Vincent Foster's hard drive found?

No, not really. (Har har.)

But there's a big fuss lately about Hillary Clinton's White House records being held back by "archivists" working in Little Rock, Arkansas:

LITTLE ROCK, ARK --Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton cites her experience as a compelling reason voters should make her president, but nearly 2 million pages of documents covering her White House years are locked up in a building here, obscuring a large swath of her record as first lady.

Clinton's calendars, appointment logs and memos are stored at her husband's presidential library, in the custody of federal archivists who do not expect them to be released until after the 2008 presidential election.

[...]

Before documents are released, archives staff must read them and, by law, must redact material that they determine contains classified information, invades a person's privacy, reveals trade secrets, reveals confidential advice from presidential advisors or raises other concerns specified in the records law.

Asked how long it might be before Hillary Clinton's records are released, the library's chief archivist said it could take years.

"We're processing as fast as we can," Melissa Walker said.

Not fast enough, in the view of some who have been waiting. A conservative watchdog group called Judicial Watch filed suit against the National Archives last month, demanding the release of Hillary Clinton's diaries, telephone logs, daily planners and schedules. In the 1990s, the group filed suits against the Clinton administration that led to revelations about fundraising practices, including Democratic campaign donors being tapped for official trade missions. In the most recent suit, Judicial Watch said it had submitted its request more than a year ago and had received nothing, save for confirmation that the library possessed "a substantial volume" of such papers.

Staffing pressures have prevented the National Archives from keeping up with an expanding workload. In 2002, the agency employed 334 archivists. This year, the number is down to 301. That 10% drop came during a period when the National Archives assumed jurisdiction over two more presidential libraries: those of Clinton and Richard Nixon.

Some of the material might be of interest to Democratic candidates running against Hillary right now:
The healthcare papers that have been released contain gaps when it comes to the part played by Hillary Clinton. A number of records involving her have been kept secret because they include confidential advice between presidential aides. Among the withheld documents are memos about meetings between Hillary Clinton and Democratic Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Joseph R. Biden Jr. -- now her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Other records kept from public view include a 1993 memo to the first lady entitled "positioning ourselves on healthcare," and another from that year called "public portrayal of the Medicare program."

With an election looming, the least they could do is let the public have access to crucial data. (I have a feeling that most of the laws related to presidential archives never contemplated a return to the White House by the same first family.)

At the risk of sounding like a mad-dog conspiracy theorist, I'd still like to know whatever happened to Vincent Foster's disappearing "now you see it, now you don't" hard drive. (I realize it's probably not as historically interesting as Nixon's "eighteen minute gap," but I just don't like it when reports contradict each other and then disappear. For years I thought the hard drive had been "accidentally destroyed" -- fascinating in itself. I admit it; bumbling coverups excite me even more than the complex conspiracy theories they inevitably generate.)

And what about the mysterious "White House Data Base" (aka WhoDB)? There's no question it existed; the unresolved argument was over its purpose.

Come on archivists! The Clinton White House archives don't involve a musty old library full of crumbling tomes which eventually might be of interest to historians and scholars. This stuff is alive, unsettled, unsettling -- and directly relevant to what promises to be one of the most controversial and protracted elections in history.

Here's William Safire, writing in the Times in 1997:

You'll soon be hearing more about "Hillary's List"--an unprecedented abuse of Federal power in political fund-raising.

Officially called the White House Data Base (WhoDB), this computerized list of 355,000 names was compiled over the past four years at taxpayer expense to help the Clintons raise money to stay in power.

This political cybercorruption was directed from the top: "Both the President and the First Lady have asked me to make this my top priority," wrote White House aide Marsha Scott on Dec. 7, 1993. "Bruce [Lindsey] will be kept fully informed."

Fifteen months later, Mrs. Clinton's personal involvement in building her base is documented in a staff memo to Ms. Scott: "During the demo the First Lady mentioned that she would like to see the Miles Rubin rapid response list in the database."

Everybody who got favors or gave money was inputted.

Lincoln bedroom overnighters, Democratic National Committee fat cats in the Kennedy Center box, private guests at radio talks -- all are still going in at a rate of 10,000 a month, many with children's names, dietary restrictions, special interests, and almost all with Social Security numbers and addresses.

Never has technology been married to power greed to produce such political gain.

