Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
5:07 P.M. EDT
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm a senior administration official.
We just wanted to come down, and I know that there have been a lot of questions today about where this decision stands. And let me just say from the start that we just -- we really can't into the specific wording or anything of the policy, but we can talk about the general thrust and we can say that the President is generally supportive of what he's seen from the Pentagon. We still have some reviewing to do, some studying to do, some preparation, and a few more questions to answer. But we think the President is generally supportive.
And we think this is an advance over where the policy stands now, and clearly an advance over what any alternative would lead to. The President is committed to, as he has said several times in the campaign, opening up the military as much as possible.
We believe that this will lead to significant advances for homosexuals in the military. It will clearly state that individuals cannot be asked about their sexual orientation or will they be required to reveal it. It will clearly create, we believe, a zone of privacy in the military for individuals. And that requires a policy that will respect the privacy on both sides and will respect unit cohesion as well.
And we that probably the most significant advance is a heightened no witch hunts, no pursuit policies. So I think that it's fair to call this policy don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue. And this will lead to real significant advances in investigations. The bar for an investigation will be much higher than it has been up until now.
And I think that given that, we can take any questions. Let me just point out as well that I think that a lot of people are under misconception about what the alternatives are here. I mean, you hear a lot of talk about standing on principle. It does not advance the principle of -- for homosexuals in the military if the alternative to this policy is the certain or near certain return to the status quo ante, which is a policy of an absolute bar to homosexuals in the military.
And this is obviously a tough decision for the President and a tough issue. But it is wrong to assume that if the President would be serving the principles that he outlined by outlining a policy that could not be sustained in any way in the Congress, and by outlining a policy that would clearly be overturned in an instant and would set back the cause of homosexuals in the military and make life far more difficult for homosexuals in the military.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As a second, what was it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Senior Administration Official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Senior Administration Official, let me just add a couple of words to what the first Senior Administration Official said so well.
On terms of the status of this, one of the things the President is waiting for is a report from the Justice Department. The Justice Department has been consulted through this process. And the preliminary read by the Justice Department, which we received yesterday was positive. They thought this policy was sustainable in the courts. They wanted to take a look at the language once it was written down. So they have been working on that over the last 24 hours.
We have not heard a final report from them, but the preliminary -- the indications during the day today are that they continue to believe that this is sustainable. I think that's important to understand. But that's one of the issues, one of the hurdles the President wants to cross before making a final decision on this. We're expecting that he'll have a decision on it shortly. It will not be over the weekend. We expect -- Monday looks like a good day -- might stretch to Tuesday, but Monday looks like a good day.
In terms of how this policy compares to the past, I think that it was well stated in what we've been -- the thought we've had here for the last two or three days has been this is a don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue. But I think it's important to understand that in these areas, it extends beyond what current policy is in several significant respects. In the don't ask area, the policy prior to President Clinton coming into office was you could ask. Since January 29th, the policy has been that there is no asking at the point of entry into the military forces. Under this policy there would be no asking by a sergeant or anyone along the line once you're in service. That's not a permissible question, except in pursuit of an investigation. So that that is a broadening of the don't ask standard.
And I think that the don't tell, the understanding here is this policy will permit a person who is discreet to avoid witch hunts as have just been said. There is no suggestion here. The question has -- or has been in the last few days, what triggers an investigation? And that bar has been raised. The notion behind this is that only credible information -- credible information will trigger an investigation. That if a person is in a gay bar, and that is reported to a commanding officer, that will not trigger an investigation. If a person is in a parade for gay rights, that will not trigger an investigation. If a commanding officer hears a single report that someone has told someone else that that person is a homosexual, that will not trigger an investigation. There has to be some higher standard.
Now, if there are two, three, four reports that come in, then the individual in question enters a danger zone, and there may be an investigation. But I would point out that the investigation can't be ordered by just anyone. It does require a commanding officer to launch an investigation. And that means that -- and the understanding we've had so far, and we have to make sure that this is clear -- is that that has to -- the commanding officer is someone lieutenant commander or above. That's been the standard we have been discussing. So I think you can understand that this is a broadening --
Q: What's a lieutenant commander, just in the Navy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's an O-5 and above.
