President Bill Clinton
April 30, 1998
CLINTON: Before I take your questions, I'd like to make a
few comments on a couple of matters that I believe are essential
to the strength of America in the 21st century.
Five years ago, we started a new economic course for a new
economy, a combined strategy of fiscal discipline, expanded
trade, increased investment in education, science, technology
and our people.
Today, we received more good news that that strategy is
The latest economic report shows that in the first quarter of
1998, our economy grew at 4.2 percent. Wages are rising, while
inflation remains low. This expansion is not fueled by big
government deficits, but by booming business investment.
In the first quarter, unemployment was the lowest in 28
years, inflation the lowest in 30 years, consumer confidence at
its highest level in 30 years.
For five years in a row now, our economy has been
rated the most competitive in the world. We are living in an
American economic renaissance in which opportunity is abundant.
Communities are getting stronger. Families are more secure and
But we cannot allow the hum of our growing prosperity to lull
us into complacency. As estimates of the possible budget
surplus expand, so, too, do suggestions that we immediately
commit to spending that surplus on tax cuts and new spending.
But Americans have worked too hard for too long to put our
economic house in order. So I will strongly resist the use of a
single penny of the surplus until we have first saved Social
Security for the new century.
Nor can we turn our backs on America's responsibility to lead
in the world.
We see that, by the way, in the commitment today of the vice
president and Mrs. Gore as they represent our nation on the
occasion of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the state of
Today the health of our economy is also deeply
affected by what goes on in global affairs, and by the health of
the global economy.
Therefore, I call on Congress to step up to its
responsibility and renew our commitment to the International
Monetary Fund and to pay our United Nations dues.
I am confident we can do this in a bipartisan fashion. The
debate over NATO enlargement has been a model of bipartisan
action. I want to thank Senators Lott and Daschle, Senators
Helms and Biden, for their leadership on this issue. I hope for
a strongly positive vote in the Senate later today.
Because by admitting Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic,
we come even closer than ever to realizing a dream of a
generation: A Europe that is united, democratic and secure for
the first time since the rise of nation-states on the European
At the threshold of the 21st century, we are on the
rise at home and abroad, but we have to continue this progress.
We have to continue to work if we want economic advances and
strong national security. We have to continue to work if we
hope to overcome our divisions at home and work together as one
We can be everything that all of you want us to be and all
Americans want us to be, but I want to emphasize the fact that
we are doing well today should not be a source of complacency.
It should not be a pretext to drift off into politics as usual
or small matters. We need to bear down and deal with the
long-term challenges of the country.
Now, to honor my pledge at the White House Correspondents
Dinner the other night, Helen, you get the first question.
QUESTION: You may not like it.
CLINTON: I never expected to.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in view of a new court ruling,
Monica Lewinsky may have to appear before a grand jury. Under
the circumstances, do you stand by your previous denials of any
relationship with her or that anyone encouraged her to lie?
And while I have the floor, do you think that the special
prosecutor has gone beyond the call and is out to get you?
CLINTON: Well, I think modestly observant people are fully
capable of drawing their own conclusions to the latter question.
And as to the former question, I have answered it repeatedly
and have nothing to add to my former answer. I have repeatedly
said what the answer to that question is.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Wall Street is back above 9,100 and
the Dow was up at 165 points at 1 o'clock. A lot of Americans
are pouring money into the stock market now.
Do you think that this stock market bubble is
going to burst? Do you think people should be nervous about
CLINTON: Now, I didn't comment on it when it dropped a lot,
and I don't think I should now. Let me say there is a lot of
speculation about that, as you know. The London economists ran
a whole series on it, I think, either this last edition or the
one before that.
We have a very productive economy with high growth and low
interest rates. Also, the fact that there is a downturn in many
Asian economies, I think, has created some investment capital
that normally might have gone somewhere else that may be coming
back into our country, and that would tend to drive the stock
I think that what's important here, is for all the informed
people, the stock market analysts, the people on Wall Street,
Mr. Greenspan, whom I think has done quite a fine job over the
last five years in managing his part of our economy -- all of us
need to just sort of talk about what the fundamentals are, what
the facts are, and if there are any reasons for caution, then
they ought to put them out there.
But I think that to date you would have to say that
most of what has happened has been spurred by the hard work and
the productivity of American workers and American businesses and
other developments around the world over which we Americans had
But I'm encouraged by the underlying fundamentals. And what
I hope will happen is that we can avoid any kind of big swings
in the market one way or the other by just steady, slow, and
maybe not so slow, but at least steady growth.
And I think if we all just, you know, get all the facts out
there to the investors, it's likely to come out all right.
QUESTION: You're not nervous about where it's going?
CLINTON: Well, I'd rather it be going up than down...
CLINTON: ... in any big sense. But I think that you have to
under -- I mean it -- even when it dropped a lot -- you remember
a couple of years ago when we had that big drop -- I wasn't
terribly worried because I thought it was a correction based on
the judgment of the people in the market, because our underlying
economy was healthy and our financial system was honest and
secure and had integrity and our -- our -- and we had strategies
for continuing long-term growth.
