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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 25, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                              JOE LOCKHART

                            The Briefing Room

12:37 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Hello, hello. Welcome back to the White House briefing room. April, you seem particularly anxious to ask a question, so why don't you go first.

Q Thank you.

MR. LOCKHART: Let me guess. Let's see if a got it right --

Q Census.


Q What's the White House's thoughts on the current decision from the Supreme Court about not allowing any kind of adjustment for minority expected under-count?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, as you know, the decision has just come out in the last hour or so, so the Counsel's Office has just gotten it and is reading it and reviewing it. But they, on a preliminary basis, they've conveyed to me that this is a limited decision under the existing statute and the ruling only addresses whether sampling could be used for the purposes of apportionment. So it did not deal with either the constitutional issue or whether statistical sampling can be used for things like redistricting and the apportionment of federal funds within states.

I think, beyond that, we will have a chance in the context of the budget debate of Commerce, State, Justice -- which, as you remember, went only six months as a compromise, as opposed to the full year -- to discuss how we can address that.

Q So will you appeal?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we can't appeal this. But this, again, this is only the statutory part of it. And the statute can obviously be changed.

Q I always thought you were smart. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: This could get ugly, fast. (Laughter.)

Q Joe, the Democrats proposed a plan that would end the President's trial by Friday. The Republicans have now rejected that.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't know that it's quite that way. My understanding of this was there was a bipartisan plan put forward by a group of senators on each side of the aisle. That plan was put to the Democratic Caucus and they reacted positively to it. That same bipartisan plan was put forward to the Republican Caucus and they've rejected it. So we think that it's unfortunate that the Republican Caucus has rejected a plan that on a bipartisan basis could bring this case to a conclusion in an expedited way.

Q Is there any chance at this point that this is going to end in a bipartisan way?

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, I think there is always a chance. And I think there are senators who are working in good faith every hour now trying to do that. I think there was a ray of hope for an hour or so with this bipartisan plan getting support within the Democrats and there was some scuttle that the Republicans might endorse this plan, but, unfortunately, they've decided to oppose it.

Q Going back to the census quickly, can you take another element of it and try to push it back through the courts? That's I guess what I meant, Mr. Donaldson.

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'll leave it to -- I think Secretary Daley will be available to the press at around 2:00 p.m. today and I'll leave it to the lawyers. But my limited understanding is they've ruled on the narrow statutory part of this and it would require a change in the statute, something that Congress would need to do.

Q Where is he having his news conference?

MR. LOCKHART: At the Commerce Department.

Q Can you tell us now whether the President's lawyers have contacted witnesses or people who might be witnesses if the Senate should so decide?

MR. LOCKHART: I did a little research on this subject this morning because it was so important. The White House Counsel's Office and defense team has not done any of the things they would normally do in preparing for a trial with witnesses, as far as going and debriefing or trying to prepare witnesses or to prepare them for depositions.

Let me tell you so you don't run after me a week from now, that there's at least one occasion where someone who works at the White House, whose name has frequently been mentioned in the newspaper as a potential witness -- his lawyer contacted counsel because his lawyer was going to be out of town for a few days over these days and wanted a sense of how his client -- what context his client came up in the presentation of the House managers' case. So there was a brief meeting on that subject yesterday. But excepting that, which was at a lawyer's request, the White House Counsel has made the decision that they would defer the normal preparations until after the Senate has made their decision.

Q Was it true, Joe, during the grand jury investigation? Let me be specific. Are you saying that no member of the President's defense team debriefed Betty Currie or her attorneys after she testified to the grand jury?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm not talking about then. I'm talking about now. Since the House -- excuse me, since the Senate resolution has passed.

Q So there were such debriefings before the Senate resolution was passed?

MR. LOCKHART: Listen, we spent months going around and around on the fact that if you want that information you should talk to their attorneys. I'll stay there. But I've answered the specific question that came up.

Q This seems to be very straight forward, let's just try to close any potential door. You're telling us then that during these last several days or weeks when the --


Q -- when the Senate has been considering the question, after the bipartisan agreement, there's been no contact with lawyers or people who might be potential witnesses should the White House decide to call them, if the Senate allows?

MR. LOCKHART: That's my understanding. And, again, there are people who work here, so I'm not telling you there isn't contact in the hallways. But as far as preparing for the case, witnesses, debriefings, witness preparation, no, except for the one example that I've cited for you.

