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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 24, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             JOE LOCKHART 
                           The Briefing Room   

3:14 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Questions?

Q Did the President work on the Judiciary Committee's today?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he has not had a chance today. It is possible, and I suspect that at the end of his day today he'll get a chance to sit with his lawyers, which, for all practical purposes means I think the earliest you all will see them is tomorrow morning.

Q See the questions?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, the questions and the answers.

Q Will the White House release those?

MR. LOCKHART: My expectation is when they have been delivered to the committee we will release them to you, yes.

Q And so you're expecting that to happen tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes -- I can't completely rule out that they will make some time for him in the next couple of hours. I don't expect that to be the case. And for whatever reason, if they don't get to it until much later tonight, or he has some further questions and some more work to do, my expectation is I don't think there will be people in the Judiciary Committee hanging around very late tomorrow, so I think if we can't get them to them by early in the day, we'll put it off and shoot for Friday.

Q I gather that the President's lawyers have sat down and worked out the general answers and the President now has to review them -- is that what you're --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. They have worked -- they spent some time before the President went off to Asia and have incorporated that work they've done. They obviously have drafted up answers, but they need to sit and spend some more time with him before they're sent.

Q Every question was answered?

MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know.

Q Even the frivolous ones that you dubbed, and a few others?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, those ones had us going for a while, but we finally figured them out.

Q Any frivolous answers?

MR. LOCKHART: I hope so, but I doubt it.

Q It is important, though, on the questions, are they going to, each and every one, be answered? Is that the intent?

MR. LOCKHART: We are close to the end of this process; why don't I wait and let you look at the answers to the questions and draw your own conclusions.

Q You said "we" worked it out. That means you were a participant in formulating the answers?

MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely not.

Q Do you have any readout on Janet Reno and Vice President Gore?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect the Justice Department to make an announcement shortly.

Q Do you know what it is?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect the Justice Department to make an announcement shortly.

Q And you know what the answer is?

MR. LOCKHART: I expect the Justice Department to make an announcement shortly. I'm not going to --

Q Is that why you're smiling?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to preempt the Justice Department on any announcement they might make.

Q Will you have any comment on it once it's made -- from here?

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly. I will make myself available once they've made their announcement.

Q Does that mean it's a good announcement then if you're going to comment afterward.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not playing this game. (Laughter.)

Q Joe, as the President's chief advisor on the media, do you believe it was right or wrong for the Boston Globe and the New Republic to fire writers when they caught them lying?

MR. LOCKHART: I believe that -- are you asking my opinion?

Q Yes, as the chief advisor of the media --

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, I believe it's up to the Boston Globe and the New Republic to make that decision without my input.

Q Joe, in addition to the questions, the committee has asked for any exculpatory material the White House may have. Is there any exculpatory material, and if so, do you anticipate sending it?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we filed two lengthy briefs with the committee, which they didn't seem to take any exception to in any of their hearings to date. So I think if they're looking for information, that's where they can find it.

Q So there won't be anything additional?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that's what I said. I think the committee has had two filings with them. They've sent us some questions, which we will send them answers to. I'm not at all clear on what they're talking about because that seems to change from day to day what their focus is.

Q Joe, has the President looked at the questions yet?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he has.

Q What's the deal with Iraq?

MR. LOCKHART: I know that the Security Council will be meeting later today; Chairman Butler will be reporting to them on the request for documents, and we look forward to getting a report from the Security Council meeting.

Q Is the President meeting with his advisors on Iraq later today?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not that I'm aware of.

Q -- may be a little more specific than my colleagues here and ask --

MR. LOCKHART: I kind of like these open-ended questions. (Laughter.)

Q Has the administration decided that the documents that the inspectors are looking for are not worth military action?

MR. LOCKHART: No, there's a process going on. As we've said before, the response we've had to date is insufficient and Chairman Butler has communicated that to the Iraqis. And there's a process now ongoing. There's been some exchange of correspondence. We look forward later this afternoon to getting an update from Chairman Butler at the Security Council.

But this isn't just about documents, this is a test that Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis have to pass about whether UNSCOM can do their job effectively. So it's about documents, it's about access to sensitive sites, it's about access to people with knowledge of the program. And as we, from experience, are very skeptical of the Iraqi government and of Saddam Hussein, from seven years of experience, the burden of prove and the burden of proving that they are cooperating and that they are doing what they can to make UNSCOM effective is a very difficult one.

Q Is the refusal to supply documents by the Iraqis is a justification for military action?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into here what triggers one reaction or another, or try to put a timetable on it, or try to put a scorecard on a day-to-day basis. I've laid out what the policy is, which is that the Iraqis must allow UNSCOM to do their job and be effective.

