THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do a couple of big personnel items, of huge importance to people here at the White House. Two announcements. First, the President has appointed Mary Beth Cahill as Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Public Liaison. Many of you know Mary Beth through her work at Emily's List and some Democratic campaigns, and her work in the Federal Office for the State of Massachusetts, which is where I met her. She will be a huge asset to our outreach efforts here and we're very much looking forward to her starting.
Q Are you putting out a bio on her?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, we'll do a statement following this. She replaces Minyon Moore, who the President has appointed -- who was recently appointed as the Assistant to the President and Director of Political Affairs. Minyon, you know was previously the Deputy Director of Political Affairs -- before -- she ran Public Liaison -- she was the Deputy in Political Affairs, and before that, was at the DNC.
The second announcement is the President has named Ben Johnson as Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Office on the President's Initiative for One America. This is a new office the President has created following up on the work of the Initiative on Race.
Many of you know Ben from his current position as the Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison. He's been in that office since 1993. Before joining the administration, Ben served in a number of positions in the government of the District of Columbia, including Administrator of Housing and Environmental Administration and Administrator of Business Regulation. And he also served in the Carter White House as Director of Consumer Programs.
Q When is the President going to Amman.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have any scheduling announcements.
Q Can you tell us about the situation in Jordan?
MR. LOCKHART: I can't give you any update. I'd suggest you talk to the spokespeople for the government there.
Q Do you know if the President has been in touch with Queen Noor or anyone else in the Royal Family?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't think the President has. My understanding is I believe the First Lady talked to the Queen yesterday before she left.
Q Well, if there is a state funeral in Jordan, will the President go?
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, I'm sure you can understand why I wouldn't answer a hypothetical question like that.
Q Joe, do the President's lawyers think that there is anything in the three depositions that is helpful to the President's case?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I think the response I've heard more than anything is that it's consistent with the depositions, grand jury testimony, FBI interviews, the hundreds of those that we've seen before. As far as I can tell it provides no evidence that there was any perjury or any obstruction of justice. And that's what it is we're talking about here.
Q Is there any exculpatory information?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, sure. I think there is exculpatory information. I think Ms. Lewinsky testifies -- I don't have the quotes because I haven't read it all myself -- on the issue of talking about filing a false affidavit and the issues that go to obstruction and her testimony, as I understand it, is consistent with her previous testimony.
Q Well, when the House prosecutors make their case tomorrow and play snippets of the videotaped testimony will the White House lawyers respond in kind with their own snippets?
MR. LOCKHART: Snippets is becoming a term of art. I expect that they will use the video depositions in some form to make their case. Now, it's a product of this system that they'll have no idea what the House managers are playing. So, in a sense of rebuttal, it can't be because they don't know what they're rebutting. We had a party-line vote on that yesterday to depart from normal civil procedure in this case, but this isn't normal civil procedure. But I expect that they'll make their case and will use some of the videotape testimony that's available to them.
Q But they have the transcript, they have the videotape. Can't they just imagine what the House managers are going to use? They'll use the stuff that's the most damaging to the President.
MR. LOCKHART: Wolf, I've spent a lot of time this year with our lawyers, and I think if you've ever spent time with lawyers, they don't like working based on their imagination. That's for this room. I like it, but they don't.
Q Joe, Senator Lott indicated that there would be probably be some give-and-take at the end of the process, if the White House felt that they needed to come back that they would try to work something out. Have you received any further word on whether or not the White House will get a chance at rebuttal?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I haven't.
Q Could you tell us what is the White House reaction to Senator Mikulski's statement, "I've heard their stories through depositions, affidavits and summary of testimony, but I didn't have a chance to personally hear other witnesses. I believe that calls us, now that we get ready to vote, to honor the precedent of public hearings for cross-examination of witnesses to resolve discrepancies in testimony."
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with her statement.
Q Do you disagree with it, Joe?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not familiar with it.
Q The President, in his address at the National Prayer Breakfast, he mentioned India by name, to pray for a number of countries. Any reason why India was one of the countries that he --
MR. LOCKHART: I suggest that India is often in his thoughts.
Q Did he not also mention Pakistan --
MR. LOCKHART: He mentioned several countries.
Q -- two weeks this permanent office on race is going to open up here at the White House. Is this a response to many critics who have said that the race initiative lost its luster at the very beginning, and that's why the President wants to have this office, or is it a response to the recommendations from this Race Advisory Board?
