Chapter One: Meeting the Clinton Administration
George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour: "Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company."
I returned to the White House on Monday, 25 January. I didn't attend the inauguration on the twentieth because I wasn't required to, and I knew it would be a traffic nightmare. The inauguration was on a Wednesday. I watched it on TV and took a few days off to get ready for the enormous workload I knew was ahead.
Driving in on I-66, I was thinking of the changes I might see at the White House: different faces, new friends, a whole new administration to get to know.
For more than three decades the FBI, the Secret Service, and the president's counsels had worked as a team to "clear" the hundreds of new staff members who come with a new president. It is a comprehensive and effective security system that has been perfected by six different presidents to protect national security, the president, the taxpayer, and the White House itself.
This clearance process is accomplished through a lengthy FBI background investigation to document the good character of each and every White House staff member, from the chief of staff right down to the most obscure messenger located far from the Oval Office. In addition, the FBI clears all of the cabinet secretary positions, working with the U.S. Senate in the confirmation process.
As part of the permanent two-man FBI post in the White House, I was a key player in the SPIN Unit (or Special Inquiry Unit) team responsible for investigating the backgrounds of executive branch employees and federal judges. My partner in the White House post, Special Agent Dennis Sculimbrene, and I were particularly responsible for anyone who would work in the White House complex. That meant for anyone who might harm or embarrass the president or compromise White House -- indeed, national -- security.
Our work was all about access. In order to get our job done we needed unlimited access to the White House grounds, buildings, and office space, and to its several thousand permanent and political employees.
Every one of the staff in the White House Office would be new, which meant hundreds of background investigations. There was also the Executive Office of the President, a collection of semipermanent agencies within the White House, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the National Security Council (NSC). And though most of the civil servants in the permanent White House staff would remain in place, they too had to be re-cleared every five years.
I spent more than two years in the Bush White House. Each month my partner and I were responsible for up to fifty investigations apiece. Each investigation was thorough, requiring at least seven interviews at the White House, two record checks, and a letter-perfect ten-page report for the White House counsel.
We could never anticipate how long an interview would last. Many of these people were meeting an FBI agent for the first time. Many were being asked questions that nobody had ever asked them before. People going through an FBI investigation might be very afraid, and many had good reason to fear us.
That's because many a hopeful staffer had made it all the way to the FBI interview, only to be discovered as a liar. Some lies -- or some behavior openly confessed -- justified barring a staffer from the White House.
An FBI background investigation is more extensive than any other -- save perhaps one conducted by the CIA. For lower level employees, we investigate the past fifteen years of their lives. For more senior employees, we investigate their entire adult lives -- including all former employers and employment records. We also review college transcripts, interview representative professors, and investigate other material related to education. We also investigate any accusation or record of criminal wrongdoing and interview neighbors, friends, and associates of a potential employee.
There were very few limits -- though some have lately, and wrongly, been imposed -- on what we could, or were even obligated, to investigate. If we found character problems, we would often go beyond investigating the basics -- like credit reports -- to looking into phone logs, medical records, and other detailed reports that would help us decide whether a character problem would "wash out" or whether it was an indelible stain that the White House counsel needed to be aware of in order to protect the president and the presidency.
Up to one hundred agents could be assigned to a case, and interviews could be conducted worldwide. An FBI background investigation is no small undertaking. That's because it's so important.
The standards to which White House employees were held were certainly not unreasonable. The standards were well thought out and legal.
There are four key elements to a background investigation: character, associates, reputation, and loyalty, or CARL.
* Character--Good traits include honesty, integrity, work ethic, attitude, demeanor, and bearing. A bad character would be determined by finding that someone is dishonest, lacks integrity, is lazy, has been found guilty of criminal conduct, and so forth.
