THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:34 P.M. EST
Q Joe, is there any White House reaction to Lott's statement that the trial will begin on Thursday?
MR. LOCKHART: None that I can speak of. I mean, I saw most of what he said, and I think he indicated that they'll be meeting with their caucuses in the next day or so and they'll let us know at the appropriate time what process they plan to follow. But I don't --
Q Is the White House prepared to go to trial on Thursday?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we don't know what the process is going to be. We will be prepared to start a process when the Senate indicates they're ready to go. How that process proceeds depends on the process.
Q Well, you must have some idea. Isn't there some informal consultation going on?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we know what you know, which is that there are consultations going on and we look forward to a resolution.
Q What did you make of the Lott statement? Anything encouraging or discouraging about it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he indicated that he wasn't ready to announce a resolution of this, and we look forward to that day.
Q Did you have any representation at that meeting this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: No. You mean the meeting between the Chief Justice -- no.
Q Joe, it's the lack of a resolution you've just noted. What position does that leave the President's lawyers in until various issues on timing and --
MR. LOCKHART: It leaves them in the position of preparing for all eventualities.
Q Is there any thought being given to this motion of dismissal before the trial begins?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into any of the legal options that might or might not be available to the counsel.
Q Does this raise any concern at the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we generally like to know which direction we're going in, but we understand the process. We understand the consultation that is going forward among the senators. We think it's appropriate that that's where this is being decided. We agree with the senators that these are decisions that that body needs to make, not the White House or the House managers. And we believe we'll be consulted at the appropriate time.
Q Well, the mantra that you and others use is that it should be fair and it should be bipartisan and it should be expeditious, or words to that effect --
MR. LOCKHART: All correct.
Q You are not, then, ruling out a trial that's fair, expeditious and bipartisan, but that results in votes on the articles of impeachment themselves?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, I didn't follow the last part.
Q You're not ruling out in that mantra that I just quoted from you a trial which ends with actual votes on the articles of impeachment, as opposed to a --
MR. LOCKHART: We're actually not in a position to rule things in or rule things out. We're waiting for the Senate to make a decision on how they plan to move forward.
Q But I just --
MR. LOCKHART: We have, just as a matter of record, said that we expect this process to move forward in a way that's fair, bipartisan and expeditious.
Q Is it unfair, per se, if they actually vote on the articles of impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into a rating game of what the various options are. I think the Senate will make their decision; they'll make it known to people what their decision is, and we'll move forward from there.
Q Joe, given the uncertainties, is the White House prepared to move ahead with the President's defense?
MR. LOCKHART: The White House will be prepared to move forward the President's defense. Obviously it will be dictated by what the process is, by how this moves forward, but we'll be ready to move forward, to begin the process once the process becomes known.
Q Joe, how many Democratic senators have expressed the viewpoint that if any witnesses are called, that by definition would be the end of a quick process, that if the House decided to call even one witness, it would mean the White House would then be forced to call perhaps many witnesses and you would have a long trial. Does the White House share that view?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the White House is at this point going to keep our own counsel on the implications of the various options that the Senate is considering. I think the senators have speculated on what the impact are and I'm not in a position to disagree with them.
Q Can I just follow up? Since it might be an important decision for a senator who was mulling over whether to agree to a limitation of witnesses, does the White House not want to warn them about --
MR. LOCKHART: I think if a senator has a particular concern like that, we'd be glad to discuss that in private with them.
Q Joe, since you're preparing for all eventualities and there is a chance that there could be a very long, drawn-out trial that would cripple the Senate, is that fair to the American public to have to sit here and go through this all over again? The American public went through this for one year; during the Christmas holiday you saw the impeachment, and then now --
MR. LOCKHART: April, I think we've been pretty clear that we think that it's important that this is fair and it's expeditious. We don't believe that it serves anyone's interest to make this a long, drawn-out process, and it's our hope that the Senate can find a way to do this expeditiously.
Q What does "expeditious" mean?
MR. LOCKHART: Quickly.
Q How quickly?
MR. LOCKHART: With due speed, without delay.
Q Give us a time.
Q Does that mean Tom Delay? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: That, too.
Q How quickly is expeditious?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, this is a process right now that's being dealt with in a very serious way in the United States Senate. That's the appropriate place for this to be dealt with, and I'm just not going to get drawn into handicapping that process.
Q You talked about the possibility of senators concerns -- privately. Are you doing that? Have members of the Senate contacted the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: We've talked to -- if you've stood out here in the freezing cold today, you would see that there is a procession of senators coming in and out on other business.
Q Hog prices?
MR. LOCKHART: Hog prices for one. The drug initiative event we did today. So I think there are informal discussions going on. But the real work, the real formal work is happening within the Senate.
Q Can you be more specific, Joe?
Q Why is it proper for the White House to set a standard of fair, bipartisan and expeditious, and not proper for you to say whether any of the plans up there meet the standard that you've set?
MR. LOCKHART: Because we believe that what's proper is for the Senate to go about their business, and that's what they're doing.
Q Joe, Senator Lott just said about a half hour ago that he also wants it fair and expeditious.
MR. LOCKHART: That's encouraging.
Q Yes, but his definition of expeditious may be different than yours.
MR. LOCKHART: We'll have to see. I think that we're coming to the point where speculation will take a back seat to actual facts and we look forward to that.
Q Can you be more specific? Senator Daschle was just here. Did he discuss the impeachment proceedings with anyone
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. He was here for a meeting with the Chief of Staff on the crisis within the hog prices within the pork industry. The President stopped by and spent about 20 minutes with that group, listening to their presentation and discussing some of the efforts that are going on here.
Some of you know there's an interagency working group headed by Sally Katzen here at the White House with Secretary Glickman, very involved in this. So that was the purpose of that meeting.
Q No discussion of impeachment by him or Senator Leahy or Senator Dorgan?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I heard.
Q Joe, once the senators are sworn in as jurors, would it continue to be appropriate for the White House to have contact with them on the subject of impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that there is any problem in continuing discussions.
Q Joe, one of the original scenarios when it was thought that there would be a full trial -- this was weeks ago or whatever -- lost in all this -- was the idea of convening a trial but then taking maybe like 30 days for the lawyers to prepare their witnesses, to prepare to question witnesses and all that stuff, is that out the door now?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. It depends on the process. I've heard some suggestion like that from the House managers that -- you know, from Mr. Hyde, that that kind of time frame may need to be used. But I can't speculate until we know what the process is.
Q Would your lawyers need it --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate until we know what the process is.
Q Would the President prefer that a formal trial begin, perhaps after he delivers his State of the Union address?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes it's up to the Senate to set their schedule and he intends to give his State of the Union on January 19th.
Q Joe, do you know if any of the informal discussions have been with Republican senators?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know the answer to that. I'm not aware, but I don't want to rule out that there isn't somebody here who's crossed the aisle in informal discussions.
Q Joe, what is the latest about the military face-off in Iraq -- and has the President said anything about it?
MR. LOCKHART: Haven't talked to the President about this specifically today. He's certainly aware and has been briefed on the latest incident. I'll leave it to the Pentagon to describe the incident, but I will say that as we've said, we will continue to enforce the no-fly zones; it's an important part of our containment policy, which also includes the economic sanctions that have cost Saddam Hussein $120 billion and that also includes the credible use of force. That's what our effort is in the short-term. In the long-term, we'll continue to engage with the opposition groups, looking forward to a day where Iraq can enjoy different leadership.
Q Well, Joe, this was the first airborne confrontation in a very long time. To what extent does this escalate tensions in this current situation?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not -- I'm not in the position to talk about how it escalates. What we have here is we have a no-fly zone that's designed to limit his ability to threaten his neighbors' fly, and repress his own people, and there's just nothing that's happened in the last days or weeks that indicates that he has regained that ability.
Q Why do you think he's doing this?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as I said yesterday, there's no smart money in trying to psychoanalyze Saddam Hussein. But we've seen over the last eight years that he often takes these steps when he's frustrated and when he's isolated. And we know he's frustrated and we know he's isolated; we know from his own words that he's isolated and that he's very angry that he hasn't received the support he believes he deserves from his neighbors.
Q Given the announcements today on Cuba, do you concede that there has been a significant change in U.S. policy toward Cuba?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't believe there's been a significant change. I think we've built on some of the success of the initiatives the President announced in March in engaging the Cuban people, but continuing to try to work to try to change the system of government there.
Q Can you tell us about the meeting --
Q May I just follow up? Was there a change that began in March, then?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there was a series of initiatives to try to engage the Cuban people, and that is something that the President is trying to build on. But there is no change in the basic policy that we don't intend to have normal relations with the government of Cuba, and if anybody needs any evidence to why, just go back and look at the speech that Fidel Castro gave over the weekend about what his government's all about.
