THE WHITE HOUSE Office of the Press Secretary _ For Immediate Release April 19, 1993 PRESS
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 19, 1993
BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
Q Does the President or anybody in the White House
have any input into the operation in Waco?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Attorney General informed the
President yesterday that they were planning on going ahead with this
kind of an operation. But it's a decision by the Attorney General
and the FBI.
Q George, since the Attorney General works for the
President, isn't it fair to say that it's a presidential decision not
to stop it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was clearly informed
Q apparently gave approval to do it, or he could
have stopped it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he didn't stop it. No, he
didn't stop it. The Attorney General informed --
Q So in not stopping it, he approved it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can get into a philosophical or
semantic discussion, but --
Q Well, he assumes responsibility --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly he is responsible, but
it's the Attorney General and the FBI have operational control over
this. But clearly he was informed.
Q Did she ask him for authorization?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, she informed him. She said
this is what the FBI would like to do.
Q But why, George -- Dee Dee didn't know this morning
-- why is it FBI and Justice as opposed to ATF --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That was -- a special agent was put
in charge -- I think it was within 24 hours of the original incident.
That's not common practice. And the FBI has been --
Q It's not a reflection on the agency?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not in the least. The FBI has been
in control of this since the very beginning.
Q Why did the President think this was the right time
to go ahead?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The FBI laid out -- I mean, the
Attorney General for the FBI laid out the arguments. And I can't get
into all of the details of the argument. It wouldn't be appropriate
to do that while the situation is still going on. But the Attorney
General laid out the argument and the President made no objection.
Q Has he received any reports today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's been -- we've been
receiving periodic updates from the FBI.
Q How closely is he following it, though, along those
same lines? Is this something he's following the news accounts? Is
someone there calling him from the Justice Department every hour or
two hours or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, he's received periodic
reports during the day. I don't know how many he's received.
Clearly, CNN is also giving it blanket coverage. But the President
has received reports from the Justice Department this morning.
Q Shakey coverage. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, what is just in is that CNN
is now showing live footage of -- (laughter) -- of the building on
the Koresh compound. It's unclear what this is. I have no
independent information on this, as you know. It's just reported. I
will try and get something and get it back to you.
Q Can you just clarify about what involvement the
President had or noninvolvement the President had in the decision on
Waco? I mean, you said that Janet Reno informed him that this is
what we would like to do. Now, did he say do it, or did he say I
can't take any responsibility for this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, the President takes
responsibility for what's done in his government. But it is under
the operational control of the Justice Department. She informed him
of their plans. He raised no objections.
Q Did he give a go-ahead for the action?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know how much clearer I
could be. I mean, she gave --
Q Are you saying that because he left the operational
control to the departments --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's the authority. That is --
they have the authority to do it.
Q It would have then, therefore, required him to
overrule it if he wanted to change it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely.
Q Which did not do --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you, Brit. Yes, I mean,
that's exactly right. I don't understand where the confusion is.
Q Brit -- on that? (Laughter.)
Q Having ceded operational control, he therefore --he
always retained the option of overruling them or not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President obviously has --would
retain that authority. The Justice Department has the authority to
carry out these operations. They informed the President of this.
Had he raised objections, I'm certain that that may have had an
effect on the decision. But the Justice Department clearly has the
Q Is he following it that closely -- is he following
it that closely that he would have had any objections? I mean, it
seems to me if the Attorney General --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's following the situation
closely. The Attorney General gave her best judgment and her best
recommendation and the President did not raise an objection.
Q So, he's relying totally on the judgment of Janet
Reno and her department?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's clearly relying on the
judgment of the FBI and the Attorney General, and he's combining that
with his own judgment as the options are presented to him.
Q George, maybe objections is too strong a word. Did
he have any questions about the way it was going to be carried out,
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was not in on the conversation.
I don't know how detailed the discussion was or what kind of
questions were raised, but the Attorney General laid out a plan and
she said she would like to go forward. And, again, the President
just had no objections.
Q Well, did he give a rationale for --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure.
Q What was the rationale for force rather than just
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the situation's going on
right now. I would refer those questions to the Justice Department.
Q Have there been any previous calls from the
Attorney General in which an option was laid out and then rejected by
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure but I don't think so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:33 P.M. EDT
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release April 19, 1993
BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
6:20 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: This isn't a prepared statement, but the
President generally has expressed sadness at the events today in
Waco, particularly at the apparent deaths of the children. He
extends his sympathy to the families of those who lost their lives.
He stands by the Justice Department and the FBI. They made a
difficult decision, but it was the unanimous recommendation of the
Justice Department, the FBI and the agents on the ground. He's
monitoring the situation, he's paying attention to news reports and
being briefed on the situation throughout the day. He'll continue to
monitor it as we try to decipher what's going on.
Q Why is everybody, including the President,
distancing the President from a decision to do this?
