March 20, 2008 in Nation/World

Questions linger despite release of Clinton records

Peter Nicholas and Noam N. Levey Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON – Federal archivists on Wednesday released 11,000 pages of schedules from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s time as first lady, but the material offers little to support her assertion that her White House experience left her best prepared to become president.

The records show her to be an active first lady who traveled widely and was deeply involved in health care policy, but they are rife with omissions, terse references and redactions that obscure many of her activities and the identities of those she saw.

For months, Clinton has faced calls to speed the release of about 2 million pages of material covering her eight years as first lady. The records are stored at her husband’s presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. But it seems doubtful that the schedules made public Wednesday will satisfy those who argue that Clinton touts her experience in her husband’s White House yet refuses to offer details about her precise role.

The records span some of the most historically rich and well-documented chapters in the Clinton presidency, including Bill Clinton’s affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky; Hillary Clinton’s failed health-care initiative, and her role in the dismissal of several employees in the White House travel office. But in many cases, the documents refer only to “private meetings” and do little to illuminate the dramatic events unfolding at the time.

One author who has interviewed Clinton, Carl Sferrazza Anthony, said he was not surprised that the schedules do not reveal much.

“She didn’t put a lot in writing,” said Anthony, who is based in Los Angeles and who has written extensively about first ladies. “She explicitly told me she didn’t put a lot in writing because everything in writing, including a personal diary, could be subpoenaed.”

The records were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and a lawsuit.

Over time, Clinton’s schedules offer less and less information. In 1993, her first year as first lady, the records include a space for the names of people she met with. But federal archivists blotted out those names, citing privacy issues. In the spring of 1994, Clinton’s schedulers appear to have stopped including names – so her days are filled with one “private meeting” after another, with no mention of whom she met with or why.

Sometimes, even the names of people getting their picture taken with Clinton were removed. So it is not known who had a photo op with Clinton at 2:45 p.m. in the White House Map Room on March 10, 1994.

In later years, the records are even more spare. On June 25, 1997, for example, Clinton is shown as having taken part in three successive meetings in the White House residence, stretching from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They are labeled simply “private meeting.”

In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Clinton advisers were asked whether there was true transparency in a release of documents riddled with redactions.

Clinton spokesman Jay Carson said the National Archives controlled what was made public.

He said the archives first submitted even more heavily redacted records to longtime Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey, who was the second-to-last step in the document review before a final review by the White House.

Lindsey wrote a letter to the National Archives requesting that redactions of large sections of documents be lifted, and as a result, Carson said, some of them were eased. None of the redactions was the work of Lindsey or of Clinton lawyers, Carson said.

Those mining the records for deeper insights into Clinton’s activities may be disappointed.

Little is revealed about the Lewinsky scandal.

On Feb. 28, 1997, the day Lewinsky wore her infamous blue dress to the White House, Hillary Clinton was also in the building, stopping by events in the Map Room and the Diplomatic Reception Room, records show.

When Lewinsky had her final sexual encounter with the president – March 29, 1997, in the Oval Office – Hillary Clinton was in Africa.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email