THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 22, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Edgartown Elementary School Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
11:12 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know why I agreed to do this on camera, but I guess it's going to be easier -- easier than doing back-to-back interviews, doing it on camera. Okay, Saturday. The President, as most of you know, is finally on vacation, at last, and is taking the day just to really, truly relax and enjoy himself. He's had a lot on his mind this week on multiple fronts, and so today is a day that he really, I think, is finally doing what he came up here to do, which is to relax and enjoy himself a bit.
He's not planning to do anything for the balance of the day. There was some report from out at the farm that he might go out tonight or Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea might go out, or some combination of them might go out. I think everyone knows that Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea have been here a couple of days, Chelsea has been out seeing her friends from Stanford that are here and other kids that she knows that are up here vacationing, and I wouldn't be surprised if Mrs. Clinton got out at some point today.
I think the President had a very busy week and a somewhat stressful week, and so I think he's planning on just going down and taking a few days off. So he may stay in -- or, depending on how he feels later, he may go out and play some golf tomorrow. So he's really definitely in vacation mode.
The President is, either right now or shortly, going to talk to National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and get just an update on what some of our latest information is with respect to the military action that's been taken. Obviously, the President is well aware of the efforts we're making on other fronts, including the financial front that you heard about earlier today. The President will get a report based on military intelligence that -- there are somewhat better imagery now of the six camps that were attacked and that has increased our confidence in the assessment that you all were given yesterday.
I think the President will hear that we have severely damaged the ability of the Osama bin Ladin network to train and operate from these camps that were attacked. We're now more confident that the damage at each of the six camps is moderate to severe.
The President will also get an update on international reaction that's been assembled for him down in Washington, and beyond that, I don't think there's a lot of new information. It still, as you heard from Mr. Berger yesterday, going to be a matter of days before we have a complete assessment. So this still is in the nature of a preliminary assessment. But as we get more information and see more, we're able to verify some of the initial judgments that the Pentagon was able to make about the attack.
Q So, Mike, what you seem to be saying is that these reports that maybe we missed a camp or two are not accurate, we hit every target that we wanted to hit.
MR. MCCURRY: The information that Mr. Berger will convey to the President is that each of the six camps sustained some level of damage and the assessment at this point is it's likely to be moderate to severe in each case.
Q Do we have any more idea as to whether there actually was this meeting going on that was the trigger for this action?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if we have any further information on that or on individual human casualties. There's a lot, by the way, a lot that you will see reported and a lot of people making a lot of statements on behalf of a lot of people, but I would take all of that with some measure of skepticism.
Q Mike, you used the word severe. Yesterday the assessment was moderate to heavy; today you're saying moderate to severe. Are you suggesting that the damage is even worse, or are you just confirming yesterday's assessment?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- this is confirming and giving us more confidence in the assessment that we gave you in the preliminary yesterday. I'm not playing with terms of art there.
Q You just said we should take with some measure of skepticism some of these reports. Are you referring to the phone calls ostensibly being made by spokespeople for bin Ladin?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. That and other reports that are occurring. A candid statement would be that we don't know a lot about individuals who may or may not have been at that camp. We just don't have solid information on that, and I think you have to be skeptical about information that you're hearing that is coming from other sources.
Q But do you folks take seriously the threats that are apparently being directed against the United States by bin Ladin?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. This is a very dangerous group of people. They are very likely going to continue the type of work that they have done and Americans will continue to be at risk. One attack is not the kind of sustained effort that the President has in mind when it comes to dealing with terrorism in this new world that we live in. It is going to require the kinds of tools that the President announced today and the ability to use information about the economic infrastructure of these groups to attack their activity. But they are going to continue to do what they do, and they're going to continue to threaten Americans and they will very likely at some point take more lives. And we are well aware of that and doing everything we can to protect Americans from that threat.
Q Just to follow up, you have no reason to believe that bin Ladin was killed?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no change in our assessment yesterday that we just don't have information that we are confident in to know about his whereabouts.
Q -- any countries joined in with the economic boycott? And because they haven't, is this largely symbolic?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Remember that you heard some folks earlier today say that this is the first step that we've taken. What we do by putting in place these additions to our specially designated terrorism list, adding these individuals on, we then are able to, first, make an assessment here in the United States of what assets, if any, they might have domestically. But then we can go to foreign governments and request that they do as we have done.
