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 get organized here. Okay, we're ready. Let me start on a serious note, and a somewhat sad note for those of here in the White House and the Press Office, I think for many of you here in the room, and I think the best way to do this is - Barry hasn't seen this yet, but the President has shared with me a note he has written to him, and I'm going to read it to you because I think it expresses what many of us feel.
Dear Barry, as you leave the White House I want to thank you for the dedicated service to the American people and to my presidency. You've done an exceptional job in a series of challenging roles. A Communications Director at the Office of Management and Budget, you did invaluable work writing and editing the budget, and helping us to return fiscal discipline to our federal government.
As Senior Advisor to the Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, during a particularly challenging time, keeping the White House functioning smoothly and effectively during a government shutdown and a reelection campaign. And during the last three years as Deputy Press Secretary, you have served superbly on the front lines with Mike McCurry and Joe Lockhart, keeping the American people informed and involved in all that we are striving to accomplish.
To each of these varied and demanding responsibilities, you have brought keen judgment, toughness, wisdom and wit. You have been a good friend and a strong advocate, and I will miss you, as will your colleagues and many friends throughout the White House. As you begin a new chapter in your life you can be proud to know that you've made a genuine contribution to this administration and the well-being of our nation. I deeply appreciate the sacrifices that you and your family made, and I'm pleased that Chris, Daniel and Nora will be seeing more of you in the future.
Hillary joins in wishing you continued success and every happiness in the years to come. Signed, the President.
Now, in talking to the President this morning, he thought that this was a completely appropriate letter, but there were a couple of things that weren't necessarily appropriate to put in a letter of this kind that Barry would keep around for a while, and probably his family would treasure. So I made a few notes while talking to him this morning, and I think, in talking to the President about Barry, the first thing that he recalled was what a strong start he got off to. You know, it is rare for people in the White House to really distinguish themselves on the first day, especially in this job where you stand out here. He remembered that first day. And you all remember, Barry did a briefing that day, and did a fine job. And the President went out later in the day to respond to Barry's briefing. And you'll remember the question -- I think it was from a very friendly reporter, who - I've got the transcript here. It says, the question was, "sir, does that mean you're going back on your promise? The White House said earlier, in fact this morning Mr. Toiv said that if it came here, you would sign it."
The President: "Well, he didn't talk to me before he said that." (Laughter.) And it went on a little bit. The President expressed himself fully. And then there was a follow-up: "Your spokesman, sir, was asked" -- and the President cut in and said, "Well, my spokesmen, they do a very good job here. But I made it clear to Mr. McCurry what my position is on this. And if an error was made by a spokesman, I'm sorry." That is an auspicious debut - (laughter) - and the President remembered it quite well. In fact, I didn't need to get the transcript for that. (Laughter.)
There's other things, going back through some of the briefings that Barry has done. In fact, I don't know how I'm not in this book - or Mike isn't, for that matter - but Barry's in the "Stupidest Quotes in Politics" book, which Amy Weiss was kind enough to send over to me this morning. When asked why the briefing was starting so late, he said, "I'm sorry. It's not easy getting up here and saying nothing. It takes a lot of preparation." (Laughter.)
And finally, Barry, as you all know, is a straight shooter and really tells it to you, and there's no hiding from the tough facts; he gets right to it. There was one briefing, I think it might have been Mr. Angle, who questioned him during the height of impeachment when he said, "Barry, you make it sound as if no one in the White House is even aware that all this is going on down at the courthouse." And Barry looked at him with a straight face and said, "That what is going on?" (Laughter.)
So he has distinguished himself from this podium. But I think most of you who have traveled with us and have seen Barry on the road really know that he hit his stride that summer in Martha's Vineyard. It was hard to believe that for five days a nation could be gripped by the mystery of what the First Lady got the President for his birthday. I know you remember it; I remember USA Today printed excerpts of it daily, of Barry's trying to build suspense and keep the country from knowing so it reached a crescendo the day after he left. And the President - as you all know, he got a sculpture. And the President looks at that sculpture and he thinks it's Barry's. And he always thinks of you. So he asked me this morning to ----gap --
Okay, moving right along. (Laughter.) You all know that the President is probably the most photographed person in the world and there are a lot of famous photos. And as many of you know, Barry has a tendency to show up in some of them. But what you don't know is that he's really in a lot more photos than you know. And there are a number of ones that I want to show you that represent that.
The President does a lot of meetings with foreign heads of state. The President doesn't meet with a head of state without Barry Toiv, and I think this one, on a recent trip to Turkey, will demonstrate that. (Shows a photo.) (Laughter.) This is a very important photo, that Barry feels very strongly about Turkey's accession into the EU and he was there for that. (Laughter.)
Now , the President gives a very important speech every year where he lays out his domestic agenda and where we should be internationally, and he wouldn't do that speech without Barry. And I think as this photo indicates, he's always there for him. There's the Vice President, the former Speaker and Barry. (Laughter.) Now, you may not know this, but Barry is very close with the family. They never go anyplace without him.. Sometimes when they go off on vacation to far-flung places - like I think the trip to New Zealand, I think we have a picture of that that represents just t pecking order of things. There's the President, Chelsea, and Barry. (Laughter.)
Now, those of you who have toured t residence will know that the President has a very special place where there are just people who mean a lot to him and he puts their picture on the wall - it's a picture gallery. And I think you'd be interested in this one. (Laughter.) There is President Kennedy, President Reagan, Barry. (Laughter.)
Finally, my favorite, there is a very prized photo - I know you all get Christmas cards from the President, many people do. But not many people get t real one with the family picture, the one that you'd get from your friends or family. And it's a secret, but they let me bring it out this time just to show you what they send to their very close friends and family. Christmas with the Clintons - and Barry. (Laughter.)
Okay, enough pictures. I'm losing it now. Let me just finish with one thing. I think many of you know that working here in the press office is often tough work, dirty work, and sometimes there are difficult jobs to do. And most of us can do it in a stealth way and under the radar screen. But because certain people like Dick Morris felt that they had to write books, some were exposed. And Barry, from that point on, was known as the Assassin. And it's a fact of life, sometimes you get exposed. But Dick found out that Barry was leaving and he wrote this short letter to us, and we just wanted to share it with you.
Dear Mr. Toiv, it's with great interest and a sense of relief that I read that you will be leaving the White House. As a private citizen committed to the public welfare and common good, I've long lamented your craven campaign of leaks and lies in pursuit of your political agenda. Your hit-man mentality has no place in national affairs, and the American taxpayers suffer when the power-mad men like you hold positions of influence in our government.
As you know, in the past I've made no secret of my contempt for you and your tactics. I know my good friend Harold Ickes shares those sentiments entirely. (Laughter.) Your unrelenting assassination of his character was particularly disgusting. It is sad when mean-spirited men like you can drive earnest, well-meaning people like Harold and myself from public service. (Laughter.)
It is my fervent hope for this country that your position will be filled by someone who shares my own values of honesty, integrity, morality, decency and loyalty.
Signed, Dick Morris.
P.S.: once you get settled in your new position, how about lunch at the Jefferson? (Laughter.)
I'm going to get to questions eventually, but I want to actually say something serious, and I want to repeat something I said to the senior staff this morning, that we are sorry to see Barry go. I think those of you who have relied on him for the last seven years are probably sorrier than we are, because of all the service that he provided. But I think there were three things that stand out. One is, this is really my first job in government, and I hear a lot - and I think the American public hears a lot - about public service and government workers. But after spending nearly three years here, I think Barry typifies what's best in public service. He's spent 21 years working for the United States government in a selfless way, and in a way, I think, that has brought credit to both himself and to the country.