So, I think that's what I'd like to say. It's impossible for
me to predict the market, impossible for anything to, or to
characterize it. I just say -- the economists have a word
called "transparency" that they use all the time that I think
is the appropriate thing here.
I think it's in the national interest for all actual and
potential investors to have as much evidence -- information as
possible about how we're doing, where we're going and what their
investment options are.
And then I think the markets will go up and down.
They'll change. But I am pleased with the success of the
market. I do understand the bubble theory. I think the best
way to avoid having a big bubble that someday pops is to make
sure that we have open information about where we are right now
and the progress of the market is pretty well tied to the real
progress of the economy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
Mr. President, the Pentagon said this week you're expected to
decide whether to reduce U.S. forces in the Gulf soon. Has
Baghdad made sufficient progress on allow weapons inspections to
permit a reduction in force? And if so, will we see an ending
of the sanctions against Iraq?
CLINTON: Well, those are two very different questions.
Let me say, first of all, we are encouraged about the level
of compliance so far with the UN inspections and by the evidence
that has been educed on the nuclear side that more progress has
And I believe we've already issued a statement that
we believe that if Baghdad will continue to work with us that,
by October, we can -- the UN may well be able to certify that
they are actually in compliance on the nuclear side, and they
can go from the inspection to the monitoring phase.
Keep in mind, even under the agreements, the UN resolutions,
no matter what is found out in any of these areas, there will
still be a monitoring regime there.
Our position on lifting the sanctions is that the UN
resolutions have to be complied with completely, and then we'd
vote to lift the sanctions. So this is just a nuclear peace.
But I am encouraged by that.
Now, on the question of reducing our military presence in the
Gulf, I would wait for a recommendation from the Pentagon with
involvement from the State Department and the NSC on that. is,
it is -- we have a certain number of carrier groups and a
certain number of assets to deploy at sea.
They have to be trained. They also need to be
deployed in different places for different reasons. So,
inevitably, unless we believe there is some reason for it to be
there, at some point in the future I would anticipate some
reallocation of our resources. But I have not received a
recommendation on that yet by the Defense Department.
QUESTION: Mr. President, quite a few Americans seem to
believe it doesn't matter what you may have done in private
moments, that that's between you and your wife. And some are
saying it doesn't even matter if you've broken the law --
obstructed justice or committed perjury.
Now, you deny wrongdoing, I understand. But as a standard
for presidents, what do you think -- does it matter what you do
in private moments as alleged? And, particularly, does it
matter if you have committed perjury or in other sense broken
CLINTON: Well, since I have answered the underlying
questions, I really believe it's important for me not to say any
more about this. I think that I'm in some ways the last person
who needs to be having a national conversation about this.
What I'm trying to -- I may be the leader, but my
job as leader is to lead the country and to deal with the great
public issues facing the country, and to prove Justice Scalia
right when he said that nothing that could be done to me in a
legal way would in any way affect my job as president. It would
just be one of those things and I could go right on and do my
job. And I'm going to do my best to prove him correct by doing
the public's business.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) say about the presidents ought to obey
QUESTION: Mr. President, I hate to beat a dead horse, but
let me just follow that up.
CLINTON: No, you don't.
QUESTION: Ken Starr's supporters make the case that he could
be wrapping up his investigation except for the delaying tactics
put forward by your lawyers, your aides, specifically the
privilege assertion, denying the Secret Service the right to
testify, denying some of your aides the right to testify,
denying the first lady the right to answer certain questions
because of these privileged questions.
And a lot of Americans are having a hard time
understanding. Why assert privilege if there's nothing to hide?
CLINTON: Well, you better -- first of all, you've asked three
questions. Let me deal with them. On the First Lady's
testimony, Mr. Kendall's response blows what they said out of
the water better than anything I could say and amounts to a
shame on them for saying that.
Secondly, with regard to the Secret Service, I literally have
had no involvement in that decision whatever. That is a
decision that they have made based on what they believe. The
position they've taken is a position they've taken based on what
they believe is best for the institution of the presidency. And
the court will just have to evaluate their arguments and make a
Now thirdly, on the claims of executive privilege, I cannot
comment on those matters because they are under seal.
However, as you know, we have suggested to the
court that the pleadings and the briefs be made public, be open
to public inspection so that you and the American people could
evaluate the specific executive privilege issues and whether you
believe they're valid or not.
But I can't talk about them, you know, our side has tried to
honor all these court orders, and I want to continue to honor
it. We've asked -- it's under seal. I can't discuss it. But I
will do my best to -- to deal with this in an appropriate way.
And if the court changes the rules, I hope that we'll be able
to release the pleadings and the briefs so that all of you can
see what this is about and draw your own conclusions and then
ask questions about it.
QUESTION: What do you think is the strategy from the Russian
state toward the Middle East at this point, and what are you
expecting from the London talks next week?
CLINTON: And we are going to keep working with them to see
that we achieve that goal.
Now, in terms of the London conference, I hope that after
Secretary Albright meets with Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Arafat that
we will have the elements of an agreement which will get the
parties into final status talks.
You all pretty well know what the parameters are. There's
still no agreement on how much of a redeployment should be
undertaken by the Israelis from the West Bank in this next
phase. But they are much closer than they were just a couple of
weeks ago -- much, much closer. And there are some other issues
that may be able to be worked out around that that might still
enable us to make an agreement.
I think what both of them are going to have to decide is
whether or not they believe that they're better off waiting or
making -- or each side giving a little more to get to a final
Now, keep in mind, this is not a final peace agreement.
We're arguing over the dimensions of a step which is part of the
Oslo agreement designed to get the parties into final status
talks, which are supposed to be over a year from now -- I think
May of '99 is when they're supposed to end.
So what we have to -- what the parties have got to make up
their mind about is, do they want to roll the dice? Because
believe me, in the nature of all these agreements, the most
principal compromise will leave both sides dissatisfied. By
definition. That's the way -- you know, if the peace
agreements were easy, they'd all be done already.
So the most principled compromise will leave both sides
dissatisfied. What they have to decide is, do they want to roll
the dice? Do they really want to gamble on six more months of
basically everything in suspended animation?
Do they really believe it'll be better then?
Do they really believe it will be better in another
year? What happens when the timetable runs out on the Oslo
accord? Will we be closer to peace?
I think the answer is manifestly no. And so, I'm hoping and
praying that we'll be able to get something positive out of the
Yes, ma'am. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President, about the stock market, and this is
the middle of the stock for remaining season. With the market
being dangerously high and the SEC favoring institutional
investors and mutual funds are not required to have adequate
cash reserves and these recent circuit breakers instituted by
the New York Stock Exchange are mostly for the benefit of
What is the administration going to do to protect small
investors, people who have maybe like 100 or 200 or 500 shares
of stocks in the market from the forthcoming bear market? And
we all know what has to go up has to go down.
CLINTON: That's true. But it's also true that over time the
trend has been up. And over any long-term period the market has
outperformed government securities.
I think that -- I do believe that the SEC has a
responsibility to enforce the laws that are on the books, but
the SEC cannot repeal the rules of the market going up or down
for any single class of investors. And I am unaware of any
specific thing that they've been asked to do over and above
QUESTION: Mr. President, whatever you may think about all of
these ongoing investigations of your administration, they
certainly have pulled in a lot of your friends and employees and
acquaintances, people who have had to appear before the grand
jury a number of times, a lot of people, like Betty Currie, for
example, who have built up large legal fees.
And I wonder -- do you feel in any way personally
responsible? And do you still intend, as you mentioned in 1996
in an interview, once you're out of office to help out with
those legal fees?
CLINTON: Yes, if I can figure out a way to do it, I will. I
feel terrible about -- there are all these people who have been
hauled through this, who under the governing statute can never
get their legal bills reimbursed so that you have the
independent counsel not only has an unlimited budget and can go
on forever -- 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, spend $40 million today,
$100 million tomorrow.
They can take -- you're laughing, but we still have one from
the mid-'80s in effect. And although it's not active, but in
this case, you know, we had this Resolution Trust Corporation
report two years ago, which exhaustively reviewed every issue
relevant to Whitewater, and it didn't have any effect as this
thing just went on and on and on.
So more and more people get called in, and they
spend money they don't have on, for legal fees that they can't
afford. And they're never targets of investigation. Therefore,
they're not subject to any reimbursement. And I feel terrible
about it. And if I can think of something to do about it, I
QUESTION: Are you responsible at all for that yourself? I
mean, is that a personal...
CLINTON: No. If there's one person in the world I'm not
responsible for, it's Mr. Starr. I think all of you would admit
that. And his behavior and what he and Mr. Ewing and the others
have decided to do. I don't think there's any American who
believes I'm responsible for that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, turning to tobacco for a moment,
the House Republican leadership apparently has rejected
Congressman Bliley's presentation of a compromise tobacco deal.
What state do you think the tobacco compromise is in now? Are
the Republicans in the pocket of big tobacco? And will this
have to be fought out in the November elections?
CLINTON: I certainly hope not. For one thing, Mr. Bliley,
you know, is a conservative Republican from Virginia, a
Mr. Waxman is a liberal Democrat, who's got a great
reputation for protecting the public health.
The fact that they reached an agreement, there should have
been some basis of going forward. And you know, all I can tell
you is I'm heartened by what's happening in the Senate, where we
got an almost unanimous vote -- just missed it by one vote --
out of the committee in the Senate for the bill sponsored by
Senator McCain and others.
And we are going to work ahead. I just don't think we can
afford to let politics get in the way of this.
I mean, the news report was that some people who were going
to go along with this don't think they have to now because they
think they found some political way to avoid it.
I think that's a terrible way to look at this. The only
thing that matter is 3,000 kids a day start smoking, even though
it's illegal to sell cigarettes to kids. A thousand of them a
day will die sooner because of it.
