JUNE 14, 1996
Margaret Warner is joined by two members of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Representatives James Moran (D) and Tom Davis (R), to look at the Whitehouse/FBI files case.
MARGARET WARNER: FBI Director Louis Freeh ordered strict new controls over the Bureau's background files today. After an internal FBI probe also released today sharply criticized the manner in which the Clinton White House obtained more than 400 such files from the FBI. The internal inquiry by the FBI's general counsel found that the White House's request between December of 1993 and February of 1994 were without justification and amounted to "egregious violations of privacy." In a written statement, FBI Director Freeh said, "The prior system of providing files to the White House relied on good faith and honor. Unfortunately, the FBI and I were victimized. I promise the American people it will not happen again on my watch." Under the new FBI safeguards, any background file request must include actual signatures of the White House official requesting the file and a White House attorney approving it--earlier requests carried only the typed name of the White House counsel--a detailed reason for the request; written consent from the individual concern and review and approval by high level FBI officials. Separately today, White House counsel Jack Quinn announced new administration procedures for making such requests. The new White House rules essentially echo the new FBI requirements. Here to discuss today's developments are two key members of the House Government Reform & Oversight Committee, Republican Tom Davis of Virginia and Democrat James Moran, also of Virginia. Welcome, gentlemen. Congressman Davis, what's your reaction to this report?
REP. THOMAS DAVIS, (R) Virginia: Well, I think it raises more questions than it actually answers, and I think we have to remember we wouldn't have had this information if the House Committee had not voted a contempt citation against the White House. There are still 2,000 documents outstanding.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So what questions do you think it does answer, and what questions remain unanswered?
REP. DAVIS: Well, I think what's answered is clearly we had some proceedings here that were not in accordance with established law and procedure. But why were they only going after Republicans? Dee Dee Myers and a hundred White House aides had not had any background checks on them, and they were carrying on without the appropriate checks that they should have had. Who put this list together, and why? It was clearly not just a bureaucratic snafu. We now found out that the individual who was the "bureaucrat," the civilian employee--
MARGARET WARNER: At the White House?
REP. DAVIS: At the White House--had been a Clinton campaign aide who was specifically requested by the White House to work on this. So--
MARGARET WARNER: Now you're talking now about the army investigator--
REP. DAVIS: Correct.
MARGARET WARNER: --who had detailed--
REP. DAVIS: The "bureaucrat" who supposedly bungled this thing. He was, in fact, a political operative.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman, what's your reaction to this report?
REP. JAMES MORAN, (D) Virginia: Well, I'm glad that the system is getting cleared up, so it's a good day from that standpoint. This kind of thing has been going on back since the Nixon administration, probably the Johnson administration. It's about time that people that are investigating give their consent to be investigated. But the problem all boils down to the fact that the Secret Service had an outdated computer list of people who had access to the White House. This was given to this army detailee and he went down one by one, filling out the file for these people because the Bush administration had taken all the files when they left office. And so he didn't show it to anybody. He took the files. He put them away, except for three files that he found a problem with. One was a grounds keeper. One was a telephone operator, and another was a buildings person. Those are the only three that he took aside. When someone came in that was more politically savvy and realized these people shouldn't be investigated by us, what they did was to make a list of everyone that shouldn't be on the list, they took all their files, they put 'em away so that nobody could see them, they archived them, and that's the list that was sent to Chairman Clinger. Nobody used any of this information. It never should have been gotten, and the person that got it was going off a Secret Service list that should have been updated, but that wasn't the fault of the Clinton administration.
REP. DAVIS: Well, Mr. Barnaby Brasso, who was an employ who was fired at Travelgate, his files were also requested. It was not part of this. There were at least 40 other names that were requested, and we don't even know who they are yet. The White House has come up with and the FBI has called into question 17 other files. This is far more than bureaucratic bungling at this point. We don't know the extent of what it is, and I don't care to speculate on how brave it may be or what just kind of a bungle it was on the part of the administration, but we have a duty to get to the bottom of it.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, clear up something for me. You seem to feel we still really don't know what happened at the White House. I mean, this report clearly says that on the FBI end they think they were too lax in getting their files.
REP. DAVIS: The report interviewed nobody at the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: Right. But Congressman Moran, you seem to feel that you do know what happened on the White House end, and that was pretty benign, incompetent.
REP. MORAN: I do. But I talked to enough people. The only reason they didn't interview people at the White House is that the prosecutor, Ken Starr, wouldn't let them, because he wants to interview them, himself. That's the only reason they weren't interviewed. What happened was that there was a Post article in the summer of '93 that said we've got so many young kids, they have access to highly classified security information. The FBI hasn't completed its investigation of them. And so Mack McLarty said, get these things done. Now part of it was there were a lot of Bush hold-overs who had no file either because the Bush White House had cleared them out when it left office. This person, the army detailee, was aside. So he, he goes to a Bush hold-over who had worked on getting FBI files since the beginning of the Reagan administration, and she tells them, you use this list that the Secret Service has. The list had not been updated since the Reagan-Bush administration. So it included all these people from the prior administration. This guy didn't know. He goes down one by one. He gets the file. He puts it away, and, and nothing occurred. When a new person that the Clinton administration assigned sees that these people don't belong here, then she takes care, but that's all that was involved. There was no intent to do any wrongdoing to investigate anybody, and the truth is that nothing occurred. Nothing in any of these files has ever been made public.
REP. DAVIS: Well, we don't know that at all. There was private information made available and leaked from the administration earlier by the State Department a couple of years ago that called this into question. This army detailee, Jim, had been a Democratic operative. He worked on the campaign and previous campaigns, and had been an employee-
REP. MORAN: We have a sworn statement, Tom, that that's exactly what happened.
REP. DAVIS: We intend to hear from him at the committee level. I think the American public is entitled to know some of this. And I would just add that these documents had been subpoenaed for many, many months, and the White House is--
MARGARET WARNER: You're now saying by your committee--your subpoena--
REP. DAVIS: By our committee, and it was only after the committee voted for a contempt citation that they were made available, and there are still 2,000 documents that have been withheld.
MARGARET WARNER: Now what do you all--
REP. DAVIS: The administration claimed executive privilege on this, and as you look at the documents, there's no basis for that at all. So the explanation changes from day to day. Jim, I hope you're right. I hope your explanation is right for the administration's sake and the country's sake. We don't need any, any more of this. This has been a massive--
REP. MORAN: The White House has supplied 40,000 documents, and nothing has come of it. There's been no harm done. It's clear that things--that the White House didn't have its act together in 1993. But, but that's all that has become clear. No harm has been done, and I'm sure it's going to prove to be the case.
REP. DAVIS: Well, I hope it does, but I think this has--
REP. MORAN: We've spent an awful lot of time on this--
REP. DAVIS: --raised more questions than it answers.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
REP. DAVIS: --when we ought to be dealing with important matters of substance.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about the steps announced today by FBI Director Freeh and then the White House essentially instituted some more steps. Are you convinced, Congressman Davis, that these steps requiring real signatures and so on--
REP. DAVIS: In the future, if this had been in effect, we never would have gone through this sad story, and I think it's overdue. Unfortunately, it takes an episode like this, and it appears at least on the surface that in the future, we can stop this kind of thing. But you still have a number of questions raised about why those documents sat there for so long, who looked at them. What we have now are people not even under oath making comments and public spins on it, and I think the public has a right to really ask the questions and get to know what happened.
REP. MORAN: I wish the FBI had done this during the Reagan and Bush administrations. This has been going on for far too long. We have no business. People's privacy should be protected, and they used a form that was identical to the form the Bush administration used. The only difference was they put in Bernard Nussbaum, instead of C. Boyden Gray. There's no difference in the form.
REP. DAVIS: There's no evidence that the Bush or Reagan administration were going after former Democratic workers in the White House. There's just no evidence of that at this point. Maybe the hearings will bring that out, but at this point, it's not in evidence.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you about the statement that FBI Director Freeh said when he said, "the FBI and I were victimized." What do you think he meant by that?
REP. MORAN: He was victimized by a system that should have been corrected many years ago.
REP. DAVIS: I think he was victimized by the White House in this particular case who requested documents they had no business of requesting. Now we don't know if there was malice aforethought or whether it was a bungle, but I think we have a responsibility to ask those questions.
MARGARET WARNER: And Congressman Moran, I want to ask you this. When you were on this show talking to Jim just last week about this, you said there's no beef in this burger. Now do you still feel that strongly, that confident?
REP. MORAN: I am absolutely sure there is nothing to this whatsoever. If the Secret Service had had an updated computer list, it never would have occurred, and there's nothing more than that to this.
MARGARET WARNER: And where do you all go from here?
REP. DAVIS: Well, where did Barnaby Brasso--
MARGARET WARNER: Barnaby Brasso.
REP. DAVIS: --where his file came from.
MARGARET WARNER: This is one of the Travel--fired Travel Office employees.
REP. DAVIS: Absolutely. They had no business. He'd been fired from the White House. I had an Adolf Elsenberg who was on this hit list as well. This just raises more questions. I hope that Jim is right, but every time new information comes out, and we only get it from pulling teeth in the White House and subpoenas and contempt citations, more questions are raised, and I think we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Where do you go from here? You said you were going to hold hearings.
REP. DAVIS: We're going to be holding hearings over the next three weeks at the congressional level, where we'll have a number of people come up and testify under oath. And I think we may have a contempt citation move forward if we can't reach an agreement with the White House on the 2,000 documents that so far they failed to produce.
REP. MORAN: They supplied 40,000 documents, and you know, that's why we can't deal with tax or Medicare or Medicaid or welfare or get our appropriations bills done. We're going to spend all our time on this nonsense.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman, do you welcome these hearings? Do you think there is more to be found out?
REP. MORAN: There hearings are fine. I'm sorry the whole country's distracted by such a silly thing, but I--what it's going to show is that Bush administration, if they left the files intact, it wouldn't have occurred. These people were Bush hold-overs. That's why they had to get the information on them. That's--
REP. DAVIS: The political operative--
MARGARET WARNER: Let me ask you one more question about your plans. When you hold these hearings, you want to call people from the White House, I assume.
REP. DAVIS: Of course.
MARGARET WARNER: But if Kenneth Starr, the special independent counsel--
REP. DAVIS: We'll work with a special prosecutor. We will work with a special prosecutor in this particular case. We're not going to--this is not a political witch hunt by any means, and we're not going to endanger the special prosecutor's role in this.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see any problem having the White House coming in, White House people coming in to testify?
REP. MORAN: Not at all. I wish they would have an opportunity to say exactly what occurred, and I appreciate the fact that Tom brought up the political witch hunt term because that's clearly what's appropriate here.
MARGARET WARNER: And you would--would you encourage the White House to have their people testify about this?
REP. MORAN: Oh, absolutely. Every opportunity. And they haven't gotten an opportunity because Ken Starr wouldn't let them be interviewed in this context. He wants it to be--
REP. DAVIS: Let me leave with this thought. We only know about this because a contempt citation was voted out from a House Committee after the administration had claimed executive privilege on this. Jim--
REP. MORAN: Because the court told--
REP. DAVIS: No, the court didn't tell them any such--no one can rationalize this under executive privilege. We don't know what they're hiding. We wish they'd just come forward with the facts.
MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.
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