THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
12:39 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: We'll do a couple of quick announcements before we get to questions. Tomorrow, President Clinton will attend a memorial service for Governor Lawton Chiles at the Russell Senate Office Building at 11:00 a.m. The President is on the speaking program of the service, the press coverage is TBD -- we're working that out with the House gallery.
Following the memorial service he will go to the AT&T facility in Oakton, Virginia, where he will talk about closing the skills gaps and highlight employment initiatives in his upcoming budget.
Thursday, February 18th, President Clinton will travel to Manchester, New Hampshire. He will attend the 40th annual New Hampshire Democratic Party State Dinner. I expect he'll have another event that day, which we'll let you know about closer to the time.
Q Is he running for reelection?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I guess we buried the lead here. The President announced that he wants to undo the Constitution and repeal the 22nd -- 23rd amendment?
Q Sounds like gymnastics -- constitutional gymnastics you're talking about. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, there you go. (Laughter.) All's fair in constitutional gymnastics. This is our double flip in the pike position.
Q Isn't there some political overtone to going to New Hampshire about this time?
MR. LOCKHART: I'd expect that the New Hampshire Democratic Party knows what they're doing and it's about this time of year they'd like the President to speak to them. So I'd expect there would be a political overtone to that.
Q I bet you the Manchester Union will welcome him with open arms.
MR. LOCKHART: I hope so. Didn't they endorse him? Maybe not.
Q Joe, the White House in the last 24 hours has raised the concern that it hasn't had access to the materials that the prosecutors have been using. But haven't the President's lawyers had access for three months to the material that was being used by the Democratic counsel in the House?
MR. LOCKHART: No. And your question is not accurate in its characterization. We haven't raised this in the last 24 hours; I've been talking about this for weeks.
Q Well, yes, but you talked about it yesterday, which is all I'm referring to.
MR. LOCKHART: I did. But the question, Scott --
Q Are you saying that Abbe Lowell and the minority counsel has refused to cooperate with the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: Scott, the question, you said, is in the last 24 hours we "have raised" -- those are your words. The Democratic Counsel has acted in an appropriate way; we have not had access to that material.
Q Well, one senator made the suggestion today that a bulk of that material is actually White House documents that you sent to the investigation.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that's certainly some of that material, but we don't know because we haven't had access to it.
Q What are you going to do about trying to get access?
MR. LOCKHART: Nor has the Senate, for example, so it's hard to know how they would know that for sure.
Q What are you going to do about your request for access?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we believe that the Senate has moved forward in a way where they've tried to be fair to all sides to date, and we believe it's a fundamental issue of fairness that the accused gets a right and access to the same material that the prosecution gets. We will make that case. We will continue to make that case. We've made it on the floor of the Senate, we've made it -- I've made it from here.
If the Senate decides to move forward in a way that's fundamentally unfair, then I think they will have to live with the characterization that the House had to live with when they moved forward in a way that was fundamentally unfair to the President.
Q You mean you're going to stop -- kind of pull out all the stops and attack them as a partisan witch hunting --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we will point out to those who are concerned about issues of fairness that we have been. As I said this morning, using this record, as prejudicial as it is, is like tying our hands behind our back, but we accepted that. But this is like blindfolding us, and it's like asking the President's defenders to go into a process knowing far less than what the prosecution knows. That strikes -- would strike any lawyer as unfair. And I think even the House managers, when and if they ever get back into private practice, would never allow a client of theirs to be in a situation like this.
Q Are you saying that it would be improper for the White House to have had access to the information through the minority counsel's office?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, the House sets their own rules, and the rules for the House were the records that were made public, were made public; the records that were not made public, were not made public. We were allowed access to the records that were made public.
Q Ten days, the 10-day plan, is that a reasonable amount of time to wrap things up?
MR. LOCKHART: It's impossible to know. It's impossible to know before we've had a chance to look at this. It's impossible to know what's in the documents that we haven't seen. It would only be fair if we had a chance to look at them and then make some judgment somewhere down the road.
I think there's a fundamental choice here that senators face and must decide this afternoon, which is if they want to end this they can vote an article to dismiss. But if they vote to call witnesses they are, in effect, voting to extend this. And it is a simple and a fundamental choice.
