THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release|| ||September 11, 1998|
PRESS BRIEFING BY
MR. DAVID KENDALL AND MR. CHARLES RUFF
The Roosevelt Room
5:00 P.M. EDT
MR. KENDALL: Good afternoon. I'm David Kendall, andwith my partner, Nicole Seligman, I represent President Clinton,personally. With me here this afternoon are the White House CounselChuck Ruff, Cheryl Mills, and Lanny Breuer of the White HouseCounsel's Office.
First let me say that we have not had the opportunity tofully review the voluminous referral from the prosecutors in theOffice of Independent Counsel. We have made only a very preliminaryreview of this document. Please keep in mind that these allegationsare not intended to be, nor do they purport to be anything other thanthe prosecutor's collections of charges and accusations. By its verynature, this document is one-sided. I want to try to begin thisafternoon the process of telling the other side of the story.
This is not a news story. A man tried to keep aninappropriate relationship private. The President has acknowledgedhis personal wrongdoing and sought forgiveness from his family, Ms.Lewinsky, the Cabinet, the Congress, and the country. In light ofthat acknowledgement, the salacious allegations in this referral aresimply intended to humiliate, embarrass, and politically damage thePresident. In short, this is personal and not impeachable.
The referral alleges obstruction of justice in thetestimony of Monica Lewinsky, but Ms. Lewinsky's own testimonyconfirms that the President never told her to lie. The referralalleges witness tampering of Betty Currie, but Ms. Currie was not awitness in the Paula Jones lawsuit. She was not on any witness list,nor was she in fact ever called as a witness. The referral alsoalleges abuse of power, yet details conduct that is nothing more thanan assertion of constitutionally-protected rights.
But the referral does not allege anything of substancethat has not already been leaked, illegally, before the Congress orthe President even had a chance to review it.
Let me be clear: The President has acknowledged hispersonal wrongdoing, and so no amount of gratuitous allegations abouthis relationship with Miss Lewinsky, no matter how graphic, can alterthe fact that the President did not commit perjury, he did notobstruct justice, he did not tamper with witnesses, and he did notabuse the power of his office. There are a lot of lurid allegationsin the prosecutor's referral, but there is no credible evidence ofimpeachable offenses.
We received this report only a short time ago. Wehaven't been able to fully review it or digest its allegations. Wedon't know what supposedly backs it up. We were denied a request tosee this a little in advance so we could give a rebuttal. But thanksto illegal leaks from the Office of Independent Counsel -- we didn'thave a copy, the report was locked up on the Hill -- we have beenable to prepare a 78-page rebuttal. And I hope you will review thatrebuttal because it directly speaks to the allegations in the actualreferral.
What we have here is a preliminary review by the HouseJudiciary Committee of the prosecutor's allegations to determinewhether an impeachment inquiry would be justified. This is not animpeachment inquiry and we believe there are no grounds for such aninquiry.
Q Mr. Kendall, the independent counsel says that hehad no choice but to include these lurid, salacious details becausethe President, on January 17th and on August 17th, denied a sexualrelationship with Monica Lewinsky and referred to the definition thatwas given to him and said his remarks were legally accurate. Didn'tthe prosecutor in this case have no choice but to make the case thatthe President lied and provide all those details?
MR. KENDALL: No. The amount of lurid, graphic detailhere far exceeds any legitimate justification.
Q Mr. Kendall, the first point that you make is thatthe President never told Monica Lewinsky to lie. Are you sayingexplicitly he never said to lie, or are you saying that there mayhave been cover stories talked about, as the independent counselalleges? What exactly are you saying here?
MR. KENDALL: No. The President never, never advisedher to testify falsely. He has admitted a wrongful relation, and thefact is that in all such wrongful, improper relations, there is aconcomitant concealment by its very nature. That's all that isinvolved here. The independent counsel has extricably exaggeratedthat to try and make allegations of obstruction of justice.
Q Mr. Kendall, if I may just follow up on that --
Q Mr. Kendall, can there be in the context of acriminal legal proceeding an innocent concealment story concocted,even if it's just an older man having an affair with a younger woman?
MR. KENDALL: I don't think there was any concealmentstory concocted here whatsoever.
Q Sir, following up then, on December 17th, atroughly 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., according to Starr's report, thePresident called Ms. Lewinsky and informed her that she was now onthe witness list in the Jones case, and according to Ms. Lewinsky'stestimony, he told Ms. Lewinsky that she --
MR. KENDALL: What page of the report is that?
Q This is from the Internet. I call it page one. Butif you want to take the time I do have the report, and if you want tosay that this is not the accurate Starr report, please do so.
He told Ms. Lewinsky that -- quote -- "she should sayshe visited the White House to see Ms. Currie, and on occasion whenworking at the White House she brought him letters when no one elsewas around." Now, that's not true -- by the President's ownadmission, he had had sexual contact with Ms. Lewinsky. Why is thatnot subornation of perjury?
MR. KENDALL: I don't think -- first of all, I believeit is true, Ms. Lewinsky did visit him, did bring him letters -- it'snot suborning perjury because suborning perjury is telling somebodyto testify falsely. I don't know -- again, I haven't had a chance toreview the report at that level.
Q But it says she says she visited the White House tosee Ms. Currie, when in fact she was visiting the White House to havesexual contact with the President.
MR. KENDALL: No, the evidence will show --
Q That's lying.
MR. KENDALL: No, it's not. The evidence will show thatMs. Lewinsky and Ms. Currie were indeed friends, so that's not a lie.
Q So if she was called in the Jones case and wasasked why she was at the White House, you believed that if shetestified as the President she suggested she testify, she'd betelling the truth?
MR. KENDALL: Well, I'm not going to speculate on that.
Q Mr. Kendall, you say that the lurid detail is farmore than was justified. I wonder if you could address the fact thatin Ms. Lewinsky's testimony she talks about encounters where therewas contact that clearly would fall within the definition of sexualrelations that the President has denied. Are you saying it's a hesaid, she said? And is it your contention that Ms. Lewinsky lied inher testimony?
MR. KENDALL: I haven't had a chance to review thereport at a specific level of detail, and I don't know what thebackup testimony is. The President testified truthfully both onJanuary the 17th and on August 17, 1998.
Q Mr. Kendall, your reference to not having had achance to look at backup detail goes I think to Sandra's questiononce again. Are you telling us then that the allegations that Starris making of a sexual relationship of the President and Ms. Lewinsky,and Mr. Clinton's statement in his testimony on August 17th that hewas technically right are not to be supported because there is nobackup testimony to Ms. Lewinsky's?
MR. KENDALL: On August 17th, the President acknowledgedan improper sexual relation. The question here really is no matterhow you spin that out and try and exaggerate it and extend it, isthere evidence here of high crimes and misdemeanors? That's reallythe question at issue. The question is not the wrongful conduct thatthe President has acknowledged. The question is whether there isevidence here to countermand and override the judgment of the peopleof this country, who not once, but twice, have elected this manPresident of the United States.
Now, the framers did, in the Constitution, provide foran impeachment mechanism. But that is only to be employed for themost serious kinds of public malfeasance.
Q And the President's assertion that the contact didnot fit the technical definition specified in the Jones depositionstands?
MR. KENDALL: He believed that he testified truthfully;yes, he did.
Q Along the same lines, sir, what reason do you havefor saying that the President admitted to an improper sexualrelationship? He didn't use the word "sexual." It seems to be thefirst time that anyone here has used the term "sexual relationship."And in the Jones deposition, the President said, I never had sexualrelations with Monica Lewinsky. You argue that that's not perjury inyour rebuttal. Wasn't it simply a lie under oath?
MR. KENDALL: No. The term in the Jones deposition was"sexual relations." There was no doubt from the President's August17th testimony, which is quoted, I've seen, in the referral, that itwas an improper intimate relation of a sexual nature.
Q And then the second question, sir, that I asked?You argue that it was not perjury; then are you saying it was a lie?
MR. KENDALL: No. Absolutely. The President testifiedtruthfully and accurately.
Q Mr. Kendall, when you say in your rebuttaldocuments --
MR. KENDALL: Somebody has read our rebuttal document.I commend it all to you.
Q Page 14. These encounters between Monica and thePresident did not consist of sexual intercourse and they did notconsist of sexual relations as he understood that term to be definedin the Jones deposition, blah, blah, blah.
Now, Mr. Starr in his report goes on and on and on forpages and pages about Ms. Lewinsky's testimony contradicting thisstatement here and alleging sexual relations, mutual gratification,him touching her, et cetera, et cetera. Are you not, in effect, inyour deposition -- or, sorry, in your rebuttal, therefore, callingher a liar?
MR. KENDALL: No. The President has admitted toimproper intimate contact. It may well be that people'srecollections differ. That does not necessarily mean that one islying.
Q Mr. Kendall, you said that whatever offense thePresident has caused is not sufficient to warrant impeachment. Butthere is a great sentiment that he deserves some kind of rebuke. AndI wonder if the President would be willing to accept some sort ofcensure by the Congress for his behavior that would stop short ofimpeachment or an effort to remove him from office?
MR. KENDALL: I think the President at his prayerbreakfast this morning said, legal language must not obscure the factthat I have done wrong. He has acknowledged wrongdoing -- explicitlyas he can. He's apologized. What we're dealing with here is whetherthe conduct that he has acknowledged, and the allegations in thereferral constitute evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors.Plainly they do not. That's the issue before us.
Q Would you fight a censure with the same energy thathe intends to fight impeachment?
MR. KENDALL: That's not a question before us in thereport, and I'm just not going to speculate about that.
MR. RUFF: Let me just say in response to that, becauseI think it's important to understand, if there has been paininflicted, it's happened. We know that if you're talking about asanction, whether it be censure or public unhappiness with theirPresident for what he did in his personal capacity, there is noquestion he's feeling that right now and he's made very clear that hefeels it. We're not talking about anything formal that's going toreach out and impose more pain on the President than he's alreadyimposed on himself.
Q If I could refer to the brief again, on page 51 yousay that, "if answers are truthful or literally truthful, butmisleading, there is no perjury as a matter of law, no matter howmisleading the testimony is or is intended to be." I wonder if aPresident ought not be held to a higher standard in your estimation?I know that you're both lawyers, but essentially what you're sayingis the President can mislead anyone he wants to as long as heliterally doesn't lie. And is that an acceptable standard?
MR. KENDALL: No, that's not what we're saying at all.The answers that you reference were in the context of the Paula Joneslawsuit, a highly charged lawsuit by political enemies meant to donothing but entrap the President. He testified accurately. It wasnot his obligation to help Ms. Jones' lawyers. Any of you with themisfortune to have been deposed in a libel suit know -- and I'm surenobody here has committed libel -- know that the first advice yourlawyer gives you is, answer the question and only the question; don'tvolunteer. If you're asked your name, don't give your name andaddress.
MR. RUFF: Let me just add to that, if I may. If youlook at what the President said in the prayer breakfast this morning,-- which is no legal language is going to stand between him and theapology he's made and the contrition that he's expressed. And that'sexactly what he meant. His lawyers gave him advice. He followed hislawyers' advice. And what he's done is to step out in front of theAmerican people and say, legal niceties aside, I've apologized, Iknow I did wrong. And he's made that clear.
Q How do you answer the contention that thePresident's use of you and your staff constitutes and abuse of hispower?
MR. RUFF: Nonsense.
Q What about Betty Currie?
Q -- talking about that, why is it nonsense, sir?
MR. RUFF: It's nonsense because if you read this reportwhat you will find is that the President is accused of abusing hispower by asserting his constitutional privilege. He did so, as ourrebuttal document reflects, on my advice. I went to the President ofthe United States and I said, the independent counsel is seeking tointrude into the legitimate, confidential discussions that you havewith your lawyers and that your senior staff have among themselves.It is your obligation as the President to protect the coreconstitutional interests of the presidency and I recommend to youthat you do this. He didn't initiate that process; I did.
Q Betty Currie, if I may, and Mr. Kendall, also --about Betty Currie, if I may --
Q -- and he couldn't remember if he was ever alonewith Monica Lewinsky. How could that have been a truthful answer?
MR. KENDALL: You know, our rebuttal addresses that.That's not what he testified. He testified that he did, in fact,have recollections of that. It's all worked out in our rebuttal.
Q Mr. Kendall, correct me if I'm wrong, but you seemto be saying today that the President did not perjure himself onJanuary 17th, but even if he did, it's not a high crime ormisdemeanor. Is that a mis-impression on my part?
MR. KENDALL: No, he did not perjure himself. What is ahigh crime or misdemeanor is finally up to the judgment of the House,but certainly events which are largely private have never been thebasis for impeachment based upon the precedence of the House.
Q What is your level of confidence in the Republicanson the Judiciary Committee and in Mr. Hyde's in particular,impartiality?
MR. KENDALL: Mr. Ruff and I had a meeting with ChairmanHyde and Congressman Conyers and their staff yesterday. I think itwas a good meeting. We talked about issues of mutual concern and Ibelieve that they intend to conduct a fair hearing.
Q Mr. Kendall, since so much of this definition ofsexual relations is at the core of whether or not the Presidentcommitted perjury -- you say he did not, the independent counsel sayshe did -- and since both Monica Lewinsky and the President deny thatthere was ever any sexual intercourse, are you disputing the otherdescriptions of the sexual encounters that Monica Lewinsky describedin such graphic detail?
MR. KENDALL: I haven't read all those. The Presidenthas acknowledged wrongful intimate conduct with Ms. Lewinsky. He'salso testified, as you'll see from his deposition, about hisunderstanding of the very narrow and contorted definition of sexualrelations at the Paula Jones deposition.
Q But if the President sought to arouse MonicaLewinsky --
MR. KENDALL: I'm not going to answer speculation.
Q May I now address my question, now that othernetworks have had their second question?
Q Did you go to court this week to delay the releaseof this report? And when did you go --
MR. KENDALL: I did not. I requested a copy of thereport from the independent counsel on Monday.
Q -- file any motions to delay the report?
MR. KENDALL: We did not.
Q Some White House strategists have said privatelythat from a public relations standpoint this case has been botched bythe President's counsel. I ask you what do you say to that? Andalso, do you foresee bringing the political strategists in the WhiteHouse more into the fold at this point? And if I may, have you everseen a legal document like this before?
MR. KENDALL: I'll try and answer all three of thosequestions. First of all, I think that the political strategists tryto do their job, the lawyers try to do their job; it's not always amarriage made in heaven, but I think we try and advance the sameobjective.
Second, I think that this is very much a politicalquestion now because the issue is really before the House JudiciaryCommittee as a matter of an initial review. And third, I've neverseen a document like this.
Q -- illegal leaks that you say are the source ofmost of your rebuttal and the debate so far, what action will youtake and the White House Counsel's Office take to prosecute orperhaps punish Ken Starr for making --
MR. KENDALL: Well, those are sealed proceedings. Iwill only say that we will energetically pursue our remedies forillegal leaking and it's very much alive.
Q About Betty Currie? You say that there could be nowitness tampering in the case of Betty Currie because at the timewhatever conversations the President had with her she was not awitness, or was going to be called as a witness. But as weunderstand it, on the Sunday after the Saturday he gave hisdeposition in the Paula Jones case, he called Ms. Currie into theWhite House and discussed with her whether he had ever really beenalone with Monica Lewinsky, saying, I don't think I've been alonewith her; have I? We know now, of course, he knew he'd been alonewith Monica Lewinsky. So what was the purpose of discussing thatwith Betty Currie if it was not to try to shape her recollectionfalsely?
MR. RUFF: I don't know whether you've pulled therelevant page off the Internet, Sam, but if you look at that portionof the report, it reflects Ms. Currie's own testimony that she didnot feel that she was being influenced, misled or otherwisemistreated in the course of that conversation.
Q I understand, Mr. Ruff, but what do you think thePresident had in mind when he was falsely going over his ownrecollection with her?
MR. RUFF: Well, we've got to start with your premise.What the President was attempting to do -- as he has testified -- wasto refresh his recollection about a series of events that hadoccurred over the preceding year. There's nothing --
Q -- sexual contact with Monica Lewinsky.
MR. RUFF: There's nothing in this report, other thanthe independent counsel's speculation -- totally baseless because itdoesn't reflect any record that I'm aware of -- that Ms. Currie wasgoing to be a witness.
Let me turn the question around. If the President wasseeking in some fashion to influence somebody, why would he do thatwith somebody who wasn't on a witness list in the Jones' case, whichwas two weeks away from closing discovery -- nobody had eversuggested that Betty Currie was going to be a witness -- and thePresident didn't know that there was a grand jury investigation.
Q -- and a good one.
MR. RUFF: And he was guessing?
Q Mr. Ruff, you never answered Sam's question. Imean, Sam's question was what other plausible reason would there befor the President to be trying to recollect his memory with BettyCurrie?
MR. RUFF: All I can tell you is the President has a lotof things on his mind other than, believe it or not, this matter --and did on January 18th. He's testified exactly why he asked thosequestions. He was seeking to refresh his recollection.
Q Wouldn't it have been wiser to turn out this73-page rebuttal immediately after the President's testimony inAugust, or even prior to that time?
MR. KENDALL: We didn't have the benefit of all theleaks that we've had in the last week. We tried to address, beforewe got the document, what was going to be in the document.
Q But you did have the benefit of the knowledge ofwhat he said and what kind of questions he was asked. Was that, inretrospect, a poor political judgment or a poor legal judgment?
MR. KENDALL: I don't believe it was either.
Q Mr. Kendall, you suggested that you expect a fairtrial. Would you explain a little bit, since the American peoplewant to know what's going to happen to their President, what willhappen and how you will deal with what happens on the Hill? Whatwill your strategy be?
MR. KENDALL: As we say where I come from, every pancakeever made has two sides. I think we will have a fair opportunity topresent our side. At yesterday's meeting we didn't talk aboutparticular details of procedures. We did talk, though, about theneed for us to have an opportunity to respond to and rebut theallegations that might be in the Starr -- prosecutor's report, and Ithink we're going to have that.
Q Mr. Kendall, are there any serious errors in factin this report that you've found so far?
MR. KENDALL: I'm sure there are. I've gotten only ashort time ago, and I'm not going to be able to specify them all atthis time. But there are many.