Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
2:27 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: I'll start with a statement. The Justice Department today announced the arrest of a veteran mid-level employee of the CIA and his wife on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage. This 10-month investigation culminated in the arrest of Aldrich Hazen Ames and Maria del Rosario Ames. Since late 1981, Ames has served in the CIA's counternarcotics center.
The President views this as a very serious case involving our national security. He has expressed his appreciation to the FBI and the CIA for their successful efforts to crack this difficult case. The President has instructed the State Department to lodge a strong official protest with the Russian government.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher has called in the Russian charge d'affaires for this purpose, and our Ambassador to Russia, Tom Pickering, is contacting senior officials in the Russian government in Moscow this evening for the same purpose.
The President has instructed National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, working with the Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey and others, to lead a coordinated examination of the national security implications of this case. During the painstaking investigation, the administration took every precaution to limit potential damage to the national security. The President and National Security Advisor were apprised of the investigation as it was carried out.
I can't comment on the legal aspects of this case against Mr. and Mrs. Ames. I would refer any questions in this regard to the U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia.
Q: You say the President took every precaution -- the President and officials took every precaution. When were they first informed of this case?
MS. MYERS: The President's been informed on an ongoing basis.
MS. MYERS: And the investigation itself lasted about 10 months.
Q: So he's known about it from the start? Is that a fair statement?
MS. MYERS: Effectively, yes.
Q: And which kinds of precautions are you talking about?
MS. MYERS: I can't comment on details of the investigation, other than to say that precautions were taken throughout the course of the investigation to protect national security.
Q: Can you give us some general sense of why the President says it is very serious?
MS. MYERS: I think it's serious -- he's asked Director Woolsey, through Tony Lake, to assess implications for national security. That is ongoing, and, again, we won't be able to comment on the specific details other than to say that it is serious.
Q: Is there any talk about the level of damage?
MS. MYERS: No, we can't talk about the levels of damage. That is something that is that is -- no, we can't comment on the specifics.
Q: Does this change the United States' commitment to the amount of foreign aid that we are giving the Russians? You have a lot of people that are saying, why should we be giving them money if they're spying on us.
MS. MYERS: Well, as I mentioned, there are conversations happening in Washington. Secretary Christopher met just a little while ago with the charge d'affaires here. Ambassador Pickering will be having similar meetings tonight in Moscow. We take this very seriously. We don't like it one bit. And there are serious conversations ongoing.
Q: What about the foreign aid?
MS. MYERS: Again, we are having conversations with them now. We're taking it very seriously, and we'll just have to let those conversations take place.
QQ: What about other aspects of the relationship? Here, the President has made the centerpiece of his foreign policy the new relationship with Russia and Boris Yeltsin. Is he rethinking that relationship as a result of this?
MS. MYERS: Again, all I can tell you at this point is we take it very seriously. We don't like it. We're having very serious, very forthright discussions with the Russians, both in Washington and in Moscow about this incident.
Q: What does that mean in terms of our policy --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think --
Q: taking it seriously? How does that translate into policy?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to see.
Q: Dee Dee, to what extent did the President's knowledge of this ongoing investigation cloud his one-on-one discussions with Yeltsin since becoming President?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, the investigation was allowed to run its course and was just completed. The President knew that arrests were imminent, and those arrests were made yesterday. I think -- American policy has proceeded on track. And again, today, Secretary Christopher called in the charge d'affaires. Conversations
are happening in Moscow. These are serious conversations, and we are going to proceed with them.
Q? Did it affect the way the President dealt with Yeltsin during his recent visit to Moscow?
MS. MYERS: I think the President and President Yeltsin have a very good relationship. There's certainly innumerable issues between our two countries that have been discussed over the course of the past year. That's not to say that we don't take this seriously. We don't like this. We're going to continue to discuss it. And that's all we really can say about it at this time.