Q Joe, are these steps related at all with the fact that the President intends to meet the Pope in two weeks?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Pope clearly has an interest in Cuba policy, as you know, from his trip there last year. But this is building on an effort which I think has been described in greater detail over at the State Department within the last hour to build on the success of the initiatives in March.
Q Joe, the meeting between King Hussein and the President -- did the King offer any new ideas about how to get the Middle East peace process started or on Iraq?
MR. LOCKHART: I have very little on that but to say that the two leaders discussed a range of regional issues, including the Middle East peace process, Iraq and the Jordanian economy. The President and the King have conferred frequently over six years; as you now, they enjoy a close personal relationship working closely together.
As far as the details, this was a personal and private meeting, so I'm not going to go beyond any details of any of the mentioned subjects.
Q A follow-up, Joe. Does the King appear healthy enough to resume full leadership of his country?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I'll let you draw your own conclusions from seeing him golf.
Q Joe, does the President have any reaction to talk that his wife might become a senatorial candidate?
MR. LOCKHART: None that he shared with me.
Q Attorney Greg Craig was quoted as saying --
Q Do you think he shared them with her?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.
Q What about a presidential candidate?
MR. LOCKHART: Presidential candidate; this is escalating.
Q Joe, Greg Craig was quoted as saying the two articles of impeachment are, among other things, constitutionally deficient. Can you help me understand this? Does this mean something other than --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me address the broader point, because I think there was some coverage in the papers this morning. I think by and large, that coverage, as far as what our defense would be, reflects what we've already argued. We have submitted three extensive memorandum to the House of Representatives. Mr. Ruff gave an extensive presentation, Mr. Craig gave a presentation to the House. I think as I've said before, we sense that those arguments have not yet flowered and not received extensive coverage. But it should come as no surprise what the basic foundation of the President's defense is, which is we don't believe that the allegations have the constitutional or legal foundation to move forward.
Q When you say haven't received extensive coverage --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, that's what I said. And I will draw your attention to the coverage the day that Mr. Ruff gave his long defense of the President after many months and received scant coverage in many newscasts and in many newspapers. That's not my opinion; you can go back, it's a matter of record. So anyone who is surprised that this is the line that we would take makes my point that you shouldn't be surprised. As far as particular constitutional issues, I'm just not going to preview what the arguments might be.
Q I want to know, though, whether the attorney's assertion involves something more than your belief the President's actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense. Are there deficiencies in the ways the legal and constitutional deficiencies in the ways the articles of impeachment were drawn up and voted upon?
MR. LOCKHART: If there are such, we will argue them at the appropriate time.
Q Given your apparent disappointment that your arguments have now flowered more fully, do you intend to be more aggressive in your gardening?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it depends what sort of field the Senate plows for us. (Laughter.)
Q And what sort of fertilizer is used? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Exactly. This isn't going any further, so -- (laughter) -- Sam ends that unfruitful conversation.
Q Not to continue this metaphor, but does that mean you're looking forward to a trial, that you want to make these arguments?
MR. LOCKHART: That we are looking forward to a fair, bipartisan and an expeditious end to this situation.
Q The question is, does the White House team intend to be more --
MR. LOCKHART: And my answer is conditional based on how the Senate decides to move forward with this process.
Q -- would witnesses be more advantageous to the White House -- the witnesses have not been cross-examined in public?
MR. LOCKHART: I just can't speculate on that.
Q Joe, the articles this morning said specifically that the President's team would more aggressively challenge the specific accusations that are in the report and say that he is not guilty, in fact, of those accusations, not just whether or not they rise to impeachable offenses. Is that correct?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that goes to some of what I'm saying. We have already made that argument based on the constitutional standards questioned and based on the facts, the interpretation of the facts has presented by even the Independent Counsel. We have made that case. I think there is some sense that whether it's a deficiency in the way we made it or the way it's been conveyed, but depending on how this moves forward, we'll continue doing it.
Q Given the fact that you are complaining about the amount of coverage on the defense, why don't you use these opportunities now to give us a little more detail on what the defense is going to be? And there about 12 accusations of lying in the articles. So can we hear about how you're going to refute them?
MR. LOCKHART: What?
Q I mean, there are about 12 accusations in the report.
MR. LOCKHART: Which report?
Q From the committee -- the committee report on the four articles that say there are about 12 instances of alleged lying under oath.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, what are they?
