The early days of 1996 were tense times inside the Clinton White House. On Jan. 4, the First Couple's top personal aide reported that she had stumbled upon Hillary Clinton's long-lost Rose Law Firm billing records--documents that had been requested by Whitewater prosecutors two years earlier. Ken Starr quickly subpoenaed the First Lady to testify before a federal grand jury, leading to her historic four-hour appearance at the U.S. District Courthouse in Washington on Jan. 26 of that year.
But anybody looking through Hillary Clinton's newly released White House records for clues as to how she handled this personal crisis will find … absolutely nothing. The more than 10,000 pages, released by the National Archives in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, purport to be the New York senator's daily schedules for her entire eight-year tenure as First Lady--the first major "document dump" from the Clinton Library in Little Rock.
But the documents include only Hillary Clinton's public schedules, not her private calendar. And even those appear to be heavily redacted to exclude almost anything that might be of interest to historians and the inevitable posse of "oppo" researchers. The January 1996 records show Hillary Clinton appearing on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and numerous other TV and radio shows to promote her just-published book, "It Takes a Village." But they show no meetings whatsoever about the Rose Law firm billing records, no sessions with her lawyers to prepare for her grilling by Starr. The calendar for Jan. 26, 1996--the day crowds of reporters and TV cameramen gathered at the courthouse to watch Hillary Clinton enter and exit the grand jury--is totally blank. "NO public schedule," it states simply, wiping out any reference to one of the more embarrassing public episodes of the First Lady's days in the White House.
The heavy deletions are perhaps not surprising, given that the National Archives staffers who approved the release operated under guidance given by former president Clinton in a November 2002 letter recommending strict restrictions on the types of material that can be divulged. (Among the documents that should be "considered for withholding," were anything related to investigations of the White House and all but "non-routine" communications between the president and the First Lady.) The material the National Archives did decide to release still had to be reviewed and approved by Bruce Lindsey, the president's longtime loyal aide who serves as chief custodian of the Clinton archives. "This stuff has been sanitized," said Chris Farrell, the chief of investigations for Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group that sued the Archives for release of the records. "Our expectations were very low, and they didn't disappoint." (Clinton campaign spokesman Jay Carson said the Archives released the records under "very strict legal requirements and guidelines that they follow in their redactions as they do for every president's documents. The National Archives made the redactions." He added that Lindsey, former president Clinton's official representative, asked the Archives to "put extensive material back in" and "the vast majority" of the remaining redactions were made to protect the privacy of third parties.)
As a result, the schedules released Wednesday are filled with references to innocuous public ceremonies and tours and political events--surrounded by whited-out boxes of deleted material. On March 28, 1995, to pick one example, the schedule shows that Hillary Clinton landed in Lahore, Pakistan, and was "given flowers by a boy and girl dressed in traditional Pakistani clothes." Clinton then visited a village home where she was "served cold soda." On June 1, 2000, researchers will discover that Hillary Clinton flew to Waco, Texas, where she visited the "Audre & Bernard Rapoport Academy." "HRC proceeds to read 'Where the wild things Are' to approximately 71 kindergarten thru second graders," the schedule reads.
The schedule is considerably less revealing when it comes to more awkward episodes of the Clinton presidency. Consider the afternoon of March 9, 1995, when Johnny Chung, a businessman and soon-to-be-notorious Democratic Party fund-raiser, made a fateful trip to the White House carrying a campaign check for $50,000. For many critics, Chung later became a symbol of the campaign-finance abuses of the Clinton presidency, a mysterious Chinese businessman who managed to be cleared into the White House on 49 occasions. (He also later pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations and testified that a sizeable chunk of his illegal campaign cash came from a Chinese military-intelligence operative.) Hillary Clinton made a special trip to the Map Room that day so she could have her picture taken with Chung. "We handshake, and then she [Hillary Clinton] said, 'Welcome to the White House, my good friend'," Chung later testified, describing the encounter with Hillary Clinton. Right after that, Chung hand-delivered his $50,000 to Maggie Williams, who was the First Lady's chief of staff at the time and now manages her presidential campaign.
But Hillary Clinton's newly released calendar for that day shows no reference to Johnny Chung at all. There is listed, just as Chung testified, an "official photo" session in the Map Room. But the name of the person Hillary Clinton was having her picture taken with has been deleted on the grounds that it would be "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy," according to the Archives' released record. This may seem odd, given that Chung had spoken openly, many times, about his photo op with Hillary. It may seem even odder given that just a few minutes later the First Lady had another photo session--but this time, the documents identify the person whose picture was taken. It was Eileen Collins, the astronaut.
Equally unrevealing are Hillary Clinton's schedules for August 1998--a fateful month, during which Bill Clinton was forced to deal with the audacious attacks by Al Qaeda on two U.S. Embassies in Africa even as the Monica Lewinsky scandal was reaching its climax. (The same month, after Bill Clinton gave testimony in Ken Starr's inquiry and finally confessed his relationship with a former White House intern, the Clintons flew off to a vacation in Martha's Vineyard during which Hillary supposedly chastised him for the Monica Lewinsky affair).
Little of this is evident in the schedules released Wednesday. On the contrary, the newly released documents show no public events at the White House--and no public events at an unspecified private residence on Martha's Vineyard. The HRC schedule for Aug. 17, 1998--the day of Bill's grand-jury testimony at the White House--only shows that the Clintons were scheduled to travel to Martha's Vineyard at an undetermined hour that day. Among the very few public events listed on Hillary Clinton's schedules for the entire month of August was a fairly full day of events on the 13th, when the president and First Lady both went to Andrews Air Force base to view the unloading from official transport planes of the coffins of Americans killed in the Al Qaeda bombings of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya.