THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I mentioned to some of you earlier that the Russian government today announced that the Government Commission on Export Control had conducted a special investigation on entities involved in certain technology transfers and they came to the conclusion that certain enterprises violated Russian export controls and attempted to export goods or services which could contribute to weapons of mass destruction or missiles to deliver them. Those investigations may result in administrative actions and criminal procedures. We will have a statement that indicates that those steps certainly support the Russian commitment to stop the flow of sensitive technologies and demonstrate the growing effectiveness of the cooperation we have with Russia when it comes to halting proliferation and transfer of dangerous weapons technology and materials.
The United States and Russia will continue to work together to strengthen controls on such exports and to enforce compliance with the laws, policies, and international agreements on such transfers -- the subjects that obviously will be at the center of both the President's and the Vice President's upcoming discussions with Russian counterparts.
Q Do the steps go far enough?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe that those steps indicate the seriousness to which the Russian Federation has taken the expression of concern we've made on certain technology transfers. They involve a lot of the premier Russian enterprises that have been involved in technology transfers and they could be very significant -- in fact, significant enough that when we've got our own assessment that's consistent with what the Russians have concluded, we might be in a position to suspend some of our own U.S. government programs and assistance to some of those same entities.
Q Who are the recipients of these improper transfers? Who received these --
MR. MCCURRY: I've got the list, it's probably --
Q Countries? Can you just tell us --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they're individual -- the Minister of Energy in Russia identified individual enterprises. I can give you the list. We've got it in the written statement. I can give them to you, there are nine entities, including the INOR scientific center, the Grafit and Polyus research institutes, the Tikhomirov institute, Glavkosmos,the Komintern plant in Novosibirsk, and the MOSO company, the Baltic State Technical University and Europalace 2000. Those are the entities and the exact spellings of those are in the written statement we made available.
Q But none out of the country --
MR. MCCURRY: Usual spellings. (Laughter.) Glavkosmos some of you will recognize from previous issues that we raised.
Q Are these the recipients or the sources?
MR. MCCURRY: These are the entities that were identified by the Minister of the Economy as --
Q As making the transfer?
MR. MCCURRY: -- as having been identified as a result of their investigation.
Q My question was, to whom did they do these improper transfers? Who got the improper transfers?
MR. MCCURRY: In some cases -- there are different entities from foreign governments. Some of these are transactions that involve our previously stated expressions of concern about Iran.
Q About Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q And what other foreign governments besides Iran were there?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check on that further -- Libya, North Korea are the others that were involved.
Q Can you tell us now how the President feels about the effort to force his head of protective detail and other people around him to testify?
MR. MCCURRY: I can say the President really doesn't have anything that he wants to say specifically on that. He's concerned that the litigation on that issue needs to be properly handled by the Justice Department and Treasury Department. That said, I don't think he has any real problem with what I said earlier.
Q Well, you said earlier, would you just tell us again what it was because we now have -- (laughter) -- about it. I'm not talking the other matter, I'm talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: I made a simple point. Sneering at the President of the United States is common sport here in Washington now, and that's life, and that's just the way it stands here in Washington. But the Secret Service agents who protect the President of the United States with their lives are dedicated, serious professionals, and they should not be slimed by Ken Starr and his operatives. That's what I said and I don't think the President has any problem with that.
Q You're speaking now I think about the matter of the NBC report. I'm asking you about your feelings directly concerning the effort to subpoena these people to prosecute.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President's attorneys have made clear that there's great concern about that because, among other things, this may be a back-door attempt to impede and intrude upon the attorney-client privilege. If the head of the President's detail riding in the limousine has heard the President talking with one of his attorneys in what is presumed to be a privileged conversation, the government has a right to come and take someone who by law has to be in the car to protect the President and try to find out about that conversation? Those are tactics that are certainly questionable and that's a mild way of saying it.
Q Mike, the agent has very little choice but to hear it, doesn't he, in the position he's in?
MR. MCCURRY: My experience riding in the car is it's hard not to overhear. I've overheard the President talking sitting there, riding in the car. It's hard not to overhear.
Q Have you?
MR. MCCURRY: I've overhead the President talking when I'm sitting there riding in the car, not about matters that I need to go testify to someone. (Laughter.) Got that, Ken?
Q Does the latest subpoena lead the White House to now draw a distinction between Judge Starr's efforts to get testimony from uniformed officers and plainclothes officers?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that any distinctions that would imply common sense on the part of the Office of Independent Counsel are hard to find. He just seems to be throwing subpoenas at everything that moves.
Q But as far as the White House is concerned, in the -- the Justice Department's attempt to counter the subpoenas has not really made a distinction between uniformed officers and plainclothes officers, but the subpoena of Mr. Cockell goes to the agent who's on the President's hip.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, on the merits and legality of the subpoena, I will refer that to the Treasury Department and to the Justice Department. They are addressing that and we have not -- and I will say again, have not -- played any part in the litigation that is arising as a result of those subpoenas. I think it's more appropriate for you to go to those people who have been part of that decisionmaking.
Q I grant you --, but, Mike, if I could just follow up. This subpoena prompted a response from you that we haven't had before.
MR. MCCURRY: I know what you're driving at, Wendell, and that's -- I can't make that judgment for you. Go talk to the professionals who can tell you whether there should be a distinction between what the U.D. gets by way of subpoena and what the agents get.
Q No, I'm asking you why this one prompted you to say things you haven't said before.
MR. MCCURRY: What prompted me to say things I haven't said before is the outrageousness of the slander raised by people close to Ken Starr, as reported by NBC this morning.
Q Now hold on -- Mr. Russert. Mr. Russert now says that his sources were Hill sources.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I know. He's now helped his viewers understand that Ken Starr has laundered the information through the Starr operation's friends on Capitol Hill. That's good when news organizations give you a little more help in understanding what their anonymous sources are about.
Q You mean, Starr's people gave it to the Hill.
MR. MCCURRY: He's just said that it's Congressional sources -- sources that he had described earlier in the day as people close to Ken Starr. Presumably they're all close enough to each other that they've got briefings on the nature of the kind of inquiries and suggestions and innuendo that Mr. Starr has been -- and his people have been leaving as droppings around town.
Q You make a distinction between people reporting criminal matters as opposed to reporting the kinds of conversations that you say you fear here, such as breaking an attorney-client privilege.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President's two attorneys have made a statement I think is very clear about the direct concern they have on attorney-client confidentiality. I think that's a serious enough matter in and of itself.
Q No, but I ask you because I know that other agents have tried to make that distinction -- seem to support the Secret Service position, as it has been outlined in the court, but say very clearly that they believe the agent has an incumbent responsibility to report anything that is of a criminal nature.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with the briefs that they've filed, but I don't think the argument goes to the nature of the conversations overheard or the information observed. It's a general issue itself of whether or not --
Q So you really don't make the distinction?
MR. MCCURRY: -- the presumed confidential relationship of trust can be impeded in any way, shape, or form. I'm not trying to make any comment whatsoever on the legalities of the argument, because those have been handled properly by the Secret Service and by the attorneys who have argued on behalf of the Secret Service.
Q Mike, on the whole subpoena development, has it altered the way the President feels when he's around Secret Service agents? Is he more awkward? Is he --
MR. MCCURRY: No. He has enormous respect for those guys and I think, as he has expressed in the past, has some concern over what they're being put through -- and he's expressed that publicly.
Q Has this altered the President's feeling about whether Ken Starr should remain on the job or whether he should --
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new to report on that issue.
Q In terms of this being a back-door attempt to intrude on the attorney-client privilege, there's no confidentiality agreements that agents are required to sign after they leave their office? In other words, nothing is stopping a former agent from --
MR. MCCURRY: Frankly, I don't know that. You'd have to ask the Service and they can tell you what kind of confidentiality --
Q They're not required to say --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll accept that. I don't know what their agreements are --
Q -- when they leave being employed at the White House, they're free to talk. But why wouldn't the President be just as concerned about what a former agent would say as what a current agent would say?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as I have told you already, is not choosing to comment on this matter. He has no problem with what I've said, but he's not commenting.
Q Well, does the President's attorney think that having former agents testify, which they are free to do, is also a back-door attempt at --
MR. MCCURRY: You should ask the President's attorneys.
Q You just were speaking for them a minute ago.
MR. MCCURRY: They've made a statement today that I think speaks for itself.
Q Does the President know what you've been saying all day? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He knows what I said earlier today.
Q I mean, who are you, really -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, you're right. You're right.
Q You are representing the President of the United States, you're representing our country, the federal government --
MR. MCCURRY: You make a very good point. And I told you that I alerted the President to what I said earlier today and I don't think he had any problem with it.
Q Mike, Larry Cockell is not out with the President today. Is there a reason for that?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask the Service. I don't know.
Q Could it be his day off?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You should ask the Service who they deploy and who they don't deploy.
