White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry's White House Briefing
Aug. 17, 1998
MCCURRY: All right. I'll speak up and do as best I can.
This is our normal, routine gaggle, with a lot more of you here
today than is normally the case. Normally, we do this in my
office and it's informal and it's off camera, not formally done.
So that's why we're doing this today.
QUESTION: We start with the President's day, right?
MCCURRY: We start with the President's day. The President
of the United States of America, as you know, is occupied in the
Map Room today. Let me tell you what he's been doing.
At about -- just after 9:00 a.m., the President's lawyers
arrived here to meet with him to do some last-minute
run-throughs on the testimony he will give. As I told many of
you last night, the President is confident as he goes into
today's session. I wouldn't say that he's exactly looking
forward to it, but he knows with certainty what he's going to
testify to, his lawyers say, and that is the truth and the whole
I expect this session he's having with his lawyers right now
to be over around 11:15 a.m., 11:30 a.m. He'll then get his
customary morning briefings from the Chief of Staff, Erskine
Bowles; and then a national security briefing from Sandy Berger.
We will try to make a White House photo available of that for
you who need audio -- who need visual enhancements, in addition
to audio enhancements.
Then at some point around 1:00 p.m., the President will begin
his testimony. We will get for you from the lawyers the exact
time that the President goes in and gets started, because
several of you have requested that. And then I think we're just
going to sit tight and wait until it's over.
Now, let me talk a little bit about arrangements for later
on. We'll have an in-house pool stationed at the Diplomatic
Reception Room exit, underneath the South Portico, so you'll be
able to see Mr. Starr and his associates leave. I expect when
the testimony is over and after the President has had a chance
to chat a bit with David Kendall, I expect Mr. Kendall will come
out and say a few brief parsimonious statements to you, as David
is want to do.
QUESTION: Where will Mr. Kendall come out?
MCCURRY: We'll do that right at the exit out there.
QUESTION: Will that be open?
MCCURRY: That will be to your in-house pool, okay?
QUESTION: But the in-house pool, we can do it live?
MCCURRY: You can -- if you want to string it out live, I'll
let Mr. Teague work with you on that. What do we call that --
Diplomatic Entrance, just like a helicopter depart. And beyond
QUESTION: What about a President's address tonight?
MCCURRY: I don't think we'll have any on word on that until
the President completes his testimony.
QUESTION: What about the departure for Martha's Vineyard?
MCCURRY: That will happen -- most of us are betting that
that will happen sometime tomorrow.
QUESTION: Well, can you tell us, do you know for a fact that
the President has said, I will make up my mind after the
MCCURRY: Yes, he will make up his mind -- we will let you
know -- he will make up his mind at the conclusion of his
testimony about whether he wants to speak tonight.
QUESTION: What room in the residence will he do it from?
MCCURRY: I don't know that we've decided that definitively,
but the Map Room seems to be the venue of choice today so I
imagine that would be the best choice.
QUESTION: When you say...
QUESTION: Mike, you're ruling out him leaving for the
MCCURRY: No, I'm not ruling it out. I'm just saying that it
looks -- I mean, the President is going to have a long day here
and I think he is going to want to unwind in the residence
tonight. I can't imagine that he's going to depart for Martha's
Vineyard before tomorrow.
QUESTION: When you say the President is confident, what's he
MCCURRY: He's confident about his own testimony. He knows
with certainty what he's going to testify to, and it will be the
truth, his lawyers tell us.
QUESTION: What is the truth?
MCCURRY: They have not told us how the President will
testify. What I've been communicated is what I've communicated
to you. I haven't had any further update since talking to most
of the rest of you yesterday.
QUESTION: What about Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea? Are they
here today? Are they going to wait and leave with the
MCCURRY: They're here today, and I expect them to depart
with the President when they leave for vacation.
QUESTION: And have they been told what the President will
MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: If the President addresses the nation tonight,
will the First Lady be with him?
MCCURRY: I don't know -- I haven't heard any suggestion of
QUESTION: So, Mike, you are making contingency plans for a
possible speech tonight?
MCCURRY: Yes. One of them is, for the guys who have got to
run the cables, run the cables out to the Dip Room -- will
probably help, I think.
QUESTION: Would it be in the Oval, or where would it be?
MCCURRY: I sort of -- I hinted that it might be the Map
Room, although I didn't say that declaratively, not being
QUESTION: Mike, who else has been in to see the President?
Reverend Jackson was in last night. Are there other...
MCCURRY: He's had other friends of his, some clerics, some
-- just friends of his who have been in town.
QUESTION: Why? Why the clerics?
MCCURRY: The President sees some of the folks who he relies
on for spiritual guidance from time to time.
QUESTION: Was he disappointed with Jesse Jackson...
QUESTION: Can you say who?
MCCURRY: I take the position that the President and the
First Lady and their family and who they entertain in the
residence is their business.
QUESTION: Mike, is the President a little disappointed with
Jesse Jackson talking against him somewhat?
MCCURRY: I don't think that's what Reverend Jackson did, so
the answer is no.
QUESTION: Mike, what about the fact that Russia devalued the
ruble by 50 percent last night?
MCCURRY: Let's clear up all the other non-Russia related
things, and then I'll do told the television how long to
expect an address, if there should be one?
MCCURRY: Hopefully, it would be of endurable length, one
QUESTION: To split hairs, you say now the President is going
to speak the truth, and I'm asking you for eight months, when he
issued his denials was he speaking the truth?
MCCURRY: There's no change in the answer I gave at the time
QUESTION: To follow up on April's question, Reverend Jackson
was quoted as saying that the First Lady feels humiliated by
this. Can you confirm that?
MCCURRY: I can't. I have not talked to the First Lady about
QUESTION: Mike, there was some talk yesterday from some of
his former aides that perhaps he owes some of his staff an
explanation if his testimony today is different from what he
said seven months ago. Has he had a chance to talk to some of
MCCURRY: He has not, because he's been working with his
lawyers. I don't think most of us are so self-preoccupied to
imagine that it's more important for him to talk to us than to
talk to the American people.
QUESTION: Mike, there are a lot of people speculating and
analysts talking about all things. Somebody noted today -- that
the President is also the Commander in Chief, and if he owns to
a sexual liaison -- whatever the terminology is -- he could open
the door for someone like Kelly Flynn to ask for a pardon
because the Commander in Chief did it, why couldn't she?
MCCURRY: I think you're correct, there's been a lot of
QUESTION: Mike, is there any chance that the President would
ask that the transcript of his testimony today be made public?
MCCURRY: I haven't heard any discussion of that, beyond what
I've heard some of those learned commentators say.
Okay, let's move on to other subjects.
QUESTION: Mike, you just said before that the President
isn't exactly looking forward to testifying, but he told us two
weeks ago he was. Are you saying that he didn't tell us the
MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying he looks forward to getting
this matter behind him. I think that's the right way of saying
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how long this is going to
MCCURRY: No. We're hoping that those of you who have got to
go out and make live pronouncements at 6:30 p.m. will have
something to say by then, but it's hard to know.
QUESTION: You said the President will make up his mind after
the testimony whether he wants to speak. What are the factors
that he'll weigh? In other words...
MCCURRY: If he feels like doing it.
QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, how can he determine that? Is he
going to say, well, it went well, it didn't go well, they
surprised me with a tape I didn't know they had? I mean...
MCCURRY: If I have anything to pass on, on what factors go
into his thinking I'll let you know.
QUESTION: Mike, has the President been in the West Wing at
all today, or are the briefings all in the residence?
MCCURRY: Not that I've heard of. He plans to see Mr.
Bowles, Mr. Berger over in the residence, and that's where he's
been with his lawyers.
QUESTION: When you say he hopes to get this matter behind
him, do you think that today's testimony ends it, that it's all
over after today?
MCCURRY: I think really the American people will be more the
judge of that than people who work here at the White House.
QUESTION: Mike, as the President's spokesman, are you
advising him to make this public statement tonight?
MCCURRY: I have not talked to him directly about this, no.
QUESTION: You haven't talked to him about anything today?
MCCURRY: Not about anything today, no.
QUESTION: Do you have an opinion on that on whether he
MCCURRY: Whatever opinion, whatever counsel I have I'll
render it privately.