Q Let me just ask you about the column this morning in The New York Times -- Safire said that while he was here for a briefing on the State of the Union he wandered into a place where perhaps he shouldn't have been, and he saw Betty Currie being talked to and he speculated, I supposed, if perhaps by lawyers.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that all of you use a higher standard then speculating.

Q Well, speculation is my word not Safire's, but I'm just trying to say --

Q He did say that, though. He said she looked very worried.

MR. LOCKHART: By whom? Sam, there are people who work in this building -- do you think if they were going to engage in a witness preparation session they would do it sitting out in the President's -- in the outer office to the President's room? I would apply a little logic to this.

Q A lot of things apparently happen in this building that you would not suppose ahead of time would have happened.

MR. LOCKHART: You have a point.

Another subject, please.

Q Has the President received any questions yet from Senator Lott?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not that I'm aware of.

Q And what would he do with them if he does?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I presume they would come to the White House Counsel's Office and they would repeat our position to whoever they came from that there has been two days of questions and answers; if Senator Lott and Senator Daschle, as they talked about on the floor, come to some agreement about keeping the record open for other senators to put questions to the White House Counsel, we will participate in that, but they should not send questions to the President. That's not --

Q Why not?

MR. LOCKHART: Why not? Because that's not called for in the Senate procedure.

Q Joe, the St. Petersburg Times noted this morning that the Reverend Henry Lyons, the President of the National Baptist Convention, is a good friend of the President who has spoken at Lyons' invitation at the convention. The Washington Post reports that President Lyons is charged with grand theft, racketeering, tax exemption, money-laundering and fraud, uncovered after Mrs. Lyons found that her husband and his mistress bought a house that she tried to burn down. My question is: Is the President at all concerned about this degree of wifely opposition to his friend, her husband's, infidelity?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President would think it was appropriate to talk about a case that's under litigation.

Q Well, can I ask this. Joe, one follow-up.

MR. LOCKHART: I think, Lester, one is enough on this.

Q Back to the census. You said that there may be some effort to change the law. In light of the fact that the Republicans in previous Congresses have taken very strong positions against any kind of sampling, why does the White House think that there is a shot at this?

MR. LOCKHART: The opinion came down about an hour ago. I'm not going to get into a legislative strategy until we've at least had a chance to read it and understand it.

Q What is the White House stance now -- are you in a holding pattern?

MR. LOCKHART: We're trying to figure what the heck is going on up there, Helen. We don't know.

Q What is going on?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know.

Q Has the President -- has he met with any of his lawyers today?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not today. And, again, they'll be up on the Hill doing -- I presume we'll follow the schedule that was laid out on Friday. And there may be some more Q and A, and then we'll go to the -- both sides presenting their position on the motions. And we'll take it from there.

Q Anticipating that something might go on up there, the President was open at one point to censure. In fact, he came out and publicly said that that might be appropriate. Is he still -- if he were to be acquitted on both articles, would he still be open to a censure?

MR. LOCKHART: The President's position on censure hasn't changed. He believes, as he said, that he did not believe that it was -- it would not be inappropriate for the House or the Senate, but it was up to the House and the Senate to prescribe how they went forward with that.

Q Joe, on Saturday, Greg Craig was asked to take a specific question to the President and Counsel. Are you saying today that that question will not be answered?

MR. LOCKHART: That's what I'm saying. Actually, he was asked for an interrogatory and I believe that means a series. But whether it was a series of questions or one question, Mr. Craig spoke to the senators directly who asked the question, explained that in light of the decision that Senator Lott and Senator Daschle seemed to make at the end of the session, that the record might be kept open for more Q&A, that questions should be sent to the President's counsel, not to the President; that the counsel would answer questions under the rules as prescribed by the Senate. And according to Mr. Craig, the senators were satisfied with that.

Q Joe, have you received the questions from Lott?


Q Is Arafat coming next week?

MR. LOCKHART: February 4th, he's coming to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, yes.

Q Joe, do you expect the Pope to bring up any of this with the President tomorrow?

MR. LOCKHART: Any of "this"?

Q Any of the President's transgressions, marital problems?

MR. LOCKHART: I have no way of predicting or expecting what the Pope might bring up.

Q Are you prepared -- is the President prepared, in case the Pope gives him a lecture?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what you mean by prepared.

Q Did you ever find out if they pray together when they meet?

MR. LOCKHART: Did not.

Q The Pope and the President?

Q Yes.

