Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just start with a few preliminary comments, and I'll be glad to take your questions, just to review, quickly, the process so you know where we are and where we're going.
As you know, we got the subpoena on late Friday night, and spent the weekend preparing directions for the White House staff in terms of subpoena compliance. Those memos got out, as I told you earlier this week, they got out Monday morning at about 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 noon, and in the ensuing hours, we had people throughout the White House producing the documents to us. Virtually, all of the documents produced Monday, a few people produced documents for their responses on Tuesday.
Everybody, to my knowledge, in the White House has complied with the subpoena, including the President and the First Lady and their offices. And we have gone through the documents, organized the documents and prepared them for production to the Special Counsel and the Grand Jury this afternoon.
We have approximately 1,000 pages, many of those are duplicates; in other words, that would show up in each of several people's files. We've organized these files in terms of each individual so that you know what X has produced and Y has produced and so forth. Many of those documents would be things such as a letter that was released by a congressperson relating to this matter and stuff like that. So, the 1,000 pages, I don't want to suggest that there are 1,000 pages of relevant documents as people might understand it, there are 1,000 pages of relevant documents as the subpoena calls for them.
We have asserted no privilege with respect to any documents. We are producing all the documents called for by the subpoena. So that you all know, we're going to do that at approximately 3:15 p.m. this afternoon. We will be coming in the front door of the courthouse, and we will produce the documents to the Special Counsel, and then Mr. Krislov on my staff is with the Counsel to the President, will be going in before the Grand Jury and describing in detail essentially the process I have just described for you in brief.
Let me say at the outset one point before I take your questions, is that I will not comment in any way about the substance of these documents or what any individual might have produced or did not produce. Anything I say in that regard could be misconstrued as either interfering with the Grand Jury, or in some way trying to lead or direct testimony. I don't want anybody to misconstrue it that way. The Special Counsel has requested as well that I not discuss the substance of any of these matters. So I'm going to adhere to
that vigorously, and just ask you to respect that decision and not persist to question that aspect.
Q: Over 1,000 pages, is that what you're turning over to the Grand Jury, or is there more that you've culled?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are a lot of documents, for example, we've discussed with the Special Counsel -- that -- turned in press clippings and so forth -- he didn't want us to produce those. There are other documents that are not covered by the subpoena that we are confident are not covered; we didn't produce those.
Q: Do you have any idea how many pieces of paper were actually turned in to you? I think the 1,000 is what you're taking in there.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't. It was handled by the staff. And let me say, when I say 1,000 pages, it's not 1,000 documents. You could have one document that might have 40 pages in it.
Q: But there's 1,000 pages that are going over there?
Q: How much comes from the President and First Lady's Office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I am not going to answer any questions about which documents, how many documents --
Q: Can you tell us whether anything came from the First Lady's --
Q: You said that they were --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. I'm not going to answer any questions like that for the reason I gave you before. I said, and I will repeat it: The President and the First Lady fully complied with the subpoena. No one asserted any privileges. And any documents that they had that are covered by the subpoena will be produced to the Grand Jury just as --
Q: Well, let me clarify this.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- excuse me, let me finish the sentence, Andrea -- just as every other person complied with it, and their documents, as well, will be produced.
Q: Can you explain to us -- Mr. Fiske told his yesterday in his briefing on Capitol Hill that he saw no reason why people who were subpoenaed or their attorneys could not talk to press about any -- that he could, as of -- discuss the Grand Jury, but they could. So I don't understand this reluctance by you and other individuals in the White House to discuss the substance of it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me make clear two things. Mr. Fiske's office has requested that we not discuss the substance of it, and let me tell you why I think he made that request.
Q: Who in his office?
Q: Yes. Who in his office was -- was it verbal? Was it written?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was at Mr. Fiske's instructions and he will, I assure you -- it was done to me through the staff attorney, but it is at Mr. Fiske's instructions. And let
me explain why so you'll understand. He's trying to conduct an investigation. He's trying to take testimony. He believes in the integrity of his process, and the Grand Jury process requires that they proceed in this way.
These matters, obviously Mr. Fiske will pursue them, he'll come to a conclusion. Until that process is completed, it would interfere with the process for me to comment on it, and I'm not prepared to do so.
Q: Is it your judgment or his judgment? That's what we're trying to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe that it ultimately is my responsibility, and I take responsibility for the judgment. I believe it purports with, and I have been told that it purports with Mr. Fiske's desires in order to protect the integrity of his process.
Q: Could you tell us if the President and First Lady signed the same declaration as other members of the White House staff signed, that was on that memo?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really don't -- I honestly don't know the answer to that, but I would say this to you: It is my view that the President and First Lady of the United States, that when they tell me they have complied with the subpoena fully, and when we do our work in that regard, I don't -- I would not have, and I don't know if other people did -- I would not even ask them to sign any documents. I am perfectly comfortable with their answers in that regard.
Q: Are you suggesting that you were uncomfortable letting people give them the same assurances?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. But there is a -- differences in terms that there are lots of people here in the White House, Rita, and I don't have a chance to review with each of them and my staff to review with each of them, did you do this, did you do that; you have to make some determination.
When it comes to the senior staff people, then we will very closely involve them to assure that the process ran properly. I am comfortable with the process.
Q: Did you meet with the President and the First Lady yourself personally and go through it with them?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The people on my staff did this, and I did parts of this; other people on the staff did parts of it, and --
Q: You're comfortable, sir, that this briefing does not violate this -- this restricts you from discussing anything you are telling us about the extent of the -- you're talking about the process here, you're talking about how much -- obviously, an impression that's created here is one of a huge effort at compliance. You're confident that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm absolutely --
Q: this does not -- of Mr. Fiske's, I gather, secondhand to you, suggestion that you not say anything?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm absolutely confident about not saying anything about the substance. The process, as I have told Mr. Fiske in his office, I am going to be fully forthcoming with you people. I think you have to
understand -- and I think the statistics said this -- we are being fully cooperative with this process. It's terribly important for all of us to understand --
Q: You really can't be fully forthcoming, can you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not fully forthcoming with the substance, but I can tell you we've been fully forthcoming in the --
Q: Nobody's asking you about -- it's not a matter of substance to ask you whether, indeed, the President and First Lady had anything to turn over.
Q: I'd like to ask two questions. One, the materials you're turning over doesn't just apply to the subpoenaed people; everybody in the White House?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Everybody in the White House.
Q: And, let's see, what else was I going to ask? Sorry.
Q: Has anybody else in the White House been subpoenaed today that you know of? Secondly, can you put ON THE RECORD at least the statement that everyone complied with the subpoena including the First Lady, and we have asserted no privilege?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely. You can put that ON THE RECORD and put that --
Q: I mean, it's a bit odd to attribute that to an unnamed source who didn't want to be identified.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You can attribute that to me.
Q: By name?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: By name.
Q: Would you necessarily know if anyone else had been subpoenaed?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I believe I would know.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To say necessarily would know, because the way they delivered the first set of subpoenas was that they called up and told our office, the Counsel's Office that they were going to deliver them. I believe, given my working relationship -- that is, I've had discussions with Stein and so forth -- if he were going to subpoena somebody and say I'm going to subpoena -- so I believe I know.
Q: Are the lawyers for the people who have been subpoenaed have access to the documents, and have they asked to read the documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have access to their own documents; they do not have access to the other documents.
Q: Have they asked for documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No one has asked me for documents.
Q: None of the lawyers for the people who have been subpoenaed have asked for even for a list of the documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have not asked me for the documents or a list of the documents; no, sir, no lawyers.
Q: My other question was in relationship to these contacts. These contacts were listed at three or four. There seems to be a lot of documents for this kind of -- you know, two or three meetings.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, that's the problem. I want to tell you the case. I want to tell you there's a lot of documents here that are duplicates or that are -- so when you talk about are there specific documents relating to the two or three meetings or whatever, those are a very small, small number of documents.
Q: But they would be something relating to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, for example, there have been a lot of different letters written by congresspeople. There have been various things like that, that would be in a process. There is -- I had a copy myself of a transcript of the hearing, the RTC oversight hearing. So that's like 100 pages or something like that. That's a lot of pages in the process, okay.
Q: More than three hearings for this number of documents -- talking about more contacts?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm just not going to get into that.
Q: How many individuals submitted documents to you and your staff?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer, but that is probably -- I just don't know the answer, but I'm trying to think -- it's probably 50 or 60 people.
