Setting the stage for confrontation, Senate Republicans on Wednesday demanded a complete disclosure from the White House of the files removed from the office of Deputy White House counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr. after he died.
Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato, the chairman of the special committee conducting hearings into how the White House handled Foster’s papers after his suicide two years ago, suggested that he would go to court if the White House refused.
“Would you believe Richard Nixon if he said his lawyers would decide what was relevant to disclose and what wasn’t?” D’Amato asked at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing. “Of course not. I’m serving notice that we will seek to obtain access to the files. I don’t believe we should let President Clinton’s lawyer make the call about what’s relevant.”
Republicans have complained that many pages submitted from Foster’s files have been edited - redacted, in Washington parlance - so heavily that they are blank, and others contain just a word or sentence.
One document, for instance, which was said to be a “to do” list compiled by Foster , was obliterated except for a single line: “Get out of Whitewater.” Another paper was blanked out except for one phrase: “3. Whitewater.”
But the White House responded that it had made all material on Whitewater from Foster’s file available, and said that Wednesday’s complaint was a concession that the Whitewater hearings had been foundering.
“No mention or reference to Whitewater was removed from the papers,” said Mark D. Fabiani, an associate White House counsel. “It appears now that the focus has shifted to the redacted material because the hearings are making no news.”
Webster L. Hubbell, a former senior Justice Department official, completed his testimony Wednesday and shed no new light on Foster’s death. But Hubbell hinted that there was some turmoil between Justice Department officials and Bernard W. Nussbaum, the White House counsel whose handling of Foster’s papers has come under considerable criticism by the Republicans.
A few Democrats on the committee have defended Nussbaum’s refusal to permit investigators to look at the files, asserting that some contained matters of national security and others were about issues protected by executive privilege.