- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2000

Filegate, the scandal in which the Clinton-Gore White House improperly accumulated nearly 1,000 raw FBI files of senior Republican officials, has been put to rest at least for the time being.

Based on a report filed with a three judge panel by independent counsel Robert Ray last week, the nearly four year investigation has determined there was "no substantial and credible evidence that any senior White House official, or first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, was involved in seeking confidential Federal Bureau of Investigation background reports of former White House staff from the administrations of Presidents Reagan and Bush." The investigation also concluded, according to a statement issued by Mr. Ray, that prosecutors found no evidence showing that then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum lied to Congress about the administration's hiring of the demonstrably unqualified Craig Livingstone, a former bar bouncer who gathered the FBI files as White House security chief. Finally, Mr. Ray said the investigation found no evidence showing that Mrs. Clinton was involved in Mr. Livingstone's hiring.

It was the first of three reports involving President Clinton and the first lady that are expected to be completed in the next several months. The other two reports will involve Travelgate and Whitewater. Early next year, Mr. Ray is expected to file a fourth report that will address the propriety of Mr. Clinton's conduct and the veracity of his testimony, both in regard to sexual harassment cases.

The White House is undoubtedly pleased with the conclusions of last week's independent counsel report, which was filed under seal with a three-judge panel pending a 90-day response period available to those mentioned in the report. Until the three federal appeals court judges who sit on the special panel publicly release the report, however, it is impossible to know how prosecutors reconciled testimony and evidence from extremely reliable FBI and Secret Service agents that conflicted with statements from officials of the most corrupt and politicized White House in decades.

In particular, Dennis Sculimbrene, a former Air Force pilot who was the senior agent at the FBI's White House liaison office from 1986 to 1996, took notes of a 1993 conversation he had with Mr. Nussbaum, who told him that Mr. Livingstone had been "highly recommended" by the first lady. Mr. Nussbaum told Congress in June 1996, before the notes of Mr. Sculimbrene's 1993 conversation were discovered, that he had no idea how Mr. Livingstone was hired. Notes notwithstanding, Mr. Nussbaum later denied ever making such a statement to the FBI agent. Another White House FBI agent asserted that then-White House Associate Counsel William Kennedy had told him that Mrs. Clinton had ordered Mr. Livingstone's hiring. Mr. Ray seems to have endorsed Mr. Nussbaum's version, notes and confirming assertions notwithstanding. To this day, apparently nobody knows who hired Mr. Livingstone, though then-White House spinmeister George Stephanopolous strategically pinned the deed on the late Vince Foster, who had earlier committed suicide.

Moreover, while the independent counsel's interest in wrapping up the nearly four-year old Filegate investigation is clearly understandable, it isn't at all clear why Mr. Ray chose to do so before examining potentially incriminating evidence that has only recently been exposed. As Jerry Seper of The Washington Times has been reporting, a former White House computer manager has accused the White House of covering up its failure to surrender to the independent counsel's office and several congressional committees thousands of relevant subpoenaed e-mail messages from August 1996 to November 1998, which were temporarily lost in cyberspace. Hundreds of these e-mails are said to relate to Filegate, trade missions and campaign-finance; thousands of others involve Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Ray expressed an interest in obtaining this information, but he inexplicably filed his first report before it was made available to him.

More details about Filegate will surely emerge from the lawsuit activity that Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, has brought against the Clinton administration on behalf of former Republican officials whose privacy rights were violated and White House whistle blowers who exposed the cover-up of the missing e-mails. Judicial Watch has complained that the independent counsel has failed to interview "major material witnesses" in the Filegate investigation, a potential oversight that Judicial Watch can be expected not to replicate.

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