Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:02 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Hi, guys. A quick announcement. At 2:30 p.m. there will be a briefing about the details of the President's legal defense fund. That will actually be across the street at Sullivan and Cromwell. The address is 1701 Pennsylvania Avenue. Special Counsel to the President Lloyd Cutler, as well as Michael Cardozo, who is the managing director of G. Williams and Co. Inc. and a former Deputy White House Counsel under President Carter, and finally Bernard Aidinoff of Sullivan and Cromwell, who will serve as counsels of the trust, will be there to walk you through it and answer questions.
Q: In half an hour?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's in half an hour, and I apologize. They had a tight schedule over there, so they couldn't really --
Q: For camera?
MS. MYERS: It is not for camera. It is not for camera.
Q: What's the address?
MS. MYERS: Pardon me? 1701 Pennsylvania.
Q: Is it for the record?
MS. MYERS: It's not for sound or camera, but it will be on the record.
Q: What is the deal?
MS. MYERS: I'll let them walk through the details, but, yes, they'll essentially announce that the President has, in fact, established a trust.
Q: Can't you give us something -- we're obviously not going to be able to go to that.
MS. MYERS: Why not?
Q: We're here.
MS. MYERS: We'll wrap this up quickly enough. I think that's important for many of the people who want to go.
Q: Some of us have other issues to pursue with you.
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q: Did the White House or the President rule out any sort of political or ethical conflicts involved with this legal defense fund?
MS. MYERS: I think that they worked through the details very carefully to establish it in a way that doesn't create any conflicts.
Q: Will it be a $1,000 max?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q: Is this something the President and Mrs. Clinton have agonized over? Was this an easy decision for them to make?
MS. MYERS: I think it's something -- I don't want to characterize their thought process too much, but it is something that they have worked on, it's something that they have discussed with counsel. And I think at the briefing there will be prepared details about how that process worked.
Q: But does anybody have the sense that this is the least bit embarrassing to have the President of the United States -- (laughter) -- serious -- this is a serious question -- to reach out his hand to ask for contributions for a legal defense fund?
MS. MYERS: I think it's a rather unprecedented circumstance. The President will be faced potentially with potentially large legal bills. And it's, I think, in the best interest of the country and the presidency to have those bills paid.
Q: Does this cover any and all legal bills?
MS. MYERS: Again, why don't we just let the details for the people who actually can walk you through the specifics.
Q: What about the staff's counsel?
MS. MYERS: I don't have any information on that.
Q: Dee Dee, have the President's advisors made a decision to reconsider Guantanamo? The Secretary of Defense said that Guantanamo is now an option as a processing center.
MS. MYERS: Well, there --
Q: The Deputy NSC advisor said a few weeks ago on one of the Sunday shows that that was not an option.
MS. MYERS: I think that there have certainly been recent reports -- well, there's been an increase recently in the number of Haitians taking to the seas. Certainly yesterday there were over 1,200 refugees interdicted at sea, and those are being processed on the two ships that are in Kingston Harbor. I think what we're doing now is looking at our options to make sure that we have the capacity to continue to process the refugees. There's a number of reasons, I think, for the increase, including and particularly the dire situation in Haiti and the repression there as a result of the de facto government and the military regime.
Q: Dee Dee, is Guantanamo now an option?
MS. MYERS: I don't think they've ruled anything out. Certainly a couple of weeks ago was not being considered. Now, I think given the increase in the number of refugees, we're considering options again, additional options; have no final decisions on it, but I think there are a number of things that are being discussed.
Q: Well, how could the administration not have anticipated it?
Q: That's a "yes," isn't it?
Q: Is Guantanamo one of those?
Q: How could the administration not have anticipated --
MS. MYERS: I won't rule it out.
Q: that there would be an increase in the flow of refugees, given your policy about sanctions?
MS. MYERS: I don't think anybody knew exactly how this would unfold. We have two ships now -- the USS Comfort, which as a capacity of about 1,000, slightly over 1,000; and another ship there, the Ivan Franco, which has a capacity of about 250. That will be replaced shortly with a ship with a capacity of about 500. We are continuing to process refugees as they come through. At the same time, given the increase in the number of refugees, we're looking at options to make sure that we continue to have the capacity, the facility on Grand Turk and the Turks and Caicos -- we'll be ready in early July, I think we're trying to move up the start date for that. In the interim, we are looking at other options.
Now, I think one of the things -- one of the points we're trying to make today is that the process -- the number of people who are being accepted through processing centers in Haiti has actually increased. And that remains the best, safest way for Haitian people to apply for refugee status, to go to one of the incountry processing centers. The acceptance rate between the at-sea processing and the in-country processing is roughly the same.
Q: So if you really want to get out of Haiti you might as well go to sea; your chances of being picked up for processing are just as good as they are on land.
