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Transcript: White House On Hillary Clinton I/V

Transcript: White House Briefing On Hillary Clinton I/V


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release August 2, 1999


The Briefing Room

12:23 P.M. EDT

MR. LOCKHART: Questions. I've got no announcements for you. Let's get right to it.

Q Does the President have a problem fundamentally with what Mrs. Clinton said about him in her interview in Talk Magazine?

MR. LOCKHART: No, not at all. I think the President generally agrees with the sentiments that the First Lady expressed and with the fact that she did the interview and expressed these views.

Q What about the suggestion that there may have been some sort of abuse as a child?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think -- much of this is an old story, but there was some suggestion yesterday about some sort of physical abuse or something, and I can tell you that that's not the case. But the issues, the difficult issues the President faced growing up are a matter of record, the President has talked about them; the President's mother has written a book where she talks somewhat extensively about the problems in the household.

I think, as I said, the President is comfortable with what the First Lady has said. He has said in public that he faced difficulties, he faced responsibilities in his family, but, overall, he feels blessed with the kind of life that --

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Q Did he read it?

MR. LOCKHART: When I talked to him this morning, he hadn't seen the whole article, but he had seen some of the reports on it.

Q One of the sentiments she expresses is that perhaps the reason he has had difficulties over the years is because he was under the pressure of being torn between a mother and grandmother. That is assigning some kind of responsibility elsewhere. Does he disagree with that part of --

MR. LOCKHART: I've read the whole article and I think the President and the First Lady completely agree. She expresses at another point in that article that he is responsible for his actions. The President has stated openly, publicly, that he is responsible for all of his actions and he's working hard to make right some mistakes he's made within his family.

Q Joe, I know that you've chosen this word "faced difficulties," "difficult issues" -- I guess you've chosen that word carefully. But there's a difference between saying, as a youth I faced difficulties, and saying, as a youth I was abused. So does the President believe that he was abused as a child?

MR. LOCKHART: David, there is a difference. But I'd suggest you go back and look at the article and look at what she said, because she didn't say that.

Q She said he was scarred by abuse.

MR. LOCKHART: Yes. And take that for what it should mean, which is there were difficulties in his family, he faced issues that were hard on him, they were hard on his family. These are all well documented. There is nothing new here. There is no -- excuse me, let me finish, Helen -- there are no new revelations to be made here. It is simply a reflection on his life, which is not unique. There are many people who face issues like this.

But, overall, the important thing is the President has expressed repeatedly, for those who ask, the idea that despite these difficulties he felt blessed with his life, with his family, with the love that he got and that there's nothing new here.

Q Joe, the thing that is new here is the suggestion that there's a connection between this conflict between his mother and his grandmother, the abuse he suffered because of it, and his adult behavior in his marriage.

MR. LOCKHART: Let me leave the suggestions to you and to others. I read the article. It is very clear on the subject of who's responsible for who's actions and the President has spoken directly to that.

Q I'm not saying that it says he isn't responsible. I'm saying that Mrs. Clinton seems to have drawn a connection between those -- that kind of abuse and his infidelity.

MR. LOCKHART: That may be what it seems to be and I'm not in a position --

Q You're saying she was not trying to draw any connection?

MR. LOCKHART: I'm not going to critique line by line the article.

Q But, Joe, how can you not draw any other inference from the fact that she's asked about his infidelities and she talks about his abuse?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me say the article speaks for itself. The President is comfortable with what was expressed in the article. He thought -- I think he and others believe that it was a generally favorable article about the First Lady.

Q There is a suggestion -- the reporter claims that friends say the President is going to seek therapy after he leaves the Oval Office. Is he comfortable with that?

MR. LOCKHART: We've gone down the road of friends say an awful lot in the last couple years here. I don't know anything about that. That's never been expressed to me. My understanding is the President continues to deal with the ministers that he talked about at the outset. I can't tell you about the details of that because they're private, but he has sought to work with the ministers who he's close with and friendly with, and that's the extent of it.

Q Joe, the First Lady has also --

Q Some of these ministers have degrees in other areas, like psychological -- well, psychology degrees. Is he dealing with ministers who have psychology degrees and deal on other issues --

MR. LOCKHART: April, I don't have the slightest idea. I know who the ministers are. I don't have the slightest idea what degrees --

Q Can you tell us who they are?

MR. LOCKHART: No, because this is something that's private. Although -- although at least one of them has not made a secret of the fact that he's talked to the President.

Q You've said some of these things are private, yet the First Lady's Chief of Staff is quoted as saying there's been an increase in the kind of physical passion between them. Now that puts it out as --

MR. LOCKHART: Puts what out?

Q Well, as an --

MR. LOCKHART: I was talking about his conversations with the ministers, which are private. And that's as it should be. I don't see how that relates to --

Q Do others in the White House staff feel the way Mrs. Clinton's Chief of Staff does, that there is a change in the President and the First Lady's relationship in what she's described as an increased --

MR. LOCKHART: I don't know. I haven't questioned the White House staff on that.

Q Joe, one of the things that is a little remarkable about this is that the President has repeatedly denied infidelities, and here's the First Lady laying out what appears to be a pattern of infidelity throughout their entire marriage, to the point of which she's even saying that the few years in the middle when there weren't any infidelities, which she points out as a sign of --

MR. LOCKHART: Jim, I've read the article, and I didn't take that from the article.


Q Well, but isn't she -- she is saying, in fact, that there have been a number of infidelities in her marriage, is she not?

