THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release August 9, 1994
BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: You've all had a very exciting afternoon out
there. I'll start with a brief statement.
After meeting last week with Senator DeConcini about
congressional concerns regarding construction costs of the National
Reconnaissance Office headquarters in Chantilly, Virginia, the
President ordered an immediate inquiry into all known facts related
to the project and directed that the project be declassified.
The President directed that the Deputy Secretary of
Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence form a team to
conduct this inquiry. Its inquiry will be completed as soon as
The President believes the American public deserves a
full accounting of how their tax dollars are being spent on this
construction project, which was authorized in 1990. In an era of
diminishing resources, the President believes that the intelligence
community must invest prudently to ensure America's security remains
strong. The administration is committed to working closely with
Congress to achieve this objective.
Q What -- FY 1990?
MS. MYERS: I believe it was both FY and calendar 1990.
Q When did the President learn about this?
MS. MYERS: It was brought to his attention by Senator
DeConcini -- they met a week ago yesterday. Monday, the first, I
believe was the date.
Q Do the Democrats have the votes to bring the --vote
to the floor?
MS. MYERS: They're working very hard on it today. In
fact, the President is right now making calls. We'll continue to
work on that. As you know, Congressman Bonior and Congressman
Richardson were down here today reporting on the progress of that
rule vote. They expressed confidence, but I think the President will
continue to work very hard. We're not going to take a single vote
for granted. And he'll continue to work for the next 24 hours to
make sure we have the votes.
Q The House Republicans have sent him a letter saying
that it's really about pork, not about guns, and suggesting that $9
billion in social spending be removed; in which case, they would
support a compromise bill. Is he willing to now compromise on the
MS. MYERS: No, it's not social spending. It's crime
prevention spending. And this is something that the President
strongly supports, that the law enforcement community strongly
supports, and that members of both parties in the House and the
Senate strongly support. It is in the bill now and the President
wants to keep it in the bill.
Q He'd be willing to compromise?
MS. MYERS: At this point, there's a conference report.
The President is going to fight very hard to get a vote on the rule
with that conference report.
Q Mr. Bennett was on television this morning saying
in substance everything he had said the day before yesterday about
Mr. Starr. Is he speaking for the President in these interviews?
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Bennett said this morning that
he speaks for himself, he was expressing his own opinions. He is the
President's lawyer. I think Mr. Cutler spoke for the White House,
the White House view. And I'll repeat what I said yesterday -- is
that the President supported and signed the independent counsel
statute; that that created a process; the President supports the
process and will comply with the outcome.
Q? Why should we not suspect that the President is
trying to have it both ways, having his White House lawyer say he
supports and will cooperate with the Starr appointment, and in the
meantime, having his criminal lawyer out criticizing the guy? Has
the President suggested, for example, that perhaps Mr. Bennett ought
to stop saying that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that that has happened. I
think Mr. Bennett has his views. The President has said -- or,
actually, the White House has said the President is not calling for
Mr. Starr to step aside. Again, we will comply fully with Mr.
Starr's inquiry, as we did with Mr. Fiske's and with all of the other
inquiries that have been ongoing in this process.
Q Does the President have any way to communicate with
Mr. Bennett on this issue, do you know?
MS. MYERS: Again, as I said yesterday, it's not
appropriate for me to discuss what conversations the President has or
does not have with his personal lawyer.
Q Baldridge said today that they have the votes. Was
he ahead of himself?
MS. MYERS: I think -- you know, you'd have to check
with Mr. Bonior about that. I think our view is that we have 24
hours. This is a tough vote, it's been tough all along. The
President has been working very hard, as have other members of this
administration and law enforcement organizations and others who are
very committed to seeing this bill passed. It is our hope that we'll
have enough votes by the time the rule comes to the floor tomorrow.
Q This is a little unusual to see Mr. Panetta out
there at the event sort of speaking for the White House. Is there
some reason the President wasn't able to squeeze in a few moments to
meet with these law enforcement and prosecutor types who were here?
MS. MYERS: I think the President has spent a lot of
time in the last couple of weeks working on the crime bill. I think
Mr. Panetta, as the White House Chief of Staff, has certainly spent a
lot of time on this as well on this. As you know, he's very familiar
with the particulars of this bill, and certainly we'll willing to
work with Congress, and I think he -- expect to see Mr. Panetta out
there in situations like this more and more. And I think certainly
both the President and the Chief of Staff were working very hard in
the final hours of the crime debate.
