Federal District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a Reagan appointee who has often ruled against the Clinton administration, may be nearing two decisions of profound importance for the president's legacy and the first lady's future.
At issue is the most mysterious of the Clinton scandals: discovery at the White House of more than 900 secret FBI personnel files, including dossiers of prominent Republicans. For more than six months, Lamberth has had on his desk requests for sworn testimony by two people--a former White House aide's ex-wife who claims Hillary Rodham Clinton was associated with the files affair, and Mrs. Clinton herself. Lawyers familiar with Lamberth's court believe his decision is imminent.
The judge has more to consider than one woman's unsubstantiated allegations. Conservative Larry Klayman's Judicial Watch has collected at least 14 pieces of evidence in his class action suit in behalf of persons claiming exposure of their confidential files violated their privacy. His evidence certainly does not prove Mrs. Clinton's complicity, but it does suggest this was more than the FBI blunder described by the White House.
How could a single controversial judicial activist uncover such material when Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, in late 1998, gave President Clinton a clean bill of health on the files scandal? Sources close to Starr's investigation say the burdens of simultaneous prosecutions in Washington and Little Rock forced him to pick and choose. Uninhibited by such demands, Klayman has plowed ahead, collecting affidavits on a matter that even Republicans have abandoned but that Democrats consider the most dangerous of all Clinton improprieties.
The most recent Judicial Watch affidavit was taken Jan. 7 from Deborah Perroy, a former National Security Council (NSC) aide. One evening in 1993, after working hours, she said, "I came upon" her superior, NSC administrative director Robert Manzanares, and his assistant, Marcia Dimel, "looking through top-secret personnel background files" in the NSC's CIA liaison office--an off-limits area for them.
Asserting that Manzanares and Dimel were removing background files from a safe and "keeping some sort of list," Perroy said the files included FBI information on "virtually every top political and NSC aide to Presidents Reagan and Bush." She added that her colleagues "clearly reacted as if they did not expect me and had been caught doing something improper."
Perroy also claimed "personal knowledge of several meetings" between Manzanares and White House Personnel Security Chief Craig Livingstone, who was blamed for acquiring the FBI files. "Livingstone was really 'working for Mrs. Clinton' as far as everyone knew, and everyone dropped everything to accommodate Mr. Livingstone's requests," she added.
Although she left the White House in September 1993, Perroy did not "come forward until now," she said, "for fear of retaliation by the Clinton White House." She added that she was encouraged to speak out when she learned of an affidavit from another former White House staffer, Sheryl L. Hall.
Hall, a computer specialist who resigned last September, said her duties included helping Clinton administration lawyers reply to plaintiffs in the file scandal. Hall said that last spring Michelle Peterson of the White House counsel's office "told me in her office that 'our strategy' for the Filegate lawsuit was to 'stall' because 'we had just a couple of years to go.' "
Deputy White House Press Secretary Jim Kennedy said yesterday: "There is no basis for any of these allegations. We have and will continue to prove them wrong in court, where the facts count, and not engage in a purposeless debate in the press."
Judge Lamberth now is considering the request for sworn testimony by the first lady and Leslie Gail Kennedy, who in 1994 was married to then White House Associate Counsel William Kennedy. Last June 11, Mrs. Kennedy told a Judicial Watch interviewer that in 1994 she observed her husband "on several occasions" transferring FBI files into his laptop computer. She expressed the opinion that Mrs. Clinton, her ex-husband's former law partner in Little Rock, was using the files against enemies of health reform.
To consider whether the first lady should be put under oath, the judge might ponder the Dec. 14, 1998, deposition by the ubiquitous Linda Tripp. She testified that on two occasions she heard Kennedy talking about transferring FBI files into the White House database and that senior White House staffer Marsha Scott told him "Mrs. Clinton wanted this done." Is this enough to suggest that Ken Starr overlooked the worst Clinton scandal?
(c) 2000, Creators Syndicate Inc.