Judge allows questions about how Clinton documents are released

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

A day after federal archivists released 11,000 pages of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s schedules during her time as first lady, a federal judge today allowed a conservative group to question the National Archives about the process of dealing with requests for more documents.

U.S. District Judge James Robertson today authorized a lawyer for the conservative group, Judicial Watch, to question the archives about why it processes some requests before others. Judicial Watch is seeking Clinton’s telephone logs.

There are hundreds of requests pending for release of records from the period when her husband was president. The archives has said it wanted to place Judicial Watch’s lawsuit on hold for a year before the agency considers how soon to begin reviewing the telephone logs for possible release, a process the Justice Department lawyer estimated would take six to eight months.

The requests have taken on a greater urgency as Hillary Clinton battles for the Democratic nomination for president. On Wednesday, archivists released 11,000 pages of schedules, but the material offered little to support her assertion that her White House experience left her best prepared to become president.

The records show she was an active first lady who traveled widely and was deeply involved in healthcare policy, but they are rife with omissions, terse references and redactions that obscure many of her activities and the identities of those she saw.

For months, Sen. Clinton has faced calls to speed the release of about 2 million pages of material from her time as first lady. The records are stored at her husband’s presidential library in Little Rock, Ark. But it seems doubtful that the schedules made public Wednesday will satisfy those who complain that Clinton touts her experience in her husband’s White House, yet refuses to offer details about her precise role.

The records span some of the most historically rich and well-documented chapters in the Clinton presidency, including Bill Clinton’s involvement with a White House intern, Monica S. Lewinsky; Hillary Clinton’s failed healthcare initiative; and her role in the dismissal of several White House travel office employees. But in many cases, the documents refer only to “private meetings” and do little to illuminate the dramatic events unfolding at the time.

California First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Peter Scheer, a leading advocate of public access to government records, said that more disclosure was essential.

“It seems to me that after so much time has passed, that there is no longer a real justification for keeping the names of people you are meeting with a secret,” Scheer said.

Carl Sferrazza Anthony, an author who has interviewed Clinton, said he was not surprised that the schedules did not reveal much.

“She didn’t put a lot in writing,” said Anthony, who is based in Los Angeles and has written extensively about first ladies. “She explicitly told me she didn’t put a lot in writing because everything in writing, including a personal diary, could be subpoenaed.”

The records were released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and a lawsuit.

Over time, Clinton’s schedules offer less and less information. In 1993, her first year as first lady, the records include the names of people she met with. But federal archivists blotted out those names, citing privacy issues. In spring 1994, Clinton’s schedulers appear to have stopped including names -- so her days are filled with one “private meeting” after another, with no mention of whom she met with or why.

On Jan. 28, 1994, the names of the participants in a 10 a.m. meeting with her at Bally’s in Las Vegas have been erased.

Sometimes, even the names of people getting their pictures taken with Clinton were removed. So it is not known who had a photo op with her at 2:45 p.m. on March 10, 1994, in the White House Map Room.

In later years, the records are even more spare. On June 25, 1997, for example, Clinton is shown as having taken part in three successive meetings in the White House residence, stretching from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. They are labeled simply “private meeting.”

On Feb. 12, 1999 -- the day the Senate voted down her husband’s impeachment -- she blocked off an unusually long appointment on her daily schedule from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. under the entry: “PRIVATE MEETING/Residence/NO PRESS/NO WH PHOTO.”

Clinton, looking to a career beyond the scandal, was, in fact, meeting with veteran New York Democratic operative Harold M. Ickes, who walked her through the first serious strategy session of her victorious 2000 Senate campaign.

As for overseas travel, the papers show that Clinton did spend some time conferring with foreign leaders on strategic issues. But the records suggest she spent a lot more time fulfilling the traditional role of the first lady: meeting the leaders’ wives and focusing on women’s and children’s issues.

Clinton has pointed to a March 1996 trip to Bosnia and other parts of Europe as an example of what she said were the dangerous assignments she took. The records show that on that trip, she did speak to the Bosnian president, as well as to German and Turkish leaders.

But she also socialized with leaders’ wives, listened to children read poetry, visited religious and archaeological sites, met with women’s groups and looked on as singer Sheryl Crow and comedian Sinbad entertained U.S. troops.

Those mining the records for insights into Clinton’s activities may be disappointed.

There was little in her schedule to indicate anything was amiss on May 19, 1993, when seven White House travel office employees were fired. The firings triggered an uproar as critics charged that sloppy bookkeeping was used as a pretext to open jobs for a Clinton cousin and other cronies.

Clinton urged a White House official to staff the office with “our people,” according to a General Accounting Office report on the scandal. But there is nothing in her schedule at the time that specifically mentions the purge or the fallout from it, dubbed Travelgate.

On the day the employees were fired, Clinton’s calendar shows two meetings with the participants’ names redacted. Federal archivists included a notation that releasing the names would amount to “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Little, too, is revealed about the Lewinsky scandal.

On Feb. 28, 1997, the day Lewinsky wore her infamous blue dress during a sexual tryst with the president in the White House, Hillary Clinton was also in the building, stopping by events in the Map Room and the Diplomatic Reception Room, records show.

When Lewinsky had what she said was her final sexual encounter with the president -- on March 29, 1997, in the Oval Office -- Hillary Clinton was in Africa. The first lady opened a health clinic in Eritrea after being greeted by a traditional ceremony of “singing songs and throwing popcorn,” her calendar says.

On Dec. 19, 1998, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted largely along party lines to impeach the president, alleging that he had perjured himself before a federal grand jury and obstructed justice as he sought to conceal his involvement with Lewinsky.

Hillary Clinton’s schedule reflects her trip that morning to Capitol Hill to seek House Democrats’ support in a closed meeting. Nothing more appears on her schedule until 5:50 p.m. -- an event slated to last five minutes.

The entry, about nine lines long, is completely redacted. Her schedule also does not reflect her appearance in the White House garden with the president, who, flanked by Democratic supporters, declared he would continue his work “until the last hour of the last day” of his term.

That night, the Clintons held a holiday dinner. The schedule notes: “Upon conclusion of the dinner, the President and First Lady have the first dance (optional).”

Contributing to this report were Times staff writers Robin Fields, Michael Finnegan and Paul Richter; Glenn Thrush of Newsday; and Andrew Zajac of the Chicago Tribune. The Associated Press also was used.