March 14th, 2014
01:00 PM ET
6 years ago

More Clinton documents released

(CNN) - The William J. Clinton Presidential Library on Friday released another batch of confidential memos, notes and other papers from the Clinton White House that had previously been sealed.

The documents 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.

CNN is combing through the expected 4,000 pages of information and publish highlights throughout the day.

Read the documents

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

Clinton documents: Much has changed, but much still the same

Friday's documents cover a range of issues, including the 2000 vote count in Florida, terrorism, Rwanda, and even records related to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

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.

While the Presidential Records Act established public ownership of White House documents as far back as the Reagan Administration, it specified that documents pertaining to federal appointments as well as confidential correspondence between the president and his advisers could be withheld from the public for 12 years after a president leaves office.

Other documents that can be withheld include classified national security information, confidential business information and trade secrets, and unwarranted invasions of personal privacy. These types of documents will not be part of Friday's release.

RNC questions timing of Clinton document release


Clinton needs more ‘discipline’: Jerry M. Hultin, who later became Clinton’s Undersecretary of the Navy in 1997, wrote in a memo dated December 1994 about how Clinton can win re-election in 1996.

Hutlin wrote the President is not perceived as a disciplined person and needed to be “personally disciplined.” He pointed out the need for more discipline among the staff and Cabinet, as well, saying there’s a widespread belief that the current staff is “adolescent and self-centered.”

“Be personally disciplined and enforce discipline among White House staff and cabinet. Regardless of fairness or accuracy, the President is not perceived as a disciplined person. Average citizens want to know the President will do what he says he’ll do—and that he will take action against people who fail to meet his standards or confuse his message.

“The President’s request for Jocelyn Elders’ resignation was impressive; yet, many of the people I’ve talked say they cannot be hopeful until they see a shake-up in White House staff. There is a widespread belief that the current staff is too adolescent and self-centered rather than mature and differentiated.” (page 5)

Read the memo

“Nasty” Palace Politics: A September 1997 memo from Glyn Davies at the State Department to staff members discuses Hillary Clinton’s upcoming trip to Princess Diana’s funeral.

Davies writes about guidance from Robert Bradtke, deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in London at the time.

“Bradtke says...(Hillary) will be the most prominent guest at the funeral and it is appropriate/expected that she make a brief statement but answer no questions (to avoid entanglement in what (Bradtke) describes as the increasingly ‘nasty’ Palace politics).”

In a separate file, State Department staffers have an undiplomatic exchange with Mara Rudman and John Caravelli in which Sophie Rhys-Jones - a British royal – is referred to as having married into the “screwed up royal family.” Read the file (Page 66)

Send a Muslim: A handwritten note, which has no author and no date and was lumped under a group of files categorized under “Terrorism,” suggests sending a Muslim to some unknown event to help ward off perceptions that link religion with terrorism.

“Send a muslim! This effort will get us to the real issue “terrorism” vs the perceived issue of religion (Muslims against us and vice versa)

“Recommend – tasking state to find a prominent muslim + associate directly and indirectly with the US gov.”

Read the memo (page 5)

Health care wars: When Hillary Clinton was making her initial push to sell health care reform to America in 1993, her staff set up long stakeholder meetings with both ordinary Americans and different industries affected by the reform.

 In a 1993 memo, Clinton aides Alexis Herman and Mike Lux wrote a detailed description of what the White House hoped Clinton would accomplish in her March 12 – 13 health care hearing.

Herman (who would go on to become Clinton's Secretary of Labor) and Lux described the primary purpose of the hearings as "political inoculation."

"As we discussed, the primary goal for this two day hearing would be to inoculate ourselves from charges that we are refusing to listen to all those groups out there that want input," Herman and Lux wrote to Clinton. "It's important to understand that even with two long days of testimony, we will not be able to schedule everyone we want to schedule."

The "hearings" also included stories from regular Americans that were meant to sway the different stakeholders who were opposed to the bill.

"Some testifiers should be average people with horror stories, middle class families worried about the future, and senior citizens," the aides wrote. "These average people should testify during those periods when we believe more people will be watching."

Read the memo (page 26-27)

"Don't have sex": An original draft of the 1995 State of the Union address included a line that read, "Don't have sex." The warning came in a section emphasizing a need to teach abstinence in schools.

