Presidential chief of staff Leon E. Panetta apologized Sunday for the White House’s inspection in 1993 of FBI background reports on former White House pass-holders, including many prominent Republicans, but said “none of the information was improperly used.”
“Obviously, a mistake was made. It’s inexcusable that the mistake was made,” Panetta told reporters on Air Force One on a campaign trip to the West with President Clinton. “I think we do owe an apology to those who were involved.”
Asked about the apology, Clinton did not repeat it but stated: “I completely support what he (Panetta) said.” Clinton called the episode “a completely honest bureaucratic snafu” that occurred “when we were trying to straighten out who should get security clearances to come to the White House.”
Republicans welcomed the apology but said too many questions remain unanswered to accept the White House’s explanations so far.
White House officials initially said last week there was no evidence that any of the improperly obtained files had been examined, but the investigator who had requested and obtained them said he had reviewed the files for “derogatory information” that might pose a security problem.
“I think we ought to have hearings,” House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, R-Texas, said on ABC’s “This Week With David Brinkley.” “What business did they have nosing around in files on people who had long since left the White House when we know they weren’t even getting their own people properly cleared?”
FBI files on more than 330 people were collected by the Clinton White House in the latter half of 1993 even though they were not employed at the White House at the time. Among them were former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Tony Blankley, the press secretary to now House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga. Many had not worked at the White House for years.
The White House has said the 341 improperly collected files were returned to the FBI after senior officials learned of their existence Thursday. Panetta, who first voiced the White House apology on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said procedures have been changed to “ensure that nothing like that will happen again.”
Anthony Marceca, an Army civilian investigator detailed to the White House personnel office in late 1993 and early 1994, said he looked through the files when he was sent to help clear up a backlog of security work. He said he based his file requests to the FBI on Secret Service lists of White House pass-holders.
He said he thought that many Republicans from previous administrations still had valid White House passes and that it was appropriate to obtain their FBI background files.
Marceca said he read the files and notified Craig Livingstone, head of the White House personnel security office, of a few that contained “derogatory information.” He said most of the files had no such details and went straight to a White House vault.
A lawyer for Livingstone, David Cohen, said Marceca remembers delivering only three files to Livingstone, “none of which were highranking former officials of the Bush or Reagan administrations.”
By the time he left the White House in early 1994, Marceca has said he had gone through the files up to the letter G.
When Marceca left the assignment in early 1994, the White House said, his replacement, a woman whose name has not been disclosed, recognized that the list was an old one and stopped the practice, but without sending the improperly collected FBI files back to the bureau.
Ann Lewis, deputy manager for the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, argued that stopping the review at the letter G showed this was no “sinister conspiracy” to dig up dirt on White House enemies.
“(A) conspiracy-minded president who really wanted to misuse power for his own political ends does not stop partway through the alphabet,” she said on CNN.
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