View Header


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 3, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                             JOE LOCKHART 
                           The Briefing Room            

12:50 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: I have no announcements to make, so we'll go right to questions.

Q Joe, why is it in your view unconstitutional for the finding of fact? I don't understand how -- what your defense is that it would be unconstitutional for the Senate to engage in a finding of fact during the impeachment process.

MR. LOCKHART: Because the Constitution clearly lays out for the Senate what their constitutional role is, which is to either convict and remove, or acquit. And that's by a two-thirds margin. Adding at this late date and time some other political maneuver to try to do something short of that I think raises some serious precedent questions about how we'll move forward in the future.

Q But there's nothing in the Constitution that would prohibit such a process.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think most constitutional scholars that have spoken on the subject have been very clear. You've got people who have not been all that friendly, from Robert Bork to Robert Dole, friendly to the White House -- or not friendly to the White House, as the case may be -- who have made it very clear that they think this is going around the Constitution. And I think it's understandable as people work toward trying to figure out a way to bring this process to an end, which we wholeheartedly support, but in the rush to do that and as they move toward the exits they shouldn't try to trample on the Constitution in the process.

Q Can I follow up on that? Are you saying that if they take some -- you object to some kind of vote if it would be followed by an up or down vote on impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Our constitutional objection is to say that there is no place for this within the context of impeachment. If they were to take some vote like this after the impeachment process was over, and whatever you call it -- finding of fact, or censure -- that's something that the Senate certainly has the right to do and we wouldn't object to.

Q Joe, it seems that what's motivating a lot of these senators was the pep rally after the impeachment vote in the House of Representatives, that the President would do something similar this time, say he's vindicated and declare victory, and they don't want him to do so. That's why they're looking for some formula to avoid that. What can you say to assure them that you're not going to do that again?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I think you've got to take some of this with a grain of salt. There was a lot of talk during the House process about, well, if the President only said that he was sorry, this would all go away. And as the President addressed that issue, then the excuse for why this needed to stay around became something else.

And I'd also remind you of the context of that day and why we thought that that event was an appropriate event. We had gone through a very partisan impeachment process where the President was impeached despite the pledge from the House Judiciary Committee Chairman that he wouldn't move forward unless he had bipartisan support on almost a straight party line. And immediately following that vote -- in fact, preceding that vote, as it became clear where the votes were, you had the House Republican leadership beginning the drum beat for, now that the President has been impeached he must resign. And we thought it was important, and I think House Democrats thought it was important, to show that this had been a partisan process and that Democrats were not going to stand by while Republicans somehow tried this bait and switch, tried to employ this bait and switch strategy to force the President out. It just wasn't going to happen.

But let me --

Q Would it be appropriate to do something like that following a vote on impeachment, though?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think, as I've just explained, given the context of what was going on that weekend, we thought it was important to show that Democrats recognized that this was a partisan vote --

Q Are you saying you would not do it, following a vote on impeachment, you would not --

MR. LOCKHART: Oh, you mean in the Senate? I'm sorry, I thought you were still referring to the House. Listen, I think -- and, again, while I may question the motives of those who keep raising this, it's a legitimate question. Let me try to give you some sense of the feeling here in this building.

I think there will be a certain sense of relief here at the White House if this process were to end quickly and go away. But I don't think that there is anybody here who thinks anything out of this process constitutes a victory. This has been a process that has not been good for anyone who has been involved in it, and that includes the White House. And I think anyone who believes that it would go beyond relief needs to spend some time inside with the people here who have worked -- both the people who work so hard on the policies that we think have moved this country to where we are now, and those who have had to work on this issue for the last 13 months.

So while I think there will be some sense of relief, I don't necessarily buy into the proposition that there will be anything else. And again, you all will have to decide for yourself if our reactions are appropriate afterwards. But I don't think that there will be anything that will happen here that will give anyone any pause on the Capitol.

Q You're suggesting that the President would not claim exoneration, then?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President's legal filings, the presentations that his lawyers have made in the House and Senate have been very clear about how these allegations are not supported by the facts, and that won't change. But I don't think the President, if you look at everything he said over the year, is not going to continue to take responsibility for the inappropriate nature of his behavior, and that will last forever.

Q Will he do that again tomorrow at the prayer breakfast? Will he address this subject at all, as he has at previous --

MR. LOCKHART: Generally, I don't know of any specific intent he has -- these are very personal remarks the President makes. When we talked about this yesterday, he was still working through what he wanted to say. But I don't think there will be any particular intent to go in that direction this year.

