Press Briefing by Jake Siewert

Spoken by

William J. Clinton

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:47 P.M. EST

MR. SIEWERT: I actually don’t have any announcements, as far as I know, so I will take your questions.

Q: On Jesse Jackson, any comment?

Q: Anything new on pardons?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I wouldn’t expect anything today. If we have anything, it will be tomorrow.

Q: Jake, do you think the situation with Reverend Jesse Jackson is a way for the Bush administration to feel easy because Jesse Jackson would have been a thorn in his side and now this might tarnish him a bit?

MR. SIEWERT: Oh, I don’t want to speculate on that. This is a family matter that Reverend Jackson has vowed to deal with on his own. And our thoughts and prayers are with him. It’s obviously a very difficult situation. But I’m not here as a spokesman on how this might play out politically.

Q: Since Jesse Jackson and President Clinton are very close and the President used him as a sounding board during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, has he called Jesse and talked to him about it?

MR. SIEWERT: I don’t think he’s spoken to him. I’ll double-check on that. But I’m sure they’ll be in touch over the days and weeks ahead.

Q: And he knows about it, the President is aware?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, he’s heard about it.

Q: On pardons, yesterday the President was saying he was still receiving requests for pardons. Do you have any sense of the volume or the number that the President received, and how many are seriously under consideration?

MR. SIEWERT: We’re taking a look at as many as we can, given the time constraints. I’m sure we’ve received, either here or at the Department of Justice, literally hundreds of requests. But I don’t know that all of them have come through in the proper way and the proper channels. So we’ll look at as many as we can. We have a pretty small office here to look at those particular issues, but we’ll look at as many as we can and we’ll let you know when we have final decisions.

Q: When will we get tonight’s speech?

MR. SIEWERT: We’ll try to make it available before the actual address is delivered, and if we can we’ll get you excerpts before the evening news.

Q: What’s he going to talk about?

MR. SIEWERT: He’s still working on the speech, so I don’t want to preview it in any detail since it may change a little bit. The prepared draft that he had certainly harkened back to the President’s arrival here in Washington, about eight years ago today, where he promised to renew America and talk — thank the American people for their support in that effort and reflect a little bit upon the progress we’ve made, look forward a little bit into the future.

Since it’s a relatively short address, he probably won’t have time to cover some of what we’ve accomplished here. So I can summarize that for you. We have, as you know, the longest economic expansion in American history, a record 115 months now. And the economy’s grown on average 4 percent over the last eight years. We’ve created more than 22 million new jobs, which you may have heard, and the highest home ownership in American history right now. That, again, is something that he probably won’t have time to get into in any great detail. But we do have, as you also know, the lowest unemployment in 30 years. (Laughter.) We’ve managed to raise education standards, increase school choice, double the education in training investment. Here, again, probably won’t have time to get into that in any great detail. We’ve had the largest expansion of college opportunity since the G.I. Bill. (Laughter.)

Q: Does he leave any high hopes for his successor?

MR. SIEWERT: Certainly, I expect that he — as he said in the past, he wishes his successor well, and he’s going to thank the American people for their support over the years, and say that he looks forward to becoming a citizen again.

Q: I’ll bet. (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: He does, indeed. He’s certainly looking forward to getting some rest. Let me just tell you a little bit. The President was actually — as you know, those of you who were there, had a great day in Little Rock yesterday; got back here and spent the evening packing. And he took some time this morning, although I think he was a bit tired from packing, came in to wish Don Flynn, who has been the head of his detail, well at his farewell ceremony over in the Indian Treaty Room, this morning around 11:00 a.m. He and Mrs. Clinton came over and thanked Don Flynn, and more particularly, the Secret Service, for the work they’ve done over the last eight years, protecting him and his family. And that was a very heartfelt tribute to the good work that the Secret Service does here.

Q: What’s he packing?

