Bill Clinton photo

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Ron Noble, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Law Enforcement and Richard Griffin, Assistant Director for Protective Operations, U.S. Secret Service

October 30, 1994

The Briefing Room

2:07 P.M. EDT

MS. MYERS: Good afternoon. The following, of course, is part of our ongoing effort to keep you all informed of all the details we know and can talk about, about the incident yesterday here at the White House.

Q: Can you first tell us what the President's been doing all day?

MS. MYERS: The President is in the Residence this morning, resting. As you know, he returned from a rather grueling trip to the Middle East and is just spending the morning at home. There has been no changes in his schedule, which I'll point out.

As you know, Mrs. Clinton returned home from California early this morning. The President and the First Lady will host a reception for the Ford Theatre, annual reception here at the White House this evening, and then the President, the First Lady, the Vice President and Mrs. Gore will all go to the Ford's Theatre for the big gala. The remarks of that even will be open to the pool.

Let me just make a few points, and then we'll take questions.

Q: Just one other question. What is the President's attitude toward closing off Pennsylvania Avenue?

MS. MYERS: Well, as Chief of Staff Leon Panetta said earlier this morning, there is an ongoing review in the aftermath of the airplane incident, which the Chief of Staff has asked that this incident be added to that. I think the President, the Chief of Staff and others will wait until that review has been completed. We'll -- the results of that in Mid-January.

In the meantime, let me just point out what's happened. As you know, Vice President Gore, Chief of Staff Leon Panetta and George Stephanopoulos all commented on this, this morning. Special Agent Carl Meyer of the Secret Service took the pool on a tour of the crime scene and showed where the bullet marks had hit the West Wing and the White House. There is a pool report available of that for any of you haven't seen it.

As you know, the President was at the Italian American Dinner last night. He made some comments about it. For those of you who haven't seen it, the transcript, of course, is available here.

There have been no changes to the President's schedule. He will spend the bulk of this week campaigning around the country for Democratic candidates. Tomorrow he'll go to Pennsylvania. On Tuesday he'll be in Michigan. Then, he'll begin a longer tour, which will include stops in Rhode Island, New York, Iowa, Minnesota, California and Washington State, and he'll return to Washington for a few days before leaving on the trip to the Philippines and to Indonesia for the APEC meeting. So he has a very busy travel schedule ahead.

As I said, he spent the morning in the Residence. I expect he'll spend the rest of the day there, unless he decides to go out at some point. Then, at 10:00 p.m., the Ford's Theater later tonight.

The North Lawn of the White House remains closed. As Special Agent Meyer said earlier, the Secret Service is conducting a grid search to find out exactly how many bullets struck and where they struck. I think they identified about eight bullets that hit the facade of the West Wing and the White House this morning. They're looking for others that have struck trees or may be in the ground.

The sidewalk on the south side of Pennsylvania Avenue will also remain closed until the Secret Service has finished conducting their review of the lawn area. If they can open that a little earlier -- this will just take a day or two, and then, as you know, of course, the Briefing Room here, the Lower Press Office is all open. Reporters and other staff members are being admitted through the Northwest Gate.

So, business goes on here as usual. Of course, it's a little quiet, as it's a Sunday, and people are still recovering from the Mideast trip.

Now, I'd like to turn it over to Ron Noble, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement. He will make a statement, and then take questions, as will Richard Griffin from the United States Secret Service. And he has representatives from FBI and ATF as well.

If you have any other questions for me, I can take them at that time.

Q: Dee Dee, can we ask one other question? You said the President's schedule had not changed. But he did not jog this morning, he did not go to church. Who is intimidated? The Secret Service, the President?

MS. MYERS: Those are -- no one is. Those of you who cover the President on a regular basis know that he jogs most days, but not every day, particularly when he's been on a grueling three-or four-day trip overseas and was out quite late last night.

He goes to church most Sundays, but not every Sunday, and again, I think in the wake of his trip and his events last night, he's spending the morning resting, and Mrs. Clinton returned home at about 2:00 a.m. this morning. So I think she's a bit tired as well.

