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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 5, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

2:30 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Did anyone from OMB get back to you and break down the EEOC budget that you asked me about yesterday? Is anyone interested in that?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: Since we got an answer, and how rare it is that we get answer, we might as well pass them on. The President's FY'99 budget requests $279 million in overall funding for the EEOC. That is $37 million, or 15 percent more than was enacted in the 1998 budget. Obviously, the EEOC has been making significant progress in reducing pending caseloads over the past several years. The number of pending cases reached an all-time high in 1995, but by -- that was a total of 111,000 cases. By the end of fiscal year '97 that number had fallen to 64,000.

The requested $37 million, which was your question, April, will fund several activities, all of which will contribute further to reducing the backlog -- $13 million for an enhanced mediation program, $10 million for technology upgrades, and $6 million for increased staffing including mediation staffing. And that will give them enough funds to hire an additional 110 investigators to handle private sector complaints.

Q So he's basically not willing to compromise on what the Republicans in the House are saying.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that and telling you that to demonstrate the importance of the work they're doing in handling that volume of cases that they've been dealing with.

Item, the second: I just want to again call your attention to the lecture that Stephen Hawking is going to give as part of the President and First Lady's millennium project on Friday night. I think that's going to be interesting; that's fast becoming the hottest ticket around here at the White House. But you in the press, through your pool, can be there. And if you want to be there in the cyber world, you can even dial it up and get it on your computer. And we've got a press release with more information on it, but again, call you attention to it. It's going to be a fascinating lecture.

Q Are you going to be there?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I'm into cosmology. (Laughter.)

Q I thought it was cosmetology. (Laughter).

Q Is he doing anything else tomorrow, Mike, since your on the subject?

MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow -- what are we doing tomorrow?

MR. TOIV: We may have an event in the morning.

Q Like what?

MR. MCCURRY: What kind of event? Come on, come on. (Laughter.)

Q Is it a secret.

MR. TOIV: We can't talk about it.

Q He's not better with you than he is with us.

MR. MCCURRY: Why do think I am the way I am; look what I have to deal with over here. (Laughter.) We'll tell you more about the event as it develops.

Q What time?

MR. MCCURRY: What time is this unnamed event?

MR. TOIV: Around 10 a.m.

Q Where?

MR. TOIV: It's around here somewhere.

MR. MCCURRY: Anything else?

Q I have a question about something the President said this morning. He said in almost so many words that he thinks he's answered the questions that need to be answered. Yet you'll recall the first day he said he wanted to give answers and he would at appropriate time. Without discussing at the moment the time frame, which is it? Does he think he's answered all the questions?

MR. MCCURRY: The question -- the President was suggesting today there are two very important questions: Did he have sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky; did he urge anyone to say anything but the truth about that matter or other matters. And the President has answered both very clearly. That's what he meant.

Q Mike, he said -- if I may -- he said, I believe I've given all the answer that matter, in response to a question.

MR. MCCURRY: He was referring -- he referred to those two -- he's given the two significant answers that matter most.

Q You knew about this yesterday, didn't you?

MR. MCCURRY: I did not know. You mean the Post story? I knew about the Post story when I unwrapped it out of my little plastic bag this morning.

Q Mike, on that, I mean, yesterday you indicated that there was going to be something where you were going to be elaborating. And then --

Q Yes, very prescient.

MR. MCCURRY: I was prescient, but it was only a coincidence I assure you. I had read, and you had all read, various stories that suggested that this was a matter that had been covered in the deposition. But I did not know that the Post was reporting it, nor did I have any knowledge or do I have any knowledge now of the matters reported in the Post.

Q You weren't called on it at all?

MR. MCCURRY: Joe had calls last night, but I didn't know about it until this morning.

Q Do you think that all those details, now that they're out there, provide a sufficient explanation, or do you think the President still needs to --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm going to stick with the President. The President has made it clear the reasons why we can't talk about this. The judge has specifically forbid discussion of what's in depositions in that case because of her gag order. I can't talk about it.

Q But he's not prohibited from answering more questions.

