Press Briefing by Mike McCurry
The Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: And good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, on this hot day in Washington, D.C. And here we are at the White House briefing room, and I'm here to brief. You've got the questions; I have the answers, but I won't give them to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Did the President make a call to Major, and has the President --
MR. MCCURRY: He has not. The President, I understand, has just returned from the event at -- the very good event he had at the Central Intelligence Agency, and he expects to speak with the British Prime Minister, if the current schedule holds, probably in about an hour or so.
Q: How about the meeting with his advisors?
MR. MCCURRY: What meeting?
Q: At 2:00 p.m. or 2:30 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: There have been many discussions, as I said earlier, between the President's foreign policy advisors. I think some of them may be over here later on in the afternoon. I'm not aware of any plan for them to work with the President, but the President has been talking to the National Security Advisor about the developments in Bosnia.
Q: He has been?
Q: Mike, after that meeting will you have a readout for us on it of some kind?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I'm going to talk to them afterwards and get a good sense --
Q: Why wouldn't he attend a meeting like that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he may -- I'm not suggesting that he's -- they're meeting to prepare for him some recommendations based on discussions that have been pursued in the aftermath of the President's call with some of the counterparts, the two particular ones that we described yesterday, but there have been ongoing diplomatic contacts between the allies.
Q: So you will have a readout for us afterwards?
Q: The French are talking about the possibility of trying to come to a decision -- obviously, time is crucial right now -- if the French are talking about coming to some kind of decision within 48 hours, will President Clinton be working over the weekend on this? And is it still his hope that the allies would all act together, as opposed to the French acting unilaterally?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes it's important for the Alliance to work together, yes. And he believes it's an urgent matter and he has been working on it urgently.
Q: The French proposal to the United States, does its request for military support go beyond what we agreed to do in the rapid deployment force?
MR. MCCURRY: That's difficult for me to answer, but it's not entirely clear. One of the things we are doing is pursuing with the French through military-to-military contacts better information on precisely what the French ideas are about, as we are with other governments as well.
Q: Has the President offered, or is there any possibility that he will modify the circumstances under which he would commit any kind of U.S. forces?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- I mean, any kind of U.S. forces -- there are a variety of forces deployed in the region currently and they operate according to mission plans developed by the commanders in the theater, pursuant to instruction they get from the national security advisors. I don't foresee any change in the President's thinking on the use of U.S. ground troops engaged as combatants in the theater.
Q: If I could follow up -- what about transport and logistics, like helicopters or --
MR. MCCURRY: There are active discussions underway right now with our allies about the situation in Bosnia. They are aimed at strengthening the U.N. presence in Bosnia so that it can do its job effectively, can do something about the enormous humanitarian suffering going on there, now and can do something about the violence that continues to persist as a result of Bosnian Serbs offenses, as a result, frankly, of fighting between the parties in conflict. But the President is determined to work with our allies to develop the best available answers at a time when they're not many answers that are forthcoming.
Q: Could you explain exactly what the French are asking you to do? It sounds like he's saying -- Chirac is saying, if you don't agree to this, we're pulling out.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it would be appropriate -- you are all asking me questions about the French idea, the French proposal, the French initiative -- I think it's more proper for the government of France to explain to you what they would like.
Q: Could you just explain what your understanding of it is since they made this request to the allies --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to get into fairly sensitive diplomatic discussions that are going on at this point between the allies. I just am not going to do that given the urgency of coming up with the best available solutions and the importance of doing so in a way that protects lives in Bosnia, not only Bosnian civilians but of U.N. personnel that are present and others who are there to assist the U.N. personnel.
Q: If the Senate moves ahead with a unilateral lifting of the embargo by the United States would the Senate leadership then have to bear -- or the congressional leadership -- bear the responsibility for the consequences?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, before that would happen, those who advocate a unilateral lift of the arms embargo in Bosnia ought to explain why the United States of America would not be drawn further into that conflict as a result of that action. Unilaterally lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia is certainly the way to drive the U.N. out of Bosnia and to drive the U.S. into Bosnia. And we've said that repeatedly, and those who advocate that measure owe it to the American people to explain to them how the United States would become more deeply involved in the conflict in Bosnia as a result of the measure that they sponsor.
Q: Do you know if the Senate has the authority to compel the President to ignore a U.N. resolution?
MR. MCCURRY: Under the Constitution of the United States the President is the commander in chief, and our judgment would be consistent with the Executive Branch's view of that question.
Q: Well, wait, wait -- what would that mean? Would that mean you would disregard instructions from Congress in this matter?
MR. MCCURRY: It would -- in any event, if it came to the President in a form that was subject to a veto, the President has made clear he would veto it.
Q: What if he is overridden?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that would be likely.
Q: -- reassured our allies --
Q: We're asking if they have the authority to abrogate an agreement with the U.N.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: Does Congress have the authority to change an agreement we made with the U.N.?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. Decisions that are made at the United Nations and votes that are taken by the Security Council could only be abrogated by the decision made unilaterally by the United States and conveyed through its representative at the United Nations. That is a principal question of foreign policy making and that's the prerogative of the President.
Q: I'm not sure of his title, but Owens from the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in Annapolis this morning that the French have asked us to provide significant air power and aerial logistics. Now, if he can describe that, why can't you? What is it?
MR. MCCURRY: He is a senior military commander in our government and he is in a better position to discuss that. I'm here speaking on behalf of the President of the United States, who's going to get some recommendations from his senior foreign policy advisors later and those are sensitive discussions that are going to be underway. And I don't fell free, as the General does, to openly describe those types of communications with foreign governments.
Q: French officials say that President Chirac asked President Clinton for a decision on this increased military help within 48 hours. Do you know if, in fact, they asked -- if that request was made?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't from memory confirm whether or not he used the phrase 48 hours, but it was clear that the President was speaking -- both Presidents were speaking about the urgency of addressing the situation.
Q: In terms of what was said during that phone call, there was some specific requests laid out by Chirac and did the President promised to get back to him by any --
MR. MCCURRY: It's fair to say that there were some specific requests made. It's fair to say that our President had some specific questions that he wanted addressed as a result of that conversation and military leaders have been attempting to follow up on those questions.
Q: And just to be sure -- you said that there will be decisions laid out to the President after this meeting today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not necessarily the case, no. They're going to discuss the situation, review the events on the ground, and I can't guarantee, as I can't guarantee any time foreign policy advisors are meeting, that there might be certain options recommended or certain decisions taken by the President.
Q: And how will we get our readout from you that you said you would give?
MR. MCCURRY: Make the best information we've got available when we can make it available.
Q: Did the President also call the Dutch Prime Minister today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. There were some tentative discussions in doing that, but that did not occur to my knowledge.
Q: Mike, do any -- are there discussions of changing the rules of engagement for the U.N.?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't discuss rules of engagement.
Q: Mike, is anybody at the White House the least bit ashamed of what's happened to the Bosnians in Srebrenica who trusted U.N. and U.S. policy to create a safe haven?
MR. MCCURRY: I think everybody in this government has consistently said that it's a devastating situation and nobody is satisfied with the performance of those who have been entrusted with the will of the international community to keep the peace.
Q: But do we feel -- do we accept the fact that we bear some responsibility for what happened there?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no way to assess responsibility for all the tragedy that is Bosnia. You have to look back over the work of this administration, the previous administration; frankly, you've got to look back into decisions taken by many governments and many different places. And that's not the job we do here in this briefing room.
Q: Can you explain more about what the new situation is with Akashi and -- he apparently has been moved out of his job.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of that. I don't have any information on that.
Q: The State Department is expressing concern about the fate of a substantial number of Muslim men who have disappeared. Is it your sense that there is perhaps a new round of ethnic cleansing going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, yes, it is our concern that there is that type of activity going on. And they -- it is, again, examples of the reprehensible behavior that the Bosnian Serb is now -- Bosnian Serb leadership -- will now be known throughout history for.
Q: But what, if anything, can the allies do about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the limits on what they are able to do are defined by the resources that they've got available in and around those places where this activity might be taking place, and they don't have many resources there, as you know.
Q: Two questions. You talked about the request, the specific requests that were made by the French. Were they made in connection with more than Gorazda, more safe zones than Gorazda?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going -- that's the type of discussion that the leaders are having now at their level. I'm not going to get into that.
Q: Are what you're discussing under the auspices of UNPROFOR or some unilateral -- something outside of that context?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall anything about these conversations that would be outside the jurisdiction of existing U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q: Why would lifting the arms embargo draw the U.S. further into the conflict?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, again, as we have said repeatedly, unilaterally lifting the arms embargo now in place by the United Nations on Bosnia would give the United States the unilateral responsibility for dealing with the very dangerous consequences that would result. First and foremost, UNPROFOR would immediately withdraw. That would require the presence, as we've already committed, of U.S. ground troops to assist our British, French and other allies as they extracted themselves. There would likely, in the judgment of military experts, be an immediate effort by the Bosnian Serbs to take advantage of their superiority in weaponry -- they would begin, likely in many places in Bosnia, not just in the eastern enclaves, offenses against Bosnian Muslim positions, perhaps including around Sarajevo. That would require, in the best judgment of military experts, a very strong and swift military response -- aerial campaign bombing -- which wouldn't in any event necessarily be successful, and then likely ground combat.
