Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
9:47 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Okay, today's schedule. As you know, the President jogged this morning with Senator Wofford.
At 1:15 p.m., he will have a photo opportunity in the Rose Garden to present the Teacher of the Year Award. At 1:30 p.m., he will meet with his principal advisors on Bosnia. And at 5:00 p.m., he'll meet with President Vaclav Havel. There will be a photo op at the top of that meeting; no formal press conference afterwards.
Q: Is he moving towards some major decision this week on Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: As we've said, he's continuing to discuss his options. He's been talking extensively with his foreign policy advisors, his Bosnia advisors, as well as with other world leaders. He'll try to contact President Mitterrand again today, and he'll continue to discuss it. We don't have any specific timetable, but obviously the situation there is very serious.
Q: Has he called Janet Reno today or yesterday?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe he's spoken to her today.
Q: Why does he have nothing to say about this publicly except on the piece of paper that was put out last night at 6:40 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: He did. He answered a question about it yesterday.
Q: Before anything had happened.
MS. MYERS: Before anything happened. He put out --
Q: Since something has happened he's had nothing to say.
MS. MYERS: He's put out a statement on it last night. And we'll have more to say about it later today.
Q: In what forum is that going to be?
MS. MYERS: It will be at the photo in the Rose Garden.
Q: He will talk about Waco at that?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he'll have something to say.
Q: Is that something we can take live?
MS. MYERS: I think it will be brief. We can talk a little later about the exact structure as we work it out. But I don't know if it's something you'd want to take live.
Q: Will he take questions on Waco at that time as well?
MS. MYERS: He'll probably take a few.
Q: Is there any reason why he hasn't talked to the Attorney General?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to double-check. I don't know that he hasn't talked to her this morning.
Q: And she didn't come here this morning to see him or anyone else?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: And he didn't talk yesterday?
Q: What's the reaction to her resignation statement that she made last night?
MS. MYERS: She was asked a question about it, and she answered the question. The President has absolutely no intention of asking for the Attorney General's resignation. He stands behind her 100 percent. As you know, he was informed about the decision. He takes full responsibility for that, and stands 100 percent behind Attorney General Reno.
Q: The question now arises -- yesterday we were told that he was briefed on this, but we never got a firm idea of how much he knew of what the plan was and the justification for the plan and the justification of the timing. Was he fully informed on all of that, all of this about the increasing levels of violence inside the compound that made them want to go now, the feeling that nothing else was going to succeed, et cetera?
MS. MYERS: He talked with the Attorney General about the decision, about -- she talked to him about the factors that led to her decision. He raised no objections. He supports her decision to go forward with it. He was fully briefed.
Q: Of course, hindsight is 20-20, but looking back now, does the President, does the White House feel that the decision he signed off on proved to be the right way to go when you look at what actually happened?
MS. MYERS: I think everybody feels bad when life is lost. But I don't think that that is reason to second-guess the decision. He stands behind the decision that was made. He was informed about it. He was fully briefed about it and he stands 100 percent behind the Attorney General, the Justice Department and the FBI. It's a difficult operation and there's -- it had already gone on for more than seven weeks. Four federal agents had lost their lives in the line of duty -- let's not forget that.
This was a very difficult situation and all the decisions involved were very difficult. But all the agents on the ground, the FBI, the Justice Department all recommended moving forward with this. They thought, given the circumstances, it was the best possible course of action. There's just no point in secondguessing those decisions. Now, I think that there's a reason --
Q: Why not? They have to --
MS. MYERS: No, not to second-guess the decisions. I think it's important to take a look at it, to have an investigation. I think the President will talk some about that later today. But at this -- from this vantage point, to second-guess those decisions, it's not useful.
Q: You sound like he's going to order an investigation of what happened and whether --
MS. MYERS: I think he'll have more to say about that later, yes.
Q: He will order an investigation?
MS. MYERS: He'll have more -- yes -- he'll have more to say about an investigation.
Q: What kind of investigation?
MS. MYERS: He'll have more to say about it later.
Q: But in the Monday morning quarterbacking, surely there is some soul-searching now as to whether it was the right decision. You can't say that we did the best we could when it turned out to be a rather -- a debacle.
MS. MYERS: I think we'll -- obviously, we'll review the situation and all the factors that lead to a very tragic outcome. I don't think anybody disputes that the outcome was tragic. But, again, the President stands behind the decisions that were made and we'll take a look at the factors that contributed to that.
Q: What was the FBI Director's role in this?
MS. MYERS: Well, he was obviously involved in setting up the operation. He signed off on it, as did the agents that were on the ground that were working with him. I don't believe he spoke to the President, but I'll double-check that.
Q: But he was very closely involved in every aspect of planning and so forth?
MS. MYERS: I would refer you to the FBI on exactly what aspects he was involved with.
Q: Will Janet Reno be coming over to the White House today?
MS. MYERS: There's no planned meeting. I don't believe that she'll be here.
Q: She won't be at this event at 1:15 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: No, no plans to be.
Q: Do you think that there's going to be a jumping on on the part of political opposition to make something out of this in terms of -- to the President's detriment politically?
MS. MYERS: Well, I would certainly hope that people wouldn't try to use this tragedy for political reasons. Obviously, I think, again, that it's useful to look at the facts, to reevaluate the facts, and I think the President will move forward with that. But I think people understand that this was a difficult series of decisions; that it was a very difficult situation; that it was caused by a man who was a cult leader who was involved in the death of four federal agents. And I think it's most tragic that a lot of innocent
children lost their lives in this. I don't think anybody disputes the tragedy of the outcome.
Q: Dee Dee, what was the White House role in handling the, I guess, public relations aspect in the aftermath? Who was talking -- who here at the White House was talking with people at Justice to set up Reno's news conference, to do all that sort of thing?
MS. MYERS: I think the Attorney General handled her end of the situation herself and made the decision to go ahead with the news conference once there was a point at which there was enough information, I think, to talk with some accuracy about what had transpired during the day. Obviously, people here at a number of levels were keeping in touch with people at the Justice Department and at the FBI to try to keep informed about what was happening there.
Q: But Reno said that she didn't talk to the President, and there seemed to be an indication she hadn't talked to anybody at the White House. So who --
MS. MYERS: There were people talking on a staff-tostaff level.
Q: I understand. But who at the Justice Department was handling that for Reno? Who was talking to the White House?
MS. MYERS: There were a number of people. As you know, Webb Hubbell is the liaison to the White House, and I know he talked to a number of people here. There were a number of people at a number of different levels involved. I don't want to get into exactly who had what conversations with whom, but there were a number of conversations. Obviously, the Justice Department was working to keep the White House informed, the press informed to the best of its ability as events unfolded throughout the day.
Q: Did Webb Hubbell talk to the President?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so. I don't know if he talked -- he may have at one point.
Q: And was the White House role just to seek information about what happened, or was it to direct the public information campaign that followed?
MS. MYERS: It was both to keep abreast of the situation so the President could be on top of it, but I think the Justice Department managed its press relations on it. We were obviously very interested in what was happening there throughout the day, and the President was following it very closely throughout the day.
Q: Dee Dee, on that, though, if the President was following it so closely and he had talked the night before with Janet Reno, why wouldn't he talk to her at all since then?
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't know if he's talked to her this morning. Again, he's kept fully aware of what has been going on throughout the day. He stands 100 percent behind her decisions. He's been fully supportive of her, as he said yesterday morning before events transpired and yesterday afternoon in a written statement.
Q: But wouldn't he want to convey those thoughts to her personally yesterday?
MS. MYERS: One more time, I don't know if they've spoken this morning.
Q: No, yesterday.
Q: Clearly there's a perception that she was left hung out to dry all day yesterday.
MS. MYERS: That's just not true. I think we said throughout the day that the President takes full responsibility, that he stands -- I don't know how much clearer we can be. The President stands foursquare behind the Attorney General on this. He accepts full responsibility for the events that transpired. He believes that Janet Reno, the Justice Department, and the FBI acted as best they could, given the circumstances and the facts that were evident at the time. I don't know what else he can say to show that he supports her 1,000 percent.
Q: One of the best indications of that is to pick up the phone and tell her.
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't know whether they've spoken this morning.
Q: Why can't we find out?
MS. MYERS: Well, we can. I can't do it standing here right now.
Q: You've got six people here. All they've got to do is pick up the phone.
MS. MYERS: Helen, we'll get back to you.
Q: Dee Dee, when the President spoke with the Attorney General on Sunday, is it safe to assume that either she volunteered or he inquired about whether there was a possible downside to increasing pressure on the Davidians?
MS. MYERS: I think that they discussed the situation. Again, I'm not going to get into the specific details of what exactly she told him, but I think that he was aware of the risks involved.
Q: Dee Dee, the President yesterday morning said it was entirely her decision. She then said that she told him what was happening and he said, okay. Does the President regard it that he gave the go-ahead or that she gave the go-ahead?
MS. MYERS: I think what they both said yesterday was that she made a decision based on all the available facts. She informed him about that and he raised no objections. Again, I don't know how much clearer we can be about that.
Q: And he said, okay. The issue is over the responsibility.
MS. MYERS: He said, okay.
Q: Does okay mean --
MS. MYERS: The President accepts ultimate responsibility.
Q: Dee Dee, the President's investigation that he's going to announce -- would that be conducted by someone outside the administration?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: It would be internal -- is it meant to preclude any congressional investigation?
MS. MYERS: No, it's meant simply to follow up on the incidents that occurred yesterday.