* Associates--An individual is assessed by the company he keeps. If a person is a doctor by day, he shouldn't hang out with drug traffickers by night. If a person is an FBI agent by day, he shouldn't socialize with criminals at night. If a man is married, he shouldn't spend his social time with single women. * Reputation--Most people make an enemy or two in the course of their lives, but if the overall impression of those who know a candidate is negative, additional investigation is needed to determine why. * Loyalty--When I first became an FBI agent, this meant loyalty to the United States, to the flag, and to the Constitution. Today, staffers often misinterpret it as loyalty to the president.
The FBI also investigates an applicant's dangerousness end suitability. * Dangerousness--The Secret Service is haunted by memories of the Kennedy assassination and other assassination attempts, and they take every precaution -- not just with the outside world, but also with White House staff -- to protect the president. The only way to predict human behavior -- including possible dangerous behavior -- is to know past behavior. Background investigations have always been the best available tool. Although FBI background investigations may be imperfect, they're the best means we have. * Suitability--Suitability includes verifying U.S. citizenship, education, skills, experience, and other factors that help predict whether a particular individual has the "right stuff" to be a government employee -- paid out of your hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Finding evidence of an applicant's "suitability" was another part of our job.
The end result of all our work was the protection of the reputation and credibility of the president. With the arrival of a new administration, my assignment was to discover and document character flaws present in the new staff, if any, and to report them to the president -- actually to the president's counsel through the SPIN Unit -- though I knew from my days working in the Bush administration that the president often already knew the findings of the SPIN reports.
In the past I had been aware of the careful way new people were selected. Nobody wanted to recommend the wrong people, because if they "crashed and burned" it would reflect badly not only on them, but on the president as well.
But we were already off to a bad start. There were about seventy days between the election and the inauguration -- sufficient time to complete a large number of SPIN cases. But for some reason, there weren't many cases coming in.
The only big influx of cases had been at Christmas, when numerous cabinet-level and other appointments were dumped into the system after these appointments had already been made public -- the reverse of normal procedure. Some of these cases -- which included cabinet choices such as Zoe Baird, Les Aspin, Warren Christopher, Bruce Babbitt, Alice Rivlin, Mike Espy, and Robert Woolsey -- required the completion of a hundred or more items of investigation, including anywhere from thirty-five to fifty complex personal interviews each (more than six hundred total). We were ordered to complete these investigations and type our reports letter-perfect in an average of only four calendar days!
A fairly routine process became a crisis. Our first problem was that these people needed to be located so they could be interviewed. But it was Christmastime and, having received their invitation to the ball, many of the new big players were off to their ski chalet or to the islands. FBI investigation? Oh, yeah, I forgot.
And persons who knew them well -- character witnesses -- had to be found and interviewed. Where were these people during the holidays?
All of this chaos was so unnecessary and it eventually caused the administration so much trouble that there seemed to be only three possible explanations, all very disturbing.
The administration was being managed by people so disorganized that they could not conform to basic procedures essential to the administration's own effectiveness. Or key people in the administration had simply decided that the security procedures were not important and were taking a "so what" attitude toward possible scandal, embarrassment, or worse.
Or key people in the administration were so actively hostile to the background investigation process that they wanted to guarantee we wouldn't have enough time to perform adequate checks and follow up on allegations. This might be because some people in the administration had serious matters to hide. Or it might simply be because people in the administration were instinctively hostile to authority figures of all types and to all those regular procedures, customs, and standards by which high-level organizations, whether in the White House or the corporate board room, avoid even the appearance of impropriety, scandal, or just loose practices. Like the Clintons, I'd lived through the 1960s and I knew there were a lot of people who still thought like that -- who thought it was oppressive to have to wear a tie, show up to work on time, restrain their bad language or raw emotions, or even obey the law. As an FBI agent, I knew that often spelled trouble. People who were hostile to the normal, law-abiding world and its standards were often also hostile to normal, law-abiding morality and ethics. And those were the sort of people who might bring embarrassment to the White House.
