Nussbaum Ran '93 Probes of Career Staff

Article excerpt

The White House counsel's office in 1993 conducted its own check of the political, criminal and financial backgrounds of career civil servants held over from past administrations, according to newly disclosed documents.

White House Counsel Bernard J. Nussbaum and his chief lieutenant, William H. Kennedy III, carried out the personnel search while the embattled office of personnel security conducted a search of FBI background files of former officials of the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Some of the career workers ordered to comply with the counsel's office background investigation said they protested that it was a political "litmus test" at a time when the White House was eager to put political allies into White House slots, including the usher's office.

"We were all convinced that this was a political witch hunt," said former usher Chris Emory.

But White House officials said that the forms used in the background checks were standard-issue background information documents and that no political targeting took place.

While the search of FBI background files reportedly was aimed at reviewing those with access to the White House as part of "Operation Update," Mr. Nussbaum's probe was an unusual job-clearance procedure, according to the documents.

In addition to covering incoming political appointees - a typical procedure - it included the more than 150 career civil servants who previously had undergone and passed FBI background investigations.

"Before a final decision on your employment can be made, certain background investigations and conflict-of-interest reviews must be completed," said one form sent to many career White House employees who had worked in the West and East Wings for years.

"Since they knew everyone they had brought into the White House and we'd already passed the FBI tests, this was a tool for the Clintons to test our loyalty and politics," said Mr. Emory, currently the administrator to the Howard County Council in Maryland.

In memos from the counsel's office provided to The Washington Times, Mr. Nussbaum ordered all employees to answer 33 sensitive questions on form "SF 86," including queries on past political activities.

For example, question 23 read: "Please list current and past party affiliations."

Other questions echoed sensitive FBI background queries about past criminal or financial irregularities by White House workers and their family members.

White House Special Associate Counsel Mark Fabiani said all staffers were asked to fill out the forms, along with tax waivers and other documents, because there were no security files left after the Bush administration. …