THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Happy New Year, everyone. Welcome back.
Q Happy New Year to you, too.
MR. LOCKHART: What's on your minds?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, what a surprise.
Q We asked you this morning -- is the President going to consider postponing his State of the Union message if, in fact, a trail in the Senate is still under way?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know what decisions the Senate will come to as far as their schedule and their process. But as far as the President goes, he's hard at work on the State of the Union address. I think you'll see -- you've seen today some of the things he'll talk about. You'll see as the weeks go one some of the issues he plans to raise. He plans to give that speech January 19th, and as far as I know, there haven't been any discussions with anyone in the leadership about adjusting the date.
Q He won't find it awkward to be giving a speech up there if, in fact, they're holding a trial of him?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President believes, and those who have watched him believe that one of the main reasons that he continues to enjoy support from the American public is he puts their interests first, he puts their business first and that's what he's going to continue doing.
Q Senator Torricelli says it is inappropriate to report on the State of the Union as long as the President is under impeachment. Senator Gramm suggests that he send the message, like so many of the presidents the last -- wouldn't that solve the problem, Joe? I mean, the Republicans might just behave like Democrats.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the State of the Union address is as much for the American public to hear and see and to understand as it is for the members of Congress.
Q Joe, not to hang up on Senator Torricelli, but yesterday, and if I may quote him, Senator Torricelli said, "The President is clearly willing to stipulate to all five volumes, all facts in the referral from the Independent Counsel that relate to these two charges." Is that, indeed, the President's position?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that we look forward to a discussion with the Senate on how they plan to move forward. I don't plan to do that here publicly. But there are clearly facts and issues involved in this case that we've disputed before the House. And if appropriate, depending on the format which the Senate takes, we will do again.
Q Joe, the New York Times, Adam Clymer, writes this morning, quote, "Nobody, except perhaps Representative DeLay, appears to believe that the Senate might really vote to convict Mr. Clinton and remove him from office." End of quote. Is this the belief of the White House or is Mr. Clymer being presumptuous?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it to the Senators to tell you all and tell their constituents how they view this, without speculating.
Q In other words, you don't agree with Mr. Clymer, do you?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not taking a view on Mr. Clymer's view.
Q Well, he said that, nobody except DeLay -- Joe Lockhart is somebody, isn't he?
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q So you disagree with him, don't you, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm telling you that I'm not willing to express a view here -- which there is a difference.
Q If there are continued calls by senators to delay the State of the Union speech, would the President consider it?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to answer an "if there are continued calls" question.
Q Joe, you said that there had been no discussions with the leadership in Congress.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Have there been any discussions internally about the possibility of postponing?
MR. LOCKHART: No serious discussions that I know of. I mean, have we heard some calls? We can all watch television. The United States Senate was on television yesterday and some members expressed their view. All I can say is that the President is working hard on the speech and plans to give it on the 19th.
Q Senator Breaux, when he was just out on the north lawn, will not say that he had personally delivered that message to the President, clearly gave the impression that that message about, perhaps, the need to delay the State of the Union, had been delivered to the President, himself.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm not disputing that that message hasn't been related -- all you have to do is turn on your television yesterday.
Q I know, but I don't think --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know of anyone in personal conversations they had with the President have -- none have been reported to me.
Q And should we take what you're saying this morning and this afternoon as a sign that the White House isn't foreclosing the possibility of delaying the State of the Union address?
MR. LOCKHART: You should take it as the President is working hard on the speech and plans to deliver it.
Q Let's also get you on the record about Dick Morris -- we asked you about that this morning. Is the President consulting with Dick Morris on this, or any other subject having to do with the impeachment process?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that the President has had any consultations with Mr. Morris on this or any other subject in recent days. And I mean recent days in the most expansive way I can. (Laughter.)
Q You would be aware, I suppose, after we posed the question this morning.
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, you put that question this morning. I checked and got a lot of blank looks --
Q Including one from the President?
MR. LOCKHART: I did not ask him specifically. But I got a lot of blank looks. And I think the group I asked would be in a position to know.
Q If I just may, Mr. Morris claims in his book that when the President brought him back after the 1994 elections, no one else in the White House knew about it, that he was secreted up there and the Chief of Staff didn't know.
MR. LOCKHART: If Mr. Morris is saying now publicly and on the record that he is in consultation with more than just the Majority Leader, which is what I think the report was, then I'll go ask him. But short of that, the President's got a lot to do and I'm not going to put every question that comes along to him.
