Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon everyone. Let me start with just a note of caution. After a horrible incident, such as the one that's occurred in Oklahoma City today, there is usually a lot of information, and usually most of it turns out to be bad, and before it turns out to be good and reliable. So I want to be very measured in telling you what's going on today and direct you to the appropriate people at the federal agencies that are responding, and tell you a little bit about what the President's initial concerns are after hearing about this incident shortly after 10:30 a.m. this morning.
Obviously, the President's first and foremost concern is that everything be done to assist those who are -- have been victims of this incident to make sure that we've got the right and necessary type of assistance available to local authorities in Oklahoma City. And he is satisfied that those steps are being taken.
Secondly, he wants to make sure through proper law enforcement that everything is done as quickly as possible to bring whoever is responsible for this incident quickly to justice.
Now, he directed this morning Leon Panetta to convene an interagency working group here at the White House who would just review how federal agencies are now responding. And we're satisfied, based on the report that we have from the Department of Justice, from GSA, from the FBI, from FEMA, from the Secret Service, from the Marshals Service, from all the relevant federal agencies that might have a role here in dealing with this incident, that we have a very good federal response in hand.
The federal government has activated an emergency response plan that we train for and that we have in place so that we can coordinate interagency response to incidents like this. The Department of Justice had already responded, had FBI personnel in place, a variety of law enforcement efforts underway. They've established a mobile command center in Oklahoma City with FBI, FEMA, Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Marshals Service and GSA in place, to give updated information to folks here in Washington.
The President has directed for the emergency response efforts that James Lee Witt, the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, go to Oklahoma City to coordinate the emergency response. It will have DOJ coordinating the various law enforcement efforts that will be underway and FEMA responding to the emergency situation in place.
Mr. Panetta's been briefing the President regularly. The President, I expect like many Americans, has been watching the developments as he sees them on television and getting updates from the Chief of Staff as we go along.
I'd ask that you, for inquiries about the various things going on in Oklahoma City related to law enforcement, you stay in close contact with Carl Stern over at Justice. And for the work that FEMA will be coordinating, that Morrie Goodman will be a good point of contact. They will be coordinating some of the interagency public affairs efforts as we go along.
Q: What do you know about it so far, in terms of the casualties and the possibility that it might have been a bomb and --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we know very little hard information. We've heard a lot of different reports. We're getting good information from the field, but they are at the very early stages of investigating this incident. And it is way too early at this point to draw any conclusions about what has happened in Oklahoma City.
Clearly there's been a devastating explosion that's occurred at this federal building, that the cause of it is unknown. Those responsible are unknown at this point. And we'll have to develop that very carefully in the course of the coming hours and days.
Q: Do you have a casualty number, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't have a reliable one. That's being worked on. Again, stay in contact with the local authorities on the ground there who will have the best information as they get it available.
Q: Has security been heightened in federal buildings and here in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would take -- any moment like this, you're seeing now a variety of sporadic reports from federal buildings around the country that are getting alleged threats. And, you know, as federal agencies do, we will respond appropriately. We have directed that federal buildings take any necessary precautions just to respond as they would in a routine way any time we sense that there is some reason to believe that there's an incident that's occurred that raises the level of threat.
Q: Any report of a threat in Oklahoma City that may have preceded this?
MR. MCCURRY: They are looking now through everything available in the information that was available to the federal government to see. We don't have a concrete answer. We're not aware of any at this point.
Q: Are you aware of any kind of conspiracy or plot that would spread this --
MR. MCCURRY: We're at the very early stages of investigating this incident. And it would be way too early to have developed any good information on anything like that.
Q: Mike, in terms of the response here at the White House, when these agency -- interagency groups start up, is there a process where they automatically do things, or has the President jumped in himself and said something must be done?
MR. MCCURRY: There is a good Federal Emergency Management plan in effect, which includes, you know, a White House component that the Chief of Staff is now executing at the direction of the President. Obviously, in this situation the President wants to make sure that the White House stays right on top of administration response to make sure that the appropriate things are being done. But we're satisfied in large part because of our experience in dealing with incidents of this nature or related types of incidents. We've got good planning in effect, and that's all underway at this point.
Q: automatically --
MR. MCCURRY: It -- there are a lot of things -- the federal agencies, like the FBI, like Justice, like GSA, did have planning in effect that kicked in automatically. And here at the White House we established a small interagency working group to make sure we monitor all the proper developments from these various agencies.
Q: Will this affect the security plan for the White House, the future plan?
MR. MCCURRY: It's entirely too early to say. That was a review that was still at the Treasury Department. And we'd be jumping to conclusions if we suggested there was anything about today's incident in Oklahoma City that had any bearing on that security review.
Q: President -- make a statement before the end of the day on this? MR. MCCURRY: I suspect the President will. I think -- Q: In person or written or -- MR. MCCURRY: Later in the day, I think he wants to make
sure that people have got the best information available to him, and I suspect later in the day he'll be --
Q: You have increased security here at the White House, have you not?
MR. MCCURRY: We've taken precautions that we would normally take following an incident like this.
Q: Mike, you talked about persons unknown, responsible for this. Does that -- can you confirm that this actually was a bomb? And can you say what kind of bomb this was?
MR. MCCURRY: I would hesitate to do that because there are people on the ground that are looking very carefully at exactly that type of question. I can tell you that law enforcement officials are investigating it as a crime scene. And they are, you know, for that reason, all the relevant law enforcement agencies are in place and responding.
Q: This emergency plan you referred to, was this developed after the World Trade Center or in recent months or --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a variety of that type of planning that has been in place over time. I'm not sure when it came into effect here. Having participated in another federal agency, I know that they routinely update a lot of their planning activities, and I think they do build on past experience.
Q: to procedures normally taken after an incident such as this --
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q: I don't recall x-raying of lunches and bags and stuff after the World Trade Center or after any other incident in recent -- maybe I just didn't notice, but isn't this some new level that we haven't seen before?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we are taking precautions as you would expect us to take following an incident of this nature and following threats that have been going to some isolated federal facilities around the country.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any threat here or directed against the White House.
Q: Any in Washington?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not -- I don't know entirely about all of the federal installations around Washington. I only know about here at the White House.
Q: Is there the likelihood that the President will want to visit the site at some point?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he wants to make sure that the proper law enforcement is in place and that the right emergency response is taking place. It's way too early to make judgments about that.
Q: Can you confirm that they found an unexploded bomb or an unexploded device?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot.
Q: How many threats have been received around the country? Can you give us any idea about that --
MR. MCCURRY: We, frankly, hear about them from news organizations probably even faster than we hear about them through the channels that we've got available to accumulate accurate information. There have been several on the wires already, as you probably know.
Q: Will Justice or ATF, the FBI give a readout or a detailed briefing on this by the end of the day?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they're putting into place their own planning to respond to public inquiries about what's happened, make sure they've got people in place both in Oklahoma City and here in Washington who can respond to specific concerns, and they will do that. I've talked, as I mentioned before, both to Morrie Goodman and to Carl Stern at Justice and FEMA, respectively. And they're going to be a position to tell you more about how their agencies and subordinate agencies are responding.
Q: Mike, are there groups that are already being looked at or scrutinized?
MR. MCCURRY: Our --
Q: as those who may have -- who may --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not aware that they've developed any -- any leads that would suggest a target for an investigation at this point.
Q: Has the President changed his plans in any way today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so. He proceeded with the meeting with Prime Minister Ciller, and he's got some additional meetings taking place later today. And he will, as the day goes on, be updated on a regular basis by either the Chief of Staff or anyone else appropriate working with this interagency group.
Q: Mike, it is planned that there would be, you know, one central briefing that would bring in, let's say, Justice and FEMA and everybody else?
MR. MCCURRY: Not at the moment. I think that they're all concentrating at their own workplaces, using their own -- their command centers and their own channels back to Oklahoma City. I think it's more appropriate for them to kind of stay on top of what they've got going on at their individual agencies. We'll check and see later on today. If the President does have something to say, who else we might have with him, we'll let you know as the afternoon goes on.
Q: This contingency plan that was put into effect, is it an anti-terrorism plan? Does it have a name?
MR. MCCURRY: It's just the -- referred to as the Emergency Response Plan. It is not directed as any specific threat because at this point we don't have any credible information that lets us understand precisely what type of incident this was in Oklahoma City.
Q: What types of emergencies has it been designed for? Is it --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, it's -- it's fairly comprehensive and covers things that you would imagine, including natural disasters.
Q: Mike, there are any number of federal agencies that try to monitor the possibility of these sorts of attacks or actions. To your knowledge, did any federal agency have any indication whatsoever that a -- that an effort was underway to stage this kind of thing, or was this whole thing a complete surprise to the federal government?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, at this time, there was nothing that suggested that this incident was going to occur. But as you can well imagine, we are very carefully scrubbing every available piece of information, digging as deeply as we can to see if there's anything that might provide a helpful lead.
Q: Has the President talked to the Governor, or anyone personally?
MR. MCCURRY: The Chief of Staff has placed a call to the Governor. The President plans to make some calls this afternoon to members of Congress and to others, just to bring them up to date on what the federal government's response has been to date. And he will continue to keep apprised himself of anything developing.
Q: Has there been any speculation on the correlation of -- the two year anniversary of Waco, Texas, and this bombing?
MR. MCCURRY: There's not been anything substantive that suggests that connection, but there has been speculation, most of it coming from a variety of news organizations reporting on that coincidence at this point.
Q: Do you know who the President plans to call?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know for sure, Brit. I think he's going to be in touch with members of the delegation and others.
Okay. We'll check in with you --
Q: Do you have any sense of what time the President might come out here?
Q: Yes, when will see --
MR. MCCURRY: I -- I would -- not prior to the 5:00 P.M. hour.
Q: Not prior to 5:00 P.M.?
MR. MCCURRY: The later in the day we do it, the more information, hopefully, we'll have available.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:47 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269993