Q: In the Army, captain or major?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Check the standards -- without us getting into all that, but it's an O-5 and above.
Now, some of these details are still being worked out. But some of the discussion -- you have to understand the discussion over the last two or three days has been over the implications of the policy, how will it work out in practice? What does this mean in practice?
And there's some of these details that, of course, are still going to be -- you can't have a complete code here. But what you can do is instill a spirit and try to set certain standards for how this might work.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: While we're talking about investigation, there will also be -- what we're looking for is a common sense standard as well, and that commanders should take the fact that there are scarce resources for investigations into account and make sure that they do what they can to prevent any kind of harassment of any sort. And there will be language against that as well.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I raise one more point on that, because the President has been saying, and has said consistently, that status alone should not determine outcome. Orientation alone should not determine outcome. And under this policy, if a person were to tell someone else: I'm a homosexual, but I am obeying all the rules of the UCMJ, that that person would not be subject to discipline or being thrown out of the -- unless there was evidence to the contrary.
And I think it's also important to understand that on the question of what may trigger an investigation, there is written into this language the idea that investigations of sexual misconduct, that the level of evidence required, the kind of spirit with which those investigations are approached, should be the same for allegations about misconduct by homosexuals as to allegations of misconduct by heterosexuals. This is something that is very important to a lot of people in the gay community.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And there will be equal enforcement of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.
Q: Is he going to start launching investigations into adulterous behavior and other such things by heterosexuals?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Equal enforcement.
Q: I don't understand why this isn't -- why this amounts to don't tell if you can, in fact, go around telling any kind of group that you're homosexual, but you will obey all the rules of the Military Code of Justice. Isn't that telling?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But if there is evidence -- if there additional evidence -- let's say, if you're just seen in a gay bar, that does not trigger anything. If the report comes back that you're holding hands or dancing or kissing in a gay bar, that would be evidence that would go beyond.
Q: But you said that you can tell your colleagues that you're gay, you could tell groups of people that you're gay, but if you say while you're saying that, but I'm not engaging in gay activities, that's okay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, no. That alone is not sufficient to bring expulsion from the military. But if there is evidence of any other kind of homosexual conduct or -- then that can trigger an investigation and lead to the person being taken out. But as you just said, there is a zone of privacy here that's been created --
Q: Yes, but if you can tell somebody, it's not a don't tell policy, as Ann said.
Q: You said don't tell, if you are discreet then --
Q: This will not meet Sam Nunn's test at all.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's don't tell -- if you are a practicing homosexual and tell somebody that, you -- and that is investigated and found to be true, you are out. If you tell somebody -- we're just trying to distinguish between status and conduct.
Q: Could you go on network television and say I'm gay but am involved in the service, I'm not going to engage in any unpermitted conduct, could you do that under this policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You could, but let's understand what you are -- if there is any -- if an individual does that, then there is any other report that comes in which is to the contrary about anything else that goes on, that will trigger an investigation, and that person could well be found -- and well be put out. Now, that person in an investigation can be asked -- be asked questions about homosexual conduct.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The burden of proof would be on the person who said that to prove that they do not have a propensity to engage in homosexual conduct.
Q: Under the policy, someone could go around, do every network morning show, tell their commander, tell everyone in their unit that they were gay by inclination, by status, but as long as there was no evidence, additional evidence of conduct, they could stay in? How many people can they tell and in what forum?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we do have to - - you have to be a little bit careful about this. I mean, I think that the norm would be don't tell. I mean, the standard is very, very high. I think what my colleague was trying to say is that a single report from somebody to a commander that this person said I was homosexual would not trigger an investigation. A series of reports very clearly might.
Q: Not an investigation, but removal, discharge, couldn't come even if you told --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Under this kind of thing you can create such things as rebuttable presumptions in which the burden may rest upon the individual. Look, what -- this policy is not going to -- is going to discourage active practicing homosexuals from being in the military. That is what the policy is. There is a balancing here.
