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Office of the Press Secretary

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

The Briefing Room

2:46 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: What would you like to know about ladies and gentlemen? Hello.

Q What do you think about Dan Burton's decision to release all the Webster Hubbell tapes?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know I think much of anything about it at all. I think it amounted in one way or another to an invasion of privacy, contrary to what the administration would have done because we're governed by the Privacy Act. But it's over and done with now.

Q Mike, the White House's thoughts on the Riggs amendment?

MR. MCCURRY: We've been working with our allies on the Hill to try to turn back what we think would be an impossibly difficult amendment to administer, and one which would setback even further efforts to promote diversity in the ranks of higher education. And there's a long letter that Attorney General Reno and Secretary Riley have sent to the Hill that sets forth some of our specific concerns in greater detail that I can give to you, if you haven't already seen it.

Q Do you expect the President and the Prime Minister tomorrow to talk about the ski lift accident and -- well, start there.

MR. MCCURRY: This has been a subject of enormous concern and pain to both of our governments and I wouldn't be surprised if it does come up. But I think I'd prefer to wait until the readout on the meeting and let you know how the Prime Minister addresses it, if he does. I think what we have said is consistent with what you've heard our military judicial authorities say.

Q Well, is the President willing to take any -- is he willing to make any commitments or is the President going to move off where he's been?

MR. MCCURRY: We just need to see how they address it. I think we have dealt with this in a sensitive way and in a way that is designed to ensure that justice is done.

Q Is the President planning before he leaves for Europe next week to get personally involved in the Middle East peace process?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not entirely clear at this point, Wolf. I won't go beyond what Secretary Albright has said already in London. She has made it very clear that the President has extended an invitation to both leaders to come here for accelerated permanent status talks on the basis of American ideas. One of the parties has acknowledged the utility of that and Prime Minister Netanyahu has indicated he'd like to discuss that with his Cabinet. That's where it stands, and I don't want to speculate on whether that would happen.

Remember that, in a sense, we were to begin now the process leading up to May of 1999 in which final status issues that had been identified by the parties were to be addressed. So anything that we can do in our role as a facilitator to urge the parties to move on to that next stage would be valuable. But as the Secretary indicated today, there are even interim issues prior to that that need to be addressed.

Q What you're saying is that if the Cabinet in Israel approves, that President Clinton might meet Monday or Tuesday with Arafat and Netanyahu?

MR. MCCURRY: If it is possible that the President would meet with both leaders to launch their accelerated permanent status talks if both leaders are in a position to accept the invitation. It's not clear that that's going to happen at this point.

Q How does the President feel about the end of the Little Rock grand jury wrap-up?

MR. MCCURRY: He's not expecting that it will fundamentally change things one way or another.

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because the persistent quest for something in Whitewater will likely continue.

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: Because Mr. Starr's indicated that it will.

Q What do you mean by "something"?

MR. MCCURRY: Whatever.

Q Can you elaborate on "whatever"?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't. You'd have to ask Judge Starr.

Q Mike, can you give us an update on the status of judicial nominations and dealings between the White House and Congress in light of this New York Times story?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can talk specifically about the one issue that's raised in that article, which is, as we do with district court nominees and we do with circuit nominees, we consult closely with senators from both parties that are directly interested -- in this case, both Senator Murray and Senator Gordon have strong interest in seeing that judicial vacancies in the various districts in the state of Washington are filled and the Ninth Circuit as well. And we appreciate the action the Senate has taken with respect to some of our nominees. We look forward to the confirmation of Professor Fletcher and others who have been nominated. But beyond that, I'm really not going to comment on any judicial nomination that we have not yet forwarded to the Senate.

Q Well, is there a deal as described by the newspapers?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there's a good-faith effort by the White House to try to work through issues and see if we can't move forward on some of these confirmations, especially for vacancies that have been unfilled for up to three years.