MR. MCCURRY: He is, too. That's incorrect. That is a gag order. This is not a grand jury issue in which he can comment freely on his testimony. This is a proceeding under seal by a judge who has put it under a gag order that's broad-sweeping.

Q -- separate from that now.

MR. MCCURRY: We're talking about the Paula Jones case. This is a deposition in the Paula Jones case.

Q But he could answer questions about the nature of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He could answer those questions. There's no legal issue there.

MR. MCCURRY: We're talking about a deposition in the Paula Jones case which is covered by Judge Weber's gag story.

Q I just changed the subject.

Q Mike, the President does believe that whoever leaked this story to the Post broke the law, and --

MR. MCCURRY: He said so and they did -- well, I'm not a lawyer -- they did if it is a matter of law that you cannot contravene an order given by a court in a matter like this. But there's a very specific gag order and you can ask the court about it if you have any doubt.

Q What do you think the Post's responsibility is in this? News organizations don't give up their sources and reveal them, but both sides, if I may, have issued now very strong statements suggesting it was the other side that leaked. The Post knows what the truth is. Does it print those statements without comment, or what?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not accurate. I have not said that here -- I have not accused anybody of leaking. I don't know. I've spoken on behalf of people who work here at the White House. I understand Mr. Bennett and the other attorneys have made a statement that says only that people antagonistic to the President have leaked this. That doesn't accuse any specific person or any specific party of having done it.

Q But I'm asking what you think the Post's responsibility is if, in fact, it knows that it was not people antagonistic to the President. Does it just print the statement without comment?

MR. MCCURRY: I imagine if I gave editorial advice to The Washington Post they would probably not consider it. But I will say this -- I think as a matter of journalistic principle, most news organizations take seriously the responsibility to alert readers to the identity and motive of anonymous sources. The Post chose not to do any of that in this case, and you have to ask them why. I can't tell you why.

Q Starr has either subpoenaed or asked for and gotten a certain amount of the depositions that were given in the Paula Jones case. Do you know if the President's is one of them? So it's very possible that whoever leaked this might not have --

MR. MCCURRY: If you're did the Office of the Independent Counsel have access to this deposition, I honestly don't know the answer. I suspect that they did, but I don't know for a fact that they did.

Q They have received a certain amount of the materials from the Paula Jones --

MR. MCCURRY: I think you'd have to ask OIC whether they had access to the deposition. I don't know.

Q Mike, do you as White House spokesman share the private lawyer's view that parties antagonistic to the President were responsible for the deposition leak?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm electing not to say that, although I don't have any quarrel with their statement. I'm electing not to state that myself because I have no idea who leaked it and I don't know -- I can't say --

Q Do you think Bennett knows?

MR. MCCURRY: -- I know it was not the four people here at the White House who were knowledgeable about and had access to the transcript.

Q Well, if you take this responsible course, do you think Bennett knows? That's why he feels free to say it was parties antagonistic to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I think their statement speaks for itself. I have no quarrel with it whatsoever, but they should answer questions about their statement.

Q Mike, he didn't speculate. He didn't say, it appears to be, he stated it as a fact.

MR. MCCURRY: Sam, I'll say again, I have no quarrel with their statement, but I think questions about their statement they should answer. I choose not to.

Q Would the President like to see the gag order lifted?

MR. MCCURRY: The President -- I have never heard him render an opinion about the gag order, but I've heard him say very clearly he intends to abide by it.

Q Is it the President's contention that he cannot offer a fuller explanation about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky because there is a gag order or some legal prohibition?

MR. MCCURRY: That is not his position. His position, as he stated it this morning, is that he cannot talk about his deposition in the Paula Jones case because he has been instructed not to by the court.

Q So then why does the President not offer a fuller explanation of that relationship?

MR. MCCURRY: He's addressed that, we've addressed that many times. And there's no change in our reason why.

Q I'm sorry, refresh me. I don't remember what the --

MR. MCCURRY: We've said there will be a proper time and place to address these matters, but they are pending before bodies that are investigating these matters now.

