LA Times article mischaracterized Pres. Clinton's letter about archives

In a November 11 Los Angeles Times article, staff writer Peter Nicholas reported that former President Bill Clinton “has given the National Archives guidelines on how” to determine whether to release certain documents from his presidency and that "[i]n a letter sent in 2002, Clinton said that archivists should feel free to open up material that could legally be concealed on the grounds that it involved federal appointments or communication between advisors." The article went on to assert that Clinton “then listed some exceptions” and that "[h]e said he did not want material released if it contained 'negative' or 'derogatory' information; if it centered on a 'sensitive policy, personal or political matter'; or if it involved 'communications directly between the president and the first lady.' " In fact, as Media Matters for America noted, President Clinton's letter did not say that “he did not want material released” but, rather, listed some communications as documents to be "considered for withholding" [emphasis added]. In a November 2 statement, William J. Clinton Records representative Bruce Lindsey said that rather than prohibiting the release of communications between Bill and Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton had merely designated such communications as part of a “subset” of presidential records “that should be reviewed prior to release.” Moreover, Clinton's letter did not refer to “negative” or “derogatory” information in general, as the Times suggested; rather, it specifically stated that “negative or derogatory information about individuals involved in the appointment process, including their non-selection,” should be “considered for withholding.”

The Los Angeles Times' reporting echoes an exchange from the October 30 Democratic presidential debate between moderator Tim Russert and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), in which Russert falsely claimed that the 2002 letter written by President Clinton to the National Archives “specifically ask[ed] that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012” before asking, “Would you lift that ban?” Contrary to Russert's assertion, President Clinton's letter did not impose a “ban” on the public release of “any communication between” him and Sen. Clinton.

From the November 11 Los Angeles Times article:

Bill Clinton has given the National Archives guidelines on how to approach the task.

In a letter sent in 2002, Clinton said that archivists should feel free to open up material that could legally be concealed on the grounds that it involved federal appointments or communication between advisors.

But he then listed some exceptions, which carry the potential to conceal many documents that could open a window into Hillary Clinton's role in the healthcare battle. He said he did not want material released if it contained “negative” or “derogatory” information; if it centered on a “sensitive policy, personal or political matter” ; or if it involved “communications directly between the president and the first lady.”

With the Democratic primary entering a combative new phase, the status of Hillary Clinton's White House records has become a campaign issue. She was questioned about the material during the Democratic debate in Philadelphia on Oct. 30.

Large batches of records from her White House years are under lock and key at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.

Apart from the healthcare records, the library possesses 2 million pages of material from the former first lady's office, none of which has been released. In January, archivists will finish processing 10,000 pages related to her daily schedule.

Archivists have described their workload as being so great that they don't expect the bulk of Hillary Clinton's records to be made public before the 2008 election. According to an National Archives spokeswoman, six archivists are wading through 78 million pages of records and 20 million e-mails accumulated during Clinton's eight-year presidency.

Less than 1% of that material has been released. Archivists are responding to public records requests on a first-come, first-served basis, and are releasing material as quickly as they can, staff members have said.

Rival campaigns and others are not satisfied with the progress. A nonprofit group called Judicial Watch has filed two lawsuits against the National Archives in hopes of speeding the release of diaries, phone logs, healthcare records and calendars kept when Clinton was first lady.