Now, all of that would be done with U.S. forces, U.S. troops, U.S. men dying in Bosnia. And that -- the alternative to that is as you sometime hear suggested on the Hill, is, well, we can just lift the arms embargo and other people can then arm and train the Bosnian Muslims who will need that type of heavy weaponry. And to those who propose this resolution we would propose, who do you have in mind? Iran? Is that what you're proposing?
Q: Following up on Ann Devroy's question, would the U.N. have the veto of what is being discussed by the NATO allies? When you say it would not be outside the jurisdiction of existing Security Council resolutions --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not enough of an expert, but the U.N. resolutions that are existing on this call for all necessary means in several instances for enforcement of measures called for in those resolutions, and in many cases, the United Nations has asked of NATO assistance. NATO is governed by the North Atlantic Council --
Q: But the United Nations has also been a very cumbersome mechanism in this whole affair.
MR. MCCURRY: NATO is governed by the North Atlantic Council, and activities -- military activities by NATO would be taken at the decision of 16 at the North Atlantic Council.
Q: Aside from ground troops, how far is the U.S. willing to go?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is an impossible question to answer.
Q: The Dole resolution, as I understand it --
MR. MCCURRY: Because it requires speculation on what might happen on the ground and what kind of scenarios develop. I haven't seen --
Q: We know what's happened on the ground.
Q: As I understand it, Senator Dole has been altering some of the language in his resolution, so it would call for the withdrawal of -- it wouldn't do the arms lift until after -- the sequence is quite different; in fact, it's very close to what you already talking about anyway here. So do you still object to it? There are some in the administration who say it's coming very close to your policy.
MR. MCCURRY: Two points. One, the language of the Dole resolution, to my knowledge, is not available. I haven't been able to find it anywhere. And there are conflicting versions about what's in the Dole resolution, so it's best to ask Senator Dole's office.
Two, I'd make the following point -- that in the conversations we've had with our European allies, including some of the conversations that the President has had, there's been enormous concern expressed about the sentiment in the Congress for the lifting of the arms embargo unilaterally by the United States. This is something that we have been asked through diplomatic channels about extensively in recent days, what the likelihood of passage of this measure, what the likelihood is of a veto, what the likelihood is of sustaining that veto. It's very clear that the concern being expressed by our European allies suggests that in moves towards unilaterally lifting this arms embargo by the United States would cause them to seriously consider withdrawing their contributions to UNPROFOR.
That is of very grave concern to us. It's a central premise of our policy right now that the United Nations, for whatever blistering it's taken in its reputation, is helping keep people alive. You look at those pictures of people who are streaming out of these enclaves and wonder to yourself how are they going to be fed, where are they going to get their water, how are they going to be kept alive? And there are some very brave people who work through the UNACR and through nongovernmental organizations who are doing that work and doing it under very difficult circumstances. And they're able to do it in part because of the U.N. presence in Bosnia.
Now, once you pull the U.N. out, all of that humanitarian assistance is going to go with it. Those organizations have made it clear that they have to leave in those circumstances. And that point leads to the real issue --
Q: But that's not the question. The question is about -- I mean, Dole cannot get you to get the United Nations to withdraw. I mean, you're making it sound like Dole and the Republicans want to lift the arms embargo while the U.N. people are there. If they're doing a resolution that says the U.N. should leave and once they're out, the arms embargo should be lifted, that is not inconsistent -- what's inconsistent is you say the U.N. should still be there. But I don't see how this resolution could in any way promote a wider war since it's up to the U.N., or not; not Bob Dole.
MR. MCCURRY: If Senator Dole modifies the -- let's remember the record here. He has strongly and firmly been in favor of unilaterally lifting the arms embargo. He is modifying that position and if he is now moving in the opposite direction, moving in the direction of suggesting that as a last resort, if it becomes unavoidable and the United Nations begins to withdraw, that we have to consider lifting the arms embargo, all he needs to do is to suggest that that should be done multilaterally with the other members of the United Nations Security Council, and then we would find ourselves in agreement.
Q: Yesterday when this came up -- Dole's resolution, as I understand it, says after the U.N. withdraws or 12 weeks after the Bosnian --
MR. MCCURRY: A serious question here. Have you seen it or --
Q: I haven't seen it, no, but this is what has been told to me. My question is, yesterday when we asked you about this you said that the minute that resolution is passed, even though it gives the U.N. control over when the embargo would be lifted because its after their withdrawal, you said the minute that resolution is passed, that would cause the allies to withdraw. Why do you believe that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think there is -- because as I just reported to you, our diplomatic contacts with them suggest that they are worried very much that the direction the United States is attempting to take the international community in the direction of lifting the arms embargo; doing it unilaterally, if necessary. They would read that action by the Congress as a signal that the United States intends to accomplish that objective. And I think they would begin to seriously consider the option of an immediate withdrawal, including --
Q: Are they looking for an excuse to withdraw? Do you think they're looking for an excuse to withdraw?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't want to speculate on that. You'll have to do that.
Q: Doesn't it get to the heart of the question of whether or not the President would permit this to happen? Can't he reassure the allies that he's the Commander in Chief and it's not going to happen while he's in charge?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he can tell them, as he has told them, that he will veto it, and he can discuss with them the prospects of sustaining that veto.
Q: Well, but you've just indicated to us, Mike, that your view is that the President will veto such a resolution that you can sustain, and that in any event, even if he doesn't sustain, you don't believe that it falls within Congress's purview; therefore, the White House -- if I read you right -- would ignore it on constitutional grounds. So what do the allies have to worry about?
MR. MCCURRY: What we're speculating about a resolution none of us have seen and that we've heard described and that we know is changing. So the wording of that is problematic in any event. But as to whether the constitutionality of it is in question, that's a question we'd have to answer after we see the text.
But the issue is, what signal would that send? What signal would that action by the Congress send to our European allies, who already wonder whether or not the United States is going to be of assistance in helping them as they carry out significant commitments on the ground in Bosnia.
This President has tried to stress that our NATO allies are important, the work that they are doing is important, the Alliance itself is important, and that we are willing to make good our commitment to them. That signal by the Congress runs exactly in the other direction, and I think it would have a substantial impact on the foreign policy thinking of those governments. And I would suggest that probably that would run in the direction of a withdrawal of their contributions to UNPROFOR sooner rather than later.
But the best way for you to determine that is for you to ask them, and I think that's -- you've got the capability of doing that.
Q: Mike, Senator Dole yesterday said on the floor that he would not support use of U.S. troops to help the allies extricate themselves unless the allies agreed prior to that to lift the arms embargo. What's the President's feeling about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. I missed part of that question. Say that again -- would not --
Q: Senator Dole said among the conditions that would have to be met before he would support using U.S. ground troops to help extricate the allies would be the allies agreeing to lift the arms embargo.
Q: Multilaterally -- that's right. In other words, you don't get our troops unless you agree to lift the arms embargo. Go extricate yourselves.
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- well, we are doing some things now on Capitol Hill that further place this alliance in something of a precarious nature. And that one would be right at the top of the list, I would think.
Q: -- President said yesterday. He said, if they have to withdraw, then I'd want us to move to lift the arms embargo multilaterally.
MR. MCCURRY: If the United Nations has to withdraw -- and remember, defining "has to withdraw" as a last resort in the unavoidable circumstances that they can no longer remain, there would be no other moral position to take than to say you've got to lift that arms embargo and give the Muslims some chance to defend themselves because there's absolutely nothing there at that point that represents a presence by the international community.
But that's a lot different question -- that's a much different question than saying, in the event that there needs to be an emergency extraction pursuant to NATO Plan 4104 that you're somehow or other going to hold existing NATO military contingency planning that's been ongoing for some time now hostage to a political decision about action at the United Nations in New York. That is a fairly stunning idea. So why don't you check that one out a little bit.
Q: Mike, could I also clarify one thing on the point that Bill was making before? Are you leaving open the possibility that if Congress passes a unilateral lift and overrides a veto -- I understand you're not agreeing that that could happen -- that you then might defy on constitutional grounds?
MR. MCCURRY: We got that question a couple of time already and it would depend on the wording. I'm not going to speculate until I know what the wording of the Dole resolution is.
Q: Has the President been asked by the French, the British and the Dutch, or is he considering any effort to speed the delivery of the rapid reaction force to Bosnia? At this point, it's not due to be in place with its equipment until late August.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to refer that question to the Pentagon. I believe that Ken got that question yesterday over at the Pentagon, and I don't know the answer to that, to be frank.
Q: So you don't know if Chirac raised it with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that specific in my -- in becoming familiar with the two conversations the President's had, I haven't heard anything that was that specific as to the operational deployment of the RRF. But you might want to check and see if there have been other requests to try to see what they're doing on the timing.
They are -- they've got some sea lift capacity underway already, as you know, and I think that that is going on a time line that is pretty well defined at this point.
