THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Helen was asking if I'm going tomorrow, so I'll tell you about tomorrow. Does everyone know about tomorrow? The President and the Vice President travel to Baltimore to announce a new clean water initiative. Following up on what the President outlined in the State of the Union address, the President is going to unveil a comprehensive plan that will involve close cooperation with state and local officials to launch a second generation of clean water protection, continuing our theme of healthy initiatives for the week.
Q Will there be briefings up there tomorrow?
MR. TOIV: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Who are we going to bring?
MR. TOIV: We're going to do a briefing on it in the filing center on the announcement.
MR. MCCURRY: Katie?
MR. TOIV: No, not Katie.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have some experts.
Q Are you briefing tomorrow morning?
Q Why in Baltimore?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that's where the event is.
Q But are you going to brief at 9:30 a.m. anyway?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so, because I think the press -- you all have to leave at 9:00 a.m. or 8:30 a.m. or something, so no gaggle in the morning.
Q What is the setting for this announcement?
MR. MCCURRY: What is the setting for this announcement?
MR. TOIV: The setting for this announcement is a location near the --
MR. MCCURRY: A living classroom foundation at 11:40 a.m.
MR. TOIV: It's on the harbor somewhere in Baltimore.
MR. MCCURRY: On the harbor.
Q No gaggle because you're going? Is that the deal?
MR. MCCURRY: No gaggle because you are going, early in the morning. (Laughter.)
Following the clean water event, the President attends a Democratic Business Council luncheon up there, and then he comes back here to fly to New Jersey for the DNC event. There you go. That's our day. And today you know about. In a short while we're awaiting the no doubt stellar performance of the Secretaries of State, Defense, and the National Security Advisor.
Q The President won't see it. He'll be out at his event -- is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be out. He's had ample opportunities to discuss the matter of Iraq with all three -- separately and individually.
Q Did Bruce Lindsey give a stellar performance -- did he get executive privilege?
MR. MCCURRY: I checked with White House Legal Counsel and they have not heard of any issue arising that creates a privilege concern.
Q Is Cheryl Mills there in her capacity as a member of the Counsel's Office or is she there because she's a friend of Mr. Lindsey's or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Both. I mean, she's a friend of Bruce's, but she's also there and can be consulted if any issue arises that touches on interest of the Office of the President.
Q In other words, he would be expected, if that comes up, to step out, speak to her and she would either rule on it or contact Mr. Ruff?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you what one might expect. But she is available if he wishes to consult with her, and also I believe his own attorney is there, as well.
Q You talked about the process this morning. You said the President is the only one who could assert this power. Would he then be consulted in the instance before it is asserted in his name?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he has to authorize the invocation of any form of executive privilege, whatever the nature of the privilege asserted -- whether it's a deliberative process claim, whether it's a presidential communications claim, whether they are issues that arise out of other attorney-client.
Q Yes, but I'm asking whether he would do it on an individual basis, or whether he would say to Mr. Ruff, you use your judgment and if you think we should do this, assert it in my name.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe under U.S. v. Nixon that only the President can invoke the presidential communications privilege, because it uniquely derives out of separation of powers, Article II. Not being a lawyer, I'm not exactly sure that's right. Maybe some lawyer will tell me. But in any event, there would be, as there customarily is, discussion back and forth between the Office of the Independent Counsel and White House Legal Counsel in an effort to resolve any questions concerning privilege. And one would hope that they would be resolved satisfactorily. If they weren't, then there presumably would be litigation. There could be a motion to compel. That's the kind of motion that in past instances has led to invocations of executive privilege.
Q It would seem from what you're saying that the White House expected Mr. Starr and his associates to ask questions which might tread on the area of privilege.
MR. MCCURRY: I am not in any way, shape, or form going to suggest what we might expect from Mr. Starr.
Q Did Starr's office ever give you any indication that they would stay away from certain areas --
MR. MCCURRY: I will only say what I know. I know that there have been ongoing discussions between legal counsel and OIC on that matter. I don't know the status or the substance of those discussions.