Q: I know you're saying that this case is a serious one, but is there a serious reassessment of U.S.-Russian relations as a result of this case, or is this an isolated incident as far --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to characterize it other than to say this is something that's been going on for some time. He, Ames, has been involved in this, going back to, I believe 1985. I think is sort of -- began under the Cold War, during a different period. That's not to say it's not serious. That's not to say it wasn't carried on. But I think in terms of future relationships, we're having those conversations now. We'll just let those take place and see where it goes.
Q: What are we saying to the Russians?
MS. MYERS: That's what we're in the process of doing. We're saying that this is a very serious case; that we take it seriously; that we don't like it. And we don't have any more to say about it at this point.
Q: Do you believe that Boris Yeltsin knew of these activities?
MS. MYERS: We don't know. We don't know.
Q: Do we believe this is isolated or do we think there may be other moles in there? I mean, how serious do we think the problem might be?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not going to comment on intelligence, but I think this was an investigation that was taken seriously. It was very carefully and thoroughly conducted. And I think the CIA and the FBI both deserve great credit for cracking it.
Q: Has the President raised this with President Yeltsin at all in the conversations they had last weekend or anything?
MS. MYERS: No. No.
Q: Dee Dee, I'm sure you wouldn't deny that the United States has many, many people spying on the Russians. How is the U.S. government able to muster so much outrage at this?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on intelligence issues.
Q: You're not suggesting that we've suspended all intelligence vis a vis Russia, are you?
MS. MYERS: I'm just suggesting that I'm not going to comment on intelligence issues.
Q: Were any Russians stationed in Washington involved in this? Is anybody going to be expelled over this thing?
MS. MYERS: Again, the conversations are ongoing both in Washington and in Moscow.
Q: Was the charge told about any problems with his own --
MS. MYERS: The Secretary just concluded his conversation there. I don't have any details on that specific conversation, but we'll have to wait and see what the results of these conversations are before we can determine what we're doing next.
Q: A follow-up. There's been some continuity in Washington on the KGB operation. Ivan Gramako has been here both in the Soviet role and in the Russian role; he did not leave with the changeover. Is he specifically --
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to comment on the specific details of Secretary Christopher's conversation with the charge d'affaires just a little while ago.
Q: Why are you so reluctant to discuss the long-term implications for U.S.-Russian policy here? I mean, is it that this is just a slap on the wrist and everything is fine?
MS. MYERS: No, I think this is just an opportunity for us to have some very serious conversations about what the President believes is a serious incident with national security implications. I think at this point we'll let those conversations go forward. We don't have any more to say about it today.
Q: Dee Dee, to go back to Mark's question, you keep -- you said you're not going to comment on an intelligence issue, but you already have. You've said we take this very seriously and we don't like it. And that implies that we're not doing the same thing to the Russians. So either -- are we hypocrites, or are we not doing that to the Russians?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on U.S. intelligence, other than what I've said about a specific case, which we've announced today.
Q: But you don't think the Russians should be spying on us then?
MS. MYERS: We just arrested two people who we believe were involved in espionage. We take this case seriously, we think it has implications for national security. Two things: we're having ongoing conversations with the Russians both here and in Moscow about it; and Anthony Lake has asked James Woolsey to take a look at what the implications might be for national security. Those are two very serious steps. At this point, that's all we can say about it.
Q: We haven't looked at that yet?
Q: Let me rephrase it because I didn't phrase that very well.
MS. MYERS: In the aftermath of the investigation, we're looking at it now.
Q: When you say we don't like this, are you referring to the fact that CIA people are involved or that the Russians are spying on us? That's what I'm trying to --
MS. MYERS: The whole issue of espionage. We take that very seriously, we don't like it on any level.
Q: Would you consider it hypocritical for the United States to condemn actions by the Russians that the United States engaged in itself?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on that.
Q: Dee Dee, all you're telling us is you take it seriously, it has implications.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q: Why is it that the public cannot know what implications -- why you take it seriously, what it is you take seriously? I mean, you might take next Tuesday's health care speech seriously. That offers absolutely nothing except adjectives. Would you like to expand further to explain why --
MS. MYERS: No, I can't.