Q: Mike, could you better characterize these discussions the President has had with Chirac and Kohl? I mean, are the discussions about --
MR. MCCURRY: Look -- yes, I can characterize. They are very much like the conversation that we're having right now. I mean, they go to the heart of what's the future of this mission all about, what is the long-term prospects for keeping a U.N. presence in Bosnia, and what should the Alliance do together and -- what can they do together to address the absolutely dreadful situation that's developed as a result of the fall of Srebrenica, the threats to Zepa and the activity that's going on on the ground there. For the leaders to deal with it, there aren't any easier answers than the one that you're pestering -- the questions you're pestering me with now.
They are having those types of discussions, and I think it's reasonable for me to take the position that it's not useful to comment in any substantive detail on pretty sensitive discussions while they're underway.
Q: But is the focus of these discussions on the options to keep UNPROFOR a viable force within Bosnia or to withdraw?
MR. MCCURRY: The discussions are about -- as I reported to you last night -- are about keeping a UNPROFOR presence in Bosnia, have it strengthened so it can accomplish the mission that its been assigned, and doing that in a way that has support within the Alliance that is critical to making that an effective use of United Nations resources.
Q: And there's no discussion about withdrawal options?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to characterize that. I mean, the French have said publicly, if I'm not mistaken, the issue is, are you going to get in and do the job or do we get out? And so you can take it from that.
Q: Speaking of that statement, there's been some characterization of the French proposal -- the President and their statements today and yesterday as providing Clinton with an option he cannot accept for political and other reasons, and then hiding behind his refusal as an excuse for withdrawal. Do you see any truth in that characterization?
MR. MCCURRY: That would not be for me to speculate. That would be a fairly cynical view of what the French would be proposing, and the President has had his discussions with his French counterpart in the spirit of working together on a difficult problem to try to find mutually acceptable solutions.
Q: Mike, can I move on to a different subject?
Q: I just have one more. I just wondered if you can give us any characterization of the President's reaction as he's seen some of the recent footage coming out of --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had a detailed conversations with him, but I know he has seen some. I know he's -- obviously, he's troubled by them. But, look, for those of you who have followed Bosnia over the last three, four years -- even prior to the arrival of President Clinton here at the White House -- just about everything that you've been able to learn and understand about the nature of this conflict is deeply depressing. It goes to the very dark side of human nature and it is a very sorry chapter in human history. And it has been for a long time. And the recent pictures from Srebrenica just add to the horror.
Q: Mike, what is your understanding of the health of Boris Yeltsin? And has his extended stay in the hospital raised the level of concern --
MR. MCCURRY: Our understanding is that that is expressed by his spokesman, because that's the information that's available to us. I'm not aware that we have information available beyond that. And, of course, we're concerned about his health. The President has sent him best wishes for a speedy recovery and we, obviously, because of our concern, will monitor reports on his health very closely.
Q: Mike, for 18 months now, the White House has told us that Whitewater was not on the radar screen when Vince Foster killed himself and that it had nothing to do with what was troubling him. Now we know there are documents that show just the opposite; that, in fact, he was quite worried about how Whitewater would play and the tax deductions. How do you explain that break with reality that the White House has portrayed? And also, just this past week, your Whitewater defense team was totally misleading about what it put out.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I was not here at the time that the White House may or may not have made that characterization. I can check with those who work on it. I would also suggest to you direct that question to Mark Fabiani, who has been working to try to help address press inquiries as a member of that legal counsel team that has been working on Whitewater.
Q: Mike, on the missing documents, Cheryl Mills' documents last Tuesday night taken out of her car during what appeared just a routine break-in -- can you give us some characterization of the nature of those documents that are missing now?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, she had a situation that some of us have run into from time to time as residents of an urban center, she had her car broken into. Someone threw a rock through the window and took some stuff out of her car including some stuff she had brought home from work. She works on the White House legal counsel staff. She had some documents that she had been working on at the time. They are replaceable documents. She lost some of her own notes and work material that had gone with that, but it is not a catastrophic loss. It just means that she is going to have to do some make-up work to kind of fill in some of the gaps.
Q: If I could follow that please, if you don't mind. Can you characterize the topics that the documents pertain to?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to get into the -- I mean, she is a lawyer; she works for the White House Legal Counsel's Office. She's entitled to do privileged work on behalf of the President.
Q: Would you have any problem with confirming or denying whether or not there were Waco documents and Vince Foster documents?
MR. MCCURRY: She works on a variety of topics at the White House. I'm not going to get into what topics that she was working on.