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, it's most definitely the latter. It's a response to -- the Race Advisory Board made some recommendations late last year; the President and his staff have taken a long, hard look at the best way to build on the Advisory Board and the initiative to date and made the decision that, particularly with the talents of someone like Ben Johnson here at the White House, the best way to move forward was to develop this new office so that this kind of work can continue both for the next two years and for years beyond.
Q Do you see a lot of meetings and presidential town hall meetings now, since they were kind of put to the wayside last year?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Ben is going to take the opportunity to figure out how he's going to set up the office and to move forward. I think he'll be involved both with issues of trying to continue to raise dialogue and also, in working throughout the White House and throughout the government, on how we can continue to keep a high priority on the issues the President laid out in the initiative.
Q What has the President done today? He hasn't been around the Oval Office at all.
MR. LOCKHART: The President had the morning off. I'm not sure -- doing what? He had the morning off. I don't ask him what he does with his mornings off. He should be over here soon, and he's got a full afternoon, then a full evening tonight in Atlanta.
Q Joe, it looks like the findings of fact resolution is dead. Is the White House still open to supporting a censure resolution after the trial is completed?
MR. LOCKHART: I think -- I don't know if "supporting" is the right word. I think the point we've made is the finding of fact we believe was unconstitutional. We thought a censure after the impeachment trial was done was more appropriate. Again, as I've said many times, it will be up to the Senate to decide how they want to move forward.
Q Well, maybe now -- there are a lot of people thinking he gets off completely free in the sense if he's acquitted and there is no censure.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think then those people should work in a bipartisan way, if they feel it's appropriate to work on a censure.
Q -- say he's not going to -- when his term expires at the U.N. as the chief weapons inspector that he doesn't want to continue.
MR. LOCKHART: I think that clearly is his decision to make. And we respect the personal decision he's made. I reiterate that we believe -- the President believes -- that he's done an outstanding job over the last years heading UNSCOM and doing the important work of monitoring and finding the weapons of mass destruction and those efforts in Iraq. And, again, it's a personal decision for him to make, but he leaves with an outstanding record of achievement.
Q Some say the articles of impeachment themselves are the ultimate censure. Does the White House view them that way?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think if we took that view, we would be going down a constitutional road that I don't think we should go down, which is that somehow this constitutional tool gets used as a political tool. I think impeachment should be seen for what impeachment is, which is an attempt to remove the President for grave offenses to the state.
Q Do you regard the articles, though -- for instance, you had Senator Leahy this morning who said that many Democrats as well as Republicans view the articles themselves as the ultimate form of censure --
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't say that is a thought or a view that is without any merit or foundation. I'm just -- I'm trying to express a view here, and I'm sure there are many people who do take that view.
Q But impeachment is a political process.
Q -- the articles themselves as an illegitimate effort as a political vendetta, or as a genuine effort to get at the truth about what happened?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think our feelings about how the House ran the process are quite well-known, that it was a partisan effort rather than an bipartisan attempt to get at the truth.
Q Your own attorneys argued that one of the considerations ought to be a political consideration of the country.
MR. LOCKHART: There certainly is a political dimension to the impeachment process, and the framers stated as such. But I don't think they saw this process as a way -- to be used as a political weapon.
Q Joe, has the trial reached a stage yet where you can pronounce whether you think it's been fair?
MR. LOCKHART: I think we should all wait until the process is over.
Q Joe, I've seen numerous reports of your very well-crafted promise that in the event of the President's acquittal there will be at the White House a "gloat-free zone." But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong again and the President is convicted? Will you have a "mope-free zone" and go on your way rejoicing?
Q They'll have no zone. (Laughter.)
Q No zone in the ozone.
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, the sole comfort of your prediction coming true is me not having to stand here and face this every day. (Laughter.)
Q Was the White House surprised by the fact that 25 Republicans joined all 45 Democrats in not wanting live witnesses?
MR. LOCKHART: Not really. I think that we made the point -- I think many Senate Democrats made the point repeatedly that there was nothing new to be gathered, that the facts were known. There were -- Ms. Lewinsky had testified 20-some odd times; Mr. Jordan, Mr. Blumenthal, more or less, had testified repeatedly. So once the senators had a chance to view the tapes, review the transcripts, it is not that surprising that they'd reach that conclusion.
Q What about the other, though, where Democrats broke with your position?
MR. LOCKHART: They took a different view. We've been down this road where we've seen how these videotapes have been used. We've been subject to information being used and taken out of context to make an argument that isn't supported by the facts. So it was our view that it wasn't necessary to bring these videotapes to the floor. But, clearly, there were a vast majority of Republicans, but a good number of Democrats, who took a different view and thought it would be useful.