MR. SIEWERT: Everything. Got to clear everything out. He talked a little bit about this on the plane yesterday, but he’s packing stuff up, and he obviously has some help, but he needs to make decisions about what goes to the library or into storage for the library, what goes to the Archives, what goes to the house in Chappaqua, what would go to the house in D.C., and those are difficult decisions.

Q: When does the moving van actually roll up?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think it’s been an evolving process. We’ve obviously moved many things to Chappaqua already, and the house is pretty well furnished and stocked up there. But they need to make decisions about what will go to the house in Washington as well, and what will end up in Little Rock, at the library. So these things, I think, have been going on. We’ve sent a lot of material to Little Rock, already, for storage there, and I think the President had a chance to look at that storage facility the last time he was in Little Rock, in November. And I imagine that’s filling up already. We’ve sent a number of vans down there already. And in terms of when they’re moving into the new house, I believe they’re close to finishing up the process on that, but I don’t think it’s done yet.

Q: Jake, tonight, will he mention the Lewinsky scandal in an way at all, even obliquely —

MR. SIEWERT: No, I don’t think so.

Q: — or impeachment or mistakes made?

MR. SIEWERT: I don’t think so. I think he will thank the American people for standing by him, their support over the last eight years through thick and thin. But I think this is meant to reflect upon the good work that’s been accomplished here and what the future holds.

Q: Is he writing most of this himself?

MR. SIEWERT: He spent some time with the speechwriters and has a draft, but I imagine that he will put his personal touch on it today.

Q: Some Presidents have used their farewell address to say really things of substance — Washington’s farewell address, no entangling foreign alliances; Eisenhower warning about the military industrial complex. Is the President going to do anything like that tonight?

MR. SIEWERT: He may. But I think it will be on the order stressing the importance of remaining engaged in the world and continuing to confront the challenges that America faces as the preeminent superpower in the world. That may be relatively oblique, and as I said he’s still working on it, there may be some changes. He is going to put his own imprint on it today. He’s got a lot of time today to work on it, and we’ll let you know as we get a little bit closer.

Q: Does he have a job?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, he has a lot of plans, but —

Q: Has he accepted anything —

MR. SIEWERT: I actually don’t know if he’s accepted anything in particular. I know he’s obviously planning on working on the library. He will have an office in New York, and I think he wants to spend some time thinking through some of his options. He has a lot of options and he wants to spend a couple weeks, a month or two resting and thinking about how he wants to tackle the challenges of the ex-presidency, and I don’t think he’s made any big, final decisions.

Q: Has he made any commitments for public speaking?

MR. SIEWERT: Not that I’m aware of. You should check with — I know they’re obviously planning on those. I don’t know if he’s made any specific commitments myself, but you can check with Bob Barnett, his personal attorney who is handling those matters for him in the post-presidency. I don’t think we can here, legally.

Q: Has he talked to General Powell about what to charge?

Q: Jake, does the President find this packing up process a difficult process for him on a personal level?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, it obviously brings out a lot of memories, and he’s said it’s often difficult — he told us last night it’s often difficult to decide what to keep in a house that he can see regularly and access, and what to put into storage. But it’s — I think he’s actually enjoyed the last few weeks, and he told us actually this morning at the event he did with Don Flynn that he’s enjoyed going out in a whirlwind of activity. And he said, he did not want this to — he never wanted his presidency to wind down, he just wanted it to close out. And I think we’re not exactly winding down here, we’re staying active and engaged.

Q: Is there any chance the President will come and talk with us after the speech tonight, mingle —

MR. SIEWERT: I wouldn’t expect that, no. I haven’t talked to him about that.

Q: Could we ask?

MR. SIEWERT: I’ll let him know, but I don’t know — (laughter) — I know that he’ll probably have a chance — John Podesta has invited some of us to celebrate afterwards, so maybe he’ll drop by that.

Q: Bring us all in.

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, come on up.

Q: At the 9:30 Club?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I don’t think we’re going back there.

Q: Today you mean?

