JUNE 19, 1996
The House Government Reform and Oversight opened hearings on what the White House has called "a bureaucratic snafu" -- the request for the sensitive FBI files of officials from past Republican administrations. House Democrats said the whole incident is being overplayed, but House Republicans wonder if there is some more to the White House's actions.
KWAME HOLMAN: The House Government Reform and Oversight Committee already had been busy investigating the firings of seven White House Travel Office employees that occurred in the spring of 1993, just a few months into the new Clinton administration. Much of Chairman Bill Clinger's time had been spent negotiating with the White House to obtain documents related to those firings, and then two weeks ago, the committee's focus shifted unexpectedly.
JUNE 14: Representatives Moran (D) and Clinger (R), House Government Reform and Oversight Committee members, discussed the planned hearings on the White House access to FBI files.
JUNE 12: The NewsHour's regional commentators discuss the FBI files.
JUNE 6: Representatives Moran and Clinger discuss the implications of the FBI files delivered to the Whitehouse.
REP. BILL CLINGER, Government Reform Committee: On May 30, 1996, several weeks after the White House ostensibly had claimed executive privilege, over 3,000 pages of Travelgate documents which it continued to hold, the committee received from the White House 1,000 pages of those documents. Two pages of these documents revealed a White House request for the FBI background files of former Travel Office Director Billy Ray Dale. The reason given for the request was that Mr. Dale was being considered for access to the White House. The request was made seven months after Mr. Dale had been fired by the White House and accused of criminal wrongdoing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Now the committee wants to know how the White House obtained and what it was going to do with the confidential background files on not just Billy Dale but some 400 current and former White House employees, many of them prominent Republicans, including--
REP. BILL CLINGER: Former Secretary of State James Baker, former press--Bush Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater, former CIA Director William Colby, and even one of today's witnesses, former Reagan White House Counsel A.B. Culvahouse.
KWAME HOLMAN: A.B. Culvahouse and the other four witnesses called before Clinger's Committee today all held high level positions in past presidential administrations. All dealt with White House personnel and security matters and had reasons to handle FBI background files. All testified to the sensitivity of those files.
A. B. CULVAHOUSE, Former Reagan White House Official: If you look at the question, the standard Form 86, it is designed to affirmatively encourage the furnishing of adverse information, of derogatory information. It asks, "Have you ever had counseling for drug, alcohol abuse, or mental health counseling?" It asks, "Have you ever been arrested, other than a minor traffic offense?". It asks, "Have you used drugs in the last 18 years?". "Do you have a problem with alcohol?" "Have you failed to pay taxes?" And then there's the catch-all at the end, "And please tell us anything else that might be embarrassing to you, your family, or the President." And that's not asked only of you, the person going through clearance, but it's asked of your friends, your neighbors, and people who may not be your friends.
C. BOYDEN GRAY, Former Bush White House Counsel: Doing this work--I really think this work of reading these--this unpleasant work of reading these files was a central obligation of the Counsel's office. I felt I never got out of it for the entire first year to do anything that I considered more personally rewarding or more fun. It was a very, very difficult task. People will say, well, gee whiz, you and your deputy were political, are political, and the answer to that is yes, certainly we're political in the larger sense of the word, but we were reviewing files of our own people, not files of the Carter administration or say the Clinton administration.
KWAME HOLMAN: And there would be little congressional interest in this matter if the Clinton administration had requested the FBI files only of current White House employees, but it didn't. And until the administration can explain why this issue has the potential of creating another political firestorm.
REP. BENJAMIN GILMAN, (R) New York: In October of '92, Vice President Gore, then a member of the Senate, stated in very strong reaction to President Bush's Freedom of Information request for information about Mr. Clinton, "This is an abuse of power unprecedented to my knowledge in the midst of a political campaign to have the President of the United States ordering tax dollars to be used in an official search for information of a personal nature in all of the government files about a political opponent." And now, Mr. Chairman, here we are holding hearings on the very actions the Vice President condemned just some four years ago, except this time it concerns the files of some 481 private citizens.
KWAME HOLMAN: The White House has responded with an apology, calling the entire incident "a mistake." It has suspended the director of the White House office that requested the files and today named a former Army counter-intelligence specialist to handle such matters. Congressional Democrats want to end it there.
REP. TOM LANTOS, (D) California: I must admit I'm appalled if my friend will state from New York--I was appalled to hear my friend from New York draw an analogy of an attempt to dig up dirt in a presidential campaign on one of two candidates and the stupid mistake obtaining existing FBI files on some 400 bureaucrats of one type or another. None of these people was running for President, Mr. Gilman. This was not a presidential campaign. When the Bush administration tried to get the dirt on Mr. Clinton, that was an attempt to interfere with the presidential election. This was an inexcusable, stupid mistake which we all condemn. The President apologized, Leon Panetta apologized, and what we have now is an attempt to drag out a political smear because the Dole campaign is not getting off the ground. That's what we are dealing with. And it's important for the American people to know what we are dealing with. I do have a question of Mr. Culvahouse. Has any negative event happened to you as a result of this stupid, bureaucratic mistake? And, if so, tell me what it was.
A. B. CULVAHOUSE: The fact is that now my file, without my consent, has been reviewed by a clear flood of operatives--
REP. TOM LANTOS: We all know that.
A. B. CULVAHOUSE: The next time that I, that I think about going into government I have to worry about he will be the first person that the press will call and, and that is considerable.
REP. TOM LANTOS: But thus far nothing happened, nothing negative happened to you, is that true?
A. B. CULVAHOUSE: Other than the fact that individuals reviewed my file without my consent, no.
REP. TOM LANTOS: Okay.
KWAME HOLMAN: Chairman Clinger promises more hearings on how and why the FBI files were sent to the White House, while a Senate committee begins its own inquiry tomorrow. Meanwhile, the FBI has been charged by the Justice Department to conduct a separate investigation.