Q: And you would, I assume, therefore, cooperate fully with any congressional hearings that would be held?
MS. MYERS: To the best of our ability.
Q: Dee Dee, there are two reports out this morning. One that the Justice Department, or FBI, or whomever, apparently had a bug planted inside the complex. And the other is that the children may have been injected with some kind of poison that may have either left them unconscious or maybe even killed them before the fire. What do you know about those two --
MS. MYERS: Nothing more than I've seen in news accounts this morning. We may get more on it later, but at this point, I know -- I'm not sure anybody knows any more than what was reported by people who came out of the compound.
Q: Has the President received any report today in terms of fatalities and actually what was going on -- what they've been able to find out on in the compound now?
MS. MYERS: He's been briefed. I don't think that they've gotten into the compound yet. They were still waiting for it to cool off. I don't think there's much beyond what's been reported in the news accounts. But he has been kept up-to-date on it.
Q: Dee Dee, the President stands behind Attorney General Reno, but does he feel that she perhaps got bad advice from the so-called experts?
MS. MYERS: He believes that she made -- he stands behind the decision that she made. It was the unanimous decision of her advisors, of the FBI, of the agents on the ground, and he supports that.
Q: What about the validity of the decisions made on the ground? Does he back those --
MS. MYERS: He's not going to second-guess decisions made.
Q: Dee Dee, you just said, he stands behind the decision which she made. Normally, in a situation like this, the President says, I made the decision. But you're saying she made the decision?
MS. MYERS: I'm saying that the President was briefed about the decision. He okayed it and he accepts full responsibility for it.
Q: But then why do you keep using the terminology, the decision that she made, rather than the decision that he made --
MS. MYERS: Because, as he said yesterday, she evaluated the facts based on evidence presented to her by Justice Department and FBI, which is part of the Justice Department, and made a decision and then briefed the President on that decision. That is how the chain of command works. She briefed him. He signed off on it. The operation went forward, and the President accepts full responsibility.
Q: In that chain of command analogy there, I want to go back to Sessions a moment. Do you know if this was a plan that came through him to Reno, or was it presented to her around him or with his involvement? What was his involvement?
MS. MYERS: Again, you'd have to go to the Justice Department for the specific interaction between the Attorney General and the Director.
Q: Does the President stand behind Director Sessions?
MS. MYERS: He supports -- again, I don't know how many different ways I can say this -- he supports the decisions made by the Justice Department and the FBI. He fully supports the Attorney General in this. I'm not stepping away from the Director of the FBI, I want to -- but Janet Reno is the one who briefed him, the one who made the decisions as the head of the Justice Department. As you know, the Director of the FBI reports to the Attorney General. The Attorney General made the decision. She informed the President about those decisions. He okayed it. He didn't raise any objections to it, and he accepts full responsibility.
Q: Do you have, based on what you know here at the White House, any concerns about William Sessions' performance during this --
MS. MYERS: Nothing to suggest that, no.
Q: Along those same lines, just in your initial review of the situation, how much do you think the problems might have come from not having a Justice Department that's fully staffed and having an FBI Director who is still quite uncertain about his status?
MS. MYERS: I just don't think that had anything to do with it. I think the agents on the ground -- the operation went forward. I'm not going to speculate on that.
Q: Did the White House express any alarm that Janet Reno chose to speak to the live network media before she chose to speak to Clinton?
MS. MYERS: No. She was carrying forward her responsibility to inform the public about the events of yesterday. I think she did a very admirable job. The President agrees with that.
Q: Before Sunday, how often was the President briefed on the situation in Waco?
MS. MYERS: He was kept updated on a regular basis, on a daily basis.
Q: Who briefed the President?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not going to get into exactly who, what conversations he had with whom, but he was kept up-to-date on the events in Waco. He has daily briefings on a number of issues.
Q: No, no, was this a regular briefing conducted by a White House staff person, or was it by a Justice Department person?
MS. MYERS: He's briefed regularly by a White House staff on a number of issues. Again, I'm not going to get into exactly who briefs him on what subjects.
Q: Another subject?
Q: On another subject.
Q: Now we're going to do gays in the military. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I welcome it.
Q: How close are you to signing the biodiversity treaty?
MS. MYERS: As you know, the President's giving a speech on Earth Day tomorrow. We'll have more to say about it then.
Q: Any details on where or when that speech is yet?
MS. MYERS: It's at 11:30 a.m. and I don't know where yet.
Q: Dee Dee, is this a major policy address? How would you characterize the speech tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I would characterize it as a Earth Day speech. I wouldn't look for any major departures from his past positions on these things. But, again, I don't want to get too much into what he's going to talk about tomorrow.
Q: On or off campus?
Q: Is this at a location outside the White House?
