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Interesting tidbits from the latest dump of Clinton administration documents

It's time for the latest deluge of memos, correspondence and more from the Clinton administration.

The National Archives released the sixth installment of previously unseen documents from the Clinton White House Friday. The trove, part of tens of thousands of pages the archives have released this year, deal with topics including Osama bin Laden, Haiti and Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign. Here are the highlights:

1. How Clinton dealt with a Russian tragedy 

After the Russian submarine Kursk sank in August 2000, killing 118 people, the Clinton press office discussed how to respond if a question came up about Russian President Vladimir Putin "reverting back to a Cold War psychology." One press aide suggested sidestepping the question and just offering condolences for the loss of life, but another aide asked what they had to avoid answering.

"Can't we just say that in the bad old days, this kind of thing happened all the time and no one knew about it. Whatever you think about the way this tragedy was handled, the fact is, everything is out in the open, and the government is being held accountable. A sign of how far Russia still has to go - yes - but also a sign of how far it has come."

2. Was Osama bin Laden's role in attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa overstated? 

Clinton, after reading a 1999 New York Times story casting doubt on the threat posed by al-Qaeda, scribbles a note to Richard Clarke asking whether CIA had “overstated the case” that Osama bin Laden directed attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa in its briefings to the President on the al-Qaeda threat.

3. Overthrow Saddam Hussein? 

Clinton press staff decided not to return the call of a Washington Post reporter who wanted the White House's reaction to a Bush campaign statement about overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Natalie Wozniak wrote in an e-mail that Ken Pollack and Bruce Riedel "are not going there and feel this is ultimately a campaign issue and NSC should not get involved."

4. Problems with Sonia Sotomayor 

Clinton nominated now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1997. But the administration had some worries. Not only did the it create a dossier of cases that she litigated or heard as a judge that could prove controversial, it worried about her nomination.

"Although she has an engaging personality and is very intelligent, her nomination has posed more problems than any of the other Hispanic judges sitting on the federal bench [with the possible exception of Richard Paez for the
Ninth Circuit]."

Sotomayor's nomination was held up for more than a year before she was confirmed. President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court in 2009.

The documents also show that congressional Republicans were concerned about Sotomayor's response to a journalist's question about whether she stood up and applauded Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he appeared at a judicial conference.

According to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) Sotomayor told The New York Times that she did not applaud or stand up when Thomas entered the room.

"I took the Fifth Amendment when the New York Times asked me that, because of the raging controversy at the time. I thought it made no sense for a prospective nominee to enter that kind of political fray, by any statement. But I don't think I ever did, sir," Sotomayor said. "I explained to her clearly, as I'did to you now, I did that because I thought, at that point, as a confirmed nominee, and as judge, that I should never be making political statements to the press, or anyone else. And I thought that was a politically charged question."

5. Problems with Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

In a July 1993 memo, Clinton associate counsel Ron Klain lays out "performance pitfalls" Ginsburg might have in front of Congress, and there are quite a few.

According to the memo Ginsberg had a "disdain for the confirmation process" that she would be going through. "Her hostility to the process," he wrote, "is evident."

It said Ginsburg was unable to reassure a questioner's concern about her prior decisions and often engages in "nitpicking some aspect of the question's premise."

The White House just didn't like her style in general.

"And finally, Judge Ginsburg's technique -- her failure to make eye contact, her halting speech, her 'laconic' nature (to
use Jim Hamilton's phrase) -~ is not helpful," Klain wrote.

Katie Zezima is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 presidential election. She previously served as a White House correspondent for The Post.
Colby Itkowitz is the lead anchor of the Inspired Life blog. She previously covered the quirks of national politics and the federal government.
Sebastian Payne is a national reporter with The Washington Post. He is the Post’s 35th Laurence Stern fellow.



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Katie Zezima · July 18, 2014

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