MR. SIEWERT: Tonight after the speech.

Q: Jake, this week and again in Little Rock yesterday, the President made note that he’s read many of these retrospectives about his presidency and found several of them lacking in particular ways. Is the farewell address his last opportunity to sort of set for the country what he thinks he’s done and put all these other —

MR. SIEWERT: As I said, I don’t actually think, though the record is considerable and we believe that most of what happened here in Washington didn’t happen by accident, but by design and through smart economic strategies, smart domestic policies and smart foreign policy management, we won’t have the time to literally run through the accomplishments as I did a minute ago — whether it’s the 22 million new jobs, or the efforts to bring peace to trouble spots around the world. That’s just not really what this farewell address is meant to do.

I think it will, in a short fashion, thank the American people for their support and talk a little bit about the progress we’ve made in restoring people’s faith in government, restoring people’s faith in Washington, working for them in many ways. But I think that he wants to use this mostly to thank people and talk a little bit about the future.

Q: With you saying all these accomplishments, do you think in time, down the road, like 10, 20 years, maybe Clinton will be looked at then as a great President, although he has been tarnished with some of the things right now?

MR. SIEWERT: Look, this is for others to judge and others to — historians to weigh. The President’s worked extraordinarily hard over the last eight years for the American people through some very difficult decisions. We confronted an economy that was, frankly, a mess, and the President helped put it back together and clean it up and put America on a solid footing.

I mean, today America is unquestionably the world’s preeminent economic power, and also, unquestionably, the world’s preeminent superpower. That was not obvious eight years ago. America, by many analysts, was thought to be in decline and was headed for a period of lessened influence around the world. No one thinks that today, and that’s in large part due to the hard work of the American people, but it is partly due to the President’s strategic vision about how to restore the American economy and how to renew America’s influence around the world.

Q: With all those accomplishments, do you think he should be garnered with “great” —

MR. SIEWERT: Look, I’ll let historians make those judgments. I’m just a humble spokesman.

Q: Who do we call after —

Q: It’s tradition for the President to leave a message to the successor in the Oval Office. Would you expect President Clinton to do that?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I expect he would, but I expect that would be private, as it has been in the past.

Q: He is the most well-known or famous President at home and around the globe. Now, it must be very difficult for him, after eight years, now these last days. Now, what is he taking from the White House and what is he leaving behind?

MR. SIEWERT: What is he taking from the White House? Only his possessions, hopefully. (Laughter.) I’ll check on that.

Q: Count the spoons. (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, Mark, we can do an inventory if you would like. But, look, he’s taking with him an enormous sense of gratitude to the American people for having supported his efforts to do their work over the last eight years.

Q: Who do we call when he leaves, and where?

MR. SIEWERT: That’s a good question. I know Karen Tramontano is going to serve as the President’s Chief of Staff for the Office of the Former President. And she will be running that office and she will be working with him to select someone to serve as his spokesperson. But I don’t know who that person is yet. I know it will not be me.

Q: So we call the White House?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I don’t think she will be at the White House, but we’ll find a number for her and make that available. They will have an office over at Jackson Place, which initially, for at least Karen and the staff, will be their base of operations as they transition up to New York over the next four or five months.

Q: Jake, what do you say to people who look at the timing of his farewell address and say that a part of it may be designed to distract attention from the inauguration celebration. President Reagan gave a farewell address, but he did it nine days before the inauguration.

MR. SIEWERT: I hadn’t actually looked at the timing of these, but that’s not — it’s designed to be a farewell. That’s it pure and simple. It will actually be relatively short compared to a lot of the other farewell addresses; not as short as Truman’s which I’m told was two minutes, but Reagan and Eisenhower and others spoke for about 20 minutes. We’re going to try to keep it somewhere around six or seven minutes.

Q: I’m not sure how to put this except, does he plan to keep his hands dirty or whatever in terms of — like the Middle East peace process? (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: No — oh.