Q But the President hasn't lost his voice completely
at this point?
MS. MYERS: No, no.
Q Did the President drop by that meeting with the
MS. MYERS: No, he did not.
Q He didn't show up?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q What is the new policy of the White House as far as
presidential photo opportunities are concerned?
Q Will there ever be any? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We do a number of photo opportunities, as we
have. In fact, there's one scheduled today for 5:30 p.m. with
President Ter-Petrosyan of Armenia. We will continue to do them on a
regular basis, as well as press conferences and other opportunities
for the press to interact with the President.
Q But there is a scaling back of these opportunities
to throw a question for the President. Is that a deliberate new
policy that Panetta has brought in?
MS. MYERS: I think that we're looking at ways to
communicate as effectively as we can. I think we'll continually
evaluate how we do that. I think at the suggestion of the press and
others, the President has agreed that he should do more formal press
conferences with an opportunity for you to ask questions on a variety
of topics. I think we'll continue to do some photo ops and other
exchanges with the press and with the public, and I think it will
depend entirely on circumstances.
Q But this is a new strategy.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President said there will
be some changes, including more formal press conferences. Again, I
think we'll continue to review our -- the President's relationship
and interaction with the press, try to improve it for both sides, and
that will be an ongoing process throughout this administration.
Q At the time Mack McLarty was appointed presidential
counselor the announcement said that he would have jurisdiction over
legislative and political affairs, I believe. Can you tell us what
McLarty is doing with regard to the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: I don't think it said he would have
jurisdiction over legislative and -- what was the other one?
Q I thought he was, among other things, would
concentrate on legislative and political stories.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he will continue to work with
members of Congress, as he did as Chief of Staff. He certainly is in
regular contact with them, particularly on issues such as trade and
other economic matters. I don't know that he's done any particular
lobbying on the crime bill, although I'm sure in his contacts with
members of Congress he's urged them to support it. But this has not
been one of his areas of particular responsibility.
Q What about health care? Is he very active on that?
MS. MYERS: He has been. Sure. He's particularly with
regards to the business community, he's continued to work with
business leaders and others in insuring their support for health care
reform and in getting them to go out and to work on behalf of its
Q Can you fill in a little bit more the blanks of
what his job really entails these days?
MS. MYERS: I think as the President said at the time he
made the announcement that Mack McLarty would continue to serve as a
close, personal adviser to him. He would continue to work with
Congress and with the business community and other outside interest
groups or different organizations in promoting the President's
agenda, and I think that's what he's done. He's focused on areas
where he has particular expertise, which is particularly business,
and trade issues and I think he'll continue to do that. He's also
advisor to the President personally on a number of issues.
Q Have we found this Cuban boat? And if we do, what
are we going to do with it?
MS. MYERS: We have not. The Coast Guard is certainly
on alert. We've seen reports that it's out there, but we have not
Q If you do and when you do --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it will depend on the
Q Fire when ready?
MS. MYERS: I mean certainly we're ready to deal with a
number of contingencies.
Q Well, I mean, if these are asylum seekers who have
hijacked this boat would we accept them or would we turn them back
given the Cuba sent back airline hijackers at our request?
MS. MYERS: We don't have a hijacking agreement or a --I
can't remember what the legal term is, let me look it up -- with
Cuba. I think it will depend on the circumstances when we, if the
Coast Guard should locate this ship. I mean it has been, as you
know, practice that the United States admits Cuban refugees who are
seeking refuge, even those on the high seas.
There is no current bilateral agreement on aerial
hijacking between the U.S. and Cuba. Cuba provided notification of
its desire to terminate the 1973 bilateral aerial hijacking agreement
in '76 which became effective in April of '77. No bilateral
agreement on maritime hijacking between the U.S. and Cuba exists. A
little legal background.
Q Dee Dee, how high on your priority list is what's
going on in Algeria and in France right now?
MS. MYERS: Certainly something that we've kept an eye
on and I think the President has expressed concerns about the
situation in Algeria and of religious extremism I think most recently
when we were in Naples and I think some French citizens were killed
in Algeria or by Algerian extremists. Certainly we condemn terrorism
in all forms and we will continue to do that.