Q Wasn't it kind of untimely for the Vice President to announce a couple days ago, or make it official, his candidacy for the year 2000 when you're in the midst of this whole impeachment -- when all forces, it would seem all the friends of the President should be getting together to get this impeachment out of the way before thinking of 2000?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Vice President has been a very strong partner for the President and a defender for the President through this time. I think if you know how the political process works, though, you'll understand that anyone who is looking at running for President in the year 2000 will use this year to wage support and to raise the necessary money, so I don't think there was anything inappropriate about the timing.
Q Joe, when did the White House work out with the congressional leadership the January 19th date for the State of the Union?
MR. LOCKHART: Mid-December, I think. There was, I think -- I mean, you can look to when I announced it, because I think it was the day that it actually became official. It's generally the fourth week, but there are some -- in the fourth week of January there are some events surrounding the Pope's visit that the President wanted to attend to.
Q Can I just ask you, why in the world would the President want to go up there and address the Joint Session when Republicans may stage some sort of protest, may walk out, may do any number of things to dramatize the --
MR. LOCKHART: Because the President has important work that he's doing and he looks forward to presenting it to the country.
Q Joe, can I ask you a question about Iraq? The Iraqis continue to violate the southern no-fly zone. There's been apparently no American response or allied response to this in days, but we're told the Iraqis continue to violate it, perhaps on a daily basis. What is the U.S. going to do about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into any of the operational details. I'd refer you to the Pentagon for that. You'll probably get the same answer or non-answer.
Q But they're not briefing today.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you can ask them and I'm sure they'll be able to help you.
What I will say is the no-fly zones are an important part of our containment policy. They limit his availability to threaten his neighbors and his own people. And to the extent there is any cat-and-mouse games going on, as they have in the past seven or eight years, they generally reflect Saddam Hussein's frustration with his position, his isolation in the region and his inability to get out from under the crippling sanctions that have been leveled against him.
Q Is there any rethinking of the strategy since the last weeks when they took shots at war planes, or are you tightening the zone or are you going to enforce it more thoroughly?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there is no rethinking as far as the need to contain Saddam Hussein. I think that policy has been one that has worked over the last eight years and we will continue.
Q Can I follow up on that? Would the U.S. at this point support a Kurdistan just in the Iraqi part of where the Kurds are now, the northern part of Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q It would not support Kurdistan?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q As the Senate grapples internally with how to deal with the impeachment, what kind of trial to have, is there a role for the White House in that? If it's not appropriate to lobby the Senate publicly, what is appropriate for the White House to do?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's appropriate to say what we have publicly said, that we want a process that meets the simple criteria being fair, bipartisan and expeditious. I think, though, that as the senators all made very clear yesterday, what's most appropriate is for the Senate as a body to work out the procedure they believe they can follow or they should follow, and then I think they will consult on a more formal basis with the White House, with the House managers and others.
Q Does the White House believe that the President is going to go on trial in the Senate a week from today?
MR. LOCKHART: The White House looks forward to seeing what comes out of the Senate putting its business together later this week and we'll see what happens.
Q This seems -- I mean, this --
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly, as the President's legal counsel is preparing for a trial because that's the next step in this process.
Q Are you prepared to go to trial, Joe, or are you going to need some time to prepare a case?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think depending on how the process is put forward, the White House Counsel is preparing now to move forward as early as next week.
Q And how do you view this process that perhaps a decision might come on Wednesday or Thursday or Friday of the Senate telling the White House, okay, Monday, you start Monday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've known for some time they were coming back this week, and we've been making some preparations in advance of that and I think we'll be ready to go next week.
Q Mr. Ruff will be the lead attorney, or will Mr. Kendall have a role?
MR. LOCKHART: We'll get into that when the process is clear.
Q Would the President be willing to accept a censure resolution that concluded that he made false statements under oath?
MR. LOCKHART: As I've said over and over from here, it's for the Senate and the House if they ever get back into this business of looking at what they want to do as far as censure, and I'm not going to try to negotiate from here.
Q Joe, this morning you spoke of informal discussions going on between the lawyers and folks on the Hill. What do those entail, what don't they entail?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they're informal and for now, they're private.
