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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 17, 1998
                        REMARKS BY MIKE MCCURRY 
                            IN PRESS GAGGLE    

The Briefing Room

10:48 A.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: All right. I'll speak up and do as best I can. This is our normal, routine gaggle, with a lot more of you here today than is normally the case. Normally, we do this in my office and it's informal and it's off camera, not formally done. So that's why we're doing this today.

Q We start with the President's day, right?

MR. MCCURRY: We start with the President's day. The President of the United States of America, as you know, is occupied in the Map Room today. Let me tell you what he's been doing.

At about -- just after 9:00 a.m., the President's lawyers arrived here to meet with him to do some last-minute run-throughs on the testimony he will give. As I told many of you last night, the President is confident as he goes into today's session. I wouldn't say that he's exactly looking forward to it, but he knows with certainty what he's going to testify to, his lawyers say, and that is the truth and the whole truth.

I expect this session he's having with his lawyers right now to be over around 11:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m. He'll then get his customary morning briefings from the Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles; and then a national security briefing from Sandy Berger. We will try to make a White House photo available of that for you who need audio -- who need visual enhancements, in addition to audio enhancements.

Then at some point around 1:00 p.m., the President will begin his testimony. We will get for you from the lawyers the exact time that the President goes in and gets started, because several of you have requested that. And then I think we're just going to sit tight and wait until it's over.

Now, let me talk a little bit about arrangements for later on. We'll have an in-house pool stationed at the Diplomatic Reception Room exit, underneath the South Portico, so you'll be able to see Mr. Starr and his associates leave. I expect when the testimony is over and after the President has had a chance to chat a bit with David Kendall, I expect Mr. Kendall will come out and say a few brief parsimonious statements to you, as David is want to do.

Q Where will Mr. Kendall come out?

MR. MCCURRY: We'll do that right at the exit out there.

Q Will that be open?

MR. MCCURRY: That will be to your in-house pool, okay?

Q But the in-house pool, we can do it live?

MR. MCCURRY: You can -- if you want to string it out live, I'll let Mr. Teague work with you on that. What do we call that -- Diplomatic Entrance, just like a helicopter depart. And beyond that --

Q What about a President's address tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we'll have any on word on that until the President completes his testimony.

Q What about the departure for Martha's Vineyard?

MR. MCCURRY: That will happen -- most of us are betting that that will happen sometime tomorrow.

Q Well, can you tell us, do you know for a fact that the President has said, I will make up my mind after the testimony.

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he will make up his mind -- we will let you know -- he will make up his mind at the conclusion of his testimony about whether he wants to speak tonight.

Q What room in the residence will he do it from?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've decided that definitively, but the Map Room seems to be the venue of choice today so I imagine that would be the best choice.

Q When you say --

Q Mike, you're ruling out him leaving for the Vineyard tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not ruling it out. I'm just saying that it looks -- I mean, the President is going to have a long day here and I think he is going to want to unwind in the residence tonight. I can't imagine that he's going to depart for Martha's Vineyard before tomorrow.

Q When you say the President is confident, what's he confident about?

MR. MCCURRY: He's confident about his own testimony. He knows with certainty what he's going to testify to, and it will be the truth, his lawyers tell us.

Q What is the truth?

MR. MCCURRY: They have not told us how the President will testify. What I've been communicated is what I've communicated to you. I haven't had any further update since talking to most of the rest of you yesterday.

Q What about Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea? Are they here today? Are they going to wait and leave with the President?

MR. MCCURRY: They're here today, and I expect them to depart with the President when they leave for vacation.

Q And have they been told what the President will testify to?

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

Q If the President addresses the nation tonight, will the First Lady be with him?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- I haven't heard any suggestion of that.

Q So, Mike, you are making contingency plans for a possible speech tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. One of them is, for the guys who have got to run the cables, run the cables out to the Dip Room -- will probably help, I think.

Q Would it be in the Oval, or where would it be?

MR. MCCURRY: I sort of -- I hinted that it might be the Map Room, although I didn't say that declaratively, not being into --

Q Mike, who else has been in to see the President? Reverend Jackson was in last night. Are there other --

MR. MCCURRY: He's had other friends of his, some clerics, some -- just friends of his who have been in town.

Q Why? Why the clerics?

MR. MCCURRY: The President sees some of the folks who he relies on for spiritual guidance from time to time.

Q Was he disappointed with Jesse Jackson --

Q Can you say who?

MR. MCCURRY: I take the position that the President and the First Lady and their family and who they entertain in the residence is their business.

Q Mike, is the President a little disappointed with Jesse Jackson talking against him somewhat?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's what Reverend Jackson did, so the answer is no.

Q Mike, what about the fact that Russia devalued the ruble by 50 percent last night?

MR. MCCURRY: Let's clear up all the other non-Russia related things, and then I'll do Russia.

Q Have you guys told the television how long to expect an address, if there should be one?


Q Ballpark?

MR. MCCURRY: Hopefully, it would be of endurable length, one would hope.

Q To split hairs, you say now the President is going to speak the truth, and I'm asking you for eight months, when he issued his denials was he speaking the truth?

MR. MCCURRY: There's no change in the answer I gave at the time on that.

Q To follow up on April's question, Reverend Jackson was quoted as saying that the First Lady feels humiliated by this. Can you confirm that?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I have not talked to the First Lady about this matter.

Q Mike, there was some talk yesterday from some of his former aides that perhaps he owes some of his staff an explanation if his testimony today is different from what he said seven months ago. Has he had a chance to talk to some of his staff?

MR. MCCURRY: He has not, because he's been working with his lawyers. I don't think most of us are so self-preoccupied to imagine that it's more important for him to talk to us than to talk to the American people.

Q Mike, there are a lot of people speculating and analysts talking about all things. Somebody noted today -- that the President is also the Commander in Chief, and if he owns to a sexual liaison -- whatever the terminology is -- he could open the door for someone like Kelly Flynn to ask for a pardon because the Commander in Chief did it, why couldn't she?

MR. MCCURRY: I think you're correct, there's been a lot of mindless speculation. (Laughter.)

Q Mike, is there any chance that the President would ask that the transcript of his testimony today be made public?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard any discussion of that, beyond what I've heard some of those learned commentators say.

Okay, let's move on to other subjects.

Q Mike, you just said before that the President isn't exactly looking forward to testifying, but he told us two weeks ago he was. Are you saying that he didn't tell us the truth?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying he looks forward to getting this matter behind him. I think that's the right way of saying that.

Q Do you have any idea how long this is going to take, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: No. We're hoping that those of you who have got to go out and make live pronouncements at 6:30 p.m. will have something to say by then, but it's hard to know.

Q You said the President will make up his mind after the testimony whether he wants to speak. What are the factors that he'll weigh? In other words --

MR. MCCURRY: If he feels like doing it.

Q Yes, but I mean, how can he determine that? Is he going to say, well, it went well, it didn't go well, they surprised me with a tape I didn't know they had? I mean --

MR. MCCURRY: If I have anything to pass on on what factors go into his thinking I'll let you know.

Q Mike, has the President been in the West Wing at all today, or are the briefings all in the residence?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I've heard of. He plans to see Mr. Bowles, Mr. Berger over in the residence, and that's where he's been with his lawyers.

Q When you say he hopes to get this matter behind him, do you think that today's testimony ends it, that it's all over after today?

MR. MCCURRY: I think really the American people will be more the judge of that than people who work here at the White House.

Q Mike, as the President's spokesman, are you advising him to make this public statement tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not talked to him directly about this, no.

Q You haven't talked to him about anything today?

MR. MCCURRY: Not about anything today, no.

Q Do you have an opinion on that on whether he should --

MR. MCCURRY: Whatever opinion, whatever counsel I have I'll render it privately.

Q Mike, I couldn't hear earlier -- Chelsea is here today and will accompany them to the Vineyard?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that's the plan as I understand it.

Q If the President makes a speech tonight, will the First Lady and Chelsea be with him?

MR. MCCURRY: As I've said earlier, I haven't heard any plans to that effect.

Q Will they be sitting there if he's talking about oral sex, for instance? That would be embarrassing for them.

MR. MCCURRY: I think it's embarrassing to hear the question posed here.

Q Well, it's embarrassing to have the accusation on the record.

MR. MCCURRY: Anything else?

Q Russia?

MR. MCCURRY: Okay, let's do Russia. Are we ready to move on? Josh, last one.

Q Do you know the last time he can go to the Vineyard tonight? In other words, can he go up in the dark, can he go up at 11:00 p.m. to the Vineyard?

MR. MCCURRY: I had heard earlier that you can't -- because of some of the restrictions on flights up there, that you probably wouldn't depart when it's dark. So I think it's highly unlikely that he makes his way up there tonight. I think it's going to be sometime tomorrow.

Q Okay, ruble.

MR. MCCURRY: All right. My understanding is Treasury Secretary Rubin very shortly is going to be putting out a statement, and I would guide you to the Treasury Department for that. I would say a couple things -- I know that some of you need something now.

Facing very difficult and deteriorating market conditions, the Russian government has had to make some painful decisions, as most of you know. They've been making an historic transformation away from decades of state-controlled command and control economics and towards free market economic decision-making, and that is always going to be a difficult transition. Building market confidence at this point is fundamental.

As we've said before, strong, effective actions that have been decided by the Russians are the key to restoring confidence. The difficult measures that have been announced to address financial pressures we have noted. We urge the government of Russia to work closely with the International Monetary Fund to maximize prospects for success. And the government of Russia and the Duma now need to take the steps required to fulfill Russia's program with the IMF program -- to fulfill their elements of the program that they have jointly decided with the International Monetary Fund. We'll continue to work with Russia and the international financial institutions to support the reform process in the Russian Federation.

Q The devaluation --

MR. MCCURRY: Those are difficult measures and we think the key ought to now be on implementation of those economic reform measures that the Russian government has agreed to undertake with the IMF.

Q Is it your concern that China may devaluate also?

MR. MCCURRY: We see the decisions that have been announced here as being in some ways difficult, obviously, but exceptional. And we don't think they are precedent setting.

Q Mike, was David Lipton made aware of the fact that there was great probability that Russia would devalue when he was in Russia just recently?

MR. MCCURRY: I think currency discussions have been an element of most of the deliberations that have been underway in recent days, including the discussions the two Presidents had, but certainly those that the Under Secretary had as well.

Q Mike, what's the assessment of the impact on our economy of these devaluations?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't assess the specific developments, but I can tell you, generally, as we often say, the health of these emerging economies, particularly those economies that are emerging from communist command and control economics, is a vital part of what is now a interdependent, global economy. And one of the reasons why we work through the IMF and work with other international financial institutions is to create the conditions for long-term economic stability and long-term growth and an increase in the standard of living for people around the world. That's why we are engaged in Asia; that's why we're engaged through the IMF with the program in Russia; that's why we will continue to support those who are making painful, difficult, hard choices when it comes to economic transition.

Q Is the President concerned about walking in on a financial disaster when he goes to Moscow next month?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the condition of the Russian economy and the work we're doing to support the transition occurring in Russia has always been an element of every discussion he's had with President Yeltsin and that other senior officials of our government have had with their counterparts.

Q What does the U.S. know about the capture of the alleged terrorists in Pakistan?

MR. MCCURRY: There's very little I want to say about that. Obviously, we have been updated on that situation, but I think it would be much more appropriate for the FBI, through their presence in Kenya, to brief in greater detail on that.

