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Clinton 'Confident and Determined'

Washingtonpost.com
Monday, Aug. 17, 1998

The following are excerpts from a briefing Monday morning by White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry:

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.

Q: 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 truth.

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.

Q: Where will Mr. Kendall come out?

McCurry: We'll do that right at the exit out there.

Q: Will that be open?

McCurry: That will be to your in-house pool, okay?

Q: 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 that –

Q: 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.

Q: What about the departure for Martha's Vineyard?

McCurry: That will happen – most of us are betting that that will happen sometime tomorrow.

Q: Well, can you tell us, do you know for a fact that the President has said, I will make up my mind after the testimony.

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.

Q: 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.

Q: When you say –

Q: Mike, you're ruling out him leaving for the Vineyard tonight?

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.

Q: When you say the President is confident, what's he confident about?

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.

Q: 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.

Q: What about Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea? Are they here today? Are they going to wait and leave with the President?

McCurry: They're here today, and I expect them to depart with the President when they leave for vacation.

Q: And have they been told what the President will testify to?

McCurry: I don't know the answer to that.

Q: 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 that.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 into –

Q: 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.

Q: Why? Why the clerics?

McCurry: The President sees some of the folks who he relies on for spiritual guidance from time to time.

Q: Was he disappointed with Jesse Jackson –

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 Russia.

Q: Have you guys told the television how long to expect an address, if there should be one?

McCurry: No.

Q: Ballpark?

McCurry: Hopefully, it would be of endurable length, one would hope.

Q: 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 on that.

Q: 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 this matter.

Q: 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 his staff?

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.

Q: 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 mindless speculation. (Laughter.)

Q: 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.

Q: 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 truth?

McCurry: No, I'm just saying he looks forward to getting this matter behind him. I think that's the right way of saying that.

Q: Do you have any idea how long this is going to take, Mike?

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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: You haven't talked to him about anything today?

McCurry: Not about anything today, no.

Q: Do you have an opinion on that on whether he should –

McCurry: Whatever opinion, whatever counsel I have I'll render it privately.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 that effect.

Q: 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 posed here.

Q: Well, it's embarrassing to have the accusation on the record.

McCurry: Anything else?

Q: Russia?

McCurry: Okay, let's do Russia. Are we ready to move on? Josh, last one.

Q: 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.

.  .  .  .

Q: 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 Lewinsky?

McCurry: No. As I indicated earlier, we have not been informed about the substance of his testimony.

Q: You say Mr. Kendall may speak to the pool afterward.

McCurry: I think he likely will.

Q: 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.

Q: What did I say? (Laughter.)

McCurry: We always have a hard time figuring that out sometimes.

Q: 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 sentiment expressed.

Q: 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.

Q: "The President testified fully and truthfully." (Laughter.)

McCurry: We got our speechwriter – write that down. We'll pass it on to Kendall.

Q: – 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 –

Q: You do think he does?

McCurry: I think he does, but that may happen soon enough.

Q: You're the spokesman.

.  .  .  .

Q: 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.

Q: Or his lawyers or his legal team?

McCurry: Say it again.

Q: Or his lawyers or legal team – you don't think anybody's going to talk to –

McCurry: They're pretty well occupied right now.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: Was it a group, or was it a succession of people?

McCurry: I don't know the answer to that.

Q: Did he and Reverend Jackson pray together on this matter?

McCurry: He indicated that – Reverend Jackson indicated that they did.

Q: 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 comes out.

Q: What's his mood now?

McCurry: Confident and determined to tell the truth.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: The question was beyond having contact with the Hill, but staff preparations for an ensuing report and inquiry proceedings?

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.

Q: There was a suggestion in the Bob Woodward piece in The Washington Post yesterday that some of the President's advisors 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 Starr? (Laughter.)

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 advisors, and all of our lawyers shake their heads and say that's not anything that they've authorized.

Q: 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.

Q: Mike, who was in the briefing that Bowles had this morning? How large was it?

McCurry: Briefing?

Q: The staff meeting. Senior staff.

McCurry: Just a regular senior staff meeting.

Q: Standing room only?

Q: 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 dozen.

Q: The analogy indicates that the President is down, and that the –

McCurry: I thought the analogy was a very good one.

Q: – staff should rally to his support, right?

Q: My President, right or wrong.

.  .  .  .

Q: 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?

McCurry: To?

Q: 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 true.

Q: 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 you think?

Q: 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.

Q: But what I'm getting at, is Bowles angry that some of these alleged advisors –

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 matters most.

Q: Yes, but Bowles' statement makes it sound as though he feels this is a particularly painful and difficult day for the President.

Q: Right.

Q: 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.

Q: Has the President spoken with Mr. Thomason in recent days?

McCurry: I assume so, because he's been staying here. (Laughter.)

What else? All right. See you all.

END 11:15 A.M. EDT

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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