Q Mike, can I follow up on that? On a related issue, Senator Grassley submitted a GAO report, essentially finding that a lot of judges were taking a lot of junkets on taxpayer money, as an issue for confirming judgeships and --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that report and don't know that it has any bearing whatsoever on the cases we're talking about here.

Q Not necessarily on the cases being cited, but generally speaking about confirming vacant judgeships -- that there's a reluctance to confirm those judgeships because some judges are wasting money.

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to refer you to those that know more about that report. I'm not familiar with it.

Q On Soeharto, when you answered this morning on the IMF gave money, what is the real status here?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the status is the IMF has released what it believes are necessary resources to they can go forward with the economic restablization plan that has been developed. That's the proper thing to do; it is also obvious that that is presumed to be built around combination and compliance with the kinds of agreements that the government of Indonesia has raised with IMF.

Now, we are simultaneously very concerned about the issues involving freedom of expression in Indonesia and have raised those directly, as have other governments and NGOs and human rights advocates, and will continue to press our concern about the treatment of those who are expressing their point of view. But there are issues that in a way are related because part of the protests, of course, deal with the status of the economy in Indonesia, but it has--

Q Hasn't he said no to the reforms, in terms of his family, himself and --

MR. MCCURRY: The government of Indonesia has made significant progress in implementing a number of measures that the IMF has identified. There are some issues that we expect and the IMF expects to see further progress on.

Q Mike, the meeting of President Clinton with Chairman Greenspan today -- can you tell us about it?

MR. MCCURRY: Hasn't happened yet. It will happen at 3:30 p.m. I believe.

Q Can you tell us the purpose of it?

MR. MCCURRY: The purpose of it is for, as the President does from time to time with the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, to exchange views on the national economy, to discuss ways in which we can continue the strong economic performance and the strong fundamentals that are the underpinning of the very successful economy that the American people are enjoying.

Q Did you request a meeting?

MR. MCCURRY: They both have agreed on and off that they would get together. I don't know whether we called him up and invited him down or whether they would agree that they'd get together at some point. But we have, through the National Economic Council, contact with the Chairman from time to time and they agreed they'd get together today.

Q And when was the last time they met?

MR. MCCURRY: Three or four months ago maybe. Late last year.

Q Mike, is the bill the President signed on funding for Bosnia troops consistent with his pledge that all money from the surplus should be set aside for Social Security?

MR. MCCURRY: It's consistent with the Budget Enforcement Act, which indicates that emergency funding measures don't require offsets under the Budget Act.

Q Yes, but I'm saying is it consistent with his --


Q There were some significant cancer stories over the weekend. The President has always supported increased spending on research and development. Did he look at any of those and wonder why his administration isn't giving more support to cancer and to cancer research --

MR. MCCURRY: No, he looked at those and saw an affirmation of the strong federal support for cancer research that has been included in his budgets, including the budget proposal now pending in Congress.

Q When Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat met in the White House Rose Garden, I believe it was four years ago, we were informed that the Palestine National Covenant, which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel would be repealed or revised. Has that been done, and does the White House care about this?

MR. MCCURRY: We care that the Palestinian Authority make good on the commitment it made, which it has done. It has indicated that that element of its charter has been revoked. It has not been replaced with a new instrument, but that is one --

Q It has been revoked?

MR. MCCURRY: The Palestinian Authority has taken action and communicated through its leadership that it has revised its charter, and they're in the process of drafting a new charter, but the status of that effort I'd really have to refer you to the State Department -- that's a subject that they deal with regularly over there.

Q One follow-up. The Forbes published magazine, American Heritage, has just published a contention by a professor at the U.S. Army's Command and General -- College that Robert E. Lee was "a traitor to his country." Does the President, as Commander in Chief of the Army, believe this, and did he oppose Congress restoring of Lee's --

MR. MCCURRY: I never discussed that issue with the President, and I don't know whether he's --

Q Could you inquire?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if he has anything he'd like to say on the subject.

