The Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with David Johnson. David would like to do a read out on the good bilateral meeting that the President had with Prime Minister John Bruton, the Taoseach. Why don’t you take it away, we’ll do any questions you have on that first.
MR. JOHNSON: Thank you. I think the Prime Minister gave quite a good readout to most of you who were gathered out front today. The President had a meeting that lasted about a half an hour, including the opportunity he had to talk with all of you, with the Prime Minister of Ireland today. As many of you already know, he was here yesterday in his capacity as President in Office of the European Union. And today he came in to talk for a bit about bilateral topics, the discussion was exclusively about the work that the government of Ireland and the government of the United Kingdom and the parties are doing to try to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister gave the President a briefing on how the situation stood. There was clear agreement between them, between the Prime Minister and the President, of the need to reestablish immediately the IRA cease-fire for the good of the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and also because it would give an opportunity for inclusive all party talks to get underway where the substantive issues could be addressed.
As the President said in his remarks I think for you, we salute the Loyalists for maintaining their cease-fire and contributing to the restarting of the peace process that way. And the President also underscored to the Prime Minister, as I believe he did to you, the continued United States engagement and trying to do what we can to bring peace to Northern Ireland.
Finally, one note of color. Before the meeting concluded the Secretary of State thanked the Prime Minister of Ireland for his hospitality during the Secretary’s 32 visits to Ireland during his term of office, and how much he appreciated the warm welcome of the people at Shannon Airport. (Laughter.)
Q: He never was asleep during that.
MR. JOHNSON: He always got off the plane.
And he said that he would pass on this marvelous opportunity of Irish hospitality to his successor in office, Secretary-designate Albright.
Q: Has the President ever been in touch with the IRA to try to prod them directly? Recently, I mean, in any —
MR. JOHNSON: The President’s advisors have maintained a rather constant dialogue with all the parties — with Sinn Fein and with others. This is an ongoing thing, it takes place rather frequently. And that dialogue has continued.
Q: The President’s remarks about a cease-fire being a sort of a necessary condition for all-party talks and for the membership of Sinn Fein in the same all-party talks — before the cease-fire fell apart, there were other conditions that the British and the Loyalists were putting forth. Does the President mean to suggest that those now have dissipated somewhat and that, ipso facto, if the cease-fire resumed, Sinn Fein would be guaranteed a berth in the talks? Aren’t there other issues at stake there from the British point of view about foreswearing violence for all time and all those kinds of things?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, I think these talks were not underway. And as these talks have gotten underway, many of the issues that were yet to be dealt with have been — in some places found a channel for discussion. And the inclusion and the timing of that inclusion is going to be something up to the governments involved. But reestablishing that cease-fire would accomplish the condition precedent that needs to be accomplished in order for these talks to include Sinn Fein.
Q: What about disarmament, David?
MR. JOHNSON: That’s something that’s being dealt with in the context of the talks themselves.
Q: So they’re no longer necessary —
Q: So the President’s confident that the other parties — the British, the Loyalists — would be willing to let that be dealt with in the context of the talks now that the talks are underway and immediately welcome Sinn Fein in if a cease-fire resumes?
MR. JOHNSON: Well, the timing of their coming in I think is something that the governments would have to address.
Q: So it’s a necessary first step, the President’s not trying to supposit today that that’s a guarantee that they’ll be admitted?
MR. JOHNSON: We think that that’s what needs to be done and that’s what needs to be done in order for inclusive, all-party talks to take place. That’s what the governments themselves have said. I think there is a question of timing that the governments are discussing, but the cease-fire is what needs to be reestablished.
Q: Has the President no view at all on the timing? Because there is some disagreement between the two governments about timing, and the IRA — Sinn Fein — would prefer the Irish government view that they would get in immediately. I think they want immediately once they fulfill the old conditions. Whereas the British government are now saying that it would be up to British intelligence to decide when they can say the cease-fire is a genuine one.
MR. JOHNSON: I think on this question, as on many others here, we’ve found it best to give our advice to the parties and to confer with them, and not to try to give advice publicly on issues such as this.
MR. MCCURRY: Now, can I tell my Christopher story? All right. We did stop many times at Shannon Airport on the way back to the United States. And it used to be the custom of many members of the traveling party to order Irish coffee, a drink that the airport is well-known for there. And Secretary Christopher, in a story that was once said to be apocryphal and later established to be true, used to order an Irish coffee and ask that they make it with decaf and hold the whiskey, please. (Laughter.) Defeating the purpose. But, of course, Secretary Christopher used to always work on the plane on the way home, too, so not a bad idea.