The phrase was singled out in an edit, with advisers raising objections "because of how it sounds" and "because of how our opponents could use it."

"Let's try 'Stay in school. Practice abstinence,'" they suggested.

Read (pg. 79, 176)

John F. Kennedy assassination files: One file shows internal deliberations among staffers about whether Vice President Gore and later Clinton should ask the Russian government for its file on Lee Harvey Oswald, which was at that point still unreleased.

Clinton first requested this file in 1993. But in 1998 the Assassination Records Review Board was about to wrap up its mandate and close shop without the Russian file.

The Russian file, by the way appears to have been ultimately delivered by President Boris Yeltsin to Clinton in 1999. But in the interregnum, there was much debate about whether the file should be a big issue in upcoming talks.

At one point in the files a staffer quotes another who said the JFK / LHO issue shouldn’t be “on the front burner for POTUS.”  Neil Kingsley adds his own parenthetical imprimatur on the sentiment – “(no sh...t)”

There is a separate issue of whether more remaining JFK assassination files should be released. There is debate in generalities, but no specifics on what the files include.

But that discussion on releasing JFK documents tailspins into a discussion among high ranking staffers about whether a Clinton executive order declassifying some JFK documents would affect the principle of shielding documents and be applied to other subjects.

Read the files

Lines removed: One file shows a draft by speechwriter Jordan Tamagni of Clinton’s remarks to the Alfalfa Club one day before he was set to deliver the traditionally funny address.

Clinton’s speech begins by saying he was surrounded inauguration week by people who wanted him to succeed, but now at the dinner he’s surrounded by people who want to succeed him. Then the following line was removed: “Which reminds me, I can’t stay too late. I’m starting to get nervous about leaving Al Gore at the White House.” (Page 2)

Line removed: “I remember one conversation I had with Dick Morris about Bob Dole. I was amazed at Bob Dole’s courage and durability. I remember telling Dick, ‘That Bob Dole is Evil [spelled wrong] Knievil, man!’” (page 3)

"William Howard Taft weighed 340 pounds. 'Nuf said." (page 6)

“Bill Clinton is from a place called Hope. Lyndon Johnson hailed from a place called… ‘Johnson.’” (page 7)

Read the files

Opposing MLK plaque (at first): In the last year of the Bill Clinton's presidency, legislation was moving through the House and Senate that would have marked the spot on the Lincoln Memorial that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the "I Have a Dream" speech on August 28, 1963.

According to documents released Friday, the Clinton administration – and in particular the Department of Interior – was initially against the proposed plaque.

In draft congressional testimony for April 27, 2000, John G. Parsons, the National Park Service's associate regional director for lands, resources and planning, said "The administration opposes S. 2231 and H.R. 2879."

"We have consistently rejected proposals that would mark this presidential memorial as the platform for issues or events that have or will occur there," Parson's testimony said. "A marker, as simple as it may be, of any design or to any subject or person, can only serve to blur the personal values that each visitor brings to and takes away from the memorial."

Parsons was supposed to go on to say that the memorial was designed in a careful "emotional sequence" and the addition of the MLK plaque would "severely compromise the design intent of the memorial."

In his actual testimony on April 27, 2000, Parsons said the Clinton administration "supports commemorating Martin Luther King's speech at the Lincoln Memorial" and only recommended certain "modifications" to the planned plaque.

Clinton eventually signed the legislation in late 2000 and the plaque now adorns the front steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Read the files (pages 69-72)

"The gay issue": Mary L. Smith of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House tells a White House speechwriter "our legislative strategy is stay away from the gay issue" in a draft of a radio address on Martin Luther King, Jr. day and civil rights issues.

Read the memo here (page 2)

Hillary joke nixed: One part of a draft of President Clinton's remarks to the 1994 Gridiron Dinner-an event known for its humorous speeches–talks about advice on getting along with the press.

"For starters, I apologized to (AP correspondent) Walter Mears for a crack I made last year at one of the media dinners, when I said I could go over the heads of the media because of Larry King. And Walter said, 'Big deal, Mr. President. We can go over your head to Hillary'."

The section had a large "X" through it, though it's not clear who crossed it out or if it was ever delivered. (page 20)

Another section of the draft read "one of the people at the White House sent me this note which really touched me. And if you'll allow me to be serious for a moment, I'd like to share it with you. It says 'this administration is doing things beyond my wildest dreams. I was just want to thank you for giving me this incredible opportunity. And it's signed, Andrea Mitchell".