MS. MYERS: And that's exactly the reason that people shouldn't take to the sea in unsafe boats, when their chances for being processed and accepted at home are equally good.
Q: Has that caused the administration now to insist to President Aristide that it use the radio broadcast from the military planes to urge Haitians to stay at home?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether that topic has been reopened today or not. I just don't have an answer to that.
Q: Do you allow Aristide to have a veto over what the United States does in terms of communications?
MS. MYERS: Of course not.
Q: Well, he apparently has been able to stop these broadcasts.
MS. MYERS: Well, the broadcasts have not yet begun. We're discussing exactly what the content of those will be.
Q: Not started, but does he have any --
MS. MYERS: Of course not. He does not have a veto.
Q: Dee Dee, the President was careful to blame increased repression on the part of Haiti's military government for this increase in refugees. Is it conceivable that the refugee flow could increase enough to begin to affect the military option the President has not ruled out?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll have to watch that. But certainly there has been a continuing increase in repression in Haiti. As the President said, there may also be some anxiety about the increased sanctions. I think good weather has played a factor in the last couple of days. And finally, I think there has been some misinformation that people's chances of being accepted at sea were better than their chances of being accepted in-country; that's just not true.
Q: If I could follow that -- is the President signaling the military government to watch itself carefully by commenting on the increased repression there?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think our message to them continues to be strong. I mean, we are concerned about the repression there as we have been. We're continuing to provide food aid to about 1.2 million people a day, and we're doing what we can on the ground. But our message has been consistent and clear: the military leaders must go.
Q: Dee Dee, aren't you inviting renewed court challenges by reopening this Guantanamo option; that once the Haitian refugees are on U.S. soil at Guantanamo, the courts might rule that they have a greater chance of staying in the United States?
MS. MYERS: All I have said is that we're reviewing a number of options. In order to make sure that our policy remains effective and that we are able to handle and process the migrants that we pick up at sea.
Q: Is there an NSC or a principals meeting today?
MS. MYERS: There was a meeting earlier today. Nothing to report out of that, and in think there will be continuing conversations later today.
Q: With Clinton?
MS. MYERS: No, the President did not participate this morning, and is not expected to participate.
Q: What do you mean by continuing conversations? A deputies meeting or --
MS. MYERS: I think either is possible. I wouldn't rule out another principals meeting today.
Q: Anything with the President?
MS. MYERS: He's not scheduled to participate, no.
Q: I'm sorry. Did you say was there a principals meeting?
MS. MYERS: There was one this morning, and there may be another one this afternoon.
Q: Was Gergen there?
MS. MYERS: I believe he was, but I didn't see him. I was just told he was there, and I haven't asked him.
Q: Dee Dee, if I could ask a Chicago question. Mayor Daley of Chicago had a press conference today and was asked about empowerment zones, and he went into a number of subjects. And he said -- if I can quote and get your comment on it. He said the President's putting too much time on health care, that health care is hurting small business and might cost jobs in Illinois. And on the crime bill, he said, where did they send that crime bill anyway, to North Korea. (Laughter.) Has the President been appraised of these remarks?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether the President has been appraised of these remarks. He certainly spoke with the mayor about ten days ago when he was in Chicago. The mayor is certainly entitled to his opinion. But on the question of empowerment zones, the -- HUD and the empowerment zone operation is now processing applications, and that is moving forward exactly as scheduled and doing a terrific job. And the President is spending a great deal of time on health care, but he's also pursuing a number of other important legislative and substantive matters of concern to Chicagoans.
Q: Back to the legal defense fund -- what is the fundraising goal?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You'll have to ask -- I don't know that they have one.
Q: How much did they spend out of pocket so far?
MS. MYERS: They're not making that public.
Q: How many lawyers does the President have?
MS. MYERS: Outside of the White House Counsel, he has two that he's retained. And then there is a Board of Governors which will -- of trustees, actually, which includes some people who are lawyers, but they're not personally retained by the President.
Q: Will they be paid will they be doing this --
MS. MYERS: I don't believe they'll be paid, but, again, they're in a better position to answer that.
Q: Do you have a contribution limit?
MS. MYERS: One thousand.
Q: Dee Dee, could you tell us about the circumstances under which Gore and Panetta went up to Camp David on Saturday, and what did you know about it yesterday when you said there had been no guests other than family up there?
MS. MYERS: I did not know about it. I do not know the specific circumstances other than that they went up there to speak with the President about staff changes.
Q: Dee Dee, were you -- will one of the issues you might address with the new Chief of Staff be questions of whether they are putting you in that kind of situation again?
MS. MYERS: It's an ongoing conversation. I think what I said is "not to my knowledge" about guests to Camp David. And I apologize for any --
Q: That really wasn't in the nature of -- I wasn't trying to confront you about that. I was really just trying to ask if that's something you're trying to work on.