But whatever the reason, this sudden dumping of names into the SPIN process put us investigators in an impossible situation, and the unavoidable aftermath was not long in coming. Clinton's inauguration coincided with his withdrawal of Zoe Baird as his nominee for the slot of attorney general (AG). It seemed she'd employed an illegal alien as a nanny and had not paid the appropriate taxes.
Needless to say, that was not an auspicious beginning.
Looking back on it now, there were other warning signs. Some were comical. I remember a funny story told to me by Tony Benedi, former deputy director of Scheduling for the Bush administration. Mel Lukins, deputy director of the Bush Advance Office, confirmed the story.
Just before the inauguration in January 1993, Tony and Mel went to the Capitol to meet with personal representatives of President-elect Clinton to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities after the Oath of Office was administered. Dressed in their usual impeccable suits, Tony and Mel waited and waited. They began to get a little nervous, because three rough-looking characters had arrived and were hanging around, eyeballing them. Were they about to be mugged? The trio looked like bikers, with earrings and ponytails, jeans that were torn or dirty, and faded sweatshirts or Levi jackets. Tony thought they might be there to erect bleachers or do some other construction. He walked over to them.
"Guys," Tony began, "we're supposed to meet a few folks from the Clinton administration. Have you run into any guys who might be the Clinton Advance Team?"
One of them gave Tony a dirty look. "We're the Clinton Advance Team."
(Later, another friend of mine remarked how the Secret Service's attention was captured by a Clinton Advance Team member wearing a red Lenin lapel pin.)
Other warning signs were more ominous. The Clintons, for instance, had been late for their own inauguration. A case of jitters or understandable last-minute fussing?
No, not according to extremely reliable sources who have spoken to me and who, for obvious reasons, must remain anonymous. One of the reasons the Clintons were late was because Vice President Gore had just found out that the West Wing office usually reserved for the vice president was instead going to be occupied by the first lady.
Network news cameras, trained on Blair House the morning of the inauguration, recorded a glimpse of the president and first lady screaming at each other. Sources I consider very reliable affirm that Clinton told Hillary that if she didn't back off from her plans to unseat Gore, Gore would go public with his anger and perhaps resign. Hillary shouted at him that as far as she was concerned, they had a deal -- a deal that dated back to the campaign, when Lloyd Cutler had convinced her to stand by Clinton despite the allegations that he'd had an affair with Gennifer Flowers. The matter had already been decided, she said, and she had no intention of backing off; Gore was bluffing.
The Clintons arrived a half hour late at the White House Residence to join President and Barbara Bush. They also established an odd precedent. No first couple-elect had ever brought friends with them for the traditional tea with the retiring president and first lady in the Blue Room before the motorcade journey to the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony. But for some indiscernible reason, the Clintons brought along their friends Harry Thomason and his wife.
After taking the oath, Bill and Hillary Clinton were taken to a holding room in the Capitol building. Minutes passed while everyone waited for Bill and Hillary to emerge to commence the inaugural festivities. A Capitol Hill police officer was ordered to inform the Clintons that everyone was ready and waiting.
The policeman knocked and opened the door of the holding room. He immediately shut it, beating a hasty retreat. Hillary Clinton was screaming at her husband in what was described as "uncontrolled and unbridled fury." Apparently, the matter of office space was not settled.
The Capitol Hill police and the Secret Service quickly conferred about intervening if it appeared the president's life might be threatened by the first lady! The question before them was, "How much physical abuse is too much physical abuse?"
I reached the intersection of 17th Street and F and angled my FBI car into the government parking area. A parking space near the White House was a major perk, and I knew it. I looked up at the west side of the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB). It looked the same as the last time I saw it, days ago, just before the Bush administration ended.
The same uniformed Secret Service guard was still standing in the same guard shack, and I watched a few permanent staff members hurrying in and out of the gate. Everything looked the same to me, but then, why would I expect anything to be different? Except for a change of political party and a new president, this was the White House.