Q Well, would you say that the two votes yesterday show that the Senate is back on the bipartisan path?
MR. LOCKHART: I think they certainly -- yesterday was a day where bipartisan spirit abounded, as opposed to the week before.
Q So you're not willing to say that the process has been --
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not willing to have my words be twisted around. Yesterday -- if you want an interim report, certainly this process in the Senate has moved forward in a way, in a manner much more fair than what we saw in the House. But I'm trying to not do a running commentary.
Q Do you see an end to it on Friday? Do you think there will be an end a week from today? I mean, you've always voiced skepticism as something --
MR. LOCKHART: I think, given yesterday's votes and given Senator Lott's statements yesterday, it's much more certain that we'll see an end to this next week than before yesterday.
Q Joe, the Serbs seem to be blocking several members of the KLA from leaving for France. Are tomorrow's talks in doubt because of this? Has it been resolved?
MR. LOCKHART: As to the moment I came out here, it had not been resolved. But we believe that it's important that all parties participate in the talks. We expect all parties to be there tomorrow. We've made that point directly to the parties through Ambassador Hill.
Q Does the President have high hopes for the talks?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the President believes that it's in the manifest interest of both parties to reach a political settlement. And because it is so much in their interest, he believes that if they sit down and talk in good faith they can reach an agreement.
Q Despite his personal phone calls to the Prime Minister of India and Pakistan, Mr. Talbott came back empty-handed. The State Department told me that the progress has been made. Now, what kind of progress and also, India and Pakistan have said that unless U.S. lifts sanctions against India and Pakistan they will not sign --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, as you know, Deputy Secretary Talbott held a series of these talks -- this was the 8th round of nonproliferation talks with first the Indian government and the Pakistani government. He met with both leaders. While there were no breakthroughs in the meeting, Deputy Secretary Talbott believes -- or is satisfied with the outcome and found them to be the most productive talks to date.
So it's important that we continue these. I believe that there will be another round of these talks in the near future. And he was quite pleased with the progress.
Q Is there an estimated time that the President will meet with the Presidents of Peru and Ecuador -- I know the time -- I mean, how long will it last and will we get a read out?
MR. LOCKHART: Okay. We will do a written readout afterwards -- about 20 minutes.
Q Joe, in this morning's Washington Times there is a contention, and I quote, "Joe Lockhart is almost as slick as Mike McCurry." And my question is, would you confirm or deny and are you angry or delighted?
MR. LOCKHART: Who is Mike McCurry? (Laughter.) Despite that somewhat pejorative -- a word I've learned since I've started doing these briefings -- definition, anytime I'm mentioned in the same breath as Mike McCurry it pleases me.
MR. LOCKHART: You watching, Mike? We got a CSPAN viewer again. (Laughter.)
Q Hey Joe, I've got one follow-up to Jim's line of questioning. If the Senate does not convict the President does the President or the White House view that as a repudiation of the articles of impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's a statement by the Senate that the House managers did not present evidence or did not present a case, if that were to happen, to warrant conviction and removal.
Q Joe, a question on an appointment, has the President appointed Thomas Erickson CFTC Commissioner?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I'll have to check on that. Who is in charge of CFTC appointments?
MR. LOCKHART: Sounds like Barry.
Q Can I ask you one more thing?
MR. LOCKHART: Sure.
Q Apparently some senators have asked the Independent Counsel to investigate whether the White House has fully complied with requests for any tapes of phone calls of conversations made by the President. Can you tell us whether there is or ever has been a system to tape the President's phone calls or conversations?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any system to tape. I'm not aware of any tapes. I'm not aware of any subpoena requests.
Q Would you be aware, normally?
MR. LOCKHART: I asked. (Laughter.) I was given a little advance warning on this one.
Q Before you took the job?
MR. LOCKHART: No, there are a couple questions I forgot to ask.
Q For precision's sake, you said you asked and now you say you're not aware. Were you told, no, there is no such system?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'm sorry, I asked if there was a request for such recordings. It's my understanding that there is no such system. I have asked in the past. I didn't ask today on that one, but I have been asked that question before.
Q Joe, can you tell us, on a new race office, the Advisory Board had recommended there be a permanent commission to deal with racial issues. Why did the White House decide the office route instead of --
MR. LOCKHART: I think what the Advisory Board suggested -- it's my understanding -- is an outside council. And I think the President's view from the beginning -- because there were also some calls and an internal debate at the beginning whether the President's Advisory Board would be an outside council that reported back or something that was more closely connected to the White House. And the President's view from the beginning is that this is an issue that's important to him and he wants the White House and he wants to be personally involved. So he thought it was a better route to take to keep it within the White House.
