Memo to First Lady Told of Database Ambitions
A confidential memo released Monday indicates that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, in an effort to help her husband win reelection, embraced a plan that apparently sought to steer information from a White House computer to a Democratic Party database for “political purposes.”
The 1994 memo, written by an administration official with close ties to President and Mrs. Clinton, recommended using White House personnel to work with Democratic National Committee staff members to design an enhanced central database for the 1996 campaign.
“Let my team work with the DNC to help them design a system that will meet our needs and technical specifications,” aide Marsha Scott wrote on White House stationery in a memo copied to the first lady. “We can show them what to do.”
Mrs. Clinton, in a notation scrawled on top of the letter, responded: “This sounds promising. Please advise. HRC.”
The document, along with other memos, suggests that the first lady personally directed Scott to oversee the development of a computer system--paid for by government funds--to keep records on as many as 350,000 people and help the Democrats solicit large donations during last year’s election.
Administration lawyers have issued opinions advising that federal law prohibits the use of the White House database--dubbed “WhoDB"--for political or partisan purposes. Despite this advice, computer tapes consisting of thousands of supporters on the 1994 White House holiday card list were sent to the national committee, according to documents released Monday. White House lawyers said that the tapes were sent inadvertently.
News reports in January disclosed that the White House staff routinely retrieved information on large political donors from the database and turned it over to the committee to assist in fund-raising efforts.
To date, the critical role played by Mrs. Clinton in helping to raise money and generate support for her husband’s reelection has been largely overlooked. She served as host of four White House coffee receptions that were organized for supporters by the Democratic National Committee and appeared frequently as the star attraction at party fund-raisers, records show.
Administration officials maintained that Mrs. Clinton acted entirely appropriately.
“The first lady was hard-working for her husband’s reelection in all respects,” said White House spokesman Lanny Davis. “She certainly made as many appearances as she could in support of the president’s efforts, including at fund-raising receptions.”
But a Republican congressman, who is leading an investigation into the alleged misuse of the White House database, said Monday that the memo, combined with the previously released documents, raises questions about Mrs. Clinton’s actions.
“It’s now clear that Mrs. Clinton not only signed off on using taxpayer funds to create [the White House computer] but that she also raised no objection when Marsha Scott suggested illegally transferring database information to the DNC,” Rep. David M. McIntosh of Indiana, chairman of a House oversight subcommittee, alleged in a statement. “It troubles me deeply that Mrs. Clinton, who is a very bright lawyer, saw no problem with using taxpayer funds to aid the political operations of the DNC.”
White House officials disagreed.
The documents obtained Monday from congressional sources, along with previously disclosed memos, describe Scott’s role as the chief architect of WhoDB. In the memos--all marked “confidential"--Scott told top administration officials that she was working to create a single database. On Jan. 26, 1994, Scott wrote, “the President and the First Lady want this done.” The memos were addressed to Mrs. Clinton and White House lawyer Bruce Lindsey.
Mrs. Clinton and Scott alternately have sought to downplay or deny the efforts to create a single White House database. Speaking briefly with reporters at a White House event on Jan. 30, Mrs. Clinton said:
“I’m not aware of any specific uses [of a database], and I would doubt if I was the person who ordered it. . . . I certainly thought the White House needed a computer database. But the design of it, the use of it, that was for other people to figure out. I didn’t know anything about that.”
Scott, who now holds the position of chief of staff in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, declined to comment Monday.
Some congressional Republicans, including House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon of New York, have accused Scott of providing misleading answers last year when she first was asked whether a database existed.
In a sworn deposition on June 19, 1996, Scott told lawyers for the House Governmental Reform and Oversight Committee that no computer database had existed at the White House. Asked, “Were you aware of any databases that were being maintained at the White House?” Scott answered:
“Well, there was no database at the White House at all. . . . All of us that worked there were very cognizant of the fact that we were not in any way allowed to, encouraged to, and--to my knowledge--no one ever did anything to create any kind of campaign context or database.”
But White House officials now contend that Scott, in her June 28, 1994, “confidential” memo, was describing her plans to build a new database for the Clinton-Gore campaign that would be identical to one used by the Democratic National Committee. The memo was addressed to former Deputy White House Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and Lindsey, with a copy to Mrs. Clinton.
This campaign database--not the WhoDB system--is what the first lady was referring to when she wrote, “This sounds promising,” said White House spokesman Barry Toiv.
“The main subject of the [June 1994] memo is the possibility of developing a good database at the campaign and at the DNC and making them compatible,” Toiv said. “Anybody who is interested in seeing Bill Clinton reelected presumably would have been happy at the prospect of the best possible database being in place for the reelection.”
Republican aides on the House oversight committee said that the White House interpretation ignores the other memos written by Scott.
“Even if you take their statement at face value, then what they are acknowledging is the entire computer staff in the White House was used to design and implement campaign databases,” said Chris Jones, a spokesman for Rep. McIntosh. “If true, that is outrageous.”
Indeed, at the beginning of the memo, Scott wrote on White House stationery that she and her staff worked extensively with a computer firm in Arkadelphia, Ark., that provided support for Clinton’s 1992 campaign. “We spent two days in Arkadelphia working with their people to learn their operation and software capabilities,” Scott wrote.
The Arkadelphia firm, W.P. Malone, was paid $32,500 in 1992 and $259,930 last year by the Clinton-Gore campaign for computer services, according to an analysis of federal election records by the independent Campaign Study Group.
Toiv acknowledged that the Arkadelphia trip was paid for by government funds. However, he said, the purpose of the trip was to work on the White House database, while Scott’s memo dealt primarily with developing political computer systems for the Democratic Party and the Clinton-Gore campaign.
Asked if it was appropriate for Scott to use White House stationery to write about campaign computers, Toiv said: “I think it’s fair to say the memo is more political than official.”
For his part, Ickes said Monday that he vaguely recalled Scott’s memo. “The urging of her memo was that I talk to the DNC. . . . I have no recollection of talking to the DNC [about this matter]. I don’t think I ever talked to Hillary about the database,” Ickes said.
Friends and those who have served in the Clinton administration said that Scott’s closeness to the first family--coupled with her deep roots in Arkansas and California--have made her a core player in the White House.
“They’ve known each other for eons,” said one administration official. “In her own way, she is a delightful, charming person who has a capacity to put anyone at ease. . . . She has an extraordinarily good relationship with the president. And she has good relations with the first lady.”
Scott, 49, met Bill Clinton three decades ago when both worked for Arkansas Democratic Sen. J. William Fulbright.
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