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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 3, 1999
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                       BARRY TOIV AND DAVID LEAVY
                           The Briefing Room    

1:25 P.M. EST

MR. TOIV: For those of you who are concerned, Mr. Lockhart will return tomorrow. You won't have Leavy and Toiv to kick around anymore. (Laughter.) Questions.

Q Let's start with what we talked about this morning, which is this book claims there was a mole or maybe still is a mole in the White House, an Israeli mole, and that the President was black-mailed with a tape of a conversation or conversations he had with Monica Lewinsky into calling off the search.

MR. TOIV: I have a short answer to that question -- the book is nonsense.

Q Well, is it true? (Laughter.)

MR. TOIV: Nonsense would suggest otherwise.

Q Barry, why did the President reportedly tell Monica Lewinsky that he was concerned about his phone conversations being taped?

MR. TOIV: Well, as you know, other than the President's testimony in this case, we really haven't commented on specifics, on other specifics like that and we're not going to start now.

Q Was there any search at any time, apart from the story, for a mole here in the White House? Do you know of in the Clinton administration?

MR. LEAVY: I'm sorry, Sam.

Q Was there a search at any time in the Clinton administration for a mole, so-called, in the White House?

MR. LEAVY: Well, as you know, we have a longstanding practice not to comment on investigations one way or the other, and you shouldn't take that as a confirmation or a yes or no. But there is -- appropriate authorities do look into these issues. We do take any counterintelligence activities against the United States very seriously. But you have to go to the Justice Department for that.

Q Because of the Pollard case, I mean, the question of Israeli spying in this country is there. And so when something like this comes up, you have to ask about it. Was there any thought that Israel was spying here?

Q You're not denying it. You're not denying it.

MR. LEAVY: Obviously, we're not aware of a mole at the White House. But it's the longstanding practice for people who speak at this podium to refer calls to the appropriate authorities who undertake these types of investigations.

Q Was there any attempt by the President to intervene in any kind of investigation or search for a mole?

MR. LEAVY: No. There is no basis in that allegation whatsoever.

Q Well, in fact, that's not what the author says. I mean, I think the Post may have gotten it wrong, but what he says is that --

MR. LEAVY: That's news. (Laughter.)

Q What he does say in his book is that there was taping directed at the Watergate by the Massad. And let me just ask you -- I'm not suggesting that's true, what I'm asking is, do you have any basis for believing that anyone other than Linda Tripp taped Monica Lewinsky's conversations?

MR. LEAVY: No. As I said earlier, there is absolutely no basis for that allegation.

Q Well, there is a basis for it. There is sworn testimony that Lewinsky gave that attributes to the President a comment that a foreign embassy was taping --

MR. LEAVY: And Barry just answered that question.

Q His answer was that he is not going to comment on it. That's not much of an answer. With all due respect.

MR. LEAVY: Let me say two things -- noted.

MR. TOIV: I wouldn't go beyond my comments.

MR. LEAVY: Yes, I'm definitely not going to add to Barry's comments. But let me just say this. We take all the necessary precautions to secure the President's communications. There is absolutely no basis for the allegation in the book.

Q But, David --

Q Are you getting that from CIA and FBI, or are you getting it out of just an automatic reflex?

MR. LEAVY: You can take that as authoritative.

Q David, I understand that you would have his communications secure. However, if he picks up the phone and calls some ordinary citizen at 2:30 a.m. in the morning at their apartment, what's to say that that person's phone couldn't be tapped? Does your security system prevent that?

MR. LEAVY: There is some very serious allegations in this book, and what I am saying is that there is absolutely no basis for the allegation. So I have to leave it at that.

Q So the allegation is false?

MR. LEAVY: Yes, the allegation is false. There is no basis. Full stop. And as Barry said this morning, this book is better sold in the fiction section than the non-fiction section.

Q When the President heard about this was he concerned by it, was he shocked by it? What was his reaction, Mr. Toiv?

MR. TOIV: To be honest, I haven't gotten the President's reaction to the book.

Q Well, why did he say that to Monica Lewinsky? Why did he warn her?

MR. TOIV: I've already not answered that question, Helen. (Laughter.) I'm sorry.

Q I know you've not answered it, but it's very valid, really.

MR. TOIV: Well, again, we're not going to get into commenting on specifics beyond what the President has already testified to.

Q While we're on the subject, will the President be watching any part of the interview tonight?

MR. TOIV: No plans to watch. As you know, he's traveling, in any event, gets back tonight. But no plans to watch.

Q Will he watch a tape of it later?

MR. TOIV: I'm not aware that anybody is taping it for him.

Q I don't understand why you think it's legitimate for you not to comment on the President of the United States supposedly saying that he thinks a foreign government is taping his conversations. For you just to say, no comment.

MR. TOIV: David, there have been questions about all sorts of comments that have been made or testified to, and we have not gone beyond the President's testimony in discussing these, and we're not going to do that.

Q That's because you've said it's unseemly and it's about sex. This is about the national security of the United States and the President supposedly saying that a foreign government is taping his conversations. And you're just going to say, sorry, no comment?

MR. TOIV: I am not going to go beyond what he has already testified to.

Q Barry, this White House has said that during the impeachment trial you essentially said, there aren't a lot of factual disputes with the Starr report, there are a few things, but basically you weren't going to contest most of the facts in the Starr report. This is one of those facts that he asserts. Can you give us any indication whether this is something that you take issue with, or is this something that you wouldn't contest?

MR. TOIV: No, I'm not going to -- you can ask the question a different way, but I'm not going to comment beyond the President's testimony.

Q You don't know if the President's aware of this book or not?

MR. TOIV: No, I'm not aware of whether -- I don't know if he knows about the book.

Q Has this allegation came up before and you were aware of this allegation before this book surfaced, or is this the first time the White House has heard of it?

MR. TOIV: I'm not aware of it. I think others have --

MR. LEAVY: The allegations have been recorded previously the last couple of years, and as we've always said, that there's no truth to it. So it has been out there previously.

Q But when did you first check into it?

MR. LEAVY: Well, just when the questions came up this morning we did a little research and found out there actually had been news clippings before, during Mr. McCurry's term, and he answered it a similar way.

Q Did this author ever check with the White House?

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

Q Friday, the President said if Milosevic didn't show restraint, NATO would be prepared to act. Over the weekend, there are many reports Milosevic is certainly not showing restraint in that -- escalation on his side of attacks. Will NATO act?

MR. LEAVY: Well, Sam, I think as the President said on Friday, one, NATO has all the authority it needs to act. The Secretary General has the authority. The ACTORD remains in effect, all the military planning is in place. What we're focused on now is moving both sides to sign a political agreement. Clearly, the best way to get into compliance, to end the conflict, to move forward is to have both sides sign onto the agreement; that's what we're focused on now.

Ambassador Chris Hill was in Pristina and Belgrade over the last several days. He's making important progress. As I said earlier today, former Senator Dole is traveling out as a private citizen. He'll meet with key members of the Albanian delegation to make clear that this agreement's in their interest. We believe it's in the interest of both parties and we'll be making that case as we move forward.

Q Isn't there a problem if a President of the United States suggests that action will take place unless something happens or doesn't happen, then that thing happens or doesn't happen and nothing happens? (Laughter.)

MR. LEAVY: There's a lot of happening going on in that question. No, but --

Q In the old days -- excuse me -- when the President of the United States warned a foreign power, they followed through on that warning.

MR. LEAVY: And as I said earlier, the option of force is not taken off the table. The Secretary General has the authority to act. We'll make a determination at what point military force should be used. As I said, our effort is focused on achieving a political settlement. Everybody wants a peaceful resolution to this.

Q -- everyone except the parties.

MR. LEAVY: Well, that's not true, Helen. Actually, we've had important progress the last several days on the Albanian side. As I said this morning, Chris Hill has had encouraging talks, and we're hopeful we can get to a political settlement.

Q Why didn't they say so at Rambouillet?

Q Senator Jeffords, when asked by radio station WKDR in Burlington, Vermont, if he thinks rape is a private issue replied -- and this is an AP quote -- "I don't know why it wouldn't be a private matter. If something that happened 21 years ago with a woman who invited, at least under her story, the President to her hotel room, and she was not happy with what happened, I don't know why that's not a private matter." Question: Does the White House believe that this statement by Senator Jeffords was right or wrong, or will you dismiss this defender of the President with a cold "no comment"?

MR. TOIV: I believe you're asking me to comment on something that Mr. Kendall has already commented on. I could be wrong, but I think you are --

Q Has he commented on this? What did he say?

MR. TOIV: -- and I will --

Q I don't recall anything that he --

MR. TOIV: Mr. Kendall has commented on this matter, and I don't have anything further to add.

Q No, no, no. I mean, comment on Senator Jeffords. I want to know -- do you believe that Jeffords was wrong or right?

MR. TOIV: You can keep trying, but that's my answer.

Q Will the President veto the Ed-flex bill if it doesn't have the 100,000 teachers amendment in it?

MR. TOIV: Well, look -- I think that's a hypothetical that hopefully we won't have to address because that is an issue that I think is going to come up in the Senate next week. I think a vote on that is likely to come next week. We're going to be working very hard to encourage members of the Senate to support that amendment. We believe that putting 100,000 additional teachers in our classrooms, reducing class size, is the highest priority right now for education, and we believe that the Senate ought to take that up now while they have the opportunity and enact that legislation. And so, hopefully, we will not have to face that issue.

Q Barry, last week Vice President Gore made his comments known about the Greaseman. And this week there's a problem that could be arising. The Greaseman is trying to apologize for this racial statement he made to get his job back. Is the President commenting about that at all, especially since he's got this race initiative, this permanent race initiative office?

MR. TOIV: Yes, I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the President directly about that issue. Obviously, those were hateful comments. The station has taken action, and I don't think I have anything further to say about it.

Q But does the President or the White House feel that by the Greaseman begging forgiveness that he should get his job back, once he's passed --

MR. TOIV: I don't know if the President's aware of that, and I don't think that I'm going to get into the question of what the station should do further.

Q Those who ask for forgiveness should be prepared to give it. (Laughter.)

MR. TOIV: Should I repeat Sam's answer? Is that --

Q It's not mine, it's President Clinton's answer.

Q In his speech today, President Clinton referred to the USA account as a tax break for the working class. There have been other sources who have indicated that those tax breaks may not -- the USA accounts in fact, be universal. At this point, will the USA accounts be universal as you initially said they would be?

MR. TOIV: I'm not sure that we said that specifically, but the Treasury Department is working on the specifics of the USA account proposal and I think shortly, we'll be able to announce the specifics. I think that the President's point is that no matter how they are structured, they will be intended to target working class people, people who do not have the kind of -- who are not able to benefit as much from current tax incentives for savings and investment.

Q I'm not going to belabor this point, but I had thought when you first unveiled them, that everyone would get one, except that the benefits would largely accrue to working class people. I mean, has that changed?

MR. TOIV: I'm not sure of the fact. Do you remember whether --

MR. SIEWERT: -- actually briefed at the time and said that there might be a phaseout. That was in all the briefings when he said that.

Q That's what the papers said.

MR. TOIV: That there might be a phaseout, yes. That's why --

Q -- there might be now -- there will be a phaseout?

MR. TOIV: I think we'll have the details when we have the details. But clearly, that targeting is going to be towards the lower or middle end of the spectrum.

Q Larry, the Reverend Franklin Richardson of the National Baptist Convention --

MR. TOIV: Did I look at you again, Lester? (Laughter.)

Q Yes. He has called on the Reverend Henry Lyons to resign as President of that denomination because, he said, "we have no tolerance for a convicted felon to continue as a spiritual leader of the churches." And my question is two parts: Does the President agree or disagree, and is he considering a pardon for the Reverend Mr. Lyons?

MR. TOIV: On the first question, I haven't talked to him about that and I doubt that we would get into the issue of what the church should do. On the second question, there is a normal procedure for pardons which is followed for all people.

