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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 12, 1999
                            PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                              JOE LOCKHART 
                            The Briefing Room  

1:40 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Let's see. I have one travel announcement to make before we get to questions. As the President has done in past years, he will travel the day after the State of the Union to amplify on the themes and policies of that speech. This year, the President will travel to Buffalo, New York and to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania on January 20th.

The Vice President and the First Lady will accompany the President on this trip. It's a one-day trip. We'll be back by the evening.

Q What are the events?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, it would be hard to sort of amplify on themes we haven't articulated yet. We plan to deliver the speech.

Q Is he going because Buffalo was declared a local emergency this morning? They've had 41 inches of snow since January 1st, they've called out the National Guard. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I am personally now offering my staff to go up and shovel off the site. (Laughter.)

Q Who is going with him?

MR. LOCKHART: The Vice President and the First Lady.

Q Why are they going? Is that part of the theme or what?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. No, the Vice President and First Lady went last year when we went to University of Illinois and to Wisconsin.

Q Where in --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have a city yet.

Q Joe, why does the President think it important that he deliver the speech as scheduled on Tuesday?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think as we've said before, what's going on in the Senate right now is important. The Senate needs to take care of the business before them; but the agenda and the policies that the President pursue, the people's business, also has to go forward, and the President believes that it's proper that he give the speech on the 19th and lay out his agenda for this year.

Q Does he find it awkward?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that there are certainly issues -- the issue before the Senate, as I've said, is important. It's certainly not something that the President or anybody here looks forward to, but I don't think the President has the ability to be distracted. The public expects him to stay focused on his work and he intends to do that.

Q Do you think he will acknowledge the proceedings during his speech?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.

Q Is the decision to go ahead on the 19th firm, or is the White House still open to changing it if it need be?

MR. LOCKHART: The decision is firm.

Q I understand what you say, it's not something the President looks forward to -- it's the impeachment trial or the speech in the uncomfortable circumstances?

MR. LOCKHART: The President always looks forward to the State of the Union speech as a chance to lay out his agenda. He has enjoyed the work he's done to date on it, which has been rather extensive, and I think he'll look forward to the evening.

Q Despite the uncomfortable circumstances?

MR. LOCKHART: Despite them.

Q Joe, is the President going to keep out of the limelight for the duration of the trial? Is he not going to hold any direct formal news conferences? I mean, he is a criminal defendant. Is he going to speak out?

MR. LOCKHART: If holding a formal news conference was the criteria for keeping out of the limelight, we would have kept a pretty low profile here lately.

Q Once it starts?

MR. LOCKHART: But the answer is no, the President will continue on a bigger schedule of events as he has over the last few months.

Q And you don't preclude a formal news conference?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't preclude anything. I'm certainly not giving any guidance on that front, though.

Q Just for the record, what do you make of the House brief on the impeachment articles, and could you give us some insight as to what you plan to file tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: I think what we'll file tomorrow is a longer version of the answer to the charges; it's actually the trial brief that will go through the factual and evidence -- the facts and the evidence that have been put forward, and the constitutional and legal issues and a much more expanded version of what you saw yesterday.

As far as the House brief, I think, as I told you this morning, that it is, at times, a hallmark of what is a weak factual and constitutional case, that the allegations continue to shift and that the rhetoric continues to be overblown. And I think those are the two things that come out of that document.

We have a new bundling and interpretations of the allegations against the President, at this late date. I think -- as someone who is trying to defend themselves, you have a point where you should understand what the charges are, and where you should understand how they are put together and what the bases of them are. And I think we saw some shifting in the documents, just yesterday.

Q Joe, the articles haven't changed since they were voted on by the House. Why do you say they are being rebundled?

MR. LOCKHART: The articles haven't changed, but if you look at the legal brief, they have now sought to bring back in the article that failed to get a majority vote. You have members telling the media that, we've got a whole bunch of new stuff that we're ready to spring on them. I think we're beyond the point of playing those kind of games, and they should just argue their case.

Q Given this limiting of the charges, do you still stand by what you stated this morning of how the brief reads?

MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I think there is overblown rhetoric in there about sinister plots, and I think that it detracts from the argument they're trying to make.

Q And "cheap mystery" as well?

MR. LOCKHART: That's a good phrase. (Laughter.)

Q How would you describe the administration response to that, that has got to be in by, I think, 10:00 a.m. tomorrow morning?

MR. LOCKHART: Detailed, well-argued and compelling.

Q But what kind of tone would it have, compared, for instance, to the --

MR. LOCKHART: I think it will be based on the facts and the law. I think those of you who have followed our submissions over the last few months will see things that you've seen before. But it will basically make the case that, on the facts and the evidence, the articles are not supported, based on the facts. They're not supported based on the Constitution, or do they have a sufficient legal foundation.

Q Were any Senators consulted for their opinions on the document?

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

Q Joe, what was the President doing today vis-a-vis the State of the Union, and preparing?

MR. LOCKHART: He's got a meeting this afternoon, I believe. I think sometime in the next hour of so, I think he's got a couple of hours blocked off for a meeting with his team.

Q What's going to be new, Joe, in the submission? What are we likely to see that we haven't heard before?

MR. LOCKHART: If I told you what was going to be new today, it wouldn't be new tomorrow.

Q All right, then let me come at it a different way. Is there likely to be anything in this submission that we have not seen before?

MR. LOCKHART: I am not going to signal what's in the submission, just to give you a broad outline of what I expect it to look like. You can wait until tomorrow, it will be out tomorrow morning.

Q Well, I mean, you've said it will be an expanded version of what the President has submitted so far --

MR. LOCKHART: Correct.

Q -- which, to the President's critics -- granted, they're his critics -- has been totally insufficient, so what's the point?

MR. LOCKHART: The point is, is there's a process here. And the process calls for you to answer the charges formally and then to file a trial brief formally. And we intend to respond in a way that conforms with the rules and procedures of the Senate trial.

Q And you expect it to be effective?


Q You still don't know who is going to argue for the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I still don't. I know the universe of people; I don't know how it's all going to be done.

Q Is it the President's decision to dodge reporters and duck us, to run off stages and so forth, for the millennium?

MR. LOCKHART: You can blame it on me.

Q Or is it your decision and the spinmeisters who are keeping him away from us?

MR. LOCKHART: Is that a pejorative term? Spinmeisters?

Q Yes. It is pejorative.

MR. LOCKHART: I thought so. I know.

Q Whose is it?

Q To what extent, at this point in the proceeding, is the White House making its case to individual Senators? In other words, as the question came up this morning, the House prosecutors gave individual copies of their presentation to individual Senators. Is the White House going to that extent --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I didn't look into the logistics, but I'm sure that our documents will get into the hands of all the Senators, either through the leadership structure or directly. We believe that all of them will read it and hope that they will find it to be a persuasive document.

Q Does that go for everything that you're going to send up there, like the rebuttal tomorrow?


Q Are you anticipating anything in the State of the Union that touches on impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I answered that before in saying that I didn't know.

Q Joe, to follow up the earlier question, is Senator Mitchell playing any role behind the scenes -- in an advisory capacity, a consultative capacity?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. A behind-the-scenes advisory and in a consultative basis.

Q Is he talking to other Senators on your behalf?

MR. LOCKHART: I have not talked to Senator Mitchell. I wouldn't preclude that he is talking to his old friends. I know that his advice on how to proceed here has proved invaluable to the legal team and the political team here, based on his knowledge of the Senate.

Q Anyone else?

Q Will he be on the team that is before the Senate --

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

Q Joe, is the President talking to individual Senators even now about impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: I know that the President talks to Senators. I know he spoke to -- he had Senators at the State Dinner last night, but I haven't checked into the details of any of the conversations.

