Upstairs At The White House

IT'S A ROOM THAT'S DEFINITELY NOT ON the White House tour. High on the third floor of the family quarters, the "Book Room" is a cozy hideaway, open to the First Family, staffers and the president's houseguests. Next door is a small office where Mrs. Clinton worked much of last year writing her new book. Last August, a personal aide, Carolyn Huber, was going to pick up some magazine clippings in the Book Room when she noticed a stack of computer printouts that hadn't been there a few days earlier. She stuck them in a box, took them to her office in the East Wing and forgot all about them. Then, earlier this month, she was unpacking the carton--and gave a start when she realized what they were. She immediately called Mrs. Clinton's lawyer. Then she called her own lawyer.

The documents Huber discovered had been under subpoena by various investigators, including Congress and the Whitewater independent counsel, for about two years. They were Mrs. Clinton's legal billing records for Madison Guaranty, the failed savings and loan owned by the Clintons' Whitewater partner, James McDougal. They detail what official work Mrs. Clinton did for Madison. They are documents that someone apparently wanted to disappear, and their tortuous history is now the subject of an inquiry by the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr. Last week, two days before she publicly told her story to the Senate Whitewater committee, Huber testified before a grand jury in Little Rock. Starr, NEWSWEEK has learned, has subpoenaed Mrs. Clinton's valet and all White House entry logs to try to rind out who might have visited the Book Room last August--and why.

The trail of the missing documents begins at the Rose Law Finn in February 1992--just as the press first began asking about Whitewater. The files were pulled by Vince Foster, then a partner in the firm and Mrs. Clinton's personal lawyer. His red-ink handwriting is all over the copies of the records Huber found. But by the time the first subpoenas arrived in January 1994, the papers had vanished. Huber--once Rose's office manager--recalls seeing lawyers from Williams & Connolly, a firm now representing the First Family, methodically searching the file cabinets in the residence to sweep up everything under subpoena.

Where were the billing records during all of this? Republican investigators suspect that, at least for a time, they were kept in Foster's West Wing office. The night the deputy White House counsel killed himself in July 1993, a Secret Service agent testified that he saw the First Lady's chief of staff, Maggie Williams, carrying files out of Foster's office. Williams denies this but acknowledges that Mrs. Clinton's personal files were removed from Foster's office a few days later and stuck in a closet in the residence--next door to the Book Room. Supposedly, the whole stack was then sent over to Mrs. Clinton's lawyer at Wiliams & Connolly. Somehow, though, two years later, Huber came across the billing records in the Book Room. At about the same time, Williams and Mrs. Clinton's closest friend, New York lawyer Susan Thomases, were testifying on the Hill-and were having trouble recalling exactly how the documents from Foster's office were handled.

White House lawyers scoff at the notion that Starr could bring an obstruction-of-justice charge against anyone in the White House. "I am absolutely confident that this is one of those dry holes that will be dug," Mrs. Clinton told CBS, denying that either she or the president had anything to do with the records' disappearance or rediscovery. Starr will be examining the documents for fingerprints, including the First Lady's. But he may not be able to get a good print. When Huber gave the documents to David Kendall, Mrs. Clinton's personal lawyer, he did not drop them in a plastic bag, as a detective would. He had them shown to White House lawyers and ordered Huber to make copies. By the time they got to the special prosecutor, they were thoroughly smudged. Like so much else in Whitewater.