QUESTION: Mike, I couldn't hear earlier -- Chelsea is here
today and will accompany them to the Vineyard?
MCCURRY: Yes, that's the plan as I understand it.
QUESTION: If the President makes a speech tonight, will the
First Lady and Chelsea be with him?
MCCURRY: As I've said earlier, I haven't heard any plans to
QUESTION: Will they be sitting there if he's talking about
oral sex, for instance? That would be embarrassing for them.
MCCURRY: I think it's embarrassing to hear the question
QUESTION: Well, it's embarrassing to have the accusation on
MCCURRY: Anything else?
MCCURRY: Okay, let's do Russia. Are we ready to move on?
Josh, last one.
QUESTION: Do you know the last time he can go to the
Vineyard tonight? In other words, can he go up in the dark, can
he go up at 11:00 p.m. to the Vineyard?
MCCURRY: I had heard earlier that you can't -- because of
some of the restrictions on flights up there, that you probably
wouldn't depart when it's dark. So I think it's highly unlikely
that he makes his way up there tonight. I think it's going to
be sometime tomorrow.
QUESTION: Okay, ruble.
MCCURRY: All right. My understanding is Treasury Secretary
Rubin very shortly is going to be putting out a statement, and I
would guide you to the Treasury Department for that. I would
say a couple things -- I know that some of you need something
Facing very difficult and deteriorating market conditions,
the Russian government has had to make some painful decisions,
as most of you know. They've been making an historic
transformation away from decades of state-controlled command and
control economics and towards free market economic
decision-making, and that is always going to be a difficult
transition. Building market confidence at this point is
As we've said before, strong, effective actions that have
been decided by the Russians are the key to restoring
confidence. The difficult measures that have been announced to
address financial pressures we have noted. We urge the
government of Russia to work closely with the International
Monetary Fund to maximize prospects for success. And the
government of Russia and the Duma now need to take the steps
required to fulfill Russia's program with the IMF program -- to
fulfill their elements of the program that they have jointly
decided with the International Monetary Fund. We'll continue to
work with Russia and the international financial institutions to
support the reform process in the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: The devaluation...
MCCURRY: Those are difficult measures and we think the key
ought to now be on implementation of those economic reform
measures that the Russian government has agreed to undertake
with the IMF.
QUESTION: Is it your concern that China may devaluate also?
MCCURRY: We see the decisions that have been announced here
as being in some ways difficult, obviously, but exceptional.
And we don't think they are precedent setting.
QUESTION: Mike, was David Lipton made aware of the fact that
there was great probability that Russia would devalue when he
was in Russia just recently?
MCCURRY: I think currency discussions have been an element
of most of the deliberations that have been underway in recent
days, including the discussions the two Presidents had, but
certainly those that the Under Secretary had as well.
QUESTION: Mike, what's the assessment of the impact on our
economy of these devaluations?
MCCURRY: Well, I can't assess the specific developments, but
I can tell you, generally, as we often say, the health of these
emerging economies, particularly those economies that are
emerging from communist command and control economics, is a
vital part of what is now a interdependent, global economy. And
one of the reasons why we work through the IMF and work with
other international financial institutions is to create the
conditions for long-term economic stability and long-term growth
and an increase in the standard of living for people around the
world. That's why we are engaged in Asia; that's why we're
engaged through the IMF with the program in Russia; that's why
we will continue to support those who are making painful,
difficult, hard choices when it comes to economic transition.
QUESTION: Is the President concerned about walking in on a
financial disaster when he goes to Moscow next month?
MCCURRY: Well, the condition of the Russian economy and the
work we're doing to support the transition occurring in Russia
has always been an element of every discussion he's had with
President Yeltsin and that other senior officials of our
government have had with their counterparts.
QUESTION: What does the U.S. know about the capture of the
alleged terrorists in Pakistan?
MCCURRY: There's very little I want to say about that.
Obviously, we have been updated on that situation, but I think
it would be much more appropriate for the FBI, through their
presence in Kenya, to brief in greater detail on that.
QUESTION: We've had reports that he's fingered Osama bin
Laden. Is that correct?
MCCURRY: I'm well aware of your reports and I'm well aware
of reasons to discount some of those things that I've seen
QUESTION: You're saying -- on this particular one?
MCCURRY: I'm well aware of some reasons to discount some of
the things I've seen reported, but I'll refer you for any
further comment to the FBI.
QUESTION: Have you seen Osama bin Laden reported?
MCCURRY: It was hard to miss it, it was in all the
newspapers this morning.
QUESTION: Mike, back on Russia for a second. Has the
Federal Reserve been part of any of these discussions that the
President and Treasury have been having with Russian officials?
MCCURRY: I think that in the working group that we have had
on economic situations in Asia and elsewhere they have been
participant. I can't confirm for you 100 percent that they've
been in these discussions the last several days. I can't
imagine that they weren't, but I'd ask that you call Howard
Schloss over at Treasury, he can tell you more.
QUESTION: Will the President vary his plans in Northern
MCCURRY: No. He had a good -- as we told most of you last
night, he had a very good conversation with Prime Minister Tony
Blair last night. It lasted about 15 minutes. They reviewed
the situation in Northern Ireland in the aftermath of this
brutal and outrageous attack. The President conveyed to the
Prime Minister many of the same sentiments that he's made in his
public statement yesterday.
The Prime Minister briefed the President on the efforts they
had underway to bring those responsible for terror to justice.
And he gave, I think, a very precise account of what happened --
a group that is wedded to the past -- a small, rump group, as
the Prime Minister described it -- that has no definable
political support in Ireland, conducted this cowardly attack.
And that is the way things were in the past and will not be in
the future because the people have chosen peace.
And working together so that the people's expression of their
free will for peace is what the President will certainly take up
as he goes to Ireland. The President is looking forward to that
visit. So is the Prime Minister. So is Prime Minister Ahern,
the Taoiseach. And I think that the President believes in the
end those who favor a peaceful reconciliation of
differences will triumph.
QUESTION: Did they discuss the devaluation last week, Mike?
QUESTION: If I could, back to Russia for a second. You
characterized the devaluation as a difficult measure undertaken
by the Russian government. But in the opinion of U.S.
officials, is it a positive step to restoring stability to the
MCCURRY: I didn't characterize that. I characterized it
only as, obviously, a difficult decision.
QUESTION: Did they discuss the ruble last week when they
QUESTION: Can you?
MCCURRY: I indicated to you last -- when I did the readout
on the Yeltsin-Kohl, that they discussed some currency matters,
but I declined any further comment on that, if I recall.
QUESTION: Do you want to amend that now?
MCCURRY: I don't want to get into any specifics on that.
Don't want to get into any specifics.
QUESTION: How much more imperative is congressional funding
of the IMF in releasing the money and the appropriations, and
has any progress been made or any negotiations since...
MCCURRY: It's vitally imperative. I mean, the support for
the International Monetary Fund, when it faces challenges in
Asia, in Russia and elsewhere, is key to our strategy of
restoring economic stability in an array of regional economies,
and that in the end impacts the American people and affects our
own economic livelihood.
We've already seen trade statistics a there will be more
trade statistics coming out this week that demonstrate what the
danger is to the U.S. economy of continued sluggish performance
in Asian economies and the decrease in economic activity that
leads to more goods and services from the United States being
sold in overseas markets. So we think it's vitally important
for Congress to move forward with that funding. We have
stressed that every time we have conversations with them, and we
think the case will be even stronger when Congress returns from
its summer recess to move ahead on that measure.
QUESTION: North Korea nuclear facilities -- any comment?
MCCURRY: Well, predictably, there's not much that I can say
to comment on intelligence reports that appear in newspapers.
But I will say the following: that we believe that the DPRK
remains in compliance with the agreed framework. That's the
October 1994 Geneva agreed framework. And we continue to
monitor the situation closely. Under the agreed framework
reached between the United States and North Korea, North Korea,
the DPRK, agreed to freeze and eventually dismantle its
plutonium production and to eventually comply with its
obligations under the NPT -- the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Since 1994, the North's reactor has been shut down, no
plutonium has been reprocessed, and these facilities are and
have been open to monitoring by the IAEA, the International
Atomic Energy Agency. In return, the United States has agreed
to conduct a certain program of activity under the agreed
framework and we have met our obligations. We think it's
important for the North to meet its obligations. Of course, we
would be concerned if North Korea tried to establish a plutonium
production elsewhere. We will continue to monitor North Korean
activity closely and will be discussing with our allies any
changes that we see on the ground.
QUESTION: Mike, have you or other members of the senior
staff been informed that the President will be abandoning his
longstanding denials of a sexual relationship with Monica
MCCURRY: No. As I indicated earlier, we have not been
informed about the substance of his testimony.
QUESTION: You say Mr. Kendall may speak to the pool
MCCURRY: I think he likely will.
QUESTION: Do you think he will give some indication, other
than say that the President has testified fully and truthfully
-- which is to tell us nothing, because I don't think anyone
suspects that he would ever come out say the President has lied
his head off -- I mean, do you think he will give us -- and I'm
trying to be serious -- do you think he'll give us any
indication of whether the President has, in fact, modified to
some extent his public story?
MCCURRY: I think your assessment is a pretty good one.
QUESTION: What did I say?
MCCURRY: We always have a hard time figuring that out
QUESTION: Some officials have been saying that his lawyers
did not believe that he would face any legal jeopardy as a
result of what he said in the deposition. Can you explain how
that would be the case if he changed his story?
MCCURRY: I can't. I'm not a lawyer; I can't explain what
their legal reasoning would be, although I've heard that
QUESTION: Will David Kendall simply make a statement, or
will he answer questions as well?
MCCURRY: Knowing him, he will probably come out and say
three spare sentences.
QUESTION: "The President testified fully and truthfully."
MCCURRY: We got our speechwriter -- write that down. We'll
pass it on to Kendall.
QUESTION: ... deliberately want to be -- you want to be
uninformed and you have to stand up before us every day...
MCCURRY: No, I don't. I don't. But I don't put my own
interests ahead of those of the American people. I think the
President needs to talk to the American people...
QUESTION: You do think he does?
MCCURRY: I think he does, but that may happen soon enough.
QUESTION: You're the spokesman.
QUESTION: Has the President received the report of the State
Department in regards to the need of increasing the security in
MCCURRY: We are very aware of the decisions that have been
made about order of departure status at some installations,
particularly the announcements yesterday at State about
Pakistan. We're well aware of their concerns about U.S.
facilities worldwide. And I remind you that when we take
measures or express concerns about the security of U.S.
personnel, we advise the American public under the no-double
standard policy. So, obviously, we are very well aware of those
things that have been advised to the American public by the
QUESTION: Mike, do you think you're not going to know until
the end of the President's testimony what he -- you said he's
sure of what he's going to say, but you don't think you're going
to get any kind of briefing?
MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans for him to talk to us
before he testifies.
QUESTION: Or his lawyers or his legal team?
MCCURRY: Say it again.
QUESTION: Or his lawyers or legal team -- you don't think
anybody's going to talk to...
MCCURRY: They're pretty well occupied right now.
QUESTION: Are other countries expressing concern about the
distraction that the Lewinsky story is and the wish that it
close as soon as possible?
MCCURRY: No, not through diplomatic channels, but we are
well aware of the commentary that has been generated worldwide
on that and, frankly, probably agree with a lot of that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how many other people he met with
last night? You mentioned a number of clerics.
MCCURRY: I don't know. I know that he routinely has friends
and guests to the residence, and we keep that private.
QUESTION: Was it a group, or was it a succession of people?
MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Did he and Reverend Jackson pray together on this
MCCURRY: He indicated that -- Reverend Jackson indicated
that they did.
QUESTION: Will there be a briefing this afternoon?
MCCURRY: I don't see any point. There's nothing that I can
tell you. And we will -- the next venue will be when Kendall
QUESTION: What's his mood now?
MCCURRY: Confident and determined to tell the truth.
QUESTION: What's the mood among the White House staff? Do
you feel like there's any sense of regret or anything like that?
MCCURRY: Let me share something that Erskine Bowles told the
staff this morning, that many of us have then transmitted to the
rest of our staffs, because I think it is exactly the attitude
that reflects where we are today.