Other issues? Yes, Todd.
Q: Mike, is the report, as I assume it is, of our colleague, Ms. Braver, accurate, that Charlie Trie was a guest at dinner at the White House Friday night; and, if so, can you describe the nature of that dinner and the size approximately?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that it was true. I don’t have any reason to dispute the account. There were approximately 250 people present. The President’s having a number of holiday dinners this time of year. The guest list for that evening’s affair was put together by the Democratic National Committee. My understanding is that Mr. Trie was there shortly and may not have stayed for dinner.
Q: Do you happen to know how he might have come to be invited at the time when the legal expense trust and, presumably, the President’s Office and the White House Counsel’s Office were well aware of this problem with the disputed funds? Was it just that he wasn’t somehow flagged on a DNC list and came through —
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know that anything about the briefing that the Legal Expense Trust, that they gave yesterday would have disqualified him from being on an invitation list prepared by the Democratic National Committee.
Q: You meant to tell me that Charlie Trie, who has been the subject of all these questions and brought such a cloud over the DNC’s fundraising efforts as well as the White House, there would be no reason to exclude him from an invitation list to a social event at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn’t say that. I said that there was not anything there that would have prevented him from being on that invitation list. And, again, the invitation list was put together by the Democratic National Committee. That’s my understanding.
Q: I mean, it’s judgments that people asked for those lists.
Q: So just in terms of us trying to figure out what happened — yesterday, as you know, at the briefing, we were told that the First Lady and Harold Ickes were apprised of what seems a highly irregular attempt to deliver money to the legal defense fund and what we haven’t been able to — at least I haven’t been able to determine is what they then did and what Harold, particularly, who was so involved with the DNC and campaign fundraising, did with that information once he got it. Didn’t that send some flares up for him and did he alert people to say, hey, we may have a problem with someone who is known to have given money to the party?
MR. MCCURRY: I’m not aware that there was any conveyance of information based on information conveyed by representatives of Legal Expense Trust to the Democratic National Committee. Some of that information, of course, was conveyed counsel to counsel. Counsel may have deemed it to have been privileged information.
Q: But the money was given back many months ago, wasn’t it? I mean the whole thing?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the long process by which the Legal Expense Trust scrupulously analyzed the contributions and then determined that they should be returned was made clear yesterday by the Legal Expense Trust. They need to speak to the particulars because they know them. It’s maintained independently outside of the White House.
Q: But, to follow up, this didn’t seem to set off any alarm bells that maybe we should be concerned about someone who is giving money and what clearly seem to be questionable sources, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t whether it did or not.
Q: Can you explain —
Q: Could you at least at that? And one other question. Can you tell us whether or not President Clinton ever personally discussed with Charlie Trie, Charlie Trie’s efforts to raise money for the Clinton’s legal defense fund in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he indicated he was not aware of raising — Mr. Trie’s involvement in soliciting, or I guess more accurately say, delivering funds to the legal trust prior to it occurring. He said that this morning, of course.
Q: But did he talk to him afterwards?
MR. MCCURRY: Did he talk to him afterwards? I’d have to check with him and see. He’s had opportunity to have conversations with him since then, but I don’t know if that’s been a subject of their conversation.
Q: Has he ever mentioned his need for help with his defense fund or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he had not — clearly not mentioned anything to Mr. Trie prior to the time that Mr. Trie delivered the contributions to the legal expense trust, as the President indicated.
Q: Did the President or Mrs. Clinton talk to Mr. Trie about it Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. I don’t know if they had a —
Q: Can we assume that Trie is welcome to come to the White House again?
MR. MCCURRY: The President told me earlier today that he had a very brief conversation with him that was personal in nature and that I believe was the extent of the conversation. But he didn’t relay it in any greater detail in there.
Q: Would personal nature possibly include talking about the donations to the legal defense fund, since it’s a personal defense fund?
MR. MCCURRY: The President didn’t convey anything to me that would indicate that they covered that subject and that detail.
Q: I’m sorry, that conversation was Friday?
Q: That was Friday — that brief conversation of a personal nature was at Friday’s event?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, in the receiving line.
Q: Can you take — since we’ve had a problem with this term of art before, can you take the question specifically to the President and asked if he has talked to Trie, if he talked to Trie Friday about whether or not —
MR. MCCURRY: I will see if I can develop anything on that or I’ll ask Lanny Davis to look into that, too.
Q: Do you think that this is to assume then that his presence at the White House on Friday indicates that there’s no sense of taint on this individual for what he has done or what he may have done?
