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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 1, 1998
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             JOE LOCKHART
                           The Briefing Room  

2:08 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: I'm only here to take the very important questions that you put to me every day. And the rest of the questions, too. (Laughter.)

Q About the hearings. Have you been watching them?

MR. LOCKHART: I watched a little bit of it.

Q Has the President watched them at all?

MR. LOCKHART: I doubt that very seriously.

Q Can you comment?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, I think as we -- as I had expressed from here yesterday, I don't see what value today's hearings add to the process unless the people who are running the hearings are dedicated to running a partisan process, because that's what it seemed like. I think, probably more importantly and more troubling, is the vote they took before they went to lunch, where they decided they wanted to launch a new and expanded part of this investigation.

I think, as I said this morning, we, at the beginning of this process, looked for something that was nonpartisan, that was fair, that was constitutional. We have been disappointed throughout the process, and we are very disappointed today that they continue to pursue this path that has very little to do with what they set out to do, and seems to have a lot to do with pursuing partisan politics.

Q Joe, the Democrats seem to be voting as a bloc. Is it not the responsibility of the Democrats that this is partisan?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Democrats and people here at the White House at the beginning said this ought to be focused. And they started by looking at what was in the Starr referral. They took a little bit of time to look at that and, as soon as they decided they were finished with that, they started going off on a variety of different fishing expeditions. So it's obviously up to the Republican majority in the committee to decide how they're going to pursue this and how they're going to do their business.

But I think, when you look at the last 24 hours, you'll understand why the public has so little confidence in this process, and why there's so little support for the direction the Republicans are taking this process in.

Q Well, the committee has now subpoenaed documents from the Justice Department because some of them say that they think there may be evidence in those documents of presidential criminality. Wouldn't the President be better served if he just said to the Justice Department, turn those documents over, and it will show that there's no such evidence?

MR. LOCKHART: I think, as you know quite well, and the committee knows even better, there are issues that are going on between the committee and the courts, and they're under seal. So I obviously can't comment on it. But I will say, from a broader perspective, that these are issues that we have spent hundreds of hours, millions of dollars, looking at, from beginning in the Thompson Committee, to the Burton Committee, which I don't think anyone thought was an exercise that brought great credit on the Congress. With 750-plus depositions, these issues have all been gone through, they've all been discussed, they've all been investigated. And to, a week before you're supposed to take the vote, bring this up, I think leads most people to the inescapable conclusion that they're not interested in running a fair process, they're interested in somehow inflicting some political damage on the President.

Q But, certainly, you and the President are interested in getting at the truth.

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly.

Q FBI Director Freeh testified before Congress that, in those memos, there could be evidence of criminality. Why not produce the memos and let them speak for themselves?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, Sam, I think that's a disingenuous question, based on what I think you know.

Q Well, wait a second. Why don't you answer it and instruct me, then?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I just did, which is --

Q Am I wrong; Freeh did not testify?

MR. LOCKHART: No, he did testify, and what they're asking --

Q He didn't say that?

MR. LOCKHART: -- you certainly know what he testified to, and they're asking him to come up and testify again, on the same subject, to go through --

Q They've asked to see the documents.

MR. LOCKHART: And what I'm telling you is that it is not within the President's ability to direct the Attorney General to turn over this document.

Q He couldn't ask the Attorney General to do it?

MR. LOCKHART: Sam, again, I think that there's a disingenuous quality to the question, based on the fact that I'm certain you're aware from reading the newspaper that there's a process ongoing between the committee and the courts that's under seal.

Q You mean, because there's grand jury information in there, or some other --

MR. LOCKHART: I think that there's a process that's ongoing that's under seal. It's under the seal of the court, so I don't know the exact status of it. But, certainly, the committee does.

Q So the committee subpoenas, you think, are illegal, or at least the court will not allow them?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I -- you're asking -- the question that you put to me was, why doesn't the President direct her to turn them over, and what I'm telling you is that the President is not in a position to contravene what a court might or might not have ruled.

Q But he would want to turn them over if the courts would allow it?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that the President would allow the Attorney General to make a judgment on that.

Q Joe, maybe we can approach it this way. Sam mentioned that there's this accusation that the President might have done something criminal, and that would be showing up in these documents. Can you say flatly now that the President has not done any such thing?

MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely.

Q And secondly --

MR. LOCKHART: And, let me remind you, we, either myself or others, have been saying that now for two years. And we're at -- before you ask me in a fresh-faced way about this brand-new information, this has been going on for two years. This is like a bad rerun of a show nobody wanted to watch the first time. And that's why no one has any confidence in this process.

Q But the President's word has not always proved out, in the end. I mean, we have the example of --

MR. LOCKHART: This isn't a question of the President's word, Sam. We have two -- at least two congressional committees, actually several more, who've looked at campaign fundraising. They've spent hundreds of hours, millions of dollars looking into this, and they certainly didn't pass anything along to the committee that they thought was impeachable offenses.

