THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (New York, New York) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 15, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Marriott Hotel New York, New York
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President and Reverend Jackson are about to go to the stage, but I do understand that there is a pretty extensive pre-program. So they will cut me off so you don't miss any of the speech, but I wanted to do this so I could get back over there and catch the flight back.
I have no announcements, so I'll take questions.
Q Joe, tell us about White House reaction to the first day of testimony. Will the President -- how was the President kept informed, and will he watch or how will he track today's events? And do you think that what has been presented so far is convincing in any way?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take them one at a time. The President had a series of meetings yesterday, spent three or four hours on the State of the Union speech; later in the evening, had a meeting on Social Security. That broke sometime after 8:00 p.m., about the time that the legal team returned to the White House.
The legal team spent 10 or 15 minutes with him, just giving him a rundown of what happened during the day, so that's how he got his briefing. I don't expect he'll be watching any of the proceedings today, as he's here in New York. We'll be traveling back -- I think by the time we get back they will be pretty well wrapped up.
As far as initial reaction, let me make a couple of points. The facts and assertions that were made yesterday by the House Republican managers we've heard before; in fact, we've heard many times -- first from the Independent Counsel's statements and referrals and through the Judiciary Committee. And there's nothing changed, there's nothing new in what they put forward yesterday. The allegations they make and the assertions they make again are unsubstantiated and are circumstantial. There is no testimony that proves the President committed perjury. There's no testimony that proves the President obstructed justice; in fact, there is direct testimony to the contrary.
I think a second point is there was almost an obsessive effort by the House managers to make a case even more important than their evidence and facts for witnesses. And I think that that obsessive effort demonstrates and acknowledges a serious weakness in their case. They are not willing to argue the case on the record that's been developed, the 60,000 pages, after a year-long investigation, and are seeking to open this up to a long, extended process. And I think that, in large part, is an acknowledgement of the weakness in their case.
I think if you watch what's going on just this morning, just before I walked in here one of the House managers was talking about on-going efforts to collect evidence. I mean, we've heard this before. As we got close to the end of the House Judiciary Committee procedures we heard all of a sudden that we were going to get into campaign finance, that we were going to get into Kathleen Willey, all because there is an inherent weakness and inability to prove the charges and the allegations that they've laid before the Senate.
A third point -- and this again goes to witnesses -- we believe that we can make our case and we look forward to the chance that the Senate will give us next week. But as we've said before, if this gets opened up and it goes beyond the record and we introduce new witnesses, this will take an extended time. Discovery motions -- I think everyone in this country believes that the time to bring this effort to a close is soon.
There's an inherent discrepancy in the idea that they need witnesses and that they have to have witnesses -- there have been witnesses. There have been hundreds of witnesses. There is thousands and thousands of pages of testimony. They certainly had a chance, if they wanted people to come and speak and be heard in person, to do that before the House. The time now is to stop efforts to delay. The time now is to argue the case, argue the record; let the White House argue their side, let the Senate ask their questions and let's move towards making a decision.
Q Joe, some of the Republicans seem to be starting the drum beat about getting the President to testify. Why do you think they're doing that?
MR. LOCKHART: It's hard to know. We've oftentimes in this process shifted quickly from judicial to political, and I think that may be the case here. I saw from some of the reporting that the Republicans have just taken a poll on this -- and this is a winner, they think, for them.
I think the American public is tired of the politics, they're tired of the polling, they're tired of the political winners. They want this thing to end.
Q Joe, can you summarize just very briefly what it was the lawyers -- how the lawyers presented their review to the President and what he said in response?
MR. LOCKHART: They gave him a sense of what was presented on the floor and a sense of what they expected today and tomorrow and it was not a very explicit or detailed briefing.
Q Did the President respond? How did the President respond?
MR. LOCKHART: The President thanked his lawyers for the briefing.