That is the only thing that matters, and we know that there
are strategies which will save their lives.
I do not want this to be an issue in the November
election. Let me say this again: I do not want this to be an
issue in the November election. If it is an issue in the
November election, it will only be because those people who have
a political or financial interest in seeing that this matter is
not resolved between now and November prevent it from being
The worst thing in the world would be to play politics with
our children's health. I'm not going to do it and I hope no one
QUESTION: Mr. President, aside from the legal questions that
you face both here and in the courts, Republicans have been
notching up questions about your moral authority. How important
is moral authority to you as you deal with questions like
tobacco and drugs? What effect do you think this whole wave of
controversies has had on your moral authority?
And what kind of moral authority do you think the
Republican critics have?
CLINTON: Well, let me say -- If I were to answer them in
kind, I might be able to damage their reputation, which they
might be able to do to me. But I could have no effect on their
character, just as they can have none on mine.
And therefore, I think if I were to answer them in kind, it
would be more a reflection on my character than on their
I believe that it's very important for the president to be
able to stand up for the values of the American people
collectively and for communities and for families and for
individuals. And I think this administration has a good record,
and I believe I have a good record of standing up for the things
that will help us to raise our children stronger and keep our
families strong and make our country stronger.
At least I have done my best. These things are
distracting, and we live in a time where they are more prominent
than they have been at most times in our country's history,
although not at all times. And I deal with them the very best I
But I do not think the right thing for me to do is to respond
in kind. The right thing for me to do is to let others defend
me as best they can and to go on and worry about the American
QUESTION: Mr. President...
CLINTON: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a question about tobacco.
CLINTON: Jackie, you can go next. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I'm sorry.
CLINTON: No, go ahead, Mara.
QUESTION: But, I've got the floor, and I don't want to give
CLINTON: Good for you.
QUESTION: I'm wondering if you are ready to tell the DNC and
the two Democratic congressional campaign committees to stop
taking campaign contributions from the tobacco companies?
CLINTON: Well, it was my understanding that the DNC did not.
QUESTION: Well, that's not exactly correct. There is still
some tobacco money (OFF-MIKE).
CLINTON: Well, it was my understanding that the DNC was not
taking tobacco money.
QUESTION: For campaigns to congressional committees.
CLINTON: Well, I don't tell them what to do. And you know,
Congress is an independent body as we see, and the House and the
Senate committees will have to do whatever they're going to do.
I have had a chance to set the policy for the Democratic
National Committee. If it's being violated, I will check on it.
But I think we're doing the right thing.
It's legal for those people to contribute if they want, but I
think until we get this matter resolved of the teen smoking, I
think it would be better if none of us did. But it's up to them
to decide what to do.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there are some questions that have
arisen because of Mr. Starr's investigation that both you and
your staff have admitted are legitimate questions, but that you
don't feel you're able to answer while his investigation is
Now that he's said that the end is not near, are you willing
to live with these questions hanging over you for the rest of
QUESTION: Does that mean, sir, that you would leave these
waiting, that you're not prepared to sit down and...
CLINTON: It means that I think every American who has
observed the conduct of the independent counsel would expect me
to follow the advice of my counsel, and that's what I intend to
QUESTION: Secondly, sir, if you believe that Ken Starr is
running, as you've indicated, a partisan vendetta, and
especially if you think he's wasting taxpayer money, as you've
suggested here, why not ask Attorney General Reno to remove him?
CLINTON: That would not be an appropriate thing for me to
QUESTION: You and your aides have been insisting for quite
some time now that you're able to remain focused on the business
of the country and do your work despite what's going on. But
House Speaker Gingrich is making it increasingly clear that
unless there's some more cooperation forthcoming on your
administration's part that your agenda on the Hill is going to
I wonder if there comes a point where you feel it's your
responsibility to provide some more cooperation so that some
work can get done for the American people?
CLINTON: Oh, I don't think anyone really seriously believes
that's what the last three or four days have been about.
They've been about politics. And I'm not going to let -- I
cannot be -- I can be responsible for a lot of things, but I'm
not responsible for the Speaker's behavior.
Neither, however, will I respond to it. Nothing he says
about me personally, nothing, will keep me from working with him
and with other Republicans in the Congress to do everything I
possibly can on every issue before us.
There is nothing that he can say about me for whatever reason
that will affect my willingness to sit down with him and others
and work for the benefit of this country.
So it's not going to get in my way. It is simply
not. I am not going to permit it to happen.
Now, I will tell you this. The only thing he said recently
that really bothered me was when he said that he thought that
tobacco advertising basically had no impact on whether children
decided to smoke or not. I simply disagree with that.
I think there are other reasons, but I think that was wrong.
And that's something that affects other people's lives. That's
not Washington politics.
But you know, whatever people say -- that's -- let them go.
I mean, I've got to do my job. And I will still welcome them to
the White House and we will do our job for the American people
because that's what I'm supposed to do.