I checked over the visor for my blue White House pass and slipped the chain with the pass around my neck. I needed the pass to get through the electronic gate, and although everyone knew me, wearing the pass at all times set a good example to those who were not so concerned about security.
As I approached the uniformed, armed Secret Service guard, he smiled and waved a greeting. Then he rolled his eyes and pointed behind him, shaking his head. There wasn't anyone there, so I had to assume he was referring to the new Clinton people inside.
What was he trying to tell me? The Secret Service has a blood oath to never, ever criticize a president or his staff. I didn't stop to ask, but turned up the drive and headed to the canteen for my usual morning coffee-to-go. I passed through the electrically operated double doors and walked down the hallway to the northwest corner of the building and looked around. Still, there was nothing that caught my attention. Everything seemed the same.
But when I entered the canteen, things changed -- dramatically. All my sensors went up, like a police officer's at a crime scene. It almost looked like one. It was my first glimpse of the Clinton administration and, boy, was it different from the buttoned-down Bush administration. The canteen, which was usually spotless, was a mess. Napkins were scattered like windblown Kleenex, and somebody had spilled coffee on the floor. Instead of wiping it up, people had simply tracked through it, making a muddy trail. I took some napkins and tried to mop up the mess before someone fell and got hurt.
I looked around. I saw a shaggy-haired, middle-aged guy over in the corner in a loud, checkered, polyester, double-knit suit and badly scuffed shoes. The woman next to me was dressed like a cocktail waitress. Her shirt was tight and ended at her midriff; her skirt was short, and she wasn't wearing any hose. Between the two of them, I almost wondered if I'd walked into Hooters by mistake.
I looked around some more. There was a girl wearing a peasant blouse and a guy dressed in jeans. I remember thinking, "Is this how they dress at offices in Arkansas?" Having friends and family in the South, I found that hard to believe.
I shook my head and gave the cashier fifty-five cents for my large coffee. "Good morning, Bernice. How are you feeling?" Bernice was an older black woman suffering from an illness that had forced her to miss a lot of work.
"I'm fine, Mr. Aldrich, I'm fine." I was glad to hear it. She was a nice woman. Besides, if she left I would have another investigation on my hands to help "clear" a new cashier.
I grabbed my coffee and headed for the elevator, a few steps down from the canteen. I hoped that what I'd just seen was an anomaly, but when I got to the elevator my day didn't get any better.
There was a small crowd of Clinton people waiting right up against the elevator door, like kids crowding the window of a candy shop. They had the same "unfinished" look as the crowd in the canteen, but then I noticed they were staring at me. I guess I looked out of place in their group.
The elevator arrived, and the Clinton crowd rushed it like animals at feeding time, without giving people a chance to get off. People pushed, shoved, grunted, bumped, and swore, trying to sort it out. The men didn't give any deference at all to the women, who were giving as good as they got. It looked like a sale day at Macy's -- or worse. I held back until the dust settled, and then I got on.
On the way up, two Clinton staffers loudly shared their deepest, most personal, and, frankly, intensely negative thoughts about their new supervisor. I wondered how they knew that I, or someone else in the elevator, wasn't a good friend of the supervisor. Someone behind me sneezed a big wet one. I made a mental note to check the back of my coat.
I got off the elevator at the fifth floor and unlocked the door to room 532, the FBI Liaison Office. I was the first in. I flicked on the lights and walked over to my desk.
The FBI Liaison Office had become comfortable to me over the past two-and-a-half years, and I always felt good about coming to work. After all, who wouldn't want to work at the White House? It might not be as exciting as chasing the mafia, but I'd wiretapped the mob and chased drug dealers and all the rest. Been there, done that.
Dennis and I had furnished the office with some old, heavy, refinished oak desks, leather chairs, a couch, and a coffee table. It was nice, but not as nice as the offices over in the West Wing. On our walls were framed "jumbo" prints taken during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Dennis and I had received these pictures as a token of thanks for our good work. But they weren't ours to keep. The jumbos were the property of the White House, and I expected the Clinton administration would make us take them down.
