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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 16, 1998
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

2:45 P.M. EST

Q Is the reception going to be in-house pool coverage?

MR. MCCURRY: They were still working on that -- I think at least for the toast portion that it will be. They'll probably come in and out at whatever time they do the toast. We anticipate the parties will go to the stakeout and do that sort of thing, too.

Q The President said he did not watch the 60 Minutes last night. Did he get just sort of a transcript or a report on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he just got a report on it, probably from Mr. Lindsey.

Q Have you done a poll at all in terms of what the reaction has been?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q The President was reminded today that on the first day he said he wanted to come forward at some appropriate time and answer those questions, which he said the American people deserved answers to. He replied today that he did suggest that, but that was before the deposition was illegally released. Is he saying that now he's not going to come forward?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he made it clear that he'll wait and see how things develop.

Q Well, does he still hold to the commitment he made on that first day?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he made it clear today that he knows that there were additional legitimate questions. I think many of them have now been answered by that deposition, but he certainly held open the possibility he would address these matters in the future.

Q Yes, but he seems to be closing the door today, Mike.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think so.

Q What was the President doing at 7:00 p.m. yesterday? He said himself he --

MR. MCCURRY: He was up in Camp David. I don't know what he was doing.

Q Do you know when he came back?

MR. MCCURRY: He got back around 10:00 p.m. last night.

Q Does the White House see the charges of Ms. Willey different than the charges that have been made by, say, Paula Jones or Gennifer Flowers or Monica Lewinsky? Or do you just lump them all the same?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they're all -- each and every one of those is a different set of statements and questions.

Q But do you think that the Willey allegations, given the fact that she was a volunteer, a supporter, a fundraiser for the President, with no apparent political or financial motive, represents a new level in these allegations against the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so, no.

Q Today, Ann Lewis says that Willey asked for a job in 1996. Is there any record of that, any paperwork to show that she, in fact, did ask for a job with the campaign?

MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask Ms. Lewis. She apparently interviewed her and she would have been the appropriate official that -- the Clinton-Gore Campaign Committee would have done it. But if there's any documentation on that, you'd have to ask Ms. Lewis.

Q Mike, on that topic, when she went on to three networks today she said that she had personal experience that the President was telling the truth, and her personal experience was that Willey asked for a job in '96. How does that back up the President's denial that there was some sort of sexual harassment in the office? What was the point she was trying to make?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's kind of self-evident. She was saying that here's an individual who certainly didn't seem to be angered at the President, wanted to continue to be supportive and wanted to work in his reelection campaign in 1996. I gather that's the point she was trying to make.

Q Well, the point that she made it up?

MR. MCCURRY: You could ask Ms. Lewis the point that --she felt that was corroborative information and thought that in her opinion that buttressed what the President had to say in his deposition.

Q The Chinese President Jiang was reelected last night. What's your reaction for the Chinese election yesterday?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had anticipated that President Jiang Zemin would continue to serve in the capacity that he has within the central leadership of the People's Republic. We have, as you know, enjoyed high-level exchanges with the People's Republic that included successful summit meetings with President Clinton. President Clinton very much looks forward to a return visit to the People's Republic and a summit meeting with President Jiang Zemin sooner rather than later, as Mr. Steinberg just indicated. And we will continue our cooperative work on a broad range of things that reflect the expansive nature of this bilateral relationship while not missing the opportunity for dialogue in exchange of views on those areas in which there are clear differences between our two governments.

Q Mike, what's the White House reaction to the sorts of comments that Patricia Ireland has been making?

MR. MCCURRY: I think I reacted to those to some of you in the gaggle this morning.

Q But what did you say?

Q But for the benefit of the cameras and --

Q What did you say?

MR. MCCURRY: You were there. I can't remember exactly what she said, but she said, if these were to be true they would be of concern. And I said, of course, they would be, and that's why, thankfully, since they're not true we don't have to worry.