MS. MYERS: It will be somewhere in Washington. We don't know exactly where yet.
Q: Dee Dee, what foreign leaders has the President talked to since Friday on the situation in Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: Only Prime Minister Major. And again, he'll try to reach President Mitterrand again this morning.
Q: David Owen said yesterday and Joe Biden said today -- both of them agree that the peace process is not going to work, that the Serbs are not going to sign on. Does the administration still believe that it can work and that they will sign on?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, the ultimate goal is some sort of peaceful resolution to the conflict in Bosnia. As you know, the administration is considering a wide variety of options at this point. The situation there in and around Srebrenica and the rest of Eastern Bosnia is quite serious. And the President will meet with his Bosnian advisors today and continue to press forward on this.
Q: Is that a question they're going to try to be deciding whether or not the peace plan remains viable?
MS. MYERS: Again, they'll be reviewing a number of options, including the peace plan.
Q: Does the group that he's meeting with today include Reg Bartholomew?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe he's here. But it will be among the usual -- Secretary Christopher, Secretary Aspin, General Powell.
Q: Dee Dee, do you have anything on the apparent encounter by U.S. F-15s over Bosnia today -- some aircraft violating the no-fly zone?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't. I'll get back to you on that.
Q: Will the President be meeting with every one of the leaders coming to town for the Holocaust Museum?
MS. MYERS: He will. He'll be meeting, as you know, with Vaclav Havel today and with Lech Walesa tomorrow, and then with the rest of the group tomorrow afternoon.
Q: As a group, or one by one?
MS. MYERS: I believe it's as a group. Now, Havel and Walesa asked for meetings early and these have been on the agenda for quite some time. But he will meet with all of the foreign heads of state that are here.
Q: Dee Dee, has the President decided whether he supports the gay and lesbian civil rights act? And has anything been worked out for him to address the march on Sunday?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll probably have a letter or some kind of a statement to the march. We haven't worked out the exact details of that.
Q: Not a live phone hook-up?
MS. MYERS: Probably not, given the logistics of getting to Boston. The speech, as you know, is at 4:00 p.m. The answer to the other part of your question is, no, he hasn't taken a position on it.
Q: You said that speech in Boston was at 4:00 p.m.?
MS. MYERS: I believe so, yes.
Q: Do you know what it's on?
MS. MYERS: We'll still working out --
Q: General Vessey's coming back tonight from Vietnam. When will he be meeting with the President?
MS. MYERS: No specific meeting is scheduled. We'll talk to him at some point and see. We look forward to his report, but exactly how he'll make that report is unclear.
Q: So he's not going to come immediately to the White House?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: The AIDS czar -- how close are you?
MS. MYERS: Still working on it.
Q: Drug czar?
Q: Do you expect it before the march?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a time line on it.
Q: Did the President ask Senator Mitchell to try the Lloyd Cutler ploy to break the filibuster?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q: Why not?
MS. MYERS: He's just not going to.
Q: Are Senate Democrats here at this hour?
MS. MYERS: No, that's tomorrow -- tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.
Q: Update on the stimulus, possible scaling down --
MS. MYERS: As you know, the Senate will vote on amendments today. We'll continue to talk. The President is committed to some kind of a jobs package; we'd like to see it passed. And we'll continue in conversations throughout the day and see where we end up.
Q: When this briefing is over can you give us word through the speaker or whatever whether the President's talked to Janet Reno?
MS. MYERS: We'll be happy to.
Q: It's become a pressing question for the last several hours.
MS. MYERS: No, just this minute that I've been here, and I haven't had a chance to follow up on it, Helen.
Q: Does he have an opinion on Hatfield?
MS. MYERS: I mean, obviously, he prefers -- he offered a compromise package of $12.2 billion. He believes that that's the best alternative, believes that he's obviously willing to take a second look at the package. And I think the Senate will vote on that today, and we're hopeful that the President's bill, which will be the Mitchell amendment, will be the one that will be approved.
Q: Dee Dee, is there any White House official that will be at the march on Sunday?
MS. MYERS: Somebody will be there representing the President. I don't know who yet.
Q: Well, has it been decided how he's going to address? Is it going to be a videotape or a phone call?
MS. MYERS: I think it will probably be a letter, but there hasn't been a final decision on that yet.
Q: The official will read the letter, is that what it sounds like?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Lloyd Bentsen came in here this morning. Do you know what was that about? Was that about this Waco thing?
MS. MYERS: No, actually it wasn't. It may have come up, but it was about economic issues.
Q: On health care -- is the 17th of May still the target?
MS. MYERS: That's still the target.
Q: And there's talk about a Joint Session of Congress speech at the end of May --
MS. MYERS: We haven't resolved exactly how the President will present the health care plan to the people. I wouldn't rule that out as an option, but no decisions have been made.
END10:08 A.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/272233