THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release August 27, 1999
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART Edgartown School Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard
11:35 A.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to our last briefing here in Martha's Vineyard. Let me just do one thing before I get to what the President is doing. I want to call your attention to an excellent news story to cover -- Secretary of Education Richard Riley will get the new school year off to a rousing start with a five-state bus tour through Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, from Monday, August 31, to Friday, September 3. The two-bus caravan, dubbed the Success Express, will carry state and local officials, members of the press, and community leaders to school, college and community visits along the 500-mile route. More information can be obtained from the Department of Education.
Now, on the President's schedule, I don't know if the pool has reported to you all yet, but he spent some time this morning riding horses with his daughter, Chelsea, on the Friedman compound. Mr. Friedman had a barn there with I think four or five horses, so they stayed on the compound. Now he is off at the golf course, scheduled to tee off right about now.
Joining him this morning for his round of golf will be Prince Andrew, who is in Martha's Vineyard visiting some friends for the weekend. Also in the foursome will be Sir Evelyn Rothschild, who Prince Andrew is here visiting; and Tony Fisher, a New York banker who is an old friend of the President, has played with him several times while up here in the Vineyard.
I expect that he'll just play the one round today and the plans for this evening are still open, although it's likely that they may go out. So we'll let you know once we know.
Last night he attended the annual Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison clambake. There was probably about 50 or 60 people there. Some of the same names that you've heard earlier in the week; other names he saw who were there were Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite, Prince Andrew attended last night, and many of the people who he has had a chance to see during the week.
Other than that, that's all I've got.
Q Joe, could you talk a little bit about how the President made his decision on the commutation for the Puerto Rican nationalists, and why he rejected the recommendations of some law enforcement?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not going to get into the private communications or private advice that was given to the President, but I think as we've said now for some weeks on the subject, there have been many people over the years who have argued on a humanitarian basis that something should be done here -- members of Congress in a bipartisan way, religious leaders, international human rights activists.
The process was led by Chuck Ruff, the recently departed White House Counsel. All views were considered and presented to the President fully and completely. The President balanced all of the views that were presented to him and made a decision that reflects that balance of a conditional offer to commute the sentences. And that I think reflects a serious consideration that was taken for all views, from whatever source they may have come.
Q Joe, the unanimous view of the law enforcement agencies that were queried were apparently against this.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I'm not going to get into private communications that were made and private recommendations. What I will say is that all views were presented to the President fully and completely and were taken into consideration before making the final decision.
Q Does that include the views of the First Lady?
MR. LOCKHART: The interagency process that was led by Mr. Ruff was done throughout the government. I'm not aware that the First Lady's office was involved in the process at all. But again, this is a private process that I'm just not going to get into the details of who said what to who when.
Q Joe, prior to the original Waco investigation, the President promised a thorough and independent examination of the affair. What is the President promising now in light of these new revelations? The FBI appears to have not told the whole story for the past six years.
MR. LOCKHART: I think as I said yesterday, the President shares the very serious concern of the Attorney General, and the Attorney General and the FBI Director have promised a full review of the latest information and have promised to make their findings available to the public and to Congress as soon as they have information.
Q What does the White House know about the potential operational involvement of Delta Force in the Waco siege?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's an issue that was dealt with at the time, and as we said yesterday, the President did not -- was not asked to sign a waiver, nor were we aware of any activity that would have required a waiver.
Q If indeed Delta Force was involved operationally and a waiver -- had not been signed, would that be a matter of grave concern for the President that it would have been a violation of federal law?
MR. LOCKHART: That is certainly something they can look at, but that's a hypothetical which I'm not going to address.
Q Joe, does the administration have any concern that there seems to be something just systemically amiss at the FBI, considering how it's handled a number of high-profile cases in the past few years?
MR. LOCKHART: Obviously, the issue involving Waco is something that concerns the Attorney General, concerns the President. But I have not heard anything --
Q But it's not just Waco, it's --
MR. LOCKHART: -- but no one has expressed to me from the senior level of the administration a systemic issue on overall capability.
Q Joe, does the President believe that creationism should be taught in schools?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that curriculum is by law and by all common practice left to local school boards. That's where decisions should be made. I think the President believes that the local school boards, though, are bound by the law of the land and the Supreme Court has spoken very clearly on this issue.
Q -- President's reaction to Republican criticism of the Vice President and the fact that he, they say, should have known better or seen this Russian financial scandal coming --
MR. LOCKHART: I think, as I can characterize most Republican criticism of the Vice President, it's political and it ignores the very important work that this administration has done in building a civil structure, building a system of laws that did not exist in a market economy in Russia before the breakup of the Soviet Union, and recognizes the important work that we continue to do.