Q Mike, many feminists see echoes of the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas episode and --

MR. MCCURRY: I think many commentators and pundits today have seen many things, but you'll see that I will refrain from that kind of commentary myself.

Q -- my point about leaders of other women's organizations see parallels here. And some feminists also are losing faith in this President. How would you respond to that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what the evidence is for that statement and I'm not aware of any.

Q Since she went on the air with the blessing of Kenneth Starr, does that mean he's starting a public relations campaign in addition to his other work?

MR. MCCURRY: I had not heard that the Office of Independent Counsel had specifically approved her interview on 60 Minutes. If so, I think that would be interesting to know. But I had not heard that, Helen, and I'm not in a position to comment. I think you'd have to direct that specific question to Mr. Starr.

Q Kathleen Willey last night flatly accused the President of being a liar and lying under oath, perjury. Is the President prepared to call Kathleen Willey a liar?

MR. MCCURRY: You heard the President's reaction to that today and he did nothing whatsoever. He simply said that he told the truth and made it clear that his memory is clear and that that's the truth.

Q So if the point that Wolf has made, is someone has committed perjury here. Someone ought to be prosecuted for perjury.

MR. MCCURRY: You're entitled to that opinion, Sam, but the issue --

Q Well, it's not an opinion.

MR. MCCURRY: -- was whether or not we would engage in name calling, and I think the answer is pretty clearly negative.

Q Well, do you not agree that both of them have sworn under the oath that the perjury law is controlling?

Q Mike, Senator Lott says that this is beginning to affect the legislative business, especially communications between the President and GOP leaders.

MR. MCCURRY: Couldn't be farther from the truth. I mean, we have constant dialogue with the leadership on the Hill on issues. I mean, the problem is that they're not moving anything up there and they need to get on with legislative work. We're prepared to do that and we've been doing a lot of work with them.

Q Is the President still able to compartmentalize this, or is he maintaining his complete focus?

MR. MCCURRY: The President continues a very active work on the agenda he set forward for the country in the State of the Union address.

Q Can you explain the rationale or the strategy behind the kinds of statements that Ann Lewis has been making?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they were very self-evident and she couldn't have been clearer. And I don't know that there's any particular strategy behind it.

Q But how does what she's saying have anything to do with who might or might not have been telling the truth between the President and Kathleen Willey?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, she was asked -- she offered a piece of information that she thought was relevant.

Q But do you? Do you think it's relevant?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't see her interview.

Q You know why we're asking you this, don't you? I mean, you understand in 1991 that Ann Lewis, one of the most passionate defenders of Anita Hill not having come forward in the early '80s with Judge Clarence Thomas. She said -- and I quote her almost directly -- you don't know what it's like to be a working woman with a powerful boss who may have an economic future --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure for that reason then you take more significantly her statements today.

Q She seems to be saying today that because Kathleen Willey didn't come forward immediately --

MR. MCCURRY: -- on television, so I don't think we need the "seem" to imagine what she said since it's right there on the tape.

Q But we will put it on the TV.

Q We'd like to know if you agree.

Q Willey said in the interview that the President initiated her move from Correspondence to the Social Office. Is that part of the -- what she said that the President rejects?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with her work employment history here. You'd have to ask Mr. Kennedy in the Counsel's Office that.

Q Mike, about a month ago you told us that when we saw the President's deposition, we would see there was no contradiction between what he said on Gennifer Flowers. But there is. He said in 1992 there was no sex; now he says under oath there is.

MR. MCCURRY: That's not what he said in 1992.

Q If the President's not lying -- what's the difference?

MR. MCCURRY: You're not quoting him accurately in 1992.

Q What did he say in '92?

MR. MCCURRY: You can call CBS News and get the transcript.

Q No, it's elsewhere. It's another statement.

Q I can remember the transcript very well.

MR. MCCURRY: He was asked whether he had a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers.