MR. MCCURRY: This is an individual the President describes as a friend. He’s done a lot of work based on his friendship and support of the President’s political activities. He’s raised contributions for the Democratic National Committee which in only one case that I am aware of have been judged to be unacceptable contributions. And I’m not certain that you would disparage the individual because of the character of some of the contributions, but not all of the contributions that he made have been involved when it came to either soliciting or delivering to any of these entities.
Q: Mike, Mr. Cardozo yesterday suggested that when this information was first brought to the First Lady, she evinced no recollection of Mr. Trie, and then began to accumulate a sort of hazy recollection of him as a restauranteur who had a place that the President had frequented. Suffice it to say, she’s now fully conversant with who he is and is aware of who he is and she and the President are both aware of who he is?
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated earlier today that he’s known the individual for 20 years and is familiar with his background, his work to establish a chain of restaurants in Little Rock. But I wouldn’t want to suggest what degree of knowledge the First Lady may have about him or about his activities.
Q: Mike, it seems there was a firewall between the legal trust and the White House in some ways. Why is it that Harold Ickes, who is a White House official, was advised about these checks, and how is it that Mrs. Clinton was advised about these checks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Cardozo addressed that yesterday. He says he saw an opportunity to bring that to the attention of one of the grantors — the two grantors being the President and the First Lady — and Mr. Ickes was present.
Q: Why Mr. Ickes?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know. You should address that question to Mr. Cardozo. Routinely, however, they kept the White House apprised about the activities of the fund, and that was proper. They normally did that through counsel-to-counsel consultations.
Q: And was there interest accumulated on the money that was returned and what happened to that money?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Cardozo addressed that in the briefing yesterday.
Q: To your knowledge, has the President or the First Lady been told of any other contributors that have donated —
MR. MCCURRY: That is a question that has to properly be addressed to Mr. Cardozo.
Q: Mike, you said there was nothing that you know that would have prevented him from being on the list for the party. Other than the judgment of DNC officials, what would prevent someone from coming to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are any number of factors that would go into who would or would not be invited.
Q: Is it just a judgment, or are there rules about this?
MR. MCCURRY: There are judgments and then there are also conversations sometimes that involve the Secret Service.
Q: Is there any reason to believe that he would not be invited again?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know whether he will be on any future guest lists. I wouldn’t want to speak hypothetically.
Q: Well, Mike, will these circumstances change his status at all as a friend or a possible guest at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated today that he was a friend.
Q: Any concern by any White House officials, the President, or the First Lady about what appears to be a completely transparent effort to violate the rules set up by the trust?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President took some satisfaction, as he indicated today, that the procedures established to analyze and review contributions worked. It worked in that the legal expense trust did not accept contributions that may or may not have fit the rules established by the trust fund, but for the reasons Mr. Cardozo explained yesterday, they were deemed not to be accepted by the trust fund and they were returned.
Q: But it appears that an old friend of the President sought to get around —
MR. MCCURRY: Lend some help.
Q: — the rules that were set up for the trust.
MR. MCCURRY: It appears that an old friend of the President tried to lend some assistance to a President and a First Lady who have a great deal of legal debt accumulated. That’s the facts. The appearance is someone else’s judgment to make.
Q: Mike, did the White House review the list the DNC made up for the Friday night event? I mean, did they go over it and say yea or nay?
MR. MCCURRY: They get a copy of the invitation list –this time of year in the season they do not go through each and every invitation list. We’ve got literally tens of thousands of visitors coming to the White House for a variety of holiday receptions. For example, I don’t know that we’ve gone through the entire list of who will be here for the four press receptions that are occurring tonight and tomorrow night.
Q: Yes, but this was a sit-down dinner for 250, not for 5,000.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been a number of holiday dinners in this season and there are a lot of invitations lists that come in.
Q: How often has Mr. Trie been to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Davis can help you establish that, because they’ve done some looking at — that’s a complicated question with a complicated answer and I know that he’s been working on getting that answered.
Q: Are there two Charlie Tries? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I’m aware of.
Q: Do I draw from your last comment that this was an old friend of the President’s who simply attempted to lend some help that we should make less of this and that what was apparently or may have been violated here were rules set up by the legal defense fund and not laws at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is not governed by any body of law, other than whatever tax law is applicable. I don’t know what the applicability of law is. There are some voluntary procedures that were established for this fund that clearly have worked. And the trustees of the fund, that distinguished group of Americans appointed to oversee the fund in a fiduciary role exercise judgment with respect to these contributions. So, in effect, this system that they established worked as it was designed to work.
Q: Why has it taken so long for this to be disclosed? And, also, Mr. Cardozo does not want to disclose the names on the checks that were apparently gathered by Mr. Trie, and does the White House think that those names should be disclosed?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Cardozo reports that it is the judgment of the trustees of the fund that they do not report the names of individuals who attempt to contribute whose contributions are not accepted. The reason for that is that they have a variety of specific rules as to who is qualified to give.
One example, hypothetical example used by Mr. Cardozo yesterday: Federal employees are not allowed to contribute to the fund; if a federal employee inadvertently makes a contribution because they’re motivated to do so, and they return it, the judgment of the fund is that it would be unfair to that individual to cast some doubt about that person’s motive in making a contribution. So they return the contribution and they do so privately. That’s the way the trustees determined that they would address that issue. To my knowledge, the White House did not have any role in making that their policy, but that’s their policy. And that’s how he explained it yesterday.
Now, the first part of your question was —
Q: Why has it taken so long to get to this point of disclosure when —
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Cardozo has indicated to me that we’ve actually disclosed this sooner than normal — would have been the regular order of business for the trust fund. They do semi-annual disclosures. The end of this recording period is December 31st. They would have routinely reported on this publicly sometime most likely in February. But the trustees elected to do this because there had been correspondence sent back to contributors. They were afraid that inaccurate stories might arise as a result of some of the letters that had been sent back to individuals. So they elected to make that disclosure public now.
Q: — had a briefing in August about this after they had returned the vast majority of the funds —
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Cutter addressed that question yesterday. He was asked that specifically, indicated that they did not feel at that point that they had gathered all the necessary facts to make judgments related to these contributions. And it’s a case in which I for one appreciate the effort to get the complete story together before they put out information piecemeal.
Q: To you knowledge, though, Mike, it wasn’t related to his presence here Friday night, sort of smoking out the possibility that the stories would surface about Mr. Trie?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. To my knowledge, no one even knew that until yesterday. I mean no one knew that that was an element. Well, let me back up on that. That’s not — we certainly were — there were people at the White House who were aware about this matter, aware that we were intending to make it public in a very short order. But I think that those individuals were not aware of the fact that he was scheduled to be on a guest list for a dinner on Friday night.
Q: Let me ask you another way. Between Friday and yesterday at the time the trust disclosed the returned contributions, was there anyone here in the White House who was aware of his presence there Friday night, came to officials in the White House and said, you know, this guy was there Friday night and this trust fund has got this thing going here with having accepted money from him that they turned back. Was there such a realization on the part of people in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Todd, not to my knowledge, but there are a number of — any number of people from the White House who would have been in a position to see him on Friday night. I don’t know whether any of those individuals expressed concern. Those of who were working on the issue of the public disclosure of these matters first knew about it yesterday.
Q: Mike, I’m still trying to figure out if the White House feels any responsibility or how you get a handle on the fact that somebody who seems to have been collecting large sums of money in what may be an inappropriate way not only has entree to the White House but is on a commission, and if there’s anybody at the White House who says, you know, we have a responsibility to make sure this guy didn’t think he was buying something from us? What was he trying to get? Is anybody looking into that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that question was asked of Mr. Cardozo yesterday. They did not, in their own inquiry into the matter, look at the motive. But the motive is suggested by the President’s —
Q: No, I mean here at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: — comment this morning that he is a friend.
Q: But so the President — you’re basically saying — want to be very clear on this — that despite the fact that this man attempted to do something which raises serious questions about what he may have been up to, no one at the White House feels that there should be a good, hard look at his activities?
MR. MCCURRY: Just ask a question, you can characterize it as you see fit. But what’s the question? I don’t know — the facts as they were established by the expense fund were reported by Mr. Cardozo yesterday. So, factually —
Q: Does the President have any concerns that his old friend might have been engaged in some kind of effort to corrupt this government?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q: Mike, I think maybe what’s at the bottom of that is, the way that this was described with money orders that were under different people’s names but in the same handwriting — it looks like there was a deliberate effort to be duplicitous here. And by the President continuing to be hospitable to this man and call him a friend, is he condoning what appears to be an effort to deceive?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President made — as the President addressed the question this morning, he made it clear that there needs to be scrupulous oversight of contributions. Checks should be checked, as he said. And the reason for that is to eliminate the possibility that any contribution that it raises even the appearance of impropriety is not accepted. And that’s what happened. I think you need to remember here that in this case that process worked as it was designed to work.
Q: The President said this morning that he was not aware prior to the delivery, unsolicited, of half a million dollars to this defense fund, the collection of this. Was anybody else, to your knowledge, at the White House, aware that this money was being collected had ever talked to Mr. Trie about the need for money —
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. But I don’t — again, we have not surveyed a blanket request throughout the White House and people who may have known Mr. Trie.
Q: Mike, you’re talking — the President was talking this morning about the efforts of the trust fund and the DNC to be vigilant about this. But does he also expect that people who consider him their friend, or people who are supporters of him have played by the rules? I mean, whoever collected these donations certainly understood the need to fill out a separate $1,000 form for each one.
MR. MCCURRY: A separate what?
Q: I mean, in other words, none of them went over the $1,000 limit. Somebody obviously understood that rule, but they —
MR. MCCURRY: The facts, as reported by Mr. Cardozo, indicated that there were some contribution that didn’t conform to the rule against corporate donations. There were a number of things that cancelled out some of those contributions from the very beginning of the receiving.
Q: Well, what does he expect his friends of his like Mr. Trie —
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he certainly expects any of his friends, any of his supporters, anyone who would want to be motivated for any reason to support the work of the trust fund to adhere to the rules that had been established by the trustees of the fund, obviously.
Q: How do you account for the different ethical standards used by the legal trust and the DNC at a time they’re both collecting this money? Ultimately, the hierarchy of both are appointed by the President.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, there are different purposes. One is obviously for the personal expenses incurred by the President and the First Lady, and the other is for political activity by the Democratic Party and-or the President’s reelection committee, which are governed by federal law in some cases. So there is a different — it’s really an apples and oranges situation.
Q: Well, but there’s a higher standard on the DNC and apparently lower execution. The trust fund is operating not under law, but under rules it set up, and it honored them. The DNC is operant under federal law and it in many cases didn’t honor them as these returned contributions have shown.
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know that anyone would dispute, including officials of the DNC, that certain of their procedures during the campaign period were lax. They have acknowledged that publicly and they’ve taken steps to correct it. I think that’s been fully explored in the past.
Q: I’m trying to understand a couple of things, Mike. You appear somewhat — well, perhaps not unconcerned, but not particularly worried about what went on here. If there’s a series of donations that have different —
MR. MCCURRY: No, that’s not a fair characterization at all.
Q: It’s not?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it’s not.
Q: I thought I understood you to simply say that this was an old friend of the President’s who was offering some help, and that we have a situation where these are only rules of —
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said — I was asked for factually what were the motives for this individual maybe making these contributions. I said as the President said earlier today, he’s been a friend of longstanding of the President’s. Beyond that, I’m not aware of any motives having been established, and when Mr. Cardozo was asked that question yesterday based on the investigation done by the legal expense trust, he did not suggest a motive, either.
Does it concern us that anyone would deliver to the legal expense trust contributions that do not conform to the rules of the legal expense trust, of course; and that’s why they were not accepted.
Q: I’m sorry, just to follow up, you said a moment ago that these donations are — you’re not releasing names of any of these people, but these donations are being sent back, are being returned.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I described the rules that are in place by the legal expense trust related to that and the policy that they’ve pursued. I didn’t say “we.”
Q: Sorry, I don’t mean to lump you in that. But then, the gist of it is that donations are being — you have a situation where someone with the same handwriting has written donations in the names of various people. Could we have a situation in where checks can be sent back to people who didn’t know that they were making donations? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You should direct that question to Mr. Cardozo. I don’t know what they established on it.
Q: In any event, is there any sort of worry that there could be a situation here where there is a case of forgery going on, where people’s names were forged?
MR. MCCURRY: Those questions were all adequately addressed by Mr. Cardozo yesterday.
Q: When we asked Mr. Cardozo about that, he said, well, our investigation didn’t need to go very far, we only needed to establish that it was questionable and then we stopped asking questions. We didn’t ask about motivation. If that were the case, then why has this not been referred by them, by the White House, to any legal authorities who could look into questions of fraud and examine it?
MR. MCCURRY: I’m not in a position to answer that question. You should ask Mr. Cardozo.
Q: Mike, is the President having any second thoughts about keeping the trust going, given this embarrassing situation? And a lot of people who oppose the idea of the trust in the first place said it would be a way to funnel favors to the President and Mrs. Clinton. Are you having any second thoughts?
MR. MCCURRY: The President established with that concern in mind very strict disclosure requirements and rules to govern contributions to the fund, which again, in this case, appear to have worked. Does the President believe that he needs to maintain a fund? As it was reported yesterday, he has $2.25 million worth of legal expenses now, which is presenting some type of financial burden to the President and the First Lady. And the contributions, as you know, to the fund have not been sufficient to pay but a fraction of those expenses.
