Magazine article Insight on the News

Filegate Demands Answers, Not Excuses

Magazine article Insight on the News

Filegate Demands Answers, Not Excuses

Article excerpt

Despite the best efforts of the White House, Rep. Bill Clinger, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, is slowly prying the lid off one of the Clinton administration's dirtiest episodes to date.

Clinger discovered that President Clinton's White House staff had been sifting through the FBI personnel files of more than 400 Republican political appointees from the Bush and Reagan administrations. In addition, Clinton's political cronies also had taken the liberty of pulling the records of Billy Dale and at least one other person in the White House Travel Office months after they had been forced out of their jobs to make way for a Clinton relative. Clinger has promised full hearings this week to get to the bottom of what very well could be the biggest scandal to hit the presidency since Watergate.

Clinton's assertion that it was a bureaucratic snafu begs credulity. The White House has offered up four different versions of the circumstances surrounding this apparent breach of the civil rights of hundreds of individuals. An FBI veteran who worked at the White House for five years stated that Clinton's explanation "is really too much for this FBI veteran to believe." FBI Director Louis J. Freeh accused the White House of "egregious violations of privacy." To those of us who were political appointees at the State Department during the Bush administration, the reason files were pulled out of storage and examined is clear: Clinton's White House is engaged in a plan to collect information on Republicans and its enemies that might be used to embarrass, humiliate and politically destroy them at a later date.

As it turns out, the practice run for what Clinger is uncovering took place at the State Department six months after Clinton took office. The White House political liaison officer at State, Joseph Tarver, requested that the personnel files of all Bush State Department political appointees be pulled out of storage and returned to Foggy Bottom. Tarver shared these files with Mark Schulhof, a top aide to Thomas Donilon. Donilon was assistant secretary of public affairs at the time and now is chief of staff to Secretary of State Warren Christopher. In short order, confidential information from the files of Elizabeth Tamposi and Jennifer Fitzgerald was passed out to the press and splashed across the pages of the Washington Post. In his Sept. 1, 1993, column "In the Loop," reporter Al Kamen detailed information from these records.

The Clintonites discovered that these personnel files contain the A-to-Z history of a person's life, including the extremely sensitive background investigation conducted by the FBI or State's own security unit. It is all there: medical history, performance evaluations, financial reports -- even the opinions of neighbors questioned by security personnel. In short, the Clinton State Department collected and used information protected by the Privacy Act to smear Republican appointees. Violating the Privacy Act, put in place to prevent this sort of nefarious activity, is a misdemeanor and carries a $5,000 fine.

The investigation into this crime was carried out by State's then-Inspector General Sherman Funk. In a congressional briefing following his probe, Funk flatly stated that there were "clear violations of the Privacy Act provable beyond a reasonable doubt." Funk's investigators found that critical telephone logs they were seeking were destroyed by a White House attorney despite that official being warned that an inquiry was under way. …

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