Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Mike McCurry

April 20, 1995

The Briefing Room

5:37 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon everybody. I've got not a whole else to add to what you've been briefed on already from Oklahoma City and by the Attorney General earlier. But I did promise to be available in case you just wanted to know anything more about. The President, I think, is very clear. The President has been following carefully the developments in both the law enforcement side and also the emergency response side and has been getting regular updates from Mr. Panetta. Mr. Panetta convened this morning another meeting of our interagency senior team that has been going through the federal response. The President's very satisfied with the reports that he's been getting, including a telephone call that came in to this interagency group earlier today from James Lee Witt, who is on the site and provided a very gripping and very human account of all the efforts underway there.

But the President has addressed himself to that today, too. I think you can now gather from the President's remarks earlier today at the press availability with President Cardoso that he had a very good idea of some of the law enforcement efforts that are underway and have now resulted in some of the public announcements that you've already heard. So --

Q: What's he going to do tonight? I mean, how -- will he stay in touch tonight?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a state dinner tonight. And he will -- if there's anything that needs to be drawn to his attention by the working group, we'll get that information relayed from the crisis command center over at Justice via the Situation Room here directly from Mr. Panetta. He was getting updates as late as midnight last night from Mr. Panetta, and I expect if there's any need to provide additional information tonight, he'll get it.

Q: And is it your understanding that there are only two suspects -- or two people who are being sought now?

MR. MCCURRY: My information is exactly that information that's been provided by the Attorney General and the authorities in Oklahoma City.

Q: Mike, you have made it clear that you're not going to talk about the investigative stuff, but could you just tell us, is the President getting information on the various theories that law enforcement is constructing, or do they just basically say to him, okay, now we have this information that there are two specific people being sought. How deep is he getting into it? It's a good question.

MR. MCCURRY: He is following the matters closely enough to make sure that proper law enforcement efforts are underway and that they are exploring every possible lead. I think it's up to those who are doing the investigation to discuss whatever theories or operational theories they have as to the investigation itself. And, clearly, again, we would stress that a lot of the speculation as to these theories, as you can see today, turn out to bring wrong as the facts develop.

Q: Has he had any conversation with Louis Freeh and has Mr. Freeh been over here?

MR. MCCURRY: Director Freeh has not been because he's been very actively involved back at Washington. In fact, I can tell you that one point earlier today there was a discussion with the President about where he would be most usefully deployed -- either here or in Washington or in Oklahoma City. And we were satisfied -- the President was satisfied when told that -- when he was told that the emergency response planning that had been done at Justice called for the Director to be where he is, doing what he's doing. So he is staying there and active.

The President gets very good firsthand accounts of some of the law enforcement efforts, either directly from the Attorney General or from Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick who's been over here a couple of times and has participated in several of the senior team meetings I've been talking about.

Q: What has turned out to be wrong?

MR. MCCURRY: What has turned out -- some of the mistaken speculative judgments by people who are on the airwaves talking about things they don't know about.

Q: Like what?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to refer to any specific people, but I think there are a lot of theories that have turned out to be incorrect. There have been a lot of assumptions about who might be responsible or just not correct to make at this point based on what the facts are.

Q: Has the President spoken to --

Q: wrong?

MR. MCCURRY: They may or not be wrong. We don't know -- as the Attorney General has made abundantly clear, we don't have enough facts to speculate about motives, about connections, about sponsorship and so on and so forth.

Q: Has the President spoken to anyone in Oklahoma today, either with the federal response team, like James Lee or anyone in the Oklahoma state government or any of the senators or congressmen?

MR. MCCURRY: No. He talked to Governor Keating yesterday, and the Governor relayed back to James Lee Witt that he very much appreciated the call. I believe he did talk to the two senators and perhaps one or two members of the delegation. I'm certain he talked to the Governor, and I believe he did talk to the two senators and perhaps some other members of the delegation.

Q: Is he planning to make any phone calls tonight or tomorrow along that regard? And is the delegation that's out there representing the administration it for now? Is there any thought of sending anyone else as the President's representative -- not law enforcement people, but more on the political side?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I think the President feels that he certainly wants to be with the people of Oklahoma City. His heart is certainly with them, and he is conscious of the fact that we need to make sure that federal authorities there are helping in what the most urgent tasks are, which are recovery of victims and then pursuing investigative leads. And he's directed all of our energies to that end, but he will certainly consider down the road a ways any other appropriate response from the federal government or from -- indeed, from the White House itself.