Q Joe, I was wondering if the White House had any response to the firing today, this morning, of the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Apparently, he, in the upcoming addition, put out an article about the definition of sex -- I think it was a Kinsey study. And I guess he was fired -- they're going to have a news conference -- was fired because of the proximity of this trial and the definition put forth in that article pretty much supported what the President's definition was. Any reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that clearly is an internal matter for the AMA to deal with and I think they're in the best position to decide what's appropriate.
Q Is the President going to make any statement on Brazil today? And is there any discussion between the administration, the IMF and Brazil to redo their plan?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President was briefed this morning on the latest on the situation in Brazil. We, as a government, are in close touch with the Brazilian authorities, the IMF and the G-7 and financial authorities in key emerging markets, and will continue to watch those developments. As you know, there's been some news in the region, but I'd refer you, as far as further comments, to the Treasury Department.
Q Who briefed him this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: The President was briefed by both Jim Steinberg, the Deputy National Security Advisor; and Gene Sperling, his National Economic Council Director.
Q You've mentioned several times you think Americans say they're tired of hearing about all this impeachment case. What do you sense does the President get of whether people are interested in watching this particular episode -- with the actual trial, the actual arguments? You've always said you wanted a chance to present your case. Are Americans paying attention or should they pay attention to the content of the trial?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think they should. I think it's something important. And it's our hope that this will be covered in a way that deals seriously with the issues and with the evidence and deemphasizes the politics. We've had plenty of time for the politics and plenty of times for the coverage of the politics.
I think the American public understands what's going on here. I think by a large majority they understood the partisan nature of the proceedings in the House and they are watching. And what they speak to more often and more clearly and more loudly is the idea that we don't need a process that takes us into the spring and the summer, to keep this around for a long time.
Q And you've often said that you want no witnesses called. Does the White House believe that the Senate has the authority to compel testimony from the President?
MR. LOCKHART: You'd have to get a legal expert on that. I don't know the answer to the question.
And let me clarify one thing. The White House believes that what -- the result of witnesses, it's not just on a random objection to the idea of having witnesses. Because all you have on the record right now is untested, non-cross-examined, non-exculpatory-driven testimony and evidence that is, by it's nature, perhaps the most prejudicial case you could have against the President.
I think there is certainly a point that we could benefit from cross-examining much of this testimony that has been given and to challenge the assertions that have been made in the interpretation. However, when you weigh that against the time that that would take, the months that this issue would drag on, the White House has come to the conclusion that there is a greater benefit to the American public to get this over with. And we're willing to move past what at times has been very unfair treatment and characterization, make our case before the Senate next week, let the Senate ask questions and then see if we can't get this resolved.
Q Joe, on Tuesday, do you anticipate the President discussing in the State of the Union the Senate trial or anything along those lines, or maybe talking about the politics of personal destruction, which he's talked about before?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I don't want to speak definitively until we get to Tuesday and I've seen the final speech. But I don't really anticipate anything at that point along the lines of dealing with the Senate trial.
Q Joe, on another subject, about Russia, it seems that there's been some sort of a crackdown on Russia more recently from the United States, not so much on steel where they seem to get a by, but in satellites where you said that you won't allow any more satellites to be launched. Can you explain what's going on?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me punt on one of them and deal directly on the other. I'll have to look into the second part of it, but I would hotly contest your characterization that they get a by on steel. The facts do not bear that out.
Q Joe, would the President testify if he was called before the Senate?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a hypothetical question. I think I've expressed myself pretty clearly on the subject over the last couple of days.
I need to get one more question, then I've got to go.
Q Is the legal team going to not present anything on Tuesday to just give the President his chance to do the State of the Union?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is there are some discussions going on in the Senate on the schedule. We'll let you know once we know something for certain.
Q Joe, one other question on Brazil. Are you guys doing anything on Brazil today, any plans for the President to call --
MR. LOCKHART: I took that -- you'll get a transcript. I told this group everything I know on that subject.
Q He won't call Cardoso?
MR. LOCKHART: Thank you. That's all I know.
Q Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. EST