Q Joe, Minnesota's new Governor says that Mrs. Ventura should be paid $25,000 a year. And I was wondering, has the President had any such idea about Mrs. Clinton and will he support her for United States Senator from New York in 2000?
MR. LOCKHART: Ask again.
Q The New Governor of Minnesota says that he believes his wife should be paid $25,000 a year, and I wonder if President Clinton believes that Mrs. Clinton should be paid that or more.
MR. LOCKHART: She doesn't live in Minnesota, so she can't -- no, moving on. Susan.
Q Will he support her for U.S. Senate from New York in 2000?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about that.
Q You don't think he'll support her, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know anything about her running.
Q In recent days, the White House has been much less -- he's been noncommittal when the question of delaying the State of the Union Address has been raised. I wonder if there was an actual meeting held or a decision made, or did the President himself weigh-in this morning so that you can be so firm in your answer?
MR. LOCKHART: No. No meeting.
Q You take these decisions without consulting the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I take these decisions with consulting -- you're asking if there was a meeting on the subject this morning, there was no one -- but I am, I believe, accurately reflecting the views of the President and his senior advisors.
Q How do you know?
Q Did the President say this morning, this is a bad idea, I don't want to --
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't talk to him about it specifically.
Q Joe, as you know, the Senate is considering a plan that would allow the White House one day to present a defense. Is that an adequate period of time, and is that a fair approach to the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: It's hard for me to answer that question without knowing the full context. I don't think we know the full context, so I'll reserve any comments.
Q What do you say to those critics who accuse the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: I say, stop criticizing us. (Laughter.)
Q -- who accuse the White House of trotting out new initiatives, budget initiatives in advance of the formal release of the budget February 1st -- the Pentagon budget, today's event, the homeless event in Baltimore -- simply to try to change the subject from impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd say that they give us even more credit than some of the people who sort of blindly make these comments. I think all you have to do, Wolf, is go back to the stories you did this time last year and the year before, and you will find that we've traditionally used this time to try to generate public support for some of the ideas that the President will have in his State of the Union and the budget.
I don't think that we could have been smart enough to, last December, a year ago December, have worked out a strategy to help deal with the Monica Lewinsky issue.
Q Joe, the trial creates some novel concerns for the President, it seems, in terms of how he does business. In any other trial in America, if a defendant came into contact with a juror, there would be a mistrial immediately. Is it fair and appropriate for the President to do business with senators, to be in the company of senators over this period of time?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I think that this isn't like any other process, as we have found out in less than ways that we think have been fair to us, and I think the public has come to expect the President to continue doing his job. He'll continue to do that. And part of doing his job is working with members of the House and the Senate.
Q Do you know of any senator who has committed to vote against conviction, Joe? Has any, to your knowledge --
Q Yes, Schumer.
Q No, I think Schumer said that there's a possibility he's --
MR. LOCKHART: You know, I don't' know. I know that there were several senators who said yesterday on television that they weren't aware of any. There may have been people back --
Q But you don't know of any senator who's committed in advance? And if he did, he should recuse himself, shouldn't he -- or her?
MR. LOCKHART: Lucky, I didn't fall for that one. (Laughter.) I don't know.
Q Joe, how would you describe the White House lobbying effort on this with the Senate, as compared to what happened with the House, which was described as very low key. Is it even more so this time?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. I think the Senate has made it quite clear that they believe that they should spend time as a group putting together this process and we will continue to respect that. We look forward to the coming days, to getting a better understanding of how they plan to move forward. And then we look forward to whatever process it is they develop presenting the President's defense.
Q Does that mean there is no lobbying effort or are people talking to individual senators?
MR. LOCKHART: If there is an effort, I'm not aware of it.
Q Joe, is the White House going to put forward tomorrow, or this week, a plan to help the U.S. steel industry in relation to the imports?
MR. LOCKHART: There is a report that's due by statute tomorrow and as I understand it, we will meet the deadline for that report. But we'll talk about that tomorrow.
Q Joe, how does the White House feel about the introduction of the Euro. (Laughter.)
Q The international Euro.
MR. LOCKHART: We congratulate Europe on the successful efforts in developing the European Monetary Union, particularly we commend Europe on the steps they took to get to this point, as far as reducing budgetary deficits, structural budget deficits and lowering inflation. We believe that European integration and a strong, stable, united Europe is in America's best interest. We further believe that a strong growing economic Europe, one that's highlighted by open markets and strong growth is good for the American economy.