Someone on the draft crossed out Andrea Mitchell, writing instead "Maureen Dowd."

Read the draft 

"Another good dead person is…": Twice in 1997 members of the White House staff suggested noted astronomer, science promoter and educator Carl Sagan for a posthumous Medal of Freedom.

One note from the chief of staff to the chair of the President's Council on Environmental Quality noted "he was one of the very first to sound the warning on climate as well."

Moving on to others no longer drawing breath, Shelley Fidler writes "Another good dead person is Ansel Adams."

Continuing, "We're having trouble thinking up great living people. I guess that's everyone's affliction these days."

Read the memos

"Losing control": Adviser Benjamin Barber in a February 26, 1997 memo wrote to President Clinton "there is a real danger that" the President "may be losing control" of the April Summit on Service in Philadelphia to former President George H.W. Bush and Gen. Colin Powell.

Barber told Clinton it "risks becoming a showcase for an ex-President's private philanthropy approach to service and a four year national platform on which a prospective president (General Powell) can run against you and your Vice President on what should be YOUR issue".

He told Clinton in the memo "I understand and applaud the spirit of bipartisanship that led to involving President Bush and General Powell, but if the price of their involvement becomes too high, if they take over the Summit and what it stands for in the public eye, it will turn out to be a very bad deal."

He warned "the rhetoric in which the summit is being wrapped (and the way it is being represented in the Press) largely abandons this language in favor of privatistic talk about volunteers and overly optimistic rhetoric about outcomes".

What appears to be Clinton's handwriting wrote "agree" in the margin next to that comment, and in another section.

In another memo on March 5, what appeared to be Clinton's handwriting wrote "Barber has given a voice to exactly what I fear, and I have to know what options are to prevent this".

Read the memo

Read between the edits: At the Democratic National Convention in 2000, Hillary Clinton delivered remarks in support of Vice President Al Gore, who was the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

One of the files shows how a draft of her remarks was watered down.

-The line “I was privileged to work with (Gore)” was removed and replaced to just say she watched her husband work with him as his trusted adviser in the White House. (page 3)

-The phrase that Tipper Gore would “warm our hearts” was scratched to just say Tipper will inspire all of us as First Lady (page 4)

– A couple of scratched changes throughout – articles, pronouns, etc. – suggest that they wanted her speech to reflect that Al, Tipper and team were simply continuing on the greatness of the Clintons and not necessarily adding anything special.

– A couple of references about her background in the 1970s in Yale and chairing the Children’s Defense Fund were removed.

– A reference to her hope of being elected to the U.S. Senate was removed, but one toward the end remained.

Read the draft

Wag the Dog: In a January 6, 1998 memo from Paul Tuchmann to speechwriter Lowell Weiss–(about two weeks before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke)–Tuchmann is preparing Clinton for a trip to New York. Tuchmann describes the host of a fundraiser, who was somehow involved in the movie "Wag the Dog."

“The movie is about a President who is accused of molesting an 11 year-old girl (in the Oval office) 2 weeks before an election), so his spin person hires a Hollywood producer to·fake a war in Albania to distract the public. For obvious reasons, we might want to be careful here.”

Read the memo (page 263)

Can you say that?: In preparation for the 1999 State of the Union address, President Bill Clinton and a few close aides were batting around how to describe the surplus that had occurred in 1998.

Clinton, in one of his more unvarnished moments, said, "Can't say an ass-pocket full of money, can you?"​

Read (page 289)

Clinton's passionate plea for means-testing: During preparations for the 1999 State of the Union, Clinton has a dour outlook on his plans to reform Social Security.

"If you're going to do this, and spend 85 percent of this surplus on seniors, you have to say that one of the benefits of this will be that you're going to leave more money in the hands of their children to spend on their grandchildren," Clinton said. "And I don't know what other way to say that is."

Clinton also backs means-testing for Social Security during the January 13, 1999 exchange and frets about what would happen if the surplus was spent on children instead of seniors.

"I just want you to think about where you could be in America if you means-tested Social Security and did some of these more radical things, and pour all this surplus for 20 years and spend it on children," Clinton said. "You could hire a million teachers and increase their salaries by 50 percent and really do something."

