Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

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Spoken by

William J. Clinton

The Briefing Room

2:00 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: What else do you want to know about?

Q: Why would the President miss the end?

MR. MCCURRY: He wanted to see whether Erskine was up to it, and he obviously was. The President happened to be on his way back over to the Residence, so he’s just spending a moment with the newly-appointed —

Q: Why is he going to the Residence? Who’s there?

MR. MCCURRY: He goes over there and has lunch sometimes.

Q: Why didn’t he come out and do this himself?

MR. MCCURRY: The President — we thought about doing that, but there were some strong recommendations to address the issue of Peru the way we have addressed it today. I may be — when we’re off camera I can tell you some more.

Q: Mike, I think there were further questions for Mr. Bowles. Do we have a new custom here on how news conferences and briefings end?

MR. MCCURRY: I wasn’t here for it, so I don’t know —

Q: One of your staffers cut it off.

Q: Is that going to be — from now on that if you have someone in the audience here who says “thank you” as if he were a journalist, or was that just a one time only procedure?

MR. MCCURRY: No, Barry came in from the side door because we had the other people going in. Do you have something else you need to ask him? I’ll be happy to relay the question.

Q: What can you tell us on camera just about the President’s personal involvement in the Peru issue and how he is keeping up to date on that?

MR. MCCURRY: He has been following very carefully since last night developments, been apprised of communications we’ve had with the governments of Peru and Japan, has been accepting recommendations from his national security advisors as to his what his own role should be. He has dispatched messages to Prime Minister Hashimoto and to President Fujimori to express our concern and to, of course, advise them of our willingness to be of help in any way the United States government can be of help.

Q: Have we made an offer of material and equipment? Have we gotten an answer on that?

MR. MCCURRY: As did Mr. Berger, I decline to comment on that.

Q: One thing that Erskine said was kind of puzzling. He said he simply doesn’t know about the situation with Mr. Trie. Is he just begging for a little more time to get up to speed, or has he really taken that little interest and paid so little attention to something that’s a pretty big problem?

MR. MCCURRY: He’s been working on other matters. He certainly will be responsible for that type of issue when he formally takes his position January 20th, and he will be, of course, well briefed on that and other related matters. But he’s been concentrating on other issues while others who have responsibility for that matter are here.

Q: Mike, will you release a list of the people who attended the party Friday night, the DNC’s invitees?

MR. MCCURRY: No.

Q: Why not?

MR. MCCURRY: Because they were personal guests of the President in the Residence and we do not normally do that. We didn’t release the press — the list of those who attended the press reception last night, either.

Q: When you say personal —

Q: — talk by telephone?

Q: When you say personal friends, if I may follow up, could you at least — is there some way of finding out who really are friends and who are friends because they’re donors?

Q: Or is everybody who is a donor a personal friend?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think we — I described to you the dinners he had Thursday and Friday night as being expressions of gratitude to staff, to campaign staff, to supporters and to friends and to some others that were invited by the President and First Lady to be there. It’s not — that was not an atypical dinner particularly for the holiday season.

Q: You also said the list was made up by the DNC, Mike. It seems to be at variance, at odds with your description of these people as personal friends and invited by the President.

MR. MCCURRY: They easily overlap —

Q: I’m sure there is.

MR. MCCURRY: The DNC obviously provided some help on members of their staff who have been helpful and supportive during the campaign period, contributors to the DNC and others.

Q: Mike, do you know of any investigation either internally by the White House or by any law enforcement agencies or investigative bodies into the connection between what’s been described as a cult and the donations that were given to the legal fund?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I’m aware of, but I would not be the proper place to ask that question. You should ask those who are presumably already looking into matters related to the contributions issue, specifically the Department of Justice and relevant congressional committees.

Q: What is the level of concern, if any, here about that possibility that they were involved and were trying to influence the President or people around him by this involvement?

MR. MCCURRY: In the case of Mr. Trie?

Q: No, this cult group, the Taiwan-based group.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the specific involvement of Mr. Trie does not raise any concerns here at the White House immediately, because he’s a known individual and I think people were familiar with who he is and what his interests were and they don’t intersect or collide with the advancement of policy-related interests.

Q: My question is about this group, not about —

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know enough about the group to know, nor do I know enough about what the legal expense trust established in their own investigative work. You’d have to ask Mr. Cardozo.