Q No.

Q That's the second question where he said, "So you're denying a sexual affair?" And he said, "She has done that in the past, and so have I."

MR. MCCURRY: Every one took away from that interview the statement that the President acknowledged that he had caused pain in his marriage, and everyone knew exactly what that meant.

Q What did it mean to you?

MR. MCCURRY: Not vis a vis Gennifer Flowers.

Q Well, no, seriously. If you say everyone knew, Mike, what did it mean to you?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to interpret my own interpretation.

Q You just said everyone took away the knowledge of it.

Q Gene Sperling said this morning that Japan should stimulate its economy with a fiscal package worth between $8 trillion and $10 trillion yen. Is that now administration policy, to call for a specific number's worth of fiscal stimulus, and what proportion would you like to tax --

MR. MCCURRY: We have not -- as the Treasury Department has made clear, we have not put specific benchmark figures there, although we think that any credible program to lead fiscal demand-led growth would have to require an extensive effort that would be measurable in terms of the Japanese macroeconomy. Beyond that, I think Deputy Secretary Summers has spoken at greater length to that and I don't want to go beyond what Mr. Sperling has already said.

      Q That Sperling declaration means that the Japanese
      plan is insufficient, doesn't it?
      MR. MCCURRY:  I'm not sure if it does or not.  I would actually

have to refer that to Mr. Sperling because I'm not sure how you would account what their liquidity in their current account surplus would be.

Q Today, Senator Lott said there might be an agreement on IMF and abortion language. Can you give us any details on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you that we've had good, constructive conversations on Capitol Hill. We think that we are working with Congress to build strong bipartisan support for both the new arrangements for borrowing and for the IMF quota increase. I think in both cases, members of Congress understand that working within the international community to support the economic health of the Asian economies is central to our own economic health and central to the lives of millions of American families that depend on exports and imports of goods and services.

That said, the Congress has some legitimate concerns about how the IMF structures its work. We have been addressing those and we think that we are narrowing in on the kind of legislation that would be acceptable to Congress and to the administration.

Q But has the conflict over antiabortion language been resolved between the White House and the Republicans?

MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, that's not the specific issue that they have looked at. They've been looking at ways that they can address the question of IMF procedures, conditionality, how that is structured, then they will move on to what else the IMF package might be attached to. We, of course, think that all of these things are emergency supplemental requests that ought to be considered together and acted on promptly.

Q Mike, the President said that there were three incarnations of Kathleen Willey's story. What are those three incarnations?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go check with him to see what he meant by that.

Q Will you do that?

MR. MCCURRY: I can. I suspect that he's -- I don't want to guess, but I think it's not too hard to figure out.

Q Well, wait a minute. Could you help us?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll go ask him if you want a precise answer.

Q Mike, I'm trying to understand. Is what you are now saying on Gennifer Flowers that, in fact, we were all fools in 1992 when we thought he was denying an affair, he was actually admitting it?

MR. MCCURRY: No. There was a very specific set of allegations made by Ms. Flowers that the President clearly denied. And I can't recount for you what they all are without the transcript in front of me, but they were extensive and they went well beyond what the President said in his deposition. The fact that Ms. Flowers, herself, apparently regards the President's statement as a denial should suggest that that's the case.

Q Mike, to return to an earlier question, the President, when he was asked if he was going to make a fuller explanation of these events to the American people, said, "Whether and what else will be said I think is something that we'll have to deal with in the future, depending on how circumstances unfold." Two questions: Does the "whether" imply that there is a possibility he will never again say anything about these? And what does "depending on how circumstances unfold" -- under what conditions might he speak more fully and under what conditions might he answer?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President clearly was indicating that he wants to see how things develop and I'm not going to speculate on how they might develop. That will affect his thinking on how and when he chooses to address the matter publicly.

Q That statement clearly supercedes the statement at the time when he said -- he committed to telling more rather than less, sooner rather than later, right? I mean, there's no other reading of that statement.

