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The Whitewater Lost And Found Records
January 30, 1996
Correspondent: Chris Bury
Anchor: Ted Koppel


Announcer: January 30th, 1996.

TED KOPPEL (VO): The accusation? Obstruction of justice, knowingly withholding subpoenaed documents. The location? A book room on the third floor of the White House, a room in the first family's private quarters. One clue? A White House log handed over today with the names of all the people who might have had access - from Mrs Clinton's chief of staff, to Chelsea Clinton's friends, to dignitaries visiting the President. Tonight, the mystery of the lost and found records.

ANNOUNCER: This is ABC News Nightline. Reporting from Washington, Ted Koppel.

TED KOPPEL: Almost exactly two years ago, a subpoena was issued for some billing records from the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas. These are records that go back about 10 years or so and that would, it was believed, shed some light on how much work attorney Hillary Clinton did on a particular real estate deal, and for whom she did that work. For the better part of these last two years, those records could not be found. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they turned up earlier this month in the office of a woman named Carolyn Huber. What turned that into a major story is that Ms Huber works at the White House, and that she says she found the billing records in the private quarters of the first family - found them, in fact, last August, right outside Mrs Clinton's private office - didn't know what they were, packed them up, didn't realize what they were until a couple of weeks ago, when she was tidying up her own office. If someone has been deliberately concealing those records, that would be a federal crime. The White House says that a surprisingly large number of people actually had access to the Clintons' private quarters last August We'll tell you more about that later, but we want to use most of our time this evening to put this latest development into context. We begin by taking something both the President and the first lady have said recently.

PRES BILL CLINTON: I just would like to ask the American people to take a deep breath, relax, and 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 comes up, we answer the questions, and we go on, the American people are satisfied, and they will be again.

HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY: ('20/20,' January 19, 1996) We've had questions raised for the last four years, and eventually they're answered, and they go away, and more questions come up.

CHRIS BURY, ABC NEWS (VO): The President and Mrs Clinton complain that the questions keep changing, but the controversies over Whitewater and the Travel Office have stayed alive, in large part, because the answers keep changing, too.

On Whitewater-

(April 1994)

1ST REPORTER: Can you tell us what you know about stories about shredding of Whitewater documents down in Arkansas-

HILLARY CLINTON: Nothing.

1ST REPORTER: -particularly at the gubernatorial mansion?

HILLARY CLINTON: Oh, that didn't happen, and I know nothing about any other such stories.

2ND REPORTER: Are you saying you know nothing about documents relating to Whitewater ever being shredded anywhere that you know about, or authorized- or being authorized?

HILLARY CLINTON: Absolutely not.

CHRIS BURY (VO): But this month, in a sworn statement to the Resolution Trust Corporation, Hillary Clinton said, quote, 'It appears I cooperated with this effort ' - to dispose of such files. On releasing documents-

HILLARY CLINTON: ('The Diane Rehm Show,' WAMU Radio, January 15, 1996) We actually did that with The New York Times. We took every document we had, which again, I have to say, were not many. We laid them all out.

CHRIS BURY (VO): On January 15th, Mrs Clinton told a radio interviewer all documents had been released. Five days later, the White House issued a statement to The New York Times saying that wasn't quite true. On Castle Grande, Hillary Clinton's legal work for a land deal regulators describe as fraudulent: in May 1995 she told the Resolution Trust Corporation, quote, 'I don't believe I knew anything about any of these real estate parcels and projects.' But after billing records showed Hillary Clinton had at least 14 conversations with Seth Ward, the major player in the deal, Mrs Clinton told Barbara Walters she knew the project by another name.

HILLARY CLINTON: ('20/20,' January 19, 1996) And so when I was asked about it last year, I didn't recognize it, I didn't remember it. The billing records show I did not do work for Castle Grande. I did work for something called IDC, which was not related to Castle Grande.

CHRIS BURY (VO): That is not how Susan McDougal, the Clintons' former business partner, remembers it.

SUSAN MCDOUGAL: It was always the same thing. As far as I know, IDC and- and- and Castle Grande were one and the same.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Later, in another sworn statement, Mrs Clinton said, quote, 'It is possible that I did once know something more that would be responsive to these interrogatories, but if I did, I do not recall it now.'

On the Travel Office: in March 1994, when the General Accounting Office investigated the firings of the White House travel staff, Hillary Clinton's attorney said, quote, 'She had no role in the decision to terminate the employees.' But numerous memos from various White House aides document the first lady's wishes - 'We need those people out..,' 'we need..our people in.' The first lady was concerned and desired action. The action desired was the 'firing of the Travel Office staff.' 'Hillary wants these people fired.' In her first interviews after those memos were released, Mrs Clinton was adamant.

HILLARY CLINTON: ('20/20,' January 19, 1996) But I did not make the decisions, I did not direct anyone to make the decisions. But I have absolutely no doubt that I did express concern, because I was concerned about any kind of financial mismanagement.

CHRIS BURY (VO): But by the next week, Mrs Clinton had all but conceded her concern amounted to an order.

HILLARY CLINTON: ('The Diane Rehm Show,' January 15, 1996) Before I came to the White House, I dealt with people in a very direct way. If something was on my mind, I said it. That is an entirely different environment, and the mere expression of concern could be, I guess, taken to mean something more than it was meant.

CHRIS BURY: The first lady has conceded her answers have often been too lawyerly, but Mrs Clinton has not acknowledged how her own instinct for evasiveness may have contributed to a pattern of stonewalling and possible perjury among her loyal allies at the White House.

TED KOPPEL: When we come back, Hillary Clinton's billing records and Vince Foster and the suicide. Chris Bury continues his report in a moment.

(Commercial break)

CHRIS BURY (VO): The suicide of Vince Foster - White House lawyer, long time Clinton friend, Rose Law Firm partner - is a pivotal event. The Travel Office and Whitewater paths intersect in his office, in his files, on his mind. A note written the week before he died has a confessional quality. 'I made mistakes from ignorance, inexperience and overwork. I did not knowingly violate any law or standard of conduct.'

Another entry in a personal notebook says, 'Defend Hillary Clinton role, whatever is, was, in fact, or might have been misperceived to be.' We don't know exactly what that means, but we do know Foster served as Hillary Clinton's confidante and protector, going back to the 1992 presidential campaign.

In March of '92, a potentially damaging story breaks about Hillary Clinton's legal work for a failing savings and loan.

HILLARY CLINTON: My firm had done work for the bank, that's right, and I have done work for the bank not related to the state at all, all right?

CHRIS BURY (VO): Mrs Clinton is able to answer such questions because Vince Foster has obtained the firm's billing records. Rick Massey is the Rose lawyer who helped Foster gather documents. (January 11, 1996)

RICK MASSEY, ROSE LAW FIRM ATTORNEY: He asked me why it was taking so long for me to get the- get the files, and I told him I was copying them.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, WHITEWATER REPUBLICAN COUNSEL: And what was his attitude?

RICK MASSEY: He was impatient.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: He was impatient?

RICK MASSEY: He wanted the- he wanted the records.

CHRIS BURY (VO): We know, from the dates stamped on them, that the billing records were printed out February 12, 1992. They are covered with Foster's handwriting in red ink. Most are bookkeeping notations. Hillary Clinton's work is circled. The messages are cryptic, such as 'HRC - this suggests 1st matter.' We also know that Webb Hubbell, the former associate attorney general and Rose partner imprisoned for cheating his clients, talked about the billing records February 24th with Susan Thomases, another Hillary Clinton friend and campaign adviser. (December 18, 1995)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Now, do you know what ever happened to the time records that Mr Hubbell was relying upon when he spoke to you in February of '92?

SUSAN THOMASES: I never saw them. I never got any precise information from them, and-

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Did you ever hear what happened to them?

SUSAN THOMASES: I never heard what happened to them.

CHRIS BURY: What ever happened to those records is a mystery investigators have been trying to unravel for more than two years. They were not among the documents Hubbell took to Washington and later turned over to investigators. The only other person known to have the billing records is Vince Foster, and that gives rise to a Republican theory that Foster had custody of the records until his suicide.

SEN ALFONSE D'AMATO, (R), WHITEWATER COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: How did they find their way to the first family's residence? Who brought- brought the Rose billing records to the residence of the White House? These records may have been taken from Vince Foster's office, because we do know that Vince Foster's handwriting is all over them.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Senator D'Amato has asked the independent counsel to take another look at the harried actions of Hillary Clinton's aides following Foster's suicide, including Margaret Williams, Hillary Clinton's chief of staff.

(July 1995)

SEN JOHN KERRY, (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Did you carry out folders from Vince Foster's office on the night of the 20th?

MARGARET WILLIAMS: No, I did not.

SEN JOHN KERRY: Did you carry out something like folders on the night of the 20th from Vince Foster's office?

MARGARET WILLIAMS: No, I do not recall carrying out folders.

SEN JOHN KERRY: Did you carry out three to five inches of files from Vince Foster's office on the night of the 20th?

MARGARET WILLIAMS: No, I did not.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Williams was disputing testimony from a Secret Service guard whose claim that she took files from Foster's office may now be seen in a different light.

HENRY O'NEIL, US SECRET SERVICE: (July 1995) She was carrying what I would describe in her arms and hands as folders. She had them down in front of her as she walked, down to where- in the direction of where I was standing.

CHRIS BURY (VO): The Senate Whitewater panel remains curious about the flurry of phone calls soon after Foster's death among Hillary Clinton, Margaret Williams, Susan Thomases and Bernard Nussbaum, the White House counsel. Hillary Clinton, in her interview with Barbara Walters, denies issuing any orders to interfere.

HILLARY CLINTON: ('20/20,' January 19, 1996) There were no documents taken out of Vince Foster's office on the night he died, and I did not direct anyone to interfere in any investigation. I know very well what we were talking about. We were grieving, we were supporting each other.

CHRIS BURY (VO): But last summer, the Senate Whitewater committee was told by Bernard Nussbaum's assistant that Hillary Clinton made her concern clear in conversations with Nussbaum and Susan Thomases.

STEPHEN NEUWIRTH, ASSOCIATE COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT: (August 1995) My understanding was that Mr Nussbaum felt that Ms Thomases and the first lady may have been concerned about anyone having unfettered access to Mr Foster's office.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Under oath, loyal insiders, including Margaret Williams and Susan Thomases, could not or would not recall their conversations or meetings with Mrs Clinton.

MARGARET WILLIAMS: For me, it was a part of my job, and I do not remember every single time I have seen her.

SUSAN THOMASES: I don't really remember seeing the first lady that day.

CHRIS BURY (VO): The Senate Whitewater committee is now considering a recommendation of perjury to the independent counsel. (interviewing) Can not remembering be construed as perjury?

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON LAW SCHOOL: Most certainly.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Jonathan Turley is a law professor at George Washington University.

JONATHAN TURLEY: This was not another day at the White House. Somebody had just died. There was a whole investigation going forward. Some of these conversations were with the first lady. And so a jury's going to look at that and say, 'You know what? I think, if my best friend just shot himself and I got a call from the first lady, I think that would stick in my mind.'

CHRIS BURY (VO): The problem is not just a potential for perjury on the part of Hillary Clinton's aides. The mystery of the missing billing records raises the ante. Now the Clintons must worry, too, about a criminal investigation into whether someone inside the White House obstructed justice.

TED KOPPEL: When we come back, the list of names turned over by the White House, a list of people who had access to the private quarters of the White House, in a moment.

(Commercial break)

CHRIS BURY (VO): In an unprecedented spectacle, the first lady testifies before a federal grand jury about the mysterious appearance of her billing records for the Rose Law Firm.

HILLARY CLINTON: I, like everyone else, would like to know the answer about how those documents showed up, after all these years.

CHRIS BURY (VO): The Senate Whitewater hearings revealed those documents were held, and perhaps hidden, by someone with access to the White House living quarters.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Someone had taken those documents from wherever they had been kept earlier, and had deliberately put them on that pile of books?

CAROLYN HUBER, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: Someone had.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: They didn't get there by themselves?

CAROLYN HUBER: No.

CHRIS BURY (VO): That raises the real possibility of a federal crime, obstruction of justice, inside the White House, according to former prosecutors and legal experts.

JONATHAN TURLEY: There is a serious question of obstruction here. In a conventional case, a US attorney would very likely pursue these types of allegations. All they have to show is that there was a conscious effort to withhold information or to conceal it. You can make that case out by circumstantial evidence. This is not one of those cases where you need a smoking gun.

CHRIS BURY: The questions now before a grand jury are serious for two reasons. Hillary Clinton's billing records had been among documents under subpoena since February 1994, so whoever had them was breaking the law by keeping them from the independent counsel. And the documents were discovered in a part of the White House normally off limits to all but the first family, invited guests and personal staff.

(VO) The book room where the billing records were found is in the third floor living quarters of the White House, adjacent to a maid's linen room, an exercise room, and Hillary Clinton's private study. In the room are two filing cabinets and a table where the folded 116 page document, five or six inches thick, was found last August just as the Senate Whitewater hearings were getting underway. It was discovered by Carolyn Huber, the Clintons' director of personal correspondence and a former office manager at the Rose Law Firm.

CAROLYN HUBER: And over on the edge of the corner was these documents, and I saw 'em, I just- they were folded, I didn't open 'em, I just picked them up and plumped them down into the box.

CHRIS BURY: (On) whose directions? Huber said it was part of her job to catalog items left in the room.

CAROLYN HUBER: I just picked them up and plumped them down in that box that was already there with the knick knacks on it.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: Why did you do that?

CAROLYN HUBER: 'Cause I thought it was something I was supposed to file.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF: You thought it had been left there for you?

