President Clinton and congressional Republicans agreed Thursday on a plan under which the White House will release notes from a 1993 meeting on the Whitewater matter, defusing a constitutional confrontation and averting a court battle.
White House negotiators struck the agreement with Congress late Thursday and promised to release the notes today to New York Republican Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and the Senate Whitewater committee he chairs.
“We’re pleased. We’ve been eager to release these notes for a while. We are eager for people to see what a long and unproductive wild-goose chase Sen. D’Amato has been on,” said Mark Fabiani, an assistant White House counsel.
At stake is a 12-page set of notes from the Nov. 5, 1993, meeting in which White House lawyers briefed Clinton’s newly hired private lawyer on the status of the Whitewater scandal. The Whitewater committee wants to see whether government lawyers improperly passed on any confidential inside information.
The Senate had voted Wednesday to challenge Clinton in federal court on the issue of the notes, voting along partisan lines to enforce a subpoena issued by the Senate Whitewater committee.
D’Amato said Wednesday court action was necessary because House Republicans would not agree to a condition set by the White House for release of the notes.
Clinton had asked Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and House and Senate investigators to promise that release of the notes would not constitute a waiver of the president’s attorney-client privilege .
D’Amato and Starr agreed, but it was not until late Thursday - after obtaining White House written responses to several Whitewater-related questions - that House Banking Committee Chairman James A. Leach, a Republican from Iowa, and Rep. William F. Clinger of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, agreed to the deal.
“We have reached a very satisfactory agreement with the House chairman, much to the liking of both sides,” said White House counsel Jack Quinn. “The president will maintain his right to a confidential relationship with his attorneys.”
“Nothing in this implies they cannot assert or argue a given set of rights,” said Leach.
“Whatever the differences between the executive branch and the Congress on the seriousness of the underlying Whitewater allegations, a constitutional confrontation on this documents issue was thoroughly unwarranted,” Leach said.
Under the agreement, the president can claim in the future he is entitled to attorney-client privilege in Whitewater but Congress would not have to decide now whether to accept that claim.
To the dismay of congressional Democrats, the confrontation between the White House and Congress over the question of the notes had propelled the Whitewater matter back onto the nightly network news.
During a daylong debate in the Senate Wednesday, Republicans relentlessly attacked the president for blocking what they said was their legal right to see the notes, and they compared Whitewater to the Watergate scandal of the 1970s in the way the White House was stonewalling a congressional investigation.