MR. MCCURRY: That's the, more or less, "sooner rather than later" question like I think it's accurate to say eight days in a row now, and what the President said today is very consistent with what I told you on Friday and consistent with what we've been saying all along.

Q Absolutely not.

Q How can you say that? He didn't say whether. And it's clearly now an open question, Mike.

MR. MCCURRY: I'll find out if the President meant to indicate that that question was open. I think he clearly was saying, look, a lot of things are going to happen in the future, we're going to have to see how things develop, and then he'll make some reasoned judgments based on what happens.

Q To follow that, Mike, what does the leaked deposition have to do with whether or not he tells his story in detail?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the questions that you all presumably would ask have been asked and answered in that deposition.

Q Not all of them.

Q Does the President believe that the release of his deposition on Friday was illegal?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the release of his deposition to The Washington Post was clearly illegal, but that because it was at that point under seal. I don't think the lawyers fault the filing. I mean, there may be procedural grounds on the admissability of the deposition.

Q Well, why would he point to this illegal leak, since the deposition was released in its entirety, perfectly legally? Why would he say that that illegal leak, previous, is the reason he's shutting up?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll ask him, see what he meant by that.

Q Will he hold a news conference soon -- a general news conference?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll find out.

Q Do you still support the President's lawyer's allegation that at the time of the leak to The Washington Post, that that leak was done by those who are antagonistic to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know who did the leak so I can't tell you who did it.

Q But do you believe it was done by those who are opposed to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: I told you all I know about my knowledge of who did the leak. It wasn't done by the four attorneys here who had access to it.

Q There's a new proposal by Senators Moynihan and Kerrey on Social Security -- it would raise the Social Security retirement age and create voluntary private accounts. Does the White House have a view on that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President commends Senator Moynihan's speech at Harvard today. He gave a comprehensive overview of what one long-term solution of Social Security solvency might look like. It's important at this point not to prejudge what the final solution may look like because there are going to be a number of people with ideas who want to come forward in this debate. But the President had encouraged people to come forward, as he will in the course of 1998, with ideas, with debate, with reasoned conversation about how we might go about assuring the long-term solvency of the Social Security entitlement funds.

Senator Moynihan's plan, at initial review by the White House, holds together well, but it's by no means the only way that you could go about solving those problems. I think the President now will be looking for others with ideas to step forward, as Senator Moynihan has done, as Senator Kerrey has done, and continue this dialogue. The President looks forward to the regional forum that he has, that will be jointly sponsored by the Concord Coalition and by the AARP later this year to flush out some of these ideas and continue the debate.

Q Apart from the abortion issue in the negotiations with Congress on the IMF, to what extent is aid packages for people who are displaced in their jobs and so forth, such as was presented Friday with regard to Thailand, at issue with Congress on this package?

MR. MCCURRY: In the IMF discussions?

Q Yes.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that displaced workers or trade adjustment assistance figures into this particular measure. There's general concern on the Hill for how you deal with the economic consequences of trade and what impact it has on specific sectors of the economy. The President shares that concern. But that deals more in the area of the budget that we proposed funding for training, for re-education, for further educational development for people who are going to adjust to the realities of the new global economy. And that's where more of our focus has been.

Q There's a lot of concern overseas about this situation and about whether the country is functioning as it should be, whether the administration is. Do you have any comments that you can make to people overseas to assuage their concerns?

MR. MCCURRY: That our country is functioning quite well and that we continue to be fully engaged with nation's around the globe on the full range of issues that represent America's interests overseas.

Q Mike, how about, though, this issue of private accounts with respect to Social Security. Now that two Democrats are proposing something like that, does the President tend to look more favorably on that, or not?

