This week, the continuing controversy over the release of records from the William J. Clinton Presidential Library concerning Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) time as First Lady moved to the courts. The conservative public interest group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in federal court against the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) seeking to force the release of records related to the National Task Force on Health Care Reform, chaired by then First Lady Clinton.
“Hillary Clinton claimed in the presidential debate last week that ‘all of the records’ related to her work on health care reform ‘are already available.’ This is untrue. The Health Care Task Force and most other Clinton White House documents remain largely unavailable to the American people. We hope our lawsuits change that,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Judicial Watch has another federal FOIA lawsuit pending that is seeking Mrs. Clinton’s White House office records, which include her daily schedules and telephone logs.
In response to the original FOIA request for the health care records filed by Judicial Watch in 2006, the National Archives stated that there were approximately 3,022,030 textual records, 2,884 pages of electronic records, 1,021 photographs, three videotapes and three audiotapes that must be reviewed prior to release. .
According to a November 3, 2007, article in Newsweek, 13,400 pages of documents related to the Health Care Taskforce have been released to date. In the article, Clinton campaign spokesperson Jay Carson asserted that half a million health-care related records had already been released. Carson told Newsweek there were no doubt other documents related to health care that have not yet been released, but claimed it was due to the fact that there were not enough Archives staff available at the Clinton Library to process FOIA requests expeditiously. Newsweek quoted Carson, “We don’t control their process. . .We’re not holding anything up.”
The controversy began when Senator Clinton gave a confusing response to a question posed by moderator Tim Russert in a recent Democratic presidential debate. Russert asked if the Senator would agree to expedite the release of her records as First Lady. He cited a letter sent by former President Clinton to the National Archives in 2002, requesting that the agency continue to withhold until 2012, “communications directly between the President and the First Lady, and their families, unless routine in nature.”
Initially Senator Clinton said, “the Archives is moving as fast as the Archives moves.” She went on to say as to lifting any ban on the release of her records, “that’s not my decision to make.” She also made the claim that, “now all of the records, as far as I know about what we did with health care, those are already available.”
Last week former President Clinton gave an impassioned defense of the Senator’s response and called Russert’s use of his 2002 letter to the Archives, “breathtakingly misleading.” He went on to add, “I have already released one million pages of documents, about half of which affect Hillary, the records of the Health Care Taskforce.” A full video of the former President’s response is available here.
The Republican National Committee countered that it was “fiction” that all of Senator Clinton’s records had been released, alleging that, “millions of pages of Hillary’s White House records remain locked down in Little Rock.”
So who is right?
It is true that in 1994 the White House did release approximately half a million documents related to Health Care Taskforce chaired by First Lady Hillary Clinton. However, the truth is that the White House did so only to settle the case Association of American Physicians & Surgeons, Inc. v. Clinton, 997 F.2d 898, 902–03 (D.C.Cir. 1993) that had sought the release of the records.
It is not true that all of the records relating to the Clinton Administration’s Health Care Task Force have already been released. As noted above, the National Archives has admitted that over three million paper documents and e-mails relating to the topic remain under review at the Clinton Library.
And what is the practical impact of the letter that President Clinton sent to the National Archives in 2002, which Tim Russert alleged was delaying the release of records relating to then First Lady Hillary Clinton? According to an article in the New York Sun this week, it may not be that relevant after all.
The Sun interviewed attorney Scott Nelson of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, who represented the American Historical Association in its lawsuit to overturn President Bush’s Executive Order 13233, which ironically broadened the ability of former Presidents to delay the release of their records. A federal district court judge recently invalidated that section of the EO, reinstituting the 30-day review period for former presidents mandated under the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
Nelson told the Sun, “It [the letter] starts off saying, ‘I want to be really open about this stuff,’ but, you know if you compare the categories that he [President Clinton] says would be considered for withholding. . . .they encompass most of what is within the scope of these restrictions.” He went on to say that the former president’s letter would not change “99.4% of what the [advice] restriction category applies to in the first place.”