Advertisement
Share

Papers Suddenly Appeared, First Lady’s Aide Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Raising suspicions that Whitewater documents were deliberately withheld from investigators, a personal aide to First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton testified Thursday that she found the missing papers when they suddenly appeared in a room accessible only to the Clinton family, their guests and personal and custodial staff.

The aide, Carolyn Huber, said that she found the papers five months ago lying on a table in the “book room” of the White House living quarters--an area where access is closely guarded by uniformed Secret Service personnel. It is off-limits to the general White House staff.

Huber said she had been in the room where she found the documents--billing records from the Rose Law Firm where Mrs. Clinton had been a partner--three or four days earlier and she is certain the records were not present.

Advertisement

“They appeared there,” said Huber, whose job is to handle Mrs. Clinton’s correspondence. “I thought they had been left for me to take down and put in the file.”

The testimony before the Senate Whitewater Committee added a new layer of questions to the investigation. The billing records had been subpoenaed by federal authorities in January 1994. Republicans on the GOP-controlled panel immediately called for a probe of possible obstruction of justice. Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.) said he may submit written questions to Mrs. Clinton, asking who had handled the records.

The long-missing documents dealing with the first lady’s legal work for a failed Arkansas savings and loan that is at the center of the Whitewater investigation.

Huber’s account expanded on the White House description two weeks ago of the circumstances surrounding the discovery of the documents. White House spokesmen had said Huber found the records in her files in the White House East Wing, which houses the first lady’s office and staff.

That is true, Huber said Thursday, but she added that she actually discovered them early last August upstairs in the third-floor book room of the private residence. She said she glanced at them at the time and did not recognize them as the missing records.

Assuming they dealt with the Clintons’ current personal finances, on which she keeps files in her office, she said she stuffed them into a box of knickknacks that was being carted down to the East Wing. The box was placed under a table in her office, she said, and forgotten until two weeks ago, when she opened it while straightening up.

Once she looked closely at the records, she said, she immediately recognized them because she had worked as office manager for the Rose Law Firm before joining the Clintons in Washington.

Huber told the Senate Whitewater Committee that she immediately called David E. Kendall, the Clintons’ private attorney. “I told him, I said, ‘I have found a document, David, that I think you’re looking for. Would you please come to my office?’ ”

Kendell turned the records over to the Whitewater committee.

White House lawyer Jane Sherburne later told reporters that she was trying to determine if the Clintons were in residence in early August when Huber found the records. Sherburne said there had been no attempt to hide the papers.

“If we had found these documents two years ago, we would have turned them over, no question,” she said.

While Huber said she did not know who had put the records where she found them, she said access to that room is strictly limited to the president, his wife, any house guests staying in the executive mansion and to Huber herself as well as a few maids and valets serving the personal needs of the Clintons.

Other sources said uniformed Secret Service members strictly control access to the third-floor living section.

However, the president, in an interview with U.S. News & World Report to appear in the issue on sale Monday, said: “There were people in and out of that room all the time.” He said that anyone using the White House gym and perhaps an ironing room would pass through. “So I wouldn’t say that few people had access.

“I don’t have an answer about how [the documents] appeared,” Clinton said.

The White House has said that it does not know how copies of the records, made public after their discovery, wound up in the residence.

The book room is a reading room for the Clintons and any guests staying in the White House. Huber said she spotted the documents, folded over, on a table that was clear except for a few books.

She said she believed the records had been left soon before she found them in early August because she passes through the book room every two to three days, “and I don’t think I would have missed them.”

While committee members praised Huber’s testimony as candid and forthright, Republicans Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina and Connie Mack of Florida said the panel should look into possible obstruction of justice.

The records show Mrs. Clinton had billed Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, which was owned by the Clinton family’s investment partner in the Whitewater real estate deal, for 60 hours of work on legal matters over 15 months in the mid-1980s. The records were viewed as important because Mrs. Clinton has said she did minimal work for Madison while she was with the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark.

The billing records formed the basis for Senate testimony last week by Richard Massey, a former law firm colleague of the first lady, who disputed her recollections of how she came to represent Madison.

Massey said he did not bring the Madison account to the law firm as Mrs. Clinton had suggested during a nationally televised news conference in 1994. He said he was uncertain how the firm obtained the client at a time when Bill Clinton was governor.

Referring to the billing records, first subpoenaed by the Justice Department and later by the committee and the Whitewater independent counsel, an administration official said Thursday that the White House considered launching an internal probe to determine if someone had withheld them deliberately.

“But we have decided to leave this to the independent counsel on grounds that our own inquiry would itself become an issue,” he said.

Huber earlier this week was called before a grand jury in Little Rock, which independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is operating. Her Washington attorney, Henry Schuelke, said Thursday that he did not know if she would be recalled for additional testimony.

Huber said the records bore red handwriting in the margins that she recognized as that of the late Vincent Foster, a deputy White House counsel who committed suicide in July 1993. The committee has already heard testimony that some of Foster’s office files were abruptly moved to the White House residential quarters as soon as officials learned of his death.


Advertisement