Already under fire for his drug policies, President Clinton revealed Saturday that a secret FBI memorandum says the government’s anti-drug strategy “had never been properly organized.”
But he argued that the problems predate his administration. And the president said his new drug czar has improved government efforts - partly in response to the memo.
“I believe what we’re doing now will get us better results than we’ve had before,” he told reporters on a break from debate preparation.
On the eve of the first presidential debate, exactly one month from Election Day, Clinton’s remarks offered Bob Dole more debate-night fodder.
“It’s time for Bill Clinton to move beyond denial and admit to the (drug) problem,” Dole spokeswoman Christina Martin said in Washington.
In the memo, FBI Director Louis Freeh complained to Clinton about the lack of “any true leadership” in fighting the influx of heroin and cocaine, according to a report in Newsweek magazine in August. Freeh hand-delivered the memo to Clinton himself some 18 months ago, according to Newsweek.
Dole and congressional Republicans, believing the memo is highly critical of Clinton, have demanded its release. The White House maintains the memo contains the type of classified and private advice that historically is kept private by presidents.
But Dole’s spokesman asked, “If Bill Clinton believes the memo did not specifically highlight his failure to lead an effective assault on drugs, why is he cowering behind executive privilege?” Clinton did not respond to a shouted question about his refusal to release the memo.
Asked if the memo accused the administration of showing no leadership in the drug war, Clinton said, “No … It was a memo by Mr. Louis Freeh to me arguing that the … federal government had never been properly organized in terms of who had jurisdiction to do what in the drug war.”
He said Freeh “argued for a reallocation of authority - and I thought argued quite persuasively that we needed a way to coordinate this.”
That is why he appointed retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey as drug czar in January and gave the office increased power to coordinate the government’s tentacled drug efforts, Clinton said.
Clinton said various agencies working on the drug problem have inherent conflicts, “but it is important to have them all coordinating and working together instead of at cross purposes, which is something people have complained about from the inside of this, literally going … back to the Johnson administration.”
His first extensive remarks on the memo were long and rambling, but press secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton did not go into detail about the memo’s private advice or classified material.
Clinton spent most of the day holed up in his Victorian hotel or in a nearby auditorium for mock debate sessions. Hillary Rodham Clinton joined him Saturday evening and will travel with the president to the Hartford, Conn., debate site Sunday morning.
“I think it’s a very important debate because if a lot of people watch it, it could affect their views,” Clinton told reporters. “But I think the main thing for both of us is to go be ourselves and do the best we can.”
Walking at dusk with his wife through this Victorian village, the president told a supporter he felt good about his prospects. “Keep your fingers crossed,” he said. “I’ll try to do a good job.”