Q Joe, will the President promise, however, not to gloat beforehand? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: You have -- I now declare in a post-impeachment era, this a gloat-free zone.

Q Joe, there's been some movement away from this, at least the language of the finding of facts thing, and toward something more closer to the censure the President -- at least the White House has indicated the President would accept. Now, Mr. Clinton has said that he did not try to be forthcoming in his testimony. Some of the language that's being bandied about in the Senate proposal suggests that the President attempted to delay or impede through his testimony. Would he take issue with language like that?

MR. LOCKHART: I think I've been pretty clear on this subject. I'm not going to try to litigate or negotiate or mediate on language and censure. That's something for the Senate to do on their own. I will reiterate, though, that whatever the language is, it is not appropriate in our view, from a constitutional point of view, to be done in the context of impeachment. Post-impeachment, that's a different subject. And, frankly, you all have to remember that pre-impeachment we argued that this was something that we thought was appropriate for the House to take up, but the Republican leadership, on a party line vote, refused to allow a censure vote to go to the floor. And we'll never know what would have happened in the House if that had happened. We just will never know because they didn't allow that vote.

Q Does the President have a right as a human being to be relieved when after one year of this kind of thing that he would be a little happy about it? Why should people resent that?

MR. LOCKHART: Again, I think I used the word "relief," and I believe that not only the President, the White House staff here, the administration, but the American public are ready to put this behind us. Again, I'd suggest that some of the posturing on this subject that you hear has to do, if you go back and look over the last four or five months as sort of the shifting sands, has a little bit to do with supporting a political argument and less with real concern about what might happen down here. I'm sure that there are some legitimate people who may, for whatever reason, disagree with some of the decisions we make here, and may take issue with things we do here, but there's been an awful lot of politics underpinning a lot of the statements over the last five or six months about why this process needs to keep going forward. There always seems to be an available and convenient excuse for why -- if we just take another couple of weeks on this, things will work out right and things will balance themselves out.

Q Joe, was the President briefed, either by the White House lawyers or his personal lawyers, on the testimony of Monica Lewinsky or Vernon Jordan?

MR. LOCKHART: He had a very short conversation with one of the lawyers involved in Monday's deposition. I think if anything, he just got a passing conversation. I don't think he has spoken to any of the lawyers yet about Tuesday's -- Mr. Jordan's testimony; certainly hasn't gotten anything on it today, because I think today's just broke.

Q With the House managers' depositions now completed, will the White House call for its own witnesses or ask for a period of discovery, or are you now in a position to press to closure?

MR. LOCKHART: We have a couple more steps in the process. I think the Senate has to come back tomorrow and make some decisions on admitting the videotape to the record and in what way they'll do that, and calling live witnesses and in what way they'll do that. And we -- as the procedure was laid out -- have the ability dictated by the procedure to wait until that process is done. And we'll reserve our right and reserve our decision until that point.

Q Joe, the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, today said that it would be his preference as far as the videotapes being played on the Senate floor, either show them all so they get the full context, or show none of it. He doesn't like snippets, in his words, just being played. Is that view shared by the White House?

MR. LOCKHART: In part, yes. I think our view is that we don't believe that the videotapes need to be released at all. It's hard for us to understand -- and we certainly understand, especially those of you in the broadcast part of journalism who would want to see and hear them, but we don't know that it serves the public interest, the national interest. I think there are some numbers out this morning that shows the vast majority of the public has no interest in these being released. We've seen what has happened in the past where depositions and videotapes have been released -- it's created sort of a frenzy. We don't think that needs to be repeated. We don't know that it adds anything to the record.

But I think Senator Daschle raises a good point, which is if the majority decides that they do need to be released, this is not something that they should be able to do when the context for which they're used can be subject to question. We've had too many incidents I think over the past year or so where statements are made or briefs are filed or referrals are filed that make statements and assertions that when you look at the underlying facts and the complete record, they can't be supported.

So I think our preference again is that the Senate just move forward, that there's no need to release these videotapes; the transcripts will be available, will be made part of the record. But if the Senate majority decides that there is some compelling reason that they have to release them, that this shouldn't be done in snippets, as Senator Daschle said.

Q Why is the U.N. ordering American and British staffers out of Iraq again?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I actually -- British?

Q Yes.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. I'm sorry, I literally found out about this as I was walking out. My understanding of this is this is a decision the Secretary General Kofi Annan made. There's only a handful of Americans there now, humanitarian workers.