Q We've had reports that he's fingered Osama bin Laden. Is that correct?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm well aware of your reports and I'm well aware of reasons to discount some of those things that I've seen reported.

Q You're saying -- on this particular one?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm well aware of some reasons to discount some of the things I've seen reported, but I'll refer you for any further comment to the FBI.

Q Have you seen Osama bin Laden reported?

MR. MCCURRY: It was hard to miss it, it was in all the newspapers this morning.

Q Mike, back on Russia for a second. Has the Federal Reserve been part of any of these discussions that the President and Treasury have been having with Russian officials?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that in the working group that we have had on economic situations in Asia and elsewhere they have been participant. I can't confirm for you 100 percent that they've been in these discussions the last several days. I can't imagine that they weren't, but I'd ask that you call Howard Schloss over at Treasury, he can tell you more.

Q Will the President vary his plans in Northern Ireland?

MR. MCCURRY: No. He had a good -- as we told most of you last night, he had a very good conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair last night. It lasted about 15 minutes. They reviewed the situation in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of this brutal and outrageous attack. The President conveyed to the Prime Minister many of the same sentiments that he's made in his public statement yesterday.

The Prime Minister briefed the President on the efforts they had underway to bring those responsible for terror to justice. And he gave, I think, a very precise account of what happened -- a group that is wedded to the past -- a small, rump group, as the Prime Minister described it -- that has no definable political support in Ireland, conducted this cowardly attack. And that is the way things were in the past and will not be in the future because the people have chosen peace.

And working together so that the people's expression of their free will for peace is what the President will certainly take up as he goes to Ireland. The President is looking forward to that visit. So is the Prime Minister. So is Prime Minister Ahern, the Taoiseach. And I think that the President believes in the end those who favor a peaceful reconciliation of differences will triumph.

Q Did they discuss the devaluation last week, Mike?

Q If I could, back to Russia for a second. You characterized the devaluation as a difficult measure undertaken by the Russian government. But in the opinion of U.S. officials, is it a positive step to restoring stability to the Russian economy?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't characterize that. I characterized it only as, obviously, a difficult decision.

Q Did they discuss the ruble last week when they talked about --

Q Can you?

MR. MCCURRY: I indicated to you last -- when I did the readout on the Yeltsin-Kohl, that they discussed some currency matters, but I declined any further comment on that, if I recall.

Q Do you want to amend that now?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to get into any specifics on that. Don't want to get into any specifics.

Q How much more imperative is congressional funding of the IMF in releasing the money and the appropriations, and has any progress been made or any negotiations since --

MR. MCCURRY: It's vitally imperative. I mean, the support for the International Monetary Fund, when it faces challenges in Asia, in Russia and elsewhere, is key to our strategy of restoring economic stability in an array of regional economies, and that in the end impacts the American people and affects our own economic livelihood.

We've already seen trade statistics a there will be more trade statistics coming out this week that demonstrate what the danger is to the U.S. economy of continued sluggish performance in Asian economies and the decrease in economic activity that leads to more goods and services from the United States being sold in overseas markets. So we think it's vitally important for Congress to move forward with that funding. We have stressed that every time we have conversations with them, and we think the case will be even stronger when Congress returns from its summer recess to move ahead on that measure.

Q North Korea nuclear facilities -- any comment?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, predictably, there's not much that I can say to comment on intelligence reports that appear in newspapers. But I will say the following: that we believe that the DPRK remains in compliance with the agreed framework. That's the October 1994 Geneva agreed framework. And we continue to monitor the situation closely. Under the agreed framework reached between the United States and North Korea, North Korea, the DPRK, agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its plutonium production and to eventually comply with its obligations under the NPT -- the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Since 1994, the North's reactor has been shut down, no plutonium has been reprocessed, and these facilities are and have been open to monitoring by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the United States has agreed to conduct a certain program of activity under the agreed framework and we have met our obligations. We think it's important for the North to meet its obligations. Of course, we would be concerned if North Korea tried to establish a plutonium production elsewhere. We will continue to monitor North Korean activity closely and will be discussing with our allies any changes that we see on the ground.