We had three windows facing north, south, and west. I could look down 17th Street to Constitution Avenue. I would often hear the sirens and see the motorcycles as the president's or vice president's motorcade passed by. Sometimes it was a king or a queen visiting the president. As a rule, FBI agents didn't get office space with inspiring views. My last view, from our office at Buzzard's Point in southwest Washington, looked down on the Anacostia River. We saw old tires and other garbage floating by. Sometimes dead bodies would surface near the docks, and we would watch as the police pulled them out. It was a grim location, and catching federal felons was grim work.
In 1985, I had arrived in Washington full of ambition and optimism, and then I saw the FBI office at Buzzard's Point. My special agent in charge (SAC), Douglas Gow, was fresh from Houston and had also been looking forward to something less shabby. He put me in charge of an office survey to recommend ways to make our work environment better.
My report concluded that, basically, such an effort was hopeless. The place was a dump, located in a dumpy neighborhood. Gow's subordinate, Assistant SAC Dave Binney, read my conclusions, initiated my report, and sent it to the "no-action" file. Binney might as well have thrown it in the wastebasket. Dave said, "You should see New York. This is much better! "
Maybe I'd had my fill of roughing it, and I didn't apologize for feeling that I wanted something a little nicer in my last years with the bureau. You couldn't get much better than the White House. I considered myself especially lucky to be selected for the assignment.
There was always an enormous amount of work for us to complete, but I didn't mind the extra work since it meant spending my last years away from criminals, victims, and defense attorneys . . . and Buzzard's Point.
As I sat drinking my coffee, I wondered whether the people downstairs were temporary volunteers. There were always volunteers working at the White House. That had to be it.
I went through my messages. One was from the new assistant to the president for Management and Administration, David Watkins, a personal friend of President Clinton's who had held a top spot on the campaign. I needed to reach Watkins for two reasons. The first was that I had to interview him. I also needed to meet him to establish a liaison between his office and ours.
During the Bush administration two key offices were involved in the FBI's operations at the White House. One was the Counsel's Office, and the other was the Office of Administration, or OA. The Counsel's Office was the heart of our SPIN investigations conducted for the president. The Counsel's Office ordered the investigations and reviewed the results. They were in daily contact with our office and the bureau. For thirty years this system had been used to clear White House personnel.
The other important contact for us was in Watkins's office. FBI agents normally had a liaison relationship with the OA's director. The OA ran the Personnel Office and supplied logistical support for FBI operations at the White House. In fact, Bush's director, Paul Bateman, had assigned us our office space. So Dennis and I would be harshly criticized if we did not establish a good relationship with David Watkins.
I called the OA front office in the West Wing and spoke to Clarissa Cerda, who answered the secretary's phone. Her voice had an edge to it; she was quick to point out that she was a deputy to Mr. Watkins, not a secretary, and while it was not her job to take messages, she would try to get him to call me. She sounded hostile. It was a little early, it seemed to me, to be so upset, but a lot of Clinton staffers appeared to be suffering from irrational gloom at the outset of the administration.
Watkins returned my call promptly, and he was friendly. Actually, overly friendly. The exact opposite of Cerda. I thought, "What is this guy up to?" He was too nice, too cooperative, too friendly.
Sure, it was a quick first impression. I did not make much of it then, and, except for my experiences of the next two and a half years, I wouldn't mention it now. But remember, I had been in the bureau for more than twenty years. And though it might sound funny, any good agent will tell you that one of our basic investigative tools is observing how people we deal with react to dealing with an FBI agent. Except for longtime friends or fellow law enforcement investigators, very few people talk or act normal around agents. Even good, honest citizens are apt to be a little nervous. Crooks are apt to get violent or to shamelessly deny everything, figuring a well-paid attorney will set them free. And then there are guys like Watkins who are just so "damn glad to see ye." Well, nobody is just "damn glad to see" the FBI. I'd been in the office only an hour, had talked to Watkins for just a couple minutes, and already I was getting -- in a small way -- the same sort of signals I'd picked up while chasing professional con men, white-collar criminals, and even some rougher types.