Very often we find that when we seize assets or block financial transactions by any groups and go to other governments and ask them to do likewise, the first question they ask is, well, have you done this, have you taken these same steps, have you frozen assets. So, of course, it's important for us to do so. But then as we have this information and know more about the transactions, we can go to these governments and ask them to begin to trace out what they know about the financial holdings of these groups or how they do business or where they do transactions or how they move money from place to place.
And as we learn more -- and we will now be in a position to learn more having put these measures in place -- we can go to governments and ask them to do specific things with respect to specific accounts. So this is really the beginning of a process, this is something that will now -- will allow us to go to other governments in the days and weeks ahead and continue to work to break down the financial infrastructure of these groups.
Q Did Mr. Clinton bring that up when he talked to world leaders? You said he was back in Washington making a number of calls.
MR. MCCURRY: This did come up in one of the calls, it didn't come up in every call. But other governments will be made aware of the action that the President has announced today, and we will begin working through our Treasury and diplomatic people to contact the financial entities overseas that we think might play a role in giving financial support to this network.
Q Can you tell us who he called and how they responded?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not going to get in specifically to that.
Q Does the act have provisions that are likely to drive a wedge between the U.S. and other countries by threatening foreign companies that do business with Osama bin Ladin, a la Helms Burton?
MR. MCCURRY: I think in this case it works somewhat differently because these are not raw sanctions that affect all types of companies. They could conceivably affect particular financial institutions; but remember, they also affect particular accounts that some of these individuals may have and may maintain. So it's not the kind of broad economic sanctions that are designed to change the behavior of a government. This is to break down the sources of financial support for specific people and specific networks, which is a different kind of question.
Q Mike, with all the security measures being taken in the aftermath of the strikes, is the President concerned that America will be moving toward a fortress situation?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and the President specifically said today we are not going to lose those precious things that mean so much to us as Americans: the freedom to express ourselves, the freedom to travel, the freedom to move about. But we live in a world that is more dangerous now and we have to be conscious of that and we have to take those steps that are necessary to increase our safety.
There are things the government can, will and is doing to protect Americans, but there are things that individual Americans will have to do themselves -- just to be more conscious of what the risks are.
Q Mike, to what extent is the President involved in or aware of some of the things that are going on in Washington today? We understand they're putting up these concrete barriers around the Washington Monument, other places are being fortified.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President knew that there would be steps taken that would increase security. I don't know that he's been briefed in detail on each and every thing. And we are acting to protect American installations around the world, and have also very carefully advised Americans that are in parts of -- well, all around the world, everywhere, in fact, and in specific places where we think there's an increased threat, to be especially conscious of their own situation and their own security.
Q -- gravity to the precautions that are being taken in Washington today?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any specific threat in Washington. But there are good reasons to take precautions generally, just to protect some of those facilities.
Q Has the President expressed any satisfaction to you or to anyone else that some of those on Capitol Hill who were questioning the timing of this are no longer asking those questions and have now announced their support? Has the President expressed satisfaction?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President was well aware of the criticism that might instantly come because of the timing, but also well aware that as people learn more the information that was available to him that they would quickly see it was very important for him to act, and act swiftly.
Q Does he accept the kind of quick judgments that folks made to question that -- I don't know how to delicately put this --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the question he just asked.
Q But I'm talking about the quick judgments. Does he accept them as valid to make those initial questions about timing?
MR. MCCURRY: As I just said, the President was well aware that people who had instantly jump to the wrong judgment and as they got more information and had more access to information they would understand why it was right for him to act, and act swiftly.
Q How did he take it personally, though? Was he hurt, was he --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he was not surprised by it.
Q Do you know anything about these reports of journalists being taken into custody?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware that there apparently is a report, or at least a question about that. I've checked in our government; we don't have information on that. Remember that we do not have the capacity to assist individuals who are in that region -- either in Pakistan, because of a lack of a consular facility there, or in Afghanistan, because of lack of an embassy there. So we have strongly and repeatedly advised American citizens not to travel in that area. And we're not aware of any American citizens who are in that area.
Q Mike, has the President got any plans to talk to Yeltsin this weekend, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as I have told some of you, did exchange correspondence with President Yeltsin. And he talked to him not long ago with respect to the Russian economy. He will see him again soon. I don't rule out that at some point he may call and speak to President Yeltsin and I'll let you know if he does.
But these two Presidents have done a lot of work together over the years. They know each other quite well and they are going to be in a position to conduct extensive conversations soon at a summit meeting. So we'll be working closely with them.
Q But he hasn't spoken to him since Yeltsin made the comments that he was outraged --
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. But we certainly have had diplomatic contact with the Russian Federation and we're aware of a lot of the statements that have been made by the government.
