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The Saga of the First Lady Files


Clinton in 1994 at a rally for the health care plan she spearheaded.

Word that nearly 2 million pages of documents related to Hillary Rodham Clinton's time as first lady could remain locked up until after next year's election produced the predictable catcalls among critics suspecting coverup. But it raises the broader, unprecedented question of how someone's service as first lady should be evaluated in terms of her qualifications to be president in the first place.

American voters have assessed the records of vice presidents, governors, senators, members of Congress, cabinet secretaries, businessmen and generals in deciding whether they were capable of leading the country. But never before have they considered how a candidate behaved as first lady. A first lady signs no executive orders, casts no votes, runs no operations beyond a small coterie of aides in the East Wing. What is the standard to measure a first lady against? What constitutes a successful tenure as first lady?

On the campaign trail, Clinton tends to talk more about her service as a senator and the issues that have confronted her during her 6-1/2 years representing New York. But she points to her past residence in the White House as a qualification as well. Certainly no other first-time candidate for president ever saw a presidency up close and personal the way she did. She notes that she traveled to 82 countries while first lady. And certainly she redefined the position of presidential spouse to go far beyond the traditional adopt-a-benign-cause pattern set by most of her modern predecessors.

Her campaign web site defines her tenure as first lady in terms of women's issues. "Hillary's work as a champion for women was recognized and admired around the world," the web site asserts, noting that she "traveled the globe" promoting "the powerful idea that women's rights are human rights." As first lady, the site says, she championed efforts to make adoption easier, expand child care, increase breast cancer research and help ailing Gulf War veterans. And it mentions her failed effort to reshape health care.

But what about her role in other issues? Did she ever commit her thoughts on welfare reform to paper? What did she think of the government shutdown fight with Newt Gingrich? Are there memos describing her role in the travel office firings that have never been made public? How about the controversial pardons in the last days of her husband's presidency? Did she ever secretly meet as first lady with some of the lightning-rod figures from Whitewater, the campaign finance scandals or the Monica Lewinsky case?

We may never find out before Election Day next year. Judicial Watch, a watchdog group that peppered the Clinton administration with lawsuits during the 1990s, filed a lawsuit July 16 asking a federal court in Washington to order the National Archives and Records Administration to give it Hillary Clinton's calendars, daily office diaries, schedule and telephone logs from Jan. 20, 1993, to Jan. 20, 2001. The group filed the suit after waiting for more than a year with no reply to its April 5, 2006, request under the Freedom of Information Act submitted to the archives, which operates the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.

"With Hillary Clinton aggressively pursuing the presidency, uncovering the truth about her activities in the White House is just as relevant today as it was during the Clinton era," said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.

Then came a report in the Los Angeles Times this week that the Clinton library in Arkansas says nearly 2 million pages of documents related to the first lady's office probably won't be processed for release in time for the election. Under normal procedures, archives officials must review each requested document line by line for material considered classified, private or confidential communications before it can be released.

The staff is still processing older FOIA requests not related to her current campaign and by law moves through requests in the order they are received. It could take years for Hillary Clinton's documents to come out, officials told the Times. A previous Newsday story says the Clintons' longtime attorney and consigliere, Bruce Lindsey, has veto power over documents he deems privileged communications.

The notion of hidden documents, of course, recalls the controversy over the health care task force Clinton led in her husband's first term, when outside groups attempted to learn what was going on only to be shut out. After the Times story, the Republican National Committee put out a statement ridiculing Clinton for calling "for transparency in government" but putting her White House documents "in lockdown until after [the] '08 race." And then Sen. Barack Obama put out a statement in which he vowed to create the "most transparent and accountable administration in history." He made no mention of the Clinton papers, but the timing certainly did not seem coincidental.

-- Peter Baker

Posted at 8:41 AM ET on Aug 16, 2007  | Category:  Morning Cheat Sheet
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What was her most notable achievement as First Lady? Not being convicted of perjury.