Q Do you see any links between what's going on in the
Near East, in North Africa and in Iran?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether there have been any
particular links to that. I can certainly take that question.
Q Back on the crime bill. Are you saying that the
White House is unwilling to negotiate any further compromise at this
MS. MYERS: At this stage we're fighting for the passage
of the conference report, which is expected to come up for a vote on
the rule tomorrow.
Q Was it the White House that gave -- the Attorney
General who came out there -- that sign, "Crime Bill Held Hostage,
Day 12" -- is that a White House sign?
MS. MYERS: I think it was produced here at the White
House, yes, that's a fair assumption.
Q But there's no hostage negotiating team --
MS. MYERS: But it's been 12 days. Tomorrow will be the
13th day. There is a number of important provisions in this bill
that are being held up for political reasons by special interests,
and the President would like to see it passed. He's continually
called on Congress to act on it so that we can get on with putting
100,000 additional police officers on the street, providing money for
crime prevention, implementing three strikes and you're out as the
law of the land, and other measures.
The President, as he's said repeatedly, would like to
see it passed so he can sign it right away.
Q Do you know anything if Attorney General Reno is
going to ask the courts to name an independent counsel to investigate
MS. MYERS: I don't. She'll have an announcement once
she makes a decision on that. That's entirely up to her.
Q What is the status of negotiations with North
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, there were nine hours of
talks yesterday. They are very specific and business-like. On
Friday the United States had a chance to present its position, which
North Korea considered over the weekend. North Korea presented its
response yesterday, which we're now evaluating. Talks will resume
Q They will definitely resume tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Yes, they're scheduled to resume tomorrow.
Q Is there a compromise in the works about the
reactor, about the U.S. giving --
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly, light-water reactor
technology is among the topics being discussed in the context of an
overall settlement of nuclear issues. I don't think we're going to
discuss the specifics of the negotiations and discussions that are
underway other than to say that there has been some progress, but
there's still a lot of complicated issues yet to work out, and
they'll go back at it again tomorrow.
Q Has the administration got a better feel for the
son of whatever his name is? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We're continuing to -- obviously, to watch
the situation and we will judge the new regime or the post-President
Kim Il Sung regime by their actions. They have -- so far they've
committed to go forward with a third round of talks, which they're
doing, and those discussions are ongoing. But we'll continue to
watch the situation on the ground.
Q Any reaction from the White House to the appeals
court ruling on census undercounting? Do you know if you're going to
MS. MYERS: I don't. I'll have to take that and see --
that may come out of the Justice Department, but I'll take it and get
an answer to you.
Q Dee Dee, this morning, I know you spoke about the
President's remark about violent extremist interests in this country
that are trying to do in his health care bill. And then, again, just
this morning, Mrs. Clinton used this same word, "violence," you have
to draw the line on "violence." You have to draw a line on protests
that incite violence in the context of the health care legislation.
What is that all about? I must have missed -- what violent interests
are trying to do in health care?
MS. MYERS: I didn't see that in Mrs. Clinton's
comments. I will have to take it.
Q Which ones was the President referring to then?
Q What about Mr. Clinton's?
MS. MYERS: Generally, the President, when he talks
about violent extremists, is talking about those who resort to
violent tactics. I think one example of violent extremists would be
people who committed murder over the issue of abortion. I think
Americans on both sides of the abortion debate condemn that kind of
Q Is the President now got it in his head that people
are committing murder on the health care bill?
Q It didn't seem to make sense in the context he said
it, Dee Dee.
Q What is he talking about?
Q He wasn't talking about abortion.
Q was the health care debate, and that's my --
Q He said "violent extremists were a disgrace to the
MS. MYERS: I think that violent extremists are a
disgrace to the American Dream. (Laughter.) I stand by that.
Q In the context of the health bill, though, who are
the violent extremists?
MS. MYERS: I don't have any better explanation for you.
Q Are you telling us -- you won't rule out the
possibility the President was talking through his hat? (Laughter.)
Q Since you are following the French and the British
in Bosnia -- when finally do you --
MS. MYERS: What?
Q get out of this car you are in, doing the
thinking and driving is --
MS. MYERS: What?
Q I'm talking about Bosnia.
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, I don't understand the question.
Q Since you lined up with the French and the --behind
the French and the British, is there a possibility that you are
getting out of this car, into thinking and driving yourself?
MS. MYERS: No, the Contact Group remains united on
issues regarding Bosnia. They put forward a peace plan. The Bosnian
government has accepted the terms. The Bosnian Serbs have refused.
As a result, two things have happened. One, the Contact Group has
agreed to go forward with additional action, including tightening the
sanctions, expansion of exclusion zones, and ultimately, if the
Bosnian Serbs remain intractable, the multilateral lifting of the
arms embargo. At the same time, President Milosevic has said that he
will honor the arms embargo, the embargo against the Bosnian Serbs.
That appears to be happening. There has been some tightening along
the borders, and we'll continue to keep an eye on that.
Certainly, we will continue with the steps outlined by
the Contact Group if the Bosnian Serbs remain intractable.
Q To what extent do you agree with the French and
British position regarding Bosnia, to come out and to treat all
MS. MYERS: I think that's been the position of the
Contact Group. The United States shares all parties should be
treated equal. All parties -- both parties to this were presented
with a peace plan. The Bosnian government signed onto it, the
Bosnian Serbs have refused. The Contact Group made very clear that
there would be consequences of that action, and we're now moving
forward, we're carrying that out.
Q Can you give us a little bit of a readout about
what kind of contacts are today with the White House and members of
the Senate on health care, what's going on and that sort of thing?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The President will continue to meet
with members of Congress, both Houses on health care. He will have
some meetings today. I think we've made it a policy not to announce
those meetings in advance. He spent most of the day this morning,
most his contacts with Congress so far today have been on the issue
Q How many calls has he made on crime today?
MS. MYERS: He was in the process. I didn't have a hard
Q Can you get us a number --
MS. MYERS: I doubt it --
Q how many members he's called?
MS. MYERS: He has a list that's several dozen, and
he'll continue to call.
Q Is he calling Republicans as well as Democrats?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Are you still 10 or 15 votes shy?
MS. MYERS: That's ballpark.
Q Will he have something to say about this when he
has his photo opportunity later in the day?
MS. MYERS: He may get a question about it. I think he
would respond to a question. I think he will probably open up with
something to say about it. He will be there with the President of
Armenia and he'll probably make some comment about --
Q And then segue into the crime bill. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think the Armenian people are against
Q Usually the Democratic leadership does not bring up
a major issue it knows is going to lose or it expects might lose.
You said this morning and again now that they are in the ballpark of
10 to 15 votes shy. Bonior outside said that they had the votes and
then he came up here and told the President that. Does he do or does
Q Is he talking about health?
MS. MYERS: No, crime. Crime.
Q Has the President told the leadership who came here
that the votes were there for the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: What he was told was that by tomorrow they
expect to have the votes, that they know essentially where they think
they're going to get the votes and by tomorrow they expect to have
them. In the meantime I think the President is going to continue to
work on it.
Q He said something a little different outside. He
was more definitive in saying, "We have the votes. It will pass."
And he indicated that they told the President that
MS. MYERS: Well, I certainly would take him at his
word. I didn't -- I mean, I wasn't there, but if Congressman Bonior
believes he has the votes, he'll have the votes.
Q That's what he said that on NAFTA, too.
MS. MYERS: He didn't have us on his team that time.
But certainly I think we, the President remains very optimistic, but
he's not going to take any votes for granted. He's going to continue
to work on this just as he did on NAFTA to make sure that he has them
when the vote actually happens.
Q What is the President's view of further need for
deficit reduction beyond that contained in last year's five-year
bill? Does he have any plans in this next budget in the next five
years in January to chop away at the deficit beyond what the law will
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly that's been the pattern of
the last two budgets. As you know, last year the President
introduced a five-year $500 billion deficit reduction plan. This
year there were hundreds of cuts in programs, additional spending
cuts. And the budget deficit is much lower --
Q to the five-year plan. My question is, is he
going to go beyond the --
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean it would depend on the
circumstances. Clearly, he's committed to reducing the deficit. I
think the record speaks for itself. He'll continue to look for
opportunities. I'm not going to commit to a specific number at this
point. But, yes, he believes we need to continue to reduce the
deficit. That's why he's brought it down by 50 percent as a
percentage of GDP in the first two budgets, and he'll continue to
move in that direction.
