JUNE 20, 1996
The Senate Judiciary hearings on the release on classified FBI files to the Clinton Whitehouse began in Congress. Margaret Warner talks with two members of that committee, Senator Joe Biden, (D) Delaware, and Senator Charles Grassley, (R) Iowa. Kwame Holman leads off with a background report.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate Judiciary Committee brought in five former White House staffers from the Reagan and Bush administrations, staffers whose confidential FBI files were obtained by the White House Security Office overseen by Craig Livingstone. None of the five was happy about it.
ANITA McBRIDE, Former GOP White House Official: You don't know how difficult it was for me to describe to my 83-year-old father why my name appeared on a list in the newspaper and that I had to appear publicly before all of you with cameras and reporters. You know, he's wise enough to know that once you go public, there's no controlling it.
MR. HOLMAN: Among the five witnesses was Billy Dale, who ran the White House Travel Office until his controversial firing shortly after President Clinton took office. Dale's FBI file was obtained by the White House seven months later.
BILLY RAY DALE, Former Director, White House Travel Office: I find it difficult to believe that this was a low-level bureaucratic mistake, as they have claimed, since Mr. Craig Livingstone in whose possession the file was kept knew me very well. You see, it was Mr. Livingstone who filled out the check-out forms for the Travel Office employees and presented them to us to have processed on the morning we were fired. Mr. Livingstone also wrote the memorandum to the Secret Service instructing them to remove us from the White House access list which ensured that we could no longer enter the White House complex. I find it ironic that the stated reason for requesting my file was for access to the White House.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee: Billy Dale, you in particular, you were the under investigation and prosecution by the administration for what has turned out to be political reasons. How do you represent, how do you respond to this claim?
BILLY RAY DALE: Well, I think that the reason nothing happened to me is because they couldn't find anything. I truly feel that if they had found anything in my file that was derogatory towards me, that it would have been used, and I would question the White House as that nobody saw these files, then how did my file end up in the Travelgate investigation papers? It's my understanding that these files were mistakenly requested from the FBI. Well, I might be able to accept that for the other people but not for myself.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) Delaware: You were violated, period. Regardless of the motive. If it was stupidity, you were violated. If it was for nefarious reasons, you were violated. There's no question about that. We kind of have a two-tiered responsibility here. The first one is to find out, are they as stupid as they appeared to be, are they as incompetent as they appear to be? And if that's all there is, that's still bad. That's bad. That's a problem. But there's a second question that'll obviously be brought up and as part of with the opening statements of some of us, some of my friends on the committee, and that was, was this done to create a list to get people, to get information and dirt to be used for political reasons? That is a second question. It doesn't matter why it was done. Incompetence or malevolence--it was still a violation of your rights. And you are owed an apology.
MR. HOLMAN: This afternoon, the Committee tried to find out how and why the FBI files were sent to the White House to Richard Miller as assistant director for protective operations at the Secret Service, the agency that reportedly provided the list of names of those whose files were pulled.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) Iowa: Was Mr. Livingstone ever briefed by the Secret Service on the E-Pass system so that he would understand the significance of the list versus--the significance of that list versus any other list, and so he would know who had access and who didn't, and would he have been aware of the meaning of "I" for inactive and "A" for active under the status column?
RICHARD MILLER: Mr. Livingstone was given a thorough briefing on the E-Pass system, on the inactive and the active markings on this list, and further, I've been told that he was briefed to the fact that this was the data which we should rely on.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: So he was adequately briefed so that he should have known which was the proper list to use?
RICHARD MILLER: That's correct.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Okay.
MR. HOLMAN: FBI General Counsel Howard Shapiro was called to testify, having just completed an internal investigation of the delivery of the FBI files to the White House.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: I appreciate that the FBI attempts to act expeditiously when it receives requests for background checks or information, but how can the FBI fail to question the propriety of the request late in 1993 for FBI summaries on people such as James Baker and Marlin Fitzwater, people who clearly were well known and no longer work for the White House?