As I hung up the phone, the General Services Administration (GSA) cleaning lady came in. She looked worried, not her usual self. A problem at home? Perhaps a child who didn't return last night? Crime touched these women more than most others. They'd told me stories that would make the average yuppie's hair stand on end.
When she finished her work, I followed her out and closed and locked the door behind me. I took the quick way to Watkins's office, which was located about one hundred yards east, over in the prestigious West Wing.
There were several routes to the West Wing, but no matter which way I went, the walk took about five minutes. I could use the elevator or walk down the steps. I could go by the Indian Treaty Room or by the Vice President's Office. I could go around the building and pass by the Executive Clerk's Office and the Travel Office. I could find variety in routine, if I wanted to.
While I walked, I noticed other oddly dressed new personnel. By their numbers, I was beginning to realize that I was not looking at volunteers at all. These people were the new Clinton administration. I saw jeans, T-shirts, and sweatshirts; men with earrings and pony-tails; and every manner of footwear except normal dress shoes.
One young lady was dressed entirely in black -- black pants, black T-shirt, black shoes, even black lipstick. She was the only one I saw wearing business shoes. But they were men's shoes -- big, black wingtips.
As I left the OEOB and crossed the West Executive parking lot, I glanced at the cars. Same cars, same drivers. That was something of a relief. One constant in a sea of change. During the campaign the Clintons had criticized the "limousines" used by the "preppie" Bush administration. Clinton's people had said they intended to get rid of the limos, which weren't limos at all, just dark-colored, full-size American sedans. Later, the Clintons did get rid of them. They bought new ones to replace the year-old models.
I passed under the canopy of the West Wing basement entrance and went through the double doors. The Secret Service guard was the same man I had said goodbye to the previous week. The West Wing walls were bare. Where a dozen jumbos of George and Barbara Bush had hung on the walls, there were only darkened spots and nail holes. The hallways looked stark and barren.
I stepped through the doors of the West Wing and entered the outer office of the OA. I saw two young women at desks. One of the women was Cerda, the not-a-secretary. She didn't look like she was having a good day. I introduced myself and told her why I was there. She motioned me in the direction of Watkins's office. Thanks. I knew where it was.
On my way to his office I passed the other not-a-secretary and introduced myself. She was Catherine Cornelius. I found out that she and Cerda were deputies to David Watkins.
Watkins was a tall, slender man in his early forties. I noticed he was not wearing his jacket. Not a big deal, but in the Bush administration, if you were about to meet someone for the first time, you wore your coat. It was a sign of respect, a touch of class I appreciated after Buzzard's Point.
The first thing that struck me about Watkins was his blinding, fluorescent pink tie with a complex geometric design. Later, as I got to know Watkins better, I realized that the loud ties, which never seemed to match anything he wore, were his trademark.
Watkins was oppressively friendly, like a used car salesman hot to make a sale. I half-expected him to hug me.
Before I met Watkins, I had interviewed thousands of people, and every so often I came across someone who would set off alarm bells. It didn't happen often, and it hadn't happened for a long time. But when the old alarm went off, I paid attention. I was paying attention now.
I began my interview of Watkins. I can't tell you the substance of the interview because of Privacy Act restrictions, but I can say that instead of answering my questions directly, Watkins used words or phrases that could have a double meaning. He acted as though I were trying to trap him or trick him. In short, he was behaving as if he were guilty -- but guilty of what?