Posted by: George14 | August 17, 2007 7:26 PM

If Hillary thinks that hiding the files will keep people from remembering how unpopular she was, I'm sure that the Republicans will be more than able to take up the slack. It is hard to believe that a "journalist" could write this article without mentioning the words "Rose Hill," "White House Travel Office," or "Vincent Foster."

Posted by: George14 | August 17, 2007 7:24 PM

I am disappointed in our "journalists". Who could not see that Hillary was going to be running in 2008 back in 2000, 2001, 2002? Why didn't anyone make a request for some of this information then? The 15 second attention span of our nation is going to come back and bite us as we can't even produce documentation from just a few years ago and we'll have to rely on the candidate to re-paint history for us

Posted by: dave16 | August 17, 2007 1:35 PM

this is sooo hypocritical

she wants to use her being a first lady as experience but wont show us it...

she had a cheif of staff and everything...she lobbyed congress on health care...she should make her documents public

SHOW US THE DAMN PAPERS

Posted by: SeanFoots | August 17, 2007 3:21 AM

It is her choice to run, and her choice to use her experience as First Lady as qualifications. She is no queen, no matter how much she wants us to treat her as an heir to power. The people deserve a right to the records of her service to us. This is all the more important since she stonewalled giving records as legally required under Congressional investigations. Smell a rat?

Posted by: cdc9 | August 17, 2007 12:34 AM

"Does the First Lady get paid? An employee of the Administration? Don't think so. Her personal documents & notes should remain just that - personal. Not just for Clinton, but for every First Lady."

Totally with you, but notice this means her EXPERIENCE counts for nada because it's a personal issue.

Posted by: sickofspam | August 16, 2007 3:21 PM

1. The red herring approach of bringing up other people who didn't disclose all information is somewhat irrelevant here. The point is we need more disclosure to avoid another mistake. Anyone who sits here and berates the current administration should seek a higher standard, not to lower theirs. To do anything else would be truly hypocritical. Either you are asking for more accountability or you are an equivalent of the current administration.

2. These documents are not her private journal of personal discourse with her husband. But rather the very official documentation of her actions, requests, management and responsibilities. Saying that this is privileged discourse between husband and wife insults our intelligence. Moreover, Hillary took what was a relatively unprecedented role in creating her own agenda while being the first lady (Eleanor Roosevelt aside). Her attempts at creating public policy far surpass the typical semi-Apolitical duties of the average first lady. So if you are a supporter of Hillary there is really no advantage in suggesting that 'what she did as first lady should not reflect on her now.' Her legacy was to be more than a footnote, and now we should be allowed to understand just what and how she approached her 'job'. If she falls on her sword it will be her own doing, can their be anything more 'fair?'

Posted by: gconrads | August 16, 2007 3:06 PM

Does the First Lady get paid? An employee of the Administration? Don't think so. Her personal documents & notes should remain just that - personal. Not just for Clinton, but for every First Lady.

Add in the privileged communication between a husband & wife (which we tend to respect in this country) and the concept of Executive Privilege that the Bush Administration is pushing so strongly and there are probably few documents that should be released.

While Senator Clinton may be somewhat unique because of her running for the Presidency I believe we need to exercise great care in demanding documents as we will be establishing a new standard of disclosure for all past and future First Ladies. I'm not sure that would be a good thing.

Posted by: KHMJr | August 16, 2007 2:25 PM

Hillary Clinton was NOT and elected official when her husband was in office. She did not need access to classified information. Her records should be no more secret than the recipe for cookies or `Who hired Craig Livinstone`. Release the information and let the chips fall. Talk about a hypocrite complaining that the Bush Admin is so `secret`.

Posted by: kmccorma | August 16, 2007 2:08 PM

qqbDEyZW


"...Now Americans are losing health care and 2/3 of Americans don't have any."

Please cite a source for this nugget of information.

Posted by: elwd2726 | August 16, 2007 2:02 PM

In general I am full disclosure, but I think this is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard of . To ask for these records which are clearly part of the Clinton administration while refusing to disclose the Bush Governor papers is through-the-looking-glass logic. The Bush Governor papers were by law supposed to be in the Texas State Library but instead they were whisked away to the GHW Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX. There is no way that those paper were part of GHW Bush presidency and should not be there away from public scrutiny. Once again the Republicans believe there is one rule for Republicans and another rule for others.. The American people see this and are turning the Republicans out of office because of they understand basic fairness of one set of laws for everyone.

Posted by: bradcpa | August 16, 2007 1:58 PM

In general I am full disclosure, but I think this is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard of . To ask for these records which are clearly part of the Clinton administration while refusing to disclose the Bush Governor papers is through-the-looking-glass logic. The Bush Governor papers were by law supposed to be in the Texas State Library but instead they were whisked away to the GHW Bush Presidential Library in College Station, TX. There is no way that those paper were part of GHW Bush presidency and should not be there away from public scrutiny. Once again the Republicans believe there is one rule for Republicans and another rule for others.. The American people see this and are turning the Republicans out of office because of they understand basic fairness of one set of laws for everyone.

Posted by: bradcpa | August 16, 2007 1:56 PM

Oh, please!

We can't even get Cheney to turn papers to abide by a law that requires him to turn over his confidential documents to the National Archives...and we're worried about Hillary's papers as first lady that never resulted in any executive order? And we couldn't get documents relating to Bush's "military service" before he was elected in 2000. Give me a break.

Posted by: femalenick | August 16, 2007 1:49 PM

When Senator Clinton tried to force her Socialist Health Care program upon the American people, the House and the Senate were both controlled by the Democrats. Even the Dems recognized that her ideas were far too expensive and far-reaching. She wanted to force doctors to practice in the field SHE deemed important. This is America, not some communist country.

Posted by: gerrystl | August 16, 2007 1:45 PM

If first ladyship counts as EXPERIENCE then we ought to be able to see the files.

If it doesn't, then Hillary doesn't have the EXPERIENCE that is her major marketing point.

Posted by: sickofspam | August 16, 2007 1:35 PM

Interesting how Bush's National Guard records were deemed essential for the voters by Dan Rather and CBS that they didn't bother to verify the accuracy of the source before release, which of course, turned out to be inaccurate. Seems kind of odd that the same level of scrutiny isn't afforded to Democratic candidates as it is towards Republican. Some might say it's a double standard.

Posted by: WildBill1 | August 16, 2007 1:33 PM

Now Americans demand the right to know and want a qualified President. Interesting this wasn't asked during the Bush elections. Bush failed at every business his Daddy gave him, executed now known innocent people in Texas, had many DUI's, fixed the voting to win in Texas as Governor, gave the Taliban his open invitation to the US, worked with the Bin Ladin family on oil projects and so much more yet the American people said don't ask don't tell. Now as Hillary gets stronger the GOP wants a tell all to try to push their lies. Just how stupid does the GOP think Americans are anyway.
Hillary tried to get universal Health Care while the Senator was majority Republicans. People seem to forget that part. Now Americans are losing health care and 2/3 of Americans don't have any. Children are now being denied health care as the Bush Administration works hard to make sure Iraq children get the best health care with taxpayers money. Hillary fought hard for every American yet so many seem to have forgotten that. Mitt wants unemployed people to buy insurance with money they don't have and jobs they can't get. Bush could care less. You want to know what Hillary did as a First Lady all you had to do was read the news and you would need the report. Now the GOP wants to tell you lies and spin stories. Rudy is so much of a liar he now believes he was the only person to help at the WTC site. He thinks there was a third tower and he saved it. Some should think hard about how it was their Mothers who taught every successful man Fathers came in later. If you had a job and a savings account during the Clinton years they you know Hillary played a part in that success.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | August 16, 2007 1:25 PM

Every voter should withhold their vote for Mrs. Clinton until they have all the relevant info to make an informed decision.