Q Will the President ever respond to Dr. Barbara Battalino's letter asking for a pardon for her perjury in connection with a sex case?

MR. TOIV: Same answer on the pardons. There is a procedure for that.

Q Apparently, a letter has been written to the President asking whether or not he would believe that the IOC, the Olympics Committee, would have to abide by the anti-corruption/bribery legislation that was signed last year. Would it apply?

MR. TOIV: As I understand it, the Mitchell Commission has proposed that and we are looking at that proposal and have not -- and the President hasn't made a decision yet on what to -- what action to take on that.

Q The Cuban government has stopped direct phone calls between the United States and Cuba and -- I know that there is a judge who made a ruling and money can go into the Cuban government -- is this something that Washington would intervene or try to fix it?

MR. LEAVY: That's a good question. Let me take that. I don't know the answer to that. We have been troubled by that Cuban action, but let me get a more specific answer for you on that.

Q Can you hold for one more Kosovo question? One of the leading opponents of the peace agreement quit. So if there is an agreement reached, what concerns does the administration have that you have this leader of the KLA now not signing on?

MR. LEAVY: Well, I think it was clear from the talks in France that there was disagreement within the Kosovar delegation and one of the interesting things that has happened has been a jelling of their own position. Helen remarked as I walked off that, well, why didn't they sign on when they were in France? The problem is, they didn't have a mandate, there wasn't an official delegation, per se. They represented all spectrums of the Albanian population, from the insurgents on one side to the moderates on the other. So they needed to go back, sell this agreement to their constituencies, get the public support, the grass-root support, and then come back.

That's what we're seeing now. There is, I think, a normal political process of sorting out, and we're hopeful that the team will come back and embrace this agreement in full and we can move forward on it.

Q But are you concerned that -- when you talked about a consensus coming together -- if one of the leading opponents has walked away from all of these talks, then the consensus has a voice that isn't in the mix.

MR. LEAVY: I don't know if you can ever get 100 percent consensus on issues as momentous and historic as this, but I think we're very confident that the team that will represent the Albanians will embrace this agreement, will be representative of a cross-section and we can have the support that we need to implement it.

Q Sorry, just one more shot at this. But if they are not signed on with this peace agreement, is there concern in the administration that they would continue hostilities from the outside, on the edges of all --

MR. LEAVY: I guess my point is that the group that is formed or jells after this process of seeking support back home will be representative, will have the broad mandate that is necessary to implement this agreement. Of course, there is always the option of people beyond the sidelines, but we're hopeful that the vast majority will support this. We think it's in the best interests of the Kosovars and that the group that will eventually move forward will have the support they need.

Q David, you took a question yesterday about whether or not the United States government had received any warnings about danger for people traveling in Uganda. Do you have an answer?

MR. LEAVY: No -- yes, I do. We did not receive any specific warnings.

Q Is that a matter of some concern, then, that given that this guerrilla group had been operating for some time, that nobody --

MR. LEAVY: Well, I think having a specific warning or a specific threat on this one camp, we didn't have. Obviously, the border between Congo and its neighbors is very tense. There is, I believe, nine different governments that have troops fighting in the Congo. It is a situation that is very tense and that we're actively engaged on. But in terms of a specific threat against this one camp, we did not have it.

Q Were you able to check on the legal authority --

MR. LEAVY: Which is normal practices when there is killing of Americans, the FBI and the Justice Department sends investigative teams to work with the host government, at the invitation of the host government, which we received here in this case.

Q David, on Kosovo again, there are civilians now left out in the cold because of this heavy artillery fire by the Serbs in this southern area, similar to what we saw last October when the cease-fire was agreed and threats to use force were issued. Define why it's different now, why we've got civilians again, like we had in October, who are outside in the cold and there is heavy shelling of Albanians by the Serbs -- what's so different now from then?

