What we found in the Clinton documents
March 28th, 2014
10:05 AM ET
4 months ago

What we found in the Clinton documents

(CNN) - A third batch of confidential memos, notes and other papers from the Clinton White House released Friday sheds some light on how the Clinton administration handled the messaging around major events like the 1995 government shutdown and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Collectively, the documents released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library, which had previously been sealed, open a window into the Clinton years and cover a variety of topics, including the office of former first lady Hillary Clinton, who's now considered the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, if she decides to run.

Friday's documents cover a range of issues and topics, including President Bill Clinton's farewell address, domestic policy, senior speech writer Michael Walden, and the conflict in Serbia.

Read the documents

Here are highlights from the 3,395 pages released Friday:

Clinton speech draft nixes Al Franken reference: In a draft of Bill Clinton's 1996 speech to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, a section with a joke about Al Franken, a Democratic senator from Minnesota, is crossed out.

Clinton WHCD franken

Possible questions for HRC over Monica: An exchange between Julie Mason, Hillary Clinton's deputy press secretary at the time, and Mary Ellen Glynn of the United States Information Agency, reveals concerns about the first lady's appearance on Voice of America call-in show in February of 1998.

Mason writes, "Caveat: there may be questions from callers around the world on the Monica story. This would bring HRC right into the story in the U.S. Although chances are good that if she did anything newsworthy, it will be reported outside the U.S. and will boomerang back."

The exchange between Mason and Glynn occurred as the scandal between the President and Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House intern, was unfolding.

As Clinton aides prepared for the January 27, 1998, State of the Union address, the Lewinsky controversy was blowing up all around them. Clinton's famous denial ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.") was on January 26.

In a January memo, adviser Minyon Moore writes to Michael Waldman, director of speech writing, that "I thought it would be important in the State of the Union, that the President was somehow able to articulate in his speech a tone that reflected restoring people's faith and trust in him and the Presidency."

The politics of a shutdown: A memo from Waldman to senior members of the Clinton team discusses a strategy to increase pressure on congressional Republicans in the face of a looming government shutdown.

In the note under the subtitle "Press/communications strategy for 'train wreck,'" Waldman writes: "We can increase the pressure on the Republicans – without directly involving the President – by researching and putting out the consequences of a government shutdown/debt limit debacle."

"This should be done calmly, routinely, ministerially if possible. (For example, if notices have to be sent out in advance of layoffs, closures, etc.) A .carefully thought-through leak strategy is needed."

Waldman's note was sent on July 27, 1995, about three months before the first of two partial government shutdowns lasting a total of 27 days.

The partial shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 developed from disagreements over federal spending levels between the Republican-controlled Congress – led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich – and the Democratic White House.

Impeachment jokes get cut: The documents reveal an email exchange between speechwriter Mark Katz and Waldman, which results in a series of drafts of Clinton's remarks to the 1999 White House Correspondents' Dinner in May, months after his impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate.

Many of the "jokes" made it through several drafts but did not make the final draft as delivered by Clinton. Most deal with impeachment – still a sore point for many in Washington – but mentions of Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate bid also wound up on the cutting-room floor.

The following is an example of one of the jokes that was scrapped.

Clinton joke

A second draft notes after the Carville remark: "Note: spinning classes are very popular in health clubs now," which may indicate that someone needed to explain the joke to someone else, possibly the president himself.

By the year 2000…: A December 1995 memo from chief domestic policy adviser Bruce Reed to the White House chief of staff suggests potential initiatives for the State of the Union address "and beyond."

Under the subtitle, "Ending Bureaucracy As We Know It," Reed writes: "By the year 2000, no American should ever have to set foot in a government office: We can and should make every government service available by computer, telephone, or ATM card. (Already, people can pay their taxes, order stamps, and take care of their Social Security checks by phone.) That means we'll be able to close a lot of government offices – but more important, no one will ever have to stand in line again. We may want to form a consortium with the private sector to ensure that this vision comes true."

Cops in schools: In a December 1995 memo, Reed writes to the White House chief of staff about "new ideas" for State of the Union, suggesting putting a cop in every public high school.

Reed writes, "Put police officer in every public hlgh. school that wants one: We have talked with Secretary Riley about using existing funds from federal drug education programs to enable communities to put police officers in every dangerous school. There are about 10,000 public high schools in America, but requiring a local match (as we do in the COPS program) would keep the demand well below that – probably in the range of $50-200 million a year."

The National Rifle Association proposed adding police to schools in response to the December 2012 Newtown massacre in Connecticut.

“Speak to white people:” In speech writing drafts before the 1998 State of the Union, in the margin next to a passage about racial healing, someone scrawled the question: "Is there some way to be a bit more positive and speak to white people?"

It's unclear whose handwriting it is.

Clinton draft speech

Some pointers from Axelrod: After the 1996 GOP Convention, then-Chicago communications consultant David Axelrod sends an unsolicited four page messaging memo to Rahm Emanuel with "some ideas" for the Clinton team.

Axelrod urges Clinton to take the high road and praise Dole's military service, saying it would score easy points with voters tired of a negative campaign. He also suggests turning Dole's attack on "It Takes A Village" against him, by reminding voters that people in Dole's Kansas town helped pay for his medical care when he returned from World War II.

Emanuel, then a top White House staffer, forwarded the note to senior members of the Clinton team, including Leon Panetta, Harold Ickes, George Stephanopolous, Don Baer, Doug Sosnik and others.

"I think that his points are worth your time," Emanuel wrote of the Axelrod memo.

Read the earlier Clinton documents

The library released a similar-sized bundle of documents in late February, which gave some insight on the health care wars of the 90s and showed how Clinton's administration was adjusting to this new technology called the Internet.

A second release two weeks ago gave a closer look into the "West Wing" mindset during the Clinton administration.

The documents are part of files that had been requested for public release over the years under the Freedom of Information Act, but were withheld by the National Archives due to their sensitive nature.


Filed under: 2016 • Bill Clinton • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Great picture... It will be nice to have both of them in the White House again!

    March 28, 2014 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  2. salty dog

    Time to make mountains out of mole hills. She can pick out the drapes already, its no ones fault but your own gop.

    March 28, 2014 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  3. salty dog

    Let the ravenous dogs eat, then cry because they still can't win, even with stacking the deck, when 47% of the people know you hate them, you've got your work cut out for you, sorry Koch brothers

    March 28, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  4. Rudy NYC

    I wonder if the pace of the document releases has been calculated to keep Hillary Clinton's name in the news.

    March 28, 2014 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  5. Silence DoGood

    Right winger conspiracy theorists: I bet we will find the Awful Truth about the Clintons!
    Normal people: There is nothing awful in there.
    RWCT: Ah ha! It must be an Awful Cover-up hiding the Awful Truth.
    NP: How does this cover-up work exactly?
    RWCT: Um – I ah – well it just does. I saw a thing from a guy on the internet.

    March 28, 2014 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  6. Sniffit

    October to March all we got from the MSM was "The enrollment numbers mean EVERYTHING!!!!" "ERMAHGERD, teh exchange was broken for 2 months!!!!!" and "where's the numbers where's the numbers where's the numbers!!!!!!!?

    March deadline rolls around and they've achieved 6/7ths of their goal despite the exchange being completely broken for 1/3 of the enrollment period, so what do we get from CNN and the MSM in their attempt to keep the nontroversy alive" That's right: "the enrollment numbers mean nothing."

    #Blackholejournalism

    March 28, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  7. Gurgyl

    Yes, let all endorse Hillary16. God bless us all!!!!!!

    March 28, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  8. Stuffitu

    How is that old "reset" button with Russia that Hillary and the most corrupt, inept incompetent president in history set up going. FAILURE AGAIN.

    March 28, 2014 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  9. just asking

    it is far more important that we instead get the release of all the documents that show what she was doing while her employees were under attack and getting killed in benghazi. the american people have a right to know this especially if she wants to lead this country. we want to know how she handled that situation. we already know she failed miserably in all of the lead up to the attack, with a denial of additional security. now we need to know the specifics of that day and night and the following days of denial, lies and coverup which continue until this day.

    March 28, 2014 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  10. Rudy NYC

    just asking

    it is far more important that we instead get the release of all the documents that show what she was doing while her employees were under attack and getting killed in benghazi. the american people have a right to know this especially if she wants to lead this country. we w--ant to know how she handled that situation. we already know she failed miserably in all of the lead up to the attack, with a denial of additional security. now we need to know the specifics of that day and night and the following days of denial, lies and coverup which continue until this day.
    ------------------------
    If you want more documents released, then I suggest that you take it up with Darrell Issa. He's been sitting on them. Naturally, there is some information that you will not find out about for national security reasons: i.e. Clinton's location and activities at the time of the attack. Why? Because it was the 9/11 anniversary, and that info will remain classified.

    March 28, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |