THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 21, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY Marriott East Side Hotel New York, New York
3:48 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Anything else? Good. See you all. (Laughter.)
Q Oh, no, not so fast.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q We've got breaking news here.
Q What does the White House think about how the release of the tape went today, and --
MR. MCCURRY: I think we had promised we would do a little bit of the statement for those of you who are electronic. The process leading up to today's events has been deeply flawed. The wholesale release of these materials, most of which are irrelevant, is regrettable, and the unprecedented violation of Grand Jury secrecy that has resulted from the release of these materials is similarly unfortunate.
The question of impeaching a president is one of the most solemn and serious undertakings that any Congress can take upon itself. Sadly, the Republican majority in Congress is not off to a good start. That the President's conduct, though reprehensible, does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense, will, we hope, be apparent to the House of Representatives and the American people.
Q Mike, why is your statement now so much less harsh than your statement on paper. You don't talk about rank partisanship --
MR. MCCURRY: I was trying to make it shorter.
Q Well, with all due respect, you just kind of rattled it off. I mean, do you feel that the President dispelled doubts, acquitted himself today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's a judgment that I am here to make, nor could I make. I think that is a judgment that the elected representatives of the American people will make and ultimately the American people themselves will have to consider.
Q Mike, do you second what Sandy and Joe said, that they don't think the President saw any of this coverage, had no interest in looking at how that came across?
MR. MCCURRY: Those are two different questions. I don't think he was in a position to see any of it. He was there, so he obviously knows what he said and how he testified, but he's been here today at a moment in which the United States is being asked to take on enormous responsibilities in this world, and he's attending to those responsibilities, as he should.
Q Do you view his warm reception from U.N. delegates as a vote of confidence?
MR. MCCURRY: I think Mr. Berger just gave you a good answer, that the fact that the President got a very warm response, one that I don't recall the President getting any of the other times that he has been here to the United Nations, is a reflection of two things: one, the importance the rest of the world attaches to the role the United States of America plays in this world, and, two, the affection and the confidence that they have grown to have in him as the leader of the United States of America.
Q Does the White House have any early read on what impact the videotape is having on public opinion?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Do you expect some kind of political backlash here?
MR. MCCURRY: How people react to what was arguably an unnecessary day in the life of our country, an awful day, will be judgments that are going to be made in living rooms and at dining tables around the country tonight. There's no way that we can predict what people will think. My own personal guess is that most people don't like to see a President go through this, but at the same time I don't think most people learned anything new about this matter through the unprecedented coverage that occurred today.
Q What do you mean, "an unnecessary day," Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it was necessary for the videotape, as we have said and argued, for the videotape to have been made public.
Q Questions have been raised a couple of times about the President's leadership. Considering the reception he got at the U.N. and perhaps how is message is getting out around the country, do you think the President's leadership has changed in quality or in effectiveness?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President has, over time, during the last six years, grown to be a more effective global leader. He has grown to develop relations of trust with his counterparts around the world. I think they look to the United States of America and to the President of the United States for leadership when we deal with all of the threats that the President talked about today -- the transnational threats of terrorism, but also they look to the United States as a leader of the global economy at a time of some unpredictability and turmoil in the global economy.
And in all the relationships the President has developed with his counterparts, he has reflected the interests of the United States of America and its people, and I think he has addressed all of those relations with a great deal of personal integrity and a great deal of confidence as we address all of those issues.
Q Are you saying this outweighs what he was accused of by the Independent Counsel's Office?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that you put them in the same category. I believe that's apples and oranges.
Q Can I follow up? I take it from your statement you seem to think that impeachment proceedings are now inevitable. Is that the case?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that in the least. I said it's more likely, we hope, apparent to both the American people and hopefully to their representatives in the House, that an impeachment inquiry is not necessary.
Q Mike, this statement says that "browbeat" and "badger," those two words, what the prosecutor tried to do. If the President's lawyers believed that, why didn't they say so at the time that he was being subjected to that?
MR. MCCURRY: You would have to ask the lawyers that; I don't know.
Q Mike, what's the response to Kerry's call for the President to go up to the Judiciary Committee and testify and try to get this thing over right away? The two of them were just in Boston a couple of days ago.
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a number of people that will try to think about how we proceed here and how we find the right course of action. The White House is actively talking to a range of people who are in leadership roles in this country about how we can get the right course of action to occur, what they think the right course of action should be. Some people are going to express themselves on that, and I think that that's part of the healthy debate that we ought to have at this point, but it's ultimately not up to us. It's up to those who now, under the Constitution, have the responsibility of dealing with this matter.