Q Does the President consider it appropriate for him to talk to Senators about impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that the Senators are sophisticated enough to not engage in an inappropriate conversation.

Q Joe, is Mitchell -- I'm going to clarify this -- is he consulting with the legal team, is he consulting directly with the President?

MR. LOCKHART: I'd say he's consulting -- I'm certain that he's spoken to the President -- I don't know when the last time was. But it's mostly the legal and political team that are charged with this.

Q And this is mainly on Senate procedures and his knowledge of the individual personalities up there, or what?

MR. LOCKHART: It's basically moving on the Senate trial. He's an accomplished and gifted lawyer, as well as someone who probably knows as much about how the Senate works as anybody in town.

Q Anyone else in that category?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know -- I mean, it is informal, but I know that they talk to him on a pretty regular basis. I don't know if there's other people. There are other former senators who have called to inquire as to what they could do to help. But I don't know that there's anything on any basis that's going forward there.

Q Any Republicans that you've been able to enlist to help you?

Q Bumpers?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I know that there have been a variety of former Republican senators who have made public statements about trying to shorten the process and find some way to short-circuit this, but I don't know that we're in any way in touch with them.

Q So Senator Dole isn't involved in this at all anymore?


Q Joe, now that you've had the House brief, what motions are you considering?

MR. LOCKHART: If we have motions, we will discuss them at the appropriate time, which is not until the end of the Q&A session.

Q What kind of reception do you feel yesterday's filing received? Joe, what's your sense of how it was received by the Senate?

MR. LOCKHART: I will leave that up to the 100 senators who have to decide that. I haven't gotten any feedback one way or the other.

Q Is that to say that you all are not gauging the reception of your filing? Surely you are.

MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it up to the 100 senators who will sit in judgment of this to render an opinion. I've seen a lot of them on a lot of your channels, so you can ask them directly.

Q Joe, yesterday's submission said that the charges were vague. After reading the House response or the House game plan, do you still feel like the charges are vague, or did they answer the questions that you had?

MR. LOCKHART: That actually would probably be a better one to put to the lawyers. I didn't ask them that specifically. I was not made aware that anyone feels that they're any more specific than they are now. It does go a little bit to the point that I said before, that with each submission the charges change, and it's difficult enough to defend yourself against a set of charges in these circumstances; but when they change consistently, it makes it even more difficult.

Q Joe, you said this morning that the Republican brief read like a bad mystery novel.


Q And what's the mystery? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I think it was more the language that was employed.

Q Joe, can you explain to us the press arrangements for today's speech? I understand it took place in a rather large auditorium, but it was pool press --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I can't, because I wasn't involved in those arrangements. You should ask my staff that does -- Q Well, I thought you said to blame you for the fact that he wasn't --

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, if you all are sitting out there thinking that I sit and decide whether something is pool or isn't, you know that isn't the case, so ask the people who know. Is that not clear, Josh?

Q No, it's not entirely.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay, then follow up.

Q I'm not clear. Who is making the decisions, then? Apparently, it was a rather elaborate thing where there was a plastic shield where people couldn't see the President.

MR. LOCKHART: Apparently? I don't know, I wasn't there. Were you there?

Q I wasn't there. It was pool only, Joe. What am I supposed to tell you?

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. I think you should, if you have a problem, take it up with the Correspondents Association and we'll be glad to look at it.

Q The Correspondents Association doesn't make these arrangements.

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, you're asking me a question I don't know the answer to. If you'd like, we'll take a filing break, I'll go talk to my staff and come back with information. Is that what we want to do?

Q Joe, let me just ask a general question, which is, is there a decision here, or has the press operation or others here made a decision that until the impeachment matter is resolved the President won't get into a back and forth with the press corps?


Q No, no decision, or no what?

Q That's bad.

MR. LOCKHART: What's bad?

Q It's bad to keep reporters away from the President.