Q On the release of the Hubbell tapes, you don't seem to be very outraged. Is this not a big issue?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean, it's done. It's a moot point at this point because they've been released. But I think that we took seriously our obligations, the administration took seriously its obligations under the Privacy Act, which by law forbids the release of those tapes.

Q How did he do it then? He had congressional immunity --

MR. MCCURRY: Chairman Burton decided he was above that law.

Q I mean, is he culpable?

MR. MCCURRY: Because of congressional immunity I strongly doubt it.

Q Does Chairman Burton's behavior with the tapes give you pause about whether the House majority is ready to deal with any kind of material from Ken Starr or impeachment hearings?

MR. MCCURRY: So highly speculative I don't think I could possibly answer.

Q Do you think the behaviors could be related?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that would indicate that Chairman Burton would be placed in charge of reviewing any report from the OIC.

Q After the talks in Cyprus last weekend -- Mr. Holbrooke, -- I wonder if the White House has anything to say.

MR. MCCURRY: We concur with some of the assessments provided by Ambassador Holbrooke. He has indicated the United States has continued to -- will be prepared to continue our effort to facilitate a search for a settlement on Cyprus, an ongoing conflict between two of our close allies and, in turn, their allies and their associated populations on the island of Cyprus. It's high time to end that conflict and try to bring about a settlement which we believe you can see your way to if the parties set aside some of their differences and move forward and negotiate seriously. We would certainly hope that both the Turkish Cypriots and the government on Cyprus would make that effort.

Q Any comment on reports that Mr. Holbrooke is planning now to use NATO forces to prevent a conflict over Cyprus --is threatening seriously to affect the island on the excuse of the so-called Russian missiles issue?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard that expressed. That would be something that we would have to take up and deliberate within the confines of the North Atlantic Council, but I'm not aware that there is a pending issue with respect to the SA-300s that arises in NATO, although they clearly are concerned about that because they -- within NATO, our allies share the concerns that we've expressed about the potentially destabilizing aspects of the introduction of that missile technology into the reason.

Q Mike, apparently last month a couple of Italian Parliament members made a trip to Tripoli in violation of the embargo sanctions against Libya. Is that something the President expects to bring up tomorrow in his talks?

MR. MCCURRY: It's entirely conceivable given the strong feelings that the government of Italy and the European Union have about a range of sanctions related questions with respect to Iran, Libya, and others, that that general topic might arise. I wouldn't be surprised if it does come up. I'm not certain that the visit by the legislators themselves to Tripoli will be a subject, but I certainly suspect our differing approaches on some matters related to Libya, Iran and others might be a topic.

Q Mike, just to clarify because we couldn't pick up a couple of questions up front -- you're saying that Burton has violated the Privacy Act, but you see no legal redress?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that if an administration official were to have released those tapes it would have been deemed a violation of the Privacy Act. Congress can decide pursuant to its own procedures to exempt itself from the particular application of the act, although I don't think they are -- the Privacy Act doesn't apply to a congressional proceeding in any event. I'm not making any charge about that. I'm just telling what the practical effect of why we felt it necessary to respect the privacy of those materials.

Q So you're saying that he, in effect, has violated the spirit of it?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying that they've got their own -- they have under the Constitution the ability to make their own decisions.

Q Why did he do it?

MR. MCCURRY: You should ask him; he's addressed that.

Q So, Mike, when you say that Chairman Burton had decided he was above that law, what did you mean by that, then?

MR. MCCURRY: I mean exactly that. That that's a law that Congress passed that would apply to the government and to other federal officials, but he elected to have it not apply in this instance to his own actions.

Q Mike, you've said several times that Mr. Ruff's involvement in all of these matters is to reflect the interest of the presidency as an institution. But yesterday, his response to Mr. Starr was virtually identical to Mr. Kendall's; it was quite personal, defending the President personally and attacking Mr. Starr in rather strong terms, like, irresponsible. What rationale is there for a taxpayer-funded lawyer acting as the President's private counsel?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, because the suggestion of the Office of Independent Counsel was that the President, in his official capacity, takes certain actions with respect to a possible witness before a grand jury proceeding, which is something that would be highly unusual and I think in other circumstances, in other cases, would lead someone to suggest that the President was attempting to witness tamper. And that certainly relates to the official duties and responsibilities of the presidency.

Q Mike, how do you square, though, the White House's statements that Ken Starr needs to wrap up his investigation with the President's unwillingness to encourage a witness who's obviously holding up the investigation to speak?

MR. MCCURRY: The witness in question has legal counsel and the President believes that that individual is entitled to get advice from adequate legal representation and not from outsiders, including himself.

Q Mike, in the letters back and forth between the White House, Mr. Starr pointed out that Richard Nixon had, in fact, publicly encouraged people to speak out when there were questions as to whether people thought he was encouraging them not to. Why wouldn't the President feel the same obligation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Ruff, himself, would know more about that than Mr. Starr ever possibly could. And Mr. Ruff -- I think his response was adequate in response.

Q Mike, the criticisms continue this week about Sidney Blumenthal's charge last week that Hickman Ewing is a religious fanatic. Does the White House plan to punish him in any way? Does it regret what he said? And have you received a letter, I think from the Family Research Council, and will you take any action on it, that he should go?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that letter.

Q Do you regret what he said? Do you think that's proper?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked exactly at what Mr. Blumenthal said. I think the President would not want people to cast dispersions on religious beliefs of anybody. But I'm not familiar with Mr. Ewing's beliefs. I don't know whether that's a -- I don't know whether that's an accurate description of his beliefs.

Q One last thing -- on a person's religion, is that a fair avenue of attack?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that was the avenue of attack that Mr. Blumenthal pursued, but I'll go back and review what he said.

Q Mike, in light of the President's comments in light of the press conference that he supports public access to the arguments that are being made over executive privilege, what does the White House think of the opinion that the Court of Appeals handed down today, which doesn't seem to favor much public access to those kinds of proceedings?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, to the contrary. I think the circuit court upheld the -- the District Court -- indicated that, so that the public can see the nature of the arguments that have been presented and made, that it's proper to have the -- position to review the argumentation in a redacted form that protects grand jury secrecy, which is the point the President made at the press conference the other day. And it would appear that that opinion will clear the way for members of the press to have access to the argumentation as it was raised -- or as it may have been raised, since I guess we never -- it's still under seal so we can't confirm that it's even been raised.

Q With Vernon Jordan appearing today before the grand jury and Betty Currie expected the next few days, how concerned is the White House that Ken Starr may be zeroing in on something?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any comment on that.

Q Mike, does the President continue to have full confidence in Sidney Blumenthal?


Q Are the Clintons comfortable with all the coverage that Chelsea has gotten in the last day or two following the California trip? And do they feel that this standard for covering Chelsea's life has devolved at all since she went off to college or turned 18?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't, aside from one or two articles, I haven't seen anything that indicates that the standard of coverage that has been announced by -- including the major news organizations and networks -- has changed in any way. And we've elected not to comment on her private life and that will remain the case.

Q So what does the President think of the guy? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: I think it was rather obvious, but --

Q Mike, has the President had the chance to pay much attention to some domestic political developments in Germany, particularly the upsurge in right-wing political activity in Eastern Germany, where he's going to be traveling next week? Has he paid attention to that or talked to Chancellor Kohl about it, or does he plan to?

MR. MCCURRY: He is aware of it and familiar with it. We, of course, leave internal political developments in allied nations to the people of our allied nations. But that no doubt -- since the President and the Chancellor have talked politics from time to time, it's easy to imagine that subject may arise. And the President has had conversations with the opposition leader and the likely opponent, as well.

