View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 24, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:42 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: What do you want to talk about today?

Q Could you clarify the Sidney Blumenthal subpoena issue? Does the White House feel it was justified for Ken Starr to subpoena Sid Blumenthal to come and testify about his contacts with reporters who are investigating the Monica Lewinsky allegations?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't speculate on what the questioning is that Mr. Starr wishes to pose to Mr. Blumenthal. I can tell you that it would certainly have a chilling effect on me to learn that the way in which we do business with all of you, the way we try to get through the day and make sure your news accounts are accurate and truthful, that I was being impinged upon by an outside investigator. I think that would be very troubling to me, personally, and I know that it would be very troubling to a number of people here at the White House. But I'm not going to speculate on what they will or will not ask of him when he testifies.

Q Meaning you as a White House official?

MR. MCCURRY: As someone who has a responsibility on behalf of the taxpayers to deal with the press.

Q Well, was one of Mr. Blumenthal's responsibilities to leak information designed to undermine the authority of Ken Starr's prosecutors?

MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, your news organization has sought such information from a number of people. So the way in which we provide information and the way in which we answer questions I think is the way we do business. I think that it's surprising to me that news organizations that have to operate in circumstances in which in the search for truth they work to deal with those who know the truth and who can pass on information and provide arrangements that you and your profession provide to your sources, to have to penetrate that in any way, through investigative work or through a lot of Q&A, I think is going to change the rules in which you do your business. If the rules are changing, I guess that's -- so be it.

Q Mike, news organizations, though, don't only solicit information from the White House. Sometimes, information is provided for us unsolicited by the White House. So the question is this: Is there anything wrong with the White House providing to us information about prosecutors' backgrounds?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that I can't imagine that on any given story in which people are dealing with contentious issues, there is not an effort to make information available in a wide variety of ways. I mean, look, everyone in this room has dealt with multiple sources on multiple issues and done things of that nature, and we're talking about people who are in public offices, and we certainly get asked questions based on anonymous material that's provided damaging the President all the time. It's a fact of life; we deal with it.

Q For those of us who were not here over the weekend when the original questions came up about any private investigator working on behalf of the President, would you tell us whether Mr. Lenzner or anyone else has been trying to ferret out information?

MR. MCCURRY: We made it clear over the weekend in response to news organizations that asked that no one at the White House or anyone acting on behalf of the White House or any of President Clinton's private attorneys, for that matter, hired or authorized any private investigator to look into the background of Mr. diGenova, Ms. Tonsing, investigators, prosecutors or reporters. Couldn't have made that clearer.

Q Do you still believe --

Q How does that square with what Terry Lenzner says?

MR. MCCURRY: Terry Lenzner has now said that he has been on retainer. I don't know if he's described the nature of his contractual arrangement with Williams and Connolly, but he's an investigator. People -- what's the name of Perry Mason's guy that he has as an investigator. Attorneys hire investigators to do investigative work presumably so they don't have to charge their clients $400 and hour.

Q How does that square with your previous answer?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they're not -- the work that they're doing is not designed to look into the private individual backgrounds of any of those individuals or reporters or investigators. There's a whole, big difference between doing leg work on behalf of attorneys who have got a case that is contentious that they're getting ready to put in versus digging up dirt on people's private lives. And everyone in this room knows that.

Q Does that count -- prosecutorial abuses in past cases, or when you say "private lives," do you mean like personal, sexual stuff?

MR. MCCURRY: The kind of stuff that has been alleged by the representative of Mr. Starr's office.

Q Well, Mike, so when you say that we haven't hired private investigators to look into the background of prosecutors, which is the precise language that you used --

MR. MCCURRY: This is not a statement that's designed to be read with any ambiguity. This is a declarative statement. The President, his attorneys, people who work at the White House are not using outside private investigators to look into the personal lives of reporters, you, investigators, the people who made these charge in the first place, even though they were baseless. We're just being very clear about that.

Q Mike, personal lives is different than background.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, background, I mean, you in the press have looked into the background of some of the people on Mr. Starr's team because articles have been written about it. People have -- we've seen the clippings. We've actually shared some of the clippings with those of you who may not have seen them. I don't know what the distinction is you're trying to get to.

Q What I'm trying to understand, if I may, is, are you now saying that the investigators are not looking into the personal lives of prosecutors or --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not trying to make any distinction --

Q -- or the background.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not trying to make any distinction there whatsoever. I think these investigators are doing work in furtherance of the cases that the attorneys are dealing with. They're not looking into the kind of backgrounds of the individuals, as the statement said.

Q But when you made the original statements over the weekend, were you, in fact, aware that Mr. Lenzner had been retained?

MR. MCCURRY: I know that I dealt with some news organizations, said it's no doubt clear that these defense attorneys, as they have in the past, may be using outside investigators. I didn't know any specific contractual arrangement that Terry Lenzner had with Williams and Connolly, but I knew for a fact because he said so that some of the President's attorneys have used investigators in past circumstances. It wouldn't be a surprise because as any law firm, including Mr. diGenova's own law firm, use investigators on various matters.

Q What do you make of the whole direction of the Starr investigation now? Do you feel it's gotten far afield from the original mandate?

MR. MCCURRY: When Mr. Starr is spending his time -- at one point, he promised the American people he would be investigating the leaks from his organization. He's now apparently more interested in how we conduct press relations here at the White House. I think that speaks for itself.

Q Mike, Mr. Lenzner, himself, was asked about this matter last night and he declined to say specifically what he was hired to do, but he said it wouldn't be improper for him to investigate the backgrounds of Mr. Starr's --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't really care what his personal opinion is. The point is that he didn't do it, and he hadn't been hired or authorized to do it.

Q Well, Mike, a number of legal experts that we've all talked to have said there's absolutely nothing wrong with him looking into the backgrounds of the prosecutors. So are you --

MR. MCCURRY: That's his point of view, too.

Q Right. But what I'm asking you, are you now saying that the White House believes it is inappropriate and doesn't want him to do that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that it has not happened.

Q But are you saying if it happened in the future, it would be something that you would object to?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a moot point because it hasn't happened.

Q Mike, back to your statements over the weekend, I mean -- you said you weren't aware of Mr. Lenzner's arrangement per se. Were you really, then, given the information that you needed in response to the kind of press queries that you were getting?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because the press queries we got were based on an outrageous statement made by Mr. DiGenova on Meet The Press. It was based on some queries that your news organization and others had made. And I think we had sufficiently satisfied most news organizations that there were no grounds to pursue it, nor any factual information to support the allegation, and there is none to this date that I am aware of.

Q Mike, can you be more specific? What is it that Mr. Lenzner does on behalf of the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know what he does on behalf of Williams and Connolly, who has retained him.

Q Why is that any different than on behalf of the President? Williams and Connolly works for the President.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the work that the counsel has got to do in order to investigate whatever matters they're investigating in preparation of the legal arguments they make on behalf of the President I have no way of knowing here. I do not know. I would have to ask Mr. Kendall or get Mr. Kendall to tell all of you. I don't know that he plans to do that.

Q You're not denying that Terry Lenzner works on behalf of the President?

MR. MCCURRY: No, he works on behalf of the President's legal team. I mean, that's who has retained him.

There's a far cry -- I'm worried that you're not getting a distinction between doing the kind of legwork that investigators do on behalf of lawyers, which happens all the time in each and every case, and going out and looking up dirt on prosecutors and reporters. I think there is a big difference there.

Q So what is "legwork," Mike? What do you mean by that?

MR. MCCURRY: How long does it take -- I could probably think of some examples, but it's the kind of legal legwork that people do to run down facts that you wouldn't want to take the time of an attorney to do.