Q Wasn't that part of his portfolio --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, you can document all of the important work that this administration had done with the Russians. The Vice President has been a very important part of that. There are some stories that are out now that are being investigated and being looked into, and that should be done, but I think anyone who is standing now criticizing the Vice President as we learn of these is approaching this from a way to try to gain political advantage rather than trying to promote better systems of banking and market and economic reform in Russia.
Q Well, the question becomes why didn't he know if he was so close to the Russians.
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to get into -- there is an investigation going on of this particular case and I think it has documented the important work the State Department, under the leadership of Strobe Talbott, the White House with the President and the Vice President, have done as far as addressing crime and corruption in Russia. This is a hard problem; we've done a lot of work on it, there's a lot of work still to be done.
Q Joe, if the original Justice Department investigation of Waco failed to turn up these new revelations about pyrotechnic tear-gas, is the Justice Department the appropriate agency, arm of government, to be investigating it again, or should an independent agency be brought in?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Justice Department, the Attorney General and the FBI have agreed to do a thorough review of this, and I think they are well-placed and capable of getting to the bottom of this.
Q But you said that three years ago.
MR. LOCKHART: They certainly did, but I believe that the Justice Department remains able to look into this and get to the bottom of it, and they are committed to doing that.
Q Joe, has the President worked on his race report, as he promised he would during this vacation?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he promised he would do that, but I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it. When I do I'll let you know.
Q Joe, back to the Puerto Rican story for just a moment, yesterday I asked you about any reaction the White House might have to the comments of Richard Pastorella, who was blinded in 1982 in one of these bombings involving -- and you declined to discuss it. Could I ask you to take the question again?
MR. LOCKHART: I answered that question fully the other day, so I don't see any reason to go back at it.
Q Based on what you know about next week up in Syracuse, what do you think is going to happen? Will they stay low, stay in the house, or what does the week look like?
MR. LOCKHART: There is some activity that I think you'll -- a couple of days you'll get to see them. They will be out and about a little bit and I think they will have, like here, some days where it will be very quiet. I think in the beginning and at the end of the week they've got things that are semi-public that you'll get a chance -- I know the First Lady's office in Washington has some scheduling information for those who want to call them on her schedule, and we'll be providing, as we've done here, kind of a day-to-day scheduling update from the Hamptons and upstate New York.
Q In your understanding, is there any reconsideration of U.S. aid to --
MR. LOCKHART: I think if you look at the way the IMF has structured the money that goes into Russia now is very much conditional on Russia taking action and transparency of how the money's being used. So it very much takes into account the very real problem of corruption and crime in the country.
Q Joe, can you review for us how the Clintons came to choose Skaneateles as a vacation site next week?
MR. LOCKHART: No, because they didn't discuss it with me; they just told me that's where they've going.
Q Can you talk a little bit more about some fundraising activities that will be going on over the next week?
MR. LOCKHART: We have some sheets for the weekend which, hopefully, are on the table by now that --
Q We were hoping you might be able to expand on that a little bit.
MR. LOCKHART: The President is going to take the opportunities he's done previous summers in the Hamptons to meet with Democratic supporters, which will raise resources for the DNC and the DSCC. I think he's going to get a chance to see some friends and is very much looking forward to spending the weekend in the Hamptons, as we all are, right? What an enthusiastic group.
Q Talking about newfound friends, he's going to meet with Congressman Forbes, the newest Democrat. Can you tell me what the idea is behind that?
MR. LOCKHART: He's coming to one of the events? I'll look into that. I don't know if there's any meeting. There's no meeting that I know of, but I certainly expect that, given the location and the DNC functions that I wouldn't be surprised that Congressman Forbes is participating.
Q He doesn't have a meeting with Forbes at Alec Baldwin's house or nearby tomorrow morning?
MR. LOCKHART: If I knew that he had one, I would have said it the first time you asked. Next? Yes.
Q What has Mrs. Clinton been doing the past --
MR. LOCKHART: I know she went to the function last night, and was there for several hours with the President. I don't have any other information on what she was doing yesterday or today.
Q How's Hillary's cold?
MR. LOCKHART: She seemed quite over it last night.
Q -- (inaudible.)
MR. LOCKHART: I have no idea. I saw them last night and didn't notice it, so I can't offer any forensic insight. I think we're both wearing out our welcomes here. I'll be going. See you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:47 A.M. EDT