Despite an early planner's assurance that the data base was "government property and cannot be given to or used by a campaign entity," its central purpose has been fund-raising, and it has been wrongfully used by D.N.C.- paid White House "volunteers" to get payment for Clinton favors bestowed.

Representative David McIntosh told NBC's Lisa Myers "the taxpayer was fleeced"; his committee will focus on how Erskine Bowles built the Mailing List From Hell. But misappropriating $1.5 million to match donors with favors is not all.

What has gone unremarked is the rape of individual privacy.

Coded notations on thousands of files indicate whether somebody on the WhoDB is black, Jewish, Catholic, Hispanic, of Ukrainian or Chinese or other ethnic descent. You want a printout of Italian Jews from California who are gay and got a Clinton holiday greeting? Just click on the demographic icon and cross the religious and ethnicity fields.

If you are in her data base, you may think that surely your file, containing private information about race and religion that universities and companies are prohibited from collecting about you, will be denied to anybody outside the White House.

You may be mistaken. Clinton lawyers have written Congress repeatedly that "the Privacy Act [5 U.S.C. 552a] does not apply" to the White House Office.

Unless successfully challenged, that means that the data will go on to the Clinton Library in 2001. There it will be available to all.

Available to all?

When do I get to see it? (For starters, I'd like to know if my name's in there, because I sent the Clintons a lot of letters in that period, and they have to be somewhere.... And I'm willing to allow the rape of whatever remnants of individual privacy might still remain.)

You'll soon be hearing more about "Hillary's List."

William Safire sure was prescient back in 1997.

So prescient that he also said this:

Ah, but maybe some upright archivist will insist the vulnerable half- million listees be protected from scholars, journalists, reformers and right-wing kooks.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I wonder. Could Safire have seen what was coming?

Well, maybe not exactly, because if he had, he would have said this:

Ah, but maybe some upright archivist will insist the vulnerable half- million listees and Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential Campaign be protected from scholars, journalists, reformers, right-wing kooks, and bloggers.
But considering he was writing ten years ago, I think Safire did quite well.

posted by Eric on 08.14.07 at 09:11 AM










Comments

The most ethical administration in history

bandit   ·  August 14, 2007 3:04 PM

Hmmmmm.

Does Hillary actually *have* any expectation of Executive Privilege in her discussions with White House aides? She wasn't elected, isn't part of the Executive Branch and doesn't have any official position in the White House.

memomachine   ·  August 15, 2007 1:28 PM

This was discussed extensively in 1998, but I'm not sure the questions were ever settled:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/white_house/jan-june98/executive_3-24.html

C. BOYDEN GRAY: [...] I think there could be a potential problem there if--which came up in the--in the health care task force area, where she was claiming to be a public employee for purposes of the health care task force. And that created certain problems, and this could create also certain problems for the White House. But this is an untested theory. This is totally untested, the theory as to whether the First Lady can be included as staff for purposes of a claim of privilege of this kind.
There's also this:

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/dorf/20020206.html

...no case to this point holds that executive privilege applies to conversations between Executive officials and persons outside the government, such as corporate officers of Enron and other companies.
The closest the courts have come to extending the privilege to such discussions was in the 1993 decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, Inc. v. Hillary Clinton. That case raised the question whether the Federal Advisory Committee Act ("FACA") applied to the health-care-reform panel chaired by then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. And that question, in turn, depended on whether the First Lady is, or is not, an officer or employee of the government.
Under FACA, if a person who is not an officer or employee of the government is a member of a government group, then the group's proceedings must be open to the public. The health-care-reform panel had kept its proceedings private, so if the First Lady was not a government officer or employee, it had broken the law. Fortunately for the Clinton Administration, however, the court held that the First Lady is indeed an officer or employee of the government, and FACA thus did not apply.
The court strained the statutory language in order to reach this conclusion - but why? The answer is that a contrary result--to be precise, a finding that the statute's requirement of public meetings applied to the health-care-reform panel--would have raised a difficult constitutional question. And, under a well-established principle of legal interpretation, courts construe statutes in order to avoid difficult constitutional questions. The D.C. Circuit applied that principle in this case.
It would not surprise me if Hillary argues in favor of the theory when it favors her -- and against it when it doesn't!
Anonymous   ·  August 15, 2007 2:29 PM

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