Q: Wait, the wording of it will say don't tell.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q: But you will create the space for what you're talking about, the zone of privacy, by not prosecuting or investigating people if they don't tell too much or don't tell certain things. Is that what you're saying?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The notion here is not to have vigilante squads or witch hunts. If there is evidence that comes in that -- if evidence comes in, if details comes in, that can trigger an investigation. But the desire here is not to encourage an spirit of vigilantism.
Q: But Sam Nunn made it very clear today that that will not pass his muster, that he, in fact, is going to mark up next week this policy and change it to meet his specifications.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not certain that that's right. He set out five principles. He said if you demonstrated a propensity to engage in homosexual acts, then that would put unit cohesion at risk and that that would be something that would likely not to pass muster. I don't think that that is something that we disagree on. I mean, I think my colleague was edging towards a fairly narrow philosophical point of what it means to show propensity towards homosexual conduct.
Now, you know, again --
Q: You can argue about propensity, but propensity doesn't imply behavior. Propensity implies what your orientation is in another world, in another life. That's --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But that's point I'm trying to -- I think for all practical purposes, it would be unwise for someone in the military to say I am gay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Exactly. That's exactly right. That's --
Q: But you still haven't responded to the question of how you met Sam Nunn's test.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's exactly right. You enter a danger zone if people start on -- openly proclaiming your gayness, which -- I would argue you're then in a serious danger zone.
Q: Do you think you have Sam Nunn's support for your policy as you briefed it to him?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I have not spoken to Sam Nunn. I don't think my colleague has. I don't think the President has recently. I know that there's been a lot of discussion between him and the Pentagon and that our policy is in general accord with the principles that he's put out.
Q: Isn't this the President's policy? Haven't you given us right now the President's decision?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
Q: Why do you say no? I mean, if we write a story saying the President is going to -- don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think he said it was generally supportive. I think those were the terms. I think that's exactly the right phrase.
Q: What's going to be the big change. How can you -- you've already laid down all the guidelines and -- isn't this the policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We thought -- given all the stories that have been out we thought it would helpful to put out a, what we hoped would be a more authoritative understanding of what was -- from this podium -- about what was involved.
That's the reason for this background.
Q: describing the Pentagon's plan or are you describing the White House plan at this point?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're describing the policy as it's been presented by the Pentagon to the White House.
Q: What is it under that policy that would trigger disciplinary action -- being homosexual or violating the UCMJ? If there were to be disciplinary action. What is it that would trigger a disciplinary action, simply being homosexual --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Homosexual conduct.
Q: or violating these UCMJ?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I mean, I think that -- I don't know we can necessarily put that fine a point on it. I mean the policy generally tries to draw a line between status and conduct.
Q: Well, it gets back to Mark's question. If you tell people that you're homosexual, does it matter as long as you don't engage in homosexual conduct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you tell people then that is likely -- it's very likely it would be conduct.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Homosexual conduct is defined as including acts -- homosexual conduct is defined as including acts as well as statements. Including acts as well as statements for the purposes of this directive.
Q: I thought you said that, quote, "It would be unwise for someone in the military to declare his homosexuality."
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. In particular to declare a propensity in that direction.
Q: Now, how is that an advance over the present system?
Q: How do you declare propensity?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The advances right now you are asked or prevented from going in. You could be asked once you are in. Under the new policy you can't be asked and you won't have to answer.
Q: it would be unwise to declare your homosexuality.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is very likely that if you did that, you would trigger an investigation that could lead to your discharge.
Q: Well, how is that an advance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's an advance because right now investigations can be triggered under almost any circumstances with very little credible evidence. What this does is raise the bar on the kind of evidence it would take in order to --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's go back to one point about why this is an advance. Let's remember what the policy has been. People were asked on going in and there were active investigations. The military spent, between 1980 and 1990 some $500 million pursuing such investigations -- almost 17,000 people were ordered out of the military during that period of time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That will not happen under the new policy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is quite different.
