Press Conference


Thursday, October 1, 1998

9:30 a.m.


(9:30 a.m.)

MR. HOLDER: Good morning.

Happy New Fiscal Year.


QUESTION: Did you spend wildly yesterday?

MR. HOLDER: The Deputy's Office kept well within its budget?


QUESTION: Is that right?

MR. HOLDER: I hope that's true.


MR. HOLDER: Check with my chief of staff if we have not.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, we were all up celebrating last night the new fiscal year.

Several weeks ago, the Attorney General told us that the Justice Department, as an institution, was looking at how to defend -- whether it had a role in defending the interests of the institution of the presidency as the impeachment process goes forward on Capitol Hill. What are the results of that review, can you tell us?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I think the process is an ongoing one. We are looking obviously at historical materials, trying to anticipate to the extent that we can the questions that might be posed to us. But I would say that the work is ongoing.

QUESTION: And is on the questions you are looking at, what is the traditional or constitutional interpretation of high crimes and misdemeanors?

MR. HOLDER: We looked at a variety of things. I would not want to focus on any one. But, as I said, the work of the very able lawyers in the Department continues.

QUESTION: How is this being undertaken? Is it being undertaken in one particular segment or branch of the Department?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I would say that it is being led by our Office of Legal Counsel. Those are the best and brightest within the Department, the people who traditionally deal with those kinds of issues. But it also involves people from other parts of the Department.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, on a related question. In the week of the President's grand jury testimony and in contrast between that and his earlier statements, have you or any other presidential appointee in the building discussed the possibility of resignation?

MR. HOLDER: I am sorry, resignation? No. No.

QUESTION: I was thinking, in your position particularly, with your background as a judge, and from the office you were in in the Department, and now your present position, if it does not give you some trouble with regard to what people's responsibilities are when they are under oath.

MR. HOLDER: I really would not want to comment on what essentially is an ongoing matter. But there has not been any discussion within the Department among all the political appointees I have talked with -- any notion of resignation.

QUESTION: Sir, with just a week left in this Congress and no discernible movement on any major juvenile violence legislation, might the country be better off if you just canned it for this time and started with the new Congress instead of getting something -- trying to ram something through that might not be acceptable?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I certainly think that we want to make sure that whatever bill is passed and whenever it is passed is one that is considered, is one that has in it the three things, or the four things, that we consider absolutely essential. And that is balancing prevention with accountability, ensuring that children are kept separate from adults while in custody, working to keep kids away from guns, and ensuring that the $95 million that the President has proposed for prevention be included in any measure that is passed.

If something like that could be passed relatively quickly, I think I would support that. If those measures are not included in anything that Congress is considering, I think we should not pass that legislation.

QUESTION: A question on terrorism preparedness. A number of fire and rescue officials have expressed some concerns about -- (off microphone) -- in terms of allocation of responsibilities. What do you say to those concerns? And where are we in terms of preparing for some sort of advance in terrorism preparedness?

MR. HOLDER: Well, this is obviously of great concern to us in the administration, people at the National Security Council and people at the Justice Department, the Defense Department and other agencies, who are all working together to try to ensure that if in fact there is such an incident we are prepared to respond to it. We are working with our State and local counterparts in that regard and it is receiving the highest-level attention in the administration.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, can you tell us personally your -- well, can you tell us how Ms. Reno is doing? Has she been strong and showed her normal vitality since she got back from the hospital? And, I guess third, I would ask you, is this illness possibly not an illness, but a stress-related matter based on all the stress and strain she has undergone in the last nine months?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I am not a doctor, but I will opine about some medical things anyway. I do not think it is related necessarily to the stress and strains, as you put it, of the ongoing matters that we have had to consider. I personally would prefer to see the Attorney General take some more time off. She has had a number of vacations that she has either cancelled or, I think, unnecessarily shortened. And I think, frankly, that she needs to take a little better care of herself.

I am not exactly sure what was the precipitating cause of the incident on Sunday. We are obviously concerned about her health. There is no indication as far as I can see, however, that her abilities are in any way diminished. She remains strong. She remains very able. And, if anything, she is probably wearing us out.

QUESTION: Is she open to doing just that, taking more time off for her own personal needs?

MR. HOLDER: She is at times a reasonable person on most things. She is stubborn in others. And on this one, I have been -- it is just hard to move her, but I am going to redouble my efforts.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, with regard to the Maria Shaw ruling, is the Department concerned that this could have a spill-over effect on other campaign financing cases and channel that to others?

MR. HOLDER: I guess the potential is there for that. We are looking now to decide whether or not we want to appeal, and this is a matter that is being considered within the Department, to see if there is a basis for us to appeal that case. If there were an appeal, obviously the outcome of that would have an effect, or could have an effect, on other matters.

QUESTION: If it stands, would it have -- just stands unappealed -- would that also have an impact on other matters?

MR. HOLDER: It could. But, as I said, we are in the process of deciding whether or not we are going to appeal.

QUESTION: How would you rate the 105th Congress on the matters of criminal justice that the Department considers most important?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I think we have done a pretty good job working with Congress. We have talked about a number of things. I am not certain that I could point to any one specific thing that has either troubled me or given me great pleasure. But I think we have done a good job in working with them about matters that were of concern to us here at Justice.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, for the second time, I think, in a year the Department has three independent counsel referrals working at once. Does your volume of that work pose a stretch into the Attorney General's work in the same way that you were talking about earlier with respect to stress?

MR. HOLDER: It seems to expand her days. Most of us have days that last about 24 hours. Hers tend to last I think a little longer than that. I would not say it is a distraction. I mean that is a part of what we are sworn to do -- to look at that very important statute and to make important determinations. So I would not count it as a distraction. It is obviously something that has taken up a substantial portion of her time, as well as mine and other people in the Department.

QUESTION: Do you expect to take the entire 90 days on each of these?

MR. HOLDER: I hope not. It would be my hope that the people on the Campaign Finance Task Force and the people in the Public Integrity Section would be able to resolve those things short of the 90 days.

QUESTION: Do you think they will decide them all at the same time or --

MR. HOLDER: There is not a grand plan here. I think we will decide them when each is due, whenever they are done.

QUESTION: A follow-up question about the Maria Shaw appeal. It is interesting, because the indictment brought yesterday against Mark Jiminez continues to charge false statement counts in the same manner as the Shaw and the other earlier indictment. So this potentially is yet another case that could be affected by Judge Friedman's ruling if you do not appeal. Was there any thought given to maybe not writing this most recent indictment in the same way given his ruling?

MR. HOLDER: Well, obviously we took everything into account in deciding what would be included in the indictments. And maybe that action we took yesterday says something.

QUESTION: Do the lawyers get another opportunity to come back in and lobby or explain why there should not be an independent counsel at the end of the 90-day period?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I guess I would say that we probably have an ongoing dialogue with all the lawyers who represent people who have been or are involved in independent counsel matters. We want to make sure that we have as much information as we can before we decide to seek or not seek an independent counsel. So there are times when lawyers come in, but there are also times when phone calls are simply made to check on things. And I would say that that dialogue is probably ongoing.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, what would you say to the claim by Ms. Shaw's attorney that most of the prosecutions involving campaign finance has overwhelmingly involved minorities?

MR. HOLDER: Well, I would have to look at our list of I guess 12 -- 11 or 12 indictments now to see if in fact that is true. But if in fact that is the case, our decisions have nothing to do with the race or ethnicity of the defendants. We have looked at the cases and made prosecutive determinations based on the facts and based on the law as we saw it, without regard to who the defendants were.

QUESTION: Mr. Holder, allegations against Tom DeLay are now being reviewed by the Campaign Finance Task Force. Can you give us some sense of when that review is going to end or --

MR. HOLDER: I really would not want to comment on that.

QUESTION: How about the continuing investigation of Chairman Dan Burton - is the Department ready to charge Chairman Burton or the Campaign Finance Task Force?

MR. HOLDER: I would not comment on that one either.

One more.

QUESTION: How about Haley Barbour?

MR. HOLDER: That's the hat trick; I would not comment on that one either.


QUESTION: Are you acknowledging, though, that there is something on the way?

MR. HOLDER: Now, what goes beyond a hat trick?

No, I would not comment on it. I would not comment.

QUESTION: Well, it has been widely reported that Tony Sutin sent a letter up to the Hill, saying thank you for this referral, the Campaign Finance Task Force will take a look at it. Are they just looking -- are they just reviewing, or is it part now of their investigation?

MR. HOLDER: Whenever we receive an allegation we initially have to decide whether or not it is appropriate to conduct an investigation and, at that point, then actually do the investigation or decide not to investigate. And I would not comment further than that.

QUESTION: Pan Am 103. The deal is on the table for the Libyans, and they keep adding stipulations, keep trying to change the deal. Are they poisoning the deal themselves so that it is not going to be possible to go forward with any trials in The Netherlands of the two suspects, or do you have anything to add?

MR. HOLDER: There are a few things that we have said are nonnegotiable, among them being if there were convictions, the time would have to be served in a Scottish prison. There is an ongoing -- I think we have to question the sincerity of the people on the other side.

QUESTION: But they have in fact said that they would not, if convicted, let their people serve in Scotland, England or the United States. And that is a deal-breaker?

MR. HOLDER: We have said, as I indicated, that there are certain things that are nonnegotiable, and that is one of them.

QUESTION: What are the other things?

MR. HOLDER: Why don't I leave it there for now.

QUESTION: What is the thinking behind the Scottish or British stipulations as to time served?

MR. HOLDER: As to time served?

QUESTION: Yes. Why is that so important that they serve their time in prison in that country or in the West?

MR. HOLDER: Well, that is where the offense occurred. That is where the greatest physical damage occurred, where the greatest loss of life -- where the loss of life occurred. It would seem to me to be wholly inappropriate for a sentence to be served any place other than there.

QUESTION: Is there an expectation, an additional expectation, that if they were to serve time elsewhere they would be harder to superintend?

MR. HOLDER: I am not sure that is a concern. There are all kinds of ways things can be -- you can construct things to try to deal with those kinds of concerns. But it just seems to me that given the nature of the crime, where the crime occurred, that is the appropriate place for any sentence to be served.

QUESTION: Does it appear that in fact the Libyans may be incriminating themselves by a priori concern about where they are going to serve time, and assuming they will be convicted?

MR. HOLDER: I would not want to talk about I guess it would be a potentially pending matter.

QUESTION: Is there any investigation of the three U.S. agents whose names and phone numbers turned up in the phone book of the Mexican drug dealers?

MR. HOLDER: Yes, we are looking at those agents.

QUESTION: Are they going to undergo lie detector tests, and are they going to be treated in the way that the Mexican agents have been treated?

MR. HOLDER: It would be my expectation that we would treat them the same way we treat our Mexican partners.

Thank you.

(Whereupon, at 9:47 a.m., the press conference concluded.)