The most interesting tidbits from the Clinton document dump (Part 2)


Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Tipper Gore in Little Rock, Ark., on Nov. 3, 1992. (Susan Ragan / Associated Press)

Another stack of previously unreleased Clinton Administration documents has been released by the National Archives. And, as with the last set of documents, there are no massive smoking guns or huge findings in the lot -- at least that have been found so far.

But there are still plenty of interesting windows into how the Clinton White House operated.

Below are some of the most interesting things we found:

1. "Send a Muslim"

A note released alongside a document about increased security at airports discusses the possibility of finding a "prominent Muslim" to help the administration make its case.

"Send a Muslim!" the note says. "This effort will get us to the real issue of 'terrorism' vs. a perceived issue of religion. (Muslims against us and vice versa.) Recommend -- tasking State to find a prominent Muslim associate..."

Here's the note:

Muslim

2. Clinton wanted to call his budget surplus something very interesting

As Bill Clinton prepped for his 1999 State of the Union address, he went back and forth with staff about what percent of the surplus be set aside to keep Medicare solvent and how much would be needed to create a prescription drug benefit program.

“Can't say an ass-pocket full of money, can you?” Clinton said. “Even though it's real money, even here. Even for these turkeys.”

3. A public hearing where listening was secondary

Two White House aides said in a 1993 memo that the "primary goal" of a two-day public health-care hearing they were planning was political inoculation.

"As we discussed, the primary goal for this two day hearing would be to inoculate ourselves from charges that we are refusing to listen to all those groups out there that want input," wrote Alexis Herman and Mike Lux, who worked as public liaisons.

They later added that they should spotlight particularly horrendous health care stories from average people.

"Even though our primary goal is political inoculation, we should not lose the opportunity for some public education," they wrote. "Some testifiers should be average people with horror stories, middle class families worried about the future, and senior citizens. These average people should testify during those periods when we believe more people will be watching."

Herman later served as Clinton's labor secretary.

4. Aide: Powell and Bush are stealing your thunder

The previous document dump showed the Clinton White House thought Colin Powell was a threat. And that didn't just apply to Clinton's 1996 reelection campaign.

In the run-up to the 1997 Summit on Service in Philadelphia, adviser Benjamin Barber wrote to President Clinton saying there was “a real danger that you may be losing control” of the community service event.

Barber said the presence of Powell and former President George H.W. Bush, who had founded the Points of Light Foundation, a service-oriented non-profit, at the summit could be politically damaging to Clinton.

“The Summit risks becoming a showcase for an ex-President’s private philanthropy (non-civic) approach to service and a four year national platform on which a prospective President (General Powell) can run against you and the Vice-President on what should be YOUR issue,” Barber wrote in a memo to Clinton.

Barber added, “In short, what should be a celebration of your courageous leadership on citizenship, government-civil society partnerships and the linkage of democratic education and community service risks being hijacked for purposes unrelated to and potentially at odds with what you stand for.”

5. Top House aide on Gore speech: 'Aaaarrrrgggghhh!'

In the heat of Al Gore's unsuccessful challenge to his loss in the 2000 presidential election, top House aide John Lawrence -- who has worked for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) -- sent the following to a White House aide:

"Who the hell wrote Gore's speech last night?! Aaaarrrrgggghhh!"

6. National security aide worried Russians would doctor JFK docs

In an August 1998 email exchange with the subject line “Shades of Oliver Stone,” Neil Kingsley, who worked in the State Department’s office of Russian and European Analysis wrote to Carlos Pascual, special assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, wondering whether Clinton should press the Russians to release any KGB documents related to the JFK assassination.

“Seems like this could be an issue POTUS would be interested in, hot button on the Hill if word gets around we didn't care, etc.,” Kingsley wrote. “Don't understand the politics of this well enough to have a responsible opinion.”

Then, a year later in June 1999, Stuart Kaufman, National Security Council director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia Affairs wrote to NSC staffer William Leary concerned that any JFK-related files from Russian intelligence could be doctored.

“Even worse than their probably having removed information that makes them look bad is the possibility that they might have inserted some disinformation to try to embarrass USG. Some of the Russian intel folks are unreconstructed Cold Warriors. We'll have to think about how to handle that,” Kaufman wrote.

The conversation took place the day Russian President Boris Yeltsin unexpectedly gave Clinton 80 documents related to Lee Harvey Oswald and the Kennedy assassination while they were at a G8 meeting in Germany.

7. Tenet said spy budget not sensitive info

The documents include an admission by Clinton’s CIA director, George Tenet, that he couldn’t  bring himself to oppose a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to disclose how much it spent on spying, because he didn’t believe doing so would case any harm to American espionage.

In a 1997 document, Tenet said that defending the lawsuit would have required him “to sign a declaration to the court that release of the figure in question could  cause serious damage to the national security. I found that, in good conscience, I could not attest to that statement.”

The admission comes in exchange of memos over proposed language for a press release that could accompany the disclosure of the budget sum. The CIA Web site still has a copy of that release, although it was stripped of Tenet’s admission.

The $26 billion spent on spying in 1997  was dwarfed by the $50-bilion-plus annual budgets that arrived in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The 1997 disclosure was triggered by a lawsuit filed by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. But the fight wasn’t over. The government reverted to keeping the figure secret in 1999, before resuming the release of annual intelligence budget totals in 2007.

The government still keeps the more detailed spending figures on spy agency spending classified. But last year the Washington Post published  a series of stories on the so-called black budget that were based on documents obtained by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, and provided the most detailed public accounting to date.

Last week the Director of National Intelligence revealed that the intelligence community had requested a $45 billion for the upcoming fiscal year.

8. Carl Sagan's Medal of Freedom?

The famous astronomer died in 1996, and in April 1997 White House aide James Dorskind mentioned him as a possible recipient.

Fellow aide Shelley Fidler responded:


Also -- "good dead person?"

Greg Miller contributed to this post.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.
Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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