QUESTION: Mr. President, speaking of issues, is there any
reason to take seriously a promise from any politician of either
party for campaign finance reform? To regard it as anything
other than lip service when by actually voting for campaign
finance reform in a way that would cause the bill to pass,
they'd be facilitating challenges to themselves?
I mean, do you believe that this is really possible.
CLINTON: Oh, yes.
QUESTION: And why would anybody do it?
CLINTON: Well, I believe it's really possible because I
think a lot of politicians know that the cost of campaigns and
advertising particularly, and particularly television
advertising, has gotten so expensive that they're spending all
their time raising money, and it's wearing them out and it makes
them -- some of them at least, I think -- I think very few
people really are terribly compromised and wind up voting in
ways different than they would otherwise vote.
But I think they know it raises all kinds of questions they
wish it didn't raise. And I think most politicians -- most
people in public life would love to do it.
But as I have said before, since the Republicans now have a
majority in Congress, it is more difficult for them because they
raise more large money, more total money, more foreign money.
They raise more money in all these categories that people
have raised objections to. So it is harder for them.
But even among the Republican ranks, a lot of
people, I think, genuinely want to do it. And I think that, you
know, we're just going to keep working and try to get it done.
Yes. You never got your question, did you. No. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there have been questions about
your moral authority this week, together with the trouble for
the tobacco bill and IMF funding. Is this going to be looked on
back as the week where the era of bipartisanship between you and
congressional leaders ended? And, if not, what are you going to
do to revive things so you can get something done?
CLINTON: Well, I don't think so. I think, you know, we've
had -- we're having some problems over the tobacco issue, but
keep in mind, because of what this - the stuff that's coming out
of the House, which I don't really know how to assess, but keep
in mind, we have a bill slated to go to the floor of the Senate
that passed, I believe, 19-1. And therefore the Senate is
Look at the funding for the International Monetary Fund,
which is very critical to our long-term economic stability --
passed the Senate 86-14, total bipartisan support.
So -- they're voting on NATO today. I expect it to be a
bipartisan vote. And they'll be -- and, by the way, the
opposition will be bipartisan, too.
So, I don't think that a few days of high level static in the
House of Representatives, which may have more to do with their
affairs than with the rest of us, I -- I don't pretend to
understand it all -- I don't think that should make us believe
the era of bipartisan government's over.
If they -- if they -- if the American people will send them a
clear signal and they conclude it's in their interest to work
with me and work with the Republicans and the Democrats in the
Senate and all of us that are working together to do it, then I
think that's what will happen. It's a question of what they
conclude is in their interest.
And I don't understand it entirely, but I'm going to keep
working to get it done.
QUESTION: How do you pay for all your initiatives? And if
the Republicans instead use the money for a tax cut, would you
veto the tax cut?
CLINTON: Well, let me back up and say -- Most of my
initiatives, the federal part of most of my initiatives, are
paid for by non- tobacco sources. I believe -- I believe, and I
think they disagree with me and we can argue that out in the
future, and that could be a subject for the coming election --
that if we give them back a whole lot of money that they have
already spent on Medicare -- you know, Medicaid -- if they get
money back from the federal government as a result of this
settlement, and especially if they get more than they
anticipated getting under the original attorney general's
agreement, I think it is appropriate for us to say -- You ought
to spend this on children.
And the best way to spend it on children is on -- on child
care and education, early childhood education, getting down to
small classes in the early grades -- because we had the biggest
increase in child health in 35 years in the balanced budget
agreement last year.
So I think that's an appropriate thing to do.
If they disagree with me, then we can argue about that. But
I would never stand in the way of a tobacco bill that actually
reduced childhood smoking because they disagreed with me about
how to invest the money. That's not going to -- but I would
expect a bill to actually help our kids.
OK, you guys got a couple -- go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you have just returned from
Santiago, where you attended the second Summit of the Americas.
Many of the hemispheric leaders told you or made public their
belief that the U.S. embargo is not working against Cuba. It's
brought about no democratic changes. Prime Minister Jean
Chretien has just visited Cuba. President Castro used the
opportunity, welcoming him to say that the U.S. has committed
war crimes against the Cuban people and should be judged in an
international court for that embargo.
My question is, sir, do you believe the embargo is working?
And number two, you promised the leaders in
Santiago you would work to get fast track. With the economy
doing so well, isn't this a good time to start pushing in
Congress? Thank you.
CLINTON: Well the answer to the second question is, it's
probably not the best time, because it's even closer to the
election. And for reasons that I disagree with, a lot of members
of Congress, and most of them in my own party, think that it's
not a good thing to do politically. I think it is imperative
for our future, and I will continue to try to pass it. But I
don't think this is a good time right now.
What was the other question, excuse me?
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the Cuban embargo.
