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Public Papers - 1991 - July

Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine

1991-07-12

The President. Good-bye. We'll get back so we don't get blown away.

Q. Come over here and talk to us.

The President. I don't want to get blown away over there either. [Laughter]

Arms Reductions Talks

Q. Mr. President, could you share with us your report from Secretary Baker on the talks?

The President. No, I can't. I'd refer you to General Scowcroft on that. But it's a little -- he felt they were leaning forward -- --

Japan-U.S. Relations

Q. A little supercollider talk this morning?

The President. Yes, that matter did come up. Yes, it did.

Q. Any pledges?

The President. No, but I think there was an interest, an interest in this. Hey, listen, I've got to go now. Heavy recreation coming up before we go abroad, so I've got to keep going.

Q. Mr. President, were you aware of the taped telephone conversation -- --

The President. No. And I'm not going to get into that at all.

Supreme Court Justice Nominee

Q. How about marijuana?

The President. What?

Q. Marijuana smoking by Thomas.

The President. How about it?

Q. Well, aren't you appalled?

The President. Well, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], I would ask all of us to examine our consciences on that. And I think the matter has been put in proper perspective, and I think he handled it very well, and certainly, in this instance, in these circumstances, in no way is disqualifying. And I was pleased most of the Senators that spoke out said the same thing.

Q. What about his expression of admiration for Farrakhan?

Central Intelligence Agency Director Nominee

Q. Has Gates told you about -- --

The President. Let me say something on the Gates matter. What are we coming to here? You're talking to somebody who had to prove his innocence -- me -- on the basis of rumor. It was alleged by people that we weren't sure who they were, that I was in Paris at some deal to keep Americans in captivity. That's what the allegation was against me. And I'm saying to myself, who's making these allegations? What's the evidence? What have we come to in this country where a man has to prove his innocence against some fluid, movable charge?

And now I'm thinking about Bob Gates. And I'm saying: What is all this about? Isn't the people that might be accusing him of something -- shouldn't it be their responsibility under the American sense of fairplay? I have full confidence in him. But what is this system where we hear through some leak in some newspaper that behind closed doors somebody has said something, and thus a lot of people run for cover?

I have confidence in Gates. And if somebody wants to accuse him of something, the Senate is absolutely right in getting that determination made and asking for the evidence, but they ought not to have it obscured by some testimony that's been going on for 4 years. They ought not to accept a rumor. They ought not to panic and run like a covey of quail because somebody has made an allegation against a man whose work I trust and who, as I understand it, hasn't been fingered by what's coming out of this process.

And so, I'm glad that this has come up again because I think what we're entitled to in this country is fairplay, innocence until guilty. And yes, the Senate has an obligation, but let's call these witnesses that are supposed to know something bad. Isn't Bob Gates entitled to that? I mean, why let them run for cover and say let's hang it out all over next summer? Now, if Gates wants to do that, that's fine. But if somebody asked me about it, I'd say, hey, get the men up there that are making these -- --

Q. We don't understand -- --

The President. Excuse me -- get the men up there that are making these allegations. Isn't that the American system of justice? What is it when we hear something leaked to a newspaper and we all run for cover because we're -- not me, because I know Bob Gates and I have total confidence in the man's integrity and honor. And if the Senate wants -- and the Senate, I think, now owes it to him to promptly call his accusers or those who they think -- who we understand from newspaper articles are supposedly making accusations against him. And don't let them stay under cover, ``well, we can't do that because we have this other ongoing testimony'' or some behind-closed-doors, what do they call these -- indictment proceedings going on. That's not the American way.

We sent this nomination up some time ago. And if everybody's going to get flustered and panic because of some allegation by some -- where we don't even know that the person is accusing him of anything -- all I'm saying is fairplay. The American -- --

Q. Do you think -- --

The President. May I finish? The American people understand fairplay. And I just hope the Senate will keep this in mind. I have no argument with Senator Boren, Senator Murkowski wanting to get to the bottom of it. But this idea that it will be served by leaving it out all summer -- you know and I know there will be questions every single day -- what about this allegation? What about that? All I'm saying is, from everything I've seen, yes, let's get to the bottom of it, but let's bring forward these people that are supposedly fingering him. Let's bring forward and let them stand there under oath before the Senate, as I think the Senate intends to do. But why wait? Why not -- this nomination has been there a long time, and now we're hearing that there's some process going on behind-closed-doors someplace by some witness who hasn't fingered Gates, but that's enough to hold this up.