I was trained to "turn up the heat" when an individual was trying to hide something. I shifted my style, bearing down a bit more, and asking more pointed questions, ones that could not be dodged so easily. I needed to establish the good character of someone Watkins knew well. He became more and more evasive. I turned up the heat even higher. And then, I reached the limit.
He felt I crossed the line. I knew the mentality; I had seen it before. I thought, "Here it comes," and sure enough, Watkins reminded me that he was a close personal friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton, and I had better back off! He looked as though he were about to explode, and I learned later that Watkins had a hair-trigger temper. I excused myself and said I'd be back. He calmed down a little, and I made my exit.
The White House staff had an obligation to cooperate with the FBI, and it was clearly to their advantage to do so. If an individual refused to answer my questions, I would simply report their failure to cooperate to the bureau, who would in turn call the Counsel's Office. To maintain the security program and the FBI's credibility, the Counsel's Office would then order the individual to cooperate -- at least it did in the Bush administration.
If a staff member still refused to cooperate with the FBI, it would be grounds for dismissal. This seemingly harsh approach was the only way the SPIN investigations could have any credibility. It wouldn't take too many refused interviews before the word would get around to the rest of the staff, and then we would have little or no effectiveness. Reporting staffers for failure to cooperate was rarely necessary since, in the Bush administration, they had been so well screened and had little to hide. The Bush people, including the president, understood that the purpose of the SPIN investigations was not to disrupt, impede, or embarrass the administration, but was just the opposite -- to help the president do his job effectively.
I thought Dennis might get along better with Watkins than I had. I made a mental note to suggest that Dennis meet him and perhaps become our liaison contact. I didn't want to repeat my risk of being hugged.
Back in my office, I placed a few phone calls, made some notes of my Watkins interview, and waited for Dennis to arrive. He walked through the door shortly before noon. He had stopped by the SPIN office at Tyson's Corner, Virginia, before coming down.
Dennis was a White House veteran. He'd spent most of his FBI career assigned to Washington, where he became a friend to senators, congressmen, and chiefs of staff, and was an expert on White House politics and protocol. His reputation had been forged first on Capitol Hill, then at the White House over the course of nearly fifteen years. He had worked under three administrations -- Carter, Reagan, and Bush.
By the time I ended my partnership with Scully (Dennis's nickname), I had handled more than two thousand White House staff investigations in the Bush and Clinton administrations and had conducted as many as ten thousand interviews.
Dennis looked agitated. "I tell you, Gary, this is going to be a challenge. I don't know about you, but I'm having a heck of a time getting these Clinton people to grant interviews. I call people up, tell them who I am and what I need to do, and they tell me they're too busy to talk to the FBI!"
Too busy to talk to the FBI? How did they expect to get permanent passes to the White House or security clearances so they could read classified material? Even during the Gulf War, people in the Bush administration worked us into their schedule.
Our SPIN cases had short deadlines, and there were hundreds of cases to complete. The temporary passes that were issued by the Secret Service ran out in ninety days. By my calculations, we would have to complete several cases every day if we were to avoid a problem with the Secret Service and Counsel's Office. There wasn't any time to chase staff who considered themselves "too busy."
"Gary, I think we're in for some real trouble," Dennis warned. "With Bush, we were dealing with straight arrows. I don't think that's going to be the case here. Just look at Zoe Baird and her husband-two rich yuppies screwing over two ignorant illegal aliens, while she's making over $500,000 a year. And they wanted her to be the AG [attorney general] -- an AG who doesn't know or doesn't care that she's violating federal law. These are the sort of people we're dealing with, Gary. And if that's true for the AG, just think of the rest of the administration."
Dennis was right, that was a bad sign. But I was optimistic that things would get straightened out.
The day wound down, and Dennis went out to try to conduct some interviews over in the West Wing. I finished my paperwork and started to clear my desk. I turned on the radio to listen for the traffic report. Instead, I heard that the president had made his wife, Hillary, director of the Clinton administration Health Care Task Force.
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