MS. MYERS: I think it's an -- in all seriousness, I think it's an ongoing conversation and I know something that concerns people from time to time. I think the information about the staff changes was very closely held yesterday. And I guess that's all I have to say about it.
Q: You don't take that to mean, do you, that they don't feel that you can be trusted with information?
MS. MYERS: I don't, actually. No staff were told outside those affected by the changes before yesterday.
Q: There is some history in past administrations of people in your position not being let in on things and, therefore, saying things that were inadvertently misleading and looking bad because of it. And I just wondered if that's -- how prominently you now plan to address this issue, and, if so, any differently than you may have addressed it in the past, given the new Chief of Staff.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's a serious issue. I'm not sure that I feel in this particular circumstance that guests at Camp David, which was asked sort of as a social question, falls under the category. I think it's a valid question. I think it's one that I continually address and work to improve. I do think it's a real issue.
Q: Dee Dee, with the change in Chiefs of Staff, is there any indication that the President himself is going to change his own management style, his own involvement in everything as he's been criticized? For example, Mack McLarty and just about everybody else who has had direct access to the President will continue to have direct access. So what will change in management style?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think you have a different Chief of Staff with a different style. And I think we need to give Leon Panetta time to come in, to make changes that he thinks are necessary and to begin working. I think Leon's already started focusing on health care and other legislative issues. He met last night with Senator Moynihan; he spent time meeting with staff on health care this morning; will speak to members of Congress -- I think he's testifying later today on other budget-related issues. So I think he'll get right into the substance. I think that he will manage this White House with the effectiveness that he managed the 500-staff OMB. And I think the President supports him 100 percent and will work with him to implement his different management style.
Q: Are the funds raised in this legal defense effort restricted to the Clintons, or can the money be used for other people who have had to hire lawyers?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I just have to let the people who are actually going to manage the trust answer those questions. I just don't know.
Q: sent the President a letter from National -- offering him free time on TV to answer his critics and so forth. Does he plan to accept that offer?
MS. MYERS: I haven't seen the offer. I'm sure we'll take a look at it.
Q: Dee Dee, since your name was mentioned -- prominently of Panetta on several occasions now, have you asked for or received assurances that your job is not in jeopardy?
MS. MYERS: I feel a little awkward talking about myself. Do you guys want to hear my opinion about me? But I have talked to Mr. Panetta about that. I think he misunderstood the question and did not at all mean to imply anything about it one way or another.
Q: Meaning you may be secure, you may not?
MS. MYERS: Meaning that he didn't mean to create the impression that he obviously created with many of you in the press corps.
Q: Well, is the opposite impression true as far as you know?
MS. MYERS: He told me that he has great confidence in me and did not mean to create any other impression.
Q: Awkward pause, change of subject. (Laughter.) What's the status of the independent counsel --
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether we've received it. Obviously, the President will sign it once he receives it. I'll double-check that. We can post the answer to that one.
Q: Are you going to do it in some sort of open ceremony or --
MS. MYERS: I don't think so.
Q: you raised about the closeness which this secret is held, let me just ask you, when was it -- how was it made known to other members? Did you know about it, for instance, when you briefed yesterday afternoon that that announcement was going to come at 3:00 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: The decision had not been made at that point to make an announcement at 3:00 p.m., although it was becoming clear it would happen sometime --
Q: How was the staff told before that announcement was made? What happened?
MS. MYERS: Senior staff was called together at 2:45 p.m. The President, Mr. Panetta and Mr. McLarty told them about the impending staff changes. The President, I think, talked about his support for both, and Mack and Leon both had a chance to say a few words.
Q: When was Gergen informed?
MS. MYERS: Gergen knew over the weekend, since he was affected by the change.
Q: And did the President feel that he was wiping out his African conference?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that that was an intention. But I think the President made a decision and felt it was important to go ahead and announce it before word leaked.
Q: He knows that he really did.
MS. MYERS: That was not his intention.
Q: I know it wasn't his intention --
Q: Word had already leaked. The AP had it --
MS. MYERS: Not until 2:25 p.m.
Q: But you said there was a meeting --
Q: you were not notified until 2:45 p.m.
MS. MYERS: No, I was notified before 2:45 p.m.
Q: Senior staff, 2:45 p.m you said.
MS. MYERS: That's not when I was notified, that's when the senior staff -- you asked -- someone asked, was there a meeting where senior staff was notified.
Q: When were you notified?
MS. MYERS: Earlier in the day.
Q: But after your briefing? That was the specific question I asked to start with.
MS. MYERS: Right. I just don't want to get into that.
MS. MYERS: It's complicated.
Q: Okay. But I thought you already answered it, Dee Dee.
Q: Yes, I thought you'd answered it before.
MS. MYERS: The decision had not been made before my briefing to make an announcement that afternoon, that is correct.
