- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

Behind the scenes in Bill Clinton’s White House, drawn from long-restricted papers released Friday from his presidency:

BUGGING A FOREIGN LEADER?

In a November 1994 file about former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a Miami lawyer complains that the National Security Agency had been secretly intercepting Aristide’s phone calls.

Such operations “offend the principle of peaceful cooperation among states” and violate the U.N. charter and international law, lawyer Ira J. Kurzban wrote, citing media accounts at the time about intercepts of Aristide’s communications.

“I don’t think the government ever changed their conduct” after the 1994 letter, Kurzban said Friday in a telephone interview.

The letter foreshadows the recent furor among foreign governments over revelations that the NSA intercepted the private conversations of world leaders - a tactic now reined in.

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LEAVING NO STONE UNTURNED

In the early summer of 1993, the White House was preparing for Senate Labor Committee confirmation hearings for Jocelyn Elders, whom Clinton had picked to become surgeon general.

A memo by Jerry Klepner, a Clinton administration health official, shows how thorough - and private - that preparation was. Klepner writes that administration aides would “distribute packets and communicate with friendly committee members to ensure that ‘softball’ questions will be asked at the confirmation hearing.”

Elders was eventually confirmed, but she lost her job the following year following controversial comments about drugs and masturbation.

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A CLEAN SLATE FOR WHISKY WRONGDOING

Clinton’s lawyers in 1996 recommended pardons, which the president granted, for various minor offenses:

-Glen Edison Chapman of North Carolina asked Clinton to help him “clear his conscience” after concealing and possessing non-tax-paid whiskey in the 1950s. “He … states that ‘money was scarce’ and he could find no other means to support his family,” Clinton lawyer Jack Quinn wrote.

-Charley Morgan, from northern Oklahoma, then 71, asked for clemency for illegally possessing a still and making mash. He wanted to restore his self-esteem as his health failed, Quinn wrote.

-Raymond Weaver pleaded guilty to stealing four pounds of butter worth $2.68. Quinn said Weaver asked a mess cook in 1947 for butter to take home to his family but was later charged with theft. Weaver’s home state wasn’t listed.

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VINCENT FOSTER

The Republican-led investigation into White House aide Vincent Foster’s suicide infuriated the White House, which tried to recruit bestselling author William Styron to write a piece critical of the probe. Clinton communications specialists even drafted a piece for the novelist and author of a memoir of his own depression. It is unclear if the piece was ever published.

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CHAOTIC TRAVEL

One unsigned White House memo cites worries over unnecessary costs from presidential travel.

Problems included confusion over vehicles included in presidential motorcades, hotel charges for rooms that weren’t used and trips that were delayed or canceled belatedly.

“The last minute change of the presidential hotel at NATO Madrid Summit caused stress to the president and the first lady and other entities not to mention increased costs,” said the memo, which did not have a date.

Under the heading “potential embarrassing stories,” other problems are listed. These include “angry hotel chains” due to abrupt cancelations of blocks of rooms, unpaid vendors because of missing documentation and late or expensive bills sent to the traveling press.

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CHAOTIC TRAVEL OFFICE

A short note that White House counsel Jack Quinn wrote to Clinton in 1996 underscores concerns over the political impact of the White House’s earlier firings of all seven staffers of its in-house travel office.

The firings happened in 1993 shortly after Clinton took office following allegations of earlier financial irregularities. But the episode remained controversial for years with critics asserting that Hillary Rodham Clinton had played a role in the firings and that the Clintons wanted to replace the workers with friends from Arkansas - which the Clintons denied.

In 1996, as a House committee was preparing to investigate, Quinn wrote a dismissive letter to that panel’s chairman, Rep. William Klinger, R-Pa., and attached a note for the president.

“All of us working on this matter think we should not write to Clinger again,” Quinn wrote, adding, “There is nothing to be gained for you in our keeping this story going for a few more days.”

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GAYS IN THE MILITARY

The documents capture the tortured, internal debate within the Clinton administration about fulfilling the president’s campaign promise to end the ban on allowing gays to serve openly in the military.