Q: Mike, I gather that Mr. Cardozo explained the other day and has since continued to explain that they didn’t feel any need to refer this matter to any law enforcement authorities. And I think you said yesterday that so far as you knew that the White House hadn’t either. I guess I just would query again —

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know that I said that about the White House. I said that Mr. Cardozo, to my knowledge, did not refer this to any law enforcement —

Q: Well, let me ask another way. Has enough been adduced here now about this series of money orders and apparent sort of potential case of, you know, fraud of some kind or another, that the White House feels now, even though you’re not the relevant — I realize you’re not the relevant body — but has the White House or the White House Legal Counsel’s Office or the President’s campaign counsel or any ancillary lawyers in the White House universe referred this matter now to law enforcement authorities?

MR. MCCURRY: Again, let’s establish what happened. You were briefed, news organizations were briefed Monday on the results of investigative work done by the Presidential Legal Expense Trust. That is an independently maintained entity which is established for all the reasons you’re familiar with. They are the ones that did some investigative work related to the contributions that were attempted to be delivered to the trust, and they really have to speak to what their own judgments were based on the result of that investigative work.

Q: Yes, but, Mike, you had a matter that did involve the President to the extent that he was informed about it. His concurrence was received about the matter. This is not something that happened on Mars. This happened right here in Washington, D.C. and it was something he was a part of. As the spokesman for the President —

MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I did not suggest otherwise. I was asked a very specific question about whether there were any allegations of perhaps criminal wrongdoing that we felt we should refer to any other law enforcement entity. The body that conducted the investigative work that would have to make that judgement is the trust because they’re familiar with the report of it. I can check further to see if there has been any follow-up tie in response to your question, but none that I am aware of at this point.

Q: You accept their judgment at the moment of their view on what that was?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don’t know that we — I wouldn’t say we accept their judgment. We make no judgment as — I mean, they’ve explained what they have done. The steps they have taken and been very factually specific in how they judge the matter of the contributions that were attempted to be delivered by Mr. Trie.

Q: Do you make no judgment, as you began to say, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: We’re not in a position to make judgment because we were not original fact-finders as to the specifics of those attempting contributions.

Q: Well, “judgment” is a fairly tough word. We talked about “concerns” briefly yesterday. Is there nothing in what transpired with Mr. Trie’s donations that causes you concern that there might be something that is a legal problem?

MR. MCCURRY: I answered that question at length yesterday about our concerns.

Q: What would you see the President doing the remainder of the day about our situation in Peru?

MR. MCCURRY: He will be monitoring the reports we’re getting from Ambassador Jett, also getting some reports further from the national security team that’s keeping track of this. There’s an interagency working group that’s been looking at this, as well as, I think, a task force over at State, that’s being run out of State Ops. They’re getting information in and he’s been asked to —

Q: Did he talk to Hashimoto and Fujimori personally?

MR. MCCURRY: I said that he had directed a communication to them upon a specific recommendation of his National Security Advisor.

Q: Can I just follow up? And how would you describe U.S.-Peruvian relations going into this situation? Do we have a relationship such that we can work effectively in a crisis like this?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a good working relationship that grows out of our common regional interests and a bilateral working relationship on a number of issues specifically related to law enforcement that is good, and that we have remained in contact with them. But they currently have the lead in dealing with this situation and they are apprising the public of the steps they are taking.

Q: Is it safe to say while this situation is still ongoing that we’re not going to see the President in public addressing it?

MR. MCCURRY: That’s a safe and correct judgment.

Q: There were reports that Ambassador Jett made it out of the Embassy just moments before the attack happened. Was that just coincidental? Was he aware something was happening, or did he get taken out?

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t have any information that can allow me to respond. Based on what I have been told, my understanding is the Ambassador and Charge had just departed from this reception at the Embassy just prior to this incident. I’m not — don’t believe that was based on any knowledge that they had, as far as I know, but I’d have to direct that inquiry directly to Embassy Lima.

Q: Mike, how was the Japanese Prime Minister and the Peruvian President given the message from the President, and does he plan to follow up with telephone calls or anything?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe through normal diplomatic channels. We can find out, but presumably delivered by our embassies.

Q: No personal conversation between the President and either of these two men?

MR. MCCURRY: Not at this point, no.

Q: What was your answer to Ron, that the President would not make any public appearances while — you mean the Peruvian situation?

MR. MCCURRY: He does not plan to address this publicly.