Q And, Mike, among your group --
MR. MCCURRY: By the way, James, those issues are customarily handled, I believe, under seal by the court.
Q Among Lindsey, et al, was there any discussion prior to this going over today saying, here are the areas that we would be concerned about and if this comes up --
MR. MCCURRY: There is -- every time in any White House a White House employee is asked to testify on whatever basis, on matters in which the Office of the President deems that there might be issues that relate to the institutional prerogatives of the presidency, there are normally discussions between White House legal counsel and any legal representation that an individual employee has to go over questions of privilege. That's a very common practice not only in this White House, but in previous White Houses.
Q And since the President himself would have to invoke the privilege here, did he participate in those preliminary discussions to say, this is what --
MR. MCCURRY: It's been the practice -- I don't know specifically in this instance -- it's generally the practice that the White House legal counsel has those types of conversations with outside legal representatives of individual employees.
Q But not with the President, even though he is the one who has to pull the trigger?
MR. MCCURRY: The President would be presented a recommendation by legal counsel if those issues arise. That has not happened in any case regarding the current matter that I'm aware of.
Q Who is representing him?
MR. MCCURRY: Bruce? He has a private attorney. I don't know him.
Q Why has the President authorized the creation of a new legal defense fund that basically removes all of the earlier imposed restrictions?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure what restrictions or what practices will exist in the fund that the President's supporters are establishing. But as I understand it, they're going to address that at 2:00 p.m.
Q Mike, on Iraq for just a moment -- would the United States accept in principle the idea of diplomatic observers accompanying UNSCOM teams?
MR. MCCURRY: What we would accept is a solution that allows the U.N. Special Commission to have access to the sites it has not been allowed to visit; that allows them to continue to do the work that they must do; and that maintains the integrity of the U.N. inspections process in Iraq. How that might work, what the parameters and modalities of any solution like that might be is exactly the work that the Secretary General will now address as he makes his trip to Baghdad.
Q -- does not exclude people.
Q There's no particular objection to that scheme?
MR. MCCURRY: There's only our firm view, and now the firm view of the Security Council, that relevant Security Council resolutions must be adhered to, that there must be a process by which UNSCOM can do its work in Iraq, and that the integrity of that process which has worked so well over the last seven years must be maintained.
Q But as long as that's preserved, it doesn't matter whether other people accompany the inspectors, does it?
MR. MCCURRY: This may be the perfect and the good, if you can get access to those sites that have been declared off limits, and there are dozens and dozens of them, that would be important to the fulfillment of the U.N. mandate in Iraq. But at this point, that has not been available to the United Nations and the Secretary General is now going to make an urgent consultation with the government of Iraq to see if there is some prospect that a diplomatic solution can be found.
Q Can I follow up on that? How does that work timetable-wise, since Saddam Hussein has broken his word so many times, if he says yes, and then the U.N. inspectors go in, but after a while they're not allowed in, does the U.S. keep its troop presence there?
MR. MCCURRY: The timetable at this point is only the one that the Secretary General himself has articulated.
Q Mike, are you optimistic that Annan will be able to achieve a breakthrough while he's there?
MR. MCCURRY: No. But at the same point it is important to make this effort. We believe he will do so in the fashion that he has conducted himself generally as Secretary General. He is a man of very high principle, high integrity, and he has very clear instructions from the Secretary Council, unanimously given, that set out the parameters of his trip.
Q -- the purpose of the President's phone call to Kofi Annan yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: To review with him the situation as the Security Council deliberated the utility of a mission, to discuss the parameters, and to assure that we would have the kind of unanimous support in the Security Council that we have now received.
Q -- such a negative impression of the U.S. toward the possibility of a peace?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We want every effort to be made to achieve a peaceful diplomatic solution to this crisis, and we hope that the Secretary General can find one.