Q: Does he plan to have regular contacts with the parties?

MR. SIEWERT: I think he wants to find a way to remain engaged in some of the work that’s been very important to him over the last eight years’ work. And that includes work on restoring opportunity to those who haven’t shared in the economic recovery over the last eight years. That includes work that he’s done around the world, particularly in the poorest parts of the world. And it may include some work in some of the trouble spots that he’s spent a lot of time on — the Mideast and Northern Ireland.

But he wants to take time and figure out how to do that right, and to it in a way that doesn’t interfere with the new President’s work on those important issues. He wants to give the new President a wide amount of latitude in setting a new foreign policy agenda, their own foreign policy agenda. We obviously think there are some valuable lessons to be learned in how we conducted foreign policy, but obviously the new President will come in and have some new ideas, and we want to give him and his team a chance to succeed.

So I think he’ll step back a little bit and give the new President a chance to work through some of these tricky issues. But he certainly has indicated that if, at some point, someone thinks he can be useful, he’ll do that, but in a way that recognizes that the President of the United States is the voice for the United States on foreign policy and national security.

Q: Is he going to have a rally in New York upon his arrival?

MR. SIEWERT: That’s fairly traditional, I think, that they be welcomed home by the people who want to see him there. I think President Bush was greeted in Houston by some well-wishers and we will do the same.

A brief rundown on Saturday, just for those — this is all somewhat tentative, but I expect that around 10:30 a.m. or so, they will greet the President-elect — Mr. and Mrs. Clinton will greet the President-elect and Mrs. Bush at the White House here. They traditionally have a short, informal —

Q: North Portico?

MR. SIEWERT: We’re working through a lot of these logistical issues with the Bush transition team. They then leave for the Capitol, where they go inside, off the —

Q: About 11:00 a.m. they leave?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, roughly. Maybe a tiny bit earlier. Again, all the press coverage is still TBD. They have some time inside the Capitol, and then around 11:30 a.m. or so, they’ll go over the West Front, for the inaugural ceremonies. The ceremonies obviously proceed. You should check with the President-elect’s team on how exactly they expect those to proceed. We expect we’ll be leaving roughly 12:45 p.m. or so. He is bid farewell by the President, by President Bush, and at that point he will get on Nighthawk One and leave for Andrews. At Andrews, there will be a departure ceremony.

Q: Where does he leave on Nighthawk, at the Ellipse?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I believe at the East Front of the Capitol. I can double-check that.

Q: What is Nighthawk One?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, it’s essentially a helicopter that transports him, no longer known as Marine One, since he’s the former President.

Q: And he’ll take a tour of Washington in the helicopter, like Reagan did?

MR. SIEWERT: I don’t know, we’ll see. He may well — I know he enjoyed last night’s ride in the night; it was the last chance he’s got to see the monuments at night.

There will be a departure ceremony in his honor, and all the White House staff have been invited — you’re certainly invited, as well — at Andrews. And at that point, he boards —

Q: Does he have any remarks there?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I expect he’ll say something. Yes, he will, absolutely.

Q: What time will that be at Andrews?

MR. SIEWERT: Approximately, and this is very approximate, roughly 1:05 p.m. is the beginning of that ceremony. He will then board U.S. Air Force Special Air Mission, and fly to JFK.

Q: Which one?

MR. SIEWERT: SAM One. They keep calling it SAM One, although some people tell me it’s named after the flight number. I don’t know. We’ll get to the bottom of that. I’ll rely on our Air Force veteran to let you know. Arriving at JFK approximately 3:05 p.m. And at TWA hanger 12 — and that’s not a commercial endorsement — the President will greet supporters at a welcoming ceremony there. That will last approximately an hour. And then he will take a helicopter up to Westchester, and he and Mrs. Clinton and family will retire to the home for the evening.

Q: His daughter will be with him?

MR. SIEWERT: Yes, absolutely.

Q: Radio address taped here Saturday morning?