I think in this environment in Washington, it's very difficult to get through 21 years, much less 21 minutes, with your integrity attacked, with your honesty never questioned. And Barry's done that. And I think finally, in a town where it's not always easy to discern what someone's agenda is, Barry has brought a commitment here that he serves the President's agendas and the American people's agenda. And that's something that - when I walk out of here, if I can pass those tests in a way that comes anywhere close to Barry, I'll be very lucky and happy.
Thank you for your service, and we're going to do worse things to you later on today. (Applause.)
MR. LOCKHART: As soon as I leave here, which I hope to be very soon, because I'm late, Tony Blinken will come down and give you a readout.
Q What about the Democratic governors? What is that?
MR. LOCKHART: The Democratic governors are in town. They're looking to talk to people here in Washington about a strategy for picking up gubernatorial seats this year in the elections, overall campaign themes and strategies for Democrats this year. So the President will spend some time with them. I think it'll be a discussion of issues, a discussion of politics.
Q Is the U.S. blocking the IMF loan to Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
MR. LOCKHART: Ex-Im. The White House has a policy where we don't dictate or block loans that the Export-Import Bank makes to Russian companies. We have provided some information about a particular company that we thought would be relevant in their decision making process. But it's up to the Export-Import Bank to make a determination on that loan.
Q But you wanted to influence the decision.
MR. LOCKHART: We certainly believe it's proper to provide information that we think is relevant to decisions that the Export-Import Bank makes. We've done that. But it is not our decision to make.
Q Would you like to see the loan delayed?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon?
Q Would you like to see the loan delayed?
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I think it would be improper to get into the details. They are an agency that is able to make independent decisions. They will do that in this case. We do believe they have information that's relevant to the loan, and we'll see what they decide.
Q Was Khalil Diq* the ringleader of this Jordanian terrorist cell that was being financed by Osama bin Laden and his associates? And with his arrest, do you believe that the threat against Americans and American interests in Jordan has been nullified?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to get into the details. I think, obviously, there will be proceedings taken against those arrested in Jordan. So I don't think it's proper to try to characterize what role each person has played or may not have played. I think we - I think this was an important development, but I'm not in a position to say that there is not an ongoing threat.
Q How did we miss out on the chance to extradite him to Jordan? How did we miss out over Jordan on the chance to extradite him from Pakistan?
MR. LOCKHART: I know that he has been extradited, but I don't know if there was a U.S. claim in that case.
Q Joe, since you brought up the subject of impeachment, a year ago the White House - (laughter) --
MR. LOCKHART: Good, I like that, creative.
Q It's a segue. A year ago the White House was asserting that Americans would increasingly come to see the impeachment as an exercise in partisanship. But a new poll shows a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who approve of the impeachment. Is the White House losing sort of the legacy spin war?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have t slightest idea.
Q Joe, is the President glad that his fellow Democrats in Maryland are prosecuting Linda Tripp for recording Monica's confessions without her knowledge, just as so many Presidents have in the Oval Office recorded people without their knowledge or consent? And I have a follow-up.
MR. LOCKHART: He has not expressed a view to me on that subject.
Q What was the President's reaction to Vice President Gore's response in Derry, New Hampshire that he "doesn't know" what to make of Juanita Broaddrick charge that the Attorney General Bill Clinton raped her? Does the President think that the Vice President should be uncertain about a charge that he's a rapist, and Gore's answer "no," when asked, "so you don't believe Juanita's Broaddrick claim" Had the President talked to Mr. Gore about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea and --
Q Could you ask?
MR. LOCKHART: No. Listen, Lester, you find it so easy to cross the line. I'm going to let you make your statements, but I don't have to respond to them.
Q Cross the line - why is it crossing the line?
MR. LOCKHART: I say it's a free country, if you've got a question, ask it. Otherwise --
Q I did.
MR. LOCKHART: Good.
Q I didn't get an answer.
MR. LOCKHART: Is there anyone out there with a real question?
Q Joe, what message does it send to Iraq that Russia, China and France today abstained from this U.N. vote adopting a resolution to return t arms teams and to let up on the sanctions?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think Russia and China have articulated reasons for their abstentions that speak for themselves. I think we believe it's unfortunate that France took the position they did. It doesn't completely add up for us, given the fact that they said they supported t text of the resolution.
But I think the bottom line is there was a strong majority that sent a strong message to Saddam Hussein and passed a strong resolution. This gives new powers to the U.N. Security Council, and he's got a fundamental decision to make, which he has faced in the past and he has tried to avoid. And this is another statement and resolution that puts the onus back on him to decide on whether he's going to allow the inspectors to come in, whether he's going to fulfill the disarmament task that they've waived for him, and whether he's going to cooperate and comply with the United Nations. If he does not do that, he lives in a world of sanctions.
Q -- something beyond sanctions?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to speculate down the road on a hypothetical, but I think this statement is a strong statement. I think it's been erroneously reported that somehow this weakens the U.N. Security Council position, because in fact it strengthens it.
Q Joe, -- about Paris, of the U.S. effort to build an anti-missile defense. The Foreign Minister called us a "hyper power" instead of a superpower. Are the French becoming a part of the problem, as they often tend to be?
MR. LOCKHART: I believe and it's certainly our hope that the French will join us in pursuing full implementation of this resolution. I think, as I've said, we're disappointed that they abstained. But given t fact that they supported the text,
Q Why did they abstain?
MR. LOCKHART: Again, it's something that doesn't make complete sense to us, but - and they can certainly articulate their views. But given their support of the text, support of the overall concept of applying this regime with Saddam Hussein and Iraq, it is disappointing. The bottom line, though, is that we have a U.N. resolution that provides additional power to the Security Council to go ahead and get this done, and we are in a situation where Saddam Hussein has got to decide whether to give up his weapons program and rejoin the international community, or remain isolated.
Q Joe, what message does it send to the President that a September 27th deadline lasts for more than two months in the Section 201 steel wire --
MR. LOCKHART: That it's a highly complicated issue and that a lot of people are working very hard to get it resolved.
Q When do you expect it resolved?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect it to be resolved soon.
Q How do you read the Security Council decision as a strong majority when it was a pretty narrow margin --
MR. LOCKHART: I think 11 to 4 is - 4 abstentions - 11 to 0 voting for it, and 4 abstentions is a strong majority. I'll give you a lot of candidates who would take that vote.
Q Joe, -- between U.S. and China over the - embassy - the U.S. will pay to China almost $28 million, and China will pay about $3 million. Do you think that will make China happy, and bring relations back to --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've been working hard on restoring relations with China over the last six months or so, with obvious progress in a number of areas, including our agreement on trade and accession into WTO. These were good negotiations between both sides. There was obviously damage to the U.S. embassy in China that was done in the aftermath of the accidental bombing. I think this is an appropriate resolution that will allow both sides to rebuild the damaged facilities.
Q Also, -- has become part of China this week. Any comment on this -- because some - are saying that they want to be run --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't heard anybody - I haven't heard respected foreign policy voices making that contention.
Q Do you know whether t President is thinking of giving a lot of pardons on Christmas Eve, and can you project this coming week in terms of - we hear rumors that the President may go to Camp David for Christmas. Is that --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President is staying here - as far as I know. If that changes I'll let you know. That's right, isn't it? Yes. I think it's a White House tradition, going back a long time, that around Christmastime the process that results in pardons are bundled together. I expect that to happen this year, but I've got no way of predicting how many there will be this year, or who. I just don't know.
Q Joe, what was the President's reaction to former Marine Corps Commandant General Mundy's op-ed piece in this morning's New York Times, "playing politics at the military's expense?"
MR. LOCKHART: Didn't talk to him about it.
Q What was the President's reaction to Secretary Cohen's announcement at Dover Air Force Base that he has no plans to lift restrictions on open homosexuals in the Armed Forces, as unreported by both the Washington Post and the New York Times?
MR. LOCKHART: Didn't talk to him.
