Politics & Policy

Hillary, Under Lock and Key

Trying to get to the bottom of her executive experience.

A trove of unreleased documents from Hillary Clinton’s years as First Lady became an embarrassing land mine for Clinton as she plodded through what felt like the eight-hundredth Democratic presidential debate Tuesday night. Moderator Tim Russert asked Clinton:

RUSSERT: Senator Clinton, I’d like to follow up, because in terms of your experience as first lady, in order to give the American people an opportunity to make a judgment about your experience, would you allow the National Archives to release the documents about your communications with the president, the advice you gave? Because, as you well know, President Clinton has asked the National Archives not to do anything until 2012.


Clinton, looking slightly annoyed, responded:

CLINTON: Well, actually, Tim, the Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There’s about 20 million pieces of paper there. And they are moving and they are releasing as they do their process. And I am fully in favor of that. Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available. Others are becoming available. And I think that, you know, the Archives will continue to move as rapidly as its circumstances and processes demand.

I asked Chris Farrell, whose group, Judicial Watch, is suing the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration to obtain Hillary Clinton’s documents from her White House years, if Clinton was correct when she said that “all of the records” from her work on her husband’s health-care task force in 1993 are available to the public.

“All of them are not,” he replied. “We’ve asked for the Task Force on National Health Care Reform records, and those are different than the records that are available at the Clinton Library now. There are two universes of documents. One came out because the AAPS [American Association of Physicians and Surgeons] sued [in 1993] to get hold of the documents.”

But Farrell, who has been to Little Rock five times since Clinton’s presidential library opened, explained that there’s a second group of documents that hasn’t been released. “It has to do with health-care reform, it has to do with Hillary’s work there, and it’s not the same as the one that was released through earlier litigation over the health-care task force.” (In addition to these documents, Judicial Watch is also suing for Hillary’s White House calendar, her schedule, and all of her official correspondence as First Lady.)

After Hillary’s evasive answer Tuesday night, Russert followed up with a more direct question:

RUSSERT: But there was a letter written by President Clinton specifically asking that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012. Would you lift that ban?

CLINTON: Well, that’s not my decision to make, and I don’t believe that any president or first lady ever has. But, certainly, we’ll move as quickly as our circumstances and the processes of the National Archives permits.

This statement is clearly ridiculous. As they are entitled to do under the Presidential Records Act, the Clintons have appointed a proxy (long-time advisor Bruce Lindsey) who has veto power over virtually any records request until 2012 (thus the date on Bill’s letter). Bottlenecks at the National Archives are not the real issue; the Clintons will ultimately decide what documents from Hillary’s tenure as First Lady will see the light of day prior to November of 2008.

“Any document that comes up for review, as to whether it should be released or not, [Lindsey] is not the final arbiter, but he is a controlling figure in the process,” Farrell explains. “So if there were any gaps, if [the Clintons] were really frank about what they wanted to get out to the public, they would very clearly communicate to the Archives, and to Mr. Lindsey, to open it up and release it all.”

Russert next called on Barack Obama, who appeared eager to take advantage of his chief opponent’s obvious stumble. But he let Hillary off the mat. On National Review Online’s “The Campaign Spot,” Jim Geraghty noted, “Instead of a simple, four word, ‘What are you hiding?’ — it could have been incredulous instead of accusatory — Obama went into a pablum-filled speech about openness. Blah.” (As a bonus, he also mentioned his experience in the Illinois state legislature.)

Obama tried to make up for lost ground Wednesday. In a memo to the press, his campaign contrasted Hillary’s claim (“all of the records… about what we did with health care… are already available”) with a report to the contrary from the latest issue of Newsweek (“key papers from her health-care task force… [remain] locked away”). And in an interview with the Associated Press, he was more to the point, although still not aggressive enough: “Her big answer on whether she would release the papers from her White House years was particularly troubling because she is running on her record as First Lady as much as on her record as a senator,” he said. “How can people fully judge that record if the documents from those years remain locked away?”

For an example of why this is important, consider the recent debate over the proposed expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Conservatives argued that the bill President Bush vetoed would have extended to middle-class families a benefit designed for the working poor. This would have all sorts of undesirable side-effects, not least of which would be getting Americans used to the idea of government-funded health care for the middle-class. The bill’s supporters said conservatives were just being paranoid — until the discovery of an old memo titled, “Kids First.”

The “Kids First” memo outlined a plan to lay the political groundwork for socialized medicine by taking things one step at a time. “Under this approach, health care reform is phased in by population, beginning with children,” the memo stated. “Kids First is really a precursor to the new system. It is intended to be freestanding and administratively simple, with states given broad flexibility in its design so that it can be easily folded into existing/future program structures.” In 1998, five years after this memo was written, Congress and the Clinton administration created S-CHIP.

The authors of the “Kids First” memo were, of course, Hillary Clinton’s staffers from the 1993 health-care task force. Its discovery validated conservative arguments that the proposed S-CHIP expansion is an integral part the larger movement to nationalize health care. The AAPS lawsuit successfully exposed this memo, as well as other key documents. But as Judicial Watch’s Farrell points out, a great deal of Hillary’s record as First Lady remains inaccessible to the public. “John Q. Citizen and folks like yourself, the press, want to see this stuff. They want to ask questions. They want to know what the record is,” he says.

“So if you’re running on your record, then lay your record out.”

– Stephen Spruiell is an NRO staffer.


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