Q: So he’s not having second thoughts?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he’s going to have to pay his bills, and he’s made it clear he intends to pay his bills. This was one device established to help him pay those bills.
Q: Mike, at this stage of the game, given the numbers you just threw out, is the President and First Lady, do they both feel that they can handle those bills, or do they feel they’re going to be broke by the time they get —
MR. MCCURRY: The President has addressed that on prior occasions, has said that he, you know, as a young man he will leave office at some point while he’s still in his 50s and he intends to pay off his bills.
Q: To go back to Rita’s initial question, what does Mr. Ickes say that he did after he received this information?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not been debriefed by any legal counsel that’s had the opportunity to review the matter with him.
Q: A quickie on the inauguration. Some anti-abortion and pro-life groups are claiming the Park Police have told them they cannot demonstrate or protest on the inaugural route. Have you heard anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q: Could you look into it?
MR. MCCURRY: Why don’t you ask the Park Service? It sounds like they’re the source of information.
Q: Mike, can you explain how did Mr. Trie come to be appointed to this trade commission and what role, what does it do, what role did he play?
MR. MCCURRY: We can get for you a copy of the release that I think sets forth real clearly what the commission is and what it does. It’s concluding its work and will do a report on the nature of investment, U.S. tax, trade and economic policies towards the Pacific Rim. The Commission on U.S. Pacific Trade and Investment Policy was announced by the President on April 17. My understanding is that individuals for that were surfaced and there candidacies explored at the end of 1995 and early in ’96.
In the case of Mr. Trie, my understanding, based on information from counsel, is that he was approved for consideration for appointment sometime in December, vetted and approved for naming by this commission some time in February. The actual work of putting together the commission was done at USTR and then it came back here for the formal announcement in April. But Mr. Trie’s appointment to that commission, along with 15 others, was certainly in the works well before he delivered any, or attempted to deliver any contributions to the legal expense trust. And, obviously, in the view of the White House, has no connection.
His qualifications are — were those suggested by the President earlier today. He came here to the United States as an immigrant. He built a successful business. He’s now involved in pursuing commercial activities in Asia and is an entrepreneur with knowledge of how the U.S. can advance our economic interests in the region.
Q: Mike, is there any concern a group like Judicial Watch may sue Mr. Trie or the fund, and once again you’ll have a repeat of essentially what you had with Mr. Huang, a string of at least apparently embarrassing details, if not —
MR. MCCURRY: I’m not going to speculate on what might happen. Much of that is in your hands, frankly.
Q: Mike, did you ever get an answer to the question posed the other day about how the hospitality for the Lincoln Bedroom — people having meals upstairs and so forth is paid for?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. They, just as the Clintons pay for all their own food at the White House, they pay for food service for overnight guests. That comes out of their own pocket. Obviously, there are incidental charges with keeping the residence in order that are part of the residence budget.
Q: When you say it comes out of their own pocket, does that mean the allowance that they receive for entertaining or actually out of their own personal expenses?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know the answer to that. They get a grocery bill every month and it comes out of that.
Q: Mike, on the Trie commission appointment, do you know who recommended him or how he got on the list of candidates for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t have full enough information on that to address that. Obviously, we’ll look into that. You may want to pose that question to Mr. Davis later today because he’s looking into that too.
Q: So is there any salary or is it a per diem? How does that work, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q: When did the President find — exactly find out about all this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, according to Mr. Cardozo, he briefed the First Lady and Mr. Ickes about this matter — I believe he said on the day of one of the first of the memorial services for Ron Brown. So it would have been some time in April of ’96. And I believe that the President became aware of it shortly thereafter, if not that day, obviously.
Q: Mike, from the First Lady or from Ickes?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not reconstructed who he heard it from. But the President and the First Lady were in a position to learn of it when Mr. Cardozo briefed them on that day in April.
Q: When did they get suspicious — when did the flags go up? Was it on the amount that —
MR. MCCURRY: Listen, a lot of — some of these questions cover, I think, the very good briefing Mr. Cardozo gave yesterday. And we’ll secure for you a copy of the transcript. He briefed all of that yesterday.
Q: Has the President or any of his transition advisors interviewed Congressman Torres for a Cabinet post, particularly Labor?
MR. MCCURRY: I’m not going to speculate about who had been interviewed. I think he’s a highly regarded individual. I don’t know whether he has any — whether he’s under any formal consideration. I decline to say.
Q: You won’t say if he’s been here?
Q: Do you expect any announcements this week on the Cabinet?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn’t rule it out — towards the end of the week, yes.
Q: Mike, can you give us more details on the President’s relationship with Trie? He said they were friends for 20 years, but was it cultivated? Did the President see him when he’s in Little Rock at the restaurant? Do they — socially?
MR. MCCURRY: He’s — no, he started a successful Chinese restaurant in Little Rock, later acquired other restaurants in Little Rock. Fornier, correct me if I’m wrong on any of this. And one of them, as the President reported, was near where the President first lived in Little Rock several decades ago. I believe there was another restaurant that the First Lady remembers being close to the State Capitol where the then governor Clinton used to go for lunch. And that’s how he became acquainted with Mr. Trie.
Q: So it’s limited, though, to his restaurants?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I wouldn’t — they became acquainted during that period and obviously Mr. Trie became supportive of the President. They would have had other occasions presumably to encounter each other.
Q: In the January issue of the American Spectator, David Watkins, the former Director of Administration is quoted as saying a lot of things, but one thing he’s quoted as saying is — of repeating strongly is that the First Lady and Mac McLarty, in effect, ordered the firing of the White House Travel Office.
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t have any comment on that article.
Q: On this story, if Trie was just out there doing this on his own, that’s one thing. But if he was working with somebody in the White House and somebody was aware that he was doing this throughout, it’s a very different story. Are you in a position to say that nobody in the White House was aware or was working with him in raising this money?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not, based on anything I have heard from legal counsel, had any indication made to me that there was foreknowledge of his work with respect to the legal expense trust prior to his attempt to deliver these contributions.
Q: Another subject. On the nursing home question, you said this morning that that ain’t going nowhere. Can you be sure that that proposal is not going to end up someplace?
MR. MCCURRY: I tried to say it more eloquently than that. (Laughter.)
The President has very strong concern about the quality of care in nursing homes. This is not a President that would do anything to jeopardize the quality of care extended to the nearly 2 million American elderly who live in nursing homes that are subject to some federal guidelines. And while the President does recognize the importance of concentrating enforcement resources on the bad cases, and while we want to make sure we go at the problem how do you identify and deal with nursing homes that are certainly substandard, and that requires some maximizing efficiency of resources — we’ve talked about that in other settings — he’s not going to do anything, approve anything that would put at rise those elderly living in nursing homes that need to be properly supervised and whose care needs to be properly monitored.
Q: But you’re sure at least even part of some of those proposals would not end up ultimately —
MR. MCCURRY: I put one caveat there. I said that we do need to prudently use federal resources with respect to enforcement so that we go at the bad cases, and we will continue to do that because we’ve got to make sure that we are locating those nursing homes that really are jeopardizing the health and livelihood of elderly and do that in a way that has the maximum efficiency associated with it.
Now, there are different ways in which they might approach that, but some of the concerns I think have been raised by people who reviewed this draft document coming out of HCFA. Those concerns I think are laid to rest by the notion that many of those things will not go forward.
Q: That’s what I wanted to ask you. What specifically is wrong with this proposal? Because the people who push it forward are saying it attacked that very problem, it gave them more resources to go —
MR. MCCURRY: I can’t say because, again, that has not been reviewed here at the White House by OMB. Frankly, I don’t think it’s been reviewed at senior levels at the Department of Health and Human Services. But as to the process, you should best go to those who circulated this draft at HCFA, people who are more knowledgeable at HCFA.
Q: You talk to the President a lot. Is he shocked that since the election most of the problems have concerned money and the raising of money and how it was raised? And doesn’t he feel that the White House has been tainted?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been working a lot of issues since the election and very little of his time has been spent with respect to those issues.
Q: You mean, he’s not affected?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn’t attempt to render judgment about things that you all will cover and consider newsworthy. He just has to work on those things —
Q: Well, they affect him very directly.
MR. MCCURRY: He thinks ultimately what affects him very directly are fulfilling the work he was elected by the American people to do. That’s where he concentrates his time and his energy.
Q: He doesn’t think these things are important?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he thinks that these things are important, but they need to be properly addressed. And in the case of this matter, the trustees for his fund protected his interest by conforming to the rules that they had established for the administration of a fund that benefits him and the First Lady.
Q: Mike, the mayors are going to be here tomorrow for their winter meeting. Can you tell us specifically — and it’s closed press, as I understand — can you tell us specifically, A, what the President plans to talk to the mayors about and why we may not —
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, Mary Ellen will give you that. Any other things for today?
Q: What was the reason that you won’t comment about the Watkins article and the allegations made a former senior White House official?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I don’t want to put news organizations in the position of having to exercise careful editorial judgment. I’m not going to help them out.
Q: I’m sorry, that went by me.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Think about it and you’ll get it.