Q: or why we should take you seriously taking it seriously? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You don't need to get personal here, Ann?
Q: I'm not being personal. I'm referring to you as the White House spokesman standing there and saying two words, "we take" -- five words, maybe -- "we take it seriously, we take it seriously." What do you take seriously?
MS. MYERS: There are implications, both for national security which are being reviewed, and for an ongoing case that is being handled through the court system. And as you know, anything that I say here could have implications for an ongoing judicial process which I'm not going to get into.
Q: Nothing about the policy vis a vis Russia could possibly have a --
MS. MYERS: All of these details -- all of these details have implications for both national security and for the ongoing case which I'm just not at liberty to discuss. I'm sorry.
Q: If the President has asked Congress to give money to the Russians, how can he argue now to Congress that, yes, it's a good place to send our money and, a, it's good to send tax money there and, b, we can trust them in Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: I don't think -- the Bosnia situation will go forward. We have a complicated relationship with Russia that involves a number of areas -- security, economic, other global and international issues. We'll certainly continue to have a relationship with Russia. But, again, we're beginning to review what the implications of this are, we're having discussions with the Russian government. We take this seriously, and we just don't have anything more to say about it today.
Q: What do you tell Congress?
MS. MYERS: We don't have anything more to say about it today.
Q: If you've known about for 10 months, why are you just reviewing the implications now? Wouldn't you already know?
MS. MYERS: I think in the aftermath of the case, it's prudent to take a look at what -- since he's been an employee at the CIA up until yesterday, I think it's prudent in the aftermath of his employment to look at what the implications might be.
Q: You're not suggesting the CIA and the FBI do not have some idea of the scope of this espionage?
MS. MYERS: Again, as I said, we took very painstaking precautions to try to protect national security during the course of the investigation. So I think that that's been ongoing.
Q: When you say you've now directed Woolsey to look at the implications, you're saying you haven't been looking at the implications in the last --
MS. MYERS: Mike just asked the same question. My answer was, we took precautions during the investigation to protect national security. But Ames was an employee at the CIA up until yesterday. He's no longer an employee at the CIA. The case has been wrapped up. And I think it's prudent to take a look back at what the implications of this case have been.
Q: I'm asking you -- you're saying -- do you know what the implications are?
MS. MYERS: We are in the process of reviewing that?
Q: Have you considered those implications in the past 10 months?
MS. MYERS: I think, again, that's been part -- considering the implications is part of how you protect the national security as the investigation moves forward. And we can't get into the details of that. I just can't.
Q: Getting to the larger question of what people are asking about policy implications here. A decision must have been taken today as to how to approach the Russians, both in Moscow and at the State Department. And we're asking you, what is the policy, what change in policy might take place, what warnings have the Russians been given by both Christopher and Pickering? Presumably, that decision was made with the President, with Tony Lake, with Christopher.
MS. MYERS: And all we're saying about it today, all we're saying about it today, all this government is saying about it is that we lodged an official protest , that the conversations are ongoing; and that we don't have any more to say.
Let me just point out, just for your own edification, there are very few people in this government who know the details of this beyond what's in the affidavit -- very few.
Q: But my point --
MS. MYERS: I understand what your point is, and I just --
Q: I'm asking about the space cooperation that Gore signed. I'm asking about a number of relationships between these two countries.
MS. MYERS: Yes, and those issues and others are being discussed.
Q: But is Christopher with the charge today saying, here is a list of our relationships, and these are all at risk because of what's happened?
MS. MYERS: Christopher just finished that meeting, I believe, less than half an hour ago, and we're just not prepared to discuss the details of it.
Q: Can you do a readout later on that?
MS. MYERS: I think they might be doing something over at the State Department.
Q: Can I narrow her question a bit? Could you rule out that Christopher and Pickering in their conversations will have on the table some discussion about what the scope of any security breach may have been?
MS. MYERS: I think they'll discuss a number of things, and we're just not prepared to talk about those details.
Q: What about reprisals?
MS. MYERS: We're not prepared to talk about those yet, other than to say that the conversations are ongoing.
