Thursday, November 01, 2007

Clintons Keep Records Closed, AHA and NCH Still Blame Bush

I wonder if the AHA and the NCH are readying there complaints and resolutions concerning open access to Clinton family documents now that we know that it's the Clinton's--not the Bush Administration--that is holding up access.

The Clinton's have blamed the Bush Administration for holding up the release of Presidential documents and initially the media (and the AHA and NCH) bought their line. But maybe not anymore. Some Democrats (Sen. Obama, for instance) and the media are now asking questions.

When author Sally Bedell Smith was researching her new book about Bill and Hillary Clinton's White House years, she flew to Little Rock to visit the one place she thought could be an invaluable resource: the new William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Smith was hoping to inspect records that could shed light on what role the First Lady played in her husband's administration. But Smith quickly discovered the frustrations of dealing with a library critics call "Little Rock's Fort Knox."

An archivist explained to Smith that the release of materials was tightly controlled by the former president's longtime confidant Bruce Lindsey. Could she look at memos detailing the advice Hillary gave Bill during debates over welfare reform? Smith asked. No, the archivist said, those memos were "closed" to the public because they dealt with "policy" matters. What about any records that show what advice Bill gave his wife about her 2000 U.S. Senate campaign? Those, too, were closed, the archivist said, because they dealt with "political" matters. "He essentially told me I had no chance of getting anything," says Smith...

Bill Clinton has tried to cast blame for the backlog on the Bush White House...[b]ut White House spokesman Scott Stanzel tells NEWSWEEK the Bush White House has not blocked the release of any Clinton-era records, nor is it reviewing any....Ben Yarrow, a spokesman for Bill Clinton, says the former president was referring "in general" to a controversial 2001 Bush executive order—recently overturned, in part, by a federal judge—that authorized more extensive layers of review from both current and former presidents before papers are released. (Hillary's campaign didn't respond to requests for comment.)

But documents NEWSWEEK obtained under a FOIA request (made to the Archives in Washington, not the Clinton library) suggest that, while publicly saying he wants to ease restrictions on his records, Clinton has given the Archives private instructions to tightly control the disclosure of chunks of his archive. Among the document categories Clinton asked the Archives to "consider for withholding" in a November 2002 letter: "confidential communications" involving foreign-policy issues, "sensitive policy, personal or political" matters and "legal issues and advice" including all matters involving investigations by Congress, the Justice Department and independent counsels (a category that would cover, among other matters, Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky and the pardons of Marc Rich and others). Another restriction: "communications directly between the President and First Lady, and their families, unless routine in nature."

Archives officials say Clinton is within his legal rights. But other Archives records NEWSWEEK reviewed show Clinton's directives, while similar, also go beyond restrictions placed by predecessors Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, neither of whom put any controls over the papers of their wives.
In the recent Democratic Presidential debate, Senator Clinton tried to dodge the issue:
The question of experience came up repeatedly, and Mrs. Clinton wasn't shy about citing her time as first lady as a main qualification to be President. She was less forthcoming about the records of her time in the White House, however. Mr. Russert asked: "In order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the President, the advice you gave, because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012?"

Mrs. Clinton's initial response was to blame the Archives, but Mr. Russert asked whether she would lift her husband's "ban" on releasing their correspondence. "That's not my decision to make," was her reply. Apparently we are supposed to believe that the former President would refuse his wife's request to release those records if she asked. Even gentle Mr. Obama couldn't bite his tongue about that one, comparing the episode to the "secretive" Bush Administration.

If they wanted to, the AHA and NCH should know the Clinton's are the ones hiding things. But that doesn't seem to fit their narrative. Earlier this month, the NCH trumpeted the fact that President Clinton wants to open his records faster:
Former President Bill Clinton recently jumped into the political debate surrounding the disposition of presidential records. A story in the October 4, 2007, New York Sun reported that President Clinton recently asserted that the Bush administration was at fault for delaying the release of his records.

“I want to open my presidential records more rapidly than the law requires, and the current administration has slowed down the opening of my own records,” the former president was quoted as saying in the Sun article. “And I do think that I will have extra responsibilities for transparency should the American people elect Hillary president,” he went on to say. The White House had no reaction to President Clinton’s statement.

The White House denied the claim, but the NCH didn't see fit to publish the story about the denial on their website.

"The White House is not currently reviewing any Clinton presidential records because none are ripe for White House review," a spokesman for Mr. Bush, Trey Bohn, said yesterday. "All current requests for Clinton administration records are pending review by President Clinton's designated representative. The White House can take no action on any of the requests until the Clinton representative has completed its review of the records relevant to each request and reached a decision on either authorizing their release or withholding them."
Additionally, it seems the NCH is unaware that President Clinton has the ability to release his records at any time.

In 2003, Mr. Clinton announced that he planned to make public most of the confidential advice he received, even though federal law allows such advice to be kept secret for 12 years after a president leaves office.

When the Clinton Library opened in 2004, thousands of pages were available for review sooner than the law required. More than half a million pages selected by Mr. Clinton and archivists are currently open to research.

However, hardly any documents have been released in response to records requests from the public, which the library began accepting in January 2006. Archives officials have indicated that the presidential review process for all Clinton White House records released so far has averaged eight months. A spokeswoman for the archives, Miriam Kleiman, declined to discuss whether aides to Messrs. Clinton or Bush have been responsible for the delays.

The AHA and NCH have continually blamed the Bush Administration for withholding records. Now it has been revealed that President Clinton is responsible for blocking access to his Presidential records. He's within his legal rights to do so, but I would think that--within the spirit of open access--both the AHA and NCH would spill at least a smudge of ink on the fact that the Clinton's are putting up roadblocks.

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