Q: You must know the answer to the next question which is: From how many individuals -- of the documents you're submitting to Mr. Fiske, how many individuals did those come from?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the exact answer, but --
Q: Can you guess?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd guess about 35, 40, 50.
Q: What is that?
Q: You've catalogued these person by person. You must be able to be more specific than that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say what my colleague said. Look, there's one document, the famous "Firewall" document that Mr. McLarty submitted -- okay -- everybody in the White House submitted that document.
Q: What was that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The document about no contacts that Mr. McLarty submitted that said no contacts with any
other agency without approval by the Deputy Counsel. That document is called for by the subpoena. Everybody submitted that, okay?
Q: So 400 people?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Four hundred people submitted that.
Q: That was the test. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Other than that document, if I were to say, somewhere between 30 or 40 had responsive documents, I think that's a ballpark number.
Q: Once you've stripped out --
Q: Could you repeat that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thirty or 40 --
Q: People --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- had other documents that were --
Q: Let's clarify the point, though. That's 30 or 40 who -- other than the McLarty memo turned them in originally. Of the documents you're bringing over today, how many people's documents are represented?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think in that number. Again, it could turn out to be 25, it could turn out to be 35.
Q: But you won't tell us if any of the documents from the President and the First Lady are among that 30 or 40?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's exactly right.
Q: Good try.
Q: What's the status on the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll ask -- I've been working on the documents today. I don't know. The people in the press seem to know more about the individuals than what's appeared and what their timing is. I just don't know that. I know that some people have appeared today and other people will appear --
Q: Have you taken any steps to remove Patsy Thomasson from being custodian of documents or any other act since she conceivably could be part of the larger Whitewater case?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me say this: The whole custodial effort we've gotten, handled by Krislov, he is a custodian of these records, that had nothing to do with anything about Patsy Thomasson, that had to do with my decision that a lawyer in my office should be responsible for the matter. But I don't want any influence with respect to Patsy to be suggested by that. And that's the way I would do any document search for my client.
Q: She was the recipient of -- subpoena.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Just because she is, as a technical matter, head of Office of Administration.
Q: Well, will she continue to be head of the Office of Administration?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course.
Q: And is there any problem with her in that role, given the investigation and given her background in Little Rock?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely not.
Q: How many people on your staff are handling this? Obviously Bernie Nussbaum is not -- wasn't involved in this --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Essentially there were, in addition to me, there were basically four lawyers, essentially working almost full-time over the last few days --
Q: What are you taking it up there, in an iron --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What am I taking it up --
Q: In a basket, or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It fits into my attache case.
Q: I don't believe it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The leather attache case my mother gave me when I got this job.
Q: Are you sure?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly. (Laughter.)
Q: Who provided you with the President's documents? Was that Podesta?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was -- I am not going to answer that question, because there is an implication in that question.
Q: Well, who provided the First Lady's?
Q: Little did your mother know. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That was a good shot, though. Somebody said you guys are rough, but I didn't know you were this --
Q: Did you allow Maggie Williams to handle the First Lady's documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Maggie Williams -- everybody produced their own documents. There were staff documents, assistants and so forth. But I am confident all these documents were handled --
Q: The people who got the subpoenas, as I understand, from the Treasury Department lawyers were asked to search their houses and all that sort of stuff as well. Any documents produced in that connection would not be -- you'd have no knowledge of, correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Whether people had a document at home or something like that?
Q: Yes, like Maggie Williams --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We would have told people, "if you have responsive documents, produce them"; yes. I
don't know whether people -- I don't ask them where they were. We're saying any responsive documents you should produce.
Q: After these documents are turned in this afternoon, barring any other subpoenas, does that end the White House legal involvement in this process, or what comes next?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's going to be, obviously, up to the Special Counsel. I've told them whatever further steps he'd like to take, we're prepared to take.
Q: But at this time --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But at this time, I know of no further requirements.
Q: Do you think you have all the documents?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do.
Q: Has the Special Counsel informed you of any kind of announcement that he intends to make today on anything involving the Vince Foster part of this case?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, he hasn't.
Q: Do you have a safe in your office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do not have a safe in my office.
Q: Is your office the same office as Vince Foster's?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My office is the same office as Vince Foster's. I do not have a safe in my office, and I have --
Q: There's a safe in Bernie's office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There is a safe in Mr. Nussbaum's office.