Q Joe, we're told that the Attorney General has decided not to seek an independent counsel for Gore. That being the case, what's the reaction of the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: I would prefer to allow Justice to make any announcement they make before I made any comment?

Q Would that be good news? Since this is our only chance to talk to you on camera today, would that be good news?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to answer a hypothetical question about what the Justice Department might do.

Q Back on Iraq. But if they continue not to cooperate, how are we going to get them to cooperate? I mean, is that part of the thinking that's going on?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think one of the points I just tried to make is I'm not going to try to do a day-to-day scorecard of cooperation. There is a broad test here that they have to meet that allows UNSCOM to be effective, because that's what is at the root of the policy here. That's on a wide spectrum of issues -- documents are certainly one of them, access to sensitive sites, access to key personnel. They have to prove and they have to do it affirmatively because that's the obligations they came under by making the agreement of now 10 days ago in the letters they sent to the Security Council.

And, again, we remain very skeptical of their intentions. And if we do believe that UNSCOM is not able to do their job effectively, if they're not cooperating and in compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, we will employ other options.

Q Joe, just to be specific, the Post report today about the administration having decided that the document alone is not justification -- that's not true, that's not correct?

MR. LOCKHART: As we've said, there's a process underway. The response to date hasn't been sufficient, but there is a process underway on the documents, as well as on other issues. We look forward to later on this afternoon seeing what Chairman Butler says to the U.N. Security Council.

Q Joe, Reno has announced her decision now --

MR. LOCKHART: And it was? (Laughter.)

Q She decided not to seek an independent counsel, that it's so insubstantial that there are no reasonable grounds for further investigation.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, obviously, the President welcomes that news as he has always believed that the Vice President acted completely properly during the campaign in 1996.

Q The meeting the President had this morning with Secretary Albright and Cohen is general -- can you just elaborate on --

MR. LOCKHART: Sorry, I got in a little late this morning, so that meeting was not reported to me. It was a meeting with some of the other principals to brief them on the discussions the President had while he was in Korea on the issue of North Korea.

Q Joe, is the President pleased that an independent counsel will not be an impediment to Gore's presidential campaign?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that that is a presumed presidential campaign, and I think he takes a broader view, which is he believes the Vice President has always acted within the letter and the spirit of the law and that the news of today indicates that.

Q That's one down, two to go now -- the other one being --

Q The VP's and the President --

Q Yes. So, do you feel that the other two -- this is a good omen for the other two?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to try to speculate whether this is an omen for anything.

Q Does the White House have any reaction to Malaysia's Foreign Minister's criticism of Vice President Gore, saying that he's interfering with their internal politics?

MR. LOCKHART: Not beyond what I said last week, which is the Vice President articulated U.S. policy.

Q Joe, next week the President is meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Do you have any readout or any draft of the meeting and what they will be discussing?

MR. LOCKHART: No, but you can assume that the President will continue with the ongoing dialogue particularly on issues of nonproliferation and security.

Q Do you think he's going to press him to sign or to at least agree or make commitments on CTBT?

MR. LOCKHART: We've laid out a series of things and, as you remember, the President met in a bilateral way with both leaders -- both leaders at the U.N. General Assembly -- and had a similar message for both, which is --

COLONEL CROWLEY: Both leaders at the General Assembly committed to adhere to CTBT by next --

MR. LOCKHART: Right, right. But what we're looking for is an actual signature and ratification of CTBT, restraint regime covering nuclear weapons and their means of delivery, a strength in export control system for sensitive technologies and material, and a moratorium on the production of fissile materials for weapons purposes pending negotiation of a treaty banning production of such material.

Q Do you know, Joe -- one more thing -- that if and when India signs CTBT, that means at the same time they ratify it, it's not like the U.S. -- if the President signs the CTBT treaty, then we have to wait for the Senate to ratify it. It could take 50 years or 100 years. So that's what's India is saying. Some of the things they don't like -- because if India and Pakistan signs, it is ratification is at the same time.

MR. LOCKHART: Right, duly noted. (Laughter.)

Q Wayne Delahunt of Massachusetts is now talking about introducing a censure motion in the House Judiciary Committee as an alternative to impeachment. What has the White House been told by Democrats about such efforts, and what's your view?

MR. LOCKHART: I became aware of that of that from some news reports, so I don't know to the extent that we've been briefed here on any particular notion or idea. So I'll repeat what I've said on a number of occasions, that this is an issue that rightly resides in the House and that is the place where any prescription or remedy should be developed from.

Q Is the White House involved in any negotiations?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q As you know, there are a lot of Republicans who say that this is unconstitutional or extra-constitutional and that the only way any sort of effort like that can go forward, other than just a statement of disapproval, is for the President to actually agree to it. Is that the White House view, and to what extent is the President willing to enter into some agreement with the Hill about --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think I can move the ball on this beyond what I've told you in the past. The only new thing I've seen on the Constitution is apparently, there's a CRS report, which indicates from the Congressional Research Service that such ideas like this do have some merit and do have some standing. And that is a report that was dated in September, so I assume it's the most up to date.