CLINTON: Oh, the Cuban embargo. On the Cuban embargo, I
think that it has been useful, but I also believe that we should
do more to minimize the damage to the Cuban people, which is why
after the Pope's visit, I relaxed a lot of the restrictions on
the transfer of food and medicine and on travel there, in an
attempt not only to help and strengthen the Cuban people, but
also to strengthen the church and other institutions of society
in the hope that, you know, there can be a transition to a more
open, freer place.
And I'm still hoping for that.
Go ahead, Mark.
QUESTION: Mr. President, back on the Secret Service if I
can. It argues that if its agents and officers were to cooperate
with Independent Counsel Ken Starr that it would cause you to
keep them at a distance. Is that true, sir? Would it change
the nature of your relationship with the Secret Service detail
if they were to cooperate with the independent counsel?
CLINTON: I think what it argues is, what the Secret Service
argues is, that the institution of the presidency would be
Because the president, for example, would feel that
conversations in the limousine going to and from places and
other things that he might do in the future that have every
right to be kept confidential would be subject to questioning.
And even if there was nothing unlawful about them,
they would then be leaked, even if leaking is illegal.
And certainly, they have lots of evidence to support that
worry. I mean, as I understand it, that's their argument.
However, I have had no conversations with them about it, and I
think, again, I should not comment on it.
They're making a case about the institution of the
presidency. President Bush has said that he agrees with them,
and you might ask other former presidents what they think.
But it's the -- the Secret Service has made this decision on
its own. I'm not involved with it, and I think that that's the
way it ought to stay.
Mr. Cannon (ph)?
QUESTION: Mr. President, earlier you spoke about the
hardship of people who had to get lawyers and spend money who've
done nothing wrong and are not even been targeted with
My question's about people who have been targeted.
And I'm asking how far along are you in your thinking about
possible pardons for people who you think have been wrapped up
in investigation that they never would have even been -- they
never even would have come across any prosecutors' radar screens
CLINTON: No one's asked me for one and there's been no
discussion about it.
QUESTION: Have you...
CLINTON: Go ahead, ma'am.
QUESTION: President Clinton, I wanted to talk to you about
politics and the tobacco legislation. Specifically, one way you
could take the pulse (OFF-MIKE) the tobacco legislation is by
embracing the tobacco industry and inviting them back into the
Do you have any intention of doing that? And are there any
plans for some sort of tobacco summit?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, they walked away. We didn't
drive them out. I was -- the first I knew about them leaving
was when they called a press conference and said they were
I thought they were negotiating with the Congress. We were
trying to negotiate with the Congress. We had -- the only
vehicle you have is when the leader, in this case the leader of
the Senate, signed a -- Senator McCain's committee, the
jurisdiction over the committee.
N: He got together with Democrats and Republicans on
the committee. They put together a bill, and it was voted out.
They said they didn't like the bill, thought it was going to get
worse and they were walking away, and then they started running
their television ads. And that's all I know.
So I would -- excuse me -- I would hope that before this is
over, they would come back and rejoin the negotiations. I think
it would be better if they were at the table. And as you know,
at least at the edges, there are some questions about the
government's ability to impose certain restrictions on
advertising unless it is done in a consent agreement with their
So, I would like to see them a part of this.
Scott and (OFF-MIKE), go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President...
CLINTON: I'm working, Sarah, I'll get there. Be patient.
I'll get there.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
CLINTON: I'm coming to you.
QUESTION: It was suggested at the beginning of this news
conference, sir, that you've answered the questions about Monica
Lewinsky. But respectfully, there has been no explanation for
her dozens of visits to the White House after her employment
here ended. No explanation for the Secret Service concern
about her behavior in the West Wing. No explanation about the
extraordinary effort by your secretary and your closest friends
to find her a job.
Sir, could you now give us some better sense of what appears
to be an extraordinary relationship that you had with this woman
and fulfill your promise to the American people of "more rather
than less, sooner rather than later"?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, you have more information than
you did when I said that. And secondly, I have nothing else to
I have been -- I have been advised -- and I think it's good
advice under the circumstances -- but I just -- I just don't
have anything else to say about that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, your adviser Sidney Blumenthal...
QUESTION: ... last week called Ken Starr's deputy Hickman
Ewing (ph) a religious fanatic who has proclaimed that he
operates from a presumption of guilt.
Sir, I want to ask you if that's an appropriate comment, if
you agree with it, and if you agree with Mr. Blumenthal's
assertion that Starr is abusing, not just using his office, in
an effort to destroy your presidency.
I don't have any comment about that. I believe
there is -- there was an article on Mr. Ewing (ph) in the New
Yorker at which he made some comment about his presumption of
guilt and you can just -- his words ought to stand or fall.
Nobody else should be able to characterize them. They should...
CLINTON: Go ahead, Mr. (OFF-MIKE). And then Sarah, and then
QUESTION: In light of your comments before about the
(OFF-MIKE), Mr. President, I'd like to ask you about a
divergence we've seen in the polls recently. Public polls have
suggested that a strong majority still approves of the job
you're doing as president. The majority no longer feels that
they -- that you share their moral values. And they say that
they no longer respect you as a person.