MR. LEAVY: Well, a couple of elements. One, back in October we had over 200,000 Albanians in the mountains at the precipice of winter, which was a very dangerous situation. That is why we worked so hard, Ambassador Holbrooke and others brought an end to that. We are in a different situation now because we have a peace agreement on the table that has been blessed by the Contact Group, that has been blessed by the Russian Federation, that has, in principle, the support of the Kosovars. And so we're moving very closely here to a situation where it's going to be up to President Milosevic to accept this agreement, both the political and the military annexes. And we're very close to that.

I think, in terms of the people that are displaced currently, there are NGOs and other voluntary organizations who are working on the ground to make sure that they have the humanitarian -- food and medical supplies they need. But as we move closer to March 15, it's going to be up to both sides, but primarily President Milosevic to choose one of the two paths -- a path of peace that we can move forward and end this crisis, or a path of more conflict and more violence. And we're going to be making it very clear to him in the coming days that we believe that the path of peace is the best way to move forward.

Q Did I hear you right when you said you're very close to getting him to agree?

MR. LEAVY: No, I think I said we're very close to locking in the Kosovar Albanians. As I said earlier, they agreed in principle. We've had positive developments in the last several days. But as we move forward, as we move toward March 15, we're going to be making it very clear to both sides, including President Milosevic, that this deal is in his best interest.

Q How do you plan to do that?

MR. LEAVY: Well, there are several options on the table as we try to communicate that message, but I don't have anything to announce today.

Q How can you make it more clear than having Madeleine Albright get on the phone with him and tell him it's it, or it's bombs?

MR. LEAVY: I think there are a number of ways to convey a message, and there will be, I'm sure, discussions as we move forward in the coming days if we should deliver that message. But I don't have any specific details today.

Q In Uganda, the President of Uganda admitted that they didn't take proper precautions. How does that affect our relations with Uganda?

MR. LEAVY: We have good working relations with the Ugandan government and they've been very cooperative. All of you who traveled with the President there know President Museveni -- he is a strong leader. But, clearly, this is a gruesome and heinous act, and it's deplorable to all of us here in the government who work on these issues. And it's safe to say that we are seized upon it, and we are going to be working with the Ugandan government, the government of the Congo. We have an investigative team on the ground. Our embassy is working very hard on this, and I know that the highest levels of this government are engaged. And as I said yesterday, we will work tirelessly to bring those who perpetrated this crime to justice and, as someone said as I was preparing for this, remind people that we never let up. If you remember the case of the CIA shooters several years ago, we tracked them down and brought prompt justice, and we will stay at this.

Q And weren't there State Department warnings about general dangers traveling to Uganda?

MR. LEAVY: To Uganda? I don't know. You should check at State.

Q Barry, the President drove back from today's event with Senator Breaux. Can you tell us anything about what Senator Breaux was asking of the President and any commitments that the President may have given Senator Breaux on Medicare?

MR. TOIV: Actually, my understanding is that the conversation was primarily about education. As you may know, Senator Breaux is one of the primary supporters of the effort to add the 100,000 teachers proposal to the Ed-flex bill. And my understanding is that is primarily what the conversation was about.

Q Barry, this morning's paper, where George Hager wrote about a Social Security lockbox that the Republicans are thinking about, can you give us any idea what the administration's thinking is on that, about making sure that Social Security funds are not used to fund the day-to-day operations?

MR. TOIV: We believe that the President's proposal is the best and most real lockbox for Social Security, and we think that any proposal for Social Security needs to, of course, pay down the debt, needs to genuinely extend the life of the Social Security trust fund and genuinely extend the life of the Medicare trust fund. We are glad that members on both sides of the aisle are embracing the President's proposal to pay down the debt, and shore up Social Security. At least they are embracing it in concept. But, first of all, we'd like to see some action on Medicare, as the President said today, because we have not heard that from the other side of the aisle, at least. And again, we will look at other ideas, but they need to fulfill those goals.

Q Barry, on Africa, has the Democratic envoy for Africa expressed any support for this latest attempt to push the Africa trade initiative through, especially since his son is fighting against it?