Q But to -- I want to make sure I understand. You're saying there's no legal prohibition?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no legal prohibition beyond getting into matters that are covered under a specific court order, that I'm aware of.

Q Mike, will there be a request of the FBI to probe this leak?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett indicated when he talked to some of you outside the courthouse that they might seek relief. I do not know what he meant by that.

Q Is that something you would support or you're asking for?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not taking any position on it, nor I am aware that the White House Legal Counsel's Office has taken a position on it.

Q Who are the four people who have access?

MR. MCCURRY: The White House legal counsel and three deputy White House legal counsels.

Q When did the President find out?

MR. MCCURRY: Find out --

Q That the story was in the Post.

MR. MCCURRY: It may very well have been this morning when it appeared.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- I didn't call last night.

MR. MCCURRY: You didn't call him last night.

MR. LOCKHART: I did not call him.

Q Why wouldn't the President want to read the story or at least have some report on it since it dealt with such a matter?

Q Do you think he saw it last night?

MR. MCCURRY: He really does not need to read a story about the deposition he gave because he gave it and he knows what he said.

Q Well, wouldn't he want to know whether it was accurate or not, what the Post was saying?

MR. MCCURRY: He tends on this matter not to pay much attention to the press coverage of this issue.

Q Oh, come on, Mike, give us a break.

MR. MCCURRY: He doesn't. He didn't. He's been busy and he had not read it. He told me that.

Q Do you read your clips?

MR. MCCURRY: Do I read my -- some of them yes, some of them no.

Q Mike, House GOP members today sent a letter to the President asking him to resubmit his budget. They are charging him with -- saying that his spending plans actually take away from the Social Security shoring up that he had planned to do and they --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we respectfully disagree. The President's budget submission is a thorough one, a comprehensive one, based on very sound economic assumptions, projections and good budget decisions the President has made. I think if members of Congress think they can do better, they ought to produce a budget themselves rather than ask for a second submission by the President.

Q What about their charge -- that CBO's charge is actually going to cause a deficit in 2000?

MR. MCCURRY: I addressed this yesterday. There are some technical differences in the way that OMB and CBO estimate defense outlays in out-years, and that's responsible, I believe, for most of the difference in the projections that they make. But the good folks at OMB can tell you a lot more about that if you're interested.

Q What was the President's reaction about this leak, the leak of the transcript? Did he say -- has he said --

MR. MCCURRY: He gave it to you in the Cabinet Room.

Q Yes, but has he said anything further to staff about it?

MR. MCCURRY: His reaction privately was identical to the one he gave to you in the Cabinet Room.

Q Does he still maintain, or do you maintain, the statement you gave us earlier that the question of Gennifer Flowers, there is no contradiction between his deposition and what he said publicly in 1992?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct, as I told you this morning.

Q But he said in the deposition, if that report is correct, that he had sex with her one time.

MR. MCCURRY: No change in what we've said previously.

Q Has there been any intensification of diplomatic activity relating to the situation in Kosovo other than Secretary Albright attending the Contact Group's meeting? And has there been any discussion regarding measures that might be taken if the warnings of Ambassador Gelbard are not heeded by the Serbian leader?

MR. MCCURRY: There has been the high-level diplomacy that Ambassador Gelbard himself is engaged in. There have been -- may well have been other diplomatic exchanges that the State Department could possibly detail better for you. There have been discussions here about options, and obviously options are available. I'm not going to speculate on which ones we might pursue, but we certainly are going to pursue a determined effort to encourage parties to minimize a resort to violence as a way of addressing ancient and historic differences in Kosovo.

Q What can you tell us about any telephone diplomacy on Iraq today? You mentioned earlier the he was going to be calling somebody here.

MR. MCCURRY: The President talked for about 15 minutes -- 10, 15 minutes with the Amir of Qatar earlier today on the situation in Iraq and other issues.

Q Mike, on the Pentagon supplemental, do those funds envision the troop strength remaining as it is, particularly two aircraft carriers in the Gulf?

MR. MCCURRY: If I understand correctly, the emergency supplemental request for the Southwest Asia deployment, it is projecting a current deployment level to the end of the fiscal year, thus giving a need for that expenditure. Obviously, we will have to adjust whatever the force posture is depending on events there, but it is prudent and wise and good budget policy to provide for the resources necessary to keep the deployments we currently have if, in fact, they're going to be needed for the foreseeable future. The President has indicated they will be; so has the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Q So that number covers the current force -- the current force through the end of the fiscal year?

MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding. Is that right? That's right, that's correct.

Q Mike, there are reports coming out of the Middle East that King Hussein of Jordan has been making diplomatic overtures towards Iraq on behalf of the United States. Can you tell us anything?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not exactly what the reports have said, if I understand correctly. The reports have suggested that King Hussein encouraged the President to seek ways to have such a dialogue with Iraq. We respectfully considered the King's views, but I'm not aware of any plans to change the status of our diplomatic relations, or, i.e., the lack of diplomatic relations with Iraq.

Q Mike, a week after the failure of campaign finance reform, Senator Thompson is prepared to release a report today. I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions on it. First of all, Thompson's committee is going to blame the Democrats' desperation for money for much of the fundraising abuses of the '96 election cycle. I wonder if you can react to that. And, two, I wonder if you could say why the President did not fight perhaps more vocally, a bit harder last week when it became clear that the --

MR. MCCURRY: First -- let me take the second question first. We not only fought hard and personally encouraged senators to take seriously the vote during this debate, but you'll recall the letter we sent, the way in which we engaged in the course of this debate. And I think the record will show that the President was very directly involved in encouraging members of the Senate to see this opportunity to pass campaign finance reform, which is ultimately what the Thompson committee was supposed to about in the first place. They got diverted in a partisan standoff and now you've got two different versions of what the report of their committee's work is all about.

As to the first question, yes, the matters raised in that report have been long addressed by this White House and there's really no need to add to the very lengthy record of response that we've made.

Q The President's way of addressing each, though, was to say that what we need is campaign finance reform.

MR. MCCURRY: And we still do. And it's very disappointing that the Senate missed the opportunity to actually do something that would have helped change campaign finance law.

Q Can you tell us any more details about the White House agreement with the House leadership on the IMF fund?

MR. MCCURRY: On the detail, I can't. I can say that the President obviously congratulates the members of both parties in the Banking Committee who did set aside politics and do this -- develop this compromise that will make it necessary for IMF funding to proceed. This is a measure that is in the long-term economic interest of the American people, even though it will work to enhance and foster economic stability in the Asian region.

We think the compromise worked out in the House Banking Committee strikes the right balance between promising reforms at the IMF, which is the issue that they were most concerned about, and giving the fund the resources it needs to address the crisis in Asia, which was part of what our request dealt with. This is the best way to prevent any economic difficulties in Asia from spreading to other economies and the President hopes this bill will continue to attract broad bipartisan support as it moves forward in the committee and in the full House.

Q Is the White House still opposed to adding antiabortion legislation to that amendment?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has made it clear, and others in the administration have made it clear, that they ought to decouple those contentious issues from something that's so important before it because it could conceivably affect the economic livelihood of so many American families.

Q Mike, speaking of IMF, has the President talked with Mr. Mondale at all about his trip to --

MR. MCCURRY: He is just back in Minnesota I think this afternoon, and I think they plan to speak shortly, but they have not talked yet.

Q How does the President feel about the second day of Vernon Jordan's testifying today before the grand jury?

MR. MCCURRY: Same as he felt about him the first day.

Q How closely are you guys monitoring these discussions between Ken Starr and Bill Ginsburg today?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't even know that there were any. We are not -- I don't believe we are participants in that discussion.

Q Were Vernon Jordan's lawyers in contact either with White House Counsel or the President's private counsel after his testimony on Tuesday?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard that they were in contact with White House Legal Counsel. You should check with Jim Kennedy and see if he knows anything. I'm not aware of any other contacts, but you should check in with him.

