Press Briefing by Joel Klein, Deputy White House Counsel
The Roosevelt Room
4:08 P.M. EDT
MR. KLEIN: (in progress) -- documents relating to him. We obviously will cooperate fully with the Special Counsel. And I, as in the last subpoena, will be the person responsible for compliance. And the people on my staff will be working with me on it.
Let me just set out for you what the materials that the Special Counsel has asked for. It's in the statement, but the first paragraph is a very broadly-worded, fully comprehensive request essentially for any and all documents or communications written by, sent to, or referring, or relating to Vincent Foster. And then it goes on to say -- so that would really be anything that had been -- that in any way mentions or touches upon Mr. Foster.
And then as you'll see there are four subparagraphs to paragraph A. The first is limited to -- the first is documents that were removed from the office of Vince Foster on or after July 20th. And then it says to the extent that such documents have already been produced to a person or entity outside the White House, please state, and it lists what they'd like to know. In other words, as you all know, certain documents went to Williams and Connolly, certain documents went to the Foster family's personal lawyer Jim Hamilton, and so that information is called for.
Part 2 are any indices, memoranda, or other documents listing, referring or relating to documents and other items maintained within the office of Vincent Foster. And that is essentially an index of -- they're calling for any indices and what was there.
Three, any documents referring or relating to Mr. Foster that were maintained in any safe within the offices of the White House General Counsel. And as you know, we have indicated there was no safe in Mr. Foster's office. It is my current office, and there has been no safe in there. There was none when I got there, and I'm advised there was none before I arrived.
There were safes in other members of the Counsel's Office. I think we explained there were two safes in Mr. Nussbaum's office. They're currently there now. There were safes in a few of the other people in the Counsel's Office that handle sensitive documents, background information, investigations, so forth. So we will be checking that.
The third item -- rather the fourth item is specific documents contained on the fixed hard drive or removable disks, et cetera, that were used by or in the office or workspace of Mr. Foster or Deborah Gorham, who was Mr. Foster's assistant here, or that was contained on any floppy disk or diskette maintained by either Mr. Foster or Ms. Gorham.
And then subparagraph B calls for any paging device or beeper assigned to or used by Mr. Foster. So I assume that that kind of thing is like the beepers that we all carry around here.
Now, let me just give you a few things, and then I'll be glad to take your questions. As you can tell from the scope of this, this is what we lawyers would call a completely comprehensive subpoena. And I have had discussions initiated by the office of the Special Counsel that they would like us to respond to this is a priority fashion. They would like us to deal with the matters in paragraphs 1, 2, 3 and 4, and subparagraph B, immediately. And we are working -- beginning to work on that.
That after that they may have further requests of a broader nature, but that they want the immediate paper to decide what, if any, further steps they will need to take. And obviously, as you can imagine, fully worded this would cover any particular matter that Mr. Foster dealt with in his capacity as Deputy Counsel -- matters relating to issues of foreign policy, issues of Supreme Court nominees and so forth, much of which it seems I'm quite confident, based on what the Special Counsel has told me, are beyond any need that he perceives with respect to this investigation.
We've obviously just gotten the matter; we're starting to assemble the relevant information. And we will, as last time around, produce that information to the Special Counsel, this time on this prioritized basis. We will keep you informed of our process in the sense of when we turn things over. We will not, again consistent with his request, discuss the substance of any of these matters. We don't want to in any way impair or interfere with his ongoing investigations.
Why don't I --
Q: Does he want -- May 10th, which is next Tuesday?
MR. KLEIN: No, no.
Q: Are you claiming privilege on any of these --
MR. KLEIN: You know, the last time, with respect to the documents that we produced, we didn't claim any privileges of any sort.
Q: Bernie did in the office when the Park Police person sat there --
MR. KLEIN: I don't know that situation in that sense. But obviously this is -- under this subpoena -- let me just say you it is my sense that in terms of documents that are relevant to Mr. Fiske's investigation, I don't anticipate we will reserve any privileges, just as we didn't assert last time.
Now, I don't know how broad his investigation is going to go, and I just don't want to foreclose it if we touch on some issue of national security, something we might not want to --
Q: Who will determine relevance?
MR. KLEIN: Well, relevance, I guess, in the most immediate sense is determined by Mr. Fiske in the sense that he controls the subpoena. So he will make that determination.
Q: Do they have any documents yet from Foster's office or -- was anything turned over before? And does this sort of raise the speculation that there might be some new judgment on his death?