Q: On the issue of health care quality, does the President hope to have the panel on health care quality appointed before the inauguration?
MR. MCCURRY: I’ll have to check into that. I don’t know.
Q: On the budget, does the President still anticipate making all the major decisions that are necessary before Christmas?
MR. MCCURRY: I can’t hear your question.
Q: For the budget, does the President still anticipate trying to make all the major decisions before Christmas?
MR. MCCURRY: A lot of hard work going on, on that this week. He’ll probably have extensive meetings tomorrow on that subject and we can’t — the normal schedule would call for him to have the bulk of those decisions made by Christmas, yes.
Q: So he is in the process of sitting down and arbitrating disputes or making —
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the OMB has been doing the bulk of that. They’ve been meeting in those cases where there have been appeals from individual Cabinet agencies. Mr. Raines has been meeting with the affected Cabinet departments. There may be some issues that arise to the President’s attention, in fact, I expect that, I expect the President will probably later this week be dealing with some of those issues.
Q: Mike, some people in the AIDS research community are criticizing this strategy that came out today on a couple of bases. One, that it’s a statement of goals and not really a strategy — there’s nothing said about how these goals should be reached; and two, there’s nothing said in here about the Office of AIDS Research, the agency that actually gets most of the federal money to investigate AIDS scientifically.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I dispute some of that. I think there is, certainly, a strategic purpose detailed in this document. It is the first document of its kind, so I’m sure it will be subject to some criticism in some quarters, although it has also been praised in some quarters by people who believe that the federal government must keep a concentrated effort underway to attack the disease itself.
As to the specific funding levels for component parts of our AIDS effort, those will be detailed elsewhere, certainly, within our budget proposals. But I think this document is designed to give a broad strategic overview of how the government is going to go about the work, how we will pursue the six goals that the President has identified. And I think, with that respect, it’s a strong document.
There was also some criticism that the document recounts some of our achievements to date. I will be less than apologetic about that. I think that we have done a lot with respect to AIDS over the last four years and there’s been some significant progress, coming, in part, as a result of the federal government’s investment in the area. So we should be in a position, I think, to at least talk about some of the results so far and the things that we will build on as we employ the strategy to make progress in the future.
Other questions? Mary Ellen, why don’t you do a little preview of tomorrow.
Q: Do you have guidance for tomorrow — appointments?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t expect Cabinet-related announcements until the very end of the week. We may have some White House stuff from time to time.
Q: What about Renaissance Weekend or holiday plans?
MR. MCCURRY: I don’t — I’ve given everybody very good guidance for planning purposes. I don’t have any announcements about the schedule. But I think you all know roughly what the plans are.
MS. GLYNN: The meeting tomorrow is about 15 people. It’s a bipartisan group of mayors from around the country. I don’t have a list for you yet, but I will later this afternoon. Basically, they are a self-formed group. They’re not part of any larger organization, and they’ve asked to see the President about the whole range of urban issues. So a lot of the talk tomorrow, I think, will be on the budget and HUD and HHS and what they see as priorities for the cities.
Q: All big cities?
MS. GLYNN: Mainly, yes — all the mayors that I have heard. So they will probably go to stakeout afterwards.
Q: New York?
MS. GLYNN: I don’t know. I don’t have the list. I know a few names, but —
Q: You mentioned broadly budget, HHS. Do you have any knowledge of any more specifics that they may be discussing, or whether or not it’s on their agenda versus the President’s agenda?
MS. GLYNN: I think you can safely assume that it will probably be on their agenda and what they’d like to make the President’s agenda.
Q: Mary Ellen, does the President have any urban initiative in mind for the next four years — any new urban initiative?
MS. GLYNN: Not that I am aware of, but I think that is what he’s going to talk about with them. And what he’ll probably be talking about with his new HUD Secretary in the next few years.
Q: Mary Ellen, you said it’s safe to say on their agenda, but, back to the specifics — could you elaborate a little more on besides saying broadly budget or HHS — anything more specific than that?
MS. GLYNN: No. I don’t want to elaborate mainly because they have asked for this meeting and they are going to lay out the agenda. The President is mainly going to listen to what they have to say.
Q: Okay, because we called over to the mayors, and they were saying, well, the President made the invitation to this group. So is there anything on his mind insofar as this meeting goes?
MS. GLYNN: I think I’ve given you all that I’m going to give you at the moment about the meeting tomorrow, but there will be more, as I say.
Q: Who’s the new HUD Secretary?
MS. GLYNN: I don’t know. Ask Barry Toiv.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:19 P.M. EST