Posted by: snoopy7765 | August 16, 2007 12:48 PM

Peter Baker notes
"But it raises the broader, unprecedented question of how someone's service as first lady should be evaluated in terms of her qualifications to be president in the first place."

An important question, indeed. And one that the media & Dem primary voters should pursue.

"What is the standard to measure a first lady against? What constitutes a successful tenure as first lady?"

See Roosevelt, Eleanore.

Posted by: bsimon | August 16, 2007 12:10 PM

In this Country from the 1st President to the Present Nut" in the White House now"" there is dirt and filth staining the Office. and also should include the Congress as well.

The sad fact of it all is that no one at all, has tired to stop or change that filth that is staining the very fabric of this Nation. and yet you have many, many Hypocrits on both sides who place there filthy hands on a BIBLE" and make a pledge to god" and a oath to protect, defend, and uphold the Constitution.

It does not matter what your party platform is, its what those in office do for the people of the United States. The so-called American Dream! the truth" SELFISHNESS, GREED. AND THE ABILITY TO LIE THRU YOUR TEETH AND DO IT WELL.

Posted by: lobear00 | August 16, 2007 12:08 PM

Here's a sneak peek at Hillary's hidden records:

"Called brother Tony to find out how the pardon selling scheme was going. Asked him to contact the families of drug dealers to see if they'd be interested in chipping in to spring a relative. Suggested he start with Carlos Vignali's family."

Posted by: bobholmgren | August 16, 2007 12:02 PM

I don't think there is really a defensible position for her here.

She is running for president, of course it is appropriate to evaluate any experience that she has had. Whether you are for or against her I think it is absolutely a rational expectation that the public should be able to see these files.

Posted by: gconrads | August 16, 2007 11:59 AM

I am a librarian who realizes that it takes time to vet material. Still, as a librarian, I also know a simple request from Senator Clinton could expedite the opening of these papers. It does seem, in this context, to be a stupid move. It is part of the Clinton persona that jumps up and gives me pause whenever I grew warm towards her/

Posted by: sulliva | August 16, 2007 11:55 AM

I am a librarian who realizes that it takes time to vet material. Still, as a librarian, I also know a simple request from Senator Clinton could expedite the opening of these papers. It does seem, in this context, to be a stupid move. It is part of the Clinton persona that jumps up and gives me pause whenever I grew warm towards her/

Posted by: sulliva | August 16, 2007 11:55 AM

The questions posed are "What is the standard to measure a first lady against? What constitutes a successful tenure as first lady?" Why does this matter??? If she wakes up every day and is pleasant that is a sucessful tenure. I cannot think of anyone who failed this test. Perhaps we should ask what is a successful First Pet? I think Socks was a failure, too flinty and independent, whereas Barney, man is he the ideal First Pet, loyal and obedient just like W likes.

How about laying out the policy positions of each candidate in depth, or has the Post forgotten how to do that?

Posted by: merganser | August 16, 2007 11:55 AM

Please, what if Rudy decided that 2 million documents from his time as Mayor of NYC would not be opened until after the 2008 election. Would complaints about that be termed merely as "predictable catcalls.." The truth is that Hillary's biggest problem is that her supporters which include about 90% of MSM are so worried about negative coverage of her record that the bad stuff, and there is lots of it, will come out in the few months before the general election and what may have been a close race, will be a loss by Hillary of over 7%. And her recored as a NY senator: Bubkiss. I am a constituent of Hillary and she has been pretty much worthless as Senator. Quick, think fast, what has she accomplished in the Senate...........de de de de de de de dunt de dunt dunt dunt dunt dunt....Nothing

Posted by: wellworn444 | August 16, 2007 11:40 AM

Ditto what zendrell said. Hillary is just throwing gasoline on the fire that her opponents have started. What a STUPID move on her part.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | August 16, 2007 11:38 AM

If she has nothing to hide then the papers should be released. Obviously, she is trying to hide something.

Posted by: zendrell | August 16, 2007 11:33 AM

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