THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
10:18 A.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good morning, everyone. Let me start with an announcement the Vice President's Office is making today. Vice President Al Gore will visit Asia this month with stops in Japan between March 23-24; China March 24-28; and Korea March 28-29. The Vice President will meet with the leaders of the three countries to discuss international, regional and bilateral issues of mutual concern. Details of the Vice President's program are still being worked out with each of the three governments. I expect the Vice President's Office will be able to give you more of an itinerary at a future date.
That announcement was almost timed to coincide with announcements occurring in other capitals.
Q Mike, will he have any new initiatives for the North Korean four-party talks proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: He will obviously discuss with the Republic of Korea the recent briefing on four-party talks. We will continue to press for commencement of those talks and follow up on the briefing that was held, which was a good one.
Q Do you think the Vice President, like the Secretary of State, will raise the concerns over Chinese -- alleged Chinese efforts to influence the U.S. political process.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on whether that will be a subject of their dialogue. The Secretary of State has indicated that she raised it and I'm not going to speculate whether the Vice President will or not.
Q Mike, late last night a contradiction arose between what the FBI had to say about what happened during that NSC briefing and what the White House claims happened during that briefing. Have you reconciled that yet? Has the White House talked to the FBI?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have talked directly to the FBI or to the people who did the briefing. I noted in some of the reporting on this today that there -- at least one report I saw suggested some Justice Department officials were saying that maybe the NSC people misunderstood whatever was said about disseminating the information, suggesting that there might be a little ambiguity in that statement that the FBI put out last night. And maybe you'd want to follow up on that by directing inquiries to the Justice Department and see if they know anything more about it.
Q It sounds good, Mike, but no restrictions whatsoever leaves not much room for ambiguity.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's why I was surprised to see some Justice Department officials indicating in some of the coverage of this matter today that maybe it was a result of a misunderstanding and maybe the NSC staffers misinterpreted what was said. So that would lead me to believe that maybe there was some ambiguity there.
Q Well, are you suggesting now that maybe the NSC staffers did misinterpret what was said?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think the NSC staffers have said what they've had to say about their recollections, and they clearly were under the impression that they were not to disseminate it and elected not to disseminate it higher up the chain of command.
And I think it's interesting to me that there may be some people at the Justice Department that feel that there were some things said about dissemination that could have been misunderstood.
Q A law enforcement source tells us at CBS today that, in fact, they think maybe it was the White House that got confused and that the notes of at least one of the participants -- the FBI detailee specifically say that it was just not to be disseminated to certain and very particular other intelligence agencies as opposed to up the chain of command.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- that would be -- if they're saying that, that's directly contrary to what the FBI said in their statement last night. So I think that should be pursued.
Q No, it is not directly contrary.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they said no --
Q They said it was not to be -- that it was untrue that it was not to be put out up the chain of command. They are saying that is, in fact, exactly contrary to what they said.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll have to -- I don't have any information of that.
Q Mike, just so we can recap -- the White House position is that nobody at the White House but these two people was told, that the President was not told. Is there any explanation for why when one of these people told the Counsel in January that the President was not told?
MR. MCCURRY: Only that it was not pursued by the Counsel.
Q In hindsight, did the Counsel -- are we talking about NSC Counsel or White House Counsel here?
MR. MCCURRY: Both.
Q Both. Who, in the White House Counsel's Office knew? And is their feeling -- I mean, that would suggest that somebody at the White House knew in January. Can you tell us who and why it wasn't taken up to the President at that point?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe at the time it was the White House Legal Counsel Office just -- I'll have to go back and reconstruct that for you, but I think they said check with the Justice Department and see what you can find out about this, and they didn't get any further information from the Bureau. That's my understanding.
Q Mike, is it still the case that the President did not pick up the phone and call somebody at FBI and say, what's going on?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. He did not pick up the phone and call Director Freeh to ask him about this.
Q But the President indicated yesterday that he essentially would like to get to the bottom of this and figure out exactly what happened. So what is being done along those lines today to get some definitive answer as to how this could have happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Ruff will pursue this, and at some proper point we'll see if we've got any better understanding of what the circumstances of the briefing was.
Q Mike, last night you used the term "adamant" to describe how the two NSC staffers recollected what happened, and you said they were adamant about their feelings that this was not to be taken up the chain of command. Today you seem to be saying that they may have been under the impression. Has their being adamant changed since --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't want to revisit that. I was pointing towards the statements by Justice Department officials reported today that there may have been some misunderstanding.
Q Two questions. One, were they adamant about this in the last couple of days or back in February?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think in February when Mr. Ruff looked into it, they looked into the question of what the recollections were of people who were in the briefing. And they simply feel that they -- they feel that they were left with the impression they should not disseminate the information outside the room, as we've said.
Q Their views were expressed then and not just in the last couple of days?
MR. MCCURRY: They were expressed then and then checked into again.
Q Can you shed any light on how these contacts normally take place in such a way that might suggest there's precedence for information being passed but not going up the chain of command depending on its gravity?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes. I mean, it happens routinely, because there are briefings that go on and meetings between people at this level of government that occur all the time, particularly in the area of intelligence and information necessary to understand better what's moving around the world. That kind of session occurs fairly frequently. I think it's rare, if not exceptionally rare, that anyone is told that further dissemination is not warranted.
Q If I could follow up on that, doesn't it seem like -- I almost want to use the word disloyal for an official to be told, you can't tell your boss this. I mean, it seems --
MR. MCCURRY: Granted, that's highly unusual. The President expressed himself on that yesterday.
Q Mike, you have said that -- or the White House impression is that the FBI said that this information should not be disseminated up the chain of command, and now you have the FBI essentially calling the President a liar. And yet, there's no -- why isn't somebody on the carpet over here about this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we said last night, we believe that statement is an error. And we will work to understand better what the nature of this disagreement is.
Q Mike, I just want to make sure that what you said last night, that it's the White House Counsel's understanding that the two people were adamant that they were told that it couldn't be briefed up the chain of command --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me go back. I want to go back and --I'll go back and double-check that. I think their recollections were that the material -- I'll just leave it at that their recollections were the information was not to be further disseminated.
Q And you're not changing that, based on more conversations that you've had since you briefed last night?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I want to go back and check on it further, and maybe we can have some more conversations.
Q Mike, let me just pursue that. When did you last, or when did somebody at the White House last talk to the two individuals involved?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check. That's a precise question; I'll get a precise answer.
Q Under standard operating procedure, if the FBI were to make that unusual request of two NSC staffers, is it binding on them not to pass the information on? Do they have some discretion?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. And they have some discretion and they could have exercised that discretion in this case.
Q Mike, two things. One, were they told a reason why it wasn't to be passed on? And, two, following up on this last answer, is there some feeling that since the President said yesterday he should have been told, that these two people did not handle it properly and should be disciplined?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President indicated yesterday that Sandy Berger and the Legal Counsel are looking into that. I don't want to prejudge whatever conclusions they arrive at.
Q And what about the question of whether they were given a reason why they were --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check on that, Deborah, I don't know whether they were or not.
Q It's so hard to understand why they would even accept information with those as the ground rules. Was this a thing where the FBI came in and set the ground rules at the beginning of the briefing, and they accepted them and then took the information, or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know at what point the discussion about dissemination occurred.
Q I may be just missing something here, but what would be the purpose of the FBI coming to deliver this information and then telling the people in the room that it can't go any further than the room?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't answer that. I don't know what the purpose would be.
Q We heard some responses from the Chinese government yesterday about this, saying that they're not involved in trying to meddle in U.S. politics. Is this issue becoming a point of discord between the U.S. and China? Is it on the radar screen in international relations now? Are you increasing --
MR. MCCURRY: I think Secretary Albright has indicated publicly that she raised our concerns about these allegations when she was in Beijing.
Q I'm trying to formulate this as a question and I'm going to fail, but it seems that there are two disconnects here, that between the FBI and the NSC and what the instructions were, and then once the two NSC staffers had the information and the discretion to pass it up, did not pass it up. On that second disconnect, what's up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, look, that's exactly why the President indicated to you yesterday that both the National Security Advisor and the Legal Counsel are looking into exactly that question.
Q Mike, are you confident that the NSC people are right and the FBI is wrong? Because you've just suggested there could be some kind of action against these people for failing. Is it possible that they're not telling the truth?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, these are both -- both of them are known to be career professionals, they've worked -- one of them has worked at the White House for some time -- I believe even for prior Presidents, correct -- for President Clinton's two predecessors. The other has been identified by the FBI as a longtime FBI agent, and they are highly regarded at the NSC. At the same time, they made a conscious decision about how to handle the information that they were given.