Q It doesn't sound like you're ruling such a step out, though.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm being careful not to rule anything in or out, because it doesn't derive from us. It derives from the elected representatives of the American people who sit in the House of Representatives.
Q Mike, you said that the President didn't see any of the tape today, but I wonder if there is any way in which the fact that it was being broadcast intruded on his day or affected his day, or if he made any reference to you or others about the fact that it was broadcast?
MR. MCCURRY: He has -- Joe has been with him for most of the day. He is well aware that it's being broadcast and the subject of a lot of commentary and discussion today. That is inevitable. That does have some impact on his ability to address the issue he came here to the United Nations in New York to address today, which is the threat that terrorism poses to the world and to the people of the United States of America and how we are going to deal with it. So it has had that impact of fewer electrons dispersed in the air on that very vital and important subject. But he has no choice but to continue to do the work that he has been elected by the American people twice to do, and he will continue to do it well.
Q Mike, do you think that if the President had known that he would be speaking not just to a select group of grand jury members in private testimony but, in fact, to the American people, that his testimony might have been different, that he might have changed it in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: No, his testimony would have had to, by the oath he swore, be the truth. And that is how he testified.
Q Do you think the tape itself was oversold? We were told beforehand that the President would be --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, you all hired lots of people who previewed this and wrote about, you know, what you would see the President say. And I think as in much of the reporting on this matter, the facts sometimes don't match the breathless anticipation in advance.
Q So does the White House feel better about what was shown?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House couldn't feel anything but awful about the day that we have gone through as a nation.
Q Yeah, Mike. I guess tomorrow the President will be meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan, and one of the key things is how Japan is going to reconstitute its banking system. Last Friday there was an agreement between the government and the opposition on a way forward. I wonder if you have any more of a response to that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't have a response to it. That will clearly be a major item on the agenda that the Prime Minister and the President pursue tomorrow. The health of the Japanese economy, the ability of the people of Japan through their own consumption to help restore vigor and growth to the regional economy of Asia is a key component part of how the global economy addresses the crisis that we are now undergoing.
And I know that the President will address that matter but also address all those other things that are so critical to a bilateral relationship that is fundamental to our presence in Asia. It is arguably true that there is no relationship more important, as you look around the world, than the relationship between the United States and Japan and, for that reason among many, the President looks forward to meeting the new Prime Minister.
Q Can you say whether the President, in retrospect, regrets not having gone to the U.S. District Courthouse on August 17th to give his testimony?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President would consider it folly to, in hindsight, go back and look at tactical questions and how they were pursued. I think he needs to look forward and he intends to look forward and think about he, from here forward, does the job the American people expect him to do.
Q But he thought the tape was going to be destroyed, though, right?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President answered that question. He suspected once the tape was there, given the pattern of leaks that have occurred related to grand jury testimony, that it would likely find its way into the public domain. He, in the back of his mind, indicated to all of you he thought that was the likelihood.
Q Mike, when you said that the facts don't match the breathless anticipation that led up to the release of the tape, do you mean to suggest from that that, in fact, it will be useful to you at this point to have his testimony out?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think it's -- "useful" is, you know, hard to define. I think that what I meant to suggest by that was that I've read a lot of things about, you know, what the President's demeanor would be and how the whole thing would look on television, and it did not match any of that advance speculation.
Q Mike, can you speak to the characterization about "irrelevant." What was irrelevant? The fact that it was released to the public? Irrelevant to the case?
MR. MCCURRY: Today, in the body of evidence that came out today, there is nothing that substantially adds to the knowledge that presumably the House of Representatives wants to acquire as they weigh this very important matter. In fact, there is a great deal of salacious material, a great deal of material that is designed, it seems, to do nothing but to titillate or to aggravate or to exasperate the President and those around him. And it is thoroughly unnecessary.
Q Mike, why do you think that Monica's mother obtained immunity from the grand jury? And do you think this grand design, a long drawn-out conspiracy against the President by the role played by Linda Tripp and Monica's mother?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speculate on all of that. That is really a question you have to pose to the Office of Independent Counsel and to their representatives.
Q But I'm guessing it didn't surprise you what little coverage the speech got on television.
MR. MCCURRY: It did not surprise me that the President's speech here, as important as it was, did not get as much coverage as the release of his grand jury testimony. That was to be expected, as unfortunate as that might have been.
