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White House Guards Records

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 3, 1998; Page A07

Throughout last year's controversy over Democratic campaign fund-raising, the White House strategically released entry logs, telephone records, notes and other internal documents that may not have provided a flattering portrait of its activities but at least preempted congressional critics from putting the information out first.

In the two weeks since the furor erupted over whether President Clinton had a sexual relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and coached her to deny it under oath, the White House has assembled many of the same types of records and turned them over to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

But information about White House visits and presidential phone calls that was made public last year is now being guarded with fierce protectiveness.

The change in strategy reflects the different nature of the perceived threat, according to White House officials. With the campaign finance imbroglio last year, Clinton aides viewed the matter largely in political terms. The idea was to release documents themselves to preempt congressional Republicans who likely would have leaked them the next day with their own spin on them, the president's advisers reasoned. With Lewinsky, they believe, the danger is legal and thus far more serious.

"They've been much more circumspect," White House press secretary Michael McCurry said of the lawyers who have controlled the flow of information.

Yet McCurry also said that White House officials are reluctant to provide specific information about Lewinsky unless they can then deal with the new inquiries it would generate. Releasing entry logs, for example, would only prompt questions about each visit and what it was about, he said.

"We have some of it [but] I don't know that we have all the follow-up questions," McCurry said. "That's the problem. It's not that we can't answer the first set of questions. It's the second, third, fourth and 10th set of questions that we can't answer. And then we'd be accused of being less than thorough and complete. And so not having a complete story, it's better to just lay back and wait."

As a result, though, other White House aides who have argued for greater disclosure fear that Clinton has suffered because he has not put out any version of the facts at all, leaving the public confused by reports without the full context in which to evaluate them. Key questions that presumably could be answered by White House documents have been left unaddressed in the public arena. Among them:

  • How often did Lewinsky visit Clinton at the White House after she left for a Pentagon job in April 1996? The White House has compiled Secret Service "WAVES" records, which record visits by people without regular passes and which last year documented the frequent comings and goings of various Democratic fund-raisers, such as John Huang and Johnny Chung. Sources familiar with the WAVES records have said they show a dozen or more visits by Lewinsky, typically in the late afternoon or early evening and usually authorized by Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie.

  • What took place at one meeting in particular that occurred after Lewinsky was subpoenaed Dec. 17 to testify in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case about her relationship with Clinton? Sources have said that Lewinsky visited Clinton at the White House on Dec. 28 and that Currie cleared her in, but it is unclear without records what time the meeting took place, how long it lasted and whether anyone else was present.

  • Did Clinton make late-night telephone calls to Lewinsky? Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky's onetime Pentagon colleague who secretly taped her talking about an affair with Clinton, said last week that she was present one night when the president made such a call to Lewinsky's Watergate apartment. Lewinsky's attorney disputed that, although he said Clinton made occasional friendly calls of a non-sexual nature to his client because they were "colleagues."

  • Were there internal memos that documented White House aides' concern about Lewinsky's conduct when she worked in the White House? Then-deputy chief of staff Evelyn S. Lieberman has said that Lewinsky was hanging around the West Wing too much and displaying immature behavior in the spring of 1996, so she had the young woman removed from her job as a low-level legislative correspondence clerk and moved over to the Pentagon.

  • What correspondence took place between Clinton and Lewinsky? Records from a private courier company subpoenaed by Starr show that she sent more than a half-dozen deliveries to Clinton's office from the Pentagon last fall. It remains uncertain what was contained in those deliveries and what, if anything, the president sent back.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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