A New York Sun article stated that at the October 30 Democratic presidential debate, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton was “questioned about language in the 2002 letter that discussed the possibility of withholding some records about the former first lady.” In fact, in the debate question, Tim Russert falsely claimed that the letter “specifically ask[ed] that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012” before asking Clinton, “Would you lift that ban?”
In a December 19 New York Sun article, staff reporter Josh Gerstein mischaracterized NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert's question to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) during the October 30 Democratic presidential debate regarding a 2002 letter written by former President Bill Clinton to the National Archives and Records Administration. Gerstein wrote that at the debate, Hillary Clinton was “questioned about language in the 2002 letter that discussed the possibility of withholding some records about the former first lady.” Gerstein continued: “Mr. Clinton later called the questions 'breathtakingly misleading' and complained bitterly that his wife had been sandbagged.” In fact, addressing Hillary Clinton during the debate, Russert falsely claimed that the letter “specifically ask[ed] that any communication between you and the president not be made available to the public until 2012” before asking Sen. Clinton, “Would you lift that ban?”
As Media Matters for America has repeatedly documented (here, here, here and here), contrary to Russert's claim, President Clinton's letter did not ask that such communications “not be made available” but rather listed them as one of several categories of information in which documents should be "considered for withholding" [emphasis added]. In a November 2 statement, as reprinted on the blog Daily Kos, 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.”
From Gerstein's December 19 New York Sun article:
The National Archives is withholding from the public about 2,600 pages of records at President Clinton's direction, despite a public assurance by one of his top aides last month that Mr. Clinton “has not blocked the release of a single document.”
The 2,600 pages, stored at Mr. Clinton's library in Arkansas, were deemed to contain “confidential advice” and, therefore, “closed” under the Presidential Records Act, an Archives spokeswoman, Susan Cooper, told The New York Sun yesterday.
An official who oversees the presidential libraries operated by the federal government, Susan Fawcett, said in a recent interview that the records were withheld in accordance with a letter Mr. Clinton wrote in 1994 exercising his right to hold back certain types of files and another letter in 2002 about narrowing the scope of his earlier instructions. Asked by National Journal whether Mr. Clinton had “total control” over the closure of records under the confidential-advice provisions of the law, Ms. Fawcett said he did.
At a presidential debate in October, Mrs. Clinton was questioned about language in the 2002 letter that discussed the possibility of withholding some records about the former first lady. Mr. Clinton later called the questions “breathtakingly misleading” and complained bitterly that his wife had been sandbagged.
“Bill Clinton has not blocked the release of a single document,” the former president's official representative on records issues, Bruce Lindsey, said in a written statement last month aimed at defusing criticism in the press and by one of Mrs. Clinton's rivals for the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama of Illinois. Spokesmen for Mrs. Clinton's campaign and Mr. Clinton's office did not respond to requests for comment.
Ms. Cooper said she was not aware whether any of the 2,600 pages of withheld advice records pertain to Mrs. Clinton. Asked about Mr. Lindsey's statement, Ms. Cooper said, “Not all of those pages were closed by Mr. Lindsey, in fact, the National Archives does the first set of processing. ... At least some of those materials were closed by our archivists.”
An attorney who specializes in the Presidential Records Act, Scott Nelson of Public Citizen Litigation Group, said Mr. Lindsey's statement may have meant that neither he nor Mr. Clinton had singled out any specific document for withholding, even though Mr. Clinton's “general instruction” caused certain records to be closed. “It's possible that all the statements were made in perfect good faith, but in truth, the result is that the Archives -- they are withholding material and that's because of President Clinton's election in 1994,” Mr. Nelson said.
Ms. Cooper said the 2,600 pages of advice are part of about 24,000 pages of Clinton White House records closed on national security, privacy and other grounds. The bulk of the closures likely involve records found in domestic policy and health care files that Mr. Clinton authorized for processing before the library began accepting record requests from the public in 2006.