The Senate Whitewater committee voted Friday to subpoena meeting notes the White House has sought fiercely to withhold under the attorney-client privilege, paving the way for a constitutional battle likely to be waged in court.
Voting 10 to 8 on party lines, the panel decided to seek notes of a Nov. 5, 1993, meeting between White House aides and private attorneys representing President and Hillary Rodham Clinton. The meeting’s purpose, according to a White House spokesman, was for White House officials who had been doing damage control on the budding Whitewater investigation to “pass the torch” to Williams & Connolly lawyer David Kendall.
Republicans said the meeting is potentially at the crux of one of the issues they are investigating: What use the White House made of information it improperly obtained from federal agencies that were conducting criminal investigations touching on the Clintons. The committee has been looking into whether White House officials used confidential information to try to protect the Clintons from exposure in probes of a failed Arkansas thrift and a loan company backed by the Small Business Administration.
“This information could be central to this entire investigation,” said Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala. “If this administration doesn’t have anything to hide, they ought to be forthcoming.”
The fight over the notes significantly ratchets up tensions between Senate Republicans and the White House over Whitewater documents and presents the likelihood of a court battle that could spill over into the 1996 campaign year.
The notes demanded by the committee from the two-hour Nov. 5 session were taken by one of the participants, former White House associate counsel William Kennedy, who has returned to the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock. The meeting was held at Williams & Connolly days after news of the Whitewater criminal probe surfaced publicly.
Other participants were presidential adviser Bruce Lindsey, who then was White House personnel chief, Bernard Nussbaum and Neil Eggleston of the White House counsel’s office, Little Rock attorney Steve Engstrom and Denver lawyer Jim Lyons, who prepared a report on the Clintons’ Whitewater investment for them during the 1992 campaign.