So there's been -- again, I would emphasize no change in the President's schedule. He went out last night, he'll go out again tonight. He'll follow through with his anticipated schedule for the coming week, which will include a lot of travel all over the country.

Again, as the President emphasized yesterday, he has great confidence in the Secret Service, in the Secret Service's ability to protect him and his family, as they've done fantastically throughout his presidency, and again, we'll wait for the review that

the President and the Chief of Staff have ordered, then make additional changes if necessary at that time.

Q: feel disconcerted by this incident?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think, generally, the number of weapons on the streets of this country is disconcerting to the President. That's why he fought so hard to pass a crime bill that included a ban on assault weapons. And, again, I think some of the law enforcement officials here can talk a little bit more about the type of weapon and the Crime Bill, and the relationship between the two.

Certainly, again, I would emphasize the President has great confidence in the Secret Service and their ability to protect him and his family, as they have done flawlessly throughout his presidency.

So why don't I turn it over to Ron Noble. Let's go through some of the additional information that we have, and if you have additional questions, I'll be happy to come back to answer them.

So, Ron.

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Good afternoon. As Under Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement, I'm in charge of the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Two of the federal agencies involved in the shooting which occurred yesterday in front of the White House -- here with me this afternoon are Richard Griffin of the Secet Service to my left, Pat Hynes of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in the middle, and Robert Opfer of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

These three agencies will investigate this matter with the assistance of the Park Police and the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department. The criminal case will be prosecuted by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Eric Holder; and I see Eric is standing to the rear of this press room.

Because of concerns for the criminal prosecution that will follow and the continued security of the White House Complex, this statement will be limited. While we are interested in the public's right to know, we cannot overlook our obligation to ensure a fair trial and the continued safety of the President and the First Family.

This is a difficult balance to strike, but I will try my best to give you as much information as I can without compromising either of those areas.

As reported by witnesses and confirmed by a videotape which many of you have seen on television, a man dressed in a trench coat stopped in front of the White House yesterday afternoon at approximately 3:00 p.m. He was on the sidewalk outside the White House Complex standing among the many visitors and pedestrians who take in the magnificent sites of Washington each and every day.

After stopping, he pulled out a semiautomatic rifle and fired 20 to 30 rounds toward the White House Mansion. The Mansion and the Press Office were hit by some of these rounds. At this time, we are uncertain as to the exact number. Shell casings were found on the lawn and the sidewalk. The White House Complex suffered only minimal damage, and no person was hit or injured.

The President was in his residence on the White House grounds at the time of the shooting. He was not in any danger. As you know, the First Lady and Chelsea were not present at the White House at the time the shots were fired.

Secretary Bentsen, Secret Service Director Bowran, I and all others connected with this matter are grateful that no one was injured. We join the President in commending and thanking those citizens who assisted the Secret Service in the discharge of its very important mission.

After being subdued by two citizens, the man whom we believe fired the shots at the White House was arrested by Uniformed Division officers of the Secret Service. He was thereafter taken to the Secret Service Washington Field Office and held overnight at the D.C. Central Cellblock.

The suspect has been identified as Francisco Martin Duran of Colorado Springs, Colorado. Mr. Duran was born on September 8, 1968 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The criminal background check has revealed that Mr. Duran is a convicted felon.

On March 21, 1991, Mr. Duran pled guilty to felony, assault and related charges and was sentenced to five years confinement at Fort Levenworth. He was dishonorably discharged from the United States Army. As a convicted felon, Mr. Duran is prohibited from possessing a firearm.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms identified and traced the weapon that was seized at the crime scene yesterday. That search revealed that, on September 13, 1994, in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Mr. Duran purchased a Norinco SKS 7.62 mm semiautomatic rifle. That is the same weapon that was recovered at the crime scene. The weapon was manufactured in China and imported into the U.S. in January, 1994.

The weapon that was seized may or may not be an assault weapon prohibited by the Crime Bill signed into law by President Clinton on September 13, 1994, the same day that this weapon was purchased in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If the weapon was converted into an assault weapon following its purchase on September 13, 1994, then the person or persons who converted it would have violated the Crime Bill.

The Crime Bill outlaws the conversion of semiautomatic rifles into assault weapons, not the mere possession of an assault weapon. The seized SKS rifle had three features of a semiautomatic assault rifle. One, it had the capacity to hold a detachable magazine; two, it had a folding stock and; three, it had a pistol grip.

After Mr. Duran's arrest, his vehicle was impounded. The vehicle is a grey with white camper top 1989 Chevrolet S-10 pickup, with Colorado tag 238-22JX. A search warrant was obtained and his vehicle was searched jointly by ATF and the FBI. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia will decide what information may be revealed about the fruits of the search.

Mr. Duran has initially been charged with the following violations: 18 U.S. Code, Section 922 G-1 -- a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $250,000 fine through an alternative sentencing provision. And 18 U.S.C., Section 1361, willful injury of United States government property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 fine.

Mr. Duran will be arraigned before a United States magistrate tomorrow, October 31st, 1994.

On a separate, but related matter, as Dee Dee mentioned, on September 12, 1994, a plane crashed on the White House grounds. After that incident, Secretary Bentsen ordered a comprehensive,

independent review of security of the White House. He tasked me with conducting that review. In light of yesterday's incident, Secretary Bentsen has directed that the review will now encompass both of these incidents.


Q: Was there a letter found in the vehicle, any kind of a suicide note or anything, which has been reported?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: As I said, the criminal case will be prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Eric Holder, and his office will decide what information will be revealed about the fruits of the search.

Q: Are you thinking of this as an assassination attempt, in any way?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: The only two charges that are currently pending against this individual are: being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and willful assault of government property. That's what we're considering right now, and that's what we're investigating right now.

Q: You've got a dozen charges there --

Q: Are you ruling out possibly filing attempted assassination charges? And exactly how long did he serve in Levenworth?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I don't know the answer in terms of how long he served in Levenworth. But, in any case that's investigated, the first thing is to secure the peace. And, by the arrest of this individual and charging with preliminary charges, we have done that.

Investigations -- may I please finish -- investigations continue in the ordinary course of business, and you find out what evidence there is of what crimes. At an appropriate time, you decide what crimes to charge.

Right now, there is no evidence to suggest anything other than what he's been charged with in terms of crimes.

Q: Sir, is there not a provision in our law somewhere that says --

Q: Are you withdrawing Mr. Griffin's statement yesterday that it was not an assassination attempt -- no way, he said.

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I was here yesterday. He did not say no way was it an assassination attempt --

Q: He said that exactly. Are you withdrawing that statement?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Well, rather than dispute with you what he said yesterday, I can only tell you what charges have been brought against this individual. He's a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, and willful destruction of government property.

Q: Have you not any provision in law anywhere that permits us to charge a man for obviously shooting at a house that would be in danger to the President?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: We have charged him with willful destruction of government property, so that charge --

Q: Yes, but that's nothing compared to -- there's question that this is the White House, and this is the President's home, and the President was in it. Have you nothing in law that will cover that?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Currently, this person has been charged with two felony offenses, under which he would be exposed to 20 years imprisonment.

Q: I heard that. I heard that.

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: Do we have a specific crime which says it's a crime to shoot at the White House itself? No, ma'am, we don't have any such crime.

Q: Do you have a motive?

Q: acted alone?

Q: Ron, does he have a counsel, and has he made any statement?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I can't comment on whether he has a statement. To be candid, I don't know whether he has a lawyer. I really don't have that detail. You'll have to contact Eric Holder for that information.

Q: Are you satisfied that he acted alone?

Q: How about bringing Holder up to the platform?

Q: Could you tell us more about whether there were snipers in place, and why this man wasn't shot when he started shooting?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I can't give you any information, and we were here at a previous press briefing concerning White House security. I think the analogy I gave that most people seem to understand is, I wouldn't give people the combination to a lock of some important property that I owned. I wouldn't give them the code to an alarm of my home, and I wouldn't give the world, in front of cameras the details to scurity measures regarding White House security.

Q: Can you say ifyou think there's any coincidence -- if it's just strictly coincidence that he bought this rifle on the day that those rifles were outlawed, if I understood you correctly, and whether there was -- and do you have anything that goes to any motive, any possible motive in the shooting at all?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: All I can tell you is the information I'm aware of is, a record reveals that that weapon was purchased on the same day the crime bill was signed into law. That's all I can answer about that one.