Q Do you have a health care event tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Not yet.
Q Is it looking possible?
MS. MYERS: Something is possible. As soon as we have
details on it, we'll let you know.
Q Dee Dee, has anyone at the White House talked to
Mikva possibly replacing Cutler when Cutler leaves?
MS. MYERS: As you know Mr. Cutler is serving as a
special government employee which is restricted to 130 days. He has
said he expects to leave sometime, I guess, perhaps as early as the
end of next month. Certainly we're looking for a replacement. I'm
not going to comment on specific names, but I think the Counsel's
office and others have been hard at work on that and are getting
toward the final stages.
Q How close?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to put a deadline on it, but I
think they are getting, again, they are narrowing the field and
getting a final decision on that.
Q Does Mikva have attributes for the job?
MS. MYERS: I think he's a very well respected judge,
somebody who has had a broad range of experience, and is certainly
well-regarded in Washington and around the country.
Q Martin Indyck as ambassador to Israel?
MS. MYERS: No, I think we're working, again, through
the final phases of that, doing things like reaching agreement with
the government of Israel. I expect we'll have an announcement on a
new ambassador to Israel soon, but again, I don't have a date. We're
still working through the details on that.
Q Does the President feel he should have been told or
should have known about this intelligence complex that is being
MS. MYERS: I think he's taken action. I think that
certainly Senator Deconcini brought it to his attention. He's doing
everything he can to address it. He, as you know, took steps
immediately to declassify it, to put Department of Defense and the
CIA on the job of looking into it further, answering the Senate's
questions and reporting back to him as well to make sure the American
people know exactly how the money is being spent and that there's
some accountability in the system.
Q Has the President asked the intelligence community
if there are any other similar stealth projects? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think that is probably part of the review
that Secretary Deutch and Director Woolsey are conducting now. And I
think they'll be able to report back on a variety of issues.
Q Did he express any irritation at Woolsey that
Woolsey hadn't told him about it?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q Dee Dee, in this particular case, what can you all
do? I mean, this building is up and going. Aren't you basically
stuck with it anyway, no matter what anyone decides to do at this
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there's a number of questions
that the Senate had raised about this particular project. And I
think one of the things we can do is to make sure that it -- the
construction period goes on through '95. I think it's scheduled to
be completed in early '96 -- make sure that it is completed as cost-
efficiently and cost-effectively as possible and that people know
that they're getting their money's worth on these intelligence
projects. That's one of the things, again, that this review is going
Q Does the President think the American people ought
to know how much money is spent in their name for intelligence
gathering each year?
MS. MYERS: I think the President thinks that people
ought to have access to information about this project which is why
he declassified it and is making sure that there's accountability in
Q Do you support keeping the total cost of
intelligence gathering secret?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there's been any change in our
position on that.
Q Dee Dee, does he think spending on this project has
been excessive or is excessive?
MS. MYERS: That's one of the things that this is going
-- that this review is going to address, and I think it will be a few
weeks before they're able to complete it but they are expediting it
and will report back to the Secretary, to the Director and to the
Q Was he angry that he's the President of the United
States and his government is keeping something like this from him?
MS. MYERS: I think he's moved to declassify it to make
sure that this information isn't kept from anyone. I don't know that
the information is being kept from him but, certainly, Senator
DeConcini brought some questions about this to his attention.
Q How could he have not known?
MS. MYERS: Who? How could Senator DeConcini have not
Q The President.
MS. MYERS: I don't know what he knew. But I think once
this was brought to his attention and there were questions raised
about it, the President took action to begin to declassify it
immediately and to begin to demand some accountability in the
process. Again, I think this is a project that's been ongoing for
Q Dee Dee, the people you have inquiring about it are
the people who are building the building. Shouldn't you have someone
from the outside looking into it?
MS. MYERS: I think the President believes that
Secretary Deutch and Director Woolsey are the appropriate people to
take a look at this. Their staffs are working on it now and they'll
Q What about Les Aspin?
MS. MYERS: I don't think he's involved.
Q Do you know whether Panetta knew what the real
purpose of this spending was for in his role as budget director?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:55 P.M. EDT