Q Is the President concerned that those comments, compounded with Russia's financial problems, are really going to cast a shadow over the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President knows that there are a lot of issues that they're going to be dealing with at the summit and that they're going to work through those issues, as they always do when they meet.
Q Mike, on Tuesday you said that the President, after he arrived, had contact with members of Congress, where he was asking, sort of gauging their reaction to the speech Monday night. Is he still dealing with that issue or have the attacks in Sudan and Afghanistan sort of taken all his time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's talked to a lot of different people in the course of the day yesterday -- not today, because I think he's basically taking today off. But in conversations that he's had with people since the military action Thursday, he's talked about both that. And probably some of those conversations have also talked about his own situation, too. Given the people he's talking to, some of whom are friends, some of whom are close political supporters, he probably has dealt with both issues.
Q Has the President made his peace with his family?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he's working at it and my guess is that they've still got work to do. I think they're doing that in private and I'm not going to give you a play-by-play account. But I think there is a healing process that needs to occur, and as far as I can tell, it's underway but it's not done yet.
Q But is he still talking with members of Congress specifically about whether they have confidence in his speech Monday night?
MR. MCCURRY: I think his conversations have been a little more sophisticated than that, but they've been private.
Q Mike, has there been any more security added -- our Washington desk wants to know -- to members of the President's Cabinet or any other members of the White House staff?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I'm not going to comment on specific steps that are taken on security. It's always best, I have been told, to just refrain from talking about the things that we do or don't do because that makes whatever we do more effective.
Q Mike, there are a couple of reports out this morning that the President is considering a second national address on the Lewinsky matter. Is that true, is he considering it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has many advisors and many of them are rendering their advice sometimes in the newspapers. When the President elects to take any of that advice and do something, I'll let you know.
Q Mike, on the financial assets, do we know how much bin Ladin has?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't. In fact, one of the purposes of the action today is to allow us to go pulse financial entities and actually determine whether there is any amount that can be attributed to U.S. sources. As you've heard, we don't anticipate that that's going to be much. But this allows you to do the kind of check. And, of course, we will now go to other governments and encourage them to do the same kind of check, and that's when you might get a better sense of what the structure, nature and monetary value is of his holdings.
Q Do we have any idea how much he inherited?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be -- we may have somewhere in our government an assessment of that, but it might not be in a way that I can share it publicly. I don't think that we have any publicly available dollar amount that I can give you.
Q Do you know where he is right now? Bin Ladin?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we don't know his whereabouts or his condition.
Q -- finally to talk about Dorothy West's memorial service?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Is the First Lady going, is the President going, either one?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, I think it's today, right? And they're staying in for the day, so I don't think they're planning to attend.
Q And neither is Mrs. Clinton?
Q -- tonight --
MR. MCCURRY: Not today, no. We put a lid on until 6:00 p.m. We're going to check again later in the afternoon and see what his plans are for tonight. As I said earlier, I wouldn't be surprised if at some point Mrs. Clinton goes out. She's had a few days off, but I think he hasn't, so he may just take a few days down now.
Q But do you know if the First Lady is going separately to the Dorothy West service?
MR. MCCURRY: No, she has no plans to do so that I am told.
Q Mike, when you say you don't know his whereabouts or his condition, that sounds like maybe he was in the camp and escaped injured or something. Are you suggesting tt?
MR. MCCURRY: There are lots of maybes in that statement, correct.
Q Mike, the story in today's paper is about more gifts that President Clinton gave Monica Lewinsky -- a box of chocolates, Alaskan stone carving --
MR. MCCURRY: I've seen those stories, but I'm not familiar with that and you need to work that story with sources who have been helpful for you from the President's legal team or others who are knowledgeable. I'm not knowledgeable about any of that.
Q Just a quick two-part question. Is the President following -- is he receiving newspapers each morning, is he aware of what's going on in the press? And, two, is he concerned that as more reports like this continue to come out that he may not have laid the issue to rest in his Monday night speech?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think he is spending a lot of time absorbed in that particular matter. I think he's spending time with his family. He's got news accounts available to him if he wants them. But I think he's on vacation.
Okay. Thank you.
Q Are you going to brief tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not planning to. I did this only because we're kind of winding down and, as you gathered from this briefing today, we're kind of moving into the vacation mode. So I think that will -- tomorrow you all know you've got a lot of people from the administration who will be out on the shows talking, and I think you can make do with that. And we'll be more relaxed up here for the balance of the vacation.
Q Thank you.
END 11:30 A.M. EDT