Q: Not just him, I'm talking about any other Cabinet officials or --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a number of Cabinet officials that are very concerned about employees from their own agencies. And it would be entirely appropriate at the proper point for them to be directly involved in helping the families of any victims that come from those agencies. But that's something that's a little premature at this point. The energy and the focus again is on search and rescue and on investigation.

Q: How can the President say with such certainty that the people responsible for the bombing will be brought to justice, when those responsible for the Pan Am 103 bombing are still at large?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's -- it's reflection of his determination to make sure that we are not in a position where we're not able to bring those who are likely suspects to justice. The problem in Pan Am 103 is that there are suspects there who have not been brought to justice because they're being detained by the government of Libya, which will not honor relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. And the President, I think, has made it pretty clear he doesn't want to be in that sort of condition when it comes to those that we suspect and then find to be responsible for this attack.

Q: Well, couldn't that happen just again? I mean, how can you avoid that?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's determined that it won't happen again.

Q: The Attorney General said at the beginning of her news conference that she had just gotten off the phone with the President. What were they talking about, and was there some kind of final sign-off on the reward or what?

MR. MCCURRY: No, the President just -- the Attorney General wanted to give the President a brief. We wanted to make sure the President had all the latest before she went out. We did need to make sure that everyone was comfortable with the reward. And the President was well aware as the day went on of some of the leads that they were developing. But I think he wanted to just go through one more time exactly how they were going to present the information about the two individuals they are now seeking.

Q: The President was in on -- deciding how that information would be presented, or he was just getting himself briefed?

MR. MCCURRY: He was just hearing how they were going to present it.

Q: When did the President first get word, Mike, that there might be something as narrowly defined as these two particular people they were looking for with identification as narrowly defined as it -- was that before he went to bed last night?

MR. MCCURRY: Around mid-day, that began to sharpen up during the course of the day. And I think he heard around mid-day that they were -- how they were going to develop this particular lead and how they were going to present it as the day went on.

Q: Do they know any more about them than has been portrayed --

MR. MCCURRY: No. The best information is that which has been made available at this point.

Q: What was the latest he knew when he went to bed last night? What was the most he knew about --

MR. MCCURRY: I can't get -- I can't answer that without getting more specifically into the status of the investigation than I'm willing to do.

Q: Mike, we asked you this morning if he had heard from any other leaders of other countries. Have you had a chance to check on that?

MR. MCCURRY: He has heard from a number of leaders of foreign countries. The State Department, I think, can run down at least some of those, although many of those governments have expressed that publicly. And you see that reflected now. I will tell you that of all the expressions of support, sympathy, condolences and concern that we have heard, the President has had a discussion with Prime Minister Major about midafternoon. The Prime Minister called the President just to say that he was really appalled over the incident. But, of course, the President did want to thank the Prime Minister for some of the assistance we've had in the return of an individual who the Justice Department has indicated may be a material witness in the investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Q: Has he spoken personally with any other leaders?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of, although we are getting personal messages from other foreign governments.

Q: Can I get you to expand on something, Mike? You just said a lot of the speculation you've seen today turned out to be wrong as the facts developed. Were you referring specifically to the fact they're looking for two white males in the case?

MR. MCCURRY: There was just -- you know, there's been enormous amounts of speculative commentary by experts, people who I think are well-intentioned and who news organizations are seeking out for commentary. They are not in a position to have facts that allow them to comment about specifically the Oklahoma City incident. And I think your audiences might jump to certain conclusions based on expert commentary that they're hearing that are not informed by the facts.

And that's one of the reasons among many that many of us have urged people to sort of slow down a little bit, make sure you understand exactly what facts are worth reporting. As you just heard the FBI indicate earlier, all day long today there have been reports about arrests in Dallas and people in custody and, you know, the FBI is not aware of any of that as they've just reported to you.