Q: When you said the United States took precautions, does that mean that agents in the field were informed of this investigation, given some insight into what was going on?
MS. MYERS: Again, other than to say that precautions were taken, we can't get into the details of what those are.
Q: Dee Dee, you said earlier the case had been wrapped up. Is it confined to this guy and his wife, or are further arrests expected, or do you know?
MS. MYERS: The case with regard to Ames was wrapped up, and to Mrs. Ames was wrapped up. That's all I meant to imply. And the arrests were made based on the accumulation of evidence.
Q: Are further U.S. arrests expected?
MS. MYERS: I can't comment on that.
Q: So you're not ruling in or out any other possible arrests, or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
We can move on to another topic if anybody has --
Q: you're not ruling out any further arrests --
MS. MYERS: I just -- I couldn't say one way or another.
Q: Do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know, and I wouldn't be able to say one way or another under any circumstances.
Q: What is the status then of the Jonathan Pollard decision, and how will this spy matter affect the President, considering what clemency he could get?
MS. MYERS: The two were unrelated. We're still waiting for the recommendation from Justice on Pollard.
Q: But it's related in the sense that it's another socalled friendly country spying on us and trying to --
MS. MYERS: Again, the Pollard decision will be made on the merits of that case, and we're still waiting for a recommendation from Justice on it.
Q: Can you go over the rest of the week?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q: imminent six or eight weeks ago, wasn't it?
MS. MYERS: It's still imminent.
Q: Do you know if Kozyrev is still coming to Washington this week or next?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if that's been locked down. You'd have to check with the State Department to see if that invitation has been changed. Not that I know of.
Q: There was no part of it that involved the White House --
Q: Was the question about Kozyrev?
MS. MYERS: The question was, is Kozyrev still coming? And the answer was, I don't know what details had ever been worked out, if he'd ever made -- scheduled -- specifically scheduled a trip here. We don't know.
The rest -- we've had a question on the rest of the week. Tomorrow there is -- we had earlier said that there was going to be a health care event. That's been postponed. We'll do that sometime next week. There are no public events tomorrow. The President will have lunch with the Vice President. I take that back -- then the Business Council meeting tomorrow evening is pool press. On Thursday he'll leave the White House around 9:45 a.m. to go to Connecticut. He'll arrive at Groton. There will be a health care event there at the Greenville Drug Store in Norwich, Connecticut, returning to the White House late afternoon.
On Friday the only public event is the University of Virginia national soccer championship team will be here. Saturday is the radio address. Sunday is off. Monday is travel to Chicago and then Pittsburgh when he'll meet with Prime Minister Major. Major will accompany the President back to the White House and spend the night.
Q: What time is that tomorrow night?
MS. MYERS: It's the Business -- it is a dinner of the -- Business Council meeting -- 7:00 to 7:30. He's making remarks. He's not staying. He'll leave as soon as he's done speaking, and then come back to the White House.
Q: The topic of his remarks?
MS. MYERS: The topic of his remarks, I believe, is health care, but let me double-check that.
Q: What is the Business Council?
MS. MYERS: It's a business group. We can get more information on the group for you.
Q: Can you give us more on the meeting with Congress tonight?
MS. MYERS: The meeting with the Congress tonight is to discuss health care. Who's going to be there? It is a group of -- it's Kennedy, Moynihan -- I don't have a complete list in front of me -- Kennedy, Moynihan, Dole, and others, to talk about how to get health care plan passed this year. It is not a bargaining session.
Q: Who's going to be there from the White House?
Q: Is Dole the only Republican?
MS. MYERS: No, there's -- I don't have -- do you have the list? We'll post it. It is a dinner. It is at the White House. It starts at 7:30. We'll post the specific people who are going to go. It is an opportunity to discuss the coming health care plan. What was the --
Q: Who's going to be there from the White House?
MS. MYERS: We'll post that as well -- Pat Griffin, probably Harold, George, and I'm sure, the President.