MR. KLEIN: No, I don't -- let me answer the first question first and the second question -- I think as to documents that they have, the only thing that I'm currently aware -- there may be other stuff -- but the only I'm currently aware of is, as you know, that the Clinton's private attorney, Mr. Kendall, has turned over the Whitewater file that was initially in Mr. Foster's office. So I believe they do have that file.
As to your second question, my view of this subpoena, of course you'd have to ask Mr. Fiske, and I don't want to speak for him, but my view of the subpoena is this is really looking at the phase his inquiry concerning the files in Mr. Foster's office and the disposition of those files. And that's what I think -- this is the part of his inquiry that we're talking about.
I think the issues relating to the question of suicide were based on forensic information that he looked at. And I don't believe that this is focused on that.
Q: Does this mean that you will have to go the Park Police and to the FBI and ask them to turn files back to you and give them to Fiske? I think the FBI's already given their files to Fiske, haven't they?
MR. KLEIN: I assume they have. I don't know --
Q: Does this mean that you would have to go around to the Park Police and collect --
MR. KLEIN: No. As you see from the subpoena, to the extent we know of files that we gave to other people, we would describe that for Mr. Fiske. And he would then be able to make those inquiries. But we don't -- to the extent we don't have them, we couldn't produce --
Q: What about the telephone log? Is that with Mrs. Clinton?
MR. KLEIN: Well, any telephone logs that are called for we're going to produce.
Q: The Park Police have said at first that they didn't get the telephone log.
MR. KLEIN: Any telephone logs that are called for, we're going to produce.
Q: The White House beepers that you use, do they record every --
MR. KLEIN: I actually was asking myself the same question today. I don't think -- I think the way you do them is you sort of get your message and then you delete them. That's my guess as to the way they do them. I don't know. My assumption again, it's my assumption -- you'd have to direct your question to Mr. Fiske -- is this is enough to be thorough, comprehensive, get any possible communication. I don't know that he knows how these beepers work or anything, and so that's all. I wouldn't read anything more into the question.
Q: your characterization of the subpoena or is this a quote from the --
MR. KLEIN: No, no, this is --
Q: Say that again.
MR. KLEIN: This is the language from the subpoena. This is not my characterization --
Q: (inaudible) -- from the subpoena?
MR. KLEIN: Yes, you wouldn't think that I write like that -- (laughter).
Q: Does that include the personal files of the President and Mrs. Clinton were -- Vince was working on personal matters for them other than Whitewater? Does this call for --
MR. KLEIN: Let me explain what my understanding is on that. You see where it says in subparagraph 1, where there's a paren, to the extent any such documents have already been produced to another person or entity outside the White House. I believe that would include those documents and we would describe them -- obviously we don't have them.
Q: Kendall has --
MR. KLEIN: That Mr. Kendall has them, exactly.
Q: Do you know if Kendall or the Foster family or any of the other people involved who might have received documents have received subpoenas?
MR. KLEIN: I know that Kendall has not. I don't know about the Foster family.
Q: So will the President and the First Lady have to comply with -- documents?
MR. KLEIN: The President and the First Lady will comply just as they did last time, they will comply fully with this.
Q: With everything they have involving Vince Foster and other --
MR. KLEIN: Here's what I explained --
Q: any personal notes that may have been written back and forth --
MR. KLEIN: Here's what I explained you -- to the extent -- the Special Counsel has already told me that this is a fully comprehensive, that he wants to proceed in steps. To the extent that he wants documents, we will comply, but that he has asked us to do this step-wise and that's the way we intend to comply.
You can imagine there are lots of documents that coursed through the White House that might, in its broader sense, be called for.
Q: And are you going to then ask the entire staff to freeze garbage collection?
MR. KLEIN: No, we already did that. Actually, you may recall -- and I think we put this out -- during the initial round of subpoenas we were asked, basically, to preserve all documents. And the staff has been asked to preserve all documents relating to this matter. So there's no need and there will be no pictures this time of trash backing up in the White House.
Q: Can you just clarify -- talking about this -- fulfilling this comprehensive request in steps. Are you saying that things that you don't think are directly related like files on Supreme Court justices or whatever, you would not turn over initially and --
MR. KLEIN: When I say steps, don't -- this is a question somebody -- it's not my determination, it's Mr. Fiske's determination. And this is routine in subpoena compliance; this has happened to me in private practice many, many times -- that you start out with thorough, broad, comprehensive subpoena. What effect that that has, actually, is it locks in place all the documents. We've already done that. Then what you do is you say, we need these things, and based on that we may decide we need something else.
