Press Briefing by Dee Dee Myers
The Briefing Room
6:20 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: This isn't a prepared statement, but the President generally has expressed sadness at the events today in Waco, particularly at the apparent deaths of the children. He extends his sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives. He stands by the Justice Department and the FBI. They made a difficult decision, but it was the unanimous recommendation of the Justice Department, the FBI and the agents on the ground. He's monitoring the situation, he's paying attention to news reports and being briefed on the situation throughout the day. He'll continue to monitor it as we try to decipher what's going on.
Q: Why is everybody, including the President, distancing the President from a decision to do this?
MS. MYERS: Nobody's -- and particularly the President has distanced himself from the decision. As he made very clear, the Justice Department and the FBI made the specific decisions, the tactical decisions on the ground. But as you know, the President spoke to the Attorney General last night. She briefed him on the plans. He asked some questions about it, and then said okay, as the Attorney General stated today in her press conference, and they proceeded.
Q: Why has he not talked to Janet Reno today?
MS. MYERS: I believe he has.
Q: He has?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to double-check that.
Q: She said that she had not.
Q: Did he call her after she said --
MS. MYERS: I'll have to double-check the logistics -- timing of the calls.
Q: When did he first find out that --
MS. MYERS: I think, like everybody else, that the compound was in flames by watching the news accounts of it. And I think one of the reasons that the Justice Department and the FBI decided to go ahead with the program this morning was because they believed the children were in danger and I think that the events today clearly confirmed that.
Q: Well, does he think that it was a bad move now?
MS. MYERS: No. He stands behind the Justice Department and the FBI. Again, it was the unanimous recommendation of the Justice Department and the FBI and those agents that were there on the scene. They were concerned about the welfare of the children, and I think the Justice Department has spoken in some detail about that.
Q: In view of the developments, though?
MS. MYERS: Obviously it's tragic -- the events today. Nobody would have liked to have seen it come out that way. But there was reason to be concerned and the President stands by the Justice Department and the FBI. He's not going to --
Q: But has he expressed himself at all on the outcome of events there?
MS. MYERS: Other than to express his sadness at the loss of life, particularly the children, and to extend his sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives today.
Q: Could you address the mumbling by some of the agents on the ground that there was micromanaging by politicians in Washington, the White House, Justice Department? And, also, do you have any reaction to Senator Specter's call for an investigation by the Judiciary Committee?
MS. MYERS: In answer to the first question, no. I think, again, the President today -- the Justice Department and the FBI made these decisions. The President was briefed on them last night and didn't raise any objections, but did not micromanage the situation. And I'm unaware of Senator Specter's request for an investigation. We'll take a look at it. I mean, it doesn't really have -- and they'll go ahead with it if the Senate so decides.
Q: Is there a reason why you're relaying the President's reaction in your words rather than his?
MS. MYERS: We just don't have an official prepared statement at this time. There's no reason.
Q: Who else briefed him besides Reno, do you know? Was it just last night?
MS. MYERS: Oh, no, last night Janet Reno was the one who briefed him on the operational details of the plan.
Q: Has he talked to Director Sessions about the plan at all?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q: Or had he? He had not.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: I didn't hear anything in your statement from the President about the conduct of the FBI and the Attorney General --
MS. MYERS: Again, this wasn't a prepared statement. But what I said was the President stands behind the Justice Department and the FBI. He believes that they acted professionally and with due restraint. And he -- it's unfortunate the way things came out. But he does support their decision.
Q: Is there any reason why he did not talk to the FBI? And who specifically briefed him today, since he apparently has not talked to Ms. Reno, at least as of a half hour ago?
MS. MYERS: He, again, was briefed by Janet Reno last night. And today he's talked -- I don't know specifically who he's talked to, but he's been kept --
Q: Last night?
MS. MYERS: Last night was Janet Reno.
Q: What time, do you know roughly?
MS. MYERS: I don't.
Q: It wasn't yesterday afternoon, it was last night?
MS. MYERS: It might have been late afternoon or early evening. I say last night --
Q: I presume the alcohol tax agents were in all this planning, too, were they not?
MS. MYERS: The FBI's the lead agency, but the ATF was involved as were the Texas Rangers.
Q: Has he called for any kind of internal investigation in view of the outcome --
MS. MYERS: Not yet. We're still waiting to find out what the exact outcome is.
Q: Isn't that automatic because agents were killed?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe any agents were killed today.
Q: No, not today, but --
MS. MYERS: Oh, but yes, the --
Q: as far as investigation of this incident, isn't that an automatic thing because of the agents were killed when it was initiated?
MS. MYERS: What, back six weeks ago or however long ago it was? I believe that it was. We said at the time that that was being reviewed. I can't remember who the lead agency on it was, but we announced that several weeks ago, that there would be a review.
Q: Do you have any information, or do you recall any threats that this man made about that he would commit suicide or that he would come out before people and commit suicide?
MS. MYERS: Again, I would refer you back to the Justice Department's statements. But I think he made numerous pledges that he would not. But I think there was still some concerns that that would happen.