Q Can I follow up on Larry's question? The President wouldn't feel uncomfortable if Agent Cockell came with him on Friday, for instance, to Arkansas?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President is comfortable with the detail he has and he's got a lot of respect for them and he's had very good working relationships with the people who've been the head of his detail, including Larry. And I think he's worked well with them.
But on these matters, when it comes to his security, he makes the very correct judgment that he ought to leave decisions and leave the business of protecting him to those who are professional and dedicated to their work and do it day in and day out, Republican or Democrat, whoever is President -- as these guys do. And I think his preference would be --
Q Why wouldn't he have an opinion on people spying on him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, he may very well have feelings about it, but he just -- I'm not electing to share it and not electing to feed you the way you probably want to be fed on it.
Q Mike, has he ever asked an agent to please stand aside or please go into the other room, I have something very private I want to talk about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. One of the reasons why they do their job effectively is that you just take them for granted that they're there.
Q Mike, do you know for sure that Starr has laundered this information through Capitol Hill sources?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no clue whatsoever. All I know is that there was a report on NBC earlier today citing people close to Ken Starr. It was amended later today to congressional sources, who are presumably familiar with the suggestions being made by Ken Starr and his people. So you guys have to do your own reporting.
Q Mike, when you talk about Starr sliming the Secret Service, what are you talking about?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm talking about the NBC report that I mentioned earlier today.
Q Can you spell out for us what it is that's called what you call "outrage" on your part?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, I'm not to give -- it's an outrageous report to begin with, and I cited this earlier today in the hopes of heading off in a preemptive way reporting that is venomous and not founded in fact.
Q But you raised it again. I asked a question about the other matter, and you answered by raising this report. So clearly we've touched a nerve in you.
MR. MCCURRY: I answered based on what I think is a serious injustice done today that needed to be addressed. And it's related, certainly, to the other issue you asked about.
Q I was told that during the meeting between Sandy Berger and the Turkish General, Ismail Karadayi, here at the White House, a crucial discussion with focus on the Aegean Cyprus issues, and specifically on CBMs. The same subject would also be discussed between White House officials and the NATO Secretary General, Mr. Solana. Could you elaborate more --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I want to separate those two meetings, because they are not directly connected and the subject matter of one should not be interpreted being relevant to the subject matter of the other. The NATO Secretary General will be here tomorrow to see the National Security Advisor. I expect that they will discuss a full range of issues. We have a lot of things to review with the Secretary General -- first and foremost, the Balkans, Kosovo, those issues, although I would not be surprised if matters related to the Aegean arise. We'll have to let you know afterwards.
General Kardaya, who is here in Washington, is here at the invitation of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. He has an unrelated meeting scheduled with Mr. Berger, and I'd expect the current situation in the Aegean to be among the issues related to NATO southern flank that arise in that meeting.
Did that occur?
COLONEL CROWLEY: Both are tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: Both of these meetings are tomorrow.
Q Mike, when you stand at the podium, you're speaking as the representative of the White House and the United States. I think it's a little confusing for a lot of us -- you are attacking Ken Starr based on your assertion as to the meaning of an NBC report, but the reporter who delivered it says it didn't mean what you say. Now, how do you know that Ken Starr is sliming the Secret Service?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- NBC reported today that people close to Ken Starr are suggesting that agents have done certain things that they wouldn't do -- they wouldn't do because they're professional, dedicated law enforcement people. And to suggest that, and have the Office of Independent Counsel suggest that, however directly or indirectly, is outrageous. And that's what Tim Russert reported this morning and I had them go back and replayed it, and I watched it, and that's what he reported.
Now, if he's withdrawing the report, so be it. I haven't heard that he had withdrawn the report.
Q Now he's saying congressional.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he said congressional sources. And so I'm saying, okay, well, Ken Starr is either suggesting or not suggesting -- Ken's Starr's operatives are either suggesting or not suggesting that they are looking into that particular matter.
Q You could call Mr. Bakaly to find out.
MR. MCCURRY: You could call Mr. Bakaly and say, is Mr. Starr looking into this or no. Is NBC right or are they not?
Q Mike, since you're so adamant about this story, is the President taking this one personally?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not adamant about this story. I think the story is -- I mean, I think what they're suggesting through innuendo is outrageous.
Q Right. But is the President taking this one personally, since you're saying it's ridiculous?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's got a lot of respect for the Secret Service people, and I don't think he's -- to hear that kind of thing suggested about the Secret Service, I think, and the implication about him, is outrageous to him, sure.
Q Mike, why then doesn't the President just say I have nothing to hide, I'll waive privilege in this instance, tell Ken Starr anything he wants to know, I know there is nothing to tell him?
