- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

The White House yesterday said first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke with President Clinton before the release of confidential letters from former White House aide Kathleen Willey, but claimed spousal privilege and refused to divulge the content of those conversations.

Associate White House Counsel Karl Racine, in written responses to questions in a $90 million lawsuit by Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest law firm, acknowledged that Mrs. Clinton "discussed the matter" with her husband prior to the March 1998 release of the letters.

Mr. Racine said other White House staff members were advised after the decision was made to make the letters public a day after Mrs. Willey said on "60 Minutes" that Mr. Clinton kissed her, cupped her breast and put her hand on his groin during a November 1993 meeting.

But, he said, attorneys for the Clintons said "the substance of the discussions between the president and the first lady would be protected by the spousal privilege."

The White House released 15 friendly letters from Mrs. Willey to Mr. Clinton to rebut her accusations of sexual misconduct. She had gone to meet with the president to seek a job because of financial problems caused by her husband, who committed suicide the same day she claims Mr. Clinton assaulted her.

Judicial Watch, in its suit in the Filegate matter, sought the identity of those who recommended or helped make the decision to release the letters.

The firm says in its 4-year-old suit that the privacy rights of former Bush and Reagan administration officials were violated when the FBI gave the White House more than 900 confidential background files.

The Willey letters have been ruled by a federal judge as material to the Filegate suit.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, yesterday described the White House response as "bogus," and said the firm would challenge the claims in court. He declined to elaborate.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Clinton was ordered yesterday by a federal judge to conduct a new search for personal and White House records concerning her suspected involvement in the Filegate investigation and, if any are found, to turn them over in the pending suit.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, in a 17-page ruling, ordered that any records not already produced be turned over within the next 20 days.

In October 1998, Judicial Watch asked Mrs. Clinton to search for documents it considered relevant in the case, but described her eventual hunt as "legally insufficient." The firm had telephone records, reports, letters, computer tapes and other documents.

Mrs. Clinton responded in February 1999, saying the request was "overly broad, irrelevant, unduly burdensome and redundant." She argued the request sought White House records or other official documents not in her possession.

Judge Lamberth said that while Mrs. Clinton said she would produce only those documents in her possession, she did not "include in her response any document she does not currently possess, but that she has the legal right to obtain." He said Mrs. Clinton did not say whether records "not in her possession, but still within her control" were ever searched.

"Therefore, because both Mrs. Clinton and her defense counsel fail to represent that all responsive documents within Mrs. Clinton's control have been produced … the court will order that Mrs. Clinton, within 20 days of the entry of this order, submit a supplemental response," the judge said.

"In this response, Mrs. Clinton shall explain in detail the search that was performed, including the locations searched. She shall also clearly assert whether all documents, including those not in her possession, but still within her control, have been produced," he said.

The judge also ordered the first lady to "describe the parameters of the search performed" and include a statement that all documents within her control have been produced.

He also said some Judicial Watch requests were related to other inquiries, but they could be reviewed because they touched on the misuse of the FBI files.

Those include the Willey letters and information on former White House travel office supervisor Billy Dale and Pentagon employee Linda R. Tripp.

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