Papers Bolster Link Between First Lady, Travel Scandal

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Newly revealed confidential documents came to light Wednesday supporting allegations that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, despite her denials, played a central role in the White House travel office scandal.

The documents appear to bolster the view expressed by former presidential aide David Watkins in a draft memo made public last week about a conversation that he had with Hillary Clinton. Watkins wrote in late 1993 that he was acting on orders of the first lady when he fired seven long-time travel office employees the previous May.

The firings later proved to be an embarrassment for President Clinton. The decision turned out to have been based entirely on unsubstantiated allegations that travel office workers financially mismanaged the operation.

The White House has said repeatedly that Hillary Clinton "had no role in the decision to terminate" the travel office workers. Just last week, the first lady herself said: "I just don't have any memory of that."

One of the documents made available by the White House on Wednesday is a confidential chronology of events related to the travel office scandal prepared by the White House on which Thomas "Mack" McLarty, then the president's chief of staff, jotted the notation: "May 16--HRC pressure." May 16 was three days before the firings.

Also released by the White House were notes from an internal White House investigation of the incident. In them, Fan Dozier, an employee of the Arkansas company that took over part of the travel office business after the firings, said she had been told: "HRC very upset re misa[ppropriation] of funds and wanted them out of there."

In addition on Wednesday, the Associated Press obtained a copy of an FBI interview with Watkins in which he further described his conversation with Hillary Clinton about the travel office. "She stated action needed to be taken immediately to be certain those not friendly to the administration were removed and replaced with trustworthy individuals," the FBI report quotes Watkins as saying.

Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.), who chairs the Senate's special Whitewater investigating committee, clearly was buoyed Wednesday by the widespread attention his investigation has been getting in recent days. He called a news conference in which he accused the White House and Hillary Clinton of violating the constitutional rights of the travel office employees by accusing them falsely. One former employee, Billy Dale, was acquitted of charges in a recent trial.

Critics of the Clintons, including D'Amato, have portrayed the Watkins draft memo as evidence that the first lady has been trying to cover up her role in the travel office scandal.

D'Amato also alleges that she has engaged in a cover-up of Whitewater.

On Whitewater, D'Amato blamed Hillary Clinton's lawyers for causing the unexplained disappearance of many records relating to the work she did in the mid-1980s for a corrupt Arkansas thrift owned by her Whitewater investment partner, James B. McDougal.

He said the notes of a November 1993 meeting of Clinton lawyers, released last month by the White House, discussed a plan to "vacuum" the records kept at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark., where the first lady worked before her husband was elected president.

White House officials, however, insist that the vague notation in the documents means that the lawyers found "a vacuum," or lack, of information when they went looking for files. Neither the White House nor Rose Law Firm officials can explain what happened to the records.

The notes say: "vacuum . . . Rose Law Firm files."

D'Amato said the White House is making "an absurd interpretation" of the notation made during the meeting by then-White House attorney William Kennedy.

"The meaning is clear," D'Amato insisted.

Over the last two years, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and several congressional committees have been seeking records from the Rose Law Firm that would reflect how much work Hillary Clinton did during the mid-1980s for Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. But most of the files have never been found.

Although Madison Guaranty was involved in a variety of illegal or questionable real estate transactions, the absence of records made it impossible for investigators to determine the role Hillary Clinton might have played in those deals. The first lady herself has denied that she represented the S&L; on a day-to-day basis.

At the same time, D'Amato announced some more bad news for the White House. Because the investigation is not yet finished, he said, he probably will ask the Senate for approval to keep his panel going past Feb. 29, when its authority is scheduled to expire.

D'Amato said it will be necessary to extend the investigation further into the election year because the White House has resisted his committee's repeated requests for evidence.

Among the items that the White House has refused to supply the committee, he said, are computer e-mail messages between White House employees, a briefing book prepared by White House staff members for Hillary Clinton before a press conference at which she took questions on the subject and a clipping from the New York Times on which the president made a notation.

Mark Fabiani, White House counsel and the president's designated spokesman on Whitewater, said he was puzzled by D'Amato's complaints. He said D'Amato's aides have been permitted to see the newspaper clip and they will also be shown relevant sections of the briefing book.

But he added that it would cost an estimated $200,000 to comply with D'Amato's request for e-mail.

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