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The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Lockhart (12/13/98)

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Trip to Middle East

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 13, 1998


King David Hotel

3:37 P.M. (L)

Q There's apparently an Israeli news report that the President wastalking about theimpeachment 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 metwith him after hisbreakfast with Prime Minister Netanyahu. I was there for most, if not all,of it and the only subject Iheard was the peace process. Again, I did walk out once to take a phonecall, but the only subject I heard was the peace process.

Q Joe, can you tell us about any plans that you have for thePresident on Wednesday, when he returns to the United States, to once again address theimpeachment subject before theAmerican people?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not aware of any plans.

Q Joe, was the First Lady involved in the peace process talks atbreakfast thismorning?

MR. LOCKHART: The breakfast was with the First Lady, the President,Prime MinisterNetanyahu and his wife. So I think they had a conversation, I'm sure, that touched on the peaceprocess. But I think the real business took place in the meetings thatfollowed with the one-on-onemeeting with the Prime Minister and then the expanded meeting with the twopeace teams.

Q Joe, when he expressed his availability to talk to members ofCongress who mighthave questions, do you expect that to begin -- I mean, could people becalling him on this trip, he'dbe returning calls? When do you -- could that start now and what's theprocess you envision?

MR. LOCKHART: As I told you last week, we talked to most, if not all, of the members ofCongress who are in the process of making up their mind and offered to have Chuck Ruff and GregCraig come up to the Hill and talk to them. I know there's been someresponse to that, so that willcontinue. I think the President, to the extent that anyone wants to call,he'll make time available totalk 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 andwhere 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'sactivities 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?


Q Were they committee Democrats or leadership Democrats? Who werethey?

MR. LOCKHART: There were a couple of committee Democrats. I'm notprecisely 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 ofquestions did not haveto 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 liesahead for thePresident next week having on his ability to focus and to --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I can tell you, thankfully, his ability toconcentrate on the peaceprocess is not predicated on reporters' questions to him. That's a verysmall part of the day.

Q It certainly is. (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: For good reasons, as we saw. So I think, obviously,this is something thathe has on his mind, that he's concerned about. But I think it's atestament to the reasons that thepublic has continued to support him; even despite the fact that he hasmisled them and his behaviorwas wrong is that he continues to focus on the job and continues to focuson what the public sent him to Washington to do. And I think the work he is doing here is importantand is a testament to thatcommitment.

Q Joe, did the President and the Prime Minister commiserate at allabout their politicalproblems in their respective countries? (Laughter.)

MR. LOCKHART: I don't believe they did in the open session; I didn'tget any report in theprivate one-on-one, not that was reported to me.

Q You've got two undecided Republican members in the House alongwith you. Has the President talked with either of them about impeachment?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. The President spoke to theco-del as a grouptoday. And, again, my understanding was that the conversation was aboutthe peace process. Itwas a quite spirited conversation that all of them participated in thismorning, but I didn't hear anyother subjects.

Q Joe, quite aside from the question of the President's focus onthe topic, does thepending impeachment in any way complicate his diplomatic task in the sensethat he has toreassure other leaders that he's not a weakened President, that if he makes a commitment it'ssomething that was going to last more than a couple of weeks?

MR. LOCKHART: I think the Prime Minister -- perhaps that's not whathe had in mind whenhe spoke at the press conference today -- but in the context of yourquestion spoke to that. He saidthat this process depends on the leadership of this President; thisPresident is here providing thatleadership.

So, again, I'd say it would be an appropriate question to ask anyother leader, but I don'tsee 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 sayingthat it was flat wrong or can youclarify that by the end of the day?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me say this, I was in the meeting a lot more thanthey were. Again, Iwalked out once, maybe twice, but all I heard was conversations about thepeace process.

Q Are all the co-del going to Gaza?

MR. LOCKHART: As far as I know, yes.

Q Joe, have any -- briefed -- the Presidentdirectly --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I know of.

Q Joe, the President was categoric on the subject of perjury. Isthere anyconsideration being given to some statement that might seek as somethingless than that -- lyingunder 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 thatsubject 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 himgoing to sayanything else. Looking at it another way, can you say that he will not say anything else before theHouse 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 otherwords, have you andhe had a conversation in which he's expressed to you the idea that heprobably won't say anythingmore?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not specifically.

Q Joe, you almost got the sense from the President's comments thathe feels this is an issue that's out of his control now and there's not very much he can doabout it, he can't actively,proactively lobby, it's up to members of Congress to vote their conscience. Is that his feeling aboutthe --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think he believes that this is an important and weighty matter thatthe Congress has taken upon itself and it's up to members of Congress. And I think you did hear himsay that members of Congress should be allowed to vote on the facts, on the law, on the Constitutionand vote based on their conscience. We've had, to date, a process that bythe Republican's ownstandards has failed to meet their standards.