Q You mean, like whether or not someone --

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett might have some very good examples that he could share with you.

Q Mike, turning to Iraq. Saddam Hussein claims victory, and also how much time are you going to give him this time before any attack?

MR. MCCURRY: There have been good discussions at the Security Council in New York today. And Ambassador Richardson is coming back here to Washington to report to the President's other national security advisors this afternoon on the nature of the discussions they've had at the Security Council. I think that, as he has indicated a short while ago, there needs to be some additional clarifications on some of the questions that he has posed to the Secretary General. And our assessment of that discussion and what other members of the Security Council make of the discussion will be the subject that is pursued at the Security Council in coming days.

Q What time is that meeting with the National Security?

MR. MCCURRY: In a short while.

Q What about the status of this commissioner that the Secretary General's close to appointing. How will that relate to Richard Butler's role as executive chairman of UNSCOM?

MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary General has just provided an answer just a short, few moments ago to that. There may have been additional discussion of that at the Security Council today, and I would really care not to get into that until I hear further from Ambassador Richardson, until he shares his information with other members of the President's foreign affairs team.

Q Is the U.S. satisfied that the relationship between the commissioner and the chairman --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that has to be discussed with the President's foreign policy advisors based on whether Ambassador Richardson may have additional information that he gleaned from the conversation in the Security Council.

Q Do you intend to seek a new Security Council resolution?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we intend to follow up with other members of the Security Council on the best way in which they can proceed to effectively implement the agreement that the Secretary General has reached.

Q Do you concede that the special procedures now given to the UNSCOM inspections of the eight presidential sites with a commissioner and with diplomats, a new chain of command, if you will, that that represents a concession --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that you are leaping to conclusions that are not justified based on what the Security -- or the Secretary General has just said, nor perhaps what the discussion in the Security Council is.

Q Mike will the President be involved in this meeting this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: You can get a report on it when it's over.

Q I mean, why not be directly involved?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, like I said, they're going through a very technical of the nature of some of the presentations that have been made. And once we think some of the additional clarifications are, it will be largely a technical discussion.

Q So who will be there?

Q Mike, you seem to be suggesting that it would be improper for the President's lawyers to research the background of their opponents. Why would that be improper? Wouldn't it be their duty to research the background of their legal opponents?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's a difference between looking at what matters are on the public record; what's in the public domain; how people abuse their positions of trust and authority; whether they have misused those positions of trust and authority; and personal derogatory information. And I think there would be some distinctions there. I think it's a moot point because none of that type of work to my knowledge and what's been conveyed to me by counsel has been undertaken.

Q Wait a second. You're talking about none of the second kind of work, the personal derogatory work --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get in defining or explaining those terms.

Q Mike, that's an important distinction.

Q Mike, are you saying that Mr. Lenzner, nor anyone else has in any way looked into DiGenova, Tonsing, reporters investigators, or are you saying --

MR. MCCURRY: That's what has been presented to me by counsel. That is correct.

Q No way whatsoever?

Q You say that it's legitimate, for example, to look at public records on prosecutorial abuse, that would qualify under background and that hasn't been done by those investigators?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware -- the information given to me by Counsel's Office is that they have not done any of that type of research or work on any of those individuals or any other investigator --

Q If I could follow up, where do you think these stories about the personal lives of the prosecutors are coming from?

MR. MCCURRY: From those who are thin-skinned.

Q Mike, are you saying --

Q Is it correct that you don't know what work they are doing, but you're confident in what work they're not doing?

MR. MCCURRY: We have in a variety of ways asked of counsel the questions that you've posed to us to try to get suitable answers to make sure that we could credibly say what we said over the weekend.

Q You're not denying that someone may have done a Nexis-Lexis search and pulled up stuff in the public record on what prosecutors --

MR. MCCURRY: The kind of stuff that you all do in your day-to-day work? No doubt they could do that. But I'm not -- as our statement says, they have not been authorized or hired to do that work. Now, have people done that in the course of coming to understand better the work that some of the people working on Mr. Starr's team? Well, we certainly -- someone found the Atlanta Constitution article and the Daily News stuff has presumably been faxed to everyone in this room. If not, I know who you can call if you want to get it. But that's matter that's on the public record.

Q Mike, who can we call?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm sorry, the New York Post didn't get it.

Q No, Mike, I'm not being facetious. You said, I know who you can call if you want to get it.

MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know afterwards. Sorry we left you off the list.

Q Mike, do you see any contradiction between how much Sidney Blumenthal has talked about his subpoena and how much other people in the office and the White House have talked about his subpoena, your refusal to talk about other subpoenas and other things going on in the process, saying that we're not supposed to talk --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't see a contradiction, but I see what we've told you often, that it's the right of any individual who has been subpoenaed to provide whatever information they choose to on it. That's why we give -- we leave it up to the individual to make the choice of whether or not they wish to discuss publicly whether they've even gotten a subpoena.

Q Mike, when you said I don't know, for example, whether they've done a Nexis-Lexis search or something like that, when you say that in your statements that they haven't been authorized or hired to do this --


Q -- you're not saying it hasn't been done, you're just saying they haven't been authorized or hired to do it.

MR. MCCURRY: That's not the purposes for which they were retained; that's the understanding that I have. And they've assured us that they haven't done that kind of work.

Q I'm sorry, they are assuring you of that?

MR. MCCURRY: That's the assurance that I've gotten, is that they're not doing that type of work.

Q Although you're saying that it would be okay if they did, that there's a difference --

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I've never posed that question to anybody.

Q -- a difference between looking into public records and digging up dirt of a personal and derogatory nature. You just made a distinction between those two things.

MR. MCCURRY: Look, there is a -- I can conceive of different ways in which you could define what's appropriate and not appropriate, but I'm not going to attempt to do it here because we would be here all day.

Q Mike, are you confident that the people to whom you address these questions are giving you full, complete, truthful answers?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And God help them if they're not.

Q Mike, was Blumenthal accompanied by anyone from the White House Counsel's Office?

MR. MCCURRY: I saw Cheryl Mills go in the picture -- went down there, and it would not be inappropriate to have a White House Legal Counsel person available in case the witness wished to consult with a member of the White House Legal Counsel's Office.

Q Do you know if that was for the purpose of trying to quash the subpoena?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know for what purpose it was specifically, but I know that, given the White House Legal Counsel's interest in giving a set of privilege instructions to any White House employee testifying, the White House employee might wish to have White House Legal Counsel available for consultation if it's needed.

Q Mike, Kofi Annan just announced that Richard Butler maintains head of UNSCOM and that most likely they maintain their authority in the inspections. Reaction to this?

MR. MCCURRY: We've told you in the past that we think that Ambassador Butler has done admirable work and has led the very highly-qualified team of professionals who have got the expertise necessary to do the inspections in Iraq in a very qualified manner. We've spoken favorably of the work they've done in the past seven years to uncover facts about the biological and chemical weapons programs that exist in Iraq.

The fact that he will continue to be very central in the efforts of the United Nations to do the inspections that now the government of Iraq has agreed to is important, but there are additional questions and clarifications that we'll be pursuing in coming days as we continue to work through this.

Q Do you think it opens up the possibility of at least getting this deal a little bit more of a firmer commitment from the administration on the agreement?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a lot of issues beyond just who fills the position of executive director of the Special Commission. There are a number of issues that we're pursuing.

Q Mike, what's the nature of the privilege instructions that you just described?

MR. MCCURRY: Any White House employee called to testify, if they've got legal representation or they seek it, can have a discussion with White House Legal Counsel, and most do, about areas in which the White House Legal Counsel might deem of concern, privilege issues. And that's a fairly routine thing that happens any time a White House employee testifies. I don't know the specific nature of any privilege instructions conveyed by legal counsel to Mr. Blumenthal's representative.