MS. MYERS: Nobody's -- and particularly the President
has distanced himself from the decision. As he made very clear, the
Justice Department and the FBI made the specific decisions, the
tactical decisions on the ground. But as you know, the President
spoke to the Attorney General last night. She briefed him on the
plans. He asked some questions about it, and then said okay, as the
Attorney General stated today in her press conference, and they
Q Why has he not talked to Janet Reno today?
MS. MYERS: I believe he has.
Q He has?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to double-check that.
Q She said that she had not.
Q Did he call her after she said --
MS. MYERS: I'll have to double-check the logistics --
timing of the calls.
Q When did he first find out that --
MS. MYERS: I think, like everybody else, that the
compound was in flames by watching the news accounts of it. And I
think one of the reasons that the Justice Department and the FBI
decided to go ahead with the program this morning was because they
believed the children were in danger and I think that the events
today clearly confirmed that.
Q Well, does he think that it was a bad move now?
MS. MYERS: No. He stands behind the Justice Department
and the FBI. Again, it was the unanimous recommendation of the
Justice Department and the FBI and those agents that were there on
the scene. They were concerned about the welfare of the children,
and I think the Justice Department has spoken in some detail about
Q In view of the developments, though?
MS. MYERS: Obviously it's tragic -- the events today.
Nobody would have liked to have seen it come out that way. But there
was reason to be concerned and the President stands by the Justice
Department and the FBI. He's not going to --
Q But has he expressed himself at all on the outcome
of events there?
MS. MYERS: Other than to express his sadness at the
loss of life, particularly the children, and to extend his sympathy
to the families of those who lost their lives today.
Q Could you address the mumbling by some of the
agents on the ground that there was micromanaging by politicians in
Washington, the White House, Justice Department? And, also, do you
have any reaction to Senator Specter's call for an investigation by
the Judiciary Committee?
MS. MYERS: In answer to the first question, no. I
think, again, the President today -- the Justice Department and the
FBI made these decisions. The President was briefed on them last
night and didn't raise any objections, but did not micromanage the
situation. And I'm unaware of Senator Specter's request for an
investigation. We'll take a look at it. I mean, it doesn't really
have -- and they'll go ahead with it if the Senate so decides.
Q Is there a reason why you're relaying the
President's reaction in your words rather than his?
MS. MYERS: We just don't have an official prepared
statement at this time. There's no reason.
Q Who else briefed him besides Reno, do you know?
Was it just last night?
MS. MYERS: Oh, no, last night Janet Reno was the one
who briefed him on the operational details of the plan.
Q Has he talked to Director Sessions about the plan
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q Or had he? He had not.
MS. MYERS: No.
Q I didn't hear anything in your statement from the
President about the conduct of the FBI and the Attorney General --
MS. MYERS: Again, this wasn't a prepared statement.
But what I said was the President stands behind the Justice
Department and the FBI. He believes that they acted professionally
and with due restraint. And he -- it's unfortunate the way things
came out. But he does support their decision.
Q Is there any reason why he did not talk to the FBI?
And who specifically briefed him today, since he apparently has not
talked to Ms. Reno, at least as of a half hour ago?
MS. MYERS: He, again, was briefed by Janet Reno last
night. And today he's talked -- I don't know specifically who he's
talked to, but he's been kept --
Q Last night?
MS. MYERS: Last night was Janet Reno.
Q What time, do you know roughly?
MS. MYERS: I don't.
Q It wasn't yesterday afternoon, it was last night?
MS. MYERS: It might have been late afternoon or early
evening. I say last night --
Q I presume the alcohol tax agents were in all this
planning, too, were they not?
MS. MYERS: The FBI's the lead agency, but the ATF was
involved as were the Texas Rangers.
Q Has he called for any kind of internal
investigation in view of the outcome --
MS. MYERS: Not yet. We're still waiting to find out
what the exact outcome is.
Q Isn't that automatic because agents were killed?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe any agents were killed
Q No, not today, but --
MS. MYERS: Oh, but yes, the --
Q as far as investigation of this incident, isn't
that an automatic thing because of the agents were killed when it was
MS. MYERS: What, back six weeks ago or however long ago
it was? I believe that it was. We said at the time that that was
being reviewed. I can't remember who the lead agency on it was, but
we announced that several weeks ago, that there would be a review.
Q Do you have any information, or do you recall any
threats that this man made about that he would commit suicide or that
he would come out before people and commit suicide?
MS. MYERS: Again, I would refer you back to the Justice
Department's statements. But I think he made numerous pledges that
he would not. But I think there was still some concerns that that
Q Dee Dee, you mentioned that the President said
okay. So it is fair to say that he would agree that the buck stops
at his desk on this decision?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely. I think we've said that all
day, that the President takes responsibility for it. Again, he
didn't raise any objections to it at the time, and he continues to
stand behind the Justice Department and the FBI.
Q Did he mention to Reno that he was concerned that
there was a Jonestown-type situation possibly brewing?
MS. MYERS: I think he raised some -- they had a
discussion about it. I don't want to characterize the exact nature
of that. But the President did not raise any specific objections to
the plan and it went forward.