Q: And as you described it, have the Joint Chiefs signed off on --
Q: You went through the campaign, I covered it, you were there. Do you feel that this is the President -- if he accepts this policy as you've outlined it, is a fulfillment of his campaign pledge that he made to gay groups twice in California and a couple of times --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think it's an advance towards that pledge, absolutely. And I think it certainly is an advance compared to the alternative, which would be -- if he came forward with any other policy, I believe based on -- and I think this is a pretty general reading of where the Congress is -- that the Congress is prepared to return to the policy before President Clinton was President, which would be a significant retreat for homosexuals.
It's an important point. There would be a significant retreat for homosexuals in the military. And I think it is very clear that you do not -- you would not be fulfilling your campaign promise by simply declaring a policy that had no reasonable prospect at all of any kind of success. You will not serve the principles underlying the campaign that the President believes in if you put forward a policy that would be sacrificed within days. No, I don't think so.
Q: But that's the question here now. Are you saying that this President with a Democratic Congress could not win a veto override when George Bush won 40 of them or however many? He couldn't win a veto override --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think there are lots of veto overrides that the President could win. I think that on this policy that anybody -- I don't even know that we would get to that point necessarily. But, I mean, you all were here this year. You've seen the level of concern, the level of concern that this raised in the Congress. And I think that any reasonable reading of where the Congress is at this point would lead you to think that it would be almost impossible to sustain a complete lifting of the ban. And I think that's -- that's absolutely inarguable.
Q: What kind of climate does this establish for homosexuals in the military? Can someone -- how does this change the career path for someone who happens to be homosexual in the military?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you're openly a practicing homosexual, it will not change your career path. You will be out.
Q: question on -- what is the administration's position to treat uniformly heterosexuals and homosexuals the same under the Military Code of Conduct -- your position -- then how can you say that you would be uniformly treating the same by simple declaration of your sexuality.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Equal enforcement of the Code of Military Conduct.
Q: But what does conduct mean when you're talking about someone saying -- just simply declaring that the have homosexual tendencies, but if they're celibate or if they do not act out on any of their tendencies, then why should that be a violation of conduct? That's simply status. That's simply stating their status -- that is not a violation of conduct.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, there -- could be statements if the statements demonstrate --
Q: A simple declaration that you're a homosexual --
Q: Let him answer the question.
Q: Or a heterosexual.
Q: Your bunkmate.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's nothing under the UCMJ that a declaration of heterosexuality is against the rules. That's not in the UCMJ.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not in the UCMJ -- nor is homosexuality is in the UCMJ either.
Q: declaration that you're gay --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is a question that there is certain sexual misconduct defined by the UCMJ --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And that will be enforced equally.
Q: But if you simply declare your sexuality how can that be considered --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We didn't say that it was --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's get back to this. We want to make sure. This question of status versus conduct --let's not overread this. It is a fairly narrow exception, I think, most of us would understand and it goes to more of the philosophical question if someone is completely celibate and obeying the rules of the military and wants to come in and serve his country or her country, on that basis, all this rule is saying that that individual, and let's understand that that would be a rare case, is not going to be expelled from the military.
Now, if someone comes in and tries to flaunt this and try to push this, the edges, I think, that is going to trigger all sorts of things -- understand that.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There will not be investigations to determine sexual orientation.
Q: So the zone of privacy opened by don't tell is that I can say to a bunkmate, I am homosexual but I have not and do not engage in homosexual acts, that will not trigger an investigation? That is what you're saying?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In that very narrow zone. But if that person, if there's any action by that person which led the bunkmate to believe that that was not --
Q: Are you suggesting that this is the President's policy or that this is the Pentagon's policy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is the Pentagon's policy. All we're talking about here is the Pentagon's policy.
Q: But you're defending it --
Q: Finish your sentence -- you can tell your bunkmate --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But if that person then gave any suggestion or intimation that went beyond that --
Q: The UCMJ prevents sodomy. Are commanders going to trigger investigations of reports of heterosexual sodomy?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think one of the things we said was we're looking for a common sense standard of investigations of all kinds.
Q: If you're not -- if you're going to have it equal for heterosexuals --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If there is credible evidence then there may be an investigation of sodomy by a heterosexual.
Q: The Pentagon is accepting this --
Q: I know, but I'm trying to work the conversation back to the back of the room.
Does the policy say anything about homosexuality or homosexual conduct being incompatible with military service? What does it say about that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We really can't address the specifics of the policy. It deals with that.
Q: That's not resolve yet at this point, the wording of that phrase?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We just can't talk about the resolution. I really want to get back to Tom's point because I think that we have to be very clear here. (Laughter.)
I think that if, again, you could not put it in terms of it would allow or sanction telling our bunkmate.
Q: It would implicitly.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you were to tell your bunkmate and that bunkmate told two people and then he may have told somebody else and those are reported to your commander and he initiates an investigation and finds that it's credible, then you can be discharged.
Q: Credible that you confided in your bunkmate.
Q: Credible what?
Q: Finds it credible that you told your bunkmate or credible that you engaged in some things?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you say you're homosexual, that is -- the burden of proof would be on you to show that you saying you are homosexual does not imply -- well, let me finish the sentence -- does not imply that you would be committing homosexual acts. That is a very high bar for somebody.
Q: Why, all you have to do is say no.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: But then, again, a single report to a commander would not necessarily start the investigation.
Q: Two reports would.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Two reports could.
Q: So in other words, you could tell your bunkmate, but you can't tell your bunkmate -- your best friend?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's not -- I don't think -- I don't think that you can fairly say that this policy would say it is okay to tell your bunkmate.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that's right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It would not say that it's okay to tell your bunkmate.
Q: The JCS has signed off on this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me clear this up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let's come back to this. Let's get this right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I really want to get this point right.
Q: For 20 Saturdays in a row your bunkmate says, I went out to the canteen and I had a nice date with a girl. And finally on the 21st night when you say nothing, you say, well, I haven't because I'm gay, and that's all you say. I mean, is that something --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's possible that nothing would happen if you said that. But that is not the same as saying that it's allowed.
Q: But you'd be ill-advised to say it under the policy.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. Exactly. I really want to focus on this. It's very, very important and I want to make sure we get this exactly right. The policy is not saying that you can tell your bunkmate that you are gay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The policy is not saying that it is okay to make statements. What this policy is doing is allowing, though, an individual to quietly live a life. And you will not necessarily have investigations. You will not as easily have investigations as you do today. In order to trigger an investigation into homosexual conduct, a commander will have to have credible evidence that an individual is engaging in homosexual conduct. Please let me finish.
Credible evidence of engaging in homosexual conduct is more than someone, a bunkmate, telling a commander, this person is gay. It is more than a bunkmate saying, I think this person is gay. It is more than a person saying, my bunkmate told me he is gay. It is a range of evidence that a commander would have to take into account and would have to then weigh against how many investigative resources he has, what the unit is like, how disruptive it would be before they made a decision to investigate.
What we're trying to do is before an investigation into homosexual conduct which may lead to discharge is triggered, make sure the people stop and pause and think and respect the privacy of people and make sure that they have credible information. But it is not saying it is okay to do these things.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's exactly right. It is not a permissive policy in that sense. I think this conversation has pushed in the direction of saying this is a permissive policy, which it is not. But I guess I want to make sure, do you all understand that now?
Q: You seemed to say exactly the opposite earlier. That's all I want to make --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. It was --
Q: you could go to a church. You saying you could go to a gay bar. You could be in a gay parade --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If you were seen -- a person who goes -- let's understand something. A person who goes to a gay bar, a person who marches in a parade is not per se gay. This policy understands that. People may march in gay parades who are heterosexual and are totally practicing heterosexuals, but believe very strongly in gay rights.