Q One of them is, did the President touch Monica Lewinsky on certain parts of her body, there were other ones --
MR. LOCKHART: If that's what we're reduced to, I don't really want to get in that conversation.
Q Well, wait a second, you just said --
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. And there are --
Q Do you want to argue them or you don't?
MR. LOCKHART: We have made, I think, a sufficient argument in the filings we've made with the committee and with the presentations now. Some of the allegations that were made were made after we had a chance to present a defense, which we've talked about the fairness of that. Now, we will make, at the appropriate time, the same argument to the allegations -- I think no matter how the process moves forward, but we're going wait until that process moves forward.
Q One of them appears to be the fact that now that Article 2 was voted down by the House, and dealt with the deposition, that the argument would be made that Article 1 deals with alleged grand jury perjury and, in fact, if they voted down Article 2 the basis for that is now all gone, and in the grand jury, while there may be a few references, he lied less. So it's okay.
I'm shorthanding what I read in the paper. But, I mean, that's a new proposition -- is that one of the things that would be argued?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, certainly we're not going to present a defense to articles that were not voted out of the House. We're going to concentrate on the articles that were. And I think we made a compelling defense in the House. I think, unfortunately, we did not go in and have a body with an open mind. But --
Q Let me just finish this. The deposition, as we all know, he denied having a sexual relationship, as he defined it, with Monica Lewinsky.
MR. LOCKHART: As the court defined it. That's an important point, Sam. And you can shorthand it if you want.
Q Well, the court truncated the three points to one.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't think he defined it; I think the court defined it. So I think you should be accurate in your --
Q All right, that's back to touching, you see, and you say that we've degenerated to some level --
MR. LOCKHART: If you want to debate this, let's get the facts right.
Q I'm not going to debate with you, that's not my job, but in the grand jury, it is said, that he admitted it. He didn't, of course -- he never admitted, to my knowledge, to this day that he's had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky -- but he had an improper relationship.
MR. LOCKHART: You watched it, your network put the tape on.
Q All of it. Every bit of it.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. So you know what he testified to.
Q Always patient, gracious, very well done. And that's not a criticism, that's an observation. But I guess what I'm asking, what my colleagues have been asking, is there are new propositions now that aren't reflected in the House record that you say is there if we'd only read it and let it flower -- were asking to what extent you will argue this kind of new proposition before the Senate.
MR. LOCKHART: We will argue, whatever the process, I think effectively and in a compelling way that neither of the articles have a constitutional basis or do the facts offer a foundation to remove the President.
Q Joe, does the fact that the House voted down Article 2 and based its perjury charge exclusively on the President's grand jury testimony change the ground here and make the perjury case weaker in the view of the President's lawyers, and will they argue that before the Senate?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, they made an argument on each of the cases. I mean, I think the fact that majority of the House voted one of them down speaks for itself. I don't know if that makes the case easier. I think it makes it more straightforward. But they will argue based on the two articles and the allegations contained within.
Q Will the argument be that because the House is not alleging and, in fact, voted down an article based on deposition testimony, that the article based on grand jury testimony can't stand?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm just not going not going to get into what the argument is going to be.
Q Joe, based on your conversations with senators, the White House conversations with senators, do you get the impression that the streamlined trial idea with a quick test vote is out the window?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't get any impression. I take the senators at their word. They have talked about trying to reach a consensus, I assume that's what they're trying to do.
Q Joe, without getting into what you might specifically do about it, is it legitimate for the Senate to take up the House articles of impeachment, even though they were passed by a previous Congress?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard any constitutional discussion on the illegitimacy of it. I'm not familiar with all of the thinking of the lawyers, but I haven't really heard.
Q Before you said that a witness who had broached that idea had an interesting idea that was being -- is it still an interesting idea?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sure it's academically an interesting idea, but I haven't heard anything about an academic idea being translated into any concrete idea.
Q Joe, you're outlining the prospect here -- pretty vigorous defense by the White House if this thing goes to trial in the Senate. What's the White House position if they shift into the censure mode? Are you going to press with a vigorous defense against censure or will you sort of --
MR. LOCKHART: I think as we've said, censure is an issue for either the Senate, the House, together, separate to deal with. I don't know that we have a role in presenting a defense in that process.
Q So you would not mount a defense against censure in the same way that you would mount a defense against --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't think of a process where we would have an appropriate role in it.