Q: But you did not say that you did not know before your briefing.
MS. MYERS: That's also correct. (Laughter.)
Q: 100 percent correct --
Q: So you knew of the decision but not of the announcement?
MS. MYERS: I knew of the decision. I knew, but I didn't know all the details of the decision. I don't know how to answer it -- you know.
Q: Let me change the subject then.
MS. MYERS: Oh, don't. (Laughter.)
Q: In discussions Panetta has had with the staff has he suggested a time frame on the length of his looking at -- he sort of said a couple weeks --
MS. MYERS: He hasn't. I think that the transition will take -- I think he'd like to have -- to be fully installed as Chief of Staff by Monday, the 11th of July. I think he will continue to talk to staff during this transition period and perhaps beyond in assessing the status of things here and trying to make sure that people are in roles where they are at their highest use. I don't think he wants to put a time frame on it or suggest that he'll have any grand plan to announce. I think at this point --
Q: Is he going to get any outside opinion?
MS. MYERS: I think that's up to him. I don't know that he's made that decision.
Q: What ever happened to that --
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q: Dee Dee, he's not going to G-7, is he?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. I think -- I'm not sure that that decision is entirely made, but I think his thinking at this point is that he'd rather stay here and work through the transition.
Q: What is Bruce Lindsey doing now? (Laughter.)
Q: Dee Dee, has the staff been told today of any specifics of the way he would like to have things done differently, or the way he will operate differently?
MS. MYERS: Of who, of Panetta? Not yet. I think what he's told the staff is that he expects to take a look at how things work. He wants to talk with each member of the staff individually to hear their ideas about what's working, what's not working, ideas for improvement. And I think over the course of the next couple of weeks he'll make whatever changes he feels are necessary.
Q: Reaction to North Korea and South Korea having a summit later in July?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, that's good news. We always believed that that -- we always encouraged a dialogue between North and South Korea as a step toward ultimate reconciliation and reunification. This is something that we always said they had to work out among themselves, but they appear to have done that.
Q: Did Panetta ask -- did the President give him the right to control access to the Oval Office, whether it be staff people or memos? Do people have to go through Panetta rather --
MS. MYERS: I think those kinds of details will be worked out between the President and Mr. Panetta. I think they've had a few conversations; I expect that they will have many more over the course of the next few weeks. And I certainly don't want to speak for Mr. Panetta at this point about decisions I don't think he's had a chance to think about.
Q: Dee Dee, was the First Lady involved in the discussions at Camp David with Gore and the President and Panetta over the weekend?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that. I'll take it.
Q: Well, is it imaginable to you that she would not have been?
MS. MYERS: Sure. Sure. But she may have been, I just don't know the answer.
Q: You must have a pretty good imagination.
MS. MYERS: I don't think so.
Q: Panetta is making much of the fact that the President gave him full confidence and trust in allowing him to run the White House. And the question is whether the President himself has decided to change little bit of his own management style. In appointing greater authority to Leon, is the President, in effect, stepping back from involving himself in a lot of detail and concentrating more on the big picture? Does the President expect --
MS. MYERS: I think the President and Mr. Panetta will talk through a number of issues as Mr. Panetta makes whatever changes he feels are necessary and works out the details of his relationship with the President in his new capacity. Again, we just announced this less than 24 hours ago, and I don't think all those details have been worked out.
Q: Has the President in any way communicated to senior staff a desire on the part of the President to change a bit of his management style?
MS. MYERS: I think he's communicated a great deal of confidence in Mr. Panetta and his willingness to work with Mr. Panetta as they make whatever changes Mr. Panetta feels necessary are made.
Q: Could we get a still photo of Panetta up at Camp David at some point over the weekend?
MS. MYERS: I doubt it.
Q: We'd love to have one of those.
MS. MYERS: I don't think so.
Q: Can he sign it, to Wolf? (Laughter.)
Q: And when you do that, can we have that picture from Air Force One on Friday -- the one that we had asked for Friday?
MS. MYERS: Which one was that?
Q: The one where he was screaming --
Q: With KMOX.
MS. MYERS: We'll make sure we get both of those out at the same time. (Laughter.)
Q: Does the Chief of Staff's jurisdiction extend to the First Lady's operation?
MS. MYERS: Well, the First Lady has her own staff who report to her. The Chief of Staff has jurisdiction over all White House operations, certainly, with regard to substantive issues such as health care. She will always, of course, have staff that reports directly to her.
Q: In other words, no.
MS. MYERS: Well, her staff reports to her. The Chief of Staff has managerial responsibility for all of the issues that the White House is working on.
Q: Sometimes there may be conflicting interests where you really have to coordinate and so forth --
MS. MYERS: Never in this White House. As do many principals, she has a staff that reports directly to her. And of course, that will continue. Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269594