THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Tokyo, Japan) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 20, 1998
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Akasaka Prince Hotel Tokyo, Japan
11:35 A.M. (L)
MR. LOCKHART: Good morning, barely. Any other questions? I think just for your planning purposes, we will at the end of the day, in the time between when the President leaves and when the press plane leaves, we'll have Deputy Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Jack Pritchard from the NSC, the Director for Asian Affairs, here and available to you to give you a readout on the events of this afternoon.
Q What time is that, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it will be around 6:00 p.m., depending on how closely we stick to the schedule.
Q On camera, off camera?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll do it on camera. For those of you who have had to struggle through the lobby, I understand that most of Mr. Sperling's supporters will be leaving once he has left the building. (Laughter.)
Have a good lunch, Gene.
Any other questions?
Q Joe, this is the first briefing you've given in about 36 hours. It's going on 10:00 p.m. in Washington. It's getting up close to deadlines for newspapers. And you've also missed a lot of the evening TV shows. Was this calculated so as to avoid talking about impeachment on a day when that's dominating?
MR. LOCKHART: Given the group that I stand out here and look at, I don't think there is ever a day I can avoid talking about it. I think you're thinking too hard about this.
Great. See you soon.
Q Joe, could we just ask you what the President said this morning about the impeachment hearings?
MR. LOCKHART: As I talked about earlier today, the President didn't watch any of the live coverage that was available over here of the hearings. He did see short clip on a news headline program that he had on. The traveling chief of staff gave him a very short briefing of what was going on back in Washington. He indicated that he was more interested in finishing up the work on his speech.
We obviously did the speech this morning. We went through a number of issues that will likely be raised in the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Obuchi. And in that meeting that lasted about 20, 25 minutes, the subjects of other events in Washington did not come up.
Q David Kendall is the President's private attorney. Did he consult with him about the line of questioning he planned to take with Ken Starr?
MR. LOCKHART: I know he has talked to him in the last week or so. I don't know how specific they got as far as what Mr. Kendall might raise. They primarily were spending time on trying to complete the questionnaire that was sent from the Judiciary Committee.
Q Did they complete that questionnaire?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Apparently, he brought the 81 questions with him. Has he done any work on them?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect he has. I think that the work that's being done right now is primarily being done by the attorneys. And if they're at a point where they want to send over some of that work product, they will just do it through a normal faxing process.
Q Why is it taking so long, Joe? Chairman Hyde said it's been a couple of weeks already. He made it sound as though he felt the response should have been sent over.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that there are a number of questions that the Republicans decided they wanted to ask -- 81 specific questions takes some time to work through. It's a serious process. As you all know, there have been a few things going on in the world that have occupied the President's time. They'll be finished when they're finished.
Q Joe, do you have any indication what's on the agenda for this bilateral lunch that was called suddenly?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that it was called suddenly. I think we just didn't tell you about it. No, I think the lunch is a chance for the President and the Prime Minister to meet in a less formal session. I don't know that there's a formal agenda for the lunch. You'll remember when we were in New York the President and the Prime Minister had intended to spend some time up at the Rockefeller estate and due to weather we were not able to travel up there. So the President is very much looking forward to both a formal bilateral meeting, but also a more informal lunch.
Q Would you back away at this point from any of your criticisms of the fairness of the impeachment process, given in particular that Mr. Kendall was allowed at least an hour -- I don't know, the monitor has been shut off here now -- but at least an hour to question --
MR. LOCKHART: I can turn it back on.
Q That's okay. To question Ken Starr --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't watched and, to tell you the truth, I haven't seen much of it all. So it's hard for me to make an assessment. Clearly, one of the issues that we raised yesterday -- or on our departure, I think it was yesterday -- was the amount of time. And to the extent that there's more time available to Mr. Kendall, that addresses one of our concerns. As far as an overall assessment of the hearing, the process, I'm just not in a position from here to draw any conclusions.
Q Joe, I just wanted to ask what the President has been told about North Korea. There was an NSC staffer who came in here from the visit to North Korea, briefed Berger. Can you tell us some of what you learned about -- and what you've learned now about North Korean ability to launch --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Pritchard will be here later in the day, so I'm going to defer to him, because he obviously has superior knowledge on that issue and he'll be available to answer those questions.
Q Did the President get a briefing from --
MR. LOCKHART: No. He is not here. He did not get a specific briefing to date on this. But Mr. Berger has been briefed and is keeping the President informed.
Q Ken Starr testified for two hours yesterday and he said a lot of things against the President. I know that you haven't seen the whole testimony, but can you tell me today, did Ken Starr say anything that was untrue at all about the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't possibly answer that question sitting from where we are. There are people in Washington who are in a much better position to answer that question.
Q -- what is the latest status on the U.S. steel import issue -- brought up in talks between the two leaders or --
MR. LOCKHART: I think Mr. Sperling probably addressed that, but the President has now talked about that twice publicly, and my assumption is that the issues of trade and trade liberalization and market access will be brought up in the bilateral meetings with the Prime Minster.
Q I know you don't have an overall assessment, but one thing I know you've already spoken a bit about and Kendall did a lot of questioning on, which is the, I guess, preliminary report, if you will, being that the independent counsel sees nothing in Whitewater and the Travel Office firings and the files. Are you guys really upset that he apparently sat on this as long as he has?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as I said this morning, I think it's quite astonishing that the independent counsel has had this information that exonerates the President and others and has done nothing about it. I was trying to think of what's happened since the independent counsel came to these conclusions and when he decided to tell us, and I think some people will obviously look at the elections, but if you look at the other news in the day, at baseball, Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs between the time Mr. Starr came to some of these conclusions and when he decided to tell us about it. And I think that's an astonishing piece of information.
Q Mark McGwire --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, all 70.
Q He says he's still looking at some of these issues. Is it really fair to say this is an exoneration?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at what he said, he doesn't find any information that he believes is appropriate to move forward with, and I think most objective people would read his statement as an exoneration.
Q Isn't it a little difficult to swallow, you're talking about Ken Starr waiting to announce the results of these two arms of his investigations, and yet the President has acknowledged that he delayed this whole investigation by not cooperating, by not being forthcoming with information that Ken Starr sought.
MR. LOCKHART: Those are two separate issues. We've dealt with the second one, and I don't have anything else to add on to it here. I think, as I said, it is truly remarkable that the independent counsel had information, had made conclusions based on a long, expensive investigation, and decided that it wasn't appropriate to tell anyone until today. And I think he is in the best position to articulate what the reasons for that are.
11:48 A.M. (L)