Q So the White House Counsel, with regard to anyone who testifies before the grand jury, suggests to them what they can testify to and what they shouldn't?

MR. MCCURRY: Suggests to them the areas of concern and scope of testimony that would give rise to concerns the legal counsel might have about deliberative process, presidential communications, other issues of privilege.

Q And has the President asserted executive privilege yet?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe Mr. Blumenthal's even been before the grand jury at this point.

Q I don't mean in terms of Blumenthal, in terms of in general at any point.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer.

Q You just said there are a lot more important issues beyond who the executive director of the Special Commission would be. What are the other concerns?

MR. MCCURRY: A number of those raised by Ambassador Richardson today that will be discussed with the President's foreign policy advisors later.

Q Mike, when the question of investigators and Lenzner came up over the weekend, how come you didn't just say, sure, he's been on the retainer for several years, but doing the following work, not this type of work? It seems like this is an instance where telling the truth slowly has added to the confusion.

MR. MCCURRY: I did not do most of the work on this over the weekend. I had one or two conversations with people where I say, he may very well have been retained at some point. I didn't know whether he had been retained or not, as I just said. So I couldn't very well describe what kind of work he's done.

Q Mike, another issue in the Lewinsky affair that seemed to come up this weekend was, whatever the affair was between the President and Lewinsky. A week ago, you had told the Chicago Tribune that it might be a complicated relationship, and then said you weren't sending out any sort of trial balloon. Ginsburg used the exact same type of language on Sunday. How should we read that as any other way that you weren't kind of signaling to them what to say?

MR. MCCURRY: He got asked a question about my comments, so that's how I think he got into that. I don't know what he was thinking. I haven't had any conversations with him. Haven't met him.

Q Mike, if you don't know or can't tell us whether the President has asserted executive privilege, who can?

MR. MCCURRY: We went through this the other day. If there's a proceeding in a court that arises out of a grand jury proceeding, the proceeding in that court is under seal. It's under seal to protect the secrecy of grand jury proceedings which is designed to protect the innocent -- a principle of law that sometimes escapes many of us here.

Q That has nothing to do with the question.

MR. MCCURRY: As that very reason, as matters are deliberated in front of a district court if they are in fact deliberated, then as they are then adjudicated on appeal at higher levels at a time at which the court has weighed the imbalance of conflicting claims between those asserting privilege and those who are trying to overcome by demonstrating a need to penetrate the privilege, the court deems when it's appropriate to unseal the proceedings.

Q Are there such court proceedings ongoing now?

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.

Q We've been assured in the past that there had been no invocation of privilege since last week. Now, how does that square with the fact that you say that they can't talk --

MR. MCCURRY: We went all through this all Friday. I do not know if any motions have been filed under seal in front of court or if they have ben responded to be the President's attorneys.

Q So it's possible that the President has asserted executive privilege and you don't know it.

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. This has happened as exactly was the case in the Espy deliberations. For two years, there was an adjudication of that matter before it was unsealed by the circuit court.

Q Mike, who at Williams and Connelly hired Mr. Linzner, and who spelled out the --

MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.

Q And do you know who -- I mean was the President aware that this sort of work had been undertaken?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.

Q Well, then, who's spelled out

MR. MCCURRY: Wait a minute. What work?

Q The investigative work. I mean is this something that he would have discussed with his attorneys?

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the President knows that his attorneys have had investigators who have helped the attorneys develop facts.

Q Well, I was just sort of intrigued by your answer, "yes, and God help them if they're not." I was just wondering if --

MR. MCCURRY: That's over nature of work done. That's not saying that -- you're misreading something I said I'm afraid.

Q Well, who exactly spelled out the nature of the work then that they were to do?

MR. MCCURRY: Presumably those who were responsible for supervising the work of Williams and Connelly.

