'Violations of Privacy.' (FBI Report That Clinton Administration Aides Compiled Background Reports on Former White House Employees)

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IT WAS CALLED THE "UP-date Project." The bland name was appropriate for what seemed to be a routine bit of bureaucratic housekeeping by the Clinton administration: a 1993 attempt to compile FBI background reports on the thousands of employees holding White House passes. But now it looks as if the venture would be more aptly dubbed "The Ex-Files."

A scathing FBI report last week found that Clinton aides had acquired information on more than 400 officials long gone from the White House, including Bush-era VIPs like former secretary of state James Baker. Also in White House hands were files of Travel Office staffers, whose 1993 dismissals are the subject of a congressional investigation. Even more startling, it seems that the bureau had handed over the files--which often contain the most sensitive personal details unearthed in field investigations--with no questions asked.

FBI Director Louis Freeh took himself and the bureau to task, calling its cooperation with the White House "a complete abdication of management responsibility" and "egregious violations of privacy." But he left little doubt that he believed that the Clintonites were the real culprits. "The prior system of providing files to the White House relied on good faith and honor," he said. "Unfortunately, the FBI and I were victimized." Freeh later re-emphasized his own lack of vigilance.

The damage was done. It was another serious legal and political blow to a White House already struggling to contain Whitewater. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr wasted no time in launching his own probe of "Filegate"; congressional Republicans immediately started hollering about a latter-day "enemies list," and promised hearings this week. And the Dole campaign, heartened by improving polls, smells another chance to inject "character" into the campaign. "The real race began this week," crowed a top Dole aide. "Thank you, Louis Freeh!"

Mea culpas: For what, exactly? That's still far from clear. The FBI probe, in deference to Starr, was limited to interviews with bureau personnel. Its report offered no conclusions about what it called "motivations of White House employees." Clinton and other administration officials, in a weeklong series of mea culpas, apologized to those who had their files improperly pulled. But they maintained that it was nothing more than a bureaucratic "snafu," the product of unsophisticated low-level employees working from an outdated computer printout.

Nor, they contend, is there any sign that damaging information--if there was any--ever leaked from the files. "There hasn't been any evidence of political manipulation," says Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos. The two aides in question--White House personnel security director Craig Livingstone and Anthony Marceca, an army investigator on loan from the Pentagon in 1993 and 1994--also say in sworn statements that they did nothing improper. Marceca blames a now retired security-office staffer for giving him an inaccurate roster of names.

But their stories may not wash. Congressional staffers told NEWSWEEK that both the retired employee, Nancy Gemmel, and Secret Service officials dispute aspects of Marceca's tale in interviews with congressional staff. The Secret Service, according to congressional aides, says its master list of White House passholders actually has 24,000 names--far more than the list Marceca says he was given.

It's also apparent that Livingstone and Marceca are far from political naifs. Marceca is an ex-Senate staffer and investigator for former Pennsylvania state auditor Don Bailey. He also did advance work in New Hampshire for Democratic presidential candidates John Glenn, Gary Hart and Walter Mondale. "This guy is no simple army clerk; he's a seasoned political operative," said one congressional investigator. Colleagues remember him as a character in dark glasses and trench coat who enjoyed cultivating a cloak-and-dagger image. He found a soulmate on the campaign trail in Livingstone, described by one White House aide as a "cop without a gun," who relished the walkie-talkie-and-earpiece culture of campaign work. …