Two memos that the White House withheld for months from congressional investigators have become the newest focus of a House subcommittee inquiry into the administration's use of a secret database for political gains.
Investigators want to know if administration officials, including high-ranking aides in the White House counsel's office, withheld the documents to protect President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in an ongoing inquiry of a White House database known as WHODB.
Congressional sources said investigators are trying to determine if White House officials lied to the subcommittee about the existence of the documents or purposely sought to obstruct justice by hiding them from the House Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee, chaired by Rep. David M. McIntosh, Indiana Republican.
"Someone in the counsel's office determined in 1996 that these documents were not responsive, when clearly they were," said a source close to the subcommittee probe. "Investigators are looking at a very serious case of lying to Congress, possibly even an obstruction of justice."
The documents were sought by the subcommittee in August 1996 but turned over only last month.
One document, a handwritten note, said Mr. Clinton wanted to share the White House's taxpayer-funded database of 350,000 names with the Democratic National Committee. It was reviewed by the White House counsel's office last year but ruled non-responsive to a request by the subcommittee for "all communications" related to the database.
Written by ex-White House aide Brian Bailey, the note said White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes and Deborah DeLee, the DNC's executive director, "want to make sure" the White House database was integrated with the DNC "so we can share." It noted that Mr. Clinton agreed: "Evidently, POTUS wants this to[o]! Makes sense." POTUS is the internal acronym for president of the United States.
"Someone made the decision to conceal this evidence and obstruct justice," said Mr. McIntosh, adding that the note suggested that White House officials were "planning" to break the law. "There's no way this memo was non-responsive. It's exactly what we asked for."
White House Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills, along with then-White House Counsel Jack Quinn, reviewed the note in 1996 and ruled it non-responsive to the panel's request for "all documents" on the White House database. She said she could not "totally re-create" the decision-making process, but after reviewing the note was "fully supportive" of a decision by her new boss, Charles F.C. Ruff, that it should be given to the panel.
Ironically, on Jan. 17, 1994, Miss Mills issued a memo barring the use of the database for political purposes. She said at the time the White House was forbidden by law to give information from the WHODB system to a nonfederal entity or individual. …