Q Joe, did you mean to say that the President's lawyers are dropping the legal theory that the impeachment articles cannot pass from the 105th to the 106th --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm meaning to stay in the position I was the last time this was asked to me before Christmas to say I haven't heard any serious discussion of that argument.
Q Wouldn't you have a possible rule if the discussion turned to censuring the President rather than removing him from office if there were conditions that he concedes to perjury or he agrees to --
MR. LOCKHART: The question was in offering a defense. As far as how that might work, I'm going to fall back to the oft-stated previous line that I'm not going to get into negotiating a censure deal from here.
Q Yes, but people yesterday were parsing the idea that the President might accept -- I don't know what the word "accept" means, a censure; I guess they're talking about one that would require his signature -- in which it was stated that he perjured himself, lied under oath, although his stated position, as we know it is, that he did not do so. But you could say, "well, I'm not saying this, they're saying it and I'm signing it as a matter of record." Is that a possibility?
MR. LOCKHART: I suggest people are doing too much parsing.
Q Is that an answer?
MR. LOCKHART: That's an answer saying that I'm just not going to answer the question.
Q Oh, all right. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, the White House has been and you have been deferential to the Senate in terms of how they establish their procedures. If the Senate comes up with a procedure that says there will be either a time limit in terms of the length of the trial or witness limit in terms of the number of witnesses called, is that by definition acceptable to the White House if it's what the Senate decides upon?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think anything by definition is acceptable. We expect them to come up with a consensus and then consult on a formal basis, and we look forward to the time where we can consult with them. But I can't tell you in the abstract that there is anything that by definition meets --
Q I understand the process. What you're saying is that they could reach an agreement -- for example, Daschle and Lott could come to an agreement, and at that point your position would be they should then come to the White House and say --
MR. LOCKHART: I think both Senator Lott and Senator Daschle have been clear that they plan to consult fully with all interested parties -- interested parties being the House managers and the White House. And we expect that to happen and we look forward to that.
Q Joe, you seem to have suggested that first they have to decide on a process among themselves, and then they're going to come to you and see if you accept it.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the first step in this is that the Senate is going to reach consensus on what their process is.
Q Right, but what we're asking about is the second step.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay.
Q Why do you -- it sounds like you're saying that you would have to agree to whatever process they come to a consensus on.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I'm sure the Senate could go off in any direction, because it is the Senate, and they control the body and they set the rules. But I do expect, I do expect based on the conversations and the public statements, that there will be some consultation, in order, as Senator Lott said, to be fair to all sides.
Q But should we assume that you feel that your interests in the caucusing that's going on on the Hill this week are well-represented by Senator Daschle and other Democrats?
MR. LOCKHART: And I wouldn't limit it to just Senator Daschle. I think Senator Lott is making a good-faith effort to be fair to all parties, and I have no reason to doubt that.
Q Have there been any consultations thus far?
MR. LOCKHART: I mean, as I've stated, we have informal conversations with senators all the time. I don't know that anyone from here has talked to the Senate Republican leadership.
Q And that would be a consultation, right? I mean, an informal conversation could be just what's the feeling in the Senate, what's the feeling on the Hill --
MR. LOCKHART: Right --
Q But what I'm asking about are real consultations about how you move forward.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, and I think that we've got to get through step one first. And that's what we're doing.
Q But aren't those things -- isn't that a way for the White House, then, to help them reach some consensus?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sorry, I don't --
Q These consultations. Isn't that -- if you're in consultation with -- doesn't that help them to reach consensus?
MR. LOCKHART: My expectation is that we've made pretty clear what we mean by bipartisan, fair and expeditious, and it's not that hard.
Q Joe, can we talk about steel?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm just enjoying this way too much. (Laughter.) See, a book, black book, lots of stuff in it. Go ahead.
Q Where are we on the steel report that was supposed to be released today? And do you expect that it will include some voluntary --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into --
Q And how will it affect the impeachment? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, it's just this afternoon's attempt to divert attention. No, I'm not going to get into what will be in the report, beyond that it will be, as dictated by the statute, a status report of our efforts on the problem of cheap steel imports coming into this country. The work is -- most of the work is primarily done on it. There's some consultation that the President wanted to do. A few of the people he's been trying to reach out to have been out of the country. So we will try to get this done within the next day or so, and we'll let you know.
Q So it's not going to the Hill today?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't rule that out, but it may slip a day or so.
Q Who does he want to consult with, that's out of the country?