We all remember Chairman Hyde and others saying that they would not do this unless theycould do it in a bipartisan way. That was a very simple test and theyhave, put simply, failed that test. This has happened now on a partisanbasis and not in a bipartisan way. Now it moves to the House floor, ourhope is that this can move back to the way it should be, where people lookat the facts, look at the law, base their decision on what they think isbest, 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 youhope -- I assume you hope the impeachment thing goes down. How do theytreat the censuremotion?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, we've certainly expressed our hope. I would echothe statement ofthe Speaker-designate of several weeks ago, that members ought to have aright to have a choice.That's not his view any longer. He says he won't allow it. I'd echo theview that he articulated and Ithink a lot of other members have articulated, that members should have achoice. The vast majority of the American public is against impeachment. That same majority thinksthe President should becensured for his behavior.

The President has signaled that he believes that is proper and isgoing to accept that, and a small group of people sitting in Washington, inside the Beltway and theCapitol, are saying, well, no, I don't think the American people are right. I think the American peopledo have a say in this.Members of Congress ought to be able to have a choice. And the Speakerdesignate should goback and remember the sentiments and the philosophy that were behind hiswords just a few weeksago.

Q Last night on Larry King, Greg Craig appealed to Americans tostart phoning andsending letters and e-mails and so on. Does that request flow from arealization that the only mailthat seemed to be coming into Congressional offices was ginned up by theChristian Coalition?

MR. LOCKHART: It's hard for me to know what comes in and what is andwhat's real andwhat 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 toexpress it. This issomething that is going to have a profound impact on the American public.And for those whobelieve the President should be impeached, they should express that view.But for the vast majorityof people who don't believe that is the case, we think it is appropriatethat they also express that view that members hear from them.

I think there is little doubt that for people who are trying to makeup their minds, by and largemoderate Republicans, this is a very difficult choice. There are political considerations at hand andno one thinks this is easy. But to the extent that hearing from people,people letting them know whatthey 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 itbut, with all due respectto any one of us that have programs or networks, very few people watchcable network or ABCprogramming for that matter, compared to the kind of people who would watch the numbers if thePresident made an address. Don't you think the networks would give timefor him on something likethis -- and in prime time to address millions and ask for their support?

MR. LOCKHART: Sam, let me turn that question around for a secondbecause this is a veryserious 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 noreluctance to go live withthat. When Mr. Starr came to the hearing and there was great drama there,there was no reluctanceto go live there. But when we got to the serious part where the case, thereal case was being madeby the majority for impeachment, there didn't seem to be much interest.And when we got to the realcase, the crucial case of the defense -- of the defense -- there didn'tseem to be interest. In fact, Ithink if you go back even on the evening news that night, on one networkMr. Ruff and his defense gotfive 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 ourcase. If that involvessomething, if it involves speaking to the people, we'll let you know. ButI think you and yourorganizations 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 tomake his case before an impeachment vote in the House, that the networkswould turn him down. Idon't run the networks, so maybe i'm wrong, but I can't imagine thathappening.

MR. LOCKHART: I didn't mean to suggest that they would. I amconfident 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, buthis position isthat he didn't cross the line into giving false answers. Does he stillbelieve that even going near theline was appropriate? Last August he said that was an appropriate legaltactic for what he thoughtwas a politically motivated lawsuit. Does he still believe that's thecase, that it's okay to dance to theline?

MR. LOCKHART: I think given the context of the political motivationof that civil case that hedoes believe. But I think he also expressed today that he agrees with theview 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?


Q But does that apply equally to the grand jury testimony and thecivil deposition?Chuck Ruff gave that answer to a question about both the civil depositionand the grand jurytestimony.

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the primary questioning on that went tothe civil deposition.

Q So it's not okay to walk up to the line in the grand jurytestimony?

MR. LOCKHART: There is no way for me to give you a definitive answeron that. I think thatthese are two different sets of circumstances: one was a civil case wherethe President has said hebelieved to be politically motivated and he did his best not to be helpful; the other was a grand jurywho was looking into what they believed to be criminal allegations, and the President gave directanswers.

Q Some Republicans on the Hill are saying that censure isunconstitutional. If youbelieve it is constitutional, why?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, there is clearly Democrats on the Hill, and someRepublicans on the Hill, who do believe it is appropriate. I am not a constitutionalscholar. We heard from a lot ofconstitutional scholars. There are those who believe it does. And if youlisten to the leaders, theRepublican leaders, they're not arguing that they are keeping it from thefloor because it's notconstitutional; they are arguing that they are keeping it from the floorbecause they don't want to givemembers a choice.

Q Joe, has the President recruited members of his Cabinet to calldirectly to moderateRepublicans on the fence or --

MR. LOCKHART: I've done this probably half a dozen times over thelast 10 days. Thereare members of his Cabinet who are former members who are talking to theirfriends, some of thosewho 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 bitof jet lag, but I think hehad a good series of meetings this morning. He is looking forward to theactivities of this afternoon,so I think his mood is quite good.

Q Thank you.

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Middle East Trip: Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (12/15/98)

Middle East Trip: Press Briefing by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (12/14/98)

Middle East Trip: Press Briefing by White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart (12/14/98)

The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Albright and Berger (12/13/98)

The President's Trip to the Middle East: Briefing by Lockhart (12/13/98)

Office of the Press Secretary