Q But what does this say about the relationship between the White House and the FBI when a spat like this can publicly surface which you have to admit is highly unusual?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what -- it says it's better for people to try to go back and reconstruct exactly what was said, and that's why I think it's interesting, as I say again, that the Justice Department -- at least some people in the Justice Department apparently believe that this is the result of a misunderstanding. I don't why they would be saying that based on the statement that was issued last night.
Q Mike, if I could follow up, wouldn't it normally be -- the normal course of an administration that before you allowed this kind of disagreement to surface publicly, you would try to come up with some sort of common statement?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think that's probably not a bad idea to try to work things out. (Laughter.)
Q Well, the question is, why didn't that happen this time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'll have to ask the people who issued the statement last night.
Q Mike, you had called on me, I'd like to ask a question.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I call on him and I'll come back to you.
Q Mike, you said yesterday that this wouldn't have an effect on Tony Lake because he didn't know about it. What makes you think Senator Shelby's not gong to take it out on him today because it just happened to happen on his watch?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm sure he will. And Tony will be able to answer the questions, so I don't --
Q How competently do you think he'll be able to answer the questions?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm confident he's going to do a splendid job at his confirmation hearing today. And his confirmation is around the corner.
Q Is some of this public standoff or a contradiction between the White House and FBI as a result of the early conflict the White House had with the FBI with the Travel Office and then the Justice Department heads-up on RTC? I mean, is there a new higher firewall standard between the White House and the Justice Department than there used to be?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there are -- because of painful past experiences, there are some established procedures here on how to have contact with the Justice Department, which is why I keep referencing the discussions that Chuck Ruff has had, because that's the proper way for the contact to occur. It's also the reason why we just don't pick up the phone and call the FBI and say, what's going on -- for exactly that reason.
Q But does that make it more difficult to communicate on matters like this?
MR. MCCURRY: I think we have, as near as I can tell, good conversations with the Justice Department. I don't know whether we talked directly with the Bureau, but I know the Counsel's Office has had good conversations with the Justice Department on this matter, on other matters, and a good working relationship.
Q Mike, at what level is the investigation of the original charges, given that Senator Feinstein and other lawmakers say that they were -- got indications from the FBI about Chinese attempts to influence elections going back several years. How extensive is the investigation of those charges?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask the Justice Department. I have no way of answering that.
Q If I could follow -- why, given that the administration's relations with China and the entire Democratic fundraising thing raised a whole lot of questions here over the past six, 10 months?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've -- I've briefed you in the past that we have asked specifically from the Justice Department for information that is necessary for the President's conduct of foreign policy and national security affairs, but we've done so in a way that would not compromise or impede on any ongoing investigation.
Q When Johnny Chung brought the six Chinese businessmen to the White House to have lunch in the mess and then to go to the radio address, they were also accompanied by a U.S. Embassy official from -- a U.S. Embassy Beijing official. Were they on an official U.S. government sponsored visit to the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but I'd have to check into that further.
Q Do you know why this --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't.
Q -- U.S. Embassy official was with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Don't know and don't even know if that's true for certain. I'm not doubting, I'm just saying I don't know whether that's true.
Q Could we move on to some questions about the documents that were released late last evening?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and yes. Go ahead.
Q When you look at the documents and you see that they seem to directly relate to how the White House database is going to be used and what it's used for, it seems hard to understand why the White House redacted then in the first place. And I'm wondering if you can explain that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe the Counsel took the position that the redacted material was not responsive to the request. But at the same time, I want everyone to remember here that back on October 1, last year, we wrote to Chairman McIntosh and told him that we would be happy for him to inspect the materials and to look at them. We've got -- if you go back -- did we make that letter public at that time? We can make the letter public. We said with respect to the redacted memoranda, as you know, the redactions were made because the material redacted is not responsive to your request. Nevertheless, if you wish to review this material we're prepared to let you do so, consistent with our practice with congressional committees, including your full committee. And we made that offer on October 1, and he didn't want to pursue it at that time because he wanted a political issue.
Q Well, do you think this is not a political issue? I mean, it seems when you look at those documents, that these -- that the outreach program was going to go into the database and that the database was, in fact, going to be used for political purposes, despite the fact that you've been denying that it was.
MR. MCCURRY: I think you should look at the memo we released that David Watkins had that makes very clear what the distinctions were. And that's the practice that was followed.
Q There seems to be a difference between what David Watkins wrote and what Marsha Scott did.
MR. MCCURRY: I think Marsha Scott may have had many dreams, but the important thing is what happened. And what happened is consistent with the memo that was released last night that Watkins has that explains what the distinctions are between these databases.
Q May I just follow up? Are you saying that the information from the outreach program was never entered into the database?
MR. TOIV: No, there were supporters in the database -- MR. MCCURRY: You mean from the people -- this is the people
MR. TOIV: No, this is the early supporters that they --
Q The early supporter outreach program that she had.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, about two percent of the database included some names.
Q But are you still maintaining, as Barry did last night, that it was never used for that kind of outreach?
MR. MCCURRY: It was used for official purposes, as Barry indicated.
Q Why would we assign more credibility to David Watkins' memo? David Watkins was fired for improperly performing his duties. Marsha Scott, of course, is still here.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's ancient history at this point. What he set out in that memo is the way that these two databases were distinct from each other and how they were to be maintained. And that's how they were maintained.
Q But you have her talking about how this was to be operated -- this was to be maintained in secrecy, that she kept the disks privately and she was --
MR. MCCURRY: She wrote a lot of stuff in that memo and she's quite voluble. The important thing is what actually happened, and what's the reality versus the dreams. And I think that that's upon which we made the submission to the committee and how we briefed on this.
Q Are you saying that this database was never used as a basis for the things that she said, which was calling people and trying to tell them what the President was up to, giving out trinkets, giving out perks? It wasn't used for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't looked extensively enough at all of what she wrote in all those long, long memos. We've told you how we used the database; we used it for official purposes.
Q Mike, that would suggest that Marsha Scott who is still here -- she is still here, isn't she -- has produced a bunch of memos that are fiction. Any disciplinary action going to be taken against her?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know that what she wrote in those memos requires disciplinary action.
Q Dare I change the subject, or do you want to let this play out for several --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, please change the subject.
Q Last night the President and other senior administration officials met with a number of senators to discuss the Mexico certification situation. At that meeting, apparently, there was discussion about some revised language for the resolution that may come forward in the Senate -- I'm not sure about in the House. Was that revised language suggested by any of the senior White House officials, and can you tell us what that revised language would do and what kind of resolution may be coming forward as a result of this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that was suggested by White House officials. I think there were some senators who may have been interested in how to address the issue of certification. Is that correct, based on what you know?
MR. JOHNSON: I think the discussion was quite free-ranging. The senators had some ideas that they put forward --
MR. MCCURRY: Very free-ranging conversation and some individual members of the Senate may have had some ideas on different ways to address the question.
Q They came out afterwards, Senator Lugar and others, and said that they were looking for "more constructive language" -- their term. Did they run that language by you and is that language that they may be offering acceptable to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: They had some discussions about how to approach this. We'll remain in close consultations with members of the Senate and members of the House who are interested in working through this issue, coming at a good conclusion and we hope at a conclusion that supports the President's decision on certification.
Q Do you understand that what will come forward in the Senate will still be some sort of resolution of disapproval, but with softer language?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speculate on that. That will be up to the Senate.
Q Mike, back to the other -- I mean, you said you don't know that what Marsha Scott wrote in these memos requires a disciplinary action, but if you have a staff who are writing something that is dreamed but not reality, isn't there some concern about what's going on here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there is concern, but that's a different question than disciplinary action.
Q What's her job now?
Q Back to David Watkins -- he was fired precisely for improperly using government resources.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that has nothing to do with how he describes in the document that was released last night how these databases are to be maintained. That issue does not arise here.
Q -- however, is not one of --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, it's a White House document that describes how these databases were to be maintained and what the structure of the database project was to be. If you choose to disregard it, you can choose to disregard it if you want.
Q On the FBI statement last night, what was the President's personal reaction when the FBI put this out and said that's not true what the President said just hours earlier on national television?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he was mystified.
Q Mystified? Angry?
MR. MCCURRY: Mystified.
Q Mike, if I can go back, I think the question --
MR. MCCURRY: But as he pointed out in his own comments on this yesterday, he said that he would just basically like to know what the story is here.