Q Joe, the Independent Counsel has said --

MR. LOCKHART: Usually I don't get to these until much later in the briefing. (Laughter.)

Q The Independent Counsel has said that Ms. Lewinsky is available to be interviewed by the President's attorneys. Are they interested in that?

MR. LOCKHART: No, the President's attorneys, as I have stated for them, believe that we should defer to the clear wishes of the Senate to put this decision off until they've had a chance to speak on witnesses. And we don't believe that we should go forward, and we certainly don't believe that we ought to be using the office of the Independent Counsel and a federal court to compel someone to sit down and have a cup of coffee against their will.

Q Joe, who is the individual whose lawyers contacted the Counsel's Office, Bruce Lindsey?

MR. LOCKHART: You heard me say "him," so that much is out of the bag. I'm going to leave it there.

Q Blumenthal, perhaps?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm going to leave it there.

Q Wait a minute. You say that you feel that Monica Lewinsky was compelled against her will this weekend --


Q -- and that was wrong?

MR. LOCKHART: That's why she went to court.

Q Right, and so you disagree with -- you feel that Judge Norma Holloway Johnson's interpretation of --

MR. LOCKHART: You can have a constitutional issue, and I think Senator Harkin has raised some constitutional issues. I'm not going to quarrel with the Judge's decision. We have quarreled, as Mr. Ruff did on the floor, with the decision to bring it to court.

Q Why would you quarrel with the Independent Counsel but not the Judge who allows it? What's the difference?

Q She is the one who compelled Monica Lewinsky to do something against her will. She interpreted the law.

MR. LOCKHART: She would not have been compelled to -- she would not have made her decision if it wasn't brought to her.

Q She thought it was a correct decision, obviously.

MR. LOCKHART: And we're not a party to it.

Q You're saying that the Independent Counsel, who made her do something that was right -- I don't understand that.

MR. LOCKHART: It was the Independent Counsel at the urging of the House managers who compelled her to sit down and talk to them without a record, without a transcript, subject to whatever spin they wanted to put on it, and against her will because she didn't want to do it.

Q Against her will?

Q Wait a second, Joe. The Independent Counsel said that he had a certainly interpretation of the agreement, which Judge Johnson agreed with.

MR. LOCKHART: And I think he --

Q You don't --

MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he had discretion within the agreement. And he made a decision and he made a decision based on his work with the House managers.

Q Do you think he was duped?


Q I mean, that seems to be what you're saying.

MR. LOCKHART: No, it's not at all what I'm saying.

Q Respond you say --


Q Has she ever ruled in your favor?

Q Yes.

Q In the last two or three years?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, she has. And I'm not making any characterizations of her. I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not qualified to.

Q Was the White House Counsel made aware of the hearing during which all of this was brought up?

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

Q Joe, it's going to cost a good bit of money for the President to fly out to St. Louis to meet the Holy Father, and I don't think anybody would object to his meeting. The question is, why is he meeting other than just a courtesy? Does he have anything that he wants to talk to the Holy Father about?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the President enjoys carrying on a dialogue with one of the preeminent religious leaders in the world. He'll --

Q Well, what will he --

MR. LOCKHART: I'll get to it if you'll let me. You all done? Good. He will discuss issues of mutual concern, including human rights around the world; I'm certain the situation in Iraq, the situation in Cuba, which the Pope has expressed particular interest in, will be part of the discussion.

Q Will he discuss morality?

MR. LOCKHART: That I don't know.

Q And also, does he feel that the Holy Father will be pleased with his opposition -- support defense of marriage act, since the Holy Father just addressed the Roman Rota in opposition to same-sex marriage?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'll leave it to the Holy Father to do his own briefings.

Q There is a certain irony here, isn't there? I mean, the Pope was in this hemisphere when this scandal all began. Maybe he is here when it ends. Sort of like bookends. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: So, Sam, if we end this you'll go to Cuba? (Laughter.) Irony escapes me at some times.

Q Why has it been, these months, appropriate for Betty Currie to continue to work in the Oval Office during a period of time when she was clearly a potential witness before the President's trial?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't understand why it wouldn't be.

Q It might be suggested --

MR. LOCKHART: My answer is I can't see any reason that it wouldn't be appropriate. That's my answer.


Q What does the President expect to get in his meeting with the President of Venezuela on Wednesday?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me look at that. I know that we have a wide-ranging dialogue with Venezuela, both on economic and political issues. But let me get a better briefing and come back to you.