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, if you seriously want to have a serious conversation, come up to my office, we'll talk about it. If you want to stand there and try to talk to me about something you know I don't have knowledge of in a way to embarrass me, I don't think that's productive. So let's move on.

Q You have no control over whether something is pool or open?

MR. LOCKHART: I do; it's my office. But I'm telling you that I don't make these decisions on a case-by-case basis. And if you're asking me to look into this, I'll be glad to look into it.

Q We are trying to say to you that the President -- MR. LOCKHART: I understand what you're trying to say to me.

Q -- that the President is being kept away from reporters.

MR. LOCKHART: I take your point. I take your point.

Q For those of us who have covered this man since the day he arrived in the White House, there has been a distinct lack of access -- not just for the time that you've been press secretary, but starting before that -- where the chance to regularly engage the President in questions and answers, either informally in the Oval Office or in the Roosevelt Room has been gone, and it's not just by coincidence.

MR. LOCKHART: That is a different question than asking me about an event I didn't go to and whether we purposely took a big auditorium and made it pool. I will look into it. I will address that question because that's, I believe, a legitimate question -- which is, we try to make the President available, there are times when we, either through news conferences or in pool spray settings that he is available. There are times that we go sometime where he's not. And we have to make that judgment on a day-by-day basis -- which is, I think, a different thing than whether he's in a room that should be pool or not.

Q Would you acknowledge that for the last several weeks access to the President has been non-existent.

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly I'll acknowledge --

Q Why? Can you explain why?

Q When you said, you can blame me -- when asked whether the President was trying to dodge the press and you said, you can blame me -- we want to know whether this was a specific incident in which we can blame you.

MR. LOCKHART: It was not. It was not. Okay, "the entourage proceeded to a small" -- the pool report reports -- "a small, as in about 100 seats, auditorium with a pale terrazzo floor and a dark wood-slated walls."

Q Joe, have the President's attorneys advised him specifically that he should not take questions from reporters, especially vis-a-vis the impeachment trial?

MR. LOCKHART: No, they have not.

Q They have not advised him to keep quiet about the trial?

MR. LOCKHART: They have not.

Q He is free to talk?

MR. LOCKHART: He is free to talk.

Q Has he said he is not interested in talking? Has he given any instructions?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he has said to you on numerous occasions that he doesn't know anything more productive he can say on this subject. He'd love to talk about some other subjects, some important things he's doing. It's hard for me to remember when the last question like that was posed to him, but that's not our job. Your job is to pose the questions; our job is to try to answer them in the best way we know how.

Q Joe, is he afraid of answering questions at this point?


Q But I guess what you said to Wendell was that it's clear that in the last couple of weeks there's been less access and you're aware of that, and then I guess you would be responsible for that, at least in part.

MR. LOCKHART: That's how we started this conversation.

Q What is the thinking behind that? Is the sense that it's just --

MR. LOCKHART: As I said yesterday, it's unproductive right now to get into -- for the President to get into a long Q&A on this subject, which I think is self-evident. But if it's not, then we'll have to agree to disagree.

Q Joe, I know you're asked periodically about his health and his mood. From what we see on television, he doesn't look very good. Can you give us an idea of his mood, and is he taking any sort of medication? (Laughter.) Seriously --

MR. LOCKHART: That's not a serious question, that's --

Q It's a very serious question, he's the leader of the free world.

MR. LOCKHART: Yeah, but I don't think you have any basis to ask that question, so we'll move on.

Q Well, why can't you tell us --

MR. LOCKHART: We'll move on.

Q -- if he's taking any sort of medication?

MR. LOCKHART: We'll move on.

Q Is the President well?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, he's very well. He had a very energized and animated conversation on the way over to the event with the Vice President about both the event the Vice President did yesterday and the event that the President did today, about how important these initiatives are, and how it really is a kind of fundamental shift in the way the government is going to approach growth out in this country, as we move into the next millennium. So he's, again, focused on what he is supposed to be doing.

