THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY PRESS SECRETARY JOE LOCKHART
The South Lawn
8:48 A.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: On the 30 minutes, there are some fundamental questions of fairness here that need to be addressed. The White House Counsel, Chuck Ruff, will be communicating with Chairman Hyde today on that. I think it goes beyond, though, the 30 minutes and how long you get to question Mr. Starr. There are some real issues here, and we're very disturbed by the trend coming out of the committee.
Q Like what?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as you see, and as you've read, the committee is in the process of trying to expand this process and tried to bring in other issues, side issues. At the same time, they're trying to tell the White House Counsel that they have to limit the way that they question the Independent Counsel.
I think it's very unfair for the committee to say that they can go and talk about any subject they want, go off on a fishing expedition, while they tell the White House Counsel that there is areas that we're not allowed to raise, even though they are clearly germane to the process that's ongoing.
I think, secondly, what we're seeing here, although the Republicans have talked about being bipartisan and the Independent Counsel has talked about his independence, we seem to see a situation now where they're walking in lockstep, where the Republicans say that they're about to expand this probe, and then we see in the paper that the Independent Counsel is about to expand his statement.
The Republicans should be working in a bipartisan way, and the Independent Counsel should be truly independent. He should not be working with the Republicans on this. So I think the trends in the last 24 hours are very disturbing, but I think on the direct question of our participation, our Counsel will be communicating with Chairman Hyde this morning.
Q It sounds like you're going to reject it.
MR. LOCKHART: Again, I think this goes beyond whether it's 30 minutes or 90 minutes. The American public, I think, wants fairness out of this process, and there is nothing that's fair or bipartisan when the Republicans go off and expand and go off on a fishing expedition, and at the same time tell the White House, well, we think that you have to keep your questions to the area that we decide. That's not fair, and I think the American public will -- it'll reinforce the American public's view that this process isn't fair.
Q Joe, since you're leaving shortly, can you enlighten us a little bit about what Chuck Ruff is going to say to Hyde? I mean, Hyde has given Ruff and the White House Counsel until 12:00 noon today to say yes or no to his offer of 30 minutes of limiting questioning. So I mean, what's the White House position on that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that the White House Counsel will respond by the deadline set by the Chairman and we will make the point that this isn't fair. We will make the point that we need more time, but we will also make the point that this process needs to be fair. There is something fundamentally unfair and disturbing about the Republicans and the Independent Counsel saying that they can cover any subject they want, they can expand this into any fishing expedition they want, but the President's Counsel has to keep on the issues that they think are germane. The American public will reject that.
Q The other question is on the 81 --
Q Joe, would you support a Democratic boycott of the hearings?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that's an issue the Democrats are going to have to face, but we certainly share the concern that some of the leading Democrats on the Hill have raised about where this hearing is going.
Q On the 81 questions, the Republicans are saying that part of the reason why they might have to expand the number of witnesses, call people like Betty Currie or Vernon Jordan or Bruce Lindsey is because you folks have stalled in terms of responding to their stipulations.
MR. LOCKHART: That's an absolute red herring. If they want to stipulate that they're not going to call any of these people if we return the answers, that would be fine; that would be the obvious logical counter to that. That has nothing to do with what they're doing. They are proceeding now to -- they have rediscovered all of their old bad habits, and since they don't like where it's going, they're going to try to find something else. The process has all the earmarks and all of -- it actually looks like what we've seen in the past where it's just an ongoing effort not to get at the issues that they're supposed to be looking at, but at an effort to try to find something and to put on some sort of process that's partisan and designed to damage the President.
But I think on the issues -- the questions -- they're being worked on. Clearly, there were some things going on in the White House and around the world that occupied our time over the last four or five days. We'll answer them expeditiously, they will get their answers, and I don't take anything and I don't think any of you honestly believe that what they're doing is in response to not having the answers.
Q Will all of the questions be answered?
MR. LOCKHART: As I said yesterday, we are working on them, we will get them up to them as quickly as we can, and I think they'll be satisfied with the answers.
Q How much time did the President spend on them?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have an hour by hour --
Q He's not taking them with him to work on, right?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, fax machines work, the lawyers will continue to work on it, I'm sure. If they need a few moments of the President's time on this trip, they can have them. But our priority on this trip, as the President will tell you in a few minutes, is working on the international economy which has a direct impact on Americans' lives, on their wages, on their livelihood. That's what the President chooses to spend his time on. If the Republicans and the majority of Congress choose to spend their time on other issues, on partisan issues, that's their choice.
Q Joe, on the subject matter of your potential cross-examination, the Republican answer is, we can delve into anything that is possible grounds for impeachment, and you, then, should limit your cross-examination to those grounds for impeachment. What's the missing --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are some very convenient answers being used here. When the referral went up to the Hill, the Independent Counsel said these were the grounds, this is what he was sending. And now we find out that the Republicans on the Hill want to go well beyond the referral. So I think there is a certain note of hypocrisy here in their argument which, ultimately unmasked is, we can talk about anything we want, we can go well beyond the referral that the Independent Counsel has sent up to the Hill, which is what he believes the grounds for impeachment are, but if you want to discuss anything that we find uncomfortable, we'll rule that out of order and we won't let you do that.
I think they have every right in the Majority to exercise that power. The American public will make the ultimate judgment of whether this process is fair, whether it's constitutional, and whether it's something that is anything more than just a partisan adventure.
Q Did the President hear the tapes that were aired?
MR. LOCKHART: I doubt it.
Q And, finally, do you think that Starr, tomorrow, should not delve beyond the Lewinski case?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- the Independent Counsel sent to the Hill a highly one-sided, untested referral that had to do with the issues that he laid down. Those are the issues -- that's why he's being called up, to discuss his referral. I think anything that goes beyond that suggests that the Independent Counsel's Office and the Republicans on the Hill are interested in broadening this because they don't like, perhaps, the reaction to what they've sent up.
Q When did the President -- you say he didn't hear the tapes, but it resurrects something that was very embarrassing, and in his words, something that was humiliating for him. Did he speak on that at all yesterday?
MR. LOCKHART: Nope.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 8:51 A.M. EST