Q: But if a person asked you, I'm gay and I want to serve in the military, do you think I'm well advised to go to a gay bar or march in a gay parade, your answer would be no?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Absolutely right. Absolutely right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, those examples are just a way of pointing out what wouldn't create an investigation. It's not saying go out and go to a gay bar or go to a gay church, go in a gay playground. It's saying --
Q: Don't tell means don't tell.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Don't tell means don't tell. I'm sorry if I misled you on that point. It was more of a philosophical point, and I'm sorry if I misled you. It was helpful to have my colleague here.
Q: Isn't this policy, in effect, telling any practicing gay, you would be well-advised to stay out of the military?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What this says that --
Q: Or give up your sex life.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right. It is not the best -- it will not necessarily be a place where you could fulfill -- could lead a -- could fulfill a life you would necessarily want to live --
Q: What about their feeling that they are patriots and they would like to serve the country in the military?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And I think that the President believes very deeply that homosexuals have served their country well in the military. That there have been homosexual individuals who have served their country well.
And he is trying to reconcile two very difficult issues and which is what he said since January. How do you keep to this principle of allowing homosexuals to be in the military -- allow homosexuals to be in the military and balance that against his responsibilities as Commander in Chief to have high military morale, high military cohesion, and an effective fighting force.
He is trying to come up with a policy that reconciles those two principles. And that's this works so closely with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He believes that they have worked hard to try and work with him on coming up with a policy that advances these goals as well.
Q: Isn't this sanctioned hypocrisy, really?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is not.
Q: It seems like what you are saying is, go ahead and break the Military Code, just be quiet about it and be secretive.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's not what he's saying. That's not what he's saying. You are not telling heterosexuals to go ahead and break the Military Code about sodomy. That's not what the Military Code says. What it says is the military is not going to operate vigilante squads to go out and check you out and go into places and go -- and have people hanging out in gay bars and report back to the commanding officer, or put 15 people out there and get -- and spy on people. That's what's different about this.
But that's a very very different approach. This is not -- this is not a go out and do it kind of policy. That's not what this is saying. Understand that. That's why a lot of gay organizations -- it's understood here that there are going to be people in gay organizations who are not going to like this, who think it's not permissive enough; and there are going to people over in the military side who are going to feel that it goes too far and -- on the don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue. You're going to have people on both ends of that.
But within that -- between those two sides, there is this broad middle in this opportunity to try to reconcile these two principles. And there's a lot of respect here for what the military has done, the Joint Chiefs have done in that regard.
Q: You both have said, or people in the administration have both said, that one of your major goals here was to try to produce a policy acceptable to Barney Frank and Congressman Studds as representative of a middle road in the gay community. Both of them have strongly opposed this today. Haven't you -- so where are you? Who have you pleased except the Joint Chiefs?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what this policy does is, or can do is make life better for homosexuals in the military.
Q: If they're willing to pretend they're not homosexuals.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, but let me finish more than six words. He has also -- I think that if you look at what Representatives Frank and Studds said, they also said that the President acted in good conscience, that the President did as well as he could; and the President has come forward, or could be coming forward with a policy that will lead to a better life for homosexuals in the military. That it will be a policy that is an advancement for homosexuals in the military. Again, what you have to weigh this against is the alternative. And the alternative here is turning back the clock to the days before President Clinton was President; turning back the clock to the days when there were witch hunts; turning back the clock to the days when 17,000 people in a decade at a cost of $500 million were thrown out of the military.
Q: Where does it fall if zero being the old policy and ten being a total blanket end to the ban, for instance?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think this is a reasonable compromise, which balances the President's commitment to his principles on opening up the military to homosexuals against his responsibilities as Commander in Chief to maintain military morale.
Q: How did you lose Barney on this? You had a compromise very very close. What happened?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I think that we are looking for a reasonable policy -- a policy that balances the goals the President had. I think that we worked with a lot of people to try and come up with the most reasonable policy. And we are continuing to do that. I, you know, each representative is going to have to make his or her own decision based on their own conscience and their own reading of the situation. And Barney made his decision. But we feel that the policy that, as outlined here, will lead to advances.
