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Livingstone Resigns, Denying Ill Intent

By George Lardner Jr. and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, June 27 1996; Page A01

The Clinton White House's beleaguered director of personnel security, Craig Livingstone, announced his resignation yesterday, saying he took responsibility for the unjustified collection of FBI files on hundreds of Republicans. But he denied any malign intent.

"At no point do I believe I betrayed anyone's confidence," Livingstone said during a marathon session before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee. He said he never disclosed any of the information in the confidential FBI reports "for any improper purpose whatsoever, and I have no reason to believe that anyone else in my office ever did so."

The testimony of Livingstone and four others about how the White House personnel security office improperly collected hundreds of confidential FBI background files in 1993-1994 was an embarrassing occasion for the White House, which has endured three weeks of building criticism over the affair. Livingstone and his aide, Anthony B. Marceca, were portrayed as incompetent, inexperienced and wholly unsuited to their sensitive work.

But at the end of nine hours of testimony, the Democrats appeared for the moment to have staved off Republican attempts to portray the FBI files episode as a Clinton administration effort to dig up political dirt on GOP luminaries such as former White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater and former secretary of state James A. Baker III. Livingstone and others continued to portray it instead as a bureaucratic disaster that arose from an outdated Secret Service list.

"Because my attention was focused elsewhere on what I believed at the time to be more pressing priorities, I did not recognize the problem, and for that, I am truly sorry," said Livingstone, 37. "But I also want to make it clear that neither I nor, to my knowledge, anyone else in the White House, participated in any kind of smear campaign or an effort to compile an enemies list, as some have alleged or feared. That is just not true."

Rep. William F. Clinger Jr. (R-Pa.), the committee chairman, opened the hearing by asking why the president would allow "a political operative with a dubious background" and "a total lack of experience" to undertake such a sensitive job.

Smarting from such descriptions, Livingstone noted that he has been widely depicted in recent weeks as "a beefy former bar bouncer," a "political operative" and "a `henchman' who has supposedly engaged in all sorts of illegal conduct dating back 20 years." Livingstone said that "these are false and unfair caricatures of who I am." But even as he defended himself on this score, the committee released a deposition Livingstone gave last week, revealing his less-than-stellar background. He told committee staff that he used a variety of unspecified drugs until around 1985. Livingstone also said that he had been fired from a job at a Sears store in the early 1980s over the "improper exchange of an item which I had purchased" and that another job contract he once had was not renewed because his employer thought he had lied about whether he had attended a particular school.

He appeared at a sometimes rancorous hearing with two of his old bosses, former White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and former associate counsel William H. Kennedy III; the investigator and friend who collected the files, Marceca; and Lisa Wetzl, the aide who discovered the improper collection months after Marceca returned to his regular position at the Pentagon in February 1994, leaving the FBI acquisitions in mid-alphabet.

Nussbaum, who testified under subpoena, called the episode "a serious mistake" for which he apologized to "each and every one" whose file was examined. But he angrily demanded an apology from Clinger for suggesting at one point early in the dispute that Nussbaum acted unethically and might have committed a felony.

Reading an Associated Press story dated June 5, Nussbaum noted that Clinger had named him as the one who asked for and received FBI material on fired White House travel office chief Billy Dale, months after Dale had been dismissed, on the grounds that Dale still needed "access" to the White House complex. The first glimpse into the FBI files dispute, the form seeking Dale's background reports, was preprinted with Nussbaum's name at the top but was actually typed out by Marceca, as were all the others.

Nussbaum said he knew nothing about the requests. He said the very idea of obtaining FBI files to dig up dirt on political opponents "is abhorrent to me." Yet he said Clinger had told the country "on the basis of a printed form . . . that at best, I was unethical as White House counsel, at worst, I was a felon."

Clinger declined to apologize, saying he would let the documents "speak for themselves."

Marceca testified that he was simply working from "a set of computer lists" that he found in the personnel security office's vault. He said he began going through them in alphabetical order on the basis of discussions with Livingstone and others, including Nancy Gemmell, a 12-year veteran who was about to retire.

Marceca said he found the lists in the vault, printed on green and white computer paper about an inch thick. The files of holdover employees from the Bush White House had been removed to the Bush archives, as is done with each departing president.

"I understood I was to re-create the files on everybody on that list," Marceca said. "Nobody told me it was the wrong list."

Wetzl confirmed Marceca's account in essential respects. She said the list Marceca used was "the list that [Gemmell] obtained from the Secret Service." Wetzl said he later destroyed the list when she discovered how many improper files it had produced.

The Secret Service has contended that its system is not capable of producing outdated lists, but Wetzl testified that the one Marceca used was indeed out of date and that the Secret Service often produced such lists.

Both Wetzl and Livingstone's immediate superior, former associate White House counsel Kennedy, told the committee they knew of no improper uses of the FBI reports. At Livingstone's request, Kennedy said, he arranged to get Marceca, a civilian investigator for the Army, detailed to Livingstone's office to help with a mountain of background checks, clearances and paperwork on new White House employees as well as holdovers.

Neither Kennedy nor anyone else, however, was able to explain how Livingstone, who had worked for the Clinton Inaugural Committee, got his job. Both Kennedy and Nussbaum said Livingstone was already in place – in effect acting director of personnel security – when they arrived at the White House in late January 1993. Kennedy testified that Vincent Foster, the deputy White House counsel who later committed suicide, had "identified" Livingstone "to this position when I arrived."

He said in a deposition to the committee that he regarded the "stuff" in Livingstone's background as "items of concern," but "not killers as it were."

Kennedy also said that he noted problems in Marceca's background and that those problems were part of the reason he was not brought back to the White House for a second detail in 1994. Marceca, in a deposition he gave the committee last week, said he understood there was "some negative information in my background" dealing with his work in the 1980s for the attorney general's office in Texas. He said "a woman filed a private claim against me in Texas" but gave no other details.

The revelations about Livingstone's operation have rattled the White House since early this month, with disclosures that Marceca improperly obtained 407 FBI background files on former White House staff members and pass-holders from the Reagan and Bush administrations. Hundreds of other FBI files, including many of staff members who worked on the National Security Council under Republican administrations, were also delivered. It is unclear as yet how many of those acquisitions were unjustified.

In addition, an FBI agent alleged three White House political appointees pumped him for confidential FBI background information about White House travel office workers, apparently as part of an effort to replace those workers with friends of the Clintons. Another former agent claimed First Lady Hillary Clinton ordered reinvestigations of staffers who were suspected of disloyalty.

Former assistant White House usher Chris Emory, who was fired by the Clinton administration in March 1994, said in an interview yesterday that he was subjected to a renewed FBI background investigation in late 1993, three years before he was due for one. Emory said he was told he was fired because Hillary Clinton was "uncomfortable" with him.

Emory said he and his colleagues in the usher's office underwent the background checks and were asked in a memo from Nussbaum to sign forms allowing the counsel's office to obtain their income tax records from the IRS. Nussbaum also required that they fill out a 33-question form that included inquiries about political party affiliation and membership in civic organizations.

Emory, a seven-year veteran of the usher's office, said he had never been asked to provide such information before and declined to do so for Nussbaum.

White House spokesman Mark Fabiani said the tax waiver form and the questionnaire were intended for prospective political appointees but were sent to career White House employees as well. "In retrospect, maybe there should have been different forms," he said.

Former FBI general counsel John A. Mintz said in an interview that information about political loyalties of career White House employees "is not something the government needs to go forward to do its business."

Asked who should have access to FBI background files, Mintz said the information is generally protected under the Privacy Act, though there are some "legitimate operational reasons" – such as hiring decisions – that would allow political appointees to seek it.

He said there is a regular timetable for reviewing clearances for career White House employees. A president has latitude in deciding to step up the timetable, he said, but doing so could be a violation of the Privacy Act "if the real purpose of the request was improper."

The handling of personnel files of the seven travel office employees who were fired has also been questioned. White House officials conducting a review of the travel office affair in summer 1993 obtained the files from the personnel office. Mary Coutts Beck, acting director of the personnel office, provided the files to then-presidential staff assistant John D. Podesta with a warning that they "should be protected carefully."

When she later learned they had been turned over to the White House counsel's office, she wrote, "This should not be happening."

Staff writers Serge F. Kovaleski, Jim McGee, Dan Balz and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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