Q What about the threat -- some argue that this represents a threat to the U.S. economy to have a strong European currency, that that would represent a threat to the dollar.
MR. LOCKHART: Let me go right to the source and the answer. As Secretary Rubin said this morning, "That is not where our focus needs to be. Our focus needs to be on keeping our house in order. If our house is in order, then we'll be in fine shape. I'm not worried about that." And if Secretary Rubin is not worried about it, I am not worried about it.
Q Does tomorrow's crime event have a budgetary impact?
MR. LOCKHART: If it does, it's not a big ticket, as far as I know. I'll have to check.
Q It's not a big State of the Union preview?
MR. LOCKHART: Not necessarily. I think the President will have a significant anti-crime agenda in a portion of the State of the Union.
Q Which he will preview tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: He'll preview one part of it tomorrow.
Q Why is King Hussein coming tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: He is in the country for personal reasons and is stopping by for a chance to chat with the President before returning home.
Q On what subject?
MR. LOCKHART: The Middle East peace process.
Q Joe, did you mean to suggest this morning that you would dis-invite any reporter who asked about this report of an illegitimate child?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I suggested for those of you who come with no independent reporting to repeat the gossip from tabloid, supermarket tabloids are wasting their time by coming to talk to me.
Q Well, Joe, isn't it legitimate to ask about reports such as that?
MR. LOCKHART: Not like that. As all of you know, those reports have been around for years and it's just a waste of your time to waste my time here with it.
Q But this is a new report. Does the White House have any comment on the report, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not getting into it.
Q Has the President made any changes in his team handling the impeachment matter, or is he considering making any changes?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Well, why not? They were tasked not to get him impeached --
MR. LOCKHART: Because they've done such good job. (Laughter.)
Q -- and he was impeached. And there's some -- about that.
MR. LOCKHART: Hey, I'm on the team, I can say it. No, he hasn't.
Q Joe, do you have any comments on the bin Laden story in Afghanistan? He tells something else to -- magazine and Time Magazine all said -- his calling card, kill Americans anywhere in the world. When are you going to bring him to justice?
MR. LOCKHART: As you know, he's under indictment here and we are actively involved in fighting his network, and we do hope to bring him to justice. While it may have some academic interest to see him one day take credit for and deny it the next day, we have no doubt that he is responsible for this and he will be brought to justice.
Q Who is supporting him or his empire --
MR. LOCKHART: I think he has some support around the world, and it's something that we have worked hard to try to convince those around the world that terrorists like he should not be supported under any circumstances.
Q The President plans to go ahead with the State of the Union Address on schedule, he continues to do events like today's long-term health care event. In what ways is his day-to-day work life impacted by the pending impeachment trial?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he deals on a day-to-day basis with the business at hand here in Washington, and this is clearly on everyone's plate. So I think in the briefings and his meetings with staff it's a subject that comes up, but it certainly doesn't dominate the President's work day. He's got a lot of other things -- from the State of the Union to the budget to his stewardship of foreign policy -- that consume a lot of his time, and that will remain the case.
Q But would you say he has one meeting on this a day, or two? Clearly, he spends some portion of his day --
MR. LOCKHART: He's spends some time and is briefed on a regular basis of what's going on here. But it's hard to quantify into one meeting or two meetings. He gets a general update, I guess, on an almost daily basis. I'm sure a day goes by goes by that we don't.
Q Politically, though, it would be good for the Democrats to see a full-scale trial go on in the Senate. Politically. In the narrow political context.
MR. LOCKHART: Are these same people saying that as the "some critics"? I don't understand those politics. (Laughter.)
Q You obviously don't want a full-scale trial.
MR. LOCKHART: We want something that's fair, bipartisan and expeditious.
Q -- and expeditious.
MR. LOCKHART: And next time I'm asked, Sam will answer for me. He's got it down.
Q In my sleep.
Q Does the process affect in any way the pace of the agenda as it's put forward to Congress? In other words, is there an assumption here that no serious business can be done before the --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think, at least -- I can only speak about what's happened until now -- we've gone ahead irregardless of what the Senate's other business might be, as far as putting forward the President's agenda, and we think that's the best way to do business and -- did I use "irregardless" wrong?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry.
Q Just say "regardless."
MR. LOCKHART: Regardless. Regardless. I meant "irrespective." Is that right?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, good. Thanks. Anyway.
