Friday, March 07, 2008

Clinton's Shut Record Access Down

USA Today reports that "Archivists block release of Clinton papers":
Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.

That archivists' decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.

Clinton's legal agent declined the option of reviewing and releasing the documents that were withheld, said the archivists, who work for the federal government, not the Clintons.

The Clinton team is spinning it as being the decision of the archivists, and USA Today is pretty much following that line. But there is this:

In 2002, Clinton sent a guidance letter to his library that urged quick release of most White House records, but retained the confidentiality prerogative covering advice from his staff. Still, he said the restriction should be interpreted "narrowly" and allowed that certain records detailing internal communications could be made public if reviewed and approved for release by his designated legal agent.

Emily Robison, the library's deputy director, said Clinton's agent, former deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey, chose not to review the withheld documents.

Lindsey "was given the opportunity to look at what we withheld under the (president's) guidelines, and he chose not to.... Only Mr. Lindsey and the president have the authority to open those," she said.

The William J. Clinton Foundation, which Lindsey helps oversee, said in a written statement that the National Archives is responsible for deciding which records are withheld under the Presidential Records Act. Archivists were exclusively responsible for "determinations with respect to these materials," the statement said.

Basically, the archivists are being characteristically conservative about their interpretation of what should be made accessible and deferring to the process of allowing the Clinton team to review and OK the release. But the Clinton's are taking advantage by essentially "pocket vetoing" the release by refusing to review them while trying to put the onus (blame?) back on the National Archives (and George Bush). I'll be interested to see how the AHA and NCH address this latest development.

UPDATE: The NCH has an even-handed story, though a bit broader in scope, and it also mentions the USA Today story referenced above. Kudos.


Tim Lacy said...


I'll bite. You didn't mention this explicitly in your piece, but certainly you must feel that one of his aides was his wife, and that this blockage has to do with the current presidential nomination process?

- TL

Marc said...

Tim, Oh yeah, for sure. And I've seen the point made that, since HRC is running on a record of experience, shouldn't we be able to get a look at these records which would help demonstrate some of that experience in action? But this goes back a little further than the latest development, as I've blogged about here.