MR. LOCKHART: Leaders.
Q Is Rockefeller one of those people?
MR. LOCKHART: He might be.
Q If Lott is to be taken at his word, the day after tomorrow the trial of the President of the United States is going to begin. Isn't it a source of some consternation here that, at this late hour, you have no idea what the rules are going to be?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it would be an understatement to say that we'd like to know what the process is. But we understand how the Senate goes about building a consensus. We believe that they are acting in good faith and that, sometime within the next day or so, we'll understand what the process is, and that the process will begin to move forward.
Q Is this a sign of disarray in the leadership up on the Hill?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think so. I think the Senate, as you all well know, most Senators were not in Washington over the last few weeks. They were back home, or doing their work someplace other than in their Washington office. So I think it's a sign of the calendar and geography.
Q Joe, on steel again. Is The Washington Post story this morning generally correct, in that the report is not likely to recommend specific quotas and other --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to preview the report.
Q Has the President read Vanity Fair -- Gail Sheehy's article on his marriage with his wife?
MR. LOCKHART: I sincerely doubt that.
Q What was the question?
MR. LOCKHART: Has the President read Vanity Fair and Gail Sheehy's comment about his marriage and his relationships with his wife.
Q The independent counsel --
Q Have you read it?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q The independent counsel law expires this year, and has the White House made up its mind about whether you'll support or oppose the reauthorization? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: The Press Secretary has, but -- (laughter.) No, I haven't gotten any conclusive guidance one way or the other.
Q Do you think your concerns, the White House concerns about Ken Starr's conduct is reason enough to oppose reauthorization?
MR. LOCKHART: I think there are certainly concerns that have to be considered that go beyond just Mr. Starr. But I'm not aware that any decision has been made, or whether we will support the reauthorization.
Q Joe, would you describe for us the role the President is playing in formulating the Senate defense. Is he actively involved? Or is he leaving it in the hands of his lawyers? How is he dealing with it?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President is primarily leaving it in the hands of his lawyers and his staff to prepare the defense.
Q Back to Commerce. What's the deal? What's going on?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, the deal. Okay. As you know, the President has been working hard over the last few years to try to find some solution to the claims that black farmers from around the country have made about discrimination historically that they've suffered. He's met personally with them. In 1997, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Justice Department, people here at the White House, notably Erskine Bowles and Sylvia Matthews have taken a lead role in working on that.
We believe there is a framework now to come to some agreement. The parties will meet with the judge this afternoon I understand around 4:00 p.m. and we may have some news for you after that meeting.
Q Do you know what the deal -- does the White House know what the deal is, correct?
MR. LOCKHART: I have a draft statement here which I wish I could read.
Q Okay, is the White House happy about this deal?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to defer until the judge has a chance to peruse the details and see if it's acceptable.
Q Does the White House have any opinion on the proposed lawsuit against the gun industry being pursued by the same lawyers that did the tobacco --
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's an issue that the President will follow closely. I think as you know when the first suit was filed in Chicago, the President made a statement that said that if this were proven true would demonstrate that some parts of the gun industry are helping to promote an illegal market in firearms.
As far as any particular involvement of the administration, I'm not aware of anything, only that we will monitor and follow it closely.
Q And in the case of tobacco, the administration also came up with legislation at one point that went down. Would you foresee the need to come up with legislation in regard to the gun industry as well?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've done a series of legislative initiatives that involve the gun industry. The President is always alert to continuing the work and building on the success, so I don't want to foreclose anything, but I don't have any news for you on that.
Q Julia said that the President is largely leaving his defense in the hands of his lawyers and his staff. I'm curious as to whether Mrs. Clinton has any role in strategy for defending the President in a Senate trial.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with what that role might be and I'd suggest you talk to her able spokespeople to explore that further.
Q Why is he leaving it to the lawyers? I mean, this involves his presidency.
MR. LOCKHART: I think I said largely leaving it. I'm not trying to create the impression that he's uninvolved. But a good client allows their lawyers to do their work.
Q But, Joe, is there a role that the First Lady is playing in some way, shape or fashion?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm sure there is, but I'm not going to describe it.
Q A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, remember. (Laughter.)
Q Joe, a compromise within the Senate would guarantee that the President could remain in office. If a trial begins, the outcome no one would be able to foresee. Is it fair to say, then, that the President prefers a compromise solution and wants to avoid a trial?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say that it's fair to say that we want something that's bipartisan and expeditious.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. EST