JANUARY 10, 1996
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: First Lady Hillary Clinton had been keeping a deliberately lower profile since her very high profile days as head of the President's ill-fated health care reform effort, but she's back in the spotlight again, involuntarily and in a highly controversial way. It all dates back to May 1993, when seven long-time employees of the White House Travel Office abruptly were fired following allegations of mismanagement inside the office.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, White House Communications Director: (May 21, 1993) It is never easy to terminate people who serve at the pleasure of the President, especially people who serve long tenures in their jobs. We could not, however, fail to act in the face of these findings. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to act. That is why we called for the review. That is why we acted upon the review, and that is why the FBI is investigating today.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The FBI was investigating without the knowledge of Attorney General Janet Reno.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE, Minority Leader: (May 25, 1993) I think it's truly disturbing that the FBI should be used in this manner by anybody, by anybody. It reminds you of- it takes you back to Watergate, and as a Republican, I can tell you of some of the repercussions of that and of that practice.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The incident quickly developed into an embarrassment for the President.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: (May 25, 1993) I talked to Mr. McLarty about it this morning, and, you know, I keep reading this. I know that there's a feeling at least based on what I've read that someone in the White House may have done something that was inappropriate or that wasn't quite handled right, or something, so I asked- Mack and I talked about it today. We said he would spend some real time on it, look into it, try to ascertain exactly what happened, make a full report to me, which I think is the appropriate thing to do.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The affair soon became known as Travelgate, particularly after it was discovered that Harry Thomason, a friend of both Bill and Hillary Clinton, also was co-owner of a private firm prepared to take over all White House travel and the lucrative contract that goes with it. The White House later admitted the firings were mishandled, apologized, and found jobs for five of the fired employees, but it denied Mrs. Clinton had any direct involvement in the firings. But last week, the White House suddenly announced it had found a two-year-old memo written by then White House Director of Administration David Watkins, who carried out the firing. In the memo, Watkins says White House Counsel Vincent Foster, "regularly informed me that the First Lady was concerned and desired action. The action desired was the firing of the Travel Office staff." Watkins said he would have resisted the firings, but because of Mrs. Clinton's involvement, there would have been hell to pay. Yesterday, the White House said Mrs. Clinton was concerned about mismanagement at the White House Travel Office and knew in advance of the firings but did not order them.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO, Chairman, Whitewater Committee: (Today) This is a pattern; delay, deception, withhold.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The release of the Travel Office documents adds fuel to Sen. D'Amato's criticisms of the White House on this and the Whitewater issue. The Senator chairs the committee investigating Whitewater. Only the day before, the White House had released records documenting what Mrs. Clinton billed for her legal services to the government in its case against Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Mrs. Clinton has long held she did very little work for the government on the Madison case.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (April 22, 1994) And the young attorney, the young bank officer did all the work, and the letter was sent, but because I was what you call the billing attorney, in other words, I had to send the bill to get the payment made- my name was put on the bottom of the letter. It was not an area that I practiced in. It was not an area that I really know anything to speak of about.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But the released records show Mrs. Clinton spent at least 60 hours on the Madison case. Madison is the failed Arkansas bank owned by James MacDougal, the Clintons' Whitewater Development business partner.
SEN. ALFONSE D'AMATO: And so even at this time, the so-called cooperation has been lacking. It makes no sense to say we've turned over 50,000 pages when, indeed, the critical pages, the critical files, that that goes to the heart of this matter, have been withheld systematically. We're going to pursue this. We're going to get the facts. We may have to dig them out. It may be painful at times for everyone concerned, including the committee. It has certainly been a waste of time in many cases because we could have achieved these results a long time ago had the White House truly been cooperative, as they claim. That has not been the case.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The document releases have put Mrs. Clinton back on the front page, with stories and editorials questioning her honesty. In Monday's New York Times, William Safire called Mrs. Clinton "a congenital liar." Yesterday, the White House reacted angrily to the column, with the White House Press Secretary suggesting if he were not President, Mr. Clinton would have delivered a more forceful response to the bridge of Safire's nose. Later, however, President Clinton's reaction to the charge was somewhat more reserved.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: All I said was, you know, when you're President, there are a few more constraints on you than if you're an ordinary citizen. If I were an ordinary citizen, I might give that article the response it deserves. Well, I would just remind the American people we've been through this for four years now, and every time somebody's made a charge related to the Whitewater issue, it's turned up dry. And the only records as far as I know that haven't been disclosed so far, as far as I know, we still haven't seen the release of the RTC report, which says that after all, we told the truth all along about the underlying matters here. So I just would like to ask the American people to take a deep breath, relax, and to listen to the First Lady's answers, because we've been through this for over four years now. And every time a set of questions come up, we answer the questions, and we go on, the American people are satisfied, and they will be again. She is- I've said before, I'll say again- if everybody in this country had the character that my wife has, we'd be a better place to. Thank you very much.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But as of today, the questions and the debate over Mrs. Clinton's answers and her character continue.