Q Joe, you mentioned earlier that the White House was rebuffed in efforts to -- in a request to see the 50,000 pages. When were White House lawyers rebuffed and was it more than once?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know -- I'd have to go back and ask the lawyers, exactly. I know we have had some requests on access to the Independent Counsel's documents, much of which are what make up what the House has. I don't know that we've ever dealt directly with the House Judiciary Committee. But we have in various proceedings sought access to some documents and have not been successful.
Q Your stand is still the same on the President justifying?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q You said that --
Q I'm sorry, what was the question?
MR. LOCKHART: My stand is still the same on the President testifying, yes.
Q If I could just follow up on that. Why isn't an orator as skillful as the President not leaping at the chance to tell his story and declare his innocence before the Senate?
MR. LOCKHART: Because the President has testified, the President has answered questions, and he has done so in accordance with an agreement he made. We believe that all of the information that's necessary to make a decision is already on the record. Senators can make a choice and we have no intention or desire to participate with those who want to extend and delay because a case that they haven't made isn't sufficient for the Senate.
Q Joe, if everything -- if they have all the information they already need, and you've also made the argument that the witnesses aren't going to say anything different than they've already said, why won't hearing the witnesses and deposing they be a relatively short process?
MR. LOCKHART: Because this is based on a stipulated record. We have no idea what else might be in documents we haven't had access to.
Q So the only thing that's the unknown is the documents?
MR. LOCKHART: That's the starting point, yes. But remember the House, who have now had these documents for five months, had the ability to look at these and decide who else they wanted to talk to, who else they may have wanted to depose. They've gone out and done depositions over the last five months.
Q But if after these votes Lott and Daschle negotiate an agreement where only the stipulated record would be at issue here, would you accept that?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, that would be silly. I mean, why would you say that only the stipulated record, as is, can be discussed, but then go out and go beyond that, and then come back and say, but everything we just did over the weekend doesn't matter, we're back to the stipulated record.?
Q The only thing that's beyond the stipulated record is the 56,000 documents?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is that and there is anything that happens as we move forward in the depositions.
Q Well, let me ask you another question. You said it's impossible to know how long would be a reasonable amount of time for discovery until after we have a chance to look at the documents. How long will it take you to look at the documents once you get access?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea how long it would take the team to get through. It's 55,000 pages. It took the House Judiciary Committee -- they took four or five weeks before they started their process. But it's certainly possible we could do it quicker or it could take the same amount of time -- I don't know.
Q -- they're talking about possibly starting depositions as early as tomorrow. Are White House lawyers going to be ready tomorrow?
MR. LOCKHART: I think I've made the point abundantly clear that White House lawyers will not be ready to adequately serve their part in this process as a defense before they've had a chance to have the field leveled, before they have a chance to see the documents that the House managers have had for the last five months.
Q You know, even yesterday on the floor of the Senate they said the White House is bluffing, you want this over with, you'd welcome a chance to have a schedule --
MR. LOCKHART: We've been very -- I think we've been very straightforward all the way through this process about what we believe needs to be done. We do want this over with, but we want it done in a way that's fair. And to allow this kind of advantage for the prosecution and the prosecuting managers over the President's counsel is not fair. We, I think, took important steps and gave up a lot in saying we'll just talk about the stipulated record. But there comes a point where basic fairness overcomes our desire and the country's desire to wrap this thing up.
Q So you're not bluffing, then?
MR. LOCKHART: We're not bluffing. But we also know that the Senate Republicans will ultimately do what the Senate Republicans want to do. So it may be out of our hands.
Q Joe, I think you said a couple of times in the last few minutes that the House has had these documents for five months.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Are you saying that since the articles of impeachment were voted and has left the House --
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q -- the President's lawyers have neglected to contact the minority counsel to get a hold of this material they say they so desperately need?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to explain this one more time. There is information that the House Judiciary Committee has made available to the public. There is a lot of information, much more information, that they haven't made available to the public. That means it's not available to you, except through their selective leaks. It's not available to the White House; it's not available to someone walking down the street.