Q I'm not talking about the opposition, I'm --

MR. MCCURRY: The right-wing --

Q I'm talking about skin heads. I'm talking about a racist party that recently set an electoral record.

MR. MCCURRY: I think those who follow events in Germany, as we do, are well aware of that.

Q Is he concerned about it?

MR. MCCURRY: I think anyone has to be concerned about that but, presumably, the people of Germany are, too.

Q What's your reaction to attacks by Republicans, including Dick Armey, about a memo that they say is a smoking gun proving manipulation by the White House about base closings?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that my colleague, Mr. Bacon at the Pentagon, has dispensed with that pretty well today and has gone at some length through our position on depots. I think he made it very clear that the White House shares the objective of seeing competition with respect to services provided by these depots in the interest of saving taxpayers money. And that was our motivation and sole motivation.

Q Mike, as it stands now the President will be going to Birmingham without congressional approval of his $18 billion IMF request. I'm wondering what message that sends to the G-7 partners and how, if at all, it impacts U.S. influence at the summit, specifically with respect to Asian economic --

MR. MCCURRY: Most of our allies would expect that the United States eventually -- and hopefully soon -- will help provide the necessary financial backing for the IMF to do the very important work that it must do in Asia to restore regional economic stability, and to protect the interests of all in the global economy who need to have a strong and thriving Asian economy, because that's in the interest of all industrialized nations who conduct trade and commerce with Asia.

So I don't know that it will be a particular source of concern because most of our partners in the G-7 are well aware of some of the sentiments in the United States and we've discussed that at summits from time to time.

Q What is the President doing to try to get the money now?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has made it quite clear that we need to return to some adequate funding mechanism so that we restore the new arrangements for borrowing that the IMF needs.

Q Like what? I mean, what is he doing?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll have to further our work to find a vehicle that Congress can address quickly to pass it, since it's not in the supplemental.

Q A separate bill?

MR. MCCURRY: Some legislative vehicle that will get the funding that we need.

Q What about the U.N.? Is there anything going on to try to break that logjam?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, that's another case. We are very shortsighted in not making good on paying the money to the United Nations that we owe the United Nations, because we're losing the opportunity to see our own assessment rate adjust. We're accruing, as a result of that shortsightedness, further costs into the future for our share of U.N. apportions and we could conceivably miss the opportunity to participate in some of the important administrative reforms that those who follow the U.N. matters in Congress are anxious to see promulgated.

Q Is it your understanding that the U.S. actually loses its vote in the U.N. by a certain date?

MR. MCCURRY: In theory that's the case, but it's not clear that someone would test that theory.

Q And you haven't actually gotten the bill yet?

MR. MCCURRY: The bill? No, no. The State Department authorization has not come down, no.

Q And you don't know when you're going to get it?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not heard, no.

Q How would that work? Would someone then, in the event that we pass that date, challenge our use, for example, of Security Council veto or something?

MR. MCCURRY: In theory that could happen, yes.

Q Can you respond to the article in the New Yorker saying that the U.N. was warned of --

MR. MCCURRY: It's not Security Council, Wendell. It's General Assembly. That's an action that arises in the General Assembly.

Q So it does not affect our Security Council?

MR. MCCURRY: It doesn't affect Security Council participation or voting.

Q Have you had a reaction to the New Yorker article saying the U.N. was warned of the upcoming genocide in Rwanda I believe in 1994?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the article, but I have not looked into that. I think the Secretary General, because he has been in the Great Lakes region himself, has addressed that, and issued a very clear denial.

Q Mike, with the President's trip to Europe, Birmingham coming up soon, what's new about the Ireland peace talks?

MR. MCCURRY: They are in the midst of a very important referendum period in which they are considering the merits of the agreement, and we are hearing very encouraging things about the level of public support that's building.

Q So the notion of going to Ireland is gone?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not on his schedule, and I've heard of no plans to put it on the schedule.