Q Mike, have you or other members of the senior staff been informed that the President will be abandoning his longstanding denials of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky?

MR. MCCURRY: No. As I indicated earlier, we have not been informed about the substance of his testimony.

Q You say Mr. Kendall may speak to the pool afterward.

MR. MCCURRY: I think he likely will.

Q Do you think he will give some indication, other than say that the President has testified fully and truthfully -- which is to tell us nothing, because I don't think anyone suspects that he would ever come out say the President has lied his head off -- I mean, do you think he will give us -- and I'm trying to be serious -- do you think he'll give us any indication of whether the President has, in fact, modified to some extent his public story?

MR. MCCURRY: I think your assessment is a pretty good one.

Q What did I say? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: We always have a hard time figuring that out sometimes.

Q Some officials have been saying that his lawyers did not believe that he would face any legal jeopardy as a result of what he said in the deposition. Can you explain how that would be the case if he changed his story?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't. I'm not a lawyer; I can't explain what their legal reasoning would be, although I've heard that sentiment expressed.

Q Will David Kendall simply make a statement, or will he answer questions as well?

MR. MCCURRY: Knowing him, he will probably come out and say three spare sentences.

Q "The President testified fully and truthfully." (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: We got our speechwriter -- write that down. We'll pass it on to Kendall.

Q -- deliberately want to be -- you want to be uninformed and you have to stand up before us every day --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. I don't. But I don't put my own interests ahead of those of the American people. I think the President needs to talk to the American people --

Q You do think he does?

MR. MCCURRY: I think he does, but that may happen soon enough.

Q You're the spokesman.

Q Has the President received the report of the State Department in regards to the need of increasing the security in the embassies?

MR. MCCURRY: We are very aware of the decisions that have been made about order of departure status at some installations, particularly the announcements yesterday at State about Pakistan. We're well aware of their concerns about U.S. facilities worldwide. And I remind you that when we take measures or express concerns about the security of U.S. personnel, we advise the American public under the no-double standard policy. So, obviously, we are very well aware of those things that have been advised to the American public by the State Department.

Q Mike, do you think you're not going to know until the end of the President's testimony what he -- you said he's sure of what he's going to say, but you don't think you're going to get any kind of briefing?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans for him to talk to us before he testifies.

Q Or his lawyers or his legal team?

MR. MCCURRY: Say it again.

Q Or his lawyers or legal team -- you don't think anybody's going to talk to --

MR. MCCURRY: They're pretty well occupied right now.

Q Are other countries expressing concern about the distraction that the Lewinsky story is and the wish that it close as soon as possible?

MR. MCCURRY: No, not through diplomatic channels, but we are well aware of the commentary that has been generated worldwide on that and, frankly, probably agree with a lot of that.

Q Can you tell us how many other people he met with last night? You mentioned a number of clerics.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I know that he routinely has friends and guests to the residence, and we keep that private.

Q Was it a group, or was it a succession of people?

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

Q Did he and Reverend Jackson pray together on this matter?

MR. MCCURRY: He indicated that -- Reverend Jackson indicated that they did.

Q Will there be a briefing this afternoon?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't see any point. There's nothing that I can tell you. And we will -- the next venue will be when Kendall comes out.

Q What's his mood now?

MR. MCCURRY: Confident and determined to tell the truth.

Q What's the mood among the White House staff? Do you feel like there's any sense of regret or anything like that?

MR. MCCURRY: Let me share something that Erskine Bowles told the staff this morning, that many of us have then transmitted to the rest of our staffs, because I think it is exactly the attitude that reflects where we are today.