Q: Mike, in term's of the President's role here, how specifically is he deciding on what should be revealed publicly or should not? For example, they were talking about last night that he did sign off on Reno's statement that they would seek the death penalty. Does he have the final say on what's said --

MR. MCCURRY: No. The President has one and only one concern, which is that he assure the American people that every step is being taken to bring those responsible to justice and that every effort be made to help those who have been victims of this terrible incident. Secondly, he wants to make sure that nothing that we say or do here at the White House interferes with appropriate law enforcement efforts that are underway by the Justice Department or by state and local authorities as well.

So we've been very conscious of not wanting to say anything that is going to interrupt or impede an ongoing investigation. And you can tell by the very cautious and measured way that the Attorney General has responded to many questions that that's exactly the right tone.

Q: But is there one particular person or point where the public message is signed off on? Who's doing that?

MR. MCCURRY: As I indicated to you yesterday, we've got Carl Stern at the Justice Department coordinating public information efforts as they relate to the law enforcement effort, and then -- and Morrie Goodman who works for James Lee Witt, coordinating information on the emergency response to the incident itself. Those are the proper places within our government to coordinate some of the public affairs activities. They've got a wide apparatus -- those of you who have talked to your colleagues in Oklahoma City know that there's a very large apparatus down there designed to support and try to help those who are covering the story there.

Q: Mike, you say that this individual who is being brought back from London as a material witness --

MR. MCCURRY: I quoted the Justice Department saying that.

Q: it was a material witness. To what? A material witness to --

MR. MCCURRY: I quoted the Justice Department suggesting that they believe he might be a possible material witness in the investigation of this incident. If you want to follow, please go to Justice on that.

Q: Mike, is that person back in the United States?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information I can share on that.

Q: You had said earlier today, can you outline what Clinton is going to be doing tomorrow and relate in terms of maintaining his normal schedule and --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He has an event tomorrow to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day. Very conscious, as we reach the 25th anniversary of a very significant moment in the effort to protect the health and the environment of the American people that we look for ways at this point to reinvent the efforts of the government to protect America's environment, and those are the points that he will be making in a public presentation tomorrow. More information in detail on schedule I think you can get from Mary Ellen.

Q: And again reiterating that he wants to maintain his sense of normalcy --

MR. MCCURRY: No. Reiterating that he is doing the business of being President, and that includes tomorrow an effort to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.

Q: Mike, the way the President described the incident today suggested it was an attack on the United States, which would insinuate that it was a foreign-based effort, rather than a domestically-based effort --

THE PRESIDENT: The President -- the President made it very, very clear to you that you should not make any false judgments or assumptions about sponsorship or motive. He said that many, many times in that press conference. And that was very authoritative. What he was pointing out, very clearly, is that acts of terror are designed to disrupt the lives of all Americans, regardless of their sponsorship or motive, whether domestic or international. They're designed to get us to fear ourselves and each other in ways that don't allow us to proceed with life the way we want to live it. And that, in a sense, disrupts what we are as Americans and what are country is. And that's the point the President was addressing himself to at noon.

Q: Mike, how will the disaster funding be handled? Do you expect the Republicans to insist that whatever disaster expenditures will be offset in the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't imagine that Congress and the administration would get cross-wise in an effort to respond to this with appropriate financial assistance. There is a provision within the Stafford Act, under Section -- I think it's 501(b)F 501(C) F -- as it was in the proclamation signed by the President yesterday, that it has -- it capped him on a $5 million that's available.

Q: Mike, is the CIA involved in this investigation?

MR. MCCURRY: They -- any federal agency that can contribute to efforts gather information relevant to the -- to the investigation is involved. And I think you can suspect that anyone who can help us in that type of effort would be involved. That would most likely include the Agency, but I can't comment specifically on anything they might be contributing to the investigation.

Q: Does the President want to go to Oklahoma City himself? Is he making any plans to do that --

MR. MCCURRY: He wants to do things that would, you know, be right for the people of Oklahoma City. And we'll see how things develop. There is some discussion of a memorial service in the coming days, and we'll just have to see how things develop. I don't have any further information that's definitive on the President's schedule, although I think he would like to do things that will help that community come together and respond to what has been a very tragic moment in the life of the community.

Q: Can you rule that out for this weekend, Mike --

MR. MCCURRY: No, I can't.

Okay, anything else?

Good. See you tomorrow.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 5:54 P.M. EST

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Mike McCurry Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives