And we'll address any concerns that they may have.
Q The Governor is telling friends that he thinks that the Chairman is immovable and that if this is to work it will go through the Majority Leader, much like chemical weapons. Does the administration share that view?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wouldn't draw an analogy to those two situations. A ratification fight is different from a confirmation battle, and different sets of issues, different types of arguments. It's kind of comparing apples and oranges.
Q The Majority Leader had to intervene in that case to move the treaty. Do you think the Majority Leader will have to intervene to move the Chairman on the Weld nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily, if the Chairman's thinking evolves or if other things happen. (Laughter.)
Q If you could get Smith & Wesson -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I think I'm putting a child safety lock on my mouth right now. (Laughter.) Yep.
Claire, hi. How are you?
Q Hi. How are you?
MR. MCCURRY: Doing great.
Q The Secretary of State's trip to the Middle East has been delayed. Do you know why?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll let Jamie Rubin over at State talk about that. I think they were working out schedules and she fully intends to go, provided that we see the kinds of steps and progress on security cooperation that she indicated were a necessary condition for the trip. And I think they're just working to arrange schedules.
Q So it hasn't been pushed back because none of that was happening?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've been told, but I imagine they're spending a fair amount of time on that over at the State Department right at this moment.
Q So, Mike, is the security apparatus in place for her to make the trip?
MR. MCCURRY: They have a procedural mechanism in place. I think there is some desire on the United States government, and no doubt by the parties, too, to assure that it's working satisfactorily.
Q In the spirit of openness and declassifying documents and all, could you share with us the administration's internal estimate of the economic impact of the UPS strike?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't even know that we have one. I don't know that there has been a formal economic analysis done by the Council of Economic Advisors.
Q There were several --
MR. MCCURRY: They were looking at it.
Q I know there are separate laws involved, but there were several analyses available even before the American Airlines strike started. I know labor has a different law, but --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check. I know that some of the economists on the CEA staff have been monitoring the impact of the strike, but it's been also more directly the Labor Department and the Transportation Department that have been examining that.
Q Has the President been updated on the UPS strike today?
MR. MCCURRY: Only that Secretary Herman convened the parties this morning and that they continue to talk. I think he was told that.
Q Mike, The Boston Herald has a story today about the fact that Richard Friedman, the developer whose home the President is staying at, has a couple of projects pending before federal agencies, where federal agencies are on the opposite side of him. Is that proper for the President? I mean, Mike Espy is threatened with jail for taking Super Bowl tickets from a company that was doing business with his department.
MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, this matter was reviewed and vetted by counsel, and he's stayed with Mr. Friedman at least two times prior when he was there. Mr. Friedman has indicated to the which that he has never had any contact with the White House pending on any of the matters that have got any potential federal involvement.
Q You don't see any -- I mean, a lot of the ethics watchdog groups think that this smells.
MR. MCCURRY: We all have dealings with the federal government in one way or another -- if we drive on an interstate highway or if we pay taxes. So just because someone has some issue pending before the federal government doesn't rule him out as someone who can grant an act of hospitality to the President of the United States.
Q Mike, there have been some highly publicized racial incidents throughout the country, especially in New York and the one in Elk Creek, Virginia. With the President's dialogue on race, has the White House thought about the fact that possibly this dialogue could be helping to heighten some of this racial animosity?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that anyone connected with the President's initiative sees any correlation between hate crimes or crimes that have a racial character to them and the effort to create a dialogue in which Americans address some of the differences that we have. In fact, because of incidents like that, the President, among many reasons, opted to go forward with the initiative.
Q Mike, on the religious freedom event the President did today, a number of the groups that were here have proposed legislation before Congress that would apply basically the same guidelines the President set forth to the private sector. What's the administration position on that? Are there any specific issues you have with that legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have taken a formal position on the legislation. We've continued to discuss legislative approaches with advocates of legislation in Congress. This is a step that is well within the boundaries of the Supreme Court decision and a proper one to take in the President's view, but we'll have to set aside the question of legislation. I don't believe the administration has taken a position.
Q Do you think that the fact that the parties in the UPS strike are talking today is a result of the fact that the White House held off on getting involved?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that. I think the important thing is that they are having discussions and we hope the discussions go well.
Q On today's event, why did the President feel it was important to take this step at the federal workplace? Does he feel there is a problem?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, as he did with clarifying what schools can do in terms of allowing religious observances, the President believes it's important in an area that is sometimes contested or sometimes unclear to set forth very clearly what the guidelines are and what's permissible and what is not permissible. And so it is consistent, in fact, with what he did with respect to observances in public schools, and we believe will be helpful to those individual employees in the federal work force who want to express their religious faith, and certainly was welcomed by the groups that we work with closely to craft these guidelines.
