Documents detail Clinton's role in husband's presidency

4:36 PM, Feb 28, 2014   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) Archivists released thousands of records from the Bill Clinton presidency on Friday, including details on the activties of one of its most prominent players: former first lady and prospective 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The more than 4,000 pages of documents include records on the health care task force Mrs. Clinton chaired in 1993, as well as memos detailing Clinton administration political strategy and efforts to improve the first lady's image with the press and public.

One memo from Aug. 31, 1995 - in the midst of the investigation into the Clintons' Whitewater land investment - urged "Hillaryland Staff Outreach to Media," suggesting that aides have lunch or dinner with reporters so that "we can all tell wonderful Hillary anecdotes that humanize her and show the press the good person that she is."

The memo says "if we were all out there consistently, we could erode the notion in the press that sometimes exists of Hillary being in a bunker mentality."

Another memo from April 5, 1993, on health care said "there is great concern that CBO (Congressional Budget Office) is going to screw us on savings, etc., just as it did on the budget."

The Friday release is the first in a series of document dumps from the Clinton era over the next several weeks that are expected to total more than 30,000 pages.

Most of the focus will be on records related to Hillary Clinton, the former senator from New York, secretary of State and unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2008 who may make another bid in 2016.

Among the documents released Friday:

• A memo from 1993 details efforts to sway Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., then chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over health care.

White House aide Chris Jennings explains that Dingell was "becoming more and more pessimistic about the prospects of health reform this year" and did not believe the White House had "visibility illustrated its strong commitment to, and developed a realistic strategy for, passing health reform this year." Dingell "needs" to hear from Hillary Clinton that she and the president have a "credible legislative strategy," Jennings writes.

The Clinton administration gave up on its health care plan in the summer of 1994.

• A July 6, 1999, memo in which adviser Mandy Grunwald tells Mrs. Clinton not to be "defensive" when taking questions, to seek opportunities for humor, and "be careful to 'be real.'"

Urging the first lady to answer every question by staying on message, the aide says: "You have a tendency to answer just the question asked. That's good manners, but bad politics."

• A 1998 memo suggesting a "personal get-well gesture" from President Clinton to King Hussein of Jordan while he was being treated for cancer at the Mayo Clinic. The idea was rejected, a Clinton aide wrote, because it "sounds like too much crepe hanging." (Hussein died in 1999.)

• A handwritten note on a typed draft of Bill Clinton's farewell address to the nation says the speechwriter needs to "write for 7 minutes. Too long and windy."

Many of the records are run-of-the-mill, ranging from a press release bio of Mrs. Clinton to an op-ed she did for USA TODAY on Sept. 21, 1993, promoting the administration's health care plan.

Others detailed Mrs. Clinton's efforts on children's issues, women's rights and micro-credit for developing countries.

There are copies of Clinton speeches, schedules, and talking points for officials who were doing interviews on the health care plan or other administration initiatives.

Interest in Mrs. Clinton's first lady years revived recently with the discovery of records from the late Diane Blair, a long-time friend of Mrs. Clinton who wrote about interviews she had conducted with her. Blair died in 2000.

The Bill Clinton presidential records are likely to be scrutinized in detail by journalists and political critics as Mrs. Clinton ponders another presidential run in 2016.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library posted documents on its website and made paper copies available at the library's research room in Little Rock, Ark.

The publication came just days after Politico reported that about 33,000 pages of records from the Clinton presidency have remained unavailable to the public, even though the legal restriction period expired in January 2013 (a dozen years after Clinton left office).

Other papers released Friday detail lower-key items like the Northern Mariana Islands and Radio Free Europe.

Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2008 Democratic presidential race to then-Sen. Barack Obama, is considered the front runner for the party's nomination in 2016, should she decide to run.

The documents have previously been exempted from disclosure requirements because they involve "appointments to federal office and confidential advice among the President and his advisors," said a statement from the National Archives and Records Administration.

When the disclosure exemptions expired in 2013, the National Archives notified representatives of Clinton and President Obama of its intent to disclose the records "so that they may conduct a privilege review of the records," said the Archives statement.

"As they complete their review, NARA is able to make the records available," the statement said.

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