MR. MCCURRY: Because one should not have to forfeit one's rights in order to prove innocence. It's up to those making allegations and accusations to prove the truth of their allegations and accusations.
Q But if the President could disprove it --
MR. MCCURRY: We don't turn justice in our nation on its head for political convenience -- that's why.
Q But if the President could disprove it --
Q You're saying this privilege is not his rights, it's the Secret Service's rights?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll come back to you.
Q But if the President can disprove it and spare everyone all of this stuff we're talking about, why doesn't he just do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Disprove what?
Q Well, if agents can come forward and say, Mr. Starr, it's not true, we never saw this, we never saw that, we never heard this, we never heard that, that's the end of it.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a legal argument they are making, and making, they believe, with good cause, to good effect, why they are troubled by having to do that. And I refer you to what they are arguing. That's the nature of the argument, why they think -- I suspect many of them would like to be in that position, but that as a matter of principle that they attach great importance to, that they are arguing in court.
Q But the matter of principle has never come up before in the Secret Service's history.
MR. MCCURRY: No one has ever imagined that a prosecutor would go try to subpoena the contents of confidential conversations that Secret Service agents might have overheard in the performance of their federally mandated duties. It's not conceivable to anyone that ever would -- would ever be in that position.
Q Well, apparently, no one has ever imagined that there would be a need to try to find this evidence in a criminal case potentially involving the President of the United States.
MR. MCCURRY: And imagination is exactly what this is about, you're correct.
Q You brought up the word first.
MR. MCCURRY: I've got to quit because we need to pipe the President's event in. Any last questions.
Q Mike, regarding the allegation of Senator Lott yesterday, one of the things he mentioned was that three of the launches, Chinese launches, were not monitored by U.S. officials. And it seems that in fact three launches that had been authorized by the Bush administration, a policy which eventually was carried over by the Clinton administration before the policy review, there was no monitoring of these launches.
If this is the case, and the policy was changed, doesn't Trent Lott really have a bone to pick with George Bush rather than Bill Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're right that a lot of the satellite transactions that have been under discussion are pursuant to license waivers granted during the Bush administration. That is a statement of fact. The guidelines and safeguards in place for each of those projects as licensed include various levels of oversight by the United States government to assure that there is not any transfer of technology. Now, the circumstances of each and every launch, I can't address to your satisfaction right now, although they have been addressed in the course of hearings on the Hill. And I don't believe it was accurate to suggest that in any case was there transfer of technology contrary to statutory authorizations provided for the granting of the waivers in the first place.
Q Mike, another thing Lott said yesterday that I don't think you addressed is that there is new information that the Chinese tried to influence the '96 election. Is the White House aware of that information or of any information that would indicate that the Chinese did so illicitly?
MR. MCCURRY: I have to check on that. There is a process in place, but I want to do further checking on that.
Q He's already speaking?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he's already down there, so off stage. I'll give you one last crack.
Q Mike, I'm a little puzzled by your remark before when I said why can't he just waive privilege and tell them to testify. You said because one should not have to forfeit one's rights to prove innocence. I thought your position was that this protective privilege function was not his right but the Service's right.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you meant -- I thought you meant the President waiving attorney-client privilege. The President does not want -- and this is an assertion of a practice that is needed for the orderly conduct of the business that the Secret Service is charged by law to do. I don't think the President believes that it's -- he's not asserting that privilege himself, and I don't think he's in a position to waive that privilege.
Q Mike, Japanese Finance Minister Obuchi is increasingly likely to be the next Prime Minister. Is he the kind of decisive leader, in your view, who will take Japan out of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- they are in a period of making decisions internally in both the LDP and within the Japanese government. That is the Japanese people's decisions alone to make, and we should not comment on the relative merits. I'll say that the President enjoyed a close working relationship with Prime Minister Hashimoto and expects to do so with his successor.
I've got to finish, guys, because the President is speaking and we've got an event, believe it or not, on health care, which is a subject that Americans care about, unlike what we spent most of the time at this briefing discussing.
Q Can I ask you one on Social Security reform?
MR. MCCURRY: Social Security reform -- we'll be talking about more about that in Albuquerque next Monday.
Q The proposal that Senator Breaux announced today.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any -- we'll do that by phone later.
Q On the GOP plan, what's the White House plan here? Is there enough in the plan that you think you can --
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Shalala addressed that earlier.
Q Coverdell -- here, veto?
MR. MCCURRY: It's here and we will act on it within the deadline but not today --
MR. TOIV: It only came yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: It just came yesterday.
Q The administration's record? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 2:08 P.M. EDT