Q Mike, what did the President think the Ross visit accomplished in the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: The slow, painstaking work of building better confidence between the parties that they can resolve the differences they have.
Q Mike, you made a crack about Congressman Rangel yesterday, and I'm wondering whether you want to --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall that it was about Rangel. We went over that, and my memory was it was about the delegation retaliating. But in any event, I've talked to Congressman Rangel and I'll leave the matter there.
Q You have spoken to him?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, appropriations bills are going to start making their way over here next month, and Treasury, Postal Service is without money for the FEC enforcement provisions that the President wanted extra money for in April. What is the White House going to do to get that in there.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll continue to make the case that the FEC needs to have the resources to administer the law. It's bad enough that our campaign finance -- the body of law governing campaign finance is badly broken, but those laws that are on the books need to be effectively administered, and we'll continue to make the case that they need the resources to handle all the volume of work that they have to conduct.
Q What are these documents about? Everything that deals in government, the whole range?
MR. MCCURRY: Everything that is properly classified initially and now no longer requires classification.
Q But why were they classified, so many?
MR. MCCURRY: Many things are -- declassification occurs for a lot of reasons, sometimes because documents are old or they refer to things that are no longer -- it's not longer necessary for the United States to keep secret. The United States government does have, for national security reasons, first and foremost, reasons to keep some matters confidential.
Q If it wasn't national security why were they classified?
MR. MCCURRY: They were classified initially for national security reasons --
Q All of them?
MR. MCCURRY: But that's -- under the act, they have to be. But the point is that the use of classification in the past has been too extensive in the view of the President and that's one of the reasons why the initial order was signed.
Q Mike, on the religious guidelines, why did they not affect the military, and do they affect postal workers?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know if they affect postal workers, but the military is exempted because they have unique requirements for safety, operational effectiveness, and good order and discipline. And they often require a different type of approach to personnel management. Obviously, the military is covered under separate sets of personnel practices than the civil service, but that's in recognition of the importance that religion can play in the life of the military. The military also has the Uniformed Chaplin Corps and it goes to some great length to protect the right of members of the uniformed military and the civilian employees of the Defense Department to worship.
Q Would you consider developing separate guidelines that would fit their context?
MR. MCCURRY: You would have to ask the Pentagon whether they are or not.
Q Where is the administration with regard to fast track legislation that you want Congress to pass? Have you finished work on the bill the President wants?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that they have finished work on it. I think that they are completing work on that so that we'll be ready to present that in the early fall to Congress.
Q Do you expect specific provisions in that bill for both environmental and labor safeguards or do you expect the President to sort of take care of those two issues in the subsequent negotiations --
MR. MCCURRY: I think how we address labor issues and environmental issues is part of what the administration is continuing to work on.
Q So that's still an open question then at this point? I mean, it's not a done deal?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been considerable discussion on both of those issues. And on the postal service, these guidelines do apply to postal workers.
Q On that same subject, is there discussion in the administration of having at least the initial legislative effort on fast track be Chile only as opposed to other countries? There are some on the Hill who say if you just mean Chile specifically --
MR. MCCURRY: That would not -- I don't imagine that that is an approach that is seriously being considered given the number of things that we need to do with fast track authority. It would be difficult to imagine that you would confine the use of the authority to just one particular negotiation given the large number that the trade office would be handling during the period in which you would need fast track authority.
Q Could you also shed some light on the question that was asked a day or two ago over at State and Jamie Rubin didn't have the answer at the time, and that is whether the President intends in his dealings with Chile to expand NAFTA to include Chile or to cut a separate trade deal with Chile?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate how the President would use fast track authority to reach free trade agreements with any particular country.
Q Well, wait a minute.
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, that's a very specific and very sensitive question and it goes really to the heart of the negotiating process. I'm not going to answer the question, I'm sorry.
Q But I'm trying to establish a matter of record here.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to help you.
Q My memory is that sometime in the past, Mike, the administration did say that you wanted NAFTA expanded to include Chile. I'm basically asking whether that's still the case.
MR. MCCURRY: As a general premise or a general concept, expanding free trade agreements in this hemisphere is a good idea, yes.
Q On the religious guidelines, have you been able to determine yet whether atheists and agnostics will be able to express their views --
MR. MCCURRY: They would be covered by these guidelines.
