Magazine article Insight on the News

Memos Suggest Obstruction Linked to Big Brother Database

Magazine article Insight on the News

Memos Suggest Obstruction Linked to Big Brother Database

Article excerpt

As Insight first reported last year, and extravagant computer system at the White House is churning up questions of fund-raising scandals, obstruction of justice and other violations.

It was a stunning revelation: The White House intentionally had withheld from congressional investigators a potentially damaging document that directly linked President Clinton to possibly illegal uses of a then-secret computer system with the capability to mix social and political fund-raising data concerning perquisites and events now at the heart of ongoing criminal and congressional probes by the Justice Department and Congress.

One of the documents, undated but presumably written in 1994 by then White House aide Brian Bailey, mentions former White House deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes and Debra DeLee, the Democratic National Committee's, or DNC's, executive director. This one-page handwritten note states that "Harold and Deborah [sic] DeLee went to make sure WHODB [the White House Office Data Base] is integrated w/DNC database -- so we can share -- evidently, POTUS wants this too," Bailey writes. "He [Ickes] wants to have a meeting ... to discuss ways to coordinate going forward. Bobby Watson [DeLee's then-DNC assistant] is working on her end."

POTUS refers to the president of the United States; it is an acronym given presidents by the U.S. Secret Service.

A second document, this one dated June 28, 1994, was from White House aide Marsha Scott to Ickes concerning an attempt to clone for the DNC a "People-Base" data system of the kind used by Clinton to coordinate favors while in Arkansas politics. The contents of the earlier Clinton database were, according to White House sources, merged with WHODB, and both Clintons wanted to share them with the DNC to encourage political donations and coordination of contacts and events.

"This sounds promising, please advise, HRC," Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote on one of two versions of the June 28 memo by Scott that initially was discovered in September 1996 by a White House lawyer but not released to Indiana Republican Rep. David McIntosh's Government Reform and Oversight subcommittee on National Economic Growth, Natural Resources and Regulatory Affairs until February 1997 when the new White House counsel, Charles F.C. Ruff, discovered the existence of both versions of Scott's memos -- the one with, and the one without, HRC's initials.

After McIntosh berated the White House, suggesting that withholding the memos was part of an obstructionist pattern, Ruff responded with a fiery defense of his attempts to assist congressional investigations of the WHODB and other probes into Clinton scandals. In a May 22, 1997, letter to McIntosh, Ruff argued that contrary to McIntosh's interpretation, the June 28 Scott memos did not provide "'compelling evidence that criminal activity may have been planned'.... I submit, [that is] completely unfounded.... I believe you will find that the [June 28 Scott] memo discusses four separate databases; the references to `outside' database and `new system' are referring to whatever campaign database -- not WHODB -- that was under consideration at the time," Ruff said. "There is no evidence in this memorandum or anywhere else that WHODB was planned to be used for political purposes, nor any evidence that it was, in fact, put to such use."

Fast-forward then to Oct. 28, 1997. Ruff again writes to McIntosh, but this time to say that after further review of certain "folders," newly discovered in an unnamed lawyer's files, some more materials related to the WHODB were found that should have been turned over earlier. "Instead, they were placed in folders and, together with other materials, were transferred in December 1996 to the attorney who was assuming responsibility for responding to the subcommittee's requests. She [the attorney] did not examine the contents of those folders, however, until last week when, as part of her effort to respond to your letter of October 9 [for more documents], she undertook a review of the materials gathered in 1996. …

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