Q Joe, does the White House have any comment on these American citizens arrested in Israel? This alleged cult?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q During the past week, President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin of People's Republic of China exchanged greetings regarding the 20th anniversary of establishing the diplomatic relations. And also during the past week, China sentenced more dissidents to jail. Do you think the latest developments of the human rights violations will affect U.S.-China relations?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we continue to protest in strong terms our opposition to some of the steps as far as the arrest, detention and then sentencing of several Chinese citizens. And we will continue to do so. We also have an important strategic relationship with China that we will continue to pursue.
Q Does the President agree with the conclusions in the report from Representative Cox's investigation of the transfer, or mis-transfer, of technology to China?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we expect to receive that report today, so I don't think the President has had a chance to review it. I will say, from what we've read about it and the briefings we've gotten, that we believe we have strong export controls but we do look forward to reading the report and looking at the recommendations to see if there are ways to strengthen our export controls.
I think if you look at particularly some of the technology transfers that they have raised publicly, we believe that on the issue of authorized technology transfers, we do have strong export controls. On the issue of unauthorized technology transfers, I think there is litigation now underway, and the Department of Justice is looking into that. And those who are found guilty, if there has been any violations of the law, will be prosecuted.
Q Joe, what can you tell the American people about the security of the National Labs?
MR. LOCKHART: We can tell the American people that we've taken serious steps over the last 15 or 20 years, which is, I think, the scope of what Representative Cox looked at, to strengthen export controls, to make sure that we balance the nation's ability to be competitive with our ability to keep technology -- military technology --
Q I'm sorry, maybe my question was imprecise. I wasn't talking about the exporting of technology. I was talking about the theft of bomb secrets from the National Labs. What can you tell the American people about the security of the National Labs?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I can tell you that, without getting into too much detail because some of this report the Congress is not able to talk about and I'm not able to talk about, is that steps have been taken to address problems of some years ago, and that the American people should understand that their government is taking the appropriate steps to safeguard -- whether it be secrets or technology -- and will continue to do so.
Q Do you think it's still appropriate, or is it time to rethink, the notion that the Commerce Department should be the lead agency in providing these licenses, as opposed to the Pentagon or the State Department?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that, again, that was an idea that came from both the Reagan and Bush administrations, that we proceeded on, but under the recent Defense Authorization Act, that was -- an element of that that, by statute, switched the authorization origination back to the State Department. And we expect that to take place probably by this week.
MR. LEAVY: Actually, it's supposed to go into effect in March, but we sent a report up to the Hill --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay -- sent a report up this week as the statute requires, and it will go into effect by March.
Q Joe, is the administration committed to releasing that report in some form or another after it's been vetted for national security --
MR. LOCKHART: Which report?
Q The report of Cox.
MR. LOCKHART: I would have to check on that.
Q You're not willing to commit to releasing it in some form?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not willing to commit to releasing a congressional report, absolutely not.
Q But wait --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there will probably be a declassification process on that, and then I'm sure we will talk with Congressman Cox and Congressman Dicks. But I'm not going to commit from here whether that's going to be released -- it's their report.
Q Joe, I'm not here to defend the Star tabloid, but it seems to me they broke the story of Gennifer Flowers and the Dick Morris sex scandal. Now, when both of those stories broke, defenders of the President said, oh, it's just the Star, it's just a tabloid, we're not going to dignify that with a response. And that was sort of the way to discredit the story.
It seems to me that both those stories turned out to be true -- the Dick Morris story certainly turned out to be true; the Gennifer Flowers story, at least a portion of it, the President has admitted that he had at least one sexual liaison with Gennifer Flowers. And my question is, how can you use that same defense to just dismiss out of hand the story? I'm not asking whether the story is true, but wouldn't it be more instructive to just deny or acknowledge the facts that are in question here, rather than try to smear that tabloid?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not trying to smear, I'm just telling you that unless you have some independent reporting that you want to bring to this room and ask me about, I'm just not going to comment.
Q The picture on the Internet he looks exactly like the President.
MR. LOCKHART: That's good. And I'm an alien space baby, Lester. (Laughter.) And we're probably related -- so, next.
Q Do we have some of your DNA?
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, that's personal and we'll talk afterwards. (Laughter.)
Okay, I think we're done here, guys. Is there anyone from a wire service here? Thank you.
END 1:59 P.M. EST