Q Why would you not be optimistic?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been no indication from the government of Iraq that would lend anyone to be optimistic. There has been only obstinacy, concealment, deliberate lies about past practices, no indication of a willingness to do the necessary, which is to live up to their international obligations.
Q -- dozens and dozens of sites that need to be inspected. Could you explain these eight presidential sites versus the dozens and dozens?
MR. MCCURRY: "Eight presidential sites" is something that the government of Iraq likes to say. There are some 60-odd so-called presidential sites, and they range in nature. There are dozens and dozens of other sensitive sites, or so-called declared sensitive sites. In one instance I think the government of Iraq declared a road somewhere a sensitive site. But they are equally important to the work that that U.N. inspectors have attempted to do there. So we're talking about dozens, if not hundreds, of sites that are currently off limits that the U.N. Special Commission needs access to.
Q Once the Secretary General returns from Baghdad, if he does not have a diplomatic solution, what would that signify in terms of where we are?
MR. MCCURRY: That would be a very grave matter.
Q Do you consider this the last diplomatic effort?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to foresee what future possibilities diplomacy might have at that point, but they're quickly running out.
Q That's pretty much how Richardson described it, though.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. Ambassador Richardson has addressed all this and spoke authoritatively.
Q Did the President send a message through Kofi to Saddam even verbally?
MR. MCCURRY: He joins in the message that the Secretary General will express on behalf of the Security Council.
Q He has not written a letter or anything like that.
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge is he carrying any separate bilateral communication, but he is expressing the determined view of the Security Council.
Q No Bibles, no cakes?
Q I just have a question about the town meeting. I'm wondering just in light of the interest that was expressed by other networks in carrying this live if you have resolved that in the future you wouldn't agree to do something where one network has exclusive rights --
MR. MCCURRY: I think in the happy circumstance in the future of having one of our events with that much interest, we'll find a way to get expanded coverage. And we're delighted that CNN has made a number of accommodations so people can cover the story.
Q But, Mike, if it had involved the President, himself, would it have been handled differently?
MR. MCCURRY: It's hard to know without knowing what the specifics might be.
Q Mike, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times have reported that several Republicans are set to propose that all surplus money be devoted to retiring the debt with the aim toward shoring up Medicare and Social Security. Is that consistent with what the President wants on Social Security?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they seem to have heard the President's message on a number of fronts -- that the need for fiscal discipline is clearly something that ought to govern all policymakers who approach budget making; two, that the best tax cuts are those targeted for specific purposes that are designed to grow the economy in the future; three, that we should save Social Security first, a principle that now appears that Republicans are willing to embrace. And they have shown interest in other matters that the President has put forward in his budget proposal. So there at least now is engagement.
I'd remind everyone here that we're a long ways away from the years in which President's budgets were routinely declared dead on arrival up on Capitol Hill. The Senate Republicans apparently are taking up many of the proposals, ideas the President has laid forward in moving ahead to see what we can accomplish this year.
At the same time, there is some bad news, too. They have not been willing to embrace some of the fundamentally important initiatives the President has put forward -- child care; they're still at least some lack of clarity on whether or not we'll be able to move quickly ahead on tobacco legislation, although the administration believes that we ultimately will because that's manifestly in the public health interests of the America's children. So we've got work to do, but I wouldn't by any means say it's a discouraging response.
Q Mike, back on the legal defense fund. How big are the President's legal bills at this point and what are --
MR. MCCURRY: The last time that they were clocked at the end of the year, I think it was around $2.9 million outstanding.
Q Why is Terry McAuliffe not being chosen to head this at this time? Is he seen as somehow too controversial?
MR. MCCURRY: The people who are coming together to form this fund can tell you more about it at 2:00 p.m.
Q Last time they set up the fund you put out a statement where the President --
MR. MCCURRY: The legal expense trust put out a fund on behalf of the trustees and those who established it, and I do expect that there will that kind of documentation at 2:00 p.m. If we have anything to say from here I'll let you know.
Q What's the current figure?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know.
Q Mike, going back to Iraq for a second. If you do launch these military strikes, and you fail, as you admitted yourself you probably would, to remove Saddam Hussein from power, as everybody admits is quite likely --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I said more accurately that the purpose of a military strike, if one is needed, would be to do those things that the President has articulated.
Q Right, and everybody would probably admit you're unlikely to remove him from power. Therefore, your domestic audience or international audience, and certainly every Republican, is going to see it as a failure. How much of a worry is that for the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I think you're taking great liberties with a large number of people who might have their own individual interpretations of what happened. I don't accept the premise of the question.
Q Mike, could you clarify for me the development of this town meeting? Did you go to CNN, propose it, and they then said, only if we have it exclusively? Did they come to you and propose it?
MR. MCCURRY: We went through the whole thing yesterday and I made it clear that we came up with the idea and we went to them.
Q Mike, there is some speculation that in your remarks to The Chicago Tribune that you --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, not that again. (Laughter.)
Q I'm sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: What do I need to say? My brain was out to lunch. (Laughter.) What do you want?
Q But that's not the question.
Q But you spoke the truth.
Q The speculation is that you were either trying to distance yourself from the President or perhaps something else. Can you clarify it?
MR. MCCURRY: I couldn't have been clearer in answering those questions yesterday. Couldn't have been clearer in answering all that yesterday.
Q Was it a trial balloon?
MR. MCCURRY: Couldn't have been clearer in answering exactly that yesterday, and I answered it at the gaggle this morning, as you know.
Q Mike, who has the President talked to on the matter of Iraq in the last 24 hours? And do you anticipate more calls as the day wears on?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't check and see. I'm not aware of any foreign calls today. He has obviously had a lot of internal deliberations in the last 24 hours. He talked to King Hussein late yesterday. King Hussein and he had one other -- we'll double-check that. But he has continued -- as I told you yesterday, he has had I think probably a dozen or so calls that he's made to others around the world on this subject.
Q Mike, I don't think you answered that at the gaggle this morning. You kind of laughed it off.
MR. MCCURRY: I just couldn't have been clearer yesterday in saying that this was not strategy, this was just me making a mistake.
Q Awhile ago The Washington Post had a story saying that the President had talked to some friends and said this was an emotional, perhaps excessive emotional relationship, but nonsexual. And at the time you said that story was wrong. Are you still convinced that story was wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard of any such discussions.
Q But you said at the time -- you didn't say that. You said the story was wrong.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the story was wrong; still is, I think.
Q So as far as you know there was no emotional relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not characterizing the relationship one way or another. I don't know.
Q There's a report out of London that the U.S. has denied Gerry Adams a visa to come visit for St. Patrick's Day.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that we have made any decision one way or another on a pending visa request from Mr. Adams for a period of time that was not, I don't believe, St. Patrick's Day.
Q Do you know whether you would consider a request from him?
MR. MCCURRY: We have considered favorably his visa requests in the past and we always look very carefully at those requests as they are made case by case.
Q Mike, on the legal defense fund, the fact that corporations and lobbyists and --
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, I'm not familiar with the rules. I can't help you on it. But at 2:00 p.m. you're going to have access to the people who can help you on this.
Q But just as a matter of principle, if there are looser requirements than from the old, the original legal defense, the original purpose was to make sure there would be no conflict of interest and no improper contributions -- wouldn't the White House be more concerned now that big-time money people are going to be able to make these kinds of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure that at 2:00 p.m. you will hear the steps that those setting up the fund are going to take to assure everyone that this is being done consistent with government ethics rules, regulations, an also with what is obviously the proper way to do business.
Q Ruff took this new fund and ran it through the hoops; presumably the White House doesn't have a problem with it --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe both Legal Counsel and Office of Government Ethics, which is independent from the White House, had to review this.
Q What about the President and First Lady? Did they weigh in on this at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check on that. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Does the President have a response to the report -- the story as reported that Kathleen Willey is telling?
MR. MCCURRY: I am not familiar with what her story is, so I couldn't possibly have a response.
Q Her claim as reported is that he --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about speculative things.
Q Well, you said you weren't familiar with it.
MR. MCCURRY: I've seen what the speculation is, but I don't know what her story is.
Q Is the President's insurance company still paying Bob Bennett?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I believe that was addressed at the time that they had the press conference and Mr. Cardoso addressed the issue at the end of last year.
Q What's your reaction to the firing of the Central Bank director? And do you have any positive indication --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the one -- we did that yesterday, and I told you about the call the President had with President Soeharto and the response was embedded in that discussion.
Q Mike, on IMF funding, it looks like House conservatives are going to take a real strong stand in tying that to the international family planning issue. And last fall when that came up, the White House was pretty inflexible about it and unwilling to really broker a deal on it. Is there any chance that this time, considering the increased urgency of the issue, that the White House might be more willing to strike a deal on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Albright has testified on that matter in front of Chairman Helms, and I think she answered it clearly. She said that she understands the importance of resolving the international family planning issue; but given the urgency of the work the IMF is doing in the Asia region it would not be wise to link those in a way that makes it harder to accomplish the kind of funding authority that we need to provide for the IMF to do its work.
Q But even though it may not be wise to do that, the right-wingers in the House seem to insist -- and they say they have assurances from the leadership that the leadership will insist on that linkage. Is there any chance that the White House will --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the leaders need to address what peril that raises for the work the IMF is doing in Asia and what steps they will take to assure that the IMF has access to the kind of funding it needs to carry out the work that it's now doing in Asia -- very important to all of us here in the United States because of the nature of the commercial relationships we have with the Asian economies, both as competitors and as customers.
Q Mike, does the President feel that with today's event and the speech yesterday and Sandy Berger's comments the that administration's case to the American people for air strikes in Iraq has been made, or would you anticipate that there's going to be a lot more or there's going to be further events --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will continue to address the matter publicly because most Americans will hear in the course of the next several hours that there's an effort underway now by the Secretary General to resolve this diplomatically, and the President will need to continue to discuss with the American people what the realities are of the course of action we'll have to pursue if that's not a successful effort.
Q An Oval Office address?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of ways in which the President might do that. I don't have anything I can share with you on his immediate plans on that right now.
Q Mike, presumably UNSCOM will be out of the country if bombing begins. How will the United States know when it's accomplished its mission?
MR. MCCURRY: When we have significantly diminished Saddam Hussein's capacity to advance programs in biological and chemical weapons, and we think we'll be in reasonably good position to make those judgments, and also when we have limited his ability to threaten and intimidate his neighbors. And again, we'll have a pretty good idea on how to measure the effectiveness of that.
Q And how do you measure that?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a number of different ways that we can do that, a number of different ways we make assessments. And I normally don't discuss here intelligence-gathering operations.
Q Are those methods -- the President said, if Iraq tries to build it up again he'll use all methods at our disposal to monitor it. Are those methods less effective than the UNSCOM monitors?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are varying degrees of effectiveness, but the most effective is to be not only in a permanent regime or in a regime in which you can do the work that's required by U.N. Security Council resolutions with on-site inspections, but also continue the kind of effort to monitor any prospective activity as well. It's better to be in a position to do that.
Q So UNSCOM inspectors are better?
MR. MCCURRY: It's better for on-site inspectors to be in an environment in which they're getting cooperation from the government that is required to lend them cooperation. That's not the situation that's presenting itself unfortunately.
Q Just to clarify, are you saying the President will make an address if and when the bombing has already begun?
MR. MCCURRY: I answered that and made it clear that I didn't rule that out. But I didn't say that it's decided in any way, shape, or form.
Okay, see you tomorrow.
END 12:45 P.M. EST