Q Did he then say go back to these NSC aides and find out whether what the FBI -- I mean, is he then going to question his own version of the --
MR. MCCURRY: He indicated to you that we're looking into that and he's posed a couple of questions that we would like to have the answers to.
Q Mike, if the two NSC guys were not bound by the FBI instructions, isn't the issue then why they didn't exercise their discretion and pass it up the chain of -- rather than --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's the question he asked earlier and it's the one that I answered.
Q -- is there any issue of national security that should not be relayed to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Anything that affects the President's ability to conduct the nation's foreign policy and to address the nation's national security needs, needs to be briefed to the President, obviously.
Q In that vein then, has there been any talk within the White House of changing procedure to make sure that such information is relayed to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Again, that's why Sandy Berger is looking into this question. We're not aware that this is a common enough occurrence that that's suggested, but I'm sure they will look into that type of question.
Q Mike, what do you think, bottom line, is the effect of having this public dispute? What do you think the effect is on the stature and credibility of the White House and the stature and the credibility of the FBI?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. The people in the pundit business kind of both handle that.
Q There doesn't seem to be much urgency in trying to control the damage -- public image damage, if you will, from having this dispute.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that's accurate.
Q Is there some urgency?
MR. MCCURRY: Of course, there is.
Q Mike, what's Marsha Scott's job now and to whom does she report?
MR. MCCURRY: Can you get what her current --
MR. TOIV: She is the Chief of Staff of the Office of Presidential Personnel, reporting to Bob Nash.
MR. MCCURRY: Chief of Staff of the Office of Presidential Personnel reporting to Bob Nash.
Q So she gets jobs for people?
MR. MCCURRY: She works in the Office of Presidential Personnel.
Q Going back to Wendell's question, if I could phrase it in a different way. You have two people here. One was fired for misusing government property and not telling the truth. The other is still on staff and has not been disciplined in any way. Yet, you're asking us to believe the memo of the guy who was fired for dishonesty and misusing government resources. Why should we believe it?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, if you don't considerate it credible, Deborah, don't write about. I'm just pointing to you -- it's a memo that we released last night that describes how these things were to be maintained, and that's how they were maintained according to all the information we had. If you dispute it or you don't want to write it or you want to hammer David Watkins, go ahead. That's your right. It's a free country.
Q Mike, the point I'm asking is -- I mean, that's why I keep asking about Marsha Scott being disciplined for writing a phony memo. If she isn't being disciplined and he was disciplined, why should we believe him and not her?
MR. MCCURRY: Is there anything in the memo that we --
MR. TOIV: Presumably, she did not know -- once the Counsel's Office informed them what was proper, what was not proper, they did what was proper. The point is the Counsel's Office laid down the rules.
MR. MCCURRY: Right, she had to have -- I mean, look, they had to comport with the guidelines that were spelled out by the Counsel's Office. Now, the Watkins memo also quotes, by the way, the people in the Counsel's Office who established the rules and the procedures that exist for using the database.
Q That November 1, 1994 memo that Marsha Scott wrote was written to Erskine Bowles and to Harold Ickes. Is there anything to suggest that they responded to that memo and said to her, hey, you're way off base, this is not supposed to be used for that purpose?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of anything that indicates -- I don't want to rule out that they responded, but it was a subject that was far enough down in the weeds, that I doubt they spend a lot of time on it.
Q Was this the President's idea, as she says?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's general idea of the need to keep in contact with supporters and make sure that we were tracking whether we are including supporters and friends and others in briefings and events here at the White House was certainly a very real concern of the President.
Q That's what the memo concerned -- was the whole --the total idea.
MR. MCCURRY: The pool needs to gather with Mr. Engskov here if you're going over to the Free TV time, which maybe someone would like to talk about sometime.
Q I wonder if -- you certainly don't mean that that was far enough down in the weeds that -- that was a substantial concern. So would not the --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's general desire to make sure the we stayed in contact with supporters --
Q It was only an element of that.
MR. MCCURRY: -- that we invited them to functions at the White House, to make sure that they were included and briefed on the President's program and his priorities. Sure, that was a priority.
Q Exactly -- being only an element of that, so why wouldn't that overall program have brought a response from Harold or Erskine?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't tell you whether it did or didn't, obviously.
