UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

Press Availability

ERIC HOLDER, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL




Thursday, February 5, 1998

9:30 a.m.








P R O C E E D I N G S

(9:30 a.m.)

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR. HOLDER: Good morning.;

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, can you tell us anything about the scope of the FBI resources being committed to, number one, approaching the material witness in the Alabama bombing; and, number two, just investigating the case?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I would not really comment on the exact numbers of people involved, other than to say that the investigation is being coordinated by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham. They are in touch with other U.S. Attorneys' Offices around the country, as well as ATF offices and FBI offices. It is truly a joint investigation.

QUESTION: Has any conclusion been reached on whether this bombing is connected with the string of bombings recently in Atlanta?

MR. HOLDER: No, I really wouldn't comment on that. I mean, this is an ongoing investigation, and we're pursuing all the leads that are available to us.

QUESTION: It's a little unusual, isn't it, to say this man, Mr. Rudolph, is only a witness, but, then, for the FBI to warn people not to approach him because he might be dangerous?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I'd characterize that as unusual. I mean, I think what the FBI has done is appropriate under the circumstances. But I want to emphasize we view him at this point as nothing more than a material witness.

QUESTION: Do you know -- Rosario Green -- (off microphone) --

MR. HOLDER: There were a variety of issues discussed. Part of the meeting was really just a get-to-know-one-another meeting. It was the first visit by the Minister. But a variety of issues that we have had discussions with officials from the Mexican Government before -- extradition, mutual law enforcement concerns. It was a good meeting.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, with regard to Rosario Green, she announced two nights ago that the two nations, U.S. and Mexico, were developing a strategy to counter the drug cartels. Specifically, the announcement will be made tomorrow. Can you say anything at all about that strategy? Will it, do you think, work to break up the cartels?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I would not want to comment on any pending announcements. I would say that we work very closely with our law enforcement counterparts in Mexico. A substantial part of our efforts are directed at breaking up the cartels that have had such a negative effect on the lives of ordinary Mexicans and ordinary Americans. And those efforts are continuing.

QUESTION: Do you expect that the cooperation will change in a significant way that will allow this issue to be successfully addressed?

MR. HOLDER: I'm not sure I'd say necessarily change. I mean, the relationship we have is a dynamic one. We try to identify problems as they exist, and then try to modify the tactics that we use so that we respond to those new problems.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, was the judge's leniency in the case of the alleged American assassin -- (off microphone) -- was that discussed at all at the meeting?

MR. HOLDER: No, that was not a topic that was discussed yesterday.

QUESTION: Is there any discussions ongoing about that at any level that you could tell us about?

MR. HOLDER: No. I would not want to get into the specifics of any discussions other than what I perhaps have just said. But we have a variety of things we talk about and will continue to talk about.

QUESTION: You characterized it as good, though, the exchange yesterday. What was good or positive about it?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, I thought that the tone was certainly a good one. And then, with regard to specific issues, I think there is a wide range of issues upon which we agree, in terms of how we are going to approach things in those areas we have identified as problems -- with areas -- a commitment to try to work out those problems. And for those reasons I would characterize the meeting as a good one.

QUESTION: Executive privilege seems to be the legal term of the week that everyone is studying. Can you tell us the situations in which it is usually invoked and when it is not?

MR. HOLDER: Well, that is a pretty wide-ranging hypothetical. And I think I will probably be like the Attorney General, I do not really deal in hypotheticals.

QUESTION: Where is the Department now in its examination of the specific question of whether Secret Service agents should have to respond to Starr's subpoena, if any?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, it is not an issue that we have had to squarely face at this point. And if at some point we have, you know, we are prepared to do that.

QUESTION: By facing, do you mean fight it or decide whether to fight it?

MR. HOLDER: I mean, we have to look at the issue as it might be presented to us, and decide what involvement the Justice Department would have, if any, what positions we might advance on behalf of the government, the Treasury Department. But it is not an issue that we have been asked to face at this point.

QUESTION: Does the Treasury have the authority to fight that itself, or does it need the Justice Department to do it on its behalf?

MR. HOLDER: Well, again, you kind of get into a hypothetical there. And it would depend on a variety of things. But, I mean, generally, the Justice Department, we are the lawyers for the government. I mean, I can say that generally. But you cannot, from that general statement, assume that in a specific case we might do one thing as opposed to another part of the government.

QUESTION: So, in other words, the Department has not yet decided what it would do when faced with the likelihood?

MR. HOLDER: Yes, as I say, we have not formulated any hard and fast positions at this point.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, has the OLC ever been asked to provide an opinion on whether a Secret Service agent can be required to testify about the President, about the personal affairs of the President?

MR. HOLDER: I honestly do not know. I just do not know.

QUESTION: Do you know if anybody in the OLC has researched this issue in anticipation of a hypothetical request, from either the White House or the Office of the Independent Counsel, on the issue?

MR. HOLDER: In anticipation of a whole variety of things, the people in OLC are researching a whole bunch of things that ultimately never -- they never have to get involved in. So I would not go much further than that.

QUESTION: But isn't there some formal effort underway in the Department with a number of attorneys researching the question on the Secret Service at this time?

MR. HOLDER: I would not say that. I would not say there are a whole bunch of people researching that issue, no.

QUESTION: How many is a bunch?

MR. HOLDER: A bunch? A bunch would be less than 25, more than four. Something like that.

QUESTION: (Off microphone) -- none of the Secret Service agents have been subpoenaed yet -- (off microphone) -- whether or not -- (off microphone) --

MR. HOLDER: This is an ongoing matter and I would not want to comment about where subpoenas are. There are a whole variety of things that would have to be considered before the Justice Department would become involved and then before the Justice Department would decide what position it might advance on behalf of a component of the government.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, the return of Charlie Trie seems to have brought -- seems to be eliciting praise from some of the people who were harshly critical of this Department for failing to appointing the Independent Counsel. Is this kind of a big shot in the arm for the task force? How would you characterize the reaction to Charlie Trie's return?

MR. HOLDER: You mean within the task force?

QUESTION: Within the task force and also from outside.

MR. HOLDER: Well, I mean, I think the people in the task force are dogged in their determination to get at the facts and to hold people who are responsible -- hold them accountable. And in that way, I do not think that there was any huge lift from the return of Mr. Trie, or from the indictment. You know, that's what we do here at the Justice Department.

And with regard to how that affects other people's perception of how we do our job, that does not matter really one way or the other. The criticisms do not bother us an awful lot, and the praise is not going to affect us an awful lot either. Although I have got to say that I would rather read positive things in the newspapers than negatives.

QUESTION: Is he cooperating with Justice?

MR. HOLDER: I cannot comment on that.

QUESTION: On the subject of China, Mr. Trie allegedly has said to have been working for the Government of China in some way. Mr. Lee, a Pentagon employee, in other cases of PRC-inspired espionage, has been cited by the Director -- the week before last -- saying that this was just the tip of a large and dangerous intelligence iceberg. Many intelligence officials are increasingly alarmed by the Chinese intelligence activities.

Would you personally agree that the PRC is very active in intelligence gathering in this country, and other influencing?

MR. HOLDER: I really would not comment on that. I would not comment on that. There has been a little too much talk, it seems to me, and I am not referring to what you have just mentioned there. But it seems to me that there has been a lot -- way too much in the newspapers about what this government is about in terms of its intelligence -- counterintelligence activities. And I think everybody would be well advised not to talk about that. Because, I mean, that is kind of the nature of counterintelligence -- you do not talk about it in public.

QUESTION: But the Chinese have adamantly denied that they have any kind of intelligence activities in this country. And in fact, they say that we are spying on them. But that is just not true, is it? There is an awful lot of speak no evil, see no evil here. Can't you even respond to Mr. Freeh's comment?

MR. HOLDER: No, I would not comment on that.

QUESTION: Who is talking too much about intelligence and counterintelligence?

MR. HOLDER: I am not totally sure. One can read the newspapers over the last few months, though, and see that there has been way too much discussion of those kinds of things from government sources, law enforcement officials. And that has bothered me. It has disturbed me a great deal.

QUESTION: Going back on Birmingham for a moment. The Federal agencies involved in that investigation have sent a notice around to abortion clinics, telling them to be on the lookout for either a potted plant or a stuffed animal or a box of candy. Is that because the investigators in Birmingham do not really know what the bomb down there was disguised like, so they do not really know what to tell people to be -- I mean, that's quite a variety of things you would be warned to look out for -- are they still not sure what the Birmingham bomb was disguised to look like?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I would not want to comment on that ongoing investigation. But I think it is incumbent upon us to share, to the extent that we can with those people who might be at risk, whatever information we have so that we can -- again, to the extent that we can -- that we can protective of them -- help them protect themselves. And it was for that reason that information was shared with the clinics.

QUESTION: I guess what I am asking is, if you tell someone to look out for something that looks either like a potted plant or a box of candy or a teddy bear or a stuff animal, that is a pretty wide variety of things. Is there no way to be more specific?

MR. HOLDER: I think --

QUESTION: I guess what I am asking is, why can't they be more specific? Is it because they do not really know what the thing in Birmingham looked like?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I think that is pretty specific. I mean, if, you know, you consider the range of things that a bomb could look like -- you have mentioned only three things there -- so I think that is fairly specific.

QUESTION: Can you tell us when the next Campaign Finance Task Force action might occur, do you have some idea of a schedule at this point?

MR. HOLDER: No, not really. I mean, I've said this a lot, but the investigation is ongoing. People are very busy in the task force. And when we are ready for the next step, you know, it will be taken.

QUESTION: Can you say why the matter of Larry Lawrence is being looked at by the Campaign Finance Task Force?

MR. HOLDER: I would not comment on that.

QUESTION: It must mean that there is some living people whose activity is under scrutiny, right? Since the principle himself is --(Off microphone) --

MR. HOLDER: Well, I said I would not comment. I would not -- that does not mean I accept the premise of the question; I just would not comment on that.

QUESTION: What are the circumstances on which Charlie Trie notified the government that he wanted to come back and, hey, meet me at the airport? Can you give us some of the details about the surrender?

MR. HOLDER: Well, not really, other than to say that, you know, people in the task force worked with Mr. Trie's lawyers to facilitate his reentry into the country.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, do you know what the effective date is of when the Independent Counsel Act is scheduled to expire? Is it June or December of next year?

MR. HOLDER: I believe it is the middle part of next year. I am pretty sure about that. I am not 100 percent sure, but I am pretty sure it is the middle part of next year.

QUESTION: And what will be the procedure by which the Department will take a position on renewal of that? I mean, I know that is a long way off, but the Department has always said it did not really want to comment while there was pending investigations. The law, of course, says if there is an investigation going on, it can continue even though the law expires.

How would you -- you will take a position -- I assume the Department will take a position when that time comes?

MR. HOLDER: Yes. I mean, I suspect what would happen is that we would get the involved components within the Department -- simply kind of a general question, you know, we have been working with this law for a number of years now; how do you think we ought to modify it, change it. Are there provisions of the law that we think are good and ought to be maintained. Put that all in the hopper, and then come up with a Justice Department position.

QUESTION: Is there a position yet on whether the law should continue with some modifications? Because some have said maybe it should just expire. Does the Department have a view at least on that fundamental issue?

MR. HOLDER: No. The discussions really have been, at this stage, really, really, really, really very preliminary, and not even ones that I would characterize as official. People are really just kind of expressing personal opinions, and nothing at this point has really been advanced in what will be a more systematic effort.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, are you and the Attorney General considering any request for an Independent Counsel now involving the President or the Vice President?

MR. HOLDER: No.

QUESTION: There have been no recent specific requests?

MR. HOLDER: No.

QUESTION: Could you react to reports in today's Washington Times that a CIA report has fingered the Interior Ministry of Mexico, Mr. LaBastida Ochoa, as having had contacts and continues to have contacts with international drug gangs? Have you heard that report?

MR. HOLDER: I would not comment on that.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR. HOLDER: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

MR. HOLDER: A slow day, you know. A slow day.

(Whereupon, at 9:46 a.m., the press conference concluded.)