He, in his North Carolina way, relayed something that he said
his daddy "once told me when I was a little chap." He said,
it's easy to be there for someone when they're up, but it's the
good ones who are there when you're down. And Erskine told us
that we have a lot of important work to do and the President and
the American people expect us to do our jobs. And I think that
reflects the attitude of the staff here today.
QUESTION: Have there been any staff preparations for what
might happen on the Hill in terms of a Starr report?
MCCURRY: We've made an effort to kind of keep in contact
with our friends and supporters on the Hill, sure.
QUESTION: Did Erskine cut short his vacation to Scotland to
come back for this?
MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I don't know
when he was due to come back.
QUESTION: The question was beyond having contact with the
Hill, but staff preparations for an ensuing report and inquiry
MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any reason why our preparations
would be that far along, because we have no clue as to whether
or not that will be the outcome.
QUESTION: There was a suggestion in the Bob Woodward piece
in The Washington Post yesterday that some of the President's
advisers were having second thoughts about all the bad things
they said about Ken Starr over these past several months. Do
you want to use this opportunity to say anything else about Ken
MCCURRY: That I thought that that was kind of ridiculous for
someone to put that in print? Look, I don't know who those
people are who are making that kind of -- I mean, we have yet to
find any of these senior advisers, and all of our lawyers shake
their heads and say that's not anything that they've authorized.
QUESTION: That piece also suggested that one of the
President's most difficult things that he had to do this past
weekend was to explain to his wife and his daughter what the
situation was. Does that sound right?
MCCURRY: That is such a private matter I'd have absolutely
no way of knowing whether that's true.
QUESTION: Mike, who was in the briefing that Bowles had this
morning? How large was it?
QUESTION: The staff meeting. Senior staff.
MCCURRY:Just a regular senior staff meeting.
QUESTION: Standing room only?
QUESTION: That was in Podesta's office?
MCCURRY: No, it was actually kind of thin this morning
because we have so many people on vacation -- probably a couple
QUESTION: The analogy indicates that the President is down,
and that the...
MCCURRY: I thought the analogy was a very good one.
QUESTION: ... staff should rally to his support, right?
QUESTION: My President, right or wrong.
MCCURRY: What else?
QUESTION: Mike, do you think the federal court ruling on FDA
authority on Friday will make it more or less likely of a
tobacco bill next year?
MCCURRY: I think it should make it more likely that Congress
would pass a bill that clarifies the Food and Drug Agency's
authority to regulate, because that's necessary if we're going
to protect the children of America from tobacco addiction. So
it should make a stronger case. Whether it will or not depends
on how Congress responds.
But I also think that there are things that we will continue
to do to press the case and continue to do to support the
assertion of jurisdiction that's been made in our proposed
regulation, because it's an important public health matter.
QUESTION: Mike, at the beginning of all of this, and since,
White House aides and Clinton allies had a lot to say about Ms.
Lewinsky and her credibility and her character. Do you expect
that the President has some message for her today or does the
White House have something to say to her?
QUESTION: To Ms. Lewinsky. I mean, there was a time when
White House aides and his allies were doing a lot to try to
undercut her credibility.
MCCURRY: I don't believe that that's true. I know I don't
believe I've ever done that, and I don't believe that that's
QUESTION: Mike, why did Bowles find it necessary to tell the
senior staff to rally around the President?
MCCURRY: Well, I mean, come on. What do you think? Why do
QUESTION: Well, is there a sense in the White
House that the staff is not behind the President?
MCCURRY: No, it's a busy day around here, and you're all
here, and it's not -- this is not the usual deal here.
QUESTION: But what I'm getting at, is Bowles angry that some
of these alleged advisers...
MCCURRY: No, he was doing it as a good Chief of Staff
should, to kind of make sure that we keep our focus on what
QUESTION: Yes, but Bowles' statement makes it sound as
though he feels this is a particularly painful and difficult day
for the President.
QUESTION: Would that not be the case?
MCCURRY: Well, I can't imagine he wouldn't think that, if
that's the question, and I can't imagine that he's not right if
he does think that.
QUESTION: Has the President spoken with Mr. Thomason in
MCCURRY: I assume so, because he's been staying here.
What else? All right. See you all.