Q Are there plans for the President to undergo any medical procedures in the next few weeks?

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

Q I'm dead serious.

MR. LOCKHART: I have no reason to doubt you're not, Wendell.

Q Do you think it's at all hypocritical, for example, to announce the President's going to go on this long trip after the State of the Union to see the public and travel around and be seen as being out in the public, and yet, at the same time, you're saying you're keeping him isolated from us?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not saying I'm keeping him isolated. The President goes out and speaks in public, through you, every day. It's not every day that the President decides to enter a Q&A with you, and that's a decision we make.

Q But it was fairly regular until recently.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, so be it. I don't view it as hypocritical, though.

Q May I ask you an international question --


Q -- there's been nothing on this. Since the APEC Conference is in New Zealand next year and the Prime Minister of New Zealand is here for two days starting tomorrow, does the President have any intention of meeting with her? She's going to be with Al Gore.

MR. LOCKHART: As David informs me, the Secretary of State plans a meeting, as does the Vice President.

Q But the President has no plans --

MR. LOCKHART: No. If that changes, I'll let you know.

Q I'd appreciate it.

Q Joe, Larry Flynt says he's a supporter of the President, says he just wants to help the President. Are these revelations helping the President's case at all?

MR. LOCKHART: Absolutely not. I think the President has been very clear, from before he even came to Washington -- I think, on one of the Sunday shows from last week, they played a clip from '92 of the President railing against the politics of personal destruction -- the President's been very clear the whole time he's been here that there's no place in this town for this kind of politics, and it ought to come to an end. And I think that there is responsibility to go all the way around on this and, frankly, if the news media stopped covering some of this stuff -- I'm not arguing about one story in particular, because judgments have to be made on a case-by-case basis -- that maybe there wouldn't be such a market for it. But the President doesn't believe that this has any place in our politics, and has said so.

Q Has he talked to Larry Flynt?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm not sure he's ever spoken to Larry Flynt.

Q Well, I thought he might want to convey that message.

Q The RNC is saying that the White House is helping Mr. Flynt.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the RNC ought to stop practicing the politics of innuendo, which is just about as sleazy as the politics of personal destruction. If they've got evidence, they ought to bring it forward. If not, they ought to knock it off. And people should stop carrying their water by printing things without any foundation.

Q Has the White House talked to the RNC about that?

MR. LOCKHART: No. We don't have an open line of communication to that organization.

Q Joe, you've been clear that the President's State of the Union address is firm and going forward. Has the senior staff or the President spoken to the Senate leadership in the last few days about their feelings, whether it's appropriate?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think we've made it clear, both on the staff level and whatever contacts we've had with senators, that we plan to go forward. There are certainly different opinions, even among the parties, about whether the President should go forward, but we believe that the appropriate thing to do is go forward and give the speech.

Q He was invited, wasn't he?

MR. LOCKHART: That's correct.

Q Not to put too fine a point on it, Joe, but I -- has some scenario similar to Podesta calling Lott and saying, look, we're coming, we're firm on this -- has there been some communication back to the Senate, other than from the podium, that sort of thing?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that there's been any formal communication. I don't know that anyone has spoken to Senator Lott in the last few days. But I think, in the conversations, the informal conversations we have had with staff and Senate and -- I think most of those are with Democratic staff, but not exclusive -- we've indicated that it's our intention to accept the invitation and come up on the 19th.

Q Is there any chance at all that he could change his mind, Joe?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I have said several times here that we intend to be there on the 19th.

Q Your comments on the Flynt news interview and news conference and such -- did the President say anything to you, specifically, about Larry Flynt and what he's been doing?


Q Or the senior staff --

MR. LOCKHART: He has said to us repeatedly, on the broader subject, that he has no tolerance for this kind of activity, won't tolerate it with anybody on his staff, and believes that we have come to a point where somebody has to stand up and try to put an end to this. And we can't condone this kind of politics.