MR. LOCKHART: Well, I think the article speaks for itself.

Q Well, but if that is the case, the President has always denied that. How can the President be comfortable with his wife --

MR. LOCKHART: Well, you're now putting words in everybody's mouth, so -- I think the article speaks for itself. John?

Q Joe, let me just get specific about Gennifer Flowers. The President, who was not the President at the time, made the statement in '92, this was a woman I did not sleep with, denying any sexual allegations. Later on in testimony he acknowledged he had had a one-time only sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers.

Mrs. Clinton, in the interview in Talk, refers to Gennifer Flowers and talks about it, after the Gennifer episode she thought he had -- and I'm paraphrasing here -- cleaned up his act, so to speak. This indicates that she knew about Gennifer Flowers at a time when he was publicly denying it. So she did know.

MR. LOCKHART: I don't have the slightest idea.

Next question.

Q Was there -- some people think that she wanted to get this out now to sort of preemptively take this stance before the politics of New York State get going. Was there, in your assessment, some sort of political strategy in here decision to talk about this right now?

MR. LOCKHART: None that I know of. It's a legitimate question to put to her spokesperson, but there's none that I know of.

Q Do you know why she did this now?

MR. LOCKHART: I think Marsha Berry did a good job of explaining yesterday, and I'll repeat what she said because I don't know anything more about it -- is that this was someone that she was talking to she felt comfortable with and who asked some questions and she answered them.

Q But George Stephanopoulos yesterday said the White House staff, meaning you, were blind-sided. Were you?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I understood from the First Lady's staff a couple weeks ago that she had talked to the magazine, that there would be an article coming out that I should look out for. (Laughter.)

Q Did they give you a sense of what would be in it?

MR. LOCKHART: No, I didn't press. I think they do a pretty good job of keeping us informed.

Q Let me see if I've got this straight. Your view is that the article does not assert that the President has had a long history of infidelities and does not assert that the President was the victim of child abuse in some form or fashion?

MR. LOCKHART: Certainly on the child abuse it asserts the facts, what's been talked about, that the President had difficulties within his family. These are well known. These are things that have been gone over, and cross-examined, and psychoanalyzed by many who are unprepared or unqualified to do so. But they've all been done.

Q But the person closest to him in life is referring to it as child abuse.

MR. LOCKHART: Read the article. And I think you'll -- read the article and look at the sentence, and I think you might take a different view than what you've just said.

Q Would trauma be a better word than abuse? Would trauma be a better word than abuse?

MR. LOCKHART: I think they all -- you guys are basically forgetting the facts, and trying to find a word, and taking the word, and trying to fill in some facts to fit it. The facts here are known. The idea of his family life is known. This was a way to describe difficulties in the family, and it shouldn't mean anything more than that. And it doesn't mean anything more than that.

Q But we're asking about the President's --

Q Affected?

MR. LOCKHART: Affected? I can't imagine that there's anyone who is an adult who isn't affected by how they grew up.

Q But we're asking about the President's response or reaction to this article. And you say that he finds it generally positive and agrees with the sentiments. In it she quite clearly says she believes her husband has been -- was scarred by abuse. That was her phrase.

MR. LOCKHART: Her phrase. Yes.

Q And he agrees with that?

MR. LOCKHART: He is comfortable with the way she talked about things and the way that she expressed her views.

Q Joe, let me make clear one other thing, if I could.


Q Are you disputing what appears to be the thrust of her comments, which is that the President has had a lifelong, a marriage-long problem with infidelity?

MR. LOCKHART: Let me put it to you this way. I'm not going to get into, standing here, issues that the President has addressed directly and has nothing more to say on. And I'm not going to get into any more detail on this. I have said that he's comfortable with the article, and the fact that she did it. And that's all I can say.

Q Did the First Lady consult him in advance before opening up on this subject?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.

Q And was he surprised at the depth --

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of. I can't think that anyone would be surprised that these questions would come up, and at some point she'd provide some answers.

Q Joe, in any political campaign or potential campaign, you always bring in the spouse and your relationship. Is the President and the White House anticipating more unearthed facts about the past, to let America -- or New York -- know --

MR. LOCKHART: April, that question presumes that we're dealing with unearthing more facts here. We're not. That's -- what we're dealing with here is going over things that we know. And as far as I can tell from reading the article, there's nothing new here.

Q Words like "trauma" and "abused" were used. They weren't used like that before --

MR. LOCKHART: I think if you read -- if you look at what the President's mother talked about, if you look at her book, you'll find that these aren't new ideas.

Q Joe, not to belabor the point, but what's new, obviously, is the First Lady blaming the President's infidelities, at least in part, on his abuse.

MR. LOCKHART: I wouldn't quite draw a straight line between the two, but that is an interpretation that you all will have to make for yourself.

Q Does Stephanopoulos have an entree in the White House? I mean, he has a close relationship, that he would know what the thinking was.

MR. LOCKHART: Beats me.

Q But Joe, you're trying to tell us that the First Lady made no connection between -- in this article -- between the President's childhood and his infidelities?

MR. LOCKHART: No. I'm trying to caution you from trying to overemphasize the importance. But I have no greater insight than any of you do on that, so I can't offer you any critique.

Q Joe, she said in the article that she thought he had worked through this 10 years ago. Did he go through any sort of counseling or therapy 10 years ago, before he entered office?

MR. LOCKHART: Not that I'm aware of.



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