Q: You're saying this is a Pentagon policy. Is this the Joint Chiefs of Staff policy or is this the Aspin policy? And have you had any input in it? And last, where is the President in relation to this policy, in a little more detail than you've given us?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said at the beginning, we think the President is generally supportive. We still have some work to do on it through the weekend.
Q: Is this a trial balloon to see how it flies?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Remember the directive went from the President to the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense then conferred with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in drawing -- he conferred extensively. And most -- most of -- might be 95 percent of the work has been done over at the Pentagon on this policy, has been done by the Secretary conferring with the Joint Chiefs. He also followed the hearings that were conducted on Capitol Hill. He conferred elsewhere to make these recommendations to the President. This is a policy that's now been recommended by the Secretary of Defense to the President.
Q: How much input did you have into this if any?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Toward the very tail end of the process
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President had meetings Wednesday night and Thursday night. He met probably for about an hour and a half to two hours.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me make it very clear. The President has had very very little contact with this until the last two days. He had two meetings that were at the staff level. There were perhaps two additional meetings -- I shouldn't say that -- more meetings than two, and there were some telephone conversations. But the President's involvement has been quite limited. It was Wednesday night and Thursday night --
Q: Were these questions asked at those meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Full discussion.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There was a full discussion, yes.
Q: Has Aspin portrayed this as the most the President could expect to have and the military go along with?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you'd have to ask him.
Q: Are the Joint Chiefs generally supportive of the plan?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you should talk to Aspin and the military, but we've been working very closely with them.
Q: Are you contemplating or -- you said the President's still thinking about it -- are you contemplating making changes that might jeopardize their support or do they have -- or you would not do anything that would jeopardize that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, I can't read their minds. We're still working on the policy.
Q: You don't have to read their minds. You can just ask them.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right now the President's generally supportive and we have a little more work to do. And that's really all I can --
Q: You guys aren't completely sold on it, though. For the last 40 minutes you sound -- made it sound this is it, this is the best thing that could happen, this is going to work and this is it. What areas -- you said the Justice Department will sign off on it and say it's okay. What other work needs to be done on it? What refining -- is it refining, fine-tuning that you're talking about that needs to be done?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think reviewing and there's probably some small language changes. But, again, the President's generally supportive of what he is seeing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not heard yet back from the Justice Department. Every indication we have is the Justice Department will say as it has said all along that this is quite sustainable. And the President, I must tell you, the President is most appreciative of the work that not only the Secretary of Defense has done on this but the work that the Chiefs have done.
They've been most constructive in trying to put this policy together. They understand that just as -- and there's a recognition here that Representatives Frank and Studds have also been most constructive in working on this.
Understand that in both cases, there are people in some of the gay organizations who are clearly much more strongly opposed or have much more adamant feelings than Representative Franks has with this. In the same time there are a lot of folks in the military uniforms who find that don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue provides more latitude than they would like. They would like to go -- there are many people in military uniform that would like to go back to the preexisting condition. We understand that.
Q: Aren't you opening this up to a legal morass?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, we think not. That's one of the reasons.
Q: Couldn't there be endless dispute in unit after unit --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As you understand, the court traditions have been on this. The courts have recognized that the military -- they have -- is a unique organization, a unique institution. If you look at the rulings on this, they have approached it in that spirit. And we have every indication from the Justice Department that this will be sustainable in the court.
Q: But how about within the military, within the military court system at the unit level, won't there just endless disputes --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We would assume not. They are going to be -- have to iron this out over time. There are going to be these questions. We understand. Everybody understands. You can't write a code, you know, it would take you a thousand pages perhaps to describe every conceivable incident that might occur.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You're assuming an entire stance of noncooperation and non --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that one of the things we've been searching for is a policy that will work. And I think that what we've come up with is something that the military will work to make work.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's an extremely important point. I'm so glad my colleague made that because that really goes to the heart of this in terms of their attitude about this. If they can -- if the top people there can come up a policy they think can work, it will have a much, much better chance of working. That was part of what was --
Q: How do you guarantee the cooperation on the, so to speak, local level by these colonels that you don't have --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Remember the chain of command.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END5:47 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269090