Q: Has the Japanese government made any requests —

MR. MCCURRY: And, again, if it’s useful maybe we can talk a little bit about that on background later.

Q: Has the Japanese government made any requests to the American government for help in the situation?

MR. MCCURRY: We are in close contact with them. I’m not aware of any requests, but we are in a position to receive a request if one is needed. We are in a position to respond if one is made.

Q: Would you expect that anyone at the White House would have anything to say after the President’s meeting with the mayors this afternoon or if there’s anything —

MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is, the mayors themselves, many of the mayors are going to be available afterwards, and we can certainly provide some follow-up afterwards.

Q: On a related topic, can you give us any kind of readout on the budget meetings? Have they already occurred? How many are there?

MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of them underway and they will continue tomorrow and likely on Friday as well. I’m going to decline any commentary while the deliberations are underway, but remember, they all go into the public presentation of a budget document that’s not expected until early February. So we will be somewhat circumspect in talking about some of the discussions until we see how it all goes together.

Q: They’re all internal meetings?

Q: But, Mike, are they still on track? I mean, he was supposed to finish his decision-making this week.

MR. MCCURRY: Pretty much on track. Barry would have a better idea. Yes, they seem to be moving on track, Barry?

Q: Mike, Senator Helms and Congressman Gilman wrote a letter to Netanyahu today that would seem to undercut what the President said two days ago. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven’t seen the letter, no.

Q: Mike, what’s on the agenda for tomorrow’s talks between the President and the Chinese Minister?

MR. MCCURRY: Is that happening tomorrow?

MR. JOHNSON: Tomorrow, yes.

MR. MCCURRY: They’re going to follow up on discussions that Mr. Berger is having with Liu Huaqiu today. They are following a pattern established by Tony Lake. They are having kind of an ongoing intense review of aspects of the bilateral relationship covering all of the different issues upon which there is cooperation, agreement and common purpose between our two governments and also a review of those issues upon which there are substantial differences. This is part of a working process of managing the relationship that grew out of Tony’s work with his counterpart and has led to this series of high-level contacts, including the recent meeting between the two Presidents that you are familiar with now.

Q: Mike, Erskine Bowles said that neither he nor his staff aides will have any problem or feel any concern in terms of relating to the liberal link of the party. Since the Cabinet selections and White House staff selections have been underway, have you guys gotten any static from the liberals that you may be veering a little bit too far away from them, and is the President at all concerned that that might pose problems?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, when it comes to affected constituencies within the Democratic Party, static is kind of the common environment in which deliberations occur. Whether it’s right or left or center, people advance their own arguments and their own beliefs and their own interests regularly. But we have maintained very good outreach to those normally associated with the liberal wing of the party, good conversations, take in a lot of input, and I think some of the President’s decision-making reflects the kinds of consultations that he has done personally and that the team has done collectively, and I’m not aware that we have anything other than good, harmonious relations with all elements of the party.

Q: But there is a conservative tone to these —

Q: Just to follow up, if the liberals were to act —

MR. MCCURRY: Do you think there was a conservative tone, Helen?

Q: Yes. I think that —

MR. MCCURRY: I think there is a vital centrist tone.

Q: — if Rahm contributed to the immigration provisions in the welfare bill and so forth, yes, I do.

MR. MCCURRY: All right. You’re entitled to an opinion, obviously.

Q: Mike, if liberals were to ask where the ideological diversity is in the new team of the new Cabinet, to whom would you point?

MR. MCCURRY: To people who were just introduced.

Yes?

Q: One of the possible grounds of compromise —

MR. MCCURRY: And the other appointments, the Cabinet appoints made by the President, obviously.

Q: One of the possible grounds of compromise on the budget next year appears to be in the corporate welfare area. Yet, Senator McCain has talked about introducing legislation to establish an independent commission. Where does the administration stand on that?

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check and see. I don’t know that we’ve taken a position on that, but our interest in those provisions has been expressed in prior deliberations, and no doubt they will be an element in future deliberations.

Q: Can we expect a full-scale Cabinet unveiling tomorrow with the President in OEOB 450?

MR. MCCURRY: Not tomorrow, to my knowledge.

Q: I mean, Friday. I mean, Friday.

MR. MCCURRY: Friday? There will be — I think I just heard Mr. Bowles promise some announcements on Friday, so there will be some —

Q: Anything on your public schedule tomorrow?