Q The President's proposal on the budget surplus has been criticized by Republicans for not setting aside any of it toward tax cuts. Is that why over the weekend, when the President did his radio address, referred to the universal savings account as a tax credit, even though they're not tax credits?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think for those of you who were lucky enough to be involved in the extensive briefings that Mr. Sperling did on the State of the Union will find the language remarkably similar. So the language we used to explain this was formulated well before there was any criticism. And I'll remind you that there has been some criticism and there certainly has been some very positive signs from some Republicans who talk about this being a good starting point, who quibble or disagree on some of the elements of this. But we think it's a positive step forward for getting this debate going.

Q Well, Joe, White House officials did start using that language before the State of the Union and the President did use it in Buffalo, but he didn't use it in the speech, he didn't use it in the State of the Union.


Q Was there some reason for that?

MR. LOCKHART: No. The President had an awful lot to get through, as you all know, and we had always intended to lay out the idea of the proposal in the State of the Union and then spend some time over the next couple weeks explaining and trying to build public support for it, and that's what we're intending to do.

Q Do you have anything to add to what Secretary Shalala said about Breaux's Medicare proposal, about the White House view of that?

MR. LOCKHART: No. Whatever she said, I'm sure it was good.

Q Can you improve upon it at all?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm sure I couldn't.

Q Given that three Republican senators this weekend -- Senator Snowe and a couple others -- said they're looking for a way to get out of this thing quickly, does the White House believe it's won the political battle now, despite the legal setback with Monica Lewinsky and the Johnson ruling --

MR. LOCKHART: I think -- I mean, there's been an awful lot of political battling over this issue over the last year. I think what changed last week was from a legal point of view, the White House got a chance to, in a very compelling way, set forth the legal defense. And to the extent that people's minds have been changed or they are open to new ideas on this, I think I would attribute it to the legal defense that the lawyers put forth.

Q Do you see momentum now in your favor?

MR. LOCKHART: If I came out here once an hour I might say there would be momentum. But since everything changes back and forth so quickly, I'm not going to get locked into anything as silly as that.

Q Have you been able to get a handle on how much time the President spends on this in an average day or in an average week?

MR. LOCKHART: There's no such thing as an average day or an average week here, as I've told you in the past. When it's appropriate he spends some time with the lawyers getting caught up. But the vast majority of his time is focused in on businesses that you see in preparing for events and policy discussions.

Q Does he wind up spending some time on it, do you think, every day?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm sure there have been days that he hasn't spent time on it with the staff -- I don't know -- when we all go home, to what extent he takes reading material with him. But, again, it's impossible to predict with any accuracy every day, or how much every day, how much every week.

Q Joe, in remembering President Carter's pardoning all of the draft resisters and evaders, has the President given any consideration if the Senate decides to let him go without convicting him, to pardoning the -- I understand there's 115 perjurers now doing time in prison?

MR. LOCKHART: The President has a process for dealing with pardons and anyone who would be interested in pursuing that would have to go through the process.

Q Joe, on another subject -- when the President talked about the patients' bill of rights in the State of the Union speech he left out the right of patients to sue HMOs. And I'm wondering if you know if that is still something the White House would support as part of patients' bill of rights.

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly, as far as I know. I will double-check for you, but I'm not aware of any policy shift.

Q Have you had the opportunity, Joe, to find out any reaction from the President about his -- upon is learning that Paula Jones was in the audience yesterday?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't put that question to him today.

Q I mean, certainly the White House has some response. It was a pretty shocking moment for most of us who were there.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, then you're too easily shocked. Come work here for a while. You will find that nothing shocks you.

Q If I could belabor one more question. One more.

MR. LOCKHART: One more.

Q Here's a woman who filed a sexual harassment suit against the President, the case is settled and all of a sudden, with that all resolved, she shows back up at an event where the President is speaking. It seems to me that you would have some response.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, America is a great place where freedom and democracy thrives.

Q Was he upset about it, Joe?

Q Was it a tacky move for Paula Jones? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I can't think of a better group collectively that could offer better judgment on whether it was tacky or not then you all. I will leave it to you all.

Q Define tacky, Joe. How do you mean by tacky?

Q She got the $850,000.

MR. LOCKHART: She does, or her lawyers do, as the case may be. We're winding down here, aren't we? (Laughter.)

Thank you. I think it's time to go watch TV.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 12:56 P.M. EST