Q: Are you saying it was a routine matter in which you don't --
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not routine. Have you ever had your car broken into?
Q: Yes, I have.
MR. MCCURRY: Do you consider it routine?
Q: No, I did not.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, she doesn't either.
Q: It was significant enough that the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service went down there and did a sweep of a four-block area. Again, I have to ask, given the fact that there was such a reaction by the Secret Service to this matter, can you tell us anything about the nature of those documents?
MR. MCCURRY: A White House lawyer loses some work product, it's save to imagine that those who are responsible for security here would want to find them. And I've characterized the documents for you and I've characterized them accurately as work that she can replace, documents that we can replace. The topics are dealt with are some of the topics you would imagine a White House legal counsel staffer would be working on right now. But I'd want to suggest to you that overreaction would be the wrong reaction.
Q: Is that a standard thing that the Secret Service would -- because other White House people have had burglaries with documents taken and I've never heard of the Secret Service coming into the investigation.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what their standard operating procedure is on that. You should check with Treasury.
Q: Any problem releasing the police reports from the Secret Service on this? If there's nothing to worry about --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question to ask Treasury.
Q: Since the White House made the appointment of Larry Potts to the number two position in the FBI such a high profile item right here in the briefing room, was the President informed, involved in the decision to demote him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- I would -- he was returning here and was going to be informed right away by Chief of Staff Panetta, who had been in contact with the Justice Department about the decision that they've taken there. The President has made it very clear to the Chief of Staff and that has been communicated to the Justice Department that anyone that has found to have engaged in wrongdoing in this particular incident will no longer be working for the federal government. And beyond that, we're satisfied that the Justice Department is now pursuing those diligently and conducting an appropriate inquiry into the facts.
Q: But Mike, the facts about this case were pretty well-known before Potts was appointed, that he was, in fact, reprimanded by the FBI for his conduct -- yet the President all but endorsed that appointment when he stood up here at the podium.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not in any position to suggest anything about an inquiry that may or not be underway. The Justice Department has told you what they can under law tell you about inquiries that they are making into this matter and about certain personnel decisions that they've taken and I'm not going to elaborate on those.
Q: If I could follow up, what was the White House involvement in the decision to demote him? Was there any discussions between Freeh or anybody at the FBI and anybody here in the White House about Potts' viability given the hearings that are being conducted next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I will double-check once again, but my understanding based on the information I have now is that the first we learned of this decision was a phone call that came to me and then to Leon Panetta from the Deputy Attorney General today. And I'll double-check again and make sure that is the first we heard of it.
Q: To coin a phrase, so there was no heads-up from the White House over to Freeh about what he may do in this case? No advice to Freeh?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q: There was no advice from the White House to Freeh about how this Potts matter should be handled?
MR. MCCURRY: No. As I just said, I think the first we learned of the action, personnel action that was taken by Justice were just as I described to you earlier today.
Q: Leaders of civil rights groups, women's groups were briefed by the President today on affirmative action and were pretty upbeat as they left. Did the President tell them that there would be no retreat on affirmative action, no retreat on preferences for women and minorities.
MR. MCCURRY: He did not give them a specific, detailed discussion of some of the results of the affirmative action work that he's been doing and that he'll talk about next week in his speech. But I think he gave them a general sense of how he intends to address the issue as he did earlier this week in a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.
And I -- whether or not these groups and others will be fully satisfied with the entire, all of that work product will depend in large part on how they read both the speech and how they understand the results of the report. But I think the President has described it for them in sort of -- in a general sense, and they have made their reaction accordingly.
Q: But they seem to think that things are going to go their way, that there's not going to be much change.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to attempt to define what "go their way" means on such a very complicated matter. Affirmative action programs and how they are run, how they are administered are a complicated matter. There is going to be -- a very detailed study of that issue has now been conducted by the White House. The President will talk about it next week. I don't want to predict how individual people will react, but I think that they were pleased. What I can tell you is they seem to be pleased with the meeting. They seem to be pleased with the thrust of the President's presentation.
I can tell you on the President's behalf that he enjoyed their input because they had a lot of suggestions and commentary themselves and the President found that very useful.
Q: So we then got the impression that the President wasn't going to be that specific next week. What is his intent -- to lay out very specific details of policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he will have -- he wants to address -- I wouldn't describe this as being a specific speech. He's going to have a general thematic argument that will help the American people understand the importance that affirmative action programs have played in the life of our country as we attempt to erase gender and racial barriers that have existed in our work life.
I think he's also going to talk about the importance that equal opportunity plays and the programs that are available to promote that type of opportunity. He's also simultaneously going to talk a little bit about common sense and how you need to use common sense to make sure that these programs that are important stay in place and do the work they are assigned to them. And I think it's safe to say that he will address the arguments made by some who believe that we can just abolish affirmative action altogether and make the assumption that the United States of America is now a racial, race-free, oppression-free, discrimination-free society.
Q: Earlier this week Daschle said that he though that there would be a deal on rescissions by the end of the week. It's now the end of the week. Where are we on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I have not checked with our legislative people in the last day or so to check on rescissions. I don't know the answer.
Q: Mike, can I go back to Whitewater for a second? Why is the White House now, the week before the hearings, releasing these documents? Are you trying to take some of the PR salvo off of D'Amato on the hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, a lot of these documents will soon become public in one sense or another anyhow because they will be coming up during the course of the hearing. And I think that as we near that point, we're attempting to make some of the information available to us publicly.
Q: Are you trying to -- it's not our release and it's not given, so D'Amato says he has these documents --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't follow that closely what Senator D'Amato says.
Q: Is the President or anyone at the White House going to brief Jesse Jackson in advance of affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: They do -- I have heard that they plan a phone call. I don't know what the arrangements for that are, but certainly there will be an effort to contact Reverend Jackson to make sure that he understands what the thrust of the recommendations are about.
Q: Mike, also, it came out of London that Major's called for a meeting of the Contact Group on July 21st, a week from today. Have you heard anything about it or what level would be?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard of it. That's the first I've heard of that. They've just met within the last day or say as you know.
Q: Mike, is the White House now prepared to stipulate that Foster was indeed concerned about Whitewater before --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question to direct to Mark Fabiani who is the person we've designated to answer that kind of question.
Q: On affirmative action, if the speech is going to be generally thematic, what are the chances of us getting some version of the report that went to --
MR. MCCURRY: I think one way or another the results of this fairly extensive analysis of programs will be made available. I'm not certain at this point how we're actually going to do that, whether it's a document that -- or some type of summary or whether it's a more thorough briefing on the review itself by people who are more expert in those subjects. But we'll be addressing those questions as we approach Wednesday.
Q: Where is the speech going to be?
MR. MCCURRY: They are working on a location, and we --I'm not ready to announce one at this point. But I think they've got an idea. It's here in town, so it doesn't involve any traveling pool.
Q: Have you had a chance to look at the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not, but there are some very talented people on the White House staff who have. They tell me that we don't have a review of all the details, but the proposal was generally consistent with the insurance reform initiatives that's in the President's ten-year balanced budget proposal. And we're encouraged that they're going in a similar direction and in a bipartisan direction.
There's a lot more work that's got to be done on this, obviously, as the President outlined in his budget. We're going to have to do more on portability protection for temporarily unemployed people. I think, if my reading of the reports on the bill suggested that it doesn't address Medicare and Medicaid. And that's obviously something that the President has addressed in his ten-year budget proposal. That's done for reasons that I think have to deal with legislative jurisdiction up in the Senate. So there will have to be, from the President's point of view, some effort to join up those issues that might have tax implications.
But that said, the proposal is moving in the right direction, and we look forward to working with Senator Kennedy, Senator Kassebaum and others on health care reform and moving towards a measure that the President hopes will help achieve the type of incremental health care reform that he's talked about, going all the way back to his December letter to the congressional leadership.
Q: Mike, might this -- for other piecemeal legislation that reflect what the President talked about in mid-June without the President himself having to come forward with his own --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been enormous amount of work done on this issue and a lot of work done particularly at the staff level between the Congress and the White House. And it is an example that you can begin to move legislation in the right direction when people from different political parties are willing together.
And, yes we do hope that that would be a model. Frankly, we're not encouraged by the prospects for that based on what we've seen so far.
Q: You were ready for this yesterday and weren't asked, but I'd like to ask about the other set of hearings that are starting next week -- the White House attitude towards the Waco hearings. It's been suggested that the administration is doing its best to undermine the hearings by questioning credibility of the people who were holding them and the witnesses who were going to appear and the reasoning for having the hearings in the first place. Do you feel they will serve any valuable purpose?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Is that Waco or Whitewater?
MR. MCCURRY: Others in the administration have commented on that already. I mean, our great concern was raised by the information that we got this week that the NRA has been paying for some of the staff work that's done. And that suggests all the worst intentions on the part of those who are conducting this inquiry.
Q: Do you have proof of that?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been publicly reported. It's been confirmed, and it's -- now one of the Republican chairs has apologized for it or withdrawn it or something. So -- but that suggests to the White House that they intent and nature of these hearings is not designed to get at the truth so that American people can understand the facts. It's designed somehow or other to make political points or policy points on other extraneous issues.
And that -- given the great deal of work that's been done already to study the Waco record and to put it out, these hearings, we hope will, you know, as they get closer to the hearings will move in the direction of profitably giving the American people some real information that is helpful to them in understanding what happened and in understanding now the activities of some of those groups that use that incident to spin some fairly fiendish conspiracy webs of their own.
Q: Can you talk about this weekend a little bit and especially if the President does have a 48-hour deadline, how are you going to handle that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not able to do that at this point. No.
Q: What else is he going to do?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know his plans for the weekend at this point.
Q: Can you tell us where Munell is at this point in terms of the nomination?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't. Can someone run that down -- just where her nomination to the CEA stands at this point. I don't have any info on it.
Q: Whatever happened to Henry Foster? Is he --
MR. MCCURRY: They've been looking at the issue of how you structure his involvement on the teenage pregnancy issue. I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that he may have been out in Minneapolis addressing the NAACP, too. So maybe you can check from someone whether he and Hillary talked at all at that point. I haven't heard that they had, but I know that Dr. Foster has indicated he wants to stay very active as a result of the experience he went through in the campaign to do something about teenage pregnancy.
And the President very much wants him to do that, and we're trying to figure out a way to do that in a way that is, you know, makes sense from what resources are available in the government and what different types of jurisdiction and policy implications.
Q: Is the First Lady in power to offer him some kind of job or something?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I just am saying that since they are both out there, maybe they will have an opportunity to talk.
Q: The Justice Department -- on the Adarand decision on affirmative action singled out two areas it said are specifically receiving a lot of criticism for being too strict and rigid. That was federal set aside programs and using race as a sole factor, such as minority scholarships, awarding scholarships based on race. Is the President going to go into that type of detail next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a good example -- those types of issues kind of go to the heart of what the discussion of affirmative action are about. I think he's going to address that in a much broader fashion. Those are some narrow applications I think he's going to address that in a much broader fashion.
Those are some narrow applications of a policy decision on the case of -- what you're talking about is a specific reference to how you comply with the legal demands of Adarand, and that is a somewhat different question that the one the President will address next week. He's talking about how the policy thrust must be shaped so that Americans continue to support these programs that are so necessary to address race discrimination, gender discrimination, and to promote justice and equal opportunity.
Now, I think he will be talking on a more philosophical plane, but it certainly goes to the heart of a lot of these very specific applications that we've seen addressed by the Court and that certainly are suggested by the very detailed review of the programs themselves, as the administration worked through that long list of over 100 federal affirmative action programs.
Q: Mike, can you make something clear?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm dying up here. Somebody let me off. (Laughter.)
Q: Mike, do you expect the President to get his recommendations to Bosnia this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: I answered that question earlier. I said I didn't want to predict. The foreign policy advisors to the President are going to work -- they're working through a difficult problem. They're going to discuss it among themselves. They may or may not have recommendations to forward to the President. We don't know at this point.
Q: This is probably repetitious from yesterday, but I'm confused on one FDA cigarette issue. Is the question of whether the FDA has jurisdiction over tobacco products -- is that question before the administration, or has that been answered that it does, and now the question is what to do about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I have to take that question. That is a sensitive question. It goes to part of the issues that have been discussed, apparently, in some of these meetings. But I'm not familiar enough with the discussions that have occurred here to answer that. We can either look into that issue or I can refer you over to the FDA and to Jim O'Hara at FDA.
Q: I don't think they'll answer that, at least attribution.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Work your sources over there.
Wait a minute, Mark had one more.
Q: Is there something you can find out? I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q: Is it a correct understanding that Chirac expects some kind of response from the President in the next day or two?
MR. MCCURRY: It's correct because the President indicated that there would be follow-up contact. The President closed the conversation by saying he had to -- wanted to talk to his military commanders and he had some questions that he wanted to raise here and that they would be back in touch. Now, I don't -- to my knowledge, they haven't made any arrangement to do that.
Q: You don't anticipate the President calling Chirac again? I mean, does he have any plans to talk to anyone besides Major?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to -- he'll talk to Major, and I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility he might have some others that he would talk to.
Q: Oval Office address tonight? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Oval Office address tonight. Oh, don't break my heart. (Laughter.) But as usual, you would know before me. (Laughter.)
Q: Camp David?
MR. MCCURRY: Camp David. I don't know. I don't know what the plans are yet.
Q: Radio address still regulatory reform?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the latest I've heard.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:50 P.M. EDT
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/270047