After months of high-profile hearings and considerable public debate, Clinton settled on a policy that would allow gays to serve as long as they kept their sexual orientation quiet, dubbed “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Memos reflect concerns within the Justice Department and administration lawyers about the new policy, its constitutionality, its effect on pending lawsuits and whether it could stand up in court.

Aspects of the new policy, says one memo, “border on irrationality. For example, the linchpin of the policy is the notion that ‘knowledge is everything,’ i.e., concerns about privacy and morale can be accommodated even if homosexuals remain in the military, so long as those with whom they serve do not know that they are homosexual. This rationale only makes sense in the context of members of the same unit, or persons sharing living quarters, showers, and so forth.”

In 2010, Congress voted to end the 17-year ban and backed allowing gays to serve openly in the armed forces.

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BIRTH CONTROL

In June 1998, Clinton’s advisers recommended that the administration support a proposal requiring contraceptive coverage for federal employees. But what about a proposal to require all employers to offer birth control coverage? With memories fresh of the collapse of the health overhaul pushed by Hillary Clinton, that was a step too far.

“Be silent” on that point, says a memorandum from advisers Bruce Reed and Chris Jennings.

“The health policy community usually opposes mandating particular benefits for fear that coverage decisions will become political rather than substantive and, in most cases, will add to the cost of health insurance,” the memo says. “We generally agree with the policy community on this point, and worry that if we go down this road any further, we will find it difficult to oppose benefits mandates that are politically popular but poor policy.”

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IDEAS THAT FIZZLED

Just before the 1994 midterm elections, Clinton advisers mulled some bold or at least unusual government reform proposals the White House could announce to counteract big plans expected from the Republicans on the cusp of their takeover of Congress.

One was a constitutional amendment to allow voters nationwide to vote in national referendums on issues of the day. Another was to revoke Congress’ right to send free mail to constituents, giving that ability to citizens instead to allow them to write free to Capitol Hill.

Advisers Bruce Reed, Michael Waldman and Paul Weinstein pitched those ideas to White House chief of staff Leon Panetta in an Oct. 21, 1994, memo, but they didn’t get far.

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BAD BLOOD?

A White House staffer saw unsavory motives in a short, innocuous-looking letter from Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee in May 1999. Now that aide, Fred DuVal, is himself running for governor in Arizona as a Democrat.

In the letter, Huckabee asks Clinton to declare a national “Safe Television for All Ages Day.”

DuVal jotted a note on the letter before forwarding it for response: “Huckabee hates BC (Bill Clinton) & is planning a Senate race against Lincoln. He needs a quick, warm response.”

Huckabee did not run against Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, a Democrat who won re-election in 2004. But he ran for president in 2008.

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REFUGEE WORRIES

In January 1997, Clinton advisers nervously put their support behind a scheduled exercise in south Florida to deal with a potential flood of refugees.

Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, felt Washington had mismanaged earlier Cuban refugee crises and wanted it to be ready next time.

So federal authorities decided to place 25 officers on Coast Guard ships to conduct mock interviews with refugees and about 100 people from various agencies on land to simulate interviews and detention of those who made it to shore.

That raised concerns at the National Security Council, where senior officials Rob Malley and Fulton Armstrong drafted a memo to Clinton’s deputy security adviser, Jim Steinberg.

They said an exercise premised on a mass migration - and detention - of Cubans could send the wrong message both to Cuban-Americans and to the Cuban government, and might trigger a mass migration.

But the officials deferred to Chiles’ wishes while saying news coverage of the exercise should be played down.

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INDEPENDENT WOMEN

One memo dated Jan. 25, 1993, from Clinton aides Bob Boorstin and David Dreyer offered this assessment of Hillary Clinton:

“It’s no surprise that some Americans can’t handle smart, tough, independent women. And that’s the image most Americans have of you (even die-hard supporters, who view those characteristics as positives). Few Americans think of you in personal terms (warm, caring, funny, kind, maternal) or have a sense of your deep love of children.”

The writers blamed Hillary Clinton’s problems, in part, on “the handiwork of the radical right and radio talk show hosts who have much to gain by painting an unflattering portrait of you.”

Two decades later, Clinton could soon announce a second presidential campaign with the goal of becoming the nation’s first female president.

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Stephen Braun, Donna Cassata, Erica Werner and Calvin Woodward in Washington and Kelly P. Kissel in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

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