Q How many?

MR. LOCKHART: Half a dozen -- we'll see if we can get a number. But it's a small number. And the Secretary General is of the view now and has taken the decision that he can't guarantee their safety and he believes they should be removed.

Q Their safety during what -- another all-out bombing effort, or their safety from Iraqis --

MR. LOCKHART: No. I will let him speak more completely to this, but my understanding of the situation is from the Iraqis on the ground, rather than the other --

Q Do you agree with his assessment?

MR. LOCKHART: I again, haven't had a chance to look too deeply into this. I think it's the Secretary General's job to make sure that he can assure the safety of all of those who are going in and doing important work of the United Nations. And it's his view at this point that that safety can't be guaranteed, and we believe that he's in the best position to make that decision.

Q What did the President tell Gephardt?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, the President and Minority Leader Gephardt spoke this morning for about 40 minutes over in the residence. I think anything that I told you about that conversation might give you even more clues about the Minority Leader may or may not be announcing this afternoon, so I'm going to leave it to him to make his announcement. We'll have more to say then.

Q Well, did they just talk about that or did they talk about some of the issues before Congress, or was it just Gephardt's plans?

MR. LOCKHART: I think it was primarily a conversation on the Minority Leader's plans.

Q Joe, on Kosovo, Cohen today announced that United States troops could go. Would the KAL want those troops there -- would they want those troops to be guaranteed in order to get an agreement, or as you've said in the past, the troops would come after an agreement is in place? I guess what I'm asking is wouldn't the KAL be more inclined to reach an agreement if they knew up front the agreement would be backed by troops?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think my understanding of the testimony today, it's part of the overall consultation we're doing with members of Congress. That's happening now both behind closed doors in private meetings and in open hearings, like you saw this morning with Secretary Cohen and General Shelton.

There's really a series of points they're making here. One is they're providing an explanation of what the stakes are, as far as what the U.S. government sees in the area -- which is really things that we've talked about before -- but avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe which we were very close to late in last year; preventing a wider Balkan war; ensuring the credibility of NATO; and preserving the hard-fought peace in Bosnia, which we think could be impacted by escalating tensions in Kosovo.

I think, secondly, they have been consulting on the issues and details of the proposed agreement that they expect both sides to start working on very soon in Rambouillet. And, third, they've been consulting again both openly today and in private on the question of an implementation force. As we said, the President has not made a decision on that, on the appropriateness of U.S. involvement, but we've been working very aggressively in discussing with members of Congress, getting their input and their feedback about what, if any, role there would be for U.S. forces in an implementation force.

Q When is he going to make up his mind?

Q -- there is no way that troops will back up -- I mean U.S. troops.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there's no direct assurances, that I'm aware of. I think that clearly, as part of the discussions that will go on as far as reaching an interim settlement, there will be discussion of a post-implementation force, which is separate and apart from discussions here at home with Congress on the value and utility, if any, of a U.S. involvement in that force.

Q General Shelton gave the figure of 2,000 to 4,000 -- of course, he was saying that this would be dependent upon when the peace agreement is reached. You, again, are saying the President has not made -- committed to that, has not made a decision --

MR. LOCKHART: That's right. There's been contingency work that's been done since last fall on what could be part of a post-implementation force. And I think General Shelton was making the point that if the President decided, along with Congress, that it was appropriate and useful to do, that this would be a small force working in a permissive environment. But, again, we are one step ahead of a decision because we are continuing to consult, work with Congress. But both the foreign policy team -- the foreign policy team has neither recommended, nor has the President decided, on how we'll move forward with this.

Q And when he did decide, would there be an end date? In other words, would you say at the outside, Christmas, or would they just be --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think that's part of the discussion about what the mission would be, as we talk with members of Congress and get their input and what the actual exit strategy for such a force would be.

Q Two questions on Arafat. Do you have any thoughts on this proposed boycott and will the President meet with him tomorrow? And do you have anything on his congressional move to oppose Arafat's unilateral declaration?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, our views on unilateral declaration are well-known -- it's an issue for final status talks and that's where it should be.

As far as calls to boycott, I think, as I said this morning, the National Prayer Breakfast has traditionally been a moment in Washington where politics and other issues that are political in nature have not found a way to intrude on. It's a morning of prayer and reconciliation. And we believe that it's unfortunate that that spirit of reconciliation is being ignored by some, and that people have made the decision that the normal politics of Washington should intrude on this. And it's unfortunate, but I think this is a small group, and the prayer breakfast would be as big a success this year as it has been in the past.