Q Don't you think it should have? I mean, you said, that it's far enough down in the weeds. I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: Wendell, we're talking about keeping an electronic database with names of people that you're going to be in contact with. It's not an earth-shattering matter if you stop and think about it. It's like, who's going to keep track of the rolodex.
Q If I can follow up on that -- precisely -- the misunderstanding here is ascribing the President's -- this is the President's idea -- instead of the overall contact program. The President obviously was talking about the overall outreach program. That's what Marsha Scott's memo dealt with.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that's obvious to me. Okay. Go ahead.
Q Dare I try another Mexico question?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, go ahead.
Q Yesterday morning you told us in a gaggle that there would be about a third of the Senate present for this Mexico meeting, including the leadership. Only about less than a third of them --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said a third invited, and not that many showed up.
Q Can you tell us why the leadership and the others were not able to make it, or do you take this as some sign that the President's position is in trouble in the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't take it as that at all. They had a good meeting and the President, in fact, liked it so much that he requested this morning that we arrange some future similar meetings. It was a good session. I don't know what was happening, and there may have been things on the floor in the Senate or other business being transacted in the Senate.
Q On the same subject --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, on Mexico certification.
Q The House is going to take it up tomorrow or Thursday. Are any House members coming for a similar type session?
MR. MCCURRY: My impression is, we're concentrating more on the Senate at this point, but we have had contact through other avenues with members of the House as well.
Q You've been getting a lot of questions on the database and various other items and the FBI controversy thing -- you're going to get a bunch more. For the record, how secure are you in the information that you're being given to give us?
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the information on the database I'm relying on Barry because he's been handling that, and he conveniently just left the room. But I think he's worked with Counsel on it and they're doing as best they can to answer the questions.
Q Mike, is the White House giving any consideration to continued Republican demands to submit a revised budget in light of the CBO?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, what that is, is an indication that maybe we're moving into budget season now because we've started the tactical skirmishes that normally occur between the Executive and Legislative Branch, and it's around the subject of how do we move forward with the budget process. We've submitted the budget. It's a balanced budget. It's a credible balanced budget plan that even CBO itself says under the circumstances of a different alternative economic scenario would lead to balance through the mechanisms provided. June O'Neill said that in the letter that we've made available to you. So we've got ours on the table. They're going to either have to put their own budget on the table or begin working with the President's document and mark it up and get on with business. That's where the process stands.
By the way, if you didn't see them, the blue chip forecasts that came out this week are very encouraging to us because they are slightly more optimistic in most cases than the projections of the OMB, and that we've told you all along, the OMB has been conservative and prudent in making their economic projections and assumptions and, by and large, have been more accurate than the CBO over the last four years, so the fact that we've got this outside private forecast that's now slightly a little more optimistic than ours leads us to believe we're right on the money with our own assumptions.
Q The Republicans are stalemated on their own next move on the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: They haven't come forward with any alternative budget or alternative proposal, so I think for the moment they are confined to sort of trying to whack away at the President's budget. And that will go on for some length of time and then they'll get down to writing the budget. We hope that happens soon; in fact, what we'd like to do is see if we can't move this whole process of coming to a bipartisan agreement on a balanced budget forward and move it fast forward.
Q On Friday, the President seemed very calm and unruffled by this whole to-do, as if to think that this wasn't hurting him, that the people didn't care about it. But there are two polls this morning that show some slippage in his standing as -- presumably as a result of the drumbeat of this stuff.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, given the history of the President's approval ratings over the last four years to be at 55 percent, 56 percent, is not exactly unwelcome news.
Q As Marlin used to say, "live by the polls, die by the polls."
MR. MCCURRY: What goes up, comes down. Look, as a larger proposition, I mean, we're just talking about the balanced budget. I think the American people are sitting out there, saying, wait a minute, what are you guys doing to balance the budget, what are you doing to make our schools better, what are you doing to give us high-quality health care, are you reforming welfare, are there going to be jobs for these dependent mothers? And they're looking at Congress and they're looking at the President and saying, why aren't you guys working on that? And the fact is, the President is. The fact that you choose not to report on that is your business, and I can't do anything about that.
Q The task force, as you alluded to yesterday, said that the White House was ready to go with members and agenda. How many members does the White House want on these various task forces?