MR. MCCURRY: We’ve got a TV meeting — TV ratings issue the President expects to address tomorrow.

Q: Is he going to have them here with him?

Q: How is he handling that and who is here?

Q: Yes, how is that going to work?

Q: Is he endorsing the package?

MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen can do that. We’ll do that in a minute.

Q: I don’t know if you have addressed the issue before. I don’t recall — Kofi Annan is apparently calling for an expansion of the Security Council to include Japan, Germany, other countries. Does the U.S. have a position on that?

MR. MCCURRY: We do. We have been supportive of an expansion of the council on specifically the addition of Japan and Germany to membership in the Security Council. And I’m reaching back in my memory on other related issues on the size and expansion. But we have definitely taken the position that it should be those two additions to the council.

By the way, on Kofi and on the President — did we ever do a statement last night? Okay, the President had a very warm, congratulatory call with Mr. Kofi Annan last night. Madeleine Albright was also on the line. I believe she was in New York. She reported to the President that he had delivered a very well-received acceptance speech and talked about the need for reform at the U.N. and to embracing change at the U.N. as one of the necessary ingredients of making that institution viable and effective in the 21st century. The President complimented him on those sentiments, told him how important it was for him to press forward on the issue of reform. The President briefly mentioned our desire to address the question of the arrears and said he looked forward to working with the new Secretary General on that point, and he also suggested that — the President also suggested that he make an effort to describe his commitment to reform particularly in discussions with members of Congress.

Q: Has the White House made a decision yet on Proposition 209?

MR. MCCURRY: No. We’re getting an update, I believe, from Justice later this week on it. It has not come here yet, to my knowledge.

Q: Later today, to your knowledge?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.

Q: Mike, Mr. Bowles didn’t talk about any changes in the White House Legislative Affairs Office or DPC since Rasco was announced as leaving. Can you say anything today about whether Bruce is going to get that job at the DPC and whether John Hilley is going to remain in Legislative Affairs?

MR. MCCURRY: No and no. I mean, both of them, both Bruce Reed and John Hilley are enormously well thought of around the White House and by the President specifically. The Domestic Policy Council itself is a very important integral element of our policy development at the White House. I expect the President might have more to say on that on Friday, as a matter of fact.

Q: How did it come to be that the mayors meeting is closed? Whose idea was that?

MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know.

Q: The mayors didn’t want their picture taken with the President? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: The mayors will be here later and the mayors will be out and talk to you.

Q: Did they pass a hat in there. (Laughter.)

Q: You said you had something on background, not on camera, on Peru?

MR. MCCURRY: Maybe or maybe some senior official can talk about that a little bit.

Q: Talk about what?

Q: Peru.

Q: Why don’t we say the briefing’s over.

Q: Can she do TV ratings real quick?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let’s do it. Mary Ellen will do TV ratings.

MS. GLYNN: The President is going to meet with representatives of the industry tomorrow and some of the networks executives to get a briefing on the TV rating system just after they unveil it, I think, at the National Press Club.

Q: — will be there with the President?

MS. GLYNN: Yes. And the Vice President is meeting today with some of the children’s television groups to talk about their concerns and some of the — I’m not sure, the Parent-Teacher Association and things like that. And that’s about it.

Q: And then will the President come out and talk about it?

MS. GLYNN: Yes, we’ll do a pool spray at the top.

Q: But, Mary Ellen, the President has not changed his view expressed in the news conference last week that —

MS. GLYNN: Not at all. It’s a good start. People have talked about this for 10 years and this is a great place to start.

Q: Do you have a time on that, Mary Ellen?

MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen, how is there going to be any news left at this thing if the President already addressed it at the news conference?

Q: Good question.

MS. GLYNN: That’s true, but there will be just a little smidgen for everybody.

Q: Why wouldn’t the President’s meet with parents’ groups?

MS. GLYNN: This is what the industry had suggested. As I say, the Vice President is meeting with parents’ groups today to talk about their reservations with the system.

Q: Is the President actually meeting with parents’ groups?

MS. GLYNN: Not that I know of.

Q: Do you have a time on that, Mary Ellen?

MS. GLYNN: I think it is mid-morning, right after the Valenti press conference at the National Press Club. The Vice President and Mrs. Gore and the First Lady will also be at this briefing.

MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.

END 2:20 P.M. EST