Q Does the President meet with Yasser Arafat?

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. He will have a short meeting with him after that. There are a number of world leaders there. I think, all told, the President will meet with four or five of his counterparts before returning to the White House.

Q Can you say who else?

MR. LOCKHART: I've got it here. Albania, Macedonia -- who am I missing here?

Q Norway?

MR. LOCKHART: Norway. Anybody else? Okay, that's it.

Q Joe, in terms of unilateral declaration, you aren't really answering the question.

MR. LOCKHART: Ask the question again. I'll try to answer it.

Q If Arafat makes a unilateral declaration, will the United States oppose it?

MR. LOCKHART: The United States' view on unilateral declarations is well-known. We've expressed it every time it's been asked. We don't believe that this is an issue that lends itself to unilateral statements or declarations; it's an issue for final status talks, and that's where it belongs.

Q Does that mean you would say if Arafat said --

MR. LOCKHART: That means what it means. I don't have any other way of explaining it.

Q Joe, just to clarify, are you saying that you would not be opposed to the Senate taking a vote on the finding of fact after the trial is over?

MR. LOCKHART: They have it within their power to call whatever they want a vote, whether it's a sense of the Senate whether it's a censure, whether it's some sort of finding. But not -- we believe that it doesn't have a constitutional basis if it's done in a context within the impeachment trial. After that, I think it's up to the Senate.

Q Would you prefer a vote on censure instead of a finding of facts?

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know what preference we have. Obviously, some of that would have to do with the words and the sentiment that they seek to express. But our objection is that something like this be done as an 11th hour bid to rewrite the Constitution. And that may not seem like it's that important and it may seem small because the Senate can set up its rules, but I think if you look at what's happened this year, and with the partisan nature of how the House moved forward on impeachment, and the Senate setting up a context whereby many could interpret what they do as finding a way to convict, yet not remove, I think there is a lot of objective people who believe as we go into the future, every President, from a very early stage, if the majority happens to be in the party opposite in Congress and they happen to be in control, are going to go through impeachment. And it will somehow stop being a constitutional tool to remove a President who is a grave threat to the state, and it will become a political tool to somehow inflict political damage on someone in the party opposite.

Q How is your concern addressed if you just flipped the vote around? I mean, if instead of a finding of fact vote coming before you vote on the articles of impeachment, instead it comes after, aren't your concerns the same? Wouldn't the threat be the same?

MR. LOCKHART: No, because I think after the trial, the impeachment trial is done, the Senate has every right to express their views on a subject as a sense of the Senate, but not in the context of removing the President. What we're doing, no matter what gloss and what nice words we put on this, is, you're trying to set up a function of saying the President is guilty of these things, but we're not going to remove him. And the Constitution, we believe, is very clear on that -- and I think most constitutional scholars are. I mean, I know that Chairman Hyde and the House managers are very dismissive of constitutional scholars, and that's not hard to understand, because they don't have a serious backing among those who make a living out of trying to interpret what the framers meant.

Q Joe, there's a letter circulating with some Republicans to get -- circulate for signatures that would ask the President to agree to a deposition. Is that something the White House would agree to?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I think we've made very clear, the President has testified; the time now is to find a way to bring this to an end, not to extend it. And, again, I think whether it's finding of facts or looking to at the last minute seek to get additional testimony from the President says less about the constitutional issues that are here and more about some of the -- more about the political dynamic that exists at the Capitol now.

Q Joe, in that connection, when you announced that the President was going to postpone his Central America trip, I believe you said that it looks like they would -- the Senate would meet the February 12th target end date.

MR. LOCKHART: I didn't say that.

Q Oh, I'm sorry.


Q Forget my question.

MR. LOCKHART: Okay. I wish it was true. I wish I had said it and I wish I believe it.

Q Can you tell us about the sense you're finding of fact following the Senate vote. Is the issue here that once the Senate votes the President's guilt or innocence, it has fulfilled its responsibility under the impeachment, it is no longer sitting as a legal body, and that its actions then go back, revert to the political arena? Is that the --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, in large part, yes. But I think it's sometimes hard to separate. I think the framers purposely made this process a hybrid of legal-political. But they did make it a process and it's very clear and I think their intentions are very clear -- that they give the Senate, they set a high bar for the Senate. And there were no escape routes built into the system, there were no political fixes built into the Constitution.

