THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JOE LOCKHART
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EDT
MR. LOCKHART: Let me give you a sense of the President's schedule today since we didn't -- I didn't see most of you this morning, except for the pool.
The President has in advance of the hate crimes event that he'll be doing over in the East Room this afternoon, he has a meeting with a number of civil rights leaders, leaders on this issue, to talk strategy for trying to find a way to put this at center stage in this legislative year. As you as all remember, we came close to getting this passed last year. We hope to get over the last hurdles this year and get this bill passed into law.
Q -- about hate crimes bill?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, hate crimes, yes.
At 3:25 p.m. the President will have a brief meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, who is in Washington for consultations in advance of the meeting that will happen in June -- early June in Moscow, the President traveling to Moscow. I expect that meeting to last about 20 minutes.
Let's see, the President's got some videos that he's doing. He's got his first commencement speech on Sunday. So he's got --
Q What's that on, do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: Pardon? I don't know the subject. I know it's out at Eastern Michigan. And he'll be working with the speechwriters on that.
Q Is this the President's second address at EMU?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Did he do a commencement address there --
MR. LOCKHART: No, he's done at Michigan State, I believe. He's done one of the Michigan --
MR. SIEWERT: That wasn't a commencement address. It was a --
Q I thought it might have been a --
MR. LOCKHART: No, it's not the second commencement, because I don't think we've doubled-up, except at the military institutions.
At 6:20 p.m. he will veto the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2000. We'll have stills in for that. There are a number of people coming down who will go out to the stakeout, for those of you interested in that issue. I also expect the Russian Foreign Minister to go to the stakeout after that. So probably 3:45 p.m., 4:00 p.m.
That's the schedule for the day.
Q Joe, on the Hill this morning, actually as we speak, those members of the Senate who met with the Attorney General are expressing, to quote Senator Mack -- how this operation was carried out. And Senator Mack specifically brought up the idea, as others have, including the Attorney General during an interview last night, that it was even contemplated that she or some deputy go up to the house, knock on the door and say, hand over the child now -- even if that individual be flanked by agents. Why wasn't that approach taken? And should it have been considered?
MR. LOCKHART: There were a number of options considered, and the option that was chosen was the one that made the most sense, that limited the risk to those involved in the operation and to the young boy who was transferred.
Q Joe, are you or the President at all concerned that the Professor of constitutional law at Harvard, Laurence Tribe, writes in The New York Times this morning that Reno had no right to send the agents in for Elian, since they had only a search warrant and Elian was not lost?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm always concerned when a fine professor of law at Harvard writes something without the facts and without looking at the search warrant. The search warrant is clear, provides the right both to go in and to remove.
Q Joe, has anything been done from the White House standpoint -- and I have not even -- don't even know what I'm suggesting, in terms of the shooting at zoo?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect -- the President was briefed several times last night on it. I know that we've been getting briefings through the morning. This is obviously just a terrible tragedy in one of the landmarks of this country, the National Zoo. I expect the President at the event today, this public event, to make reference to it.
But for your planning purposes, I also expect him to -- because of the Justice Department's involvement with our hate crimes initiative to make reference and talk briefly about the case of Elian Gonzalez. But this is obviously something that there is an ongoing investigation. I think they've developed a number of important leads in the last 18 hours.
But it is a terrible tragedy, and I think it underscores once again that when kids who are young teenagers and are fighting, and those fights involves guns, it means there's more we can do. There's more we can do as parents. There's more we can do as a government. And the excuse that any one measure can't solve all problems just isn't acceptable when every day you look around and then 12 kids are being shot and killed.
Q So was it the position of the administration, Joe, that the gun legislation now pending would help to prevent incidents such as this?
MR. LOCKHART: It's a position of the administration that we don't know the facts on this case. There's an investigation ongoing. But it's certainly our position that a combination of strong enforcement and prevention will help make our children safer.
Q Someone stapled up there, at the scene -- someone stapled onto a tree, it said, "Trigger locks would not have prevented this." Any reaction by --
MR. LOCKHART: And? What was their point?
Q I assume they are against, obviously, the trigger lock.
MR. LOCKHART: It is their right to take that position. We are -- we, the U.S. Attorney, the Metropolitan Police, the Park Police, a number of authorities, ATF -- are doing an investigation here. We don't know. Those who claim that they know are ignorant of the facts.
Q Has the President talked to the Mayor at all about this?
MR. LOCKHART: I expect that that will probably happen sometime today.
Q Is Senator Bob Graham, the President's fellow Democrat, telling the truth or not, when he says, President Clinton personally assured me that he will not attempt to take this child in the nighttime?
MR. LOCKHART: Lester, I addressed that question yesterday. Read the pool report.
Q Joe, I don't know if you've been asked this. Forgive me if you have, but Graham also in the press conference he just held asked the question whether there have been any kinds of negotiations between the U.S. and the Cuban government to reassure the administration that if Elian is returned to Cuba, that he will, in fact, be with his father and will not be removed to some kind of a reeducation school or used in some kind of a propaganda way. In other words, what guarantees do you have that he actually will return to a "normal" family life, and that he sought those guarantees?
MR. LOCKHART: I am not aware of discussions. I'd go to the State Department to see if there has been any discussions like that.
Q Well, wait a minute. Do you feel that if Elian does go back to Cuba, and is in fact not returned to his previous life, and is put into this school that they're talking about setting up, and is used as a revolutionary icon, that the administration would be responsible for that?
MR. LOCKHART: You're asking me a question that goes many steps down the road. We have made very clear that our view is, and it's been made very clear to anyone -- both in this country and outside this country -- that the boy's place is with his father.
Q Right, but do you know that he will, in fact, be with his father? Do you -- does that concern you at all?
MR. LOCKHART: We have no reason to believe, based on the process that the INS has gone through at this point, that the boy will not be with his father.
Q So it sounds like the INS has some kind of assurance. That's what I'm asking you.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I would go to the INS, to go to their discussion. I'm not --
Q But that's your understanding, that they have --
MR. LOCKHART: No, listen, go to the INS and ask them that question if you're interested in the answer.
Q The story out saying that the White House is using hate crimes legislation intentionally as a wedge issue to force Republicans into making some good out of their compassionate conservatism pledge. Is this hate crimes legislation in any way a political tool designed to -- targeting George W. Bush?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President has been promoting hate crimes legislation and the expansion of hate crimes legislation long before George W. Bush ever even thought he might want to be President. So the answer is no. If they want to find a practical way to deliver on a political slogan, then all the better for it.
Q Do you have any readout on the Microsoft meeting and what concerns were addressed?
MR. LOCKHART: That meeting has just begun, so I don't have anything to add to what Mr. Sperling said earlier.
Q Joe, Bush Spokesman Mindy Tucker said yesterday that in Elian's case, Vice President Gore has been either ineffective or not influential. And my question is, would you deny that, and if so, why wasn't this heir apparent notified of the raid until after it happened?
MR. LOCKHART: That question on whatever Mindy Tucker thinks about his effectiveness I don't think really is of much interest to anyone here.
Q He wasn't notified, was he, before the raid?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I mean, this --
Q Why wasn't he? I mean, shouldn't he have known about this?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, this was an operation that was done out of the Attorney General's office.
Now let me -- as long as you've raised George W. Bush and the Republicans. There are a number of statements that have been made that go beyond being inaccurate, that go beyond spreading disinformation, and I think it's time for Republican leaders to either stand up and repudiate those statements or let their silence speak volumes. The House Majority Whip traveled to Montana yesterday, called Federal Law Enforcement officers "jack-booted thugs." The Mayor of New York has called them "storm troopers."
This sort of attack, gratuitous ad hominem attack on law enforcement is not acceptable. Those who are making these attacks should stand up and set the record straight. And those who are in leadership positions should stand up and either repudiate them or back them up. Because in this operation, there are a number of dedicated public servants who were going into a very uncertain situation, did a job in a very commendable way, a very professional way, brought the boy out safely, with no injuries to anyone, including themselves. And to have this sort of gratuitous attack made on them is just something that is deeply disappointing, I think, to this administration, and deeply disappointing, I suspect, to the American public.
Q Well, Joe, what about people who haven't necessarily used that kind of rhetoric, but like the New York Times Editorial page, said that the Justice Department should have gotten at least a court order, not just a magistrate search warrant -- not just Laurence Tribe, but other people have criticized the fact that you didn't seem to do everything you could to have the full force of law and not just the INS's administrative powers.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, listen, the very interesting part about the New York Times editorial page -- you've brought it up -- is how much information they've sought to gather. I haven't heard from them. I don't know what the Justice Department has. Professor Tribe is a very learned legal scholar, but who didn't bother in this case to check the search warrant, and to read the search warrant.