Q Did the President speak to Vernon Jordan after the testimony?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q As far as you know, is there any defense cooperation between Monica Lewinsky's lawyers and the President's private lawyers?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but you should really get Jim Kennedy to help you on that question.

Q Mike, does the President have any concern about the flip by Jim Guy Tucker, his cooperation --

MR. MCCURRY: Say again.

Q Jim Guy Tucker is now going to cooperate with Ken Starr.

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him express any concern.

Q Johnny Chung --

Q Connie Chung?

MR. MCCURRY: Connie Chung pled guilty? What? (Laughter.) What did you say?

Q Mike, does he think that Governor Tucker will tell the truth?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to comment on that matter.

Q Mike, in the White House view is there anything in the content of today's Post story that's harmful to the President, or would you concede that the content of the story is benign to the President's case?

Q This is a trap.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not commenting on the content of the story because it deals with the subject of the deposition the President gave in the Paula Jones case, which is covered by the gag order that Judge Weber has invoked.

Q Mike, Senator Breaux and Representative Thomas both indicated today that it would be better for the Commission to consider the President's Medicare expansion proposal. Does the White House think he can actually get this thing through Congress this year without the backing of the two co-chairman of the Medicare Commission?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they are both highly respected for all the reasons the President said earlier today. But we do think that there's such a pressing need to get people in that age group in a position where they can get necessary health care coverage and it makes such good sense -- health care policy sense -- to allow them to buy into the Medicare system, that we think there will be broad bipartisan support for that approach.

Irrespective of views of Senator Breaux and Congressman Thomas -- and they are valid ones; that is an issue that conceivably could well be before the Commission -- I think that if it's possible for Congress to move forward on that this year, we would like for them to do that. And I think both of them have said that they would not stand in the way if there was that broad bipartisan consensus around this approach. But we want to press forward with that concept because it's one of the President's key initiatives.

Q Vernon Jordan has reportedly told the grand jury that it was the President who initiated the request that he look for a job for Monica Lewinsky. Is there any reason to believe that this is not the case?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not commenting on what Mr. Jordan may or may not have said in front of the grand jury.

Q During the Medicare stakeout, Mr. Thomas, who's chairman of the Subcommittee on Ways and Means that this type of bill would go to, seem to indicate that it's not likely that this would even make it through subcommittee in -- what's the White House's strategy for moving this forward?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've seen a lot of bipartisan interest in the President's proposal. We've heard a lot of members react to things that they're hearing favorable about it in their districts. And we think that encourages us to believe that Congress may want to go ahead and proceed with consideration of this measure and we'll work to see if we can move it forward.

Q Is the President going to sign this sea grant program, which, in essence, designates Lake Champlain in Vermont as a sixth Great Lake?

MR. MCCURRY: Is their a SAP on that?

MR. TOIV: There's no SAP. We haven't seen anything that would cause us not to sign it.

MR. MCCURRY: I like the New York Times article that we're going to thrust greatness upon this lake.

MR. TOIV: We haven't seen anything to cause him not to say anything.

MR. MCCURRY: We haven't seen anything to lead the President -- that would encourage the President's advisors to urge him not to sign it. (Laughter.) Barry will tell you what that means.

Q What's the President doing today, this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: He's had a very busy morning, as you know. He's taping some videos and he's doing the HBO premiere this evening.

Q This afternoon was the question.

MR. MCCURRY: He's taping videos and --

Q Is there coverage on that?

MR. MCCURRY: On the HBO -- that's pool.

Q Is the Medicare Commission going to observe the laws governing advisory committees, and if so, why weren't the meetings today open to the public?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is -- the first formal meeting of the Commission is tomorrow. As I understand, this was not a formal meeting of the committee. And you can ask the chairman and the vice-chair how they intend to apply the laws. I'm sure they intend to apply whatever laws are applicable.

Q -- going to apply applicable laws, are they? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Abide by any applicable laws. That's better.

Anything else? Good. Good-bye. See you tomorrow.

END 2:56 P.M. EST