Open the First Lady files

In asking a federal court to force the National Archives to release papers from Hillary Rodham Clinton's time as first lady, the public interest group Judicial Watch has opened itself to the charge that it's on a fishing expedition. Maybe so, but the group is fishing with a license -- the Freedom of Information Act.

That law allows citizens to inspect public documents after deletions are made for privilege or national security. Judicial Watch, a conservative group that nevertheless tried to pry loose the records of Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, says the National Archives has stymied its attempt to get hold of the former first lady's calendars, appointment logs and memos.

A spokeswoman for the National Archives pleaded that, given limited personnel, the agency probably wouldn't be able to screen and release the papers until after next year's presidential election. You don't have to be a Hillary hater to find that unacceptable.

Clinton herself portrays her time in the White House as an important part of her resume, and her campaign website -- under the heading of "first lady" -- cites not just her failed healthcare initiative but successful efforts to benefit children, breast cancer patients and veterans. Her involvement in such activities should be evident in the policy documents that her husband has asked the archives to release first. But the schedules and other papers sought by Judicial Watch also could shed light on her role in what she would like to think of as the first Clinton administration.

The archives could decide that such information is of greater public interest than what the Clinton administration knew about UFOs or the name of the pastry chef who made a birthday cake for Chelsea. An expert quoted in The Times also suggested that, with savvier use of technology, archivists could be more responsive to FOIA requests for electronically stored information. The archives points out, however, that many of the documents in question are on paper.

However the judge rules, the famously organized Clinton campaign should do what it can to help the National Archives comply with Judicial Watch's request. What better way to say that the first-lady-turned-presidential candidate has nothing to hide?

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