MR. SIEWERT: We will tape it on Friday, I believe, broadcast at 10:06 a.m., as is traditional.

Q: The President said that he’s for D.C. statehood. How are going to work and promote when he said that he will promote?

MR. SIEWERT: Well, again, I think that’s an issue that he cares about, and he will try to do something — will be a part-time resident, obviously, of D.C., a permanent resident of New York. But I’ll check with him and see if he has any specific plans on how to do that.

Q: Jake, here at the White House on Saturday between 10:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., you said there is something traditional —

MR. SIEWERT: Informal, essentially, tea and coffee with the two families.

Q: Where would that be? Do you know? What room?

MR. SIEWERT: I’ll check.

Q: Do you expect the radio address on Saturday to also be something of a really final farewell address?

Q: The final final?

MR. SIEWERT: Until the final address at Andrews. (Laughter.) And the one in New York. No, we’ll do something that’s celebrates the tradition of the radio address and thanks again the American people for their support and for listening over the years.

Q: But it will be along those lines, it won’t be patients’ bill of rights or something? (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: You never know. He did promise to work until the last hour of the last day, so you can’t rule it out entirely.

Q: He could announce the pardons —

MR. SIEWERT: I understand there’s a Mark Knoller monument being considered. Mark has requested, for those of you who don’t know, that his condo be designated as a national monument, and that’s under serious consideration now, given — (laughter) — we’ve got a draft release we’ve prepared on the national monument at the Mark Knoller condo in Chevy Chase. (Laughter.) So those of you who want to weigh in with CEQ, do so today. (Laughter.) Time’s a-wasting.

Q: When you do the pardons tomorrow, will they be at a manageable hour, or will it be under the cover of darkness? (Laughter.)

MR. SIEWERT: We’ll try to do them in the full light of day.

Q: Anybody we know?

MR. SIEWERT: I don’t know. It depends on what company you keep, Helen. I don’t know. (Laughter.)

Q: You can’t really disguise it at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday night, because Saturday is going to be a busy news day.

MR. SIEWERT: No, I understand. I’ve been assured by the Chief of Staff and the team that they will do everything within their power to do these at a relatively reasonable hour.

Q: How many?

Q: Tomorrow?

MR. SIEWERT: Tomorrow — he actually has the day off to finish up packing, saying good-bye. I wouldn’t expect any public pronouncements from him tomorrow.

Q: Is it true that you’re going to have all White House staff computers taken down tonight?

MR. SIEWERT: I think it’s a rolling process. We are losing, I think, e-mail capability this evening, so we’ll probably have to go back to the pre-Clinton stone ages when technology wasn’t as far-ranging and important as it is today. But we’ll find a way to get by with the old fax and paper.

Q: How about hard disks. Will they go also tonight?

MR. SIEWERT: No, I don’t think so. I think they now have — I know when we came in there were no hard drives here, but I think now they’ve developed a way to sweep the computers and store the material at Archives and actually leave the existing structure in place so that the Bush team has something to work with.

Q: Jake, now China and Russia are getting together and about to sign a treaty later this year, and they are making deals. Do you think President-elect know about it or how he feels or any —

MR. SIEWERT: I believe this is meant to foster more stability in the region and foster more cooperation between the two countries, and we believe that’s important. It’s not, as I understand it, not any pact that’s designed to deal with aggression or military issues, it’s basically fostering economic and scientific cooperation.

Q: On the hard drives, do you leave any sort of institutional memory for the Bush people —

MR. SIEWERT: I’ll take a second on that, because we’ve been in regular contact with the Bush team, everyone from Ms. Jenny, “Tiger” Engebretsen has been consulting with them on how to do the clips, and Christine has been explaining to them how the pool works. And that’s a level of cooperation that I think is really unprecedented at this level. We’ve been working with them across a broad array of issues. John has been in touch with his counterpart, Mr. Card, on a regular basis, and we’ve been doing everything we can to explain where things are, how they work, and we’ll continue to do that. The Bush team’s been in here virtually every night, at some level or another, to walk around, take a look at the place, see how it works.

