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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                           (Auburn, New York)
For Immediate Release                                  September 2, 1999
                             PRESS BRIEFING

                            The Holiday Inn
                            Auburn, New York

11:33 A.M. EDT

MR. SIEWERT: I can either start with week ahead or start with taking some questions and end with week ahead.

Q Start with week ahead.

MR. SIEWERT: Start with week ahead. The President will tape his radio address tomorrow, before leaving for Washington. And he will use that radio address as an opportunity to lay out his fall agenda, as Congress returns from its summer vacation.

On Monday we'll travel to Norfolk, Virginia, on Labor Day, to highlight the importance of school modernization. We'll join the AFL-CIO and some local students and teachers. The AFL-CIO is engaged in a process down there to help refurbish classrooms at Coleman Place Elementary School. We'll speak to the school community about the impact that the Republican tax cut bill would have on education investment. We expect he'll leave the White House shortly before noon and return sometime around 4:00 p.m.

On Tuesday, the President will visit another school, again to highlight the importance of education investments, this time focusing particularly on class size. The exact location is TBD, but I expect it will be somewhere locally, probably in Maryland.

On Wednesday, the President will talk to health care groups on how we can move forward on the nation's health care agenda. He'll focus not only on his own efforts to strengthen and reform Medicare, but also on patients' bill of rights and on the Kennedy-Jeffords disability legislation and our own support for the children's health insurance program and making sure that we have as full participation on that as possible. That speech will be held at the White House that afternoon, on Wednesday.

On Thursday, we'll join the U.S. Conference of Mayors and some law enforcement groups at an event to encourage Congress to enact some common-sense gun control measures that were passed by the Senate earlier this summer. The exact location of the event is TBD, but we'll do that in the late morning. The press plane, as you know, is probably departing for Auckland at 8:45 a.m. We'll try to have a trip briefing on that Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning -- we'll let you know once we have a confirmed time -- a chance to hear Mr. Berger and Mr. Sperling, which I know you'll look forward to.

I think that's it. So we'll have a pretty active agenda. We'll obviously be focusing quite a bit on what Congress can and should do when it returns. And it's been a quiet August, but now we're in September and it's time to get back to work, as Mr. Podesta said yesterday. And, with that, I will take any questions you might have.

Q Has the President spoken to the Attorney General or anybody at Justice about this investigation of Waco?

MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that he's spoken to anyone personally, himself. We understand that the Attorney General is committed to having an independent review of the facts. And she promised to get to the bottom of this. We certainly support her decision to have an independent review and we understand it, in light of what's happened.

Q Jake, some members of Congress are again calling for her resignation. What are your thoughts on that?

MR. SIEWERT: The President has confidence that the Attorney General and the Department of Justice will get to the bottom of this. She has promised to do that and she has promised to do it in a way that is full and as timely as is possible.

Q Jake, with the members of Congress calling for hearings on the Puerto Rican clemency, does the President plan any kind of statement or explanation of his offer of clemency for those people?

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

Q Well, do you not feel any pressing need? I mean, the White House has really seemed to be backing off on this.

MR. SIEWERT: The President made an offer of clemency that includes conditions that must be met by the prisoners and we understand that they'll have to consult with their counsel and that process is underway. We'll expect to hear from them soon.

Q But why isn't he out there defending this action, this offer of clemency?

MR. SIEWERT: I imagine mostly because he's on vacation. We'll probably have a chance to ask him questions and hear maybe a more full answer to that question. But he made this decision in light of all the advice and evidence that was presented to him and that's a decision that's not made lightly. It's a decision that the President has used very sparingly, a power that's used very sparingly and the President made that decision. I don't have anything further than that, I don't expect that he'll address that publicly any time.

Q Well, Jake, what does the White House think about the congressional investigation of the offer, the clemency offer?

MR. SIEWERT: Congress has a right to do whatever it wants. We made that decision on the merits and the President stands by his decision.

Q Would you be in a position to say that the White House will cooperate with the investigation?

MR. SIEWERT: I'll check.

Q I know we've asked this of you before, but it's been several days, there's been more information coming out. Does the President not have any outrage about the fact that things are being revealed now that should have been revealed six years ago?