And I think also we are able to take advantage of the unique talents of Ben Johnson because he is here at the White House, and that was also important in making this decision.
Q Does it have anything to do with the fact that the Advisory Board was considered unwieldy or the public nature of the Advisory Board was considered unwieldy?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think quite to the contrary, the Advisory Board -- the President had a choice when he set up the Advisory Board which was to either go without an outside body that made independent recommendations, or appoint an Advisory Board that he would personally work with. He made the decision to try to keep it here, to work more closely with them. And that decision is perpetuated, I think, in the decision to set up this office.
Q Joe, you may have commented on this --
MR. LOCKHART: The week ahead seems months away. (Laughter.)
Q We have been energized now. We're going to go three or four more rounds.
Q Joe, I'm not sure if you talked on this before, but do you have a position on whether or not the final deliberations should be open or closed?
MR. LOCKHART: I think that that's really for the Senate to make a decision on. I'm not sure that we have a view, one way or the other.
Q You don't think it would benefit Americans to see that? I mean, you know, you often comment on how aspects of the trial might benefit the country. Do you think it would benefit people to see the --
MR. LOCKHART: It depends on what they say. It depends on what they say. If they say nice things, open it up. If they say mean things we want to -- no, it's for the Senate to decide. We're just not going to get into that one.
Q Let me clarify one thing, if I may, on the taping system. Your statement refers to not only something that would be run by the White House itself, but also anything that might be run by WHCA, that might be run by anyone --
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know. We certainly have the ability to tape some phone calls. We do this when we do a phone interview where we provide you with a transcript. But there's no other system that I'm aware of.
Q But don't you routinely, when the President speaks with a foreign leader, like Yeltsin, tape that conversation?
MR. LOCKHART: No, we do not.
Q Even on the secure lines and all that?
MR. LOCKHART: We do not.
Q That a no?
MR. LOCKHART: That's a no. Even though I'm nodding, it's a no.
Q Joe, you may have already answered this, but I wonder --
MR. LOCKHART: I hope I did. (Laughter.)
Q -- have you commented on Senator Robert Byrd's statement on CNN?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, I did. Sam asked me about that and I gave a great answer.
Q Going back to India and Pakistan, is the President ready to lift sanctions against India and Pakistan? And, also, are they going to be lifted case-by-case or both together?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Week ahead. (Laughter.)
Q Case-by-case or both together?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I answered the question, which by nature it answered the second one. No, it didn't, but I'm going to get away with this. (Laughter.)
Q No, you're not going to get away with it -- that's the point. Give him an answer. Give us an answer.
MR. LOCKHART: No, and ask P.J. later. (Laughter.)
Saturday, February 6th and Sunday, February --
Q As slick as Mike. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: Now I'm giving Mike a bad name. Saturday, February 6th and Sunday, February 7th, the President has no public schedule. Monday, February 8th --
Q He has the radio address.
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, which he is recording.
Q Has it already been recorded?
MR. LOCKHART: No. I think just before he goes to Atlanta.
MR. LOCKHART: I would -- law enforcement.
Q Will the President be at the White House over the weekend?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. No, he'll be here unless his schedule changes.
Q You don't expect him to go out traveling around anywhere, do you -- Saturday or Sunday?
MR. LOCKHART: It says right here he has no public schedule. On Monday morning the President will host a crime event in Presidential Hall. Later that afternoon he will host the Little League World Champion Baseball Team from Tom's River, New Jersey, in the East Room.
Tuesday, the President will depart from Washington to go to Wintergreen to address the annual House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference, expected to return here around 3:00 p.m. That is closed coverage, but do they come out at the end and say something or the whole thing is closed? It's closed coverage. We'll take a pool down.
Wednesday, the President will go to the University of Maryland to launch the AmeriCorps Call To Service Campaign. The event will be around 2:00 p.m., expected back to the White House about 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, the President will hold a brief meeting and lunch with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. That is the only public event for Thursday. Friday and Saturday we have nothing on his schedule. Sunday, no public schedule in the morning; the President and the First Lady will depart for Mexico late in the afternoon, around 4:00 p.m.
Thank you very much.
Q Well, are there plans yet on how the President will address the nation after the Senate votes?
MR. LOCKHART: None that I'm aware of.
END 1:45 P.M. EST