Q But wait a minute, I'm talking about people who say yes, you had a search warrant, but you didn't get a court order, which would have given you that much more --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, a court order was not necessary in this case, and it was a judgment we made. We did not need a court order, we got the search warrant, that was enough to go forward. And for people who say that we did enough -- we didn't do enough, I think they should have been there over the last three months, as we tried day after day, to effect a voluntary transfer from the boy's Miami relatives to the father, the place where he should have been. And as I've said now for several days running, at every step of the way, they blocked that process.
Q Joe, are you saying that any honest disagreement over the raid itself, or the underlying facts of the matter, is just out of bounds?
MR. LOCKHART: No, absolutely not. I think Senator Graham has raised his concerns. I think he is forcefully against this, as are many other people who have spoken. But I think the gratuitous attacks calling members of law enforcement "jack-booted thugs" and "storm troopers" is out of bounds. And I think those who sit by silently and allow that to go forward in the name of the leadership of their party either have to repudiate that or come forward and say that they agree with that.
Q Have Cuban officials had access to the Gonzalez family at Andrews?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. You should ask that to the Justice Department, which is handling it.
Q A former speech writer for Walter Mondale, who is not a Republican, who is a psychiatrist and a columnist for the Washington Post, named Krauthammer, writes this morning that the government of the United States should have so brutally engineered this and so deeply traumatized a child to achieve it is a disgrace. Do you want him to repudiate, or somebody to repudiate him, or not?
MR. LOCKHART: I think he's expressing an opinion. I wouldn't agree with his opinion.
Q IF it's the White House view -- if the White House supports this raid because it will reunite Elian with his father, why haven't you gotten assurances that he will stay that way if he gets back to Cuba?
MR. LOCKHART: You are raising a question here that is, as far as I know, not an issue.
Q I mean, how do you know it's not an issue?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, how do you know that it is?
Q I don't know. I'm asking you because you're the one who's supporting --
Q Joe, let me try to put a finer point on it.
MR. LOCKHART: Sure.
Q At his press conference, Senator Graham -- who you said has raised some legitimate concerns -- said he had a concern --
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think he's raised -- I think he's legitimately said he disagrees with us.
Q He said that his anxiety is -- and he believes that some of the Miami relatives share this -- is that if Elian is returned to Cuba, he will become, in his words, "a trophy child for communism." Now, I guess what we're all trying to drive at here is if the administration received any assurances, or has it sought any, that Elian will not become a tool for any of the larger political issue back there once, if he in fact is returned?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, again, I don't --
Q Is that an issue the administration cares about?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the administration cares deeply that -- and I think we have demonstrated at every point in this case that we -- that politics should not be part of this. A broader debate should not use a six-year-old boy as a pawn. And we've made very clear that a father in this case should be with his son.
Q But he has different rights under the Cuban constitution than he has in America. And what we're asking you is if you care deeply about this, what actions have you taken to satisfy yourselves that you care --
MR. LOCKHART: And what I think I've told you a number of times now -- and repeating the questions I don't know helps -- is that I don't know. You can check at the State Department. We can check here. But I think we have demonstrated our commitment.
Q Well, wait a second -- the reason this is confusing to me is you keep on referring the questions you don't want to answer to the -- you're representing the President here. When you say the administration cares deeply about this, you mean the President cares deeply. Certainly, he must know the answer to this question. If he cares deeply about it, he's inquired.
I mean, he wouldn't just say I really care what happens to Elian when he gets back, but I don't have any idea what that will be and the Justice Department is taking care of it.
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know understand where you're going with this, so let's move on.
Q Is the President concerned about reports that Microsoft may be broken up? I know he can't intervene in the court case, but what is his feeling that --
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't talked to him about this, and I think he properly believes this should be handled at Justice. I know that there was a briefing earlier today about the informational briefing that's going on here. And I don't have anything to add to that.
Q But do you think it will have any impact on the economy?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't discussed it with him.
Q Joe, when you say he properly believes this should be handled at Justice, do you mean that he would not intervene in the case and he's going to keep hands off?
MR. LOCKHART: It means that this -- there was an informational briefing here today and that this is being handled at Justice.
Q Will you brief about the briefing that they're getting?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q No readout?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q Have you talked to the President about the e-mail, subpoena of the e-mails from the Archives?
MR. LOCKHART: I have not. I think if there's any questions on that you should talk to Mr. Kennedy via the Counsel's Office.
Q I just wondered if the President had ventured any --
MR. LOCKHART: He has not ventured any thoughts to me.
Q Will the President say anything today about Mr. DeLay or any --
MR. LOCKHART: I don't expect he'll address that.
Q So he's not one of the people who you think should repudiate, make any statement?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think he is going to address it in his public statement today. We've made our views clear.
Q But, Joe, does the White House --
MR. LOCKHART: He will stand up today and support those who have worked in a very positive way to enforce the law.
Q Joe, does the White House understand that to many Americans the look of that raid on Saturday morning, it looked something more like -- something more appropriate to a raid on a drug cartel than it did on a family dispute case, and that that is what disturbed some people; and that's what may have provoked the language that you object to?
MR. LOCKHART: Mark, I understand the issues that have been raised. I also have made -- gone to great lengths to explain the circumstances that warranted the operation that ensued on Saturday, and have put the responsibility for that squarely with the Miami relatives. You can have opinions on both sides of this.
But what is, I think, out of bounds is gratuitous personal attacks on law enforcement officials in this country, calling them "jack-booted thugs", calling them "storm troopers." That is out of bounds, in our view, in the political dialogue.
Q Do you think that the Clinton legacy will not include Alan Diaz of AP's picture of the big machine gunner and the terrified little boy? Or do you agree with Dan Rather's rather astounding suggestion that AP may have violated Elian's privacy rights?
MR. LOCKHART: I have no way to judge the legacy, either of the President or any one picture.
Q The President is here for the rest of the week? No.
MR. LOCKHART: No, he travels to North Carolina and to Arkansas tomorrow.
Q Joe, is it true that you've agreed to do an interview with "The West Wing?" (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: An interview with "The West Wing"? (Laughter.) Oh, oh, that. (Laughter.) There are a number of reports that I've seen in The Washington Post and some of the New York papers about my participation in something that "West Wing" may or may not be doing. I can tell you that those reports are inaccurate, but I'm not going to tell you how they're inaccurate. (Laughter.)
Q Why not?
MR. LOCKHART: You know, for once, I've got a secret that you don't know.
Q You have lots of secrets we don't know.
MR. LOCKHART: It depends on how you define "interview." (Laughter.)
Alex, do you have a question about Zimbabwe, perhaps? (Laughter.)
Q I talked to your experts at NSC and they're excellent, they answered all my questions. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: That's good, thanks.
Q I'm trying to inject a fairly serious question, but I want to make sure that -- doesn't the President have some obligation to speak to that segment of the population that, rightly or wrongly in your mind, is either feared -- either fears or is disgusted by the show of force used in this particular raid, bearing in mind that the same kind of reaction attended the use of force at places like Waco, and specifically led to the bombing at Oklahoma City?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me try to separate those two, because I think there is kind of an astounding implication in the second part of your question. I think the President spoke about this on Saturday and spoke directly to all Americans. Not just Americans who agree with him or not, Americans who disagree with him. He spoke to all Americans. He will speak again today. I can't predict when and where or if he'll speak to this again, but this is something that was very difficult. It was regrettable because of the actions of the Miami relatives as the only option.
But, somehow, the idea that the attack on federal workers at Oklahoma City is justified is deeply offensive and somehow, the idea that the President has to get up and speak to a group of people because there might be some other attack, I just think -- that suggestion is ludicrous.
Q I'm not suggesting or implying anything. I don't know why you're labeling it that. I'm just --
MR. LOCKHART: I heard the question, and we can read it back if you want.
Q Joe, how does the President feel about the stuff which is going on in Miami, the peaceful protests today in Miami?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President believes that people have a right to protest and make their views known.
Q Joe, on the nuclear waste veto today, there are many Republicans who believe that storing the nuclear waste in Nevada is best, safer and a better way of dealing with this issue, but for Senator Harry Reid, a very powerful Democrat in the Senate, that would go forward. What's the administration's response?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, it's not just Senator Harry Reid, it's a number of senators who have raised scientific questions that haven't been answered. And that -- this issue seems to come up now every year and we don't make any progress on it because those questions are still unanswered.
Q Is that a piece of paper or is the President going to speak on it?
MR. LOCKHART: A piece of paper. And we'll just bring the still photographers in.
All done? Okay.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:25 P.M. EDT