He, in his North Carolina way, relayed something that he said his daddy "once told me when I was a little chap." He said, it's easy to be there for someone when they're up, but it's the good ones who are there when you're down. And Erskine told us that we have a lot of important work to do and the President and the American people expect us to do our jobs. And I think that reflects the attitude of the staff here today.

Q Have there been any staff preparations for what might happen on the Hill in terms of a Starr report?

MR. MCCURRY: We've made an effort to kind of keep in contact with our friends and supporters on the Hill, sure.

Q Did Erskine cut short his vacation to Scotland to come back for this?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know when he was due to come back.

Q The question was beyond having contact with the Hill, but staff preparations for an ensuing report and inquiry proceedings?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any reason why our preparations would be that far along, because we have no clue as to whether or not that will be the outcome.

Q There was a suggestion in the Bob Woodward piece in The Washington Post yesterday that some of the President's advisors were having second thoughts about all the bad things they said about Ken Starr over these past several months. Do you want to use this opportunity to say anything else about Ken Starr? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: That I thought that that was kind of ridiculous for someone to put that in print? Look, I don't know who those people are who are making that kind of -- I mean, we have yet to find any of these senior advisors, and all of our lawyers shake their heads and say that's not anything that they've authorized.

Q That piece also suggested that one of the President's most difficult things that he had to do this past weekend was to explain to his wife and his daughter what the situation was. Does that sound right?

MR. MCCURRY: That is such a private matter I'd have absolutely no way of knowing whether that's true.

Q Mike, who was in the briefing that Bowles had this morning? How large was it?

MR. MCCURRY: Briefing?

Q The staff meeting. Senior staff.

MR. MCCURRY: Just a regular senior staff meeting.

Q Standing room only?

Q That was in Podesta's office?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it was actually kind of thin this morning because we have so many people on vacation -- probably a couple dozen.

Q The analogy indicates that the President is down, and that the --

MR. MCCURRY: I thought the analogy was a very good one.

Q -- staff should rally to his support, right?

Q My President, right or wrong.

MR. MCCURRY: What else?

Q Mike, do you think the federal court ruling on FDA authority on Friday will make it more or less likely of a tobacco bill next year?

MR. MCCURRY: I think it should make it more likely that Congress would pass a bill that clarifies the Food and Drug Agency's authority to regulate, because that's necessary if we're going to protect the children of America from tobacco addiction. So it should make a stronger case. Whether it will or not depends on how Congress responds.

But I also think that there are things that we will continue to do to press the case and continue to do to support the assertion of jurisdiction that's been made in our proposed regulation, because it's an important public health matter.

Q Mike, at the beginning of all of this, and since, White House aides and Clinton allies had a lot to say about Ms. Lewinsky and her credibility and her character. Do you expect that the President has some message for her today or does the White House have something to say to her?


Q To Ms. Lewinsky. I mean, there was a time when White House aides and his allies were doing a lot to try to undercut her credibility.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that that's true. I know I don't believe I've ever done that, and I don't believe that that's true.

Q Mike, why did Bowles find it necessary to tell the senior staff to rally around the President?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, come on. What do you think? Why do you think?

Q Well, is there a sense in the White House that the staff is not behind the President?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's a busy day around here, and you're all here, and it's not -- this is not the usual deal here.

Q But what I'm getting at, is Bowles angry that some of these alleged advisors --

MR. MCCURRY: No, he was doing it as a good Chief of Staff should, to kind of make sure that we keep our focus on what matters most.

Q Yes, but Bowles' statement makes it sound as though he feels this is a particularly painful and difficult day for the President.

Q Right.

Q Would that not be the case?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't imagine he wouldn't think that, if that's the question, and I can't imagine that he's not right if he does think that.

Q Has the President spoken with Mr. Thomason in recent days?

MR. MCCURRY: I assume so, because he's been staying here. (Laughter.)

What else? All right. See you all.

END 11:15 A.M. EDT