MR. SIEWERT: No, the President is deeply concerned that the Attorney General appears to have been misled and may have been lied to. She has vowed to get to the bottom of that; we fully support her effort to do that. The fact that she's let us know that she wants to do that in a way that's independent and thorough, and we support that decision.

Q What about the Justice Department going over and seizing FBI evidence? Does this point to a souring of the relationship between Justice and FBI?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think that the Justice Department, to protect the integrity of this material, with the FBI's concurrence, sent some marshals over to secure that evidence. And that's understandable. We believe that was handled appropriately. As to whether -- the atmospherics of that, I'd refer you to the Justice Department.

Q Isn't the President concerned, though, about this relationship? It can't be good for the country. Is he proud of it?

MR. SIEWERT: That's your own characterization of the relationship; I'm not commenting on it one way or the other. If you want to check with the FBI and the Department of Justice about the current state of that relationship, you could do that.

Q Jake, back to the Puerto Rican question. How do you respond to suggestions that it's pandering to the Puerto Rican vote in New York, so the --

MR. SIEWERT: This is a decision the President made on the merits, that he made after a full review of all the evidence and facts that were given to him. It's a conditional offer of clemency that's conditioned upon renunciation of violence. The prisoners to whom this offer was made have not been associated with the more violent acts that led to injuries that have been broadly publicized in the days since that decision.

It's important to keep in mind that none of those people was injured by an act that was committed by any of the people to whom this offer has been made. Frankly, there has been a lot of misleading reporting on that. The President has made a decision to offer some people clemency who have served an enormous amount of time in prison for crimes.

Q Was the First Lady involved in this decision at all?

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

Q Orrin Hatch is concerned because there was no -- he says there was no recommendation by the Justice Department one way or the other in the report to the President. Can you confirm that there was no recommendation; and, if there was not, why?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, you'd have to ask them that. We do not -- we have a time-honored tradition of not going into the various details of decision memos that go to the President and we're not going to break that tradition in this case.

Q Well, did the White House miscalculate as to what the reaction would be from the law enforcement community to this offer of clemency?

MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. I think this has been a controversial issue for some time and the President made that decision on the merits.

Q And as far as you know there's no plans or consideration to withdraw this offer?

MR. SIEWERT: No. As I said, that decision -- the offer is conditional and we understand that the prisoners will have to review that with their counsel. But that is something that we'll wait to hear from them and we expect to hear from them shortly.

Q Any update on the Mideast, Jake, whether the President has been in touch with either side?

MR. SIEWERT: The President has been talking to some leaders since -- really since the election of Barak, and he's continued to have some calls over the course of this vacation. I don't think we're in a position to detail each and every one of those right now, just because at this point we think a lot of that diplomacy is best carried on in private.

Secretary Albright is holding a press conference, I believe in Alexandria, as we speak. She's probably in a better position to give you an update on the latest.

Q Do you know whether he's planning -- phone calls here, from vacation?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I think he has made calls from vacation, I just don't think -- I think we've read a couple out on the Vineyard. I believe there have been some since then, but I think that this is a point at which diplomacy is being conducted privately, and that's probably the most effective way to do that right now.

When we're in a position to give you a more full accounting of his involvement in that process, we will. I can tell you that he spoke to Secretary Albright before she left to take stock of what's going on on the ground there. And he has spoken to Sandy Berger regularly to keep up to date on what's going on in this situation on the ground there. And he has spoken to Sandy Berger regularly, to keep up to date on what's happening in the region and how the trip is going.

Q Can you tell us where the Clintons are or are not in the process of buying this house in Chappaqua?

MR. SIEWERT: I don't think there's any mystery here. The President told you that he liked the house they saw in Chappaqua. I think he and the First Lady have made that pretty clear.

What I'm not going to do is detail sort of the ups and downs of what that involves. When we have a final decision, we'll let you know. As anyone who has bought a house knows, it can be kind of complicated. I'm not sure it's very useful to provide a minute-by-minute detailing of the ups and downs of contracting.

Q Can you tell us if there has been a bid?

Q It might be useful to us. (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: As I said, there's no mystery here. The President and the First Lady said that they liked the house they saw in Chappaqua. You know, you can all imagine what that means. And when we have something final, we'll let you know.