I wonder if you find that distressing and how you account for
CLINTON: Well, I don't think it's hard to account for.
It's been part of a strategy that's -- goes all the
way back to 1991. And -- but it used to distress me greatly.
It doesn't any more.
QUESTION: Mr. President?
CLINTON: You know, I will say again, all these people that
have been working hard on this for seven years now -- they can
affect my reputation. They can do nothing, for good or ill, to
affect my character.
Unfortunately, they can't make it any better either. They
can't make it any better. They can't make it any worse. They
can't have an impact on it.
And it's obvious, I think, to the American people that --
that this has been a hard, well-financed, vigorous effort over a
long period of time by people who could not contest the ideas
that I brought to the table, couldn't even contest the values
behind the ideas that I brought to the table, and certainly
can't quarrel with the consequences and the results of my
service. And therefore, personal attack seems legitimate.
I have never done that in my public life. I don't believe in
it, and I'm not going to participate in it.
But all I can do -- I can't say -- I can't get in an argument
with the American people about this. All I can do is show up
for work every day and do the very best I can. That's what I
did today, and that's what I intend to do tomorrow.
QUESTION: Mr. President, it looks as if you're getting ready
to sign an agreement with China which would give them help and
some of our secrets and not just be a friendly thing. Would you
sign this without the American people having had wide discussion
over this and debate on -- don't you need approval of Congress?
Would you just go ahead and sign this? Because, after all,
that's one of our greatest contemporary enemies, is China.
CLINTON: Well, Sarah (ph), I'm not sure I know the specific
issue you're referring to, but I -- I would not make any
agreements with China in secret and they would be subject to the
knowledge of the Congress and the debate of the American people.
We are trying to get to a point where we can work
more closely with them and where they cooperate more closely
with us so we're trying to build the same kind of world in the
future, and on a very different kind of world. And I hope we'll
Yes, go ahead (OFF-MIKE).
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Mr. President. (OFF-MIKE) the last
QUESTION: Mr. President, there have been reports -- news
reports that the independent counsel has invited you to
voluntarily answer questions about the Lewinksy matter, but so
far you haven't committed to an interview.
Are those reports true? And would you commit to answering
questions that he has? Or do you believe that he's simply too
biased in his investigation and therefore you don't have an
CLINTON: I don't have anything to say about that (OFF-MIKE).
All my interactions with him, Mr. Kendall speaks for me. And I
just have nothing to say.
QUESTION: Recently, some conservatives who you met with at
the White House in December said that they feel that your race
initiative has not been inclusive and that they're embarking on
their own race initiative.
Do you agree with their assessment? And also, the
year for your initiative is drawing to a close rapidly. Do you
foresee extending that period?
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I'm -- I guess you're referring
to Mr. Connelly (ph) and Ms. Thernstrom, and I'm glad if they
want to spark a debate. But you know, I did invite them here to
be part of a hard discussion, and I invited other conservatives
who were not able to come. And I've done what I could to
broaden this debate in many ways, and not just to those who
claim a special stake in it.
You know, what we did on ESPN, I thought was in some ways one
of the more interesting things that has occurred in the last
year. So I welcome any kind of organized discussion.
Today, we've got about 40 governors, and the YWCA announcing
that in all over the country they're going to be engaged in
these kinds of discussions. I think all of this is to the good,
So, I would encourage people who disagree with me
about all these issues to seek out people who are different from
them and get into the debate and dialogue and talk it through.
Now, as we've come down to this year, to be perfectly candid, I
have not made a decision about how best to carry forward this.
But in some form or fashion, we have to carry this forward
because what I'm trying to do is to get people to think about
our racial diversity as an enormous asset for America in the
21st century if we become more of one nation as a result of it.
So, we have, for example, I've got a lot of legislative
proposals on the table which are critical to this. Our whole
empowerment zone. More community development banks. All the
things we're doing to try to close the opportunity gaps in our
inner cities and our rural areas. The EEOC budget which, to go
back to one former question, I believe has committed to support,
which will be very good to clear out this huge backlog and
discrimination cases before the federal government.
There are lots of specific things we still have to
do as well as other avenues of dialogue that I think need to be
QUESTION: Mr. President, General Barry McCaffrey is in the
midst of controversy over the needle exchange program as well as
a personality conflict. Mr. President, what are your words to
General McCaffrey's detractors, especially those in your
Cabinet, your administration and those Democrats in the CBC that
are joining Newt Gingrich to get McCaffrey out of the drug
CLINTON: Well, first of all, I think we ought to look at his
record. I think he's got quite a commendable record. We have
more than doubled -- we've had a strategy that was as follows
with the drug issue.
One, to try to help parents teach their children that drugs
are wrong and illegal and can kill you.
Two, to try to support local law enforcement efforts and
local community efforts at not only punishment, but prevention.
Three, to try to increase our capacity to stop
drugs from coming in at the border. We more than doubled border
guards, for example, from 3,000 to 6,000. We've got another
1,000 coming in this budget. We've got a fund set aside in the
highway bill to increase the technological capacity of the
government to stop drugs coming in at the border.
