THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 13, 1998 3:37 P.M. (L)
BY JOE LOCKHART
King David Hotel
Q There's apparently an Israeli news report that the President was talking about the impeachment issue with members of Congress this morning at the breakfast. Did that happen?
MR. LOCKHART: First off, he didn't have breakfast with him, he met with him after his breakfast with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was there for most, if not all, of it and the only subject I heard was the peace process. Again, I did walk out once to take a phone call, but the only subject I heard was the peace process.
Q Joe, can you tell us about any plans that you have for the President on Wednesday, when he returns to the United States, to once again address the impeachment subject before the American people?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any plans.
Q Joe, was the First Lady involved in the peace process talks at breakfast this morning?
MR. LOCKHART: The breakfast was with the First Lady, the President, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife. So I think they had a conversation, I'm sure, that touched on the peace process. But I think the real business took place in the meetings that followed with the one-on-one meeting with the Prime Minister and then the expanded meeting with the two peace teams.
Q Joe, when he expressed his availability to talk to members of Congress who might have questions, do you expect that to begin -- I mean, could people be calling him on this trip, he'd be returning calls? When do you -- could that start now and what's the process you envision?
MR. LOCKHART: As I told you last week, we talked to most, if not all, of the members of Congress who are in the process of making up their mind and offered to have Chuck Ruff and Greg Craig come up to the Hill and talk to them. I know there's been some response to that, so that will continue. I think the President, to the extent that anyone wants to call, he'll make time available to talk to members.
Q Could that start now?
MR. LOCKHART: Certainly.
Q Did he make any calls from Air Force One on the way over?
MR. LOCKHART: No, he didn't. He actually made a couple of calls last night to Democrats, just to check in, to get a feel for how the committee had wrapped up and where we'd go from here.
Q What did they tell him about the floor prospects?
MR. LOCKHART: They gave him a report of the Judiciary Committee's activities for the day. I'm not privy to any other advice they may have --
Q He made the calls after he got here, from his hotel?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q Were they committee Democrats or leadership Democrats? Who were they?
MR. LOCKHART: There were a couple of committee Democrats. I'm not precisely sure who they are, so I don't want to mis-speak on names.
Q As we saw at the press conference, clearly the majority of questions did not have to do with the Wye River agreement, but rather with --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes, some were quite repetitive. (Laughter.)
Q Some were repetitive. But what kind of an impact is what lies ahead for the President next week having on his ability to focus and to --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you, thankfully, his ability to concentrate on the peace process is not predicated on reporters' questions to him. That's a very small part of the day.
Q It certainly is. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: For good reasons, as we saw. So I think, obviously, this is something that he has on his mind, that he's concerned about. But I think it's a testament to the reasons that the public has continued to support him; even despite the fact that he has misled them and his behavior was wrong is that he continues to focus on the job and continues to focus on what the public sent him to Washington to do. And I think the work he is doing here is important and is a testament to that commitment.
Q Joe, did the President and the Prime Minister commiserate at all about their political problems in their respective countries? (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe they did in the open session; I didn't get any report in the private one-on-one, not that was reported to me.
Q You've got two undecided Republican members in the House along with you. Has the President talked with either of them about impeachment?
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. The President spoke to the co-del as a group today. And, again, my understanding was that the conversation was about the peace process. It was a quite spirited conversation that all of them participated in this morning, but I didn't hear any other subjects.
Q Joe, quite aside from the question of the President's focus on the topic, does the pending impeachment in any way complicate his diplomatic task in the sense that he has to reassure other leaders that he's not a weakened President, that if he makes a commitment it's something that was going to last more than a couple of weeks?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Prime Minister -- perhaps that's not what he had in mind when he spoke at the press conference today -- but in the context of your question spoke to that. He said that this process depends on the leadership of this President; this President is here providing that leadership.
So, again, I'd say it would be an appropriate question to ask any other leader, but I don't see any evidence of any problem.
Q Can you sharpen your answer to Susan's question about the Israeli press report? You said you weren't aware of it, but I wasn't clear if you were saying that it was flat wrong or can you clarify that by the end of the day?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me say this, I was in the meeting a lot more than they were. Again, I walked out once, maybe twice, but all I heard was conversations about the peace process.
Q Are all the co-del going to Gaza?
MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know, yes.
Q Joe, have any -- briefed -- the President directly --
MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.
Q Joe, the President was categoric on the subject of perjury. Is there any consideration being given to some statement that might seek as something less than that -- lying under oath or admitting lying, something between what he's acknowledged now and perjury?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think the President spoke pretty clearly today on where he is on that subject and I'm not aware that he has anything different to say.
Q In response to Sam's question you said you weren't aware of him going to say anything else. Looking at it another way, can you say that he will not say anything else before the House vote?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware that he plans to say anything else before the House vote.
Q Have you talked to him about that particular subject? In other words, have you and he had a conversation in which he's expressed to you the idea that he probably won't say anything more?
MR. LOCKHART: No, not specifically.
Q Joe, you almost got the sense from the President's comments that he feels this is an issue that's out of his control now and there's not very much he can do about it, he can't actively, proactively lobby, it's up to members of Congress to vote their conscience. Is that his feeling about the --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he believes that this is an important and weighty matter that the Congress has taken upon itself and it's up to members of Congress. And I think you did hear him say that members of Congress should be allowed to vote on the facts, on the law, on the Constitution and vote based on their conscience. We've had, to date, a process that by the Republican's own standards has failed to meet their standards.
We all remember Chairman Hyde and others saying that they would not do this unless they could do it in a bipartisan way. That was a very simple test and they have, put simply, failed that test. This has happened now on a partisan basis and not in a bipartisan way. Now it moves to the House floor, our hope is that this can move back to the way it should be, where people look at the facts, look at the law, base their decision on what they think is best, whichever way they go and we'll just have to see how it turns out.
Q On your hopes, what do you hope happens in the House? I mean, what do you hope -- I assume you hope the impeachment thing goes down. How do they treat the censure motion?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've certainly expressed our hope. I would echo the statement of the Speaker-designate of several weeks ago, that members ought to have a right to have a choice. That's not his view any longer. He says he won't allow it. I'd echo the view that he articulated and I think a lot of other members have articulated, that members should have a choice. The vast majority of the American public is against impeachment. That same majority thinks the President should be censured for his behavior.
The President has signaled that he believes that is proper and is going to accept that, and a small group of people sitting in Washington, inside the Beltway and the Capitol, are saying, well, no, I don't think the American people are right. I think the American people do have a say in this. Members of Congress ought to be able to have a choice. And the Speaker designate should go back and remember the sentiments and the philosophy that were behind his words just a few weeks ago.
Q Last night on Larry King, Greg Craig appealed to Americans to start phoning and sending letters and e-mails and so on. Does that request flow from a realization that the only mail that seemed to be coming into Congressional offices was ginned up by the Christian Coalition?
MR. LOCKHART: It's hard for me to know what comes in and what is and what's real and what isn't. I think --
Q Well, was there a feeling you were losing that sort of battle?
MR. LOCKHART: I think it's important for people who have a view to express it. This is something that is going to have a profound impact on the American public. And for those who believe the President should be impeached, they should express that view. But for the vast majority of people who don't believe that is the case, we think it is appropriate that they also express that view that members hear from them.
I think there is little doubt that for people who are trying to make up their minds, by and large moderate Republicans, this is a very difficult choice. There are political considerations at hand and no one thinks this is easy. But to the extent that hearing from people, people letting them know what they think -- if that's helpful, we would encourage that.
Q Let me go back to the point -- I don't mean to hector you on it but, with all due respect to any one of us that have programs or networks, very few people watch cable network or ABC programming for that matter, compared to the kind of people who would watch the numbers if the President made an address. Don't you think the networks would give time for him on something like this -- and in prime time to address millions and ask for their support?
MR. LOCKHART: Sam, let me turn that question around for a second because this is a very serious matter.
Q I ask it in a serious vein.
MR. LOCKHART: Okay, and I'm going to answer in a very serious way. There seems to be -- you know, when we had the great details of the videotape there was no reluctance to go live with that. When Mr. Starr came to the hearing and there was great drama there, there was no reluctance to go live there. But when we got to the serious part where the case, the real case was being made by the majority for impeachment, there didn't seem to be much interest. And when we got to the real case, the crucial case of the defense -- of the defense -- there didn't seem to be interest. In fact, I think if you go back even on the evening news that night, on one network Mr. Ruff and his defense got five seconds. That's -- let me finish my answer -- that's five seconds.
So we will continue to look at what things we can do to help make our case. If that involves something, if it involves speaking to the people, we'll let you know. But I think you and your organizations have some soul searching of your own to do.
Q Maybe you have a point, but I can't imagine that if the President asked for time to make his case before an impeachment vote in the House, that the networks would turn him down. I don't run the networks, so maybe i'm wrong, but I can't imagine that happening.
MR. LOCKHART: I didn't mean to suggest that they would. I am confident that they would.
Q He would reach 20 or 30 or 40 million people.
MR. LOCKHART: I'm certainly well aware of that.
Q The President repeated today that he gave unhelpful answers, but his position is that he didn't cross the line into giving false answers. Does he still believe that even going near the line was appropriate? Last August he said that was an appropriate legal tactic for what he thought was a politically motivated lawsuit. Does he still believe that's the case, that it's okay to dance to the line?
MR. LOCKHART: I think given the context of the political motivation of that civil case that he does believe. But I think he also expressed today that he agrees with the view articulated by Mr. Ruff, that reasonable people can conclude that he didn't, that it wasn't.
Q In other words he didn't pull it off, but it still was acceptable to make the attempt given the context of that case?
MR. LOCKHART: Yes.
Q But does that apply equally to the grand jury testimony and the civil deposition? Chuck Ruff gave that answer to a question about both the civil deposition and the grand jury testimony.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the primary questioning on that went to the civil deposition.
Q So it's not okay to walk up to the line in the grand jury testimony?
MR. LOCKHART: There is no way for me to give you a definitive answer on that. I think that these are two different sets of circumstances: one was a civil case where the President has said he believed to be politically motivated and he did his best not to be helpful; the other was a grand jury who was looking into what they believed to be criminal allegations, and the President gave direct answers.
Q Some Republicans on the Hill are saying that censure is unconstitutional. If you believe it is constitutional, why?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is clearly Democrats on the Hill, and some Republicans on the Hill, who do believe it is appropriate. I am not a constitutional scholar. We heard from a lot of constitutional scholars. There are those who believe it does. And if you listen to the leaders, the Republican leaders, they're not arguing that they are keeping it from the floor because it's not constitutional; they are arguing that they are keeping it from the floor because they don't want to give members a choice.
Q Joe, has the President recruited members of his Cabinet to call directly to moderate Republicans on the fence or --
MR. LOCKHART: I've done this probably half a dozen times over the last 10 days. There are members of his Cabinet who are former members who are talking to their friends, some of those who are moderate Republicans.
Q Including chief executive officers, as well? Business leaders, as well?
MR. LOCKHART: I don't know that that's gone to CEOs.
Q How is the President feeling? He looks pretty beat.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, we had a long flight last night and a little bit of jet lag, but I think he had a good series of meetings this morning. He is looking forward to the activities of this afternoon, so I think his mood is quite good.
Q Thank you.