The Special Counsel has already told me, even though they are technically covered, that they don't need documents concerning Supreme Court nominees in 1993. And obviously, that's a highly sensitive matter that we would not be --. However, as this goes along, this is not my decision, it's Mr. Fiske's staff's decision. And as we did last time, we intend to be fully cooperative in the process.
Q: So if he wants something like that, even if it doesn't seem rational or appropriate would you turn it over --
MR. KLEIN: Here's the only issue, and again, these are hypothetical, but let me tell you the way I think about this now, it's not my privilege, the privilege belongs to the President. If he were to ask for something that were irrelevant in any reasonable sense or that raised an issue -- and that raised, let's say, an issue of national security or something like that, that might be something that the President would have to look at. I don't contemplate that's going to occur, and I don't want to suggest that we don't think exactly as last time, that we're going to give Mr. Fiske all the documents he requested, and be, as he said numerous times, fully cooperative. That is our intention.
I just don't want some day down the line, in my sort of fastidious lawyer-like way, I'm trying to conjure up some crazy hypothetical; but talking to you today, I don't anticipate that there would any documents we don't come forward with.
Q: Just to recall what happened back in July, according to the reports, you and the FBI and the Park Police are standing here -- Bernie was saying this is -- this can go --
MR. KLEIN: What I'd like to focus on today is what happened last time and what's going to happen this time -- is we're going to be fully cooperative.
Q: You gather all of this deals with Whitewater?
MR. KLEIN: Do I gather all of this deals with Whitewater? No.
Q: What does it deal with?
MR. KLEIN: I think it deals -- I think it deals with what I've said to you. I think it deals with the questions of Mr. Foster's files, the distribution of those files, the kind of questions that have been raised about that. That is my understanding. But again, I want you to understand something -- it's Mr. Fiske's subpoena and his investigation. I am giving you my understanding based on what I know.
Q: distribution of his files by Mr. Nussbaum --
MR. KLEIN: Not by Mr. Nussbaum, and that is the files that was in his office by Mr. Nussbaum to the various people --
Q: So that is really the heart of what this --
MR. KLEIN: As I read this document, that is the heart of --
Q: It's the aftermath of his suicide, rather than an investigation of the suicide itself?
MR. KLEIN: Again, as I read the document I believe that -- my understanding really is that the issue of the forensic questions has been separately resolved by Mr. Fiske. And I don't think those questions are still an issue. You've going to have to ask him as to where he stands.
But my understanding of this is that it concerns itself with, essentially with the documents.
Q: formal record of the distribution of the files of --
MR. KLEIN: I believe there are indexes --
Q: Is there any practical way of knowing whether Bernie has stuff that wasn't indexed, or -- anything?
MR. KLEIN: Well, let me make clear because I think that's a serious question. I don't think there's any suggestion that Bernie destroyed anything, and I would want to dispel any characterization of that immediately.
I believe that the processes, in terms of identifying the documents and so forth -- perceived in a clear and identifiable fashion. So I don't -- obviously I wasn't here, and I don't want to suggest to you things that I don't know. But I think based on what knowledge I have, I think any suggestion that documents were removed or destroyed in that sense, I have no knowledge of it's --
Q: How did you know that the request --
I mean, in terms of -- documents.
MR. KLEIN: One can always imagine how something like that could, but it seems to me there's no evidence to suggest that it occurred and that's the way I'd like to leave this at this time.
Q: You just told him that any documents that were distributed by Nussbaum, you mean any documents distributed to or by anybody?
MR. KLEIN: Yes, although the focus of it is --
Q: Not just Nussbaum?
MR. KLEIN: Yes, but the focus -- answering this question, the focus of it is the files that were in Foster's office. They do cover documents that other people are involved --
Q: Is there any place here in the White House where there exists a copy of the telephone conversation that the President and Foster had on Monday night before he died?
MR. KLEIN: I don't know the answer to that question. I am not going to go into the substance of any documents. But sitting here today wouldn't help you if I were willing to, because I don't know the answer.
The reason -- let me say -- I think is Whitewaterrelated, of course, there's some -- there was a Whitewater file in there -- that, obviously. But this is not -- my understanding is this is focused on the files more broadly. That's all I was saying.
Q: issue is involved with the distribution of the files?
MR. KLEIN: Again, I think you're going to have to ask that of Mr. Fiske. I think he wants -- he wants to trace these files, know where these files are. And I don't know what beyond Whitewater --
Q: If the assumption at the White House is that he has concluded forensically that there was no foul play involved in Mr. Foster's death, what is the legal significance of how these files were distributed --
MR. KLEIN: I assume, again, I think you have to direct that to him, but I assume he wants to ensure that the files were preserved, that they were -- those kind of --
Q: whether or not there was a pager at time of some question, because the question was raised as to whether he had been paged that afternoon, and he was told he didn't wear a pager. Do you know if there is one or was one?
