THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||March 9, 1999|
3:00 P.M. (L)
MR. LOCKHART: I've got to go quick because I guess the Presidentisahead of schedule. But let me do one quick announcement, and then I'd begladto take your questions.
President Clinton will award the Presidential Medal of Freedom toSenator George Mitchell at the White House on March 17th, as part of theannualSt. Patrick's Day observance. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highestcivilian honor and is a fitting tribute to the extraordinaryaccomplishments ofSenator Mitchell.
Q What is the President's reaction to the dismissal of thescientist at Los Alamos who is suspected of trading secrets to the Chinese?
MR. LOCKHART: I think the President supports SecretaryRichardson'saction of dismissing the employee. The Secretary did it after conferringwiththe FBI on the status of the ongoing investigation. As you all know fromSecretary Richardson's comments yesterday, the Department of Energy hadalreadytaken steps in relation to this employee, including suspending securityclearance and moving him from a classified work place to a nonclassifiedjob.So I think the President supports the movethat Secretary Richardson made.
Q Well, Vice President Gore has now decided -- he saidthat he thinks it's George Bush's administration's fault and theReagan administration's fault for letting this kind of activity-- and then your administration has signed an executive order inJanuary of '98 tightening procedures at Los Alamos.
MR. LOCKHART: Right.
Q Did this happen on somebody else's watch?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the case in question here, thealleged transferring question, was something that happened in theearly 1980s. I think the administration, in 1997, after havingsome concerns about the vulnerabilities that the labs brought toour attention proceeded to launch a vigorous assessment, usingthe CIA and other assets in our national security operation tolook at ways to make sure that this alleged transfer would not beable to happen now.
They took a number of steps. There was a presidentialdecision directive issued in February of 1998 that has taken aseries of important steps to address any vulnerabilities in theDOE lab system.
Q Joe, there are some people in Congress, though, whobelieve -- and are saying off the record or on background -- thatthe gentleman who was arrested, this Professor Lee, is apparentlynot considered to be, by the intelligence and law enforcementpeople, a major player -- that he is, in effect, perhaps even ascapegoat.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have any information that wouldsupport that. I think Secretary Richardson acted properly.There is an ongoing investigation into this issue, looking at howtechnology may have been transferred in the 1980s, but I'd haveto refer you to the FBI for details on that investigation.
Q Joe, does the President have any reaction to thesinking of the two boat loads of Haitian refugees, or Haitian --and will there be any shift in the priority of using the CoastGuard to crack down on human smuggling, as opposed to drugsmuggling?
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I'm not aware of any shift. But,obviously, this was a tragic incident with the loss of life, Ibelieve, of more than 40 people, but I'm not aware of any shiftin our policy.
Q Joe, back to the Chinese transfer issue. Don Nicklessays that it looks like he's going to need to hold aninvestigation because he believes there's a real concern theadministration kept the information about this from Congress.
MR. LOCKHART: No, I don't think so. I think theadministration moved rapidly in 1997 when this came to ourattention, took the steps we needed to, to develop safeguardsagainst any illegal transfer, and Congress was kept fullyinformed. There were a series of briefings from the Departmentof Energy, starting in 1996, going through 1998, where I thinkthere were a half a dozen briefings on this issue to the relevantcommittees in Congress.
Q Well, if you knew about this for so many years, howcome he was fired only after it came out in The New York Times?
MR. LOCKHART: I think as Secretary Richardson pointed out,as I think some people at the FBI have pointed out, this was partof an ongoing investigation and they, in their judgment, thoughtit was better to move forward in this way and to try to gatherinformation with this gentleman in his job.
Q Joe, Congressional critics are also saying that evenafter two GAO reports and the heightened security initiativesthat you spoke about, there's still a serious security problem atthat laboratory because of hundreds of thousands of e-mails, forvarious other reasons, there's still a big problem. Do yourecognize that as the risk?
MR. LOCKHART: We have instituted a series of very new andvery tough counterintelligence operations to try to look at thevulnerability of the DOE labs. We're certainly willing to workwith Congress, with the Cox committee to see if there to see ifthere are other steps that need to be taken. We have taken thisvery seriously over the last two years. We've taken importantsteps to tighten security at the Department of Energy labs. Butif there's more that needs to be done, we'll do more.
Q Joe, if there is enough evidence to fire this guy, whyisn't there enough yet to arrest him, and what's the differencein standards?
MR. LOCKHART: I would refer you to the FBI on their ongoinginvestigation. My understanding from Secretary Richardson is thereason he was fired was lack of cooperation with theinvestigation.
Q What about the $900 million for the emergency reliefdown here? Do you think, or does the President think that histrip will free up that money? And he has refrained from makingthe same political comments you have about what's holding it up.
MR. LOCKHART: I think as people become aware of some of thethings that we've seen, that the President has seen, some of thestories, some of the devastation that we've witnessed over thelast two days, it's certainly our hope that we can work throughsome of these issues that have bogged down the debate on movingthe supplemental emergency bill forward.
Q But, Joe, it's not about the merits of the aid, it'sabout how to pay for it.
MR. LOCKHART: This, what we've seen in the last two days,is the textbook case for emergency spending. This is somethingthat could not have been foreseen. And we don't think we shouldpit one program against another program when we have a clearemergency here. This aid is needed; it's an urgent situation.The stories are heartbreaking that we've heard over the last fewdays, and we believe that it's in the best interest of ourpartners down here, our friends down here, that we move forwardquickly.
Q Joe, the House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young todaysaid the Republicans would require outlines for the possibilityof a deal to get it passed. And you said that it would requirethat money would be put into a special U.S. controlled fund sothat the State Department and AID would have direct pull over howit got spent. Is that acceptable to you?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen that proposal. But I canassure members of Congress on these issues that we take extracare and work with the governments in question in these countriesto make sure that the money is used appropriately and spentwisely. That has been the case, I believe, with the money wealready sent down here. I think you saw today some of theresults. We crossed a bridge today because of what the Marineswere able to do here. And we're going to make sure that themoney is spent wisely.
I think, more importantly, is we need to move forward andget this process done with. We need to get the money freed upand we need to get it down here where it can be used.
Q Hey, Joe, if you all want this to move quickly and theprice of moving quickly is offsets, are you all prepared to lookat other offsets? Or is it just offsets in general that --
MR. LOCKHART: Well, I don't have the latest of what's goingon back in Washington on this. We think, particularly on theCentral American money, this meets directly the definition ofemergency funding. And what we don't want to do is start pittingprograms against it when there's an emergency down here. And Ithink the President believes very strongly and it's only beenreinforced by what he's seen over the last two days, that we needto move forward quickly.
And I think, as he said yesterday, he's looking forward towhen he returns to Washington, getting with the leadership andtrying to get this issue worked out.
Q Where is Secretary Richardson? Is he with thePresident?
MR. LOCKHART: He will be here this afternoon or thisevening.
MR. LEAVY: I think he got snowed in, because of the snow inWashington. He may not come down until tomorrow.
MR. LOCKHART: Oh, snow in Washington, but he's going to gethere as soon as he can.
Q Joe, on the -- there's no official delegation. Howmany are actually here at this moment -- or coming or what?
MR. LOCKHART: How many people from the official delegation?There's probably a couple dozen people, from members of Congressto some administration officials from the State Department andfrom the White House staff.
All done? Thank you. Oh, I've got one more thing I'msupposed to read.
I understand from Barry that the Cloture vote for education,for the Ed-Flex bill, failed again today and I'm going to justread a quick statement by the President on that subject.
"For the second day in a row the Republican leadership hascontinued its efforts to stand in the way of voting on anamendment to finish the job of hiring 100,000 teachers to reduceclass size. Communities across the country need to know thatCongress will live up to the bipartisan commitment we made lastfall to fund this effort. The American people expect us to worktogether to improve the education of our students. I call on theRepublican leadership to allow an up or down vote on moreteachers and smaller classes, and I call on every senator tosupport the Murray/Kennedy measure to reduce class size and hirewell-prepared teachers across the nation."