HOWARD SHAPIRO, General Counsel, FBI: Mr. Chairman, I, as I've said in the report and said today, this was an egregious mishandling of the situation, and we permitted a massive invasion of privacy. I, I would say that one of the research analysts did note the name of James Baker but her thought about that is perhaps this present White House is thinking of appointing him to some position or some commission and needs access and I don't know. The problem is, the bigger problem is, and this is a problem for which the FBI is responsible, is that we had such a tradition of deference that no one would ask those questions.
MR. HOLMAN: As Congress continues its investigation, Attorney General Janet Reno said today she'll ask a three-judge panel in Washington to allow Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to expand his jurisdiction to include an investigation of the FBI files.
MR. LEHRER: Now to two key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and to Margaret Warner.
MS. WARNER: Those two members joining us now are Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the committee. Welcome both of you. Sen. Grassley, after today, are you any closer to understanding how and why these files ended up at the White House?
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY, (R) Iowa: (Capitol Hill) No. I think we have a long process to get an answer for that, but I think we're in a position now where we can ask the White House to provide us a list because, you see, we had the President saying that it was a bureaucratic snafu or lower level people or the Secret Service screwed up. We've had the Secret Service in today in public. We've had about six hours of meeting with them prior to that. They said there's no way that this can be a computer glitch. It seems to me now it's up to the President to show us where the list is, to provide the list, because every excuse that he's given, it seems to me that that has been adequately disputed, so that the burden now shifts to him to show where, where the list is, where the names came from.
MS. WARNER: Sen. Biden, do you agree with that assessment?
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) Delaware: (Capitol Hill) In part. It seems to me we have to now find out where the list came from. The Secret Service today said they didn't know where the list came from. The FBI said they didn't know where the list came from. Part of the problem here is that the, the FBI in order to make sure they stay squeaky clean has been instructed not to investigate this matter because it's going to be done by a special counsel, Mr. Starr. We have not had--we, the committee, Democrats and Republicans, haven't had, at least we haven't had the capability at this point of doing a thorough investigation, and the process is now just beginning. It seems to me that when you get the gentleman who, who was in charge of compiling this list to find out what list he worked from, we should get him before us and find out how he went about this. But keep in mind that what we're talking about here is somewhere over, just over 400 names that, that there should not have been a background file, a summary file. Investigation had already been done on them. They had worked in the White House, and in alphabetical order, starting with an AA end and ending at GO, a name, a last name that started with G-o, over a period of several months, these background checks were asked for. And so it's really confusing to me. If someone was going out there to try to do something terrible and awful and create an enemies list, it didn't seem to me a logical way to go about it. But the flip side of that is, Sen. Grassley's right, we don't know where this list came from. I don't know how this guy got this list, or how he started, decided he wanted these names. And, and it stopped. There's a point, the end of January, the last request is made. This guy--
MS. WARNER: This is January of '94 just to be clear.
SEN. BIDEN: January of '94. This guy comes on in, in, in August of 1994--93.
MS. WARNER: '93, I think.
SEN. BIDEN: Leaves in--February 15th or thereabout of 1994, in the process asks for 480 background files, previously investigated people for the summary of their files on the grounds that it related to access. No one seems to know why he came up with that list, why it would be in alphabetical order--
MS. WARNER: All right.
SEN. BIDEN: --and so on. So there's a lot left to be determined.
MS. WARNER: All right. Sen. Grassley, you seem to be trying to drive at figuring this out today when you--and we just ran the clip--you were asking Mr. Miller from the Secret Service about whether this--whether Craig Livingstone, the man in charge of this office, had been given a full briefing on the Secret Service list, the so-called E-Pass list. What was the significance of that? Connect those dots for us, if you could.
SEN. GRASSLEY: Okay. The significance is that Mr. Livingstone was clearly instructed--in fact, he, himself, even asked questions about the list so that he would have known who was active and who was inactive because there was an A after a name or an I after a name. He knew what that list was. What they ended up doing is getting lists of people who were all active, and it looks like it was probably a constructed list. We don't know quite frankly. That's why I say it's very important now that we have responded to every or we have been able to show that every excuse that the President gives doesn't hold water, and it seems to me since the President's credibility now is shaken as a result of this, it shifts the burden to the President to show the list and to tell us who created the list and to show if the list is a fabrication or if it's real and if it's a fabrication to show us who fabricated it.