It is not a matter of whether our lawyers have neglected -- this is not material that's been made public. And that's the way the rules are set. And I'll remind you that it is the Republicans who have a majority on the committee who set the rules. And I'll remind you that each of the votes in that committee about the rules and what was made public and what was kept private were done on a party line vote -- Republicans voting for what was let out and what wasn't; Democrats voting against.
Q To make sure I understand, you are enjoined even today from having the President's lawyers contact Abbe Lowell and ask him what's in all that material? Even today that's against what you understand to be the rules?
MR. LOCKHART: That is against the rules set by the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee.
Q Will the President's lawyers then just refuse to participate in the depositions, if that's a schedule you don't like?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into hypotheticals down the road. There are serious issues that still need to be worked out and we expect them to get worked out.
Q It's not that far down the road.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, when we get closer down the road I'll try to address that.
Q Can we talk about another issue, this finding of fact idea where you, you know, convict but not remove, that's been floating around. One of the things that people who are for that say is that what they don't want to have happen is if the President is acquitted, as seems likely at this point, that he won't gloat or declare it a vindication or somehow celebrate that fact. If the President is not convicted by the Senate how do you plan to react?
Q Is he supposed to cry?
MR. LOCKHART: If he is not convicted?
Q Yes. Do you plan to say this is another vindication and celebrate that?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President has accepted the responsibility for his own personal behavior. The President's lawyers made a case that they have not made a sufficient showing that he is -- that these allegations are true and that they are certainly not reaching the standard that he should be removed. And I expect after that we'll not have a lot more to say about it.
Q Joe, the House managers say they have agreed to what is now an expedited timetable, that any delay at this point is your fault.
MR. LOCKHART: Let me take that one head on for a second. The key is "the House managers said." Let me remind you of a few things the House managers have said along the way. The House managers have said: We won't move forward in this process unless there is a bipartisanship, you can't impeach the President on a partisan basis. We know how long that lasted.
The House managers then argued ferociously that they didn't need witnesses, that "we don't need to reinvent the wheel," according to Henry Hyde, we don't need to rehash testimony that we have before us. And we know how that's turned out now. We saw them on the floor yesterday, the impassioned pleas that it's the constitutional duty of the Senate to hear witnesses.
We heard Chairman Hyde go on further when he was trying to reassure America that impeachment wasn't all that meaningful, that it was up to the Senate. He told the House Judiciary Committee that the Senate had no obligation at all to take up the impeachment proceeding, that they could ignore it. It could come over, they could ignore it, it could all go away if that was what they decided. Well, their argument now is it's the constitutional duty of the Senate to take this head on, to take witnesses, to hear live witnesses.
So you will have to indulge us if we don't believe everything we hear and that somehow, as we reach each milestone in this case we don't expect someone to come around the corner and say, oh, just one more thing --that's fine, we know that's what we said we wanted, but just one more thing. So I don't think there is a high sense of certainty to any time certainty that we get from the House managers.
Q They're saying that if -- at this point they've agreed, they've limited themselves to three witnesses now. It's up to -- the thing is only going to get extended if you guys decide to call witnesses.
MR. LOCKHART: They're saying that it's okay, you shouldn't have believed us then, but believe us now. Again, indulge us if we don't completely buy into that.
But secondly, I think today's vote is as clear an indication as you're going to get anywhere on this, which is you can end this or you can extend it. And the way to extend it, if they want to be fair, and if the Senate moves forward in a way that is fair, it will extend this process because it will have to allow for some reasonable period of discovery for the President's counsel. They can move forward in a way that's unfair. The House did that. So it's certainly within their power. They have the votes.
Q Do you know why they picked those three witnesses?
MR. LOCKHART: You would have to ask them.
Q Joe, you sound kind of -- obviously very frustrated; this process has just kind of slipped beyond now what you all find within the bounds of being tolerable.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's difficult to meet the criteria of a moving target. And this target seems to move every time -- every time there seems to be an opening to end this case, whether it's the House managers or whether it's the base right wing of the conservatives of the Republican Party find some way to extend it. This has been going on for months. The country wants this over. And we stand at another cross-roads where we found yet another way, if the votes go the way people expect them to go today, to extend this.
And as I think, as some of the senators said this morning, as we move forward here, the country will understand that this trial belongs to the Senate Republicans and the House managers and that they alone are responsible for extending this process.