I know — I did this job myself, for the Clinton transition in ’92. We did not have that opportunity. So we’ve been doing everything we can to make it easier for them to get settled in, and get to work right away.

Q: Why did you not have an opportunity? Were you refused?

MR. SIEWERT: I don’t know. Some people were very helpful, but generally it was a little bit tougher to get information and figure out where things were in ’92 then it is today. And the President asked John Podesta to make the arrangement as cooperative as possible, particularly because we had had some trouble in ’92, and he didn’t want to replicate that.

Q: Did the Bush team ask for any particular guidance on how to overturn a previous administration’s executive order?

MR. SIEWERT: No. I mean, that is something that we very jealously guarded in our discussions with them. There were conversations where we told them what we were doing. John, I know, has kept them informed about what we had planned, in terms of worker safety rules, environment rules. They said they would like to take a chance to review those, and we said you can certainly do so, but there is — under no circumstances are we going to change our minds about what we think is important and what is right.

Based on their own ideas, they will have a full chance to review them when they’re in the White House and in power. But we will reserve the right at the time in discussions with them to exercise presidential authority up until the last days.

Q: Jake, there are some legal problems with leaving hard drives behind, right?

MR. SIEWERT: I have no idea. I know that Archives have to move on to the — our electronic records have to move on to them.

Q: Didn’t the Bush people tell you in ’92 that there were some national security consideration or some kind of legal considerations?

MR. SIEWERT: Look, there are ways of working through those, and we’ve tried to do that in a pretty cooperative way here. But the computers will be in place, and they’ll be ready and able to work them.

Q: Is there an agreement between the two administrations on what jobs — what people in what positions over in the OEOB must be gone by what time? Do you envision some situation where, as the inauguration takes place, the Bush team goes and basically clears out the OEOB, or clears out —

MR. SIEWERT: We’ll leave. They don’t need to clear us out. We’re happy to go. (Laughter.) Look, people have submitted their resignations, they’ve been accepted. They’re expected to leave 11:59 a.m. Saturday. Most people are actually leaving much sooner then that because, just out of convenience sake, it’s a lot easier to get that process going early and get it done with.

But I don’t think that — I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to, but there are some people that they’ve asked to stay on. In each agency there’s usually a person who’s designated to stay on and ensure that the transition runs smoothly. But that’s for a limited period of time, generally. And then, of course, they’ve asked — they certainly have the right to retain any person that they’d like, and I understand they’ve done that in a number of cases.

Q: But these provisions are agreed on. There’s not going to be a situation where they have to go tell someone, you should be out of here now?

MR. SIEWERT: We’ve asked a set number of people, and we explained who they are, to resign. We’ve accepted their resignations, and they’ll be gone. If they come in here and find someone that they don’t particularly want working here — I don’t even know who that would be, but there are a fair number of career staff here, and they could certainly make their own decisions about staffing when they get in here. But this place will be relatively empty.

Q: For the last eight years, world leaders have been dealing with President Clinton. Now do you think it will be difficult for them to deal with —

MR. SIEWERT: Oh, I don’t think so. I mean, the new President has already established a number of contacts with foreign leaders around the world and he’ll have a chance to do more of that. It’s very similar to what happened when President Clinton took office.

Q: Is this the last briefing of the Clinton administration?

MR. SIEWERT: No, we’ll have one tomorrow. Although I hope it won’t be this serious.

Q: In that case —

MR. SIEWERT: Oh, my god, one announcement before I forget. It is — the woman who is trying to slink off right now — it’s her birthday. So I’m not going to sing because I can’t sing, but join us for cake in the lower press office, courtesy of Fox. (Applause.)

Q: Happy birthday, Ellen.

Q: Happy 21st, Ellen.

END 1:15 P.M. EST

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