If Bob Gates wants to hold it up, fine. If he says to me we want to delay it, fine. But other than that, let the American system of fairplay work. Let innocence until proved guilty be the guideline here. And let promptness -- we need a good -- a new Director to follow on an excellent Director, and we need it soon, to run this intelligence community.

So, that's my position. And I'm glad, Jim [Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News], that you raised it again because I really feel strongly about this. I just don't think it's the American way to bring a good man down by rumor and insinuation. That's not the system.

Q. Do you think it's Democrats in the Senate looking for a political issue?

The President. No, I don't think that. I honestly do not.

Q. There's none of that in there?

The President. Well, not as long as David Boren is chairman. He's not looking for an issue. Very candidly, I think he shares my high regard. If anyone else is, I don't know of it, and I don't think the Senate has come to that.

Q. What about Mitchell and the leadership?

The President. Well, I hope not, and I don't think so. I wouldn't accuse George Mitchell of that -- take a few zingers from him once in a while, but that's politics. But I'm not going to try to put a political tone on this thing. I think this is too serious a business. But what I do worry about is that there's some pusillanimity, faint-heartedness. You hear a rumor, and then you run for cover, get under the bush like a quail, and hope that you don't get flushed out for a while. That's not what this is about. We've got a man's honor and integrity on the line here.

And that's really why I wanted to turn around and answer the last question that I intend to answer, except for the one Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International] was shouting at me -- --

Q. What I was going to ask you is how is it possible to be the number two man in the CIA, have tapes from 1984, have, obviously, everything came across his desk -- --

The President. No, obviously, it might not have.

Q. Why?

The President. Well, because that's sometimes the way it works in a compartmented system. And for you to assume that it has, is exactly what I'm talking about. That's not fair. There is no evidence. You can raise a hypothetical question, but the man is entitled -- he's given his word on this previously. And that's the way I'd answer your question. And if it looks that way, fine, let the Senate get on it right now, and not me try to respond to a hypothetical question, the question challenging this man's honor and integrity right here. That's not the way it works.

Q. That's not the question. The question is, do you know what's going on in an Agency where you work topside?

The President. Sometimes you do, and if it's compartmented and the Director may have done something differently, maybe you don't. But that's a matter for the Senate to decide. Gates has already stated his view on that. And it is not for you or me, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], to suggest that the order is such that that's impossible. And that's what your question, fairly or unfairly, imputes to me. And when you ask it, and it goes out all across this country, you're raising doubts in the minds of the American people. You've got to do that; that's your job.

Q. I'm not doing that.

The President. You are. But that is your job, and you should to it --

Q. He should withdraw his nomination -- --

The President. -- -- and my view is he is entitled to fairness, and fairness is get on with it. Don't leave a person twisting out there because of a hypothetical situation of this nature.

Q. Should the independent prosecutor also get on with his investigation, sir? Because apparently -- --

The President. He's been on with it for 4 years. He ought to get on with it and off with it, in my view.

Q. Should he release the information that pertains to Mr. Gates?

The President. I wish he would. It's my understanding that he doesn't have any. But -- yes, that would be extraordinarily helpful. And I think the Senate should demand it. But they shouldn't hold it up based on some inquiry over here that's been going on 4 years. This is the intelligence community of the United States. I have nominated the best man for it. And it just distresses me to hear hypotheses raised that throw question on his integrity. And he's entitled to get it up with -- this thing's been up there for some time. Now along comes a story in a newspaper that a man might -- to -- what do you call it -- plea bargain in order to do something else, and we're asked to say this is bad for Bob Gates. It's not our system.

Q. Did you talk to Mr. Gates about this?

The President. No. No, I haven't in the last couple of days.

Q. To clear the air, Mr. President -- --

Alleged 1980 Hostage Deal

Q. Mr. Speaker, the President is moving on -- --

The President. Mr. Speaker? Come on. [Laughter]

Q. No, no. The Speaker is moving towards -- --

The President. The Speaker is moving. I'm President, he's Speaker. [Laughter] Remember that. [Laughter]

Q. I'll try.

The President. Just because you're from Texas and think of me entirely differently. [Laughter] Go ahead. What's the question?

Q. Never as Mr. Speaker. The Speaker is moving forward a formal committee investigation of the election deal charge.

The President. Fine. Fine.

Q. Is that all right with you?

The President. Absolutely. If he's got some evidence, and just so it's not pure politics.

Q. You don't think it's a -- --

The President. I've said that before.

Q. -- -- fishing expedition?

The President. Well, I wouldn't accuse the Speaker of that. The man -- he's another one that's -- too much integrity to be in that mode. I think he's in a difficult position. But let's see the evidence, bring it forth. If they're still charging that I was in Paris on October 20th, if it's that kind of case, fine. But the evidence is -- what happened -- you know, here's a good case. All this rumor, can't quite pin it down, but as Vice President, the President -- now President -- was supposed to have been in Paris in the month of October, specifically on October 20th. Who's accusing me? Well, nobody's really accusing you of it, but every paper's got it.

We come forth with evidence which includes almost minute-by-minute certification as to where I was, and then they say, well, maybe that's laid to rest, but somebody else is supposed to have been someplace else. Maybe the way to lay it to rest is through what Foley's talking about. And if he decides that, look, he'll have full cooperation from me. How long can you keep denying your knowledge or involvement on something that didn't happen, as far as I know? But maybe he's got some other evidence. But it just seems a little weird that it keeps going. You shoot down one thing, and somebody else raises another.

Q. Are you certain that Casey had no dealings that could be interpreted -- --

The President. I have no knowledge of what Casey can do, or did do. The man's dead. Let's have some more interviews with a dead man. You know what I mean? Get it? [Laughter]

Q. I think so. [Laughter]

Q. Mr. President, to clear -- --

The President. Hey, I've got to go fishing, it's much more important than doing this. Yes, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]? No.

Central Intelligence Agency Director Nominee

Q. Mr. President, to clear the air and get everything out in the open, could you order the release of the CIA telephone conversations?

The President. I'm leaving all this in the hands of the legal authorities and I am not going to intervene in a court proceeding. I am not a lawyer. I don't want to divert and have some 22-year-old prosecutor jump up and say that the President has -- [laughter] -- frustrated the process here. I don't know enough about that. You've got good lawyers that do. I don't know enough about scheduling or how evidence before grand juries work, and I'm disinclined to learn. But I do know a little something about fairplay. And I know how the American people feel about fairplay. And all I'm trying to say is, let's revert to that standard. Let's use that as the guide here and not get caught up in some niggling, legal point.

I'm seeing a man's character getting damaged, just as I felt mine was challenged when they said, hey, prove your innocence. You're guilty until innocent. Prove you weren't in Paris on -- whatever the hell it was -- October 20th. And here he went to the front yard at 10:22. He was at the so-and-so embassy at 10:27. He was so and so. And then finally, well, that one just fades away into the sunset and along comes a bunch of other allegations by unnamed people that you can't find and can't put your -- like reaching out and touching a handful of whipped cream, you can't get ahold of it. I don't want to -- I've been through it a little bit -- but I don't want to see Bob Gates, a man of honor and integrity, go through it anymore. That's all I'm trying to say.

Thank you. Have a neat day.

Soviet Union

Q. Did you get to look at Gorbachev's letter yet?

The President. Have a wonderful day. Well, we're getting briefed on it, yes.

Q. What do you think of it?

The President. It's a fantastic letter. [Laughter]

Q. What about the plan?

The President. And we've got some differences with it. Good letter.

Note: The session began at 10:03 a.m. on the lawn of the President's residence at Walker's Point, upon departure of Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan. In the session, the following persons were referred to: Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs; Clarence Thomas, nominee for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States; Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam; Robert M. Gates, Assistant to the President and Deputy for National Security Affairs, and nominee for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency; David L. Boren, chairman, and Frank H. Murkowski, vice chairman, of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence; Senate majority leader George J. Mitchell; Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley; and William J. Casey, President Reagan's 1980 campaign chairman. One question referred to the acquisition by Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh of tapes of telephone conversations between the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters and CIA agents in Central America. Robert M. Gates was Deputy Director of the CIA in 1986. Another question referred to reports of an effort by the Reagan-Bush Presidential campaign to keep Iran from freeing 52 American hostages just before the 1980 election.

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