CAROLYN HUBER: Yes, I thought it had been left there for me to take down to put in the file- you know, to file in the filing that I do.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Republicans on the Whitewater committee and the independent counsel are anxious to know how the documents got to the White House living quarters and, of course, who put them there.

SEN LAUCH FAIRCLOTH, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Now, she did not find these billing records on the turnstile at the Metro. She found them in the meen left there for me to take down to put in the file- you know, to file in the filing that I do.

CHRIS BURY (VO): Republicans on the Whitewater committee and the independent counsel are anxious to know how the documents got to the White House living quarters and, of course, who put them there.

SEN LAUCH FAIRCLOTH, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Now, she did not find these billing records on the turnstile at the Metro. She found them in the most secure room in the entire world, the third floor of the White House.

SUE SCHMIDT, 'THE WASHINGTON POST': Very few people had access to this room. The Clintons, their overnight guests, their servants, the butler, the ushers. The universe of people that could have had their hands on these documents is- is limited, if you credit her testimony. And also, that room, the book room, as it's called, is next door to Mrs Clinton's office in the residence, and there's a file cabinet in the book room that contains the Clintons' personal financial records.

MARK FABIANI, ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It's certainly not Grand Central Station. On the other hand-

CHRIS BURY (VO): But Mark Fabiani, a White House lawyer, says the residence does get plenty of traffic.

MARK FABIANI: It is a good number of people who go through there on any kind- any number of kinds of business. For example, people who are overnight guests of the first family, people who are doing work in the area, people who are maintaining the area, staff members who come into the area for meetings.

CHRIS BURY (VO): But he won't give names, or even numbers.

(interviewing) Is it possible to just say, roughly, how many people had access to this area?

MARK FABIANI: It is not just a few people. It's more than a few people. I think-

CHRIS BURY: Ten, 15?

MARK FABIANI: Again, I don't want to get into a game where we start to promulgate theories that are not borne out by the facts. We want to be very careful to tell people what we do know, and to tell people what we don't know.

CHRIS BURY: Nightline has learned that a preliminary check of the Secret Service and White House usher logs has turned up as many as 100 names of people admitted to the White House residence in a 20 day period last August. On that list are visiting dignitaries and insiders, including Hillary Clinton's top aides, and perhaps the very name of the person who can solve Washington's biggest mystery.

Ted?

TED KOPPEL: When they talk about all the people who have had access to the private quarters, are- are we to believe that they actually have access to the particular area we're talking about, right outside Mrs Clinton's private office?

CHRIS BURY: Well, the White House says that access to the book room is not individually noted, but we know that that's an extraordinarily select area. I mean, one former White House official told us, 'You need a pass from God in order to be up there.'

TED KOPPEL: So, when they're talking about this list of close to 100 people, we're talking about some of the downstairs private quarters, not the upstairs private quarters.

CHRIS BURY: We're talking about the entire White House residence, which includes much of the second and third floor, and the part on the lower level where foreign dignitaries and other visitors come in.

TED KOPPEL: I also have trouble envisioning one other aspect of this, Chris, and that is that a construction worker, for example, even if he or she were up there working in that area, would not be noticed by a Secret Service agent if he or she suddenly came walking around with a handful of documents?

CHRIS BURY: Absolutely. I mean, it's hard to believe that 116 pages of documents, five or six inches thick, is going to fall out of a construction worker's pocket up there. And I think it's interesting to note whom Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, has called in to investigate these records. He's called in the head usher, who might know. He's called in Mrs Clinton's personal attorney. He's called in the White House lawyer in charge of producing these documents. So those indications are that Kenneth Starr is already narrowing the search, and I doubt if he's going to be calling many of the visiting dignitaries who showed up at the White House in August

TED KOPPEL: We should make the point, I guess, Chris, that- that there is no suggestion at this point that Mrs Clinton herself is facing any criminal investigation.

CHRIS BURY: Absolutely. She was called before the grand jury for about three and a half hours. She has not been notified that she's the target. But we do know that she testified during that time primarily about what happened to these mysterious, you know, missing and reappearing records.

TED KOPPEL: And when all is said and done now, we're not really talking about Whitewater anymore, we're not really talking about Travelgate anymore, now it's something that has happened within a very discrete period of time, within the past two years.

CHRIS BURY: This is a tangible thing that- that people can get. This is about a coverup inside the White House in one select room populated by the first family, their immediate staffs, perhaps some close friends. It's a very select circle.

TED KOPPEL: Chris Bury, thank you.

I'll be back in a moment.

(Commercial break)

TED KOPPEL: And finally, a program note. Tomorrow, on Good Morning America, rumors, questions and concerns for a computer giant. What's next for Apple Computers? Tomorrow on Good Morning America. That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.



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