Q: Dee Dee, you mentioned that the President said okay. So it is fair to say that he would agree that the buck stops at his desk on this decision?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely. I think we've said that all day, that the President takes responsibility for it. Again, he didn't raise any objections to it at the time, and he continues to stand behind the Justice Department and the FBI.
Q: Did he mention to Reno that he was concerned that there was a Jonestown-type situation possibly brewing?
MS. MYERS: I think he raised some -- they had a discussion about it. I don't want to characterize the exact nature of that. But the President did not raise any specific objections to the plan and it went forward.
Q: You know, you do have, Dee Dee, an unusual situation with the Attorney General really seeming to go to extra lengths this afternoon to accept the responsibility and, if necessary, the blame for this, saying the buck stops here with me; I made the decision; and seeming, at least, to try to relieve the President of any blame or responsibility for this. Will the President accept that, or will he insist on taking responsibility?
MS. MYERS: I think we've said throughout the day that the President takes responsibility, he stands by the decisions that were made. He was briefed about it. I think the Attorney General was involved in this, and I think that she takes responsibility for the action of her department. That's her nature. I think it's admirable, but the President is the President and he takes responsibility for it.
Q: Well, how can they take responsibility, any of them, for a crazy man's doings when --
MS. MYERS: I think that the President -- I think that's a good -- the fact remains that David Koresh caused the lives of a number of people and it's tragic. And he does bear a lot of responsibility somewhere.
Q: When was -- but do you think he had the building saturated with gasoline or something?
MS. MYERS: That's the judgment of the law enforcement experts on the scene -- yes, that there were some fire -- kerosene or some other kind of highly flammable materials on scene.
Q: Have you had any indication that he had any conference with the people inside and whether they were going along with him on tragic things that might happen?
MS. MYERS: I would refer you back again to the FBI and the Justice Department, who both said that they believe that there was a good level of cooperation among many of the people that were there. But, clearly, the children weren't in any position to make those kinds of decisions, and it's absolutely tragic that so many of them appear to have lost their lives today.
Q: Dee Dee, can we expect the President to call Janet Reno, the FBI Director, some of the other principals here at some point to discuss this?
MS. MYERS: Oh, at some point I'm sure they'll talk. We don't have any specific timetable on it, but --
Q: Do you know what Mrs. Clinton's reaction was?
MS. MYERS: No, I haven't spoken to her today.
Q: Would you repeat your answer on whether or not the President mentioned a concern over a mass suicide to Janet Reno yesterday? I didn't quite catch your response.
MS. MYERS: My response was that they talked and had an exchange about it, but I wasn't going to talk about the specific details of their conversation.
Q: About Jonestown?
MS. MYERS: Correct -- about the details of their conversation.
Q: No, but in that conversation, did he mention --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to talk about the specific details of their conversation, was my answer.
Q: Was the President under the impression that these lives would all be lost if there were not a precipitant attack? Was he given to understand this talk about Jonestown and so forth that whether it's suicide or murder, that these people would have all died, even if the FBI hadn't tried going in there today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that anybody said specifically that that was the case. But, clearly, there was reason to believe that the children were danger, that the lives of the agents were threatened. And I think clearly those things proved true today.
Q: Well, just to clear it up, you're not going to talk about the details, but did you confirm the Jonestown --
MS. MYERS: No, I just said I wasn't going to discuss the details.
Q: Can you give us some idea of what his involvement -- Clinton's involvement has been today? I mean, he had this conversation last night with Reno. He said okay. In other words, he gave the okay to go ahead with this last night, is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q: And then today, what conversations has he had with Justice Department officials, ATF officials, anybody about the situation?
MS. MYERS: He's been monitoring it throughout the day, being briefed by staff members and monitoring news accounts. I don't know what specific conversations he's had with Justice Department officials.
Q: Has he been briefed by White House staff or by Justice?
MS. MYERS: White House staff. And I believe he's had -- again, I don't want to comment because I'm not sure what Justice Department officials he may have spoken to.
Q: If this group was an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, has anybody talked to the officials of the Seventh Day Adventists about what they think might have been his motives or his background?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You'd have to check with Justice or FBI, I think.
Q: What are the main issues to be dealt with in the President's meeting with Vaclav Havel tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I think they'll talk about a number of things, particularly starting with the Holocaust museum and other issues around that. They will probably also talk about Bosnia and other issues involving Eastern Europe.
Q: Has the President talked to anybody else today about Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: He was supposed to talk to Mitterrand. Did he?
MS. MYERS: Yes, that call was postponed for scheduling reasons, and they'll try again tomorrow. We'll let you know if it gets scheduled tomorrow.
Q: Are there going to be other people?
MS. MYERS: There may be. I wouldn't rule it out. I think as he said yesterday, his conversation with Prime Minister Major would be ongoing, that they would keep in touch. He'll try Francois Mitterrand again tomorrow, and then we'll see what else happens this week.
Q: Did Mitchell get anywhere today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what -- we've been preoccupied with other events. I know he met with Senator Dole today but I don't know what the outcome of that is.
Q: The cloture vote, I understand, has been put off until Wednesday.
MS. MYERS: Yes. Tomorrow I believe they'll vote on a couple of amendments and then cloture is Wednesday.
Q: Is that a hopeful sign that they've moved that back or does it indicate that they are negotiating towards a deal?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if that was directly a result of today's meeting or not. We remain hopeful. The President would like to see a jobs package passed soon, and we're going to continue to press for that.
Q: Dee Dee, to follow up on that, Senator Hatfield outlined on the floor today a Republican proposal, a counterproposal, $8 or $9 billion, one year only, '93 dollars, and he outlined the components that they would go for. What is the President's reaction to that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the Senate will vote on that tomorrow along with the Mitchell amendment, which is essentially what the President has called for -- $12.2 billion package. Obviously, the President supports the Mitchell amendment because that's his package. So, he believes that that's a better option.
Q: So, you just want to see votes one each version?
MS. MYERS: That's what's going to happen. That's the schedule for tomorrow. Both those amendments will be voted on.
Q: Is the President going on tonight?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so but -- I don't believe so, but we'll let you know if that changes.
Q: How does this stack up in the history of tragedies in this country?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if I want to characterize it over the course of our history.
Q: I know, but I mean has anybody officially, historically checked that out as to --
MS. MYERS: In terms of numbers of deaths? I don't believe so. I'm sure the media will take care of that over the next few days.
Q: Dee Dee, back to Vaclav Havel, if I may. Is the President going to talk about the aid package there was a discussion of today at State?
MS. MYERS: The Russian aid package?
Q: No, the aid package more generally to CIS to some of the former republics.
MS. MYERS: It may come up. I can probably tell you more about what's on the agenda tomorrow morning.
Q: In other words, he has no intention, you're saying, to specifically discuss aid to the Czech Republic or Slovakia?
MS. MYERS: No, I would imagine that would come up. That was sort of broadly under the character -- I mean, under the headline of Eastern European-U.S. issues.
Q: Can you give us some idea, then, what the administration is looking at in terms of aid to the Czech republic?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, there is some contained -- I don't have the figures in front of me -- there's some contained in this year's budget, and some proposed in next year's budget, and there's some contained in the additional funding. But I can get back to you tomorrow on the figures.
Q: Has the President, or any of you officials, discussed this Waco thing with the CIA in any way? There was a wild rumor a while back --
MS. MYERS: The President hasn't.
Q: He has not?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q: There was a wild rumor a while back that -- not confirmed -- but there was a report by a former high level CIA man that this thing started in Waco as a mind control experiment.
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't know the details of that. I mean, David Koresh was clearly -- had some impact on some people's minds. That goes without saying.
Q: Has there been any public response -- I mean, has the White House been bombarded with calls or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: No, I think people are paying attention to this, obviously with some shock and horror, but we haven't noticed any noticeable level of increase in phone calls.
Q: With such a horrible event that the President signed off on, why has he not talked to the Attorney General today or the head of the FBI? Is that an effort to distance --
MS. MYERS: No. It's not.
Q: Dee Dee, the scheduling of the President's speech in Boston -- the Newspapers Association said they were told that he was busy on Wednesday when they wanted him to come. Can you tell us what he's doing next Wednesday, the 28th?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to check the schedule. I don't know off the top of my head. I don't have the long-term schedule in front of me.
Q: I'm sorry if I missed it -- could you go over tomorrow's schedule. Has there been any changes?
MS. MYERS: There have not been any changes. And I, unfortunately, don't have the times in front of me.
Q: At 9:30, the Democratic --
MS. MYERS: Oh, good.
Q: Give that man a raise.
MS. MYERS: Do you have a time on the run?
MR. GAINES: I think 7:15 a.m.
MS. MYERS: Yes. I believe 7:00 a.m.-ish for a run with the winners of the Boston Marathon. At 1:15 p.m. he presents the Teacher of the Year Award to Mr. Tracey Leon Bailey in the Rose Garden. And at 4:45 p.m. President Vaclav Havel arrives at the White House. There will be a photo op at that time, and he'll meet with President Havel in the Oval Office.
Q: What about departure for Havel? Any news conference for him?
MS. MYERS: No. I think -- I believe what we'll do is similar to what we did with President Aristide, which is sort of a shorter news conference at the top of the meeting in a pool situation and not do any kind of formal news conference afterwards. But I'll have the full details of that tomorrow morning.
Q: So there's no --
MS. MYERS: There's no East Room --
Q: no meeting with members of Congress tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: There was one. Democratic leadership was on for 9:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Q: Is that still on?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I believe it's still on. I don't believe that has changed.
Q: Dee Dee, one more Waco question. Has the President had any briefings on this prior to this weekend, do you know? Has he had any personal involvement --
MS. MYERS: He's been kept current of the situation there and is briefed regularly on the outcome, but not in terms of the specific -- this specific plan.
Q: Where is the Earth Day speech going to be?
MS. MYERS: We're still working on the location. I believe it'll be around 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, somewhere in the Greater Washington area.
Q: It will be on Planet Earth? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think that's a good chance.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END6:35 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/269196