In Hillary Clinton's Datebook, A Shift
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in the White House with a schedule befitting a president, packed with policy sessions, meetings with senators and trips to promote an ambitious political agenda. But after the collapse of her health-care plan in 1994, she largely retreated to a more traditional first lady's calendar of school visits, hospital tours, photo ops and speeches on a narrower set of issues.
The release of 11,000 pages of Clinton's daily schedules as first lady yesterday opened a window into the shifting patterns of her eight years in the White House and provided fresh fodder for the debate over the scope of her experience. And yet they give little sense of her role in some of the most consequential moments of her husband's presidency, from the use of military force to the scandal that almost cost him his job.
The schedules chronicle a whirlwind life often removed from Bill Clinton's, at various points intense, comic, surreal and heartbreaking.
She traveled the globe, and at home read "If You Give a Moose a Muffin" to children. She met her close friend Vincent Foster, the deputy White House counsel, for official reasons just three times in the six months before he killed himself in 1993. She was busy with "drop-by" meetings in the White House on the day Bill Clinton had a sexual encounter with Monica S. Lewinsky in the Oval Office suite in 1997. She hosted a holiday dinner on the day he was impeached in 1998.
As a record of her official activities, the schedules are at best an incomplete account of her time on Washington's center stage. Her various interrogations under oath by Whitewater prosecutors, for instance, do not appear; nor does her meeting in late 2000 with a New York rabbi who lobbied for a controversial commutation of the sentences of four Hasidic men convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Many days are filled with "Private Meetings," with no further information.
Still, the schedules offer some tantalizing tidbits. She spent time with fundraiser Denise Rich at a New York ball in late 2000, just weeks before the president provoked wide criticism by pardoning Rich's ex-husband, Marc, a commodities trader who had fled the country to avoid tax-evasion charges. She held four private meetings with her chief of staff, Maggie Williams, on the day in 1996 that an aide presented old law firm billing records subpoenaed two years earlier in the Whitewater investigation.
On the Trail, a Debate
The Clinton campaign said yesterday that the records bolster her case for the presidency by showing her extensive involvement in key issues. "These documents are outlines of the first lady's activities and illustrate the array of substantive issues she worked on -- including health care, child care, adoption, education, veterans, microenterprise and international development, women's rights, and democracy," spokesman Jay Carson said.
But aides to Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, said the schedules undermine some of her claims on the campaign trail. Aides pointed to the records' depiction of her involvement in the effort to win congressional approval of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which she has now repudiated, and to the absence of evidence that she helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act.
The documents were released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act by journalists and conservative watchdog organizations, including Judicial Watch, a group that spent the Clinton years probing scandals.
The library said that it disclosed the material as soon as it completed a line-by-line review required by federal law, but warned that it may not complete similar requests before this year's presidential elections. Judicial Watch, which filed a lawsuit last summer seeking the first lady's records, plans to argue at a federal court hearing today that additional records should be released quickly.
The 11,046 pages released yesterday cover Clinton's schedule for 2,888 days in the White House. The library said it is still reviewing schedules for 27 other days and is missing schedules for five additional days. On many of the pages released, telephone numbers and other personal details were redacted, and sometimes whole meetings were blanked out.
Under the standards of the National Archives and Records Administration, which oversees the Clinton library, political meetings or those pertaining to the Clintons' personal affairs -- including various scandals and legal problems -- are considered private matters not subject to disclosure.