And I think there is serious concern -- one can't expect us to be objective on this, so I would listen to others -- but I think there have been serious concerns expressed by others that this really does complete a transformation in the impeachment process, where it really is less of a constitutional tool and more of a political weapon -- with the arguments that the House made as far as grand jury and just, "we're not the triers of fact, we're just looking to see if there's something here that the Senate ought to look at." And I think it poses serious concern to administrations down the road.

Q Will the President promptly send up the Holbrooke nomination, now that he's agreed to pay $5,000 to settle the allegations against him?

MR. LOCKHART: My understanding is that there's still some paperwork to do on that nomination, but we're close to sending that name up, and as soon as the paperwork's done, we will enthusiastically and quickly send that paperwork up. We believe that Dick Holbrooke is a gifted diplomat, will be of enormous value to our foreign policy team. And we believe that the Senate will move quickly and support him. And we look forward to the day, sometime soon, that he's at the U.N. representing U.S. interests around the world.

Q How long do you think that paperwork will take? A week? Next week?

MR. LOCKHART: I can't be sure, but I think it will be relatively quickly.

Q Joe, why would it not be in the public interest for the depositions to be made public?

MR. LOCKHART: I think if people have an interest in knowing what each of these people said, the transcripts will be available. They are readable. I think once you release videotape, you will see these all hours of the day, 24 hours a day. We'll be exactly where we were back late last year, when the President's videotape was dumped out. And we just don't believe it serves any sense of the public interest to do that.

The other point that struck me was, there was an outpouring, I think, from Republican senators on the Hill yesterday, having watched the videotape, of support and sympathy for some of the -- particularly Miss Lewinsky, and I think it's hard to understand why they think it would be in her interest for this to be dumped out into the public for all to watch at all hours on the many 24-hour outlets that -- this has become their stock in trade. So it's hard for us to see a case for that.

Q But your opposition is about what impact it would have on the President, not about the individuals who gave --

MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think that's certainly a point others can make. But I certainly don't think -- again, we can speculate about the national interest, but I don't it serves any purpose here or the interest of the President or his family to have this out on television 24 hours a day.

Q Then why do you not support just releasing snippets?

MR. LOCKHART: Because, Wolf, we've been down this road before, and if we felt that those who have made the prosecution's case would go forward in good faith and air things that were contextually right and were straightforward, maybe we could be in that situation where we just released those. But we have been down this road before, we don't believe that. I think if you did believe that, you might believe their case, and we don't.

Q Joe, I realize this may be a sore subject, but there are reports today that you pressured one TV network not to run a story that another network had investigated. My question is, is that appropriate behavior in terms of spin control, or is it kind of heavy-handed for the White House Press Secretary --

MR. LOCKHART: If this is your way, your side way to get into writing the story, go ahead and write the story; I'm not going to help you. You've already written it.

So, next.

Q Joe, do you think it would not be in the national interest for Ms. Lewinsky to give an interview for Barbara Walters?

MR. LOCKHART: I think that's completely her decision to make.

Q Also, if I might, Joe, Vernon Jordan now apparently has said it's the President who asked him to find a job for Monica Lewinsky. Does the President agree that that is the case?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, if he said that, he said it in a deposition that I'm not allowed to talk about, so I'm not going to address that question.

Q Did you pressure a network?

MR. LOCKHART: If any of you think I'm in a position to pressure anyone, you give me more power than you think I have.

Q Did you make the call, as has been reported?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm just not going to discuss private conversations I have, even if others can't keep them private.

Q May I go to Iraq one more time? You didn't really make a reference to this, the fact that Saddam Hussein may be threatening American nationals. However, does the United States have a reaction to that? Is that a violation?

MR. LOCKHART: Clearly, we're concerned when any American who is doing any kind of work, but particularly humanitarian work, is put in danger. And it does not come as a surprise, given what we know about Saddam Hussein and his regime, and we expect that all safeguards are taken to protect Americans, and when they can't be taken, they're moved out of harm's way.

I think that somehow, if Saddam Hussein believes that this is of some value to him, he's sorely mistaken. He is as isolated as he's ever been, both around the world, but particularly in the region where he would expect to enjoy some support. We have contained the threat there, the sanctions have denied him of hundreds of billions of dollars that keep him from rebuilding his military abilities to threaten his neighbors. So again, it is always a serious concern when Americans are threatened, and we will take, and we expect the U.N., when they work under U.N. control, we expect the U.N. to do everything they can to protect them.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:22 P.M. EST