Q What, censure you mean?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I assume it's the most up to date work that CRS has done. But again, we believe that it is for Congress to prescribe whatever remedy they deem appropriate. And, once, when and if they've done that, we will look at what they've done and consider what they've done.

Q Joe, you talk about the House, so I assume that the President disagrees with the incoming Speaker, Bob Livingston, who said that this is really -- any talk of censure should not be done with the House, but with the Senate if the House votes for impeachment. He said the House can only deal with impeachment up or down -- Dan Quayle solution on that in saying anything other than that has to be dealt with, with the Senate, as plea bargaining.


Q So you would disagree with that, you think this can be solved in the House?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I would say it's up to all the members of the House to come to a collective judgment or come to their own personal judgment on this issue.

Q Joe, Senator-elect Schumer said on CBS this weekend, "I don't want my children or grandchildren reading in the history books that somebody lied under oath, which I think the President did and was not rebuked for it." And my question is, has the White House given any consideration to commuting the prison sentences of more than 100 convicted sex case perjurers in favor of a Schumer-proposed rebuke?


Q That was "no"? I didn't hear it.

MR. LOCKHART: That was a "no."

Q Joe, two weeks ago the President was talking in his radio address about the White House Conference on Social Security. He said he talked to the bipartisan leadership of Congress about it. Have they agreed to participate, have the Republicans agreed to participate in the conference?

MR. LOCKHART: I think we're at the point just now where the invitations are going out, I think within the last day or so. Invitations are going out to a broad section of people, both academic, labor, consumer and also bipartisan members of Congress, so I think we should know sometime soon what the makeup of the list is. But we're certainly -- the President's intention is for this conference to be bipartisan in nature.

Q Will the President at some point in this process have a specific proposal for reforming Social Security that's the administration's proposal?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, as we've said before, the President has laid out principles by which we will follow in developing a proposal, and we're going to do what's in the best interest of getting a long-term solution to the Social Security problem.

Q So you're not ruling out a specific --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm absolutely not ruling that out.

Q What was the President's reaction to the outcome of the Susan McDougal case?

MR. LOCKHART: I think on a personal level he was pleased that for someone who has had a lot of adversity in her life -- some of which not brought on by herself -- that she's able to put some of these things behind her.

Q Might he call her? Has he spoken to her --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Do you anticipate the President's lawyers are going to call their own witnesses before the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no new information on that subject.

Q Back on Iraq. Less than two weeks ago the President stood at that podium and said unless there's strict compliance there will be consequences. Well, there hasn't been strict compliance and there hasn't been consequence. How can he keep his credibility in the world today if he doesn't act?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that what we have here is an ongoing process that we are going to watch very closely and remain very vigilant -- on a wide variety, not just documents. As I indicated earlier in this briefing, there are a series of issues that Iraq is going to have to affirmatively prove that they will cooperate with in order to make UNSCOM effective. And if they do not, if they are not able to demonstrate that then we certainly will have to make a judgment and it certainly leaves open the option of a military strike.

Q Joe, is the White House surprised that Saddam Hussein is reneging some bit on his promise to give the U.N. weapons inspectors unfettered access?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think there's anything that Saddam Hussein can do that would surprise anyone here at the White House. We remain highly skeptical of any promise he makes based on his past history. But what we're doing now is there is a broad test that's ongoing to see if the Iraqis can demonstrate the ability to let UNSCOM work effectively. And that's something that's ongoing.

Q Joe, did the United States authorize the British to give a tip-off to the Iraqis the strike would be Saturday --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any reason to believe anything in that is accurate.

Q Joe, a group of congressmen this morning, after meeting with Secretary Albright, said that it's imminent, the adoption by the White House by national committee to review the U.S. policy in Cuba. Is this true?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, say again?

Q They said -- there were three congressmen, Lincoln, Diaz-Balart -- they said it is imminent, the adoption of this commission to review --

MR. LOCKHART: It is imminent that we will adopt? It's still under review. If we have some news on that we will report it appropriately.

Q Joe, what was the President's reaction to the religious leaders, including the Reverend Page Patterson, of his own Southern Baptist Convention, who have called on him to resign?

MR. LOCKHART: I have done that so many times from up here, as has Mr. McCurry and I'm not going to do it again.

Q This is a new call. This is a new call. He doesn't care?

MR. LOCKHART: I'll give the old answer to the new call and any subsequent new calls. (Laughter.)

Q What was the old answer?

MR. LOCKHART: Go back and read the transcript.