Q On Japan again, what are the prospects of --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. We had had one scheduled and the President had looked forward to it. I'm certain that how we will continue to see this important relationship evolve will be something that the President will discuss with the Prime Minister tomorrow.
Q Mike, is there a sense that at least with what the public is going to be hit with on this, that the worst is behind you now?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't predict the future. I don't know whether the worst is behind us or not. One would hope that for all of us in our country that we find some correct way to put this matter behind us and to move on. Certainly, that's the President's desire and I'm sure that we hope that that will be the desire of the Congress, because that would, obviously in our opinion, reflect the will of the American people.
Q Mike, the IMF said today that it was critical that Japan ought to move with great speed for fear that the banking crisis would cause further turmoil. When they meet tomorrow, is the President coming equipped with any new suggestions, any new ideas, any new initiatives that he would like to press the Japanese to enact, beyond what has already been announced in Tokyo?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to preview news about that, but I think they will discuss the broad parameters of how we believe the United States and the world community, working together with the people of Japan and its leadership, can address some of the concerns we have about the Asian regional economy. But I'd prefer to leave it to Treasury Secretary Rubin, when he's here tomorrow, and Gene Sperling, our National Economic Advisor, to really tell you more about the conversation that they've had.
Q Will they be briefing here?
MR. MCCURRY: Our plan is to bring them here sometime around mid-afternoon to brief tomorrow, yes.
Q Mike, will the funding for the emergency supplemental come out of the surplus for this year?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because under the Budget Act of 1990, emergency funding is not calculated in the overall fiscal balance. For the exact reason that emergency funding is necessary and has to be done urgently, it's not calculated in the overall deficit.
Q But realistically it would come out of the surplus, because it would have to be paid somehow, correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I guess as a question of unified budget policy, yes. But the calculation of a surplus or a deficit for emergency funding does not apply because Congress wanted -- and as Congress has in the past, it needs to appropriate funding for emergency purposes without being within the rules defined by the statute itself.
Q And is that enough money to rebuild both embassies is Dar es Salaam and in Kenya?
MR. MCCURRY: I have to check on that. I think there is funding in there that will do some of the additional security enhancements that Mr. Berger mentioned to you a minute ago.
Q Mike, how would you describe the President's mood today?
MR. MCCURRY: The President was working on those questions of America's presence in the world that needed to be addressed in his speech here and in the bilateral meetings he has had with other foreign leaders he has seen today. He doesn't have the luxury of being preoccupied by this matter. He doesn't have the luxury of allowing himself to be overly concerned about his own personal situation when we have such important business to do.
It would be folly for me to suggest to you that it obviously doesn't have some personal impact on him. I'm sure it does. But he has to work hard to set that aside and continue to pursue the work that he has to do for the American people.
Q Mike, it's now been two and a half hours since the speech ended. Has the White House had any reaction either from Democrats in Washington or from the public in response?
MR. MCCURRY: If we have, and I think we have had some anecdotal reactions from people that we've talked to, it would be wrong to try to characterize that as what a universal response would look like. I think a lot of people are going to have to look at this and make their own judgments, and I imagine it will be a matter of days before we really have any sense or whether you have any sense of what the American people and what the leaders in our country think about it.
Q Do you plan to brief tomorrow or will it be Sperling?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll be around here if we need to go through this kind of stuff again.
Q Does he plan to call Cal Ripken? Does he see there an example there that he might want to follow?
MR. MCCURRY: Of longevity and position, yes. Longevity and position and setting records, I think that's an inspirational example.
Q I think he means throwing in the towel.
Q Can the President use an event like the release of this videotape as a rallying point?
MR. MCCURRY: Say what?
Q Can the President use something like this to turn it around and perhaps pull in some support, some support that has really been absent up to this point?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how you use a day like today to "rally support." I think people will have their reaction. I think some people will see the President's testimony, understand much better what he has gone through personally and gone through as President, and perhaps be much more willing to accept the argument that we would make that this matter does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
Q Mike, the statement with regard to the Republicans in Congress has a sort of sharp edge to it. Does this indicate that the White House is prepared to fight this out more in the political --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think we've suggested gently that the partisanship shown in the decision to release some of these materials, put them in the public domain before the House of Representatives has had a chance to cross-examine, to explore facts further, to really do more fact-finding, suggests that this is not a process that will be as dignified and as apartisan or nonpartisan as the founders of our republic most likely thought it should be.
But there is plenty of time for redemption; we would be the first to make that argument.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:10 P.M. EDT