THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (St. Louis, Missouri) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release January 26, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Filing Center Lambert-St. Louis International Airport St. Louis, Missouri
1:05 P.M. CST
MR. LOCKHART: Only the best accommodations for me. Okay, questions.
Q What is your response to the House managers' motion before the Senate to call three witnesses on their behalf and to ask the Senate to depose the President?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, let me let David Kendall, the President's fine attorney, answer the first part about that question. He'll be presenting very soon, if not now, a detailed response to why there's no need to call additional witnesses in this case.
Let me say on the last request that I think this falls into the category of a political play. The House managers have clearly failed to make an effective case to the Senate. Now they're falling back on their old habit of playing politics. We don't need any more witnesses; we have tens of thousands of pages of testimony from all the relevant witnesses. The President has testified, the President has answered questions. I think Mr. Kendall will make a compelling case why it's time to wrap this case up.
Q Do you believe that the Senate would have the power to require the President to sit for a deposition?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's obviously a constitutional question that the Senate will have to face. I think the Senate faces a more important question first, which is whether it's time to wrap this up or do they want to follow the political will of the House managers who are now seeking to, having not made their case, delay and extend this process even further. I think there is a sentiment in this country that is growing by the day that the time has come to wrap this up, that both sides have had a chance to effectively make their case, and any attempt to extend and delay should be resisted.
Q Well, are you telling us the President, if asked by the Senate, would decline to give a deposition?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that it's our position that there has been enough testimony in this case, there is no need for any more witnesses. Mr. Kendall will make that case on the floor of the Senate today. It's time to wrap this up.
Q But you're not answering the question. I mean, the question is, would the President decline if asked by the Senate.
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly think that everyone should decline any invitation at this point; it's time to wrap this up. I don't -- as we've said all along, the President has no intention of testifying again.
Q You say you think there's a growing sentiment that the country -- do you think that sentiment is shared in general by members of the Senate, or is that still --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think if you look at the remarks from senators from both sides of the aisle, particularly from some Republicans, they've said that the House managers have failed to present a compelling case for why witnesses are needed. We have some 6,000 pages of testimony; you have -- of the people who they are looking to call now, you have more than 2,000 pages of testimony. There is very little to see -- very little legal reason to see what they could add here. So I'd suggest that what is going on here is, again, having failed to make their case in an effective way, they're looking to extend and delay this process to try a new avenue. And that's just not the way judicial proceedings are supposed to work.
Q Why do you think delay would necessarily ensue if witnesses are called? Couldn't the Senate sort of fence off the time period?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think that there's a very important and fundamental issue here of fairness. If senators, at the behest of the House managers, seek to reopen the record, then there will have to be a period of discovery. Of the 60,000 or so pages that the House compiled, only 6,000 pages were sent to the Senate and only 6,000 pages were made available to the White House. The White House would need to be given the opportunity to review all of the documents and testimony that we haven't been able to see. And that also extends to the Office of the Independent Counsel. I don't think you can expect White House lawyers to go into a period of deposition and testimony when they haven't been given the same access to information that the prosecution has. That has been the case from the beginning, that if we move into a period of depositions and testimony, there would be extension and delay.
Q Did you already address the question of whether you all would call witnesses to counter the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, we are making the case on the floor of the Senate as we speak, or shortly, that there is no need for witnesses. If the Senate in their judgment believes that it's in their interest to move forward with witnesses, we would have to defer that judgment until after some period of discovery when we'd have some understanding of all the information that is available to the prosecution.
Q So right now you're not in a position to say whether or not you would call witnesses?
MR. LOCKHART: Correct.
Q So are you suggesting that you would wait then until -- until what point would you decide that you could then come forward and say we want these witnesses?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would suspect after we had a chance to look at the documents that the prosecution has had a chance to review over the last three months.
Q Well, you say that could be months.
MR. LOCKHART: That could be.
Q Joe, if the House managers get three witnesses, would it be fair to give the White House an equal number of --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think blind justice is counting the number of witnesses. It's impossible to know without knowing what these witnesses might say; some of the documents that have not been made available to us, what they say, to know how we would present a case. That's one of the reasons that we're making the case as strongly as possible today that there are no need to call any further witnesses. There's nothing more to add to this. There has been countless hours, tens of thousands of pages of testimony, and we don't believe we need to go forward.
Q But, Joe, if it's impossible to know what they would say, how can you say that there's no reason to hear from them? Isn't that slightly contradictory -- you're saying on the one hand it is impossible to know what --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me be clear here. We certainly know the testimony that has been put into the record, and that would obviously be the most prejudicial to the President because the prosecution put it in the record. We don't know as far as exculpatory information what else that was provided by the Independent Counsel or was in the House managers' presentation that they didn't decide to send over to the Senate. So that's why you'd need, as in any judicial proceeding, some period of discovery where the playing field got leveled, where everyone -- we could restart this process with both sides having the same access to information -- or the defense having the same access to information that the prosecution has.
Q Joe, why should it not be seen that you're trying to threaten the Senate by saying, oh, we're going to keep this going long after if they agree to witnesses? Is that not --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I would actually turn that around, Mark, and look at it the other way, which is the House managers have presented their case; it's very clear that they have not convinced the Senate that the President should be convicted and removed. That appears to be the sentiment. And now they are seeking to delay, they're now seeking an extension, they're now seeking to sort of change the subject and try a different route. That's not how the Senate set out to move forward in this process, and I don't think that's the way they should. And that's the case Mr. Kendall will be making.
Q Can the President be compelled to give a deposition to the Senate, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: That is a constitutional issue that I'm not qualified to opine on, and it's certainly not -- I think what the House has asked is that the Senate request.
Q Will the other witnesses then that the House has asked for, as far as you can tell, will they come forward or will they fight the subpoena --
MR. LOCKHART: I have no way of knowing the answer to that.
Q There's no change on those 10 questions that --
MR. LOCKHART: No change. Don't expect any change.
Q Joe, when you said you would urge other people not to offer to testify -- you said something about if others were invited to testify, we don't think they should --
MR. LOCKHART: No, no -- no, absolutely not. My comment in the context of which I said it was that Mr. Kendall was making the case for calling no witnesses. We're not going to discourage or encourage anyone once the Senate makes a decision.
Q And you can't rule out that you might need six or 12 or any number of witnesses, depending on what --
MR. LOCKHART: I can't rule out because no defense could be in a position to make any decision like that until they know the whole breadth of material that the prosecution is drawing from, which we don't have right now.
Okay, I've got to go.
Q Joe, one Pope question? In his remarks the Pope criticizes those in America who treat the unborn, the terminally ill and handicapped, and others considered unuseful as outside the boundaries of legal protection. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to prejudge the conversation that the President will have with the Pope. He's looking forward to it. I think I gave you some sense of, yesterday, what the President wants to talk about, and will give you some sense afterwards of what areas they covered. So I have no reaction.
Q Do you have any reaction to the Vatican's criticism of Iraq, the military action in Iraq, which was included in a public statement yesterday and is in the Pope's remarks?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure. I think that the President and that United States government agrees that no one wants to use force, but this situation has been brought on us by Saddam Hussein's unwillingness to comply with the agreements he made at the end of the Gulf War. We plan to continue to vigorously contain Saddam Hussein, including the current effort to enforce the no-fly zone. And we plan to allow American pilots and British pilots to protect themselves against the very real threat that is presented against them.
Okay, got to go. Thanks.
END 1:15 P.M. CST