Q Back to Social Security, would you expect in this conference that the President will either comment on some of the plans that have been put forward or somehow try to narrow --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that it's going to be a process where we narrow and by nature winnow things out. But I think there will certainly be real discussion of the various options that are out there. And that is what the purpose of the conference is -- is to look at the problem and to look at the solutions to the long-term viability of the system.

Q Why won't he have a plan by the time Congress comes back? He'd been thinking about this for a year.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been doing a lot of work on this year because it's a very serious problem.

Q But do you have a plan?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me finish my answer. This is a very serious problem. We've been doing a lot of work, a lot of outreach to experts and to the communities that are affected by it, and the President has laid down some principles that we need to follow. We are going to do what's in the best interest of getting a long-term solution. And as you well know, sometimes putting a specific plan down is not in the best interest because it can serve to polarize the debate and polarize and embolden opposing forces. So as we move forward --

Q It's not going to be workable for 30 years.

MR. LOCKHART: As we move forward, we're going to --

Q What is the urgency here?

MR. LOCKHART: There is an urgency here because as the experts have said, if you can make modest changes now to the system, the impact over 30 years is much greater, rather than waiting till the end of the process when you come upon the crisis, where you have to make radical changes.

Q On Iraq, is the President encouraged? Does he believe that the attempt on the life of a member of Saddam's inner circle, is that an encouraging sign of dissension?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think we have enough information to analyze that event or to draw any conclusion from it.

Q On Iraq, does there have to be unanimity among the top advisors before any action can be taken?

MR. LOCKHART: No, there's really one person that counts and that's the President.

Q We haven't changed our views on assassination, have we?


Q Joe, are you, in essence, then agreeing on Social Security reform, which the Economic Policy Institute said today in a study -- where it said the system is really being depicted in much worse condition than it is and really only needs modest modifications at this point?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'd agree with some of that and disagree with a little bit, which is we have a tendency here in Washington to wait till the last minute to solve a problem. And I think all of the experts are in agreement that we can take this problem, which is 30 years down the road, and make changes, which hopefully, will be modest, that can fix and provide -- that make Social Security viable over the long-term.

The danger is if we wait -- and I think the President has been very clear on this over the last year -- is the danger of waiting is that we get into a time period, where the crisis is upon us, and then we only have drastic solutions presented to us.

Q But what about the order? I believe the Head of the Medicare Commission, John Breaux, has said that actually Medicare is actually facing insolvency much sooner than Social Security and if anything, the administration should be tackling Medicare first.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we are, and that's one of the reasons why the President moved forward with the Medicare Commission, which the Senator is so ably leading.

Q Are you expecting bipartisan legislation on both issues next year?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can't speak to exactly what will happen, but both issues remain a high priority for the President, and both issues need to be dealt with.

Q Is it practical to think that you can do both issues in the same time frame, the two most volatile --

MR. LOCKHART: It's hard to predict when you're working with Congress what's practical?

Q Some members of the Palestinian Authority have said that the opening of the -- airport today brings them one step closer to statehood. Would you react to that or say the White House's general reaction to the opening of the airport today?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the White House is pleased with the implementation of the Wye Accords. As to the issue of statehood, that is an issue that has been designated for final status talks.

Q Joe, on Iraq again, the President did say that if Iraq did not turn over documents that that -- and he specifically made that one of the criteria -- that that would be sufficient. Why is it not sufficient now?

MR. LOCKHART: Because we're involved in a process right now involving both documents, key sites, key personnel. And what you're trying to do is ask me to stop the process someplace and give it a grade, and that's not how it's going to work.

Q Joe, the invitations to the Social Security Conference are going out this weekend or early next week. How large a group are we talking about? You have sending out scores, hundreds, dozens?

MR. LOCKHART: It's a good question which I don't have the answer to. I don't know how big a group it is. I do know that our intent is it to be diverse, broad, and bring in the entire spectrum of views on the issue of Social Security.

Q Are you supposed to produce a report? Is the conference -- the two-day conference supposed to end in a report?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, generally we will get some sort of report out of the conference, as we do from any White House conference.

Q Joe, on Iraq, if there is an attack, what do you think of the future world oil supply or how the world oil supply will affect --

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate on the world after an attack.

Q Back on the Iraq situation, is the White House paying any attention to Nation of Islam Minister Farrakhan saying that Clinton is blood-thirsty and who is he to have a right to say if Saddam should live or die?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't say that we've put any particular importance on Mr. Farrakhan's views.

Q Any importance on the views of Senator Lugar who today said that we should strike now?

MR. LOCKHART: I would say that we certainly put a lot more credence in Senator Lugar's views and I have not seen them, but I think I've tried best I can to answer that overall question which has come in five or six different ways.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.

END 3:40 P.M. EST