As Justice Department lawyers reacted with fury Monday to news that the White House had delayed providing them with videotapes of donor coffees, the White House revealed that more videos of political events are still to come.
Lanny Davis, special counsel to President Clinton, said the White House has located “a few” more tapes of fund raisers conducted outside the White House, and is still looking for “a lot more than a few” that it believes may exist.
The still-undiscovered tapes may include scenes of “political dinners” at the White House, Davis said, declining to be more specific about those events.
Justice Department investigators were livid at being kept in the dark about the 44 tapes whose existence was discovered last week.
White House lawyers said they located the videos Wednesday and informed Senate staffers. But the Justice Department didn’t receive word until Saturday, a day after Attorney General Janet Reno released a long letter concluding that the coffees do not merit the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the president.
While it is not clear that the tapes would have changed that conclusion, it is striking that Reno did not have access to such a key piece of evidence even though it was in the hands of the White House.
Justice Department attorneys suggested Monday they would investigate the delay. “It is outrageous that it wasn’t turned over earlier,” said a senior department official. “Will it be inquired into? Probably.”
Even normally circumspect Justice spokesman Bert Brandenburg said bluntly, “No one is happy there is information we did not have.”
The tape controversy comes as senators investigating 1996 election fund-raising practices prepare to grill former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, a key figure in Clinton’s re-election efforts.
Clinton said Monday the failure to provide the tapes, despite requests from the Justice Department and the Senate months earlier, was unintentional.
“As soon as I became aware of it, I instructed them to be turned over to the appropriate committees as soon as possible,” Clinton said.
The mysterious discovery of the tapes echoes other sudden discoveries of long-sought evidence. Notably, Whitewater billing records turned up in the White House months after they were first demanded by investigators.
Seeking to explain the delay, Davis said that the tapes were made by a special Defense Department office called the White House Communications Agency, which records virtually all the president’s activities.