MR. TOIV: I don't know if he has expressed support for it; but the President, as you know, does strongly support the Africa trade bill, and it's the version that was introduced by Congressman Rangel and others -- has strong bipartisan support and we do hope that it will be enacted by the Congress this year. We understand that there is an alternative proposal by Congressman Jackson. And we differ on that subject in the sense that we believe that the balance of debt relief and trade initiatives and other measures is the proper one in this bill. But we understand his concerns about those issues, we just think that the balance is appropriate in this bill.

Q But is there a concern that the father is now supporting the son's efforts?

MR. TOIV: I don't know. I have not seen any comment to that effect.

Q Any response to the CBO saying today that the President's budget busts all the spending caps?

MR. TOIV: The discretionary spending caps? Yes. I've seen this happen every year. The news would be if CBO and OMB did not agree on budget estimates. Look, the President's budget is balanced. The President's budget does not spend a penny of the surplus. All spending of the President's budget is paid for now. And we believe that the President's budget maintains the spending caps in FY 2000, which is what the CBO is talking about.

You are always going to get technical disagreements between the two agencies on those spending levels, and this year is no different. But, as always, I think that we will work those issues out with the Congress and I don't think the technical issues will be an important part of the debate. What I hope we can get down to is the debate on the actual issues of Social Security and Medicare, education and the rest.

Q In the aftermath of impeachment, has the legal team now disbanded and are there more departures after Begala, from the top side?

MR. TOIV: I'm not aware of any other announced departures. I think there are a couple attorneys who may be heading back to the private sector, who were serving on the legal team. Obviously, the Counsel's Office is still the Counsel's Office.

Q Cheryl Mills is leaving, Greg Craig, all of these people.

MR. TOIV: I don't think I'm going to make any announcements for any individuals. I hadn't heard all those.

Q Is there a date yet for a news conference, a general news conference of the President?

MR. TOIV: There's not a date yet for a news conference. We are working on having a news conference and I think Mr. Lockhart would want the privilege of announcing that.

Q Still in March?

MR. TOIV: Mr. Lockhart would want the privilege of announcing that and I'll leave that for him.

Q Still this month?

MR. TOIV: I haven't heard any change in the options.

Q How many questions will there be at the Friday event with the Italian Prime Minister?

MR. TOIV: I don't know. I'll have to check on that. I don't have any reason to think it won't be the customary, but I haven't heard that definitively.

Q Barry, yesterday I was very distressed to see that you had to use the "no comment," -- Kendall's five times, with both the editorial pages of The Washington Post and The New York Times deploring the President's "missing voice from his customary defensive crouch" -- "while the Kendall statement is full of mystery, instead of a straightforward, presidential answer, "I did not rape that woman." And since there were demonstrators with rapist signs in California, how long will the President hide behind Mr. Kendall's mysterious statement?

MR. TOIV: You're going to make me use the statement again. I guess that's your goal, but I'll flip back to it.

Q No, no, it isn't my goal. I mean, don't you get tired of having to do this? Can't we get some kind of an answer?

MR. TOIV: I can say yes to that.

Next question.

Q The Kendall statement denies there was an assault. Is that the President making the denial? The statement does not say --

MR. TOIV: Sam, I have nothing to add to the statement of the President's attorney.

Q But it's a David Kendall statement, and the accusation is not that David Kendall was involved in an assault, but the President was involved. And I wonder if the President is the one making the statement and Kendall is issuing it in his name.

MR. TOIV: I just answered your question.

Q It's not an answer.

MR. TOIV: I'm sorry you don't think so.

Q Barry, Primakov is supposed to be here in a few weeks to meet with the President?

MR. LEAVY: He actually is coming here for a meeting of the Gore-Primakov Commission.

Q What new wrinkles are there in the type of aid we can give Russia? Is there any new aid we can give Russia? Do you expect any new ground to be broken?

MR. LEAVY: In terms of that visit, I don't think so. I think there has been -- the latest high-level contact was when Secretary Albright traveled to Moscow several weeks ago, met with Prime Minister Primakov, Foreign Minister Ivanov. They certainly talked about political and economic issues, but I don't have anything for you in terms of a new aid package. Talbott was there last week, too.

Q Thank you.

END 1:55 P.M. EST