MS. WARNER: Well, let me ask you, just to expand on that a little, because as Sen. Biden pointed out, Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor, is going to be looking at this, and the White House has said it's improper for them to essentially go around and interview their own staff. Sen. Grassley, what is it you're really looking for the White House to do here?
SEN. GRASSLEY: Okay. First of all, nobody disputes that this is a White House problem, and no one disputes that there's people, credible people outside the White House other than Republicans like Judge Freeh, director of the FBI, that says that things aren't right the way that this was done, so what I really want, and this is the third time this program I make this point and I hope that, that you aren't questioning whether or not it's legitimate to make this point, it seems to me, we've had the Secret Service explain to us how this works. Mechanically there's no way that they could have produced this list, uh, and if they did produce the list, they wouldn't have done it unless somebody asked for it, and in every respect, this is not a bureaucratic snafu, this is not a computer glitch. It shifts to the President then.
MS. WARNER: And I hope I didn't say the wrong thing here in terms of what I meant. I just meant, do you expect now the White House to make the aides available to come testify before your committee and so on?
SEN. GRASSLEY: I believe that they will have to, yes.
MS. WARNER: Okay. And Sen. Biden.
SEN. BIDEN: I didn't really agree with anything that Chuck just said.
MS. WARNER: You do not?
SEN. BIDEN: No. I don't agree with anything he just said. Let me explain what I mean by that.
SEN. GRASSLEY: Okay.
SEN. BIDEN: I think there's a lot of confusion still out there, but nothing points to anything. When, in fact, we asked today, when I asked today the Secret Service representative, as well as the FBI, whether or not the fact that this was an alphabetical list in order could easily lead to the conclusion that there was no intent to do anything wrong, and they said this is likely that as it is anything else. We don't know. We don't know, No. 1. No. 2, this notion that Judge Freeh, you know, said something is terribly wrong, he did saying something was terribly wrong, and what was terribly--but he didn't say something was terribly wrong in that there was an enemies list or there was a design to do this. He said, look, my outfit, the FBI, as well as the White House office on personnel, did not go about this in a way to protect people's privacy. The issue here is people's privacy. And the fact of the matter was the third point about the significance of whether or not Mr. Livingstone or Livingstone was briefed on how this E-Pass worked. Every other administration was briefed on the E-Pass as well. The fact that someone's name is on this list as active or inactive does not determine whether or not a file was asked for. The Reagan administration asked for files that were inactive or active on the E-Pass, so did the Bush administration, presumably the Carter administration, as did this administration. The only reason, as the--as the Secret Service pointed out, their purpose in compiling the list is to see who is a threat to the President, not whether or not the person is politically worthy of being there. For example, the example given by majority staff to me was someone may pass the muster of the Secret Service and be viewed not as a threat to the President, but maybe the person has violated the scoff laws and owes $200 or $900 in parking tickets to the city of Washington. Well, the people at the White House before they hire that person or keep that person may want to know that. That's a different criteria. And lastly, this idea that this list was update. The Secret Service presented us a list today based on names that were asked for as to when they became active or inactive. Until August of 1993, James Baker was still listed as active, for example.
MS. WARNER: All right. Senator, let me ask Sen. Grassley this. If you all both step back from this, you both have been in this city a long time, does this have the feel to you of something that did involve serious abuse of presidential power?
SEN. BIDEN: No--not yet anyway.
MS. WARNER: Sen. Grassley.
SEN. GRASSLEY: I just don't feel like I can make that judgment now. I think that this process will work that out.
SEN. BIDEN: I agree.
SEN. GRASSLEY: But I know that contrary to what my colleague just said, that the White House made assertions, we disproved every one of those assertions. It seems to me if the White House and the President is going to have credibility, the burden shifts to them to produce a list.
MS. WARNER: And so where does your committee go from here briefly, both of you? Sen. Grassley.
SEN. GRASSLEY: Well, we will, I'm sure that we're going to hear from Mr. Livingstone and his colleague next, and we'll, we'll continue the hearings till we get an answer. That's our responsibility.
SEN. BIDEN: I agree with that.
MS. WARNER: Well, thank you both very much. I'm sure we'll be back to talk about it further.
SEN. BIDEN: Thanks.