MR. MCCURRY: The President intends to keep an open mind at this point. I think it's been important to him that we not shut off our receptivity to any idea as we look for the long-term solutions that exist for Social Security. Our thinking on privatization of Social Security has -- you've heard it in the past; but at the same time, the President has always made it clear that we're not going to do anything that shuts off the kind of full, comprehensive discussion of the future of Social Security we're going to have.

The only parameter for that discussion that the President has said, and we think that people on both sides of the aisle in Congress agree with, is that we have to preserve the benefits of the social insurance system called Social Security for the long-term, for the next generation and generations to follow. An in that context, there are a number of different ways you could go about looking for long-term solutions.

Q Mike, U.S. may lose voting rights in the U.N. soon, unless it pays the dues or a billion dollars to the U.N. Now, one hand, U.S. is giving over billions of dollars in U.S. aid to foreign countries and on the other hand, not paying their U.N. dues.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are working with Congress to address the question of our arrears. We have not gotten to the point where the general assembly provision on voting rights triggers, but we could conceivably come on that point in the months ahead. And that's another reason why Congress needs to act on that urgent supplemental request that we've made that would retire just over $1 billion worth of the arrears that we already owe the United Nations.

Q Do you think that Kathleen Willey came across as credible and thoughtful and believable?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not a TV critic. I've seen a lot of commentary on that and I agree with most of what I've seen.

Q Mike, do you know if the President also denies that he called Kathleen Willey in 1992 and asked her to come and see him in Williamsburg?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any familiarity with that.

Q The chicken soup.

Q Have you talked to him at all --

Q What about the suggestion that Senator Orrin Hatch made yesterday that if Kathleen Willey's allegations are true, Clinton's presidency is over?

MR. MCCURRY: I think within the first 24 hours of the Monica Lewinsky story we had people predicting that the Clinton presidency is over. So I think that it's wise to take those things with a grain of salt until you know more facts.

Q Mike, on the Lewinsky situation and the Willey situation, has this brought the First Couple closer together?

MR. MCCURRY: I think they've always been close and there's never been a question about that.

Q Mike, the documents portray -- the documents released Friday and the 60 Minutes interview portray the President, at a minimum, of being quite a risk-taker. Do you know if he has ever received any behavioral counsel or any medication for that?

MR. MCCURRY: Paul, you cannot -- with all due respect, you cannot drop the impartiality which a journalist has to have and make assumptions about what is true and not true when there are specific on-the-record testimony that is in dispute. You're not a court of law. You don't get the right to make a choice that one version of a story is preferable to another one, so you can't --

Q No, but I have the right to ask this question.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're basing that question on what is an opinionated review of testimony that is in dispute. I don't think it's a fair question.

Q What about just the second half of the question.

MR. MCCURRY: The answer is no. It would have been reported to you when we reviewed the President's medical records.

Q Is the President comfortable with all of Bob Bennett's tactics and statements?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He has done a very good job. He's had difficult circumstances, with allegations coming from multiple places. He's done a very good job. We had to push a little bit on CBS to get an opportunity for him to go on the air, and I think we helped correct a report that had some flaws in it.

Q You did? Didn't they want him?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is a long history back and forth.

Q They said on the air that they had asked and he said no.

MR. MCCURRY: We have a different account of that. We have a different account of that. And we did ask late, we asked Saturday and he agreed to go on. And he gave them a 45-minute interview of which they got a couple of minutes on, but that was better than nothing.

Q The reason I'm asking this question --

Q Why did he have -- he had his head down. Do you see what I'm saying?

MR. MCCURRY: The appearance given by the network was that they were interviewing face to face; they were not. Mr. Bradley was in New York, I believe, and Mr. Bennett was in Washington. So it was by satellite remote control.

Q Well, Ed wasn't in his lap, was he? I mean, he was looking at his lap all the time.

MR. MCCURRY: He had notes in his lap, and the camera did not indicate that.

Q Just to follow up on that, the reason I'm asking is because you made a point of saying that the President is not calling her a liar, but Bennett did say what she is saying our bald-face lies. What's the difference?

MR. MCCURRY: He said that in connection with a very specific issue raised by CBS News with him. And his memory on that is very clear, and that was not portrayed, in Mr. Bennett's opinion, accurately by CBS during the program.

Q Do you have a transcript of what he actually said?

MR. MCCURRY: No, but I'd like to get it from CBS. It's in dispute. I'd like to get the whole tape of his interview. I haven't been able to receive it yet. Do you think that CBS would have any problem with that?

Q I can't speak for CBS, but normally we don't give out-takes. You know that.

MR. MCCURRY: He gave a 45-minute interview and it went on -- addressed a number of things, and I'd like --

Q Let the record show that that's all I'm talking about.

Q Is there any way you could see where both parties are telling the truth? Is there any explanation you can come up with to --

MR. MCCURRY: I imagine there would be, but it would be purely speculative and hypothetical on my part and would be very useless.

Q Can you try? Can you help us?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because that's why we have courts of law in which witnesses will be presented and cross-examined and that's how we test the truth.

Q You seem to resent it when I've suggested that someone had committed perjury and ought to be tried for that.

MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. I said --

Q I wasn't taking sides. I was simply saying --

MR. MCCURRY: I think that's an opinion you're entitled to.

Q That's a good question. How can you square these two events without saying someone has not told the truth?

Q But now you're saying it's possible they're both telling the truth.

MR. MCCURRY: You clearly have got two accounts that are directly at dispute.

Q That's what I mean.

Q But you just said that they could both be true. Didn't you say you can imagine the scenario where they both would be true, or did I not hear that correctly?

MR. MCCURRY: It's hard to imagine that. Let's put it that way.

Q Is this a new strategy now for you to take our questions instead of giving us a chop every time --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I should be referring you to Jim Kennedy.

Q Mike, several of us asked you why Ms. Willey was appointed to commissions on topics like biodiversity in which she had no background. At that point you said you didn't know and you'd try to find out. I'm curious to know if you have any answers for us today.

MR. MCCURRY: I went back and looked at that. I think that that question arose back at the time of Newsweek's original story several months ago. She was considered qualified by the White House Office of Presidential Appointments and was considered -- was duly appointed as members of those delegations. There was more said at the time on behalf of the White House with respect to both of those delegations, and I stand with what we said back then.

Q One of the things you said you'd try to find out then is who made that decision. Did you get an answer?

MR. MCCURRY: Who made the appointments? Well, they are presidential appointments, there's no question about that. I think they worked their way up through the Office of Presidential Personnel.

Q Why shouldn't we make the inference then that she was given these jobs to keep her silence and make her happy?

MR. MCCURRY: Because there's no -- to make that inference you would, presumably as a good journalist, want to have some documentary record or some evidence or some factual report to base it on, and I'm not aware of any.

Q Is there any progress in the investigation of Linda Tripp, the allegations that when she was 19 she was arrested? What's going on with that situation?

MR. MCCURRY: The White House, to my knowledge, did not know of any of that until we had an inquiry from a news organization. In any event, that's not our matter, that's the Pentagon's matter.

Q Do you agree with the -- does the President agree with the Secretary of Defense that it is a serious matter if, in fact, she did not properly check off the box?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be best and most appropriate for us to have no opinion on that matter. It's being handled at the Pentagon.

Q Mike, just to clarify on Gennifer Flowers, is it now your position that in 1992 the President did not categorically deny any sexual contact with Gennifer Flowers?

MR. MCCURRY: To restate -- the President said what he said in 1992, and it was not at odds with what was in his deposition.

Q And that means that you're saying his interview in '92 should be read as acknowledging that there was sexual contact, even though it was read the opposite way?

MR. MCCURRY: His statement was read to be a denial of the allegations put forward by Ms. Flowers. It was and it is.

Okay. Thank you.

END 3:12 P.M. EST