Q: Why does the White House feel this is necessary, or what is it that he wants to put on the table tonight if it's not bargaining?
MS. MYERS: I think it is an opportunity, like many others, it's one in a series of meetings with congressional leaders to discuss how to get health care reform passed this year. The President has had a number of meetings already with congressional leaders. He'll continue to do that.
Q: When is the last time he had a dinner with Bob Dole at the White House to discuss health care?
MS. MYERS: Well, this is the first time he has had a meeting -- a dinner with Bob Dole specifically to discuss health care But it is not the first time that either Bob Dole has been here or the President has had dinner with him, or the President has discussed health care with him. It's only a first in its an interesting combination.
Q: Does he have various congressional groups on health care that he's having in for meetings or dinners all week?
MS. MYERS: No, he's having another congressional meeting, I think Thursday, which is -- I think that's Democrats. I'll have to double-check. But he's had a number -- I'm sorry, it must be Friday. He's had a number of meetings with different -- both with committee chairs, the House committee chairs and the Senate, committee chairs in both bodies. He's talked with House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders about this. We'll continue to do that in different combinations as we see fit.
Q: What is the President's view of Pete Stark saying that regional alliances are dead?
MS. MYERS: The ball is in Congress's court. It's up to Congress now to work out the details.
Q: What if they are killing it?
MS. MYERS: Again, that's something that's going to be decided in the congressional committees. We've put forward a
comprehensive proposal that we think reaches the President's bottom line, which is guaranteed private insurance for every American. The President is going to continue to speak out about that. He's going to continue to talk about some of the components of the plan that are important to him. As you know, this week we are doing long-term --we were doing long-term care. We pushed that off to next week -- but prescription drugs on Thursday. And he'll continue to talk about that. At the same time, the details are being worked out in the committees by members of Congress. And the process will take its course there.
Q: And where was the long-term care event supposed to be?
MS. MYERS: It was going to be here at the White House.
Q: With the elderly --
MS. MYERS: It's going to be -- we've just pushed it back a week.
Q: Dee Dee, Andrea just asked you about the alliances. And if I interpret your answer correctly, that's the detail, which means it's disposable.
MS. MYERS: It means that it's up to Congress to work it out. We've put forward what we think is the best plan to get to the President's bottom line.
Q: But if they put forward a plan that has no alliances, that's acceptable?
MS. MYERS: If the Congress comes up with a plan that meets the President's objective, which is guaranteed private insurance for every American, he'll sign it. That's basically what he said.
Q: This talk about scheduling -- Mitchell has said he thought he could get something out of committee before the August recess. Dole said maybe a month later. But neither one of them seemed outside the realm. Why -- what's happened to make this so current, such a current topic again? Didn't seem like the schedule was in trouble.
MS. MYERS: I don't believe -- I don't think we've suggested in any way that the schedule's in trouble.
Q: If you're having a dinner meeting with them to discuss with them how to accomplish it --
MS. MYERS: My point is that we meet regularly with congressional leaders on this, and will continue to do that throughout this process. We expect this to be a long process that will take -- the President said he'd like to see it wrapped up before the end of the year. It is up to the Congress to set the specific schedules. But I think you can expect the President to meet regularly with Republicans, Democrats, House-Senate leaders, interest groups, different people who are going to have an impact on this process.
Q: Will you be speaking more then about other issues that might be related to moving it through, rather than an actual schedule -- over-interpreting what you said about getting it out this year?
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't overinterpret it. I mean, we talk regularly about where it is and the process and how we best can
move it forward to make sure it gets done this year. I would not interpret this in any way as a sign of trouble. Au contraire.
Q: What's he doing all day tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: He's got meetings here. Just various -- you know, the usual. He has lunch with the Vice President, an interview to drop by the Business Council sometime; return phone calls and make other decisions.
Q: Dee Dee, will he be meeting with the Prime Minister of Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: Not scheduled to. As you know, Prime Minister Silajdzic met with Secretary Christopher, will meet with Tony Lake tomorrow, may meet with the Vice President.
Q: What time is he coming here to meet with Tony?