MR. MCCURRY: I saw a list from John Hilley, which we're actually structuring our participation in these task forces. I don't have it with me right now, but we've got in each of the five areas -- Cabinet members identified, White House staff will be working on it, subject matter germane to the area that we think could be addressed. And my impression was that they were moving closer to finalizing the Hill contribution to that process.
Q -- the tax cut task force.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have the list here, but I can --
Q Is that attainable? Can we find out?
MR. MCCURRY: I can get that and try to give you more on that tomorrow.
Q Mike, the President's going to two big fundraisers tonight -- the DNC one, I think, is $25,000 and $50,000. Given the poll slippage that Peter mentioned, is there ever any discussion in the White House about the hypocrisy of doing a campaign finance reform event and then going to fundraisers at night?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've been through this. It's not hypocritical to say that we have to change the campaign finance system we have and continue to raise money under the system that exists. I mean, we are not -- unless you all think that we ought to just kind of throw up our hands and say, well, we're going to discontinue waging a campaign on behalf of the President's ideas and candidates that the President supports. If we just want to abandon the field altogether and suggest that no one should raise money anymore -- which is, I think, sometimes the impression in the commentary here is that that's exactly what some people in the press are arguing, that we should just discontinue politics as we know it today.
But the fact is that there are going to be campaigns. We are not asking the taxpayers to pick up the tab for it, so someone is going to have to contribute the money and the President has to go out and help those candidates. In this case tonight, he's helping one candidate who's running for reelection and then will help the party, the national party raise some money.
Q Why on the same day?
MR. MCCURRY: What?
Q Why on the same day? Does it undercut the message on campaign finance reform to just a couple hours later go --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it does. I think most people understand that these are the rules, that we are living under the rules that exist now and raising money under those rules, and simultaneously trying to change the rules. I don't think that's too complicated for most people.
Q Mike, given that the President feels that way, he's also acknowledged that some mistakes were made by the DNC and maybe others on his behalf. Is one of them, do you think or does he think, this solicitation of this poor Indian tribe in Oklahoma?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think he was troubled to read about that report.
Q Is there any -- do you have any more -- is there going to be any more --
MR. MCCURRY: I'd want to check with the DNC, since they -- see if they're looking into that. I don't know if they are, or not.
Q Does the President want the DNC to return their money?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard him express that thought, but I'll check with the DNC.
Q What troubled him about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, exactly -- it's a poor Indian tribe that doesn't apparently have substantial revenues from any profit making enterprise and doesn't have a lot of money to defer away from the needs of tribe members themselves.
Q But, Mike, would he want the DNC to return that money?
MR. MCCURRY: I just said I haven't heard him say that, but I think he assumes that the DNC is looking at that.
Q Mike, you seem to accept rather matter-of-factly what appears to be an explanation coming out of Justice that the discrepancy between the NSC account and the FBI account on this briefing may have been a misunderstanding. Are you -- is the White House going to be satisfied with that kind of answer? I mean, these were all seemingly professional foreign policy people who were involved in this kind of thing. I mean, when you're dealing with that kind of information, is that kind of misunderstanding acceptable?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President will be satisfied when he has a better factual understanding of what happened.
Q Mike, you said before that the White House Counsel's Office and the NSC Counsel's Office were involved in January when this guy or woman went to them. Can you be more specific about who in the White House Counsel and specifically about whether Bruce Lindsey was involved in that?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, he was not involved. But I'd want to go back and check very carefully to make sure I understand exactly how the information was relayed from the NSC's Counsel's Office or how it then became known in the White House Legal Counsel's Office. My understanding is it was known by Jack Quinn, the White House Legal Counsel. But how that happened, I'd like to know more about.
Q To try Mick's question another way, Bill Clinton is President of the United States; the FBI works for the President of the United States. From Bill Clinton's standpoint, it kept him in the dark ago information that he had not only a right, but a responsibility to know and then called him a liar. And so the question is, why isn't he kicking butt and taking names?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's go back again. The FBI briefed two members of the NSC staff under circumstances in which apparently the two NSC staffers felt like they could not disseminate the information further and elected not to disseminate it in any event. The circumstance of why that happened and how it happened and what the implications are is of concern to the President, as he said yesterday. That's why he wants to know more about it and why he said, as he said yesterday, that he'd take any appropriate action.
Okay. See you tomorrow.
END 10:55 A.M. EST