MR. KLEIN: I don't know that.
Q: And how about disks from the computer, do they exist?
MR. KLEIN: There are, I believe, disks that are responsive, but --
Q: They were preserved?
MR. KLEIN: There were disks --
Q: Is it your sense, then, that the documents --
MR. KLEIN: There were disks. There are disks --
Q: floppy disks or are you talking about the hard disks -- computer --
MR. KLEIN: I think there were probably both floppies as well as hard.
Q: In other words, the documents that Bernie Nussbaum refused to provide to Park Police, the FBI and the other investigators, citing privilege, those are the documents that Fiske now is requesting?
MR. KLEIN: Those documents are within the scope of this subpoena --. (Inaudible) -- they're not the only documents, but they are --
Q: Fiske concludes that the forensic evidence does show he committed suicide. So why is he still investigating Foster?
Q: Is he investigating Nussbaum?
MR. KLEIN: Let me -- what I understand he's investigating -- I don't know which people and so forth -- what I understand he's investigating is, based on this subpoena, he is looking at the documents, principally of the documents that were in Vince Foster's office. What reasons he's looking at those, I think you're going to have to direct to him. I think he wants -- that's basically what this calls for and that's what he's focused on. If you see paragraph 1, paragraph 2, paragraph 3, paragraph 4, these are essentially -- he wants to know where are all the documents that were in Foster's office? Where did they go to? What happened to them? That kind of question. The significance of that, you're going to have to ask --
Q: satisfied that is within scope of his inquiry --
MR. KLEIN: Well, when you say, are, we satisfied, his inquiry -- (inaudible)
It is my view that --
Q: It is your view that it is within his scope of it because -- in what sense is it within the scope?
MR. KLEIN: It's in the scope because it basically says that anything he wants to look at, he's --(inaudible). (Laughter.)
And I wish I could narrow it for you, but --(inaudible).
Q: documents referring to official White House business and also the personal files of --
MR. KLEIN: Yes, although, I don't think -- I mean, I think what he's trying to do is basically, he doesn't want, he told me doesn't want every single document relating to all the White House business. So I think he is essentially trying to ensure that he understands where the documents were, where they went to, what happened. And basically dealing in -- the process and the integrity of the process. That's what I think --
Q: think that that involves then, in addition to the substance of those documents, the conduct of other White House officials in the aftermath of Mr. Foster's death?
MR. KLEIN: I think that that's something you're going to have to address to Fiske, in the sense that, I don't know what particular conduct or things he's focused on. What I can tell you is he is obviously from this looking at what the files were, where they went to and what happened to them. And obviously that's what you can see on the face of the subpoena.
Q: Do you know whether Hamilton has also been subpoenaed?
MR. KLEIN: I answered before, I don't know the answer to that. And I do know that as we sit here today, David Kendall has not been.
Q: How about Nussbaum --
MR. KLEIN: Well, Nussbaum's files are here. In other words, any files he had were retained in the White House.
Q: How do you know that?
MR. KLEIN: Because we went through a process when Mr. Nussbaum left.
Q: When he left was he ordered not take files with him?
MR. KLEIN: He was -- first of all, as a matter of federal record law and so forth, you can't take anything except your personal files. We ensured that any files that Mr. Nussbaum had relating to any of these matters were retained in the White House. And we went through a process on that.
Q: When you do expect to begin turning documents over?
MR. KLEIN: As soon as the backgrounder ends. (Laughter.)
I would anticipate -- he's asked us to proceed in steps. As soon as we have responsive documents, we will start to turn them over to him.
Q: What does this mean -- hours?
MR. KLEIN: Oh, no, no, I think as soon as -- no, not hours, but I think sooner than a week. I think it could be by the end of this week; it could be beginning of next week.
Q: But we were told it was by next Tuesday. The subpoena asked that they be delivered by --
MR. KLEIN: All that is, is what one calls in this kind of thing a benchmark date. He's not -- he understands there would be no possible way, physical way, to do this full production. He wants us basically to have a dialogue with him as we go forward. And he has said to us he wants us to move expeditiously. And, indeed, we will do so.
Q: You said, you had this understanding that he had decided that the death was a suicide. Where does this understanding come from? Has he or someone else on his staff told someone at the White House --
MR. KLEIN: No, no, I don't have --my understanding, based on things that I've read in the newspapers, are out in the public -- lots of people have said this, that he has -- that he has indicated that the death is a suicide. He has made no official announcement to that. There's nothing in this process that he's looking at suggests to me that he's questioning that issue. That's all I'm saying to you. You'd have to ask --
MR. KLEIN: No. I talked to one of the people on his staff, but not about that issue.
Q: But in that conversation, they effectively narrowed the subpoena, because the subpoena's quite broad under paragraph A; and you're saying that they told you which to prioritize and which not to, so --
MR. KLEIN: This is the most routine thing in the world with lawyers. You start with -- they ask for everything; they don't want everything, but they don't know what they want, so they ask for everything. So that starts the process. Then they tell you what they want in a priority way. They look at a, they then decide if they need b. If they need b, they get back to you. That's the process we're going through. He's already identified the priorities for us; and I'm not saying he's narrowed it in the sense that he may decide he wants everything.
Q: But after you were served, you had this conversation in which they described more clearly which they were looking for.
MR. KLEIN: I had one conversation before we were served, and I had a further conversation after we were served.
Q: So how do you describe the priority --
MR. KLEIN: They're what is called for in one, two, three and four of this subpoena. In other words, the broad documents are in paragraph A; and then you see he's got --that includes everything. Anything relating, referencing, touched by Vince, that's in it. Then he says, includes, but not limited to, and these are the specifics.
Q: So you sent out a memo to the entire White House staff asking them to make available to you all of these documents?
MR. KLEIN: I have not, as I told you previously, I have preserved all the documents. I sent down instructions to the White House staff telling everybody, all documents in any way relating, referencing Vince Foster, Whitewater, ought to be preserved. So they're locked.
Now what I'm doing is drawing down on this account that I built up, and getting the documents in a priority fashion.
Q: Now, physically, you'll take the documents to the court, or somebody will take the documents to the court?
MR. KLEIN: A chance to be on television?
MR. KLEIN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I can't wait. (Laughter.)
Q: testify to the chain of custody, won't you --
MR. KLEIN: We will testify --
Q: Are you going to use that same leather briefcase?
Q: the briefcase your mother gave you?
MR. KLEIN: I tell you, that briefcase is now an artifact of history.
Q: How much of this material was turned over in response to the first subpoena --
MR. KLEIN: How much of this --
Q: Of this material. How duplicative --
MR. KLEIN: I don't think anything that we turn over, because the materials that were turned over to Mr. McKay were the materials that David Kendall had in his possession.
MR. KLEIN: The Whitewater file came from Vince's office. In other words, there was a Whitewater file that went to Williams and Connolly, and Mr. Kendall produced to the Justice Department.
Q: But that was the only White House material that was produced --
MR. KLEIN: That was the only file from Foster's office.
Q: Just to clarify one other point. When you say you're reluctant about Supreme Court nominees, are you saying that you will supply that material to Fiske, and then have a discussion about whether --
MR. KLEIN: No, no, he's going to --
Q: You will basically not supply to them, and say this file relates to Supreme Court nominees --
MR. KLEIN: He's already told me he doesn't want that material at this point. I've got all the files, but he doesn't want that material. He's not interested in knowing detailed background information that we may assembled on a prospective nominee. But if he wants that for some reason he will let us know. And I can't imagine he would, but if he does, I anticipate, like everything else we've done, we're going to be fully cooperative. But that's the process.
Q: Other than Kendall, who are the other persons -- outside the White House that might have -- files?
MR. KLEIN: I think Jim Hamilton, I think, is the other --
Q: I'm sorry?
MR. KLEIN: To my knowledge, Jim Hamilton -- the Foster family --
MR. KLEIN: That's my --
Q: If there were personal letters or notes between Foster and the First Lady or the President, would those be covered by this subpoena -- not White House things, personal notes?
MR. KLEIN: I think those would be covered by this subpoena.
Q: Those would be covered by paragraph A, where you're kind of holding off on --
MR. KLEIN: At a minimum they'd be -- I haven't figured out whether -- I don't know that there's any such letters, documents -- but certainly they would be covered by paragraph A --
Q: What can you tell us about the Paula Jones matter and --
MR. KLEIN: I can't tell you anything. I have been busy working on this all day, as you can imagine.
Q: some documents would be turned over --
MR. KLEIN: Oh, I would -- again, slightly -- it's an educated guess, but I think the answer is definitely --
Q: Is it your sense that Fiske is trying to investigate now -- forget about the suicide because he assumes it was a suicide -- why he committed suicide?
MR. KLEIN: I don't know. I think you've got to direct those -- really, honestly, I have no clue about that. I think you ought to ask that to Fiske.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:37 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Joel Klein, Deputy White House Counsel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269646