Fred Lucas | Staff Writer | Friday, December 14, 2007
The bulk of the 29 records released to the public, out of more than 300 Freedom of Information Requests made to the library in Little Rock, Ark., also pertain to mundane issues such as an audio recording of President Bill Clinton being interviewed by news anchor Tom Brokaw, photos of a surprise birthday party for President Clinton at the White House and photos of the president and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
This comes at a time when at least one legal group and several news organizations are seeking more access to library records that pertain to Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's time in the White House as first lady and when her Democratic opponents would like to know what role she played in both the policy and ethical lapses of the Clinton White House.
Under the Presidential Records Act, presidential records are public records. But many are complaining about the Clinton library's lack of progress in making relevant records available to the public. The library opened in 2004, and the records became subject to the Freedom of Information Act in January 2006.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative legal group suing the National Archives and Records Administration to gain access to documents pertaining to Hillary Clinton's White House years, believes the agency should prioritize the release of certain requests based on the national interest.
"They say first come first serve, but letters to Socks (the Clinton White House cat) shouldn't be a principle priority for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests," Fitton told Cybercast News Service.
"They need to take into account the public interest in releasing the documents. Given that we have a presidential candidate, they need to be more responsive to requests about Ms. Clinton," he added.
Only six personnel are working on the requests of more than 10.5 million pages of documents, said National Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper. She said it's not the role of a government agency to prioritize one request over another.
"Who is to say what is the most important?" Cooper said in an interview. "Would you want the archives to decide that your request is not as important as CBS's request or The New York Times' request? We don't feel we can make that kind of judgment."
Neither former President Clinton's office in New York nor the presidential campaign office of Sen. Clinton responded to inquiries for this story.
In an interview with C-Span late last month, the former president said, "The public has to know they're not my records. They belong to and are under the jurisdiction of the archives."
Clinton further said, "Some members of the press and people in the political community who are on the other side of Hillary - which they have every right to be - are taking the position that because she's running for president, all the rules should be suspended and they should get what they want, and they should get it now, whether we go through the regular process of the archives or not."
Nearly 2 million pages of documents about Sen. Clinton's time as first lady are locked away and in the custody of archivists that don't anticipate the records will be released until after the 2008 presidential race, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Also, Newsweek reported that former President Clinton instructed National Archives to tightly control the disclosure of communications directly between the president and first lady.
The Judicial Watch suit for the records is specifically seeking Clinton's calendar, her daily office diary, schedule, day planner, telephone log book, and chronological file.
In the complaint, the group says, "Given Mrs. Clinton's current status as a presidential candidate, if not the front-runner for the Democratic Party's nomination, the public interest in her tenure as First Lady is undeniable.
"Because Mrs. Clinton seeks our nation's highest office and may well be the next President of the United States, the public interest weighs heavily in favor of enjoining the Library from continuing to withhold the records at issue," the group added.
In a court filing last month for the suit, the National Archives said that 10,000 pages of Hillary Clinton's daily schedule records will be processed by the end of January 2008. But then it must be reviewed by Bruce Lindsey, CEO of the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation and former White House aide.
From there, the Bush White House has the option of reviewing the documents before release.
But the archives can't provide a date certain as to when the agency can process 20,000 pages of telephone log books. The agency also said in the court papers it "cannot provide a production schedule" for the release of the documents to the public.
Documents such as the first lady's schedules could shed light on what role if any Mrs. Clinton played in White House scandals such as Whitewater, cattle futures, covering up the affair her husband had with intern Monica Lewsinsky and firings in the White House travel office, Fitton said.
Perhaps the most meaningful release from the library thus far were photos from Dec. 22, 2000, at the White House when Grand Rabbi David Twersky met with President Bill Clinton and then Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton along with other community leaders from the New Square village in New York.
These photos played into the Clinton pardon scandal, where about 140 pardons were issued to politically connected people or wealthy contributors, which occurred just before Clinton left office in January 2001.
Four Hasidic men from New Square - Benjamin Berger, Jacob Elbaum, David Goldstein and Kalmen Stern - were convicted by the federal government for starting a phony religious school with a fake student body and defrauding the government by taking millions in federal education grants.
The village voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2000 U.S. Senate race. Sen. Clinton denied any role in the clemency but admitted in 2001 she was present at the White House meeting.
Federal investigators sought to determine if there was a link between the pardons and the village delivering the vote for Clinton but found no proof of wrongdoing.
When an FOIA request comes in, it goes into a file, Cooper said. When the request comes up next in the order it was received, the archivist searches for it in a database and finds all documents that are germane. Archivist then must clear the records of any privacy concerns, national security concerns and trade secrets, she said.
"Once the records are ready, we notify the representative of the former president, that's Mr. Lindsey," Cooper said. "He makes a special trip out to Little Rock and will sit in the research room and look at the records. After he has approved of the release, the release then goes to the current White House for them to look at. And after that, the records are ready to be shipped out."
Fitton called the National Archives' claim of not having adequate resources to comply with the bulk of FOIA requests a "common excuse" among government agencies.
"The Clintons are withholding broad swaths of documents," Fitton said. "He (Bill Clinton) doesn't have to review these documents. Bruce Lindsey does not have to go through to make sure Social Security numbers and addresses are taken out. Archives staff already does that."
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