Q Are you going to brief before this trip?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we've got a number of things scheduled. Because Mr. Berger is out of town, as some of you know, we'll probably do our briefing here on Monday with Mr. Steinberg, the Deputy National Security Advisor, who is our sherpa for the G-7 and Summit of the Eight. And we'll have Gene Sperling and Sandy as well. You know, Albright and Secretary Rubin are going off to finance-foreign minister meetings over the weekend, so they will be in London and be presumably addressing press that will be there.

And I think we were going to try to do some other things -- you might want to check with NSC staff about other things they're doing with foreign press people that might occur before Monday, if there is something that you need sooner than that. But our main briefing here will be on Monday.

Q Mike, before you sort of side-stepped Paul's questions about Sidney Blumenthal. The President side-stepped a question last week about Blumenthal. Should we then conclude from this that the White House considers Blumenthal's remarks to be perfectly appropriate? You've obviously been alerted to them and haven't even bothered --

MR. MCCURRY: No, you should assume that I don't know enough and wouldn't presume to know enough about Hickman Ewing's religious beliefs to comment on it or comment about comments on it. And I'm just not going to do that. I'm not familiar with his thinking on matters of religion.

Q Why would it be appropriate for any White House official to talk about a prosecutor --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he talked about -- Mr. Blumenthal talked about his conduct as a prosecutor, and I think a fair reading of his remarks would indicate that it was confined to that.

Q So you are aware of his remarks?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm generally aware of report I've seen on it, but I haven't gone back and read the transcript of it.

Q Do you know if Sidney's comments are cleared before he goes to --

MR. MCCURRY: Obviously not. (Laughter.)

Q There have been stories from inside the U.N., people saying the President is holding on too long to the Mexico City debate and it's time for him to make a compromise and loosen that funding --

MR. MCCURRY: We're aware of those arguments.

Q Have there been any indirect communications made?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've communicated pretty directly our views on restrictive language that represent not only infringements on freedom of expression, but also represent setbacks to programs conducted by organizations that are concerned first and foremost about the health of children and mothers, particularly in developing nations.

Q He's not rethinking his position?

Q Is the President doing anything specific --

MR. MCCURRY: I think our views have been made pretty clear.

Q Is the President doing anything specific, talks with Republican leaders to kind of break this logjam? Or does it look like it's pretty much hit a wall for now?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's had some conversations himself and we've pursued at other levels in the administration a variety of conversations about what realistically is happening and what we can do to try to break the impasse.

Q How would you describe the situation right now? It's just stuck?

MR. MCCURRY: Conversations are ongoing.

Q This meeting on the financial modernization bill, Secretary Rubin has recommended that that bill be vetoed. What is the purpose of the meeting today?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the meeting today is to talk about, in a sense, exactly that. I mean, there are some specific administration concerns about the way that the Congress is addressing the need for financial modernization. I don't think anyone disputes that we have antiquated laws that date back to Depression era that need to be adjusted. But we've got some very specific concerns that we think need to be addressed.

There are things like preserving the right pool of funding to be available for community reinvestment, which is an important part of the approach that we would recommend on financial modernization. There are other technical aspects of the legislation, so that we believe the bill can be significantly improved so it protects consumers, protects communities and also provides the kind of reform of our banking laws that make sense. And we're interested in hearing from the private sector leaders about how they can make a case about some of the things that we share as objectives and then also identify any ways in which we can kind of work out a common approach and address some of the disagreements we have with the congressional legislation.

Q Well, Alan Greenspan takes the opposing view --

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that the subject matter of the meeting that some of our staff people are having with the financial executives was going to get raised in the meeting with the Chairman. I think the meeting with the Chairman was going to be more broadly on the functioning of the national economy.

Q -- of the companies they represent at some point?

MR. MCCURRY: I can do that. We put the list out, I'm told. I can give it to you if you don't have it.

All right. Thanks.

END 3:15 P.M. EDT