Editor’s note: This story was originally published on 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.
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.
Under federal law, Bill Clinton's representative, Bruce R. Lindsey, reviewed the documents before their release. But the archives agency said that the redactions were made by its professional reviewers according to standards set by law and that Lindsey did not ask for anything to be withheld.
"He proposed that we open more than we proposed to open," said agency spokeswoman Susan Cooper. "He did not ask us to close anything that we proposed to open."
The records show that the inaugural balls were scarcely over before Hillary Clinton launched her plan to overhaul the nation's health-care system. On Jan. 23, 1993, three days after moving into the West Wing, she held the first of scores of private meetings with Williams and another aide, Ira Magaziner. By Feb. 4, the first lady was meeting with Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and was assembling a task force that attracted controversy for operating in secrecy and antagonizing industry groups.
Clinton traveled the country selling her ideas and met privately with dozens of members of Congress, her schedules show. In April, she and the president appeared on the South Lawn, and each spoke at a task force reception for about 1,050 people, with a band playing "Ruffles and Flourishes." Her days were busy with testimony and efforts to appease congressional leaders who had complained of being bulldozed. In the end, the health-care task force was disbanded and its plans scuttled.
Her schedules also show private sessions in early 1993 with national economic adviser Robert Rubin and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, two men who were to become the nation's most important economic figures in the 1990s.
"Looking at the '93 documents, especially early on, you would have thought you were looking at a president's schedule," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "Things seemed to calm down after the health-care thing blew up in their faces. She stepped back."
There are only a few hints in the schedules of the investigations that plagued the Clinton presidency. After the Whitewater investigation was disclosed on Oct. 31, 1993, a private meeting was held for 16 political staffers in Williams's office the next morning.
The schedules became less detailed in late 1993. Foster's death and the naming of a special prosecutor with subpoena power to investigate Whitewater had a chilling effect on putting things in writing, Clinton aides have previously said.
On foreign policy, Clinton has touted her experience, including trips to more than 80 countries. But any policymaking role is difficult to discern in the documents. When she traveled abroad with her husband, she attended official dinners and photo ops with him but followed the traditional pattern of maintaining a separate schedule that took her to schools, clinics and art galleries while he met with heads of government. During summits, she was relegated to what the schedule calls the "spousal bus."
Her trips without him, judged by the schedules, were for the most part classic first-lady fare. During a lengthy tour of Africa with her daughter in 1997, for example, Clinton stopped in Senegal, where she visited the Goree Island slave house, a girls' school, a "typical village" and a Peace Corps facility. After a roundtable discussion with Senegalese women, she paid a 30-minute "courtesy call" on the president before heading to the airport.
Clinton has said she "helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland" during five visits there during her husband's administration, both alone and with him. Direct participants in the negotiations have differed, and the documents contribute little to resolving the matter. On her fourth visit, in May 1999, she delivered a speech in Belfast vowing that "we will stand with . . . those who take risks for peace."
The records offer little clue as to her participation in the most explosive foreign policy crises of the administration. The August 1998 terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania occurred while the White House was preparing for Bill Clinton's grand jury testimony on his relationship with Lewinsky. Hillary Clinton's schedule is blank on the day of the bombings and for four days afterward.
Staff writer Susan Schmidt, research director Lucy Shackelford, and staff researchers Alice Crites, Julie Tate and Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.