Q: How about motive?

Q: Is it your view that the security system here worked pretty well yesterday, or do you think the system didn't work very well and needs to be fixed?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: A person was apprehended, no innocent people were injured or hit, and he was arrested and he's been charged with serious violations of federal law, and I consider that something to be happy about and thankful about.

Q: Which agencies are participating in the search outside of the lawn?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I think it's a multiple agency effort. FBI, ATF, Secret Service are the three principal agencies involved in this investigation jointly.

Q: Are you worried that this sort of thing could happen again?

Q: Are you investigating the company or person who sold this man the weapon that he used?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: It is not a violation of the law to sell a firearm to an individual, this particular model firearm. What we have to find out --

Q: Even a convicted felon?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: -- what we have to find out, ma'am, the investigation will determine whether when applying for the firearm the person indicated falsely on the application that he was not a convicted felon.

Now, unlike Brady, which you would have a background check of a handgun purchase, Brady doesn't require a background check of a long rifle purchase.

Q: Is it time to change that law, then?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I'm not going to comment on that right now.

Q: Mr. Noble, in the course of the questioning last night by the Secret Service, was the -- was Duran responsive at all to the questioning?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: As a former prosecutor, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on that at this point, so I will not.

Q: Can you give us any indication of motive? Has he said anything or have you discovered anything?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I can't you any indication now, but that is something that will come out in the ordinary course of the trial process, and I would defer to Eric Holder for that.

Q: Is that because you don't know what the motive is, or for some reason you can't tell us? Did the police --

MR. NOBLE: I'm going to tell you that I won't tell you. That's all I'm going to tell you.

Q: Why not?

Q: Without going into what you did find when you searched his truck, can you or Pat tell us whether he had purchased any other weapons that you've been able to determine?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I can't tell you that at all. What I won't tell you -- and I think I made it clear -- is, I don't want to do anything, and I don't think any one of you would want me to do anything to jeopardize the rights of a defendent to a fair trial or the government's right to prosecute someone charged with serious violations of the law. And, therefore, I can't comment about any of those details at this point.

Q: Can I get back to you characterization about the way this turned out? And maybe this is a question for any of you. It really is lucky, I think most would agree, that nobody was hurt. I mean, bullets came right through this window, and I know that it's lucky that our crew wasn't hurt. But, certainly, this must be worrying, and there must be a sense that things didn't go as well as they could, and there must be some sense of security --

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I think that's unfair. I think anyone who is walking around the streets of America can see why this President cares so much about getting weapons like these off the street. Whether they're pointed in the direction of the White House or pointed in the direction of Lafayette Park, or north or south, we as American citizens should be concerned. So I'm concerned as a citizen that someone would pull out a semiautomatic assault rifle and just start shooting it recklessly. I'm happy, as a citizen, as is Secretary Bentsen and the President, that no one got hurt.

Q: Are you worried this could happen again?

Q: Mr. Noble, can you please tell us the range of this weapon and the distance between the fence and the building?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I will let him handle the distance question. The range, we can give you perhaps after this briefing. I don't know the answer to that.

MR. GRIFFIN: I'm going to have to defer to one of my colleagues on the range and the distance from various points around the White House I wouldn't want to discuss, because that could be beneficial to an adversary.

Q: In terms of the security review, what are you considering with regards to Lafayette Park? Permanent stationing of more Secret Service members?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I think in terms of the review that Secretary Bentsen has ordered, we're going to consider all measures necessary to ensure the safety of the President, the First Family, and the White House Complex without intruding too seriously where possible on the rights of citizens to enjoy the public access that for years we've celebrated in this country.

MS. MYERS: Let's take one more question.

Q: Mr. Noble --

Q: Was his home searched in Colorado Springs?

UNDER SECRETARY NOBLE: I only know what I saw on TV, and I don't want to say that. I believe that that's something I can't say at this point.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:25 P.M. EDT

William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, Ron Noble, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Law Enforcement and Richard Griffin, Assistant Director for Protective Operations, U.S. Secret Service Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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