Clinton Library Secret Files a Landmine for Hillary?
Sensitive documents including those related to the Hillarycare debacle and presidential pardons for the likes of Marc Rich are being withheld from release. As the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidential candidacy looms, the public’s right to know her involvement is under threat. Josh Gerstein of Politico reports:
A trove of Clinton White House records long processed for release remains hidden from public view at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock — even though the legal basis initially used to withhold them expired more than a year ago.
The papers contain confidential advice given to or sought by President Bill Clinton, including communications with then-first lady Hillary Clinton, and records about people considered for appointments to federal office.
About 33,000 pages of documents are involved, according to the National Archives, which runs the library.
Under the Presidential Records Act, such records can be withheld for up to 12 years after a president leaves office. However, at the 12-year mark, those broad restrictions fall away and the once-secret presidential papers are generally subject to disclosure. For the Clinton files, that milestone came and went in January 2013.
There’s a lot delicious karma involved here, for both the Clintons and President Obama have in the past posed as transparency advocates when it comes to release of the presidential records of the Reagan and Bush administrations. Assertion of executive privilege would not look good in a presidential campaign of Hillary’s.
Unlike collections in other hands, the withheld files at the Clinton Library are under the control of the federal government. Obama would have to choose whether to back any privilege assertion by the ex-president — a move that would be in tension with public statements Obama made as a candidate and as president, promising to improve access to presidential records. Even the long delays in accessing the files raise significant questions about whether reforms Obama imposed on his first day in office are working.
The National Archives are providing a little bit of cover, however, as they claim that a page-by-page review of the records for release is taking some time:
“The obvious answer is they are trying to protect Hillary and there’s no question at all that there’s something in that … but the reality also is they don’t have the staff,” said Gettysburg College professor Shirley Warshaw, a frequent visitor to presidential libraries.
National Archives personnel have repeatedly complained that they lack the resources and personnel to complete legally required page-by-page reviews in a timely fashion. However, the formerly restricted Clinton records have already been reviewed and don’t require much new effort to prepare for release.
Unfortunately for the Democrats, Obama is already on the record on such issues:
The expiration of the 12-year restrictions on the Clinton files is also a key test for an executive order Obama signed on his first full day in office, promising to overhaul the presidential records process and remove obstacles he said were put in place by his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
During the 2008 presidential race, Clinton came under fire — often from Obama and his allies — for allegedly trying to keep her White House files shrouded in secrecy.
In one of the highest-profile episodes, late NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert used the forum of a televised debate in October 2007 to publicly challenge Mrs. Clinton about off-limits records from her time as first lady.
“There was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?” Russert said, brandishing a copy of the letter.
“That’s not my decision to make,” Mrs. Clinton said. “And I don’t believe that any president or first lady has. But certainly we’ll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.”
Obama leapt on the political opening, raising his hand to chime in.
“This is an example of not turning the page. We have just gone through one of the most secretive administrations in our history, and not releasing, I think, these records at the same time, Hillary, as you’re making the claim that this is the basis for your experience, I think, is a problem,” Obama said. “Part of what we need to do is rebuild trust in our government again. … And that means being open and transparent and accountable to the American people.”
Russert’s questions infuriated Bill Clinton, who later called them “breathtakingly misleading.”
Even if the Clintons and Obama exercise their many options to delay release of the records, requiring lawsuits to work their way through the courts, the GOP presidential candidate will have an issue to raise. It is clear that Democrats do not want Hillary’s track record as the “buy one, get one free” first lady of the Clinton “co-presidency” to be scrutinized. This is a risible position and not one that can be defended.