Q: To your knowledge, was there ever a safe in that office?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To my knowledge, there was never a safe in that office.
Q: In this administration?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And certainly not from the day that I arrived, first went into that office, there has never been a safe in that office, and I have no knowledge that there was a safe before that.
Q: Do you want a safe? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I was worried about -- well, let me answer that, actually. I actually thought about that today, because I thought: now I have all of these documents that I have to take down in this little leather case that my mother gave me, and I wish I had a safe. (Laughter.) But I thought: If I get a safe, what is going to happen here? So I decided --
Q: As Deputy Counsel, do you have access to the safe in Bernie's office routinely?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I do not. I have never put anything in that safe. I don't know the combination.
Q: Have you Xeroxed everything you're taking up?
Q: Don't you have a file cabinet that has a combination lock?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Do I have a file cabinet with a combination lock? No.
Q: Do you have any kind of --
Q: I assume your desk can be locked?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are. The desk and some of the files can be locked.
Q: Do you have a copy of everything you're sending?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
Q: Since you took over as the gatekeeper to ask to give permission for any further contacts, has anyone asked you for permission to make further contacts on this issue?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, actually Dee Dee asked me if she could call Treasury and get a press release, and I said she could.
Q: Any others?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: What was the press release about?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't even remember.
MS. MYERS: It was about Lloyd Bentsen when he said the OGE thing.
Q: A thousand documents still sounds like a lot.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A thousand pages is very different than documents.
Q: Are you the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know, but obviously significantly less than that. There will be some memoranda that will be -- maybe about a 10, 20-page memoranda.
Q: But you're not turning over dupes, or are you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, we are. Because I think it's important that he understand.
Q: And there are news clippings in this, too? Did you weed them out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: He has -- the news clipping had any handwritten notes on there, or stuff like that --
Q: Can you narrow it down to five main memos that came out, or --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I can't. But there are --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In terms of what you would say is sort of -- I just can't --
Q: Estimate of the number of dupes? Roughly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll bet more than half.
Q: More than half?
Q: Why shouldn't we assume that some papers from the President and the First Lady went -- can you tell us if any documents that were covered by subpoena have been produced and that they have complied? Isn't it safe to assume that some things from their files --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: My answer to that is that I am not going to get into it, and the answer is that I don't think you should make any assumption. You're free, of course, to make any assumptions you want to make. I think you shouldn't make any assumption because there are people in the White House who have fully complied and had no responsive documents. And I am not going to answer whether it was zero, one, two, or whatever.
Q: Did everybody sign the certificate of compliance, and you don't know whether the President or First Lady or everybody else did?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. We have over 400 signed certificates.
Q: So, by complying, they could have just signed the form that you have --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. I said we took responsibility for that. We did the legal work necessary to satisfy ourselves. It's not just -- again, we understand our obligations, and I believe we've fulfilled our obligations and I'm confident they've fulfilled theirs.
Q: In complying with these documents, did you come across any other contacts besides the three meetings?
Q: Just to clarify one point. You've told us how many people submitted documents, you've told how many pages you've submitted. Can you take one shot at how many documents in the 1,000 pages there are that are singular -- separate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: How many separate? I really can't. I just can't. I mean, I'll bet -- I would be just completely guessing, but I'll bet it's --
Q: Who did these go to? Did they go to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you rely on that, it's a mistake.
Q: You're guessing. (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's completely a guess. I did say that more than half are --
Q: More than half -- at least that gets you to 500, and some of them are two pages long.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They will go to Marvin.
Q: Is everything paper? Any computer disks? Did you send over anything on disk?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think so. I think what we did on computer things is we -- downlined it and maintained the original --
Q: Anything from -- calendar, or desk references --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Anything like that, we will photocopy --
Q: You sent over all the originals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The originals, except for --
Q: But you made --
Q: And personal notes, just photocopies of personal notes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If they weren't part of the calendar -- they were personal notes -- note pad, we'd put it in a file -- but if they're part of my -- let's say they're part of my phone log and then just turn over a copy of --
Q: How about if I had a jotting and I wanted to explain what it was, put it in context? Could I amend a piece of paper to explain what this jotting was so that the Special Counsel would know?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. I have told them if he had questions, he'll get back to us. We're not trying to amend the record, explain anything -- I've got to go.
END 2:00 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269486