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                    Office of the Press Secretary
                    (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois)
For Immediate Release                                   January 28, 1998
                         PRESS BRIEFING
                         BY MIKE MCCURRY

                     University of Illinois

12:09 P.M. CST

MR. MCCURRY: Good morning everyone. I just wanted to take a quick minute before the President goes off and speaks to an overflow crowd here to check in and see if you had any questions.

There's one thing. Because we used the day yesterday to really unveil the President's proposal on reserving the surpluses in the federal budget for Social Security, I wanted to make sure that you felt like you understood some of the portion of the speech last night that dealt with long-term entitlement reform in particular.

The President, as he said, proposed last night that saving Social Security first ought to be our objective as we think of how to deal with anticipated future federal budget surpluses. But, importantly, the President also outlined what he believed should be the process for addressing the long-term solvency issues related to Social Security.

And a couple of things, in case you didn't quite catch them in the President's speech last night, he indicated that we would be organizing a series of regional fora around the country to bring together experts who can talk about long-term entitlement reform and the future of the Social Security system, and who can begin to address what we all know are the variety of solutions that are on the menu.

As I told you before, the likely solutions or fixes for entitlement issues are not unknown; the issue is more how do you summon the political will power to get the job done. And the President fully believes that airing these issues in the course of the next year will help develop a strong national consensus on the right way to get that job done.

Very significantly, the regional fora that the President will participate in, along with the Vice President and other administration officials in the course of the coming year, will be jointly organized by the AARP and the Concord Coalition. So you have an organization that has long been identified with the needs and interests of elderly citizens working with a group that I think has been in the forefront of making the public case for entitlement reform. And the President believes that kind of cooperation is exactly what is needed if we're bringing together people of all political persuasions in the interests of long-term political solutions.

This will lead up to, as the President said last night, a White House Conference on Social Security that will be held next December. And we anticipate that being, really, the place in which the likely options for a long-term fix are identified for policymakers. And as the President indicated last night, he intends to call the new congressional leadership in the year 1999 to the White House to negotiate a bipartisan agreement on long-term entitlement issues, much as that has been addressed in the past with the balanced budget negotiations and as Social Security was addressed in 1983 by the Greenspan-Dole-Moynihan commission effort.

So with that update, I thought I might see if you have any other questions.

Q You said the President plans to talk world leaders about Iraq. Is he going to make those calls today?

MR. MCCURRY: The President does not plan, to my knowledge, to make any calls today. But we do anticipate making some calls in coming days. Certainly, he will want to talk to President Chirac. I imagine he will want to talk to others as well.

Q Why isn't President Clinton talking about these allegations surrounding Monica Lewinsky today, and was that your decision or was that the lawyers'?

MR. MCCURRY: He's already addressed the issue.

Q What is your sense of the response that the President got? Were you expecting this enthusiastic a response? Could you talk a little bit about the pep rally?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that you could entirely predict it. I haven't talked to the President yet, but I think we're all obviously delighted with what was a very enthusiastic response.

Q Mike, would you say that Dick Morris is part of the right wing conspiracy --

MR. MCCURRY: I would say he's part of some other planetary system. (Laughter.)

Q Mike, why did the President choose today to renominate General Ralston for --

MR. MCCURRY: That has been a matter pending for some time and we wanted to put that out in advance of the President's meeting tomorrow with the commanders in chief.

As you know, tomorrow the President will go to Fort McNair and, as he does annually -- or at least maybe even semi-annually -- he gathers his major regional and functional commanders in chief and they spend time during the day working through a variety of issues and then generally have some type of social occasion with spouses at night. And the President wanted to be in a position to have the Vice Chairman participating in that with this good news well known.

Q Should we draw any lesson from this, given the allegations that complicated his elevation to Chairman?

MR. MCCURRY: No. Are there any other --

Q Ginsburg did an interview today with CNN on Monica. He said that when she went over to the Pentagon she had top secret security clearance. Is that true, and how is that possible that such a young person with questions about her credibility --

MR. MCCURRY: I did not see the interview and any question like that related to what her security clearance is should be addressed to the Pentagon. If I'm not mistaken, Ken Bacon got that question and addressed it at the Pentagon yesterday.

Q Are there any local gubernatorial candidates here today?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We'll check with our political folks. I don't know the answer.

Q Do you guys have any response to the press conference yesterday by the high school teacher -- Lewinsky's high school teacher?

MR. MCCURRY: Which one?

Q The guy who said he an affair with Lewinsky, her teacher?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I'm sure this story will have numerous peculiar angles before we're done with it.

Q Did it surprise you that he said that?

MR. MCCURRY: I gave you my reaction.

Q It doesn't surprise you?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know anything about him, his story, or the facts. So I decline comment.

Q Any new thinking on when you're going to release the WAVES records?

MR. MCCURRY: No. No new thinking on that.

Q Have you turned over any more new documents to Starr?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you should address that question to the independent counsel.

Q Mike, can you try to disabuse us of the notion that you're trying to use the investigation to -- as a pretext to stop talking about it?