Q Thank God. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yep. Next.
Q There have been some reports recently coming from India that the President would go to India next year. Can you confirm that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would very much like to, but we're not in a position where we can confirm the precise time or itinerary.
Q Is he going to do anything to mark the 50th anniversary of independence of India tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He has done some things already. He has prepared a congratulatory message. I believe the First Lady is attending a dinner tomorrow night, along with the Secretary of State and others, and the President will probably have -- may have another way or two to observe the day tomorrow. As you know, it's a jubilee and there's a whole year in which the celebratory activities will occur.
Q With respect to the President's vacation, how bad do you think he needs it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll talk a little bit more about that tomorrow because I imagine some people will do it -- he's ready for one. I think he -- every other conversation you have with him it seems to come up. So I think he's anxious to get on vacation.
Q What are your plans?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to go on vacation, too.
Q Does the senior staff expect him to sit still for three weeks on Martha's Vineyard?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, we have some wagers underway on that, but --
Q Are you going to be gone three weeks?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, you still seem to be putting a contingency on Secretary Albright's visit to the Middle East. What are the odds she will not go?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not putting any contingency other than the one that she herself stated.
Q Which is?
MR. MCCURRY: Provided there is the kind of security that -- the kind of progress on the security-related issues that she identified in her speech, the same thing she stated in her speech.
Q Mike, can you expand on the millennium event tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has a group of White House aides who are working with others in the administration and some on the outside to find appropriate ways to mark the change of the calendar from 1999 to the year 2000. What that will mean both symbolically and historically to the country, how we can take note of that date, and participate in a range of activities both here at home and abroad that usher in the new century and the new millennium.
Q What are some of those ideas that have been kicked around?
MR. MCCURRY: Some of the things that the President will talk about tomorrow.
Q Will he announce a new bridge? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Build that bridge -- he'll lay out some of the blueprints for the bridge to the 21st century tomorrow.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's in the morning at one of the museums. Which museum? American History? One of the Smithsonians.
Q Will that include any reference to the problem of the switch-over of the computers --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. At the moment, it may -- the President may reference some of the things that the government is already doing with respect to that problem. That's not the focus of these remarks, but he might touch on it.
Q Will they rename Renaissance Weekend Millennium Weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of any plans. Ask our new Ambassador to London. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, does the administration realize that the 21st century doesn't begin until January 1, 2001?
MR. MCCURRY: We're well aware of the great debate underway about when the millennium actually begins. (Laughter.) And maybe, like India, we'll make it a year-long celebration. (Laughter.)
Q Is he going to settle that debate tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We'll have to figure out a way to celebrate for a whole year.
All right, it's summer, isn't it?
Q I'm sorry, one last one. The federal court last week heard your appeal on the tobacco settlement, the tobacco rules that the FDA -- much more skeptical than the trial court. Does that affect your consideration of a settlement and how advantageous it is given he may lose at that level?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we are doing, proceeding as we can on both fronts. Litigation continues, but separately we have to consider how to evaluate the proposed settlement and, as a good lawyer will tell you, it's often important not to read too much into oral argumentation.
National Archives, 9:00 a.m. -- early start tomorrow, National Archives. Good, that means we can go for an early lid tomorrow.
Q Mike, is there a read out on that northeast group?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The meeting is still underway, I believe -- unless they've ended while we've been here.
Q On these guidelines, is there any penalties for failure to comply?
MR. MCCURRY: I imagine individual human resource managers or personnel managers in the federal system can take action against anyone who specifically violates any employment guidelines such as these that are established, but the OPM could probably tell you more about that.
Q Does this early event mean no gaggle tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably -- I guess, maybe a late gaggle. Maybe we could try a late gaggle, or early briefing, do one of our combo platter things, mid-morning. (Laughter.)
Q What's the radio address about?
MR. MCCURRY: Higher education.
Q Higher education, you said?
MR. MCCURRY: Radio address. Is he doing the radio address live, or -- pretaping tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: Pretaping early in the day.
MR. MCCURRY: We are on that glide path to vacation now. That's where we are.
Q Can we come in Sunday -- Saturday and Sunday and pick up our stuff off the floor?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe, if I'm not mistaken, they are starting Sunday.
Q So Friday and Saturday.
MR. MCCURRY: If you check in with Darby Stott up in my office, they'll let you know. But my recommendation to everyone would be to start clearing all your stuff out tomorrow and no later than Saturday, because the workers are going to start in here, I think, on Sunday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:35 P.M. EDT