Q Is that the focus of their house-hunting right now?

MR. SIEWERT: Is that the focus of their house-hunting?

Q Can you tell us if that is the focus of their house-hunting?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, the house in Chappaqua. As I said, I don't think -- I think the President said at the time that they liked the house very much. And I think we can all guess what that means.

Q You seem to be saying they're in the process of buying the house, or negotiating to buy the house. Is that not true?

MR. SIEWERT: As I said, I don't think there's any mystery here. (Laughter.) I'm just not -- anyone who has bought a house knows that it goes through various ups and downs, a very complicated process. It's not over until it's over, and when it's over, we'll let you know.

Q But an offer has been made, though, right?

MR. SIEWERT: I'm not going to detail it, because if we get into that, you know, I can just imagine -- well, has it been accepted? Where is this, and where's that? I don't really feel like it's that productive to detail the various --

Q Fixed-rate? Adjustable? (Laughter.)

Q Jake, last week Joe Lockhart indicated to us during one of these briefings that the administration was satisfied that the proper safeguards on IMF loans to Russia were in place. Now we find that Secretary Summers is recommending that the IMF loans be suspended. What happened in between those two --

MR. SIEWERT: No, I think that's a misreading of what Secretary Summers said. What Secretary Summers said is that before we disburse any money, under any IMF program, that it's important that there be safeguards in place, and that there be an adequate accounting of previous disbursements.

We think that there were very strong protections in place for the latest tranche that was sent to Russia. I can go into those in some detail if you'd like. But the bottom line is that before we disburse any money under an IMF program, we look for one, to make sure that it's supporting reform; two, to make sure that it's adequately protected, and that there are safeguards in place, and that any previous money has not been misused. To date, there's no evidence that any of that money had been misused, and obviously the IMF is taking some steps to ensure that we have a full accounting for that.

I believe the Secretary of the Treasury is fully supportive of the effort to make sure that any of that money has been directed properly. And that's a consideration that goes into any disbursement by the IMF under a reform program.

Q Could this make it difficult for the White House to secure funding for foreign aid in the future from a Republican Congress?

MR. SIEWERT: I certainly hope not. I mean, we certainly spent a lot of time last year trying to make sure that the IMF was strong in the wake of a difficult financial crisis. And it was a difficult process, but in the end Congress saw the wisdom of making sure that we had strong funding for the IMF, and that the IMF was in a position to fight fires around the world as a financial crisis erupts. But we all know the danger of leaving the IMF unguarded, under-funded, at a time of difficult financial times.

Q On the Chappaqua house, can you say that there is not yet a deal on that house?

MR. SIEWERT: I said when we have something final, we'll let you know.

Q Does that mean there's not a deal?

MR. SIEWERT: It means -- this, again, we're going into -- when we have a degree of finality on this, where we can provide some certainty, we'll let you know first thing.

Q Jake, in light of the clemency for Puerto Ricans, is the administration reconsidering at all commuting the life sentence for Jonathan Pollard?

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

Q You don't know of any movement on that at all?

MR. SIEWERT: No, none at all.

Q Jake, is the President going to make remarks at the fundraisers for the First Lady this afternoon?

MR. SIEWERT: He is not expected to make remarks. If he does, we will certainly ensure that there is a print pooler there to chronicle them.

Q Will he definitely be there?

Q Will it be on the mult?

MR. SIEWERT: I'll check on that. I hope so. I'll try to check.

Q He will definitely be at these events?

MR. SIEWERT: He'll be at the fundraisers. There's one in, I believe, Cazenovia, in the late afternoon, and then one in the early evening in Syracuse. And those are fundraisers for the First Lady's exploratory committee. If you need any more detail on those, you may be able to reach Mr. Wolfson, who could provide that.

Q Is this going to be set up like it was in the Vineyard, where if he does, we have no audio of his speaking?

MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I don't know.

MS. CHITRE: There's no mult.

MR. SIEWERT: There's no mult, I'm sorry. So we'll -- the steno will take it and transcribe it.

Q Thank you.

MR. SIEWERT: All right.

END 11:47 A.M. EDT