Q Can you think of anyone else other than the White House or its allies who would have an interest in spreading rumors about Starr's staff?

MR. MCCURRY: People who care about -- anyone, presumably, any supporter of President Clinton might have a motive to do that anywhere in the world. It's a large universe, as you know.

Q Mike, just to recapitulate. You're saying that to the best of your knowledge, neither Mr. Lenzner, nor anyone else working for the President has done any investigative work of any sort on Joe DiGenova, Vicki Tonsing or any of the other people?

MR. MCCURRY: Investigators, prosecutors, or reporters.

Q Any investigative work whatsoever?

MR. MCCURRY: That's what I have been assured by counsel. Correct.

Q Can you be specific on whose assured you of that?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's private attorneys, the three that lead the representation: Mr. Bennett, Mr. Kendall, Mr. Kantor. Mr. Kantor, by the way, this comes -- apparently there's some confusion on this in Mr. Starr's office. Meyer, Brown, and Platt are not employed in any respect by the White House, the Department of Justice, or any other part of the federal government in this matter. Mickey Kantor is the senior partner with Meyer, Brown, and Platt and we've got a statement that details what his representation is since there was ambiguity about that. But that's been related to me also by Mr. Ruff, who had conversations in some details with those private attorneys and also to assure that no one at the White House had employed private investigators to that effect, as the statement says.

Q Are you saying that the President has not retained Meyer, Brown?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has retained Meyer, Brown, correct.

Q Has or has not? I'm sorry --

MR. MCCURRY: They have.

Q They have.

MR. MCCURRY: They represent the President and Mrs. Clinton, and have for some time now. But apparently that fact escaped the Office of Independent Counsel.

Q Mike, Ambassador Richardson said it's important to test the agreement soon. Can you give us some feeling when the administration would like to see inspectors knocking on the door of presidential palaces?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not what the United States thinks about that that counts. It's what the U.N. Special Commission as it does its work appropriately in the country, what they deem to be appropriate, and that's a judgment that will be made by the inspectors and those who direct the inspectors as they put together the effort.

Q Mike, on the Asian economic crisis, how much pull do you think it is having on the U.S. economy on export and import?

MR. MCCURRY: You had a long briefing with the President's National Economic Advisor and the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors, and they took questions on exactly that, did they not?

Q When can we expect to have a definitive statement from the White House on its response to the nature of the agreement that's been reached on Iraq?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working in the Security Council. It will be -- the United States will participate in a deliberative process at the Security Council, make its views known in that setting, and then presumably we'll say more about it here. I imagine that will happen in coming days.

Q Mike, you said before that the reason you didn't mention that Mr. Lenzner had been hired was because you didn't know, but Mr. Lenzner's name, if I remember correctly, came up in the show. And I'm curious as to --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's come up. He has been retained by a number of entities in other --

Q No, no. Mr. Lenzner's name I believe was mentioned by Mr. diGenova. What I'm curious to know is, the people who briefed you on Sunday didn't brief you to the effect that Lenzner was working for them?

MR. MCCURRY: Look, I spent a fraction of time on this on Sunday, and I've been dealing with it extensively since Monday. And I've made it clear to people I've been dealing with since Monday what I thought was likely to be the answer if a question was directed to Mr. Kendall about the nature of Mr. Lenzner's involvement. Couldn't have been clearer to people I dealt with.

Q Mike, what's the President's current relationship with Vernon Jordan?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a good, positive one, and they remain close friends.

Q Are they not speaking?

MR. MCCURRY: They saw each other at a ball game, Saturday night. They see each other from time to time.

Q What do you make of the reports that he may be trying to distance himself from the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that they are true. I believe it's misreporting.

Q On Iraq, who is the winner? President Clinton or Saddam Hussein?

MR. MCCURRY: I answered that question -- same answer I gave to that yesterday.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:08 P.M. EST