Q Don't talk to him about these things?
Q Joe, the President of Montenegro is meeting with the Secretary of State and seeking assurances that the West will help out if Mr. Milosevic had any intentions of staging a coup or military action; also seeking some economic help. Do you know what the United States position is on that, and whether we see any evidence that Mr. Milosevic is up to something improper?
MR. LOCKHART: No evidence has been brought to my attention, although I don't want to exclude something that I'm not aware of. We've made a number of public statements on that about our views on their position, their autonomy. And I'm just not aware of anything new that's developed --
Q What's the radio address on?
MR. LOCKHART: Radio address is on - we've got education and schools.
Q Joe, the United Nations has in effect investigated itself on the Rwanda massacres. And the U.N. report is very critical of both the U.N. and of the United States. Now, the President has often expressed his regret during the massacres. When he went to Rwanda, he said we did not act quickly enough after the killing began, we should not have allowed the refugee camps to become safe havens for killers, we did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name - genocide. So he's acknowledged mistakes there. Why were there mistakes? We've never really had an explanation for why the United States did not try to go in there, why it did not try to lead a relief effort before -- as the President said in Rwanda, --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say I think you've accurately quoted the President. He has spoken about that both in the region and around this country. But this is an important report that's come from the United Nations, and one that we have not had a chance to review. So I'm going to withhold comment on that until we've had a chance. I have no reason not to believe it's not well-researched and analyzed, but our people here haven't had a chance to review it. I'm going to withhold.
Q -- follow-up, without reference to the report, though, there are people - and not just African-Americans - in this country who say it would have been different, was different in fact in Bosnia, when whites were in danger there. Is there an explanation for the inaction -- without reference to this report, whether the report --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think it's difficult to do it without reference to the report, because the report's what's driving the question today. And I want to avoid my comments being misconstrued in any way. So let me stay where I am on that, and just point you back to -- I think the President has spoken extensively on this.
Q Does the President feel he was able to make his points on trade any better, or with better reception, during the EU meeting - Seattle?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me kick that question only because they were coming out as I was walking down. Tony Blinken will be in here afterwards on some of the other issues. And then on the particular trade issues, I understand the United States Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky will have a session with reporters sometime very soon. And she's going to handle the particular trade issues.
Q The week ahead?
MR. LOCKHART: Be glad to, but John hasn't been here for a while. Why don't - (laughter) - two days in a row.
Q I'll defer to Lester. (Laughter.)
Q I have a last question, Joe.
MR. LOCKHART: I wasn't going to use this threat, but I am going to use it now. We are in the process of formulating next week's Christmas lids, and I think we've just changed our minds. No early lids. (Laughter.) Thank Lester - just kidding. We're actually going to try next week. I'll do the week ahead if you're ready for it.
Q Go ahead.
MR. LOCKHART: We're going to try to get you out as early as we can next week in our own self-interest. But Saturday, the President will conduct a live radio address. They will also have - the President and the First Lady will also host holiday receptions Saturday and Sunday --
Q Both tomorrow and --
MR. LOCKHART: Tomorrow and Sunday on the receptions. No public schedule for the rest of the weekend.
Monday, December 20th, the President and the First Lady will host the annual children's holiday reading event, 1:30 p.m., East Room, pool press. For those of you who were there last year, we will not repeat my bravura performance of trying to talk my daughter off the First Lady's seat.
Tuesday, December 21st, the President will meet with President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, 9:30 a.m. in the morning. Wednesday, December 22nd, the President and the First Lady will visit the D.C. Central Kitchen to assist the kitchen in its holiday meal preparation. That's 12:15 p.m. I think that's the place we went to last year. Thursday, December 23rd through December 26th, the President will have no public schedule. I expect that he will remain at the White House for the holiday. And we will have more for you on Christmas lids early next week.
Q Can you guarantee he won't go shopping on Christmas Eve evening?
MR. LOCKHART: I not only won't guarantee it, I'd actually tell you to prepare for it.
Q Joe, with Barry moving on, who will now handle the arcane tax and budget questions that --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, Barry and I have spent a lot of time together, and he felt that the only person who was prepared, and who had the ability to do it was me. So every morning now after the gaggle, we're going to do an arcane budget-and-tax gaggle. (Laughter.) No, I think Mr. Siewert is well-equipped to steal that, and Mr. Kennedy will fill in as necessary.
Q Joe, since Israel sent its top executive to Washington but Syria did not, and instead sent a Foreign Minister who refused to shake hands with Prime Minister Barak, and since General Ariel Sharon quotes General Barak as saying on August 18th, 1994, "even in time of peace we must hold the Golan Heights," why does the President think Israel should give up the Golan Heights for Syrian promises and American money?
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, your question betrays extraordinary ignorance of the Middle East, so let's move on.
Q Oh, that's --
Q Tomorrow's radio, why is it going to be live? Are there going to be special guests about education in schools? And will there be any new initiatives --
MR. LOCKHART: There'll be some new initiatives, which I'll be glad to talk to you about - out there, once I get off and away from the cameras.
Q Joe, on the Ex-Im Bank, can we go back to this? The President has the authority, right, if he sees that the loan is violating U.S. human rights policy, of stopping it, right?
MR. LOCKHART: My understanding of our policy is, we have the authority to block lending to countries. We don't go down to the lower level, specific loans to specific companies. So yes, we have the ability to do that if we feel that a country is not deserving of a loan. In this case, Ex-Im is making a decision. We've provided information to them, and we'll just see where they come down.
Q -- shouldn't it be because of the human rights abuse that's taking place in Chechnya, not for some sort of obscure reasons relating to this particular company?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the Export-Import Bank is making a decision based on a company. They're not making a broader political decision, no.
Q So the administration is not trying to in any way weigh in on this and make a political decision that there should not be additional loans to Russia?
MR. LOCKHART: No. All I can say is there was relevant information about this loan that was provided.
Q Two new questions today about security of Americans. They closed the embassy in Ecuador, and this arrest along the Canadian border. Can you just tell us what the White House thinks about these?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know about the second one. I know about the first one. I know there was a specific threat that led to the closing of the embassy in Quito, and that is being addressed. I'm just not aware of the second. All I can say is that we remain vigilant in this time on threats to Americans, and to American facilities, and we will remain very vigilant.
Q Joe, going back on Osama bin Laden. What message do you have for the rest of the world, because most of the public, really they are scared from the threats and from the statements and from press reportings that there might be something coming from him. Is anybody watching him? And also, what the rest of the world's publics should do?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the warning that the State Department put out was very clear that during this time, it is appropriate for Americans to exercise caution and to get more information, depending on what their travel schedule is.
Q Joe, one more on the Ex-Im Bank. So you're saying that if this loan is turned down, it should not be interpreted by the Russians as any statement by the U.S. on their policy in Chechnya?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm saying that the Export-Import Bank is making a decision. That is something that they will make independent of the White House. And we should wait until a decision is made before we speculate on how it should be read, either here or abroad.
Q Yes, but if the U.S. has the right to suggest that there could be human rights violations, does that mean that the U.S. does not believe there are human rights violations in Chechnya? And therefore won't suggest that --
MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't draw a straight line between these two things.
Q Has there been any direct communication between the President and Boris Yeltsin since Yeltsin rattled sabers last week and said that we have nukes?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q How can we draw any other conclusion on the Russians, in view of the timing? Did we suddenly discover this information about fraud about one company, and then --
MR. LOCKHART: Listen, I'm not going to get into the information --
Q -- so gratuitous.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you know what? You can draw your own conclusions based on what information you have.
Q We expect the government to tell us these things.
MR. LOCKHART: And I am not at liberty to give you any more information than I'm giving you now, beyond that we had relevant information and we passed it on to the proper authorities.
Q Thank you.
END 1:53 P.M. EST