Q But he hasn't said anything specifically about this?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I haven't talked to him about this in the last day or so. Certainly not in relation to any specific news or any specific event in the last day.

Q Well, Joe, do you think that if the President issued, perhaps, a very specific statement -- didn't pick up the phone but issued a very specific public statement, addressing Flynt, that perhaps Flynt would be shamed into stopping it?

Q "Dear Larry" -- (laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: It's hard for me to understand or to calibrate what it would take to shame him into doing something. (Laughter.) But let me say this, that I've said repeatedly from here where the President is, and I think that if you go back over the last 10 years, you will not find a political figure in this country who has been more consistent and more outspoken on this subject than the President.

Q Joe, you said that the President is not afraid to answer questions, but it's not prudent, or whatever word you used, to do it at this time --

MR. LOCKHART: "Productive" was the word I used.

Q -- so can't we infer that during the course of the trial it's not going to be productive as well, and that we won't get a question in?

MR. LOCKHART: No, maybe we'll change our minds.

Q It's a concern that he might say something that would antagonize the jurors?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think we've done enough on this. I understand your concern, I understand where you're all coming from. I am not trying to be contentious here. We make our decisions, we live with them, and I don't think it would be productive to keep going around and around on this.

Q Joe, what does the President hope these sanctions that Sandy Berger announced against Russian institutions accomplish?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think we have a broad and wide-ranging non-proliferation regime, particularly when it comes to working with the Russians on moving technology or expertise on weapons of mass destruction. This is one part of it, where he can take administrative action, and it will put these three companies out of business as far as dealing with the United States government. We continue to work with the Russians on a broader range of issues. They've enacted some tough new laws, but there's more work that they need to be doing, and we will continue to work with them.

Q Well, isn't the U.S. argument really with the Kremlin and not with three individual companies or institutions?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that we continue to work with the Russian government. They have taken some steps; we believe they need to take further steps. I can't get into the details of these particular companies and what they may or may not have been doing, but these companies, we believe, were taking steps that made it impossible for the United States government to work with them.

Q Joe, what's the latest development on the situation over the incident over Iraq this morning?

MR. LOCKHART: I would actually defer to the Pentagon -- let me see if I have something on that -- as I think they reported this morning, there was an F-16 that was tracked by early-warning radar. The pilot of that plane took the appropriate response of firing a HARM missile, and returned safely to base.

Q Is the U.S. sending more planes to Iraq, I mean, to the area?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I'd put that question to the Pentagon, though. It's not something that I've been briefed on.

Q Joe, many people at the White House say that James Carville is his own person and he does his own thing. Is the White House standing firm that, while it did not aid Larry Flynt in --

MR. LOCKHART: I've never been asked the question. I have no idea what James is doing. The President has been clear on this subject. You'd have to ask that question of James.

Q The RNC has strictly said -- well, it's specifically saying that Carville is the one, on advice of the White House to put this out --

MR. LOCKHART: That's an absolutely baseless charge and at some point there ought to be a price to pay for making baseless charges and practicing the politics of innuendo.

Q And what's that price?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I think you are all in a better position to decide whether these are credible news sources that you get your information from.

Q Joe, once the President's budget comes out in early February, is it the administration's assumption that the individual proposals will not be able to run on a simultaneous track with the Senate trial and that everything is basically going to be held hostage until that trial ends? I mean, are you running under that assumption?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think we've made any firm assumptions. We plan to put forward an agenda and hope that the House and the Senate will move forward as quickly as they see possible in implementing that agenda.

Q Is it possible to do that on an abbreviated schedule, when from noon on every day there would be a trial?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's a question better put to the Senate. I mean, it is still our hope that we can wrap the trial up in the Senate in an expeditious way and that this won't -- that the two won't necessarily conflict.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Thank you.

END 2:08 P.M. EST