Q Do you object to the idea of two votes at the end, a finding of fact and then a vote on impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, let me remind you of what went on in the House. In the House we had to move this over to the Senate and the President had to be impeached because the idea of censure, some sort of sentiment, statement of sentiment of the House or the Senate was unconstitutional. Now we appear to have people in the House and the Senate playing constitutional gymnastics with, well, it doesn't really matter what the Constitution says, we can find some way where we can get on record what we think, irregardless -- excuse me -- regardless of what -- I made that mistake before; where is Harris -- of what the Constitution says. I think it's time to stop playing these games. I think the Senate knows what they need to do. I think they should take the votes today seriously. They should move forward in a way that's fair and expeditions.
Q This is a housekeeping thing. Will you have reaction to the two votes that are --
MR. LOCKHART: I'll let you know. I will let you know once the votes are done.
Q Joe, can you just -- I just want to make sure I understood your answer to my previous question about how you would -- how the White House would view and would describe a vote of acquittal. Can you assure senators that there won't be any unseemly victory celebrations if the President is acquitted?
MR. LOCKHART: I can assure anyone who is interested that there is no one in the world more interested in getting this behind us than this White House, and that we will move quicker than they can even notice back to focusing full-time all the time -- and that means everybody here -- on the country's business. We will all have a much more interesting discourse here every day, when this issue is gone, and there will be nothing that anyone could describe as "unseemly."
Q Why is that worrying them? They're not supposed to celebrate? I don't get it.
Q Joe, are those 10 questions that the Republican senators sent down, is that now a dead issue?
MR. LOCKHART: It's about as alive as it was when I got asked this on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and again today.
Q And that is?
MR. LOCKHART: About as alive. Dead.
Q Are they going to be answered, though -- from the lawyers, not from the President?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think the Senate made clear they weren't interested in answers from lawyers. I've made clear we would be interested -- we would answer questions if it was under a bipartisan agreement. But Senator Lott has made clear that he thinks the question-and-answer period of this trial is over, as far as senators' questions to lawyers. So you can keep asking me about it, but we're not going to change our position.
Q Are all the lawyers on the Hill now?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Do they have any participation today?
MR. LOCKHART: Not in the sense of making any presentation, but I think they're there for the vote, as are the House managers.
Q Joe, aside from what the House managers say, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus on both sides of the aisle in the Senate that the trial may only go a couple more weeks and it will eventually end up with an acquittal. Given that, and given the fact that dismissal seems unlikely today, why would the White -- isn't there a danger in letting it go on many more weeks, and going through all these documents, and maybe getting into five or six, or seven weeks, that the dynamic might shift against the President at that point? Isn't it sort of a risky strategy to --
MR. LOCKHART: I think there's a danger to everyone involved here that the country is going to look at Washington and finally throw up their hands and say, we don't know what you're doing anymore; why do we bother watching you? And that danger can be addressed today. If you take the view that there shouldn't be a motion to dismiss, you can vote whichever way you think on that. But as far as witnesses go, I just don't think there's a credible argument that somehow -- that there isn't information available for senators to make their decision. And I think Mr. Kendall articulated it very well yesterday, which is, this is like someone who knows their case is bad, so they just keep doubling up the bet to find a way to extend it and keep going and to move forward. And they'll keep doing it until someone stops them.
Q What about the opposite of the coin? The opposite -- let me just ask a quick follow-up -- the opposite side of the coin. Some people have said, the White House now wants to keep this going because it seems to be hurting the Republican Party, and it's going to damage them coming up in the 2000 elections. How would you respond to those people?
MR. LOCKHART: I would say those people don't know what they're talking about. I'd ask them to come live with us for a day here, and they'd understand completely how wrong they are.
Q Joe, you invoked public opinion here today, and have for months, and your predecessor did. And the public opinion is clear; the public does not want the President removed for these offenses. But the public -- there's a poll, a Gallup poll last week that said 62 percent of the public would like to see Clinton testify in this case. I know you're familiar with that. If that were to help -- I'd like to revisit Mr. Knoller's question -- if that would help wrap this up, what's your objection to it if the public's for it?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think Senator Daschle put it best yesterday. It's a red herring; we don't see this as a serious request. There was not a serious issue here when this was in the House. They, again, have had another one of their -- there must be something magical about walking across the Senate courtyard, about how it changes everything you believe, everything you know, and everything you say, because everything they said on the House side has now been turned upside down.
