Several weeks ago, we reported on the controversy surrounding the plan for a George Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University. Today we learn that another presidential library has been thrown into the political arena. A number of reporters, researchers, and Republicans are frustrated that their requests for documents from the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas are not being filled in a timely manner. And they suspect the delays are part of a shrewd political plan concocted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign team to shield her from public criticism during her race for the White House.
Some of the library’s holdings could indeed prove damaging to Mrs. Clinton’s political fortunes. The presidential archive contains 138 million pages of documents, including several hundred which detail the former First Lady’s health care reform task force, the Whitewater controversy, Monica Lewinsky, and the Marc Rich pardon scandal. Tom Fitton, executive director of Judicial Watch, a conservative watch-dog group headquartered in Washington, D.C., is incensed that he has not received any response to a request he submitted for Mrs. Clinton’s White House schedule and office diaries. “We’re getting nowhere,” he recently told a reporter for Newsday. “We may have to consider filing a lawsuit, but the legal issues are very, very complicated.” Jeff Gerth, a former New York Times journalist who is working on a biography of Senator Clinton, is also miffed by the library’s lethargy. He put in a request for Clinton’s files in January of 2006, but still has not received a reply. “I haven’t received any documents or even a note indicating that they’re searching the records,” he complained. Library officials insist that the delays are not intentional, but rather a natural consequence of the large number of requests for information that have flooded the center in recent months. “This is a tremendously complex and convoluted process,” said Melissa Walker, the library’s supervising archivist. “We review documents line by line, document by document, not box by box. It takes a lot of time.”
Under the terms of the Presidential Records Act of 1981, the Clintons are not legally required to release their White House records until 2012, a loophole which could widen if George W. Bush’s Executive Order 13233 stays in place. The Act grants former presidents a 12-year proxy veto over record requests through an appointed representative. The Clintons chose Bruce Lindsey, a friend and family lawyer, to serve as their agent.