Clinton noted that Republicans were right when they tweaked Democrats for "throwing money at people who aren't going to vote for them anyway, because of gays and whatever else."

"My own view is, we are giving too much money, and we should make people pay more for it," Clinton added.​

Clinton ended up dedicating much of his speech on January 19, 1999 to Social Security reform. The president vowed to protect the program by committing 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years - an estimated $2.7 trillion - to Social Security.

"Last year, we wisely reserved all of the surplus until we knew what it would take to save Social Security. Again, I say, we should not spend any of it until after Social Security is truly saved. First things first," the president said during the speech.

Read (pg 291-292)

Clinton's legacy: Shortly after President Bill Clinton won re-election in 1996, White House aide Gene Sperling drafted a 14-page memo to begin identifying “legacy goals” for the president on major policy issues.Sperling said to be considered, a policy must be “Important and Transforming … Achievable … Memorable and Identifiable.”

Among the legacy issues Sperling suggested was “Reforming education … Restoring America’s Fiscal Integrity.”

Read (pg. 248-262)

"Metaphor for my luck": President Clinton, who was impeached by the House in December 1998 and then tried by the Senate in January and February 1999, still delivered a January 19 State of the Union address but the story of the day was not far from his mind.

During a January 11, 1999 meeting preparing for his big speech, the President at least twice referred to his political fortunes.  Responding to a joke about whether they’d create “heart problems” by inviting a federal worker the Republicans had highlighted in 1996, the President responded “It would be awful if he died in the box, wouldn't it? (Laughter.) It would be a metaphor for my luck this year.”

And at another point when discussing the popularity of the Americorps program, Clinton refers to the Republicans' dislike for the program and his impeachment: “And I don't know why it just pisses Republicans off because I did it. The next thing you know they'll be trying to impeach AmeriCorps.”

Separately, discussing the possibility of including the Matthew Shepard murder in the speech as a way of illustrating hate crimes, politics is not far from the President’s mind: “But you like the Shepard thing?  Mark always said that every time I mention gays, my numbers go down in the State of the Union. It’s the only thing that goes down.”

Read (pgs. 383, 386, 392)

Filed under: 2016 • Bill Clinton • Hillary Clinton
soundoff (34 Responses)
  1. Silence DoGood

    rs, and Blue states and Cities are filing for bankruptcy
    So we should take all that federal money that the freeloading red states are taking and give it to the blue states to help them out since they are provider states.

    March 14, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. rs


    The two reasons Wal-Mart`s profits are down is the weather and the ACA.
    No proof on the ACA- Wal-Mart doesn't do health care benefits, so it won't affect their bottom line at all.

    March 14, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Lizzie

    I haven't heard of Minneapolis / St. Paul filling for bankruptcy from our local media. Is there an article you can reference because if so it would be a big deal and ought to become public knowledge here in Minnesota.

    March 14, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  4. smith

    @rs-The ATF had no active investigation on the Waco compound under Bush. Your whole statement makes no sense.

    March 14, 2014 12:11 pm at 12:11 pm |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    @ Fair: "Mr. Fair and I recently bought new appliances (stove, fridge, diswasher, microwave) and we saved a few hundred bucks buying from the local guy than we would have using the big box store... and the service was far, far better. There's a lesson in there somewhere."

    Same here: new stove and fridge for the cabin. Cost equaled that of big box stores, but the service was outstanding. New water pump and furnace to follow come spring thaw.

    March 14, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
  6. smith

    @rs-The ACA isn`t free, you have to pay all upfront cost which means people will have less money to spend.

    March 14, 2014 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. Silence DoGood


    The two reasons Wal-Mart`s profits are down is the weather and the ACA.
    No proof on the ACA- Wal-Mart doesn't do health care benefits, so it won't affect their bottom line at all.
    No whining for the Walton family Smith! Their profits (not gross) is always in the Billions (not millions). Slave labor camp corporations are doing great under the Obama administration thank you very much.

    March 14, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC


    The two reasons Wal-Mart`s profits are down is the weather and the ACA.
    So when the Chief Financial Officer cites cuts to SNAP as the reason, then you're saying he's wrong? I mean all that he has to do is look at what percentage of sales are made by what means, smith. You're flat out denying the facts.

    March 14, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  9. jack2

    That's all we need, another inept president that lies.

    March 14, 2014 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
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