And I would suggest that it's not a magical walk, it has something to do with their case. And it has something to do with the fact that they weren't able to present a credible and convincing case to the Senate, so now we have a lot of games going on.
This, as I said yesterday, is a political play. It's about politics and partisanship and trying to score points, and we're not going to participate in it.
Q But isn't that an easy answer, Joe? The President is a defendant in an impeachment trial in the Senate and he's asked to answer some questions. And I don't understand why the President, if he is not guilty as his lawyers have repeatedly said, isn't leaping at the chance to do this.
MR. LOCKHART: I'd suggest the President has answered questions. I'd also suggest you look at the way our system is built -- which is, it's the burden of the prosecution to build a case. I think we are all in a lot of danger here if we all jump to that conclusion that you see as so obvious, that if you're not willing to testify you must be guilty. That's just not how our system is built.
Q But as a political case -- it's not a trial, criminal trial.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, and they're pretty good at playing politics.
Q One of the other things that the polls show is that the majority of the people believe he did perjure himself before the grand jury. How does the President feel about that? I mean, clearly you think the public is right when they say they want --
MR. LOCKHART: I think, clearly, that is something that's troubling to the President, because the President believes very strongly that he did not perjure himself before the grand jury. And I think that much of what his counsel presented last week in defense really blew a hole in that case. I haven't seen anything post the counsel presentation; most of it has been before. And I think we had trouble making the case because our lawyers decided that they wanted to do it on the Senate floor and in the House Judiciary Committee.
And, you know, you don't see our lawyers out every single day, every minute of the day on a cable channel, like you see the House managers. And to the extent that there was a communications battle here, we lost that battle. And that is troubling to me and I think it's troubling to the President. But the bottom line is we've now made the case and I don't think that in the group that is most important, the United States Senate, that you even have a majority who believes the perjury case. I think there were a slew of Republican senators over the weekend all talking about how they've moved off perjury and they think that they need to ask more questions on obstruction.
So it's unfortunate that the public believes that, and we will now have to rely on pointing to the very effective case that the President's counsel made.
Q Well, why did you lose the communications battle? Were you asked to have people on and you --
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly were, and it was our lawyers decision and I agree with the principals in it that these are arguments that should be made in the appropriate places and we'll leave it to others to go out and talk 24 hours a day about how great their case is.
Q Joe, on another subject, what is the purpose of the President's meeting with his advisors on Brazil?
MR. LOCKHART: The President has been kept up to date throughout the last couple of weeks as far as briefings, and I think he just wants to get a more comprehensive briefing on what's been going on. Secretary Rubin and the economic team, both here and at Treasury, have been in touch with international financial officials and Brazilian officials, but I don't have any particular news going into the meeting about any policy action.
Q Is there any policy action envisioned, for example, accelerating payments under the $41.5 billion package last year?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any news like that to announce, no.
Q Joe, just a follow-up on Mark's question about not answering the questions. Isn't it fair to say that the President might fear additional legal and political peril? After all, every time he has answered questions about this matter under oath, whether it be in the grand jury or in the Paula Jones deposition, or even the 81 interrogatories, he's ended up having that used against him either in articles of impeachment or politically. Isn't it true that he might not want to dig himself in any deeper if he answers yet more questions?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think we see this request for what it is, as a political play, and we're just not interested in playing that game anymore.
Q Thank you.
Q Joe, can I have one on Kosovo? Has the administration ruled out ground troops in Kosovo?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think right now, as you know, the ACTORD that remains in place is purely an air strike. And the President has always said that he has no intention or plans to put any combat forces into a hostile environment.
Now, as far as a post-political settlement or implementation force, as we've said since October, if there was any role for the U.S. at all, that would be something we would discuss with our allies and Congress.
Q If a peacekeeping force is --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Not in Bosnia?
MR. LOCKHART: Correct. Thank you.
END 1:05 P.M. EST