Q So you are using the investigation --

MR. MCCURRY: I mean, it's in part the investigation; it's in part the President feels like he has said what he is in a position to say on the issue at this point. It's pretty straightforward.

Q And so should we basically expect him to have said his peace now and not have anything to say?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I mean, to the degree that he can address this, I'm sure he will address it. But I think he feels he's said what he's going to say about it at this point.

Q I'm not sure if that's what I mean. The First Lady sort of indicated today, given the investigation, we've said what we have to say now and we'll let things go for some period of time.

MR. MCCURRY: Well said by the First Lady.

Anything else?

Q I know earlier you sort of chastised the press for even reporting the Dick Morris comments?

MR. MCCURRY: If you want to ask me a question about that I just want you to stop and think long and hard, because the point I made to the pool earlier today is anything I say in response is going to be an excuse for people to print something that I think is objectionable.

Okay, anything else?

Q Do we have any Iraq news today? Is the President talking to anybody?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I indicated earlier he talked to Prime Minister Blair yesterday. I expect him to talk soon to President Chirac, and no doubt he may have some other calls that he will make as well. You probably know that we will have some high-level diplomatic consultations that will take place by Secretaries Albright and Cohen, and perhaps Ambassador Richardson as well. That will all unfold in coming days, and you'll see that as the Secretaries travel both in the region and in Europe.

Q Mike, can you say again, if I haven't already asked this, why the WAVES records aren't being released?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they're in the custody of the independent counsel and we're cooperating with them and we believe that we can't make them available at this point.

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because we just believe we can't. I mean, I'll get a precise answer from the lawyers.

Q You're suggesting that there's a legal reason why you can't make them available.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just suggesting that we elect not to because the independent counsel has a proceeding underway and we choose not to release them at this time.

Q Mike, can you just clarify the difference between what the President said at the Arafat photo op, which was that the American people have a right to know answers to these questions and --

MR. MCCURRY: He said, Josh, if I recall, that these are legitimate questions and he'd like to make more information, rather than less, sooner rather than later, and that remains his view -- that we feel constrained and the President feels constrained in his capacity to address all these matters at the moment is not as full as he would like it to be.

Q With the reaction to his having spoken about it, though, wouldn't he want to speak about it more and address more questions?

MR. MCCURRY: Of course he does want to.

Q Is it your understanding that he has told Mrs. Clinton all about this? In other words, they've discussed it.

MR. MCCURRY: She answered that question this morning.

Q She seemed to say that they had --

MR. MCCURRY: I think GMA had a very good interview with her and I won't add to it.

Q But I'm asking because she apparently doesn't know whether he gave her gifts or not. Did they not discuss that?

MR. MCCURRY: The First Lady indicated, if I heard the question correctly, that she's discussed everything about this matter -- or words to that effect.

Q Then why wouldn't she have known whether he gave her gifts or not?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to add to what the First Lady said this morning.

Q Mike, constrained by what?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to add to what I've already said on the subject.

Q I'm asking you, your language --

MR. MCCURRY: I just feel like -- the President doesn't feel like he can address this matter as fully as he wants to at this time a number of different reasons.

Q I mean, just help me understand why -- you say he feels constrained --

MR. MCCURRY: There are number of different reasons why the President feels like he can't address this matter as fully as he would like to at this point.

Q What would constrain him?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think I can be any clearer than that. It's pretty clear.

Q What are the reasons, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of them.

Q Legal reasons?

MR. MCCURRY: Legal reasons. There are the fact that we are in a hostile proceeding right now with a very determined independent counsel; that we've got other legal actions that are underway; and that there are going to have to be places and venues in which the truth can prevail, and settings in which witnesses can be examined and cross-examined. And those are the settings in which in our system of justice the truth prevails and justice is done.

Q When you say "hostile proceeding," are you suggesting, as I've heard a number of people privately suggest on the Clinton team, that Ken Starr would coerce testimony that wasn't true, simply as a way of making this case?

MR. MCCURRY: I said it was a hostile proceeding. I'm not going to attempt to define it.

Q Is that what you mean by hostility?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to attempt to define it.

Q Mike, are you saying that until there's a trial the President feels like he can't --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on when the President can go further into this. And this is about all I'm going to do on the subject. Maybe last question here. Yes?

Q How would you assess Monica Lewinsky's credibility right now? We have all these reports --

MR. MCCURRY: No comment on that.

Q The First Lady said that the independent counsel was intimidating witnesses. Do you agree?

MR. MCCURRY: I can well understand the First Lady's feelings on the subject and I fully support what she said.

Q Including the vast conspiracy, right-wing conspiracy?

MR. MCCURRY: Again, I think the White House supports the First Lady.

Q The President agrees with her?

MR. MCCURRY: The White House and the President support the First Lady.

Q Does that mean they agree with her?

MR. MCCURRY: I think a lot of us both agree and believe in it. Thank you, Peter. Peter gives me the cut sign.

All right. See you all in Wisconsin.

END 12:22 P.M. CST