Q You know, you do have, Dee Dee, an unusual
situation with the Attorney General really seeming to go to extra
lengths this afternoon to accept the responsibility and, if
necessary, the blame for this, saying the buck stops here with me; I
made the decision; and seeming, at least, to try to relieve the
President of any blame or responsibility for this. Will the
President accept that, or will he insist on taking responsibility?
MS. MYERS: I think we've said throughout the day that
the President takes responsibility, he stands by the decisions that
were made. He was briefed about it. I think the Attorney General
was involved in this, and I think that she takes responsibility for
the action of her department. That's her nature. I think it's
admirable, but the President is the President and he takes
responsibility for it.
Q Well, how can they take responsibility, any of
them, for a crazy man's doings when --
MS. MYERS: I think that the President -- I think that's
a good -- the fact remains that David Koresh caused the lives of a
number of people and it's tragic. And he does bear a lot of
Q When was -- but do you think he had the building
saturated with gasoline or something?
MS. MYERS: That's the judgment of the law enforcement
experts on the scene -- yes, that there were some fire -- kerosene or
some other kind of highly flammable materials on scene.
Q Have you had any indication that he had any
conference with the people inside and whether they were going along
with him on tragic things that might happen?
MS. MYERS: I would refer you back again to the FBI and
the Justice Department, who both said that they believe that there
was a good level of cooperation among many of the people that were
there. But, clearly, the children weren't in any position to make
those kinds of decisions, and it's absolutely tragic that so many of
them appear to have lost their lives today.
Q Dee Dee, can we expect the President to call Janet
Reno, the FBI Director, some of the other principals here at some
point to discuss this?
MS. MYERS: Oh, at some point I'm sure they'll talk. We
don't have any specific timetable on it, but --
Q Do you know what Mrs. Clinton's reaction was?
MS. MYERS: No, I haven't spoken to her today.
Q Would you repeat your answer on whether or not the
President mentioned a concern over a mass suicide to Janet Reno
yesterday? I didn't quite catch your response.
MS. MYERS: My response was that they talked and had an
exchange about it, but I wasn't going to talk about the specific
details of their conversation.
Q About Jonestown?
MS. MYERS: Correct -- about the details of their
Q No, but in that conversation, did he mention --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to talk about the specific
details of their conversation, was my answer.
Q Was the President under the impression that these
lives would all be lost if there were not a precipitant attack? Was
he given to understand this talk about Jonestown and so forth that
whether it's suicide or murder, that these people would have all
died, even if the FBI hadn't tried going in there today?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that anybody said specifically
that that was the case. But, clearly, there was reason to believe
that the children were danger, that the lives of the agents were
threatened. And I think clearly those things proved true today.
Q Well, just to clear it up, you're not going to talk
about the details, but did you confirm the Jonestown --
MS. MYERS: No, I just said I wasn't going to discuss
Q Can you give us some idea of what his involvement
-- Clinton's involvement has been today? I mean, he had this
conversation last night with Reno. He said okay. In other words, he
gave the okay to go ahead with this last night, is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q And then today, what conversations has he had with
Justice Department officials, ATF officials, anybody about the
MS. MYERS: He's been monitoring it throughout the day,
being briefed by staff members and monitoring news accounts. I don't
know what specific conversations he's had with Justice Department
Q Has he been briefed by White House staff or by
MS. MYERS: White House staff. And I believe he's had
-- again, I don't want to comment because I'm not sure what Justice
Department officials he may have spoken to.
Q If this group was an offshoot of the Seventh Day
Adventists, has anybody talked to the officials of the Seventh Day
Adventists about what they think might have been his motives or his
MS. MYERS: I don't know. You'd have to check with
Justice or FBI, I think.
Q How does this stack up in the history of tragedies
in this country?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if I want to characterize it
over the course of our history.
Q I know, but I mean has anybody officially,
historically checked that out as to --
MS. MYERS: In terms of numbers of deaths? I don't
believe so. I'm sure the media will take care of that over the next
Q Has the President, or any of you officials,
discussed this Waco thing with the CIA in any way? There was a wild
rumor a while back --
MS. MYERS: The President hasn't.
Q He has not?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q There was a wild rumor a while back that -- not
confirmed -- but there was a report by a former high level CIA man
that this thing started in Waco as a mind control experiment.
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't know the details of that. I
mean, David Koresh was clearly -- had some impact on some people's
minds. That goes without saying.
Q Has there been any public response -- I mean, has
the White House been bombarded with calls or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: No, I think people are paying attention to
this, obviously with some shock and horror, but we haven't noticed
any noticeable level of increase in phone calls.
Q With such a horrible event that the President
signed off on, why has he not talked to the Attorney General today or
the head of the FBI? Is that an effort to distance --
MS. MYERS: No. It's not.
Q Dee Dee, one more Waco question. Has the President
had any briefings on this prior to this weekend, do you know? Has he
had any personal involvement --
MS. MYERS: He's been kept current of the situation
there and is briefed regularly on the outcome, but not in terms of
the specific -- this specific plan.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END6:35 P.M. EDT
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