MS. MYERS: It's tomorrow afternoon, I believe, but I don't have the specific time.
Q: Today Senator Bachus, on the floor of the Senate, proposed the extension of Super 301 legislation permanently. The President doesn't have to wait for it to get through Congress, he can do it by executive order. Can you tell me what the thinking on that is now?
MS. MYERS: Still reviewing options with respect to the framework talks. I just don't have anything more for you on that.
Q: Does the President support the legislation submitted by Senator Bachus today?
MS. MYERS: We haven't had a chance to review it, but Super 301 was one of the options that we said we'd be looking at over the course of this process; but we don't have any more for you on it. No decisions have been taken.
Q: Is the administration briefing Congress on the possible implications to national security of the spy case?
MS. MYERS: I don't know of any specific briefings, although I'm sure conversations are ongoing. I can take that and see if there's anything scheduled since half an hour ago.
Q: Would you expand a little bit on Major's visit and what particular concerns and the very strained relationship -- or what appears to be a strained relationship?
MS. MYERS: It is not a strained relationship. I take issue with your premise. The United States and Britain have worked closely on a number of issues, including, most recently, Bosnia. They have -- the Prime Minister and the President have a very good relationship. They've met -- the Prime Minister was here last year. They've spoken on the phone a number of times, and any reports to the contrary that the relationship is anything other than strong are simply wrong.
Q: Well, the Brits think it's strained because of the IRA --
MS. MYERS: There are press accounts of mostly unnamed people who think it's strained, but the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister, by both of their accounts, is very good.
Q: Have they talked since the -- they have talked since the IRA --
MS. MYERS: Yes, and they talked about the news accounts that suggested that there was a strain on the relationship, which they both dismissed.
Q: Will the President be bringing up the airline problems, the landing rights at Heathrow and that particular issue?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether, specifically, that will come up. They'll talk about a number of things -- trade, bilateral issues, security issues. I'm sure Bosnia will be on the agenda. And I can get more for you on specifically what else.
Q: President Yeltsin is asking for a meeting of the United States, France, Germany and others to work on a settlement for Bosnia. He doesn't have any position on that?
MS. MYERS: Right. No, as you know, most of the same countries met today in Bonn; that meeting is over. They discussed next steps in Bosnia, but they didn't specifically -- I don't think they specifically discussed that meeting. We haven't taken a position on it yet.
Q: Could you elaborate a little bit on those next steps?
MS. MYERS: Still under review; we don't have anything specific to say, other than our criteria would be that it's something that's within NATO's capacity to carry out and that it move the peace process forward. So we're looking at anything that we think would help move the peace process forward and toward a diplomatic settlement.
Q: that teaming up idea of --
MS. MYERS: Again, we're not going to comment on the specifics of the negotiating process as it's unfolding, but we are looking at a number of ways to move it forward.
Q: Dee Dee, your health care plan has been described by one of your policymakers as having many interchangeable parts. If the regional alliances fail to win support in the committees, will you be offering an alternative to that specific element?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that that's something that will be worked out in Congress. If Congress can come up with a better way to guarantee private insurance for everyone, to control health care costs, to make sure that people have benefits that can't be taken away, we're willing to look at it. We put forward our best plan. The President's going to continue to talk about what his goals are, what his objectives are; and it's up to Congress to work out the details.
We always said that all of the specifics of the proposal were not written in stone. At the same time, the President has his bottom line, he's made that clear -- it's guaranteed private insurance for everyone; it's not negotiable.
Q: The President said earlier he was going to introduce the reemployment bill by the end of this month, February. The Secretary said now that it's not going to be until March --
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think the deadline slipped a little.
Q: Can you tell me why?
MS. MYERS: They're still working through the details. It's a very comprehensive proposal, and I think something that we'll have soon.
Q: Objections from the labor side or something like that causing it?
MS. MYERS: No, no, I think there's a lot of support for the initiative, actually. It was something that was well received both in Congress and among the American people.
END 2:53 P.M. EST
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/269688