And General McCaffrey has been behind a lot of that. He's
also done enormous work with the supply countries in Latin
America, trying to get them to work with us, and he's made some
real headway. He's one of the reasons we got this alliance
against drugs at the last Summit of the Americas.
He's supported huge increases in funding for treatment and
for testing and treatment for inmates not only in federal but in
state and local penitentiaries.
So I think he's got a good record now.
Now, he simply -- he believes that -- that the benefits of
needle exchange are uncertain and that the message you send out,
which is that -- is not good, that somehow the government is
empowering drug use.
There are people all over the country who agree with that.
Now, the weight of medical research and American Medical
Association has a different view. Their view is that it may
help to lower the transmission of HIV, and there is no evidence
that it increases drug use.
I think, if I might -- I mean, that's the next logical
question. Why did we make the decision we did? Because the
weight of scientific evidence was what I just said.
But if you look at it, it's clear if you go anywhere -- all
across the American cities or go to Vancouver, Canada, or any
place where they've had a needle exchange program where there's
been serious testing, the only place it really works to reduce
HIV transmission and to reduce drug use is when the people who
come in to exchange needles get pulled into treatment programs.
So the real issues is will there be more funds for treatment?
And that's obviously, we're giving -- or I'm getting as much
money out there as I can.
But that's why I think it should remain a local
decision and why I made the decision I did and why I'd like to
see a -- this controversy put behind us, because I think in a
way, in terms of impact on people, it's been -- there have been
more heat than light on it.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
What's your message, sir, to those nations, particularly to
Hungarians, millions of them living below the poverty line? I
mean the Hungarian poverty line. Will they be better off by
joining a military alliance? Some critics here say that this is
like putting the cart before the horse, military comes first,
economic integration just second. What's your take on that.
CLINTON: Well, first, I think it's a very legitimate
question. It is a legitimate question.
It's a question that bothered me, for example, when some
other countries not nearly as prosperous as Hungary were asking
to be considered for NATO membership.
For the United States and for other NATO members,
you know, we have to trust the elected representatives of the
countries involved, in this case Hungary, Poland and the Czech
Republic, to make the right decision on that.
My view is, if it can be afforded for Hungary, Poland and the
Czech Republic -- if it can be afforded consistent with a
commitment to economic growth and benefits preserving the social
contract for the people, it will be good economically over the
long run for Hungary. Because it will tie Hungary more closely
to the emerging global economy of democracies. It will identify
Hungary even more clearly as a responsible nation capable of
helping NATO solve other peacekeeping problems, and it will
remove any lingering questions, however rational or not, about
So I think it'll be good for the economy over the long run if
it could be managed now.
QUESTION: Mr. President, following up on Peter's earlier
question, to what degree do you believe that a president, any
president, is a role model in his private behavior? And does
that not justify questions about private behavior that might
otherwise be considered intrusive?
CLINTON: Well, those are questions that you need to ask and
answer without my involvement for the simple reason that our
consensus about that over time has been changed dramatically,
first of all. Secondly, there is a difference between the
question you asked and the exact nature of what's happened here
over the last five-and-a-half years, which I'm sure you
QUESTION: Most recently, a lot of court cases...
CLINTON: Wait (ph), I was calling on this gentleman. Go
ahead. I called on him.
QUESTION: Mr. President, as president of the United States,
the country leader to defend democracy in the world, are you
ready to accept a democratic vote by the majority of the members
of the OAS to re-instate Cuba as an active member of the
Inter-American system? If not, why not?
CLINTON: No, and because, just last year, the OAS voted to
kick anybody out who abandoned democracy. So, we would look
completely hypocritical if we said -- Here's the set of rules we
have for all of our members. If you have been a democracy,
you're out of here.
But we feel so terrible that Cuba has been under
this dictatorship for 40 years and has been outside the OAS,
that we think we'll bring them in here.
I don't -- first of all, I think it's hypocritical.
Secondly, I don't believe that democracy has been in effect and
is secure enough from the enormous pressures that are on a lot
of these countries to guarantee that we can preserve it if we
were to make that sort of mistake.
Now, other countries in the OAS in the Americas, are
perfectly free to disagree with our position on Cuba.
For example, the -- you know, the Cuban, I mean the Canadian
prime minister, one of you just asked the question -- that just
went to Cuba. But I think when he was there, he was also
pressing for democracy and human rights.
We can have differences in our approach to the same goal.
And I wouldn't criticize that.
But I think to open up the OAS or the Summit of the Americas
process to a non-democratic nation, in my view, would be a big
mistake. This country stands for freedom and democracy. We're
fighting like crazy to preserve it in countries where it is very
difficult to do so, where people literally put their lives on
the line every day for freedom.
And when people are out there risking their lives, we ought
not to send the wrong signal about how important that is to us.
QUESTION: How's Buddy? How's Buddy?
CLINTON: Well, very well.
QUESTION: I like that necktie.