Q Joe, you had 95 witnesses plead the Fifth and flee the country. How can you say that this matter has been thoroughly investigated?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Chairman Thompson, I think Mr. Burton both investigated this thoroughly. And I fail to see anything, beyond politics, to why, at the eleventh hour, with a week before the vote, to go all of a sudden -- for the Judiciary Committee to launch into a brand new venue and area for this investigation, or these hearings, unless there were some political motive.

Q Joe, there was some suggestion that some of the -- part of the reason for this was that there was some new information that had not previously been disclosed to Congress.


Q Are you saying there is no new information?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm certainly not aware of any new information. I'm not aware of what's in these reports, I have not seen them. I have seen reporting from organizations that are represented in this room that have made judgments about what's in there and what isn't in there, so I can't make --

Q But if they've got some sort of reasonably sound allegation from someone in the administration that there was information that had not been previously disclosed, wouldn't that be proper --

MR. LOCKHART: Jim, that's an enormous "if," that I have no reason to believe or to buy into any of the assumption in that "if."

Q But you're completely ruling out the possibility that it might be true and saying then --

MR. LOCKHART: No, the question to me was, was there any criminal behavior in the President or anyone here on campaign fundraising. And I think the answer to that is no.

Q Why is this so worrisome to you? If you said, it's a bad rerun, it's something nobody wanted to run in the first place -- if by that you mean, look, Republicans are bringing up something nobody cares about anyway, you all should be happy. You should think, well, look, Republicans are bringing this up, everybody is going to think it's silly. So why is it an issue to the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: It's an issue because this is a serious process. Whatever they decide to do with it, they still have an important constitutional function to serve. Listen, when this started we expected that this would probably be a partisan effort by the committee. We hoped that that might change. Unfortunately, it changed the wrong way, it's become extremely partisan and it's become very much like what we saw in the Burton Committee.

Q Joe, the President has managed to project a somewhat detached image when he's talked about what's going on in Congress when it's had to do with the Lewinsky matter. Is he -- now that campaign finance is being drawn in, is he now angry? Is his mood behind closed doors different now than it was because it's a different --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I haven't had a chance to talk to him specifically about this today, but I don't think his views have been radically changed by this. I think, as I've just said, we feared that this would be a partisan exercise, like the one that we were all subjected to under the chairmanship of Mr. Burton. We had higher hopes for this than that process. But it does underline why the public doesn't support what the Judiciary Committee is doing, why the public has no confidence in this process.

Q To follow up on that, does the President agree with you that the committee's process is unfair and partisan?


Q Joe, maybe you could look into this, but does the White House believe these two women, that the punishment did not fit the crime, they had been very severely punished for something which didn't seem that major, especially that woman who has lost her ability to practice law and medicine?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the White House has a view or has any information beyond the snippets of what people who are -- saw on television this morning.

Q Joe, how does the White House plan to present the President's defense a week from today?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have any final decisions. I think this latest move by the committee presents a whole new area. As you know there were a lot of people who worked long and hard in cooperating with Congress and others in providing documents and information on campaign finance. And those are issues that were largely dispensed with as far as Congress is concerned, until the last 24 hours. So I think the committee will have to come to us and tell us what they're actually doing, what they're interested in, and we will respond accordingly.

Q Does this mean that the deadline of tomorrow is now void, in terms of the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the deadline I think applied to the limited inquiry that they were doing mostly pertaining to what Mr. Starr sent up. We really have no idea what their intention here is.

Q Are you going to ask for more time beyond the --

MR. LOCKHART: I think what we're going to do is we're going to wait for some sort of communications from the committee of what they're interested in getting from us. All we have at this point is what we read in the newspaper and what we saw on television within the last half hour. So I can't answer the question.

Q Does the expansion make it less likely or more likely that the President will not show up and appear before the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: I think anyone who watched the proceedings over the last few hours would understand why the President of the United States has no business in that room.

Q So the committee did not notify you in any way that they were going to expand?

MR. LOCKHART: No. No, the committee did not only not notify the White House, I don't think they notified people on the committee. I think one of the refrains you heard in the hearing room today was Democrats on the committee complaining that they continually find out what their committee is doing by reading the newspaper.

Q Joe, tomorrow the Prime Minister of Pakistan arrives at the White House to meet with President Clinton over lunch. What do you expect from this meeting? And, two, if Pakistan is so much trouble economically then why is the Prime Minister going to ask President to lift military sanctions against Pakistan?

MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, I can't speculate on what the Prime Minister might raise. I think the President is looking forward to the meeting to discuss a number of security and economic issues, which we've detailed for you in the past. But on security particularly, calling for adherence to CTBT; restraint on deployment of nuclear-capable missiles and aircraft; restraints on the production of fissile materials; and tightening of controls of export of nuclear missile equipment and technology.

I think there will be some discussion of how to lessen the tensions in the region, in the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan. I think they'll look for ways that the U.S. can help the economic situation in Pakistan. And I'd also note that the Prime Minister will meet with Secretaries Rubin, Richardson, the World Bank and the IMF while he's here. So I think there will be probably a constructive conversation on both security and economic issues.

Q You said this morning that you feel that the extreme members of the Republican Party have taken over the House Judiciary Committee.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know, part of this just comes from watching and from some experience. But we saw how Mr. Burton went about investigating campaign finance and I think that his approach to that was largely discredited and didn't get a lot of support from the public, by the partisan nature of the way he went about it. And I think that what we're finding is -- I think Congressman Schumer said it very well when he, this morning, talked about how there are some members in the party that are so blinded by their bent on destroying the President, or their hatred of the President, that it blinds them from the process they proceed on.

So I think that it's always impossible to know from the outside who's driving the train, but it has -- it just has all the earmarks of previous investigations. And it's something that is certainly much more -- it should be taken much more seriously, because of the possible outcomes and consequences.

Q You mentioned Congressman Barr in particular this morning --

MR. LOCKHART: Right. I mean, people like Congressman Barr, and others that I think are on the right fringes of the Republican Party -- I mean, you've got to remember something. Congressman Barr has been trying to impeach the President now for almost three years, before anyone had ever heard of any of this, and I believe before there was even the first questions of campaign finance. So this is someone who has made his name here in Washington on the issue of impeachment -- not based on the merits, just on the fact that he thinks it's politically in the best interests of the Republican Party to pursue.

Q Congressman Schumer says that he thinks the President has perjured himself under the law, but he does not believe that that rises to an impeachable offense. Congressman Lindsey Graham, today, repeated one of his refrains, which is -- at the moment he's headed towards voting for impeachment, but, he says, if the President will admit he lied under oath and come clean, he, Mr. Graham, will now vote against impeachment. Is the President considering doing that?


Q A Pakistan follow-up.


Q Will the two leaders also discuss terrorism and a Bin Laden operation?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I expect there to be discussion of the joint fight against terrorism. I expect there to be discussion of our joint efforts on narcotics and production and trafficking. There will be some discussions of greater cooperation on bringing peace to Afghanistan, and then also some -- my guess is, some questions about our concerns with regard to child labor and the protection of human rights in Pakistan.

Q Joe, also, according to India Globe newspaper, Bin Laden is also helping terrorism in the Indian state of Kashmir. He is putting money and arms and all that. Do you know anything --

MR. LOCKHART: Without getting into any particulars of what we know about his operation, we certainly believe that he is a threat on a global scale as far as his terrorist operation. And we've obviously targeted him both in the judicial system and through some of the steps which you know well about.

Q On Social Security, apparently Daschle on the Hill has said that the White House is going to present its own Social Security fix plan this winter. Do you know anything about that?

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is we're going to have the White House conference next week where we're going to talk about a lot of outreach efforts that we've been conducting over the last year, and then to begin the discussion of some of the possible ideas that have been put forward over the last year as fixes. It is not my guess that there will be any sort of formal plan introduced sometime this month.

Q -- report in the winter, a White House-inspired --

MR. LOCKHART: The President has been very clear in laying out his principles of what he believes we need to do to shore up Social Security in the long-term. We've also said that we'll do what we think is in the best interest --

Q What are his principles?

MR. LOCKHART: His five principles? You're asking me the one day I didn't bring it with me.

Q Don't you carry it around in your inside pocket sort of life a copy of the Constitution?


Q It's the tobacco ones.

MR. LOCKHART: I refer you to my five principles. No, but we've also --

Q Asked and answered. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. Anytime you want to help, we'll get you a seat right here. (Laughter.)

But we've also said that we want to do what's in the best interest of getting a long-term fix. We will do what we believe and what in our judgment is in the best interest of getting something through. And that might include putting forward a specific plan; it might not. It might be working with --

Q So as far as you know, Joe, right now, there is no sort of plan that's starting to coalesce and come together?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of, no.

Q Does the administration have any concerns about the Exxon-Mobil merger?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that anyone from the administration has examined it in any detail. I mean, obviously there is a regulatory process that these types of mergers need to go through. As far as the President's view, he believes that mergers that make us more globally competitive have a positive role to play as long as there is protection for consumers and it promotes economic growth. But as far as this one, I don't know that anything has been expressed particularly one way or the other.

Q I understand your frustration with the expansion of this investigation at this late date, but you've said probably half a dozen times here this afternoon that the public doesn't have the confidence in the process. Are you suggesting that the proper way for Henry Hyde to proceed is to do a public opinion poll --


Q -- and issue subpoenas on that basis?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm suggesting that he should go about his business in a way that, when the public watches, which they have had ample opportunity to do in this process, where they would look at it and say, this is a serious effort, these are things that need to be looked into. I think, rather, they've made the judgment that this is a partisan effort, and I think there is ample evidence for them to draw that conclusion from.

Q Quebec, do you have any -- on the separatists?

MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, we think the choice of the provincial government is one for the Canadians to make. But I'll remind you of what the President said about this in 1995, when he said, a strong and united Canada has been a wonderful partner for the United States and an incredibly important and constructive citizen throughout the entire world. While Canada's future is for Canadians to decide, we hope that will continue.

Q Joe, I've got a question on steel. Are there going to be voluntary quotas on steel, and how are you going to help the steel industry?

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding of that is, as you know, there are some anti-dumping cases pending. The Commerce Department is working there. One of the things that they have in their power in that context are voluntary suspensions or voluntary restraints. There has been some interest expressed in pursuing voluntary restraints from some of the countries they're talking to. But that is in process at the Commerce Department and no final decisions have been made.

Q Do you expect one soon?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't predict.

Q On the impeachment proceedings, when the President and his spokesmen were asked about this months ago, the answer always was, well, it's in their hands. Well, now it's in their hands; why are you rendering judgment on it? Isn't the answer still within their hands? Why are you rendering judgment on it?

MR. LOCKHART: It's a legitimate to ask us to assess how we think Congress is doing. We've made very clear that we don't think that there is anything in here that rises to the level of impeachment, and there is very little that's happened that I think has built confidence in the process. So I think it's certainly appropriate for us to render our assessment.

You're right, ultimately it is out of our hands. It is up to members of Congress to decide, both on the Judiciary Committee and the full House.

Q I just wanted to follow up on the steel question, Joe. Some of the press reports suggest the President could take some emergency action to actually restrict steel imports. Are you saying that that's not under consideration right now?

MR. LOCKHART: I think for now our focus is on enforcing the trade laws as written. There are a series of dumping cases that are ongoing. As I just mentioned before, there are some options within the context of those cases that are being looked at, and I think the Commerce Department will make an announcement when appropriate.

Q Joe, with these latest moves by the committee, what do you think the chances are that they're going to be able to wrap up their work this year?

MR. LOCKHART: It's impossible to judge.

Q Do you want them to wrap up?

MR. LOCKHART: We certainly want them to wrap this up in the most expeditious way they can. But I think if they stand there and say that they want to launch a full-scale new inquiry on one hand, and on the other hand say, but we want to be done by the end of next week, I think that indicates a lack of seriousness and probably a political motivation in what they're doing.

Q Has the White House counted votes -- are you confident the votes are not there to present a bill of impeachment to the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think anybody knows. I don't think on an issue like this, there is any real sense of -- I think Democrats, by and large, have stood up and made the case that there is nothing here that's impeachable. I think there are probably some exceptions to that. I think Republicans on the committee have spoken out. I think probably the vast majority of other Republicans have kept their own counsel, so I think it's impossible to know.

Q How do you think the vote will come out in the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: Who knows? They say next week, but --

Q How do you think --

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, how do I think. I think all the votes to date have been on strict party lines, so I don't know there would be anything that would happen between now and whenever they take the vote that would change that.

Q Is the President reconciled to impeachment articles being voted out of the committee?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is reconciled to the fact that this is out of his hands and his focus should be on other issues. And those are the issues that he is going to concentrate on. Whether it's international security, which he'll concentrate on tomorrow, or World AIDS Day, which he is spending time on today, these are all issues that the American public elected him to come to Washington to work on. That's what he'll continue to work on.

The Republicans have their own choice. They are making it by pursuing the agenda that they are pursuing. And I think one of the points of expanding this inquiry is they do raise the specter that when Congress comes back, that we'll be at this again and we'll spend the next year, or however long, working on this.

Q But, Joe, why do you want it wrapped up this year? You would have more votes on the floor next year. The President would be in less peril. If it's been four years and so forth, what difference could a couple of weeks make that would benefit you?

MR. LOCKHART: Because if it gets wrapped up this year, I don't have to answer the questions anymore. (Laughter.)

Q Always about number one.

MR. LOCKHART: It's always about me.

We have said all along -- I think there is an unmistakable sense in this country that people want this put behind us. And what people don't want is some eleventh hour expansion of the process that we believe is being done for purely partisan motives.

Q Is the President spending any time at all these days trying to fight impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it depends on how you define trying to fight impeachment. I mean, he spent some time, obviously, last week on the questions and answers. Beyond that, I'm not aware of it.

Q Thank you.

END 2:33 P.M. EST