Campaign '08: Hillary's Paper Trail

During last week's Democratic presidential debate, Hillary Clinton faced tough questions about why so many of her papers at her husband's presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., are still secret—and her answers have only invited more questions. Clinton said during the debate that one chunk of records, from her days heading up her husband's health-care task force, had been released. "Now, all of the records, as far as I know, about what we did with health care, those are already available," she said. But National Archives documents obtained by NEWSWEEK and interviews with Archives officials indicate that the vast majority of the Clintons' health-care task-force records are still under lock and key in Little Rock—and might stay that way for some time.

In a letter last year responding to a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative group Judicial Watch, Melissa Walker, supervisory archivist of the Clinton Presidential Library, wrote that archivists had identified 3,022,030 still-unreleased health-care documents, along with 2,884 e-mails and 1,021 photos covered by the group's request. Archives officials at the Clinton library have yet to process the Judicial Watch request or release the several million pages of task-force documents, including many key internal memos written by Mrs. Clinton and her advisers about how to restructure the health-care industry. This prompted the group to file a new lawsuit last week demanding their immediate disclosure. "This doesn't pass the giggle test," said Christopher Farrell, the group's research director, about Clinton's statement that "all" of her health-care records had been released.

The Clinton White House publicly released 13,400 pages of documents regarding Hillary's related health-care "working group" to resolve a 1994 lawsuit. And Clinton campaign spokes-man Jay Carson says that as many as half a million health-care papers have now been disclosed, but he acknowledges that many others have yet to be cleared. "There are undoubtedly other documents related to health care in the hundred million pages" of unreleased records at the library, Carson said, but he added that Clinton's hands were tied because understaffed Archives officials had to review each and every FOIA request—and handle all of them in order. "We don't control their process," he said. "We're not holding anything up."

At the debate, Mrs. Clinton rejected the idea that she could accelerate the process by encouraging her husband to lift restrictions he has placed on confidential communications with his wife on policy matters. "Well, that's not my decision to make," she said. In 1994, according to another National Archives document obtained by NEWSWEEK, President Clinton formally designated both his wife and his close adviser Bruce Lindsey as co-representatives for control of his papers in the event of his death or disability. Lindsey now reviews all White House papers at the library before they are cleared for release; Hillary, Carson says, "has never been involved in the clearing process. Bruce is the designee." But that has not stopped Clinton's principal rival, Sen. Barack Obama, from hitting the issue hard. In an interview with NEWSWEEK, he called Clinton's responses on the records issue "disingenuous." "She can release these papers," Obama said. "She can get them released soon." Carson shot back that Obama "has formally abandoned the politics of hope and is running a negative campaign."

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