New Clinton papers reveal aides’ advice
WASHINGTON — A new batch of records from former President Bill Clinton’s administration shows him musing about Republican plans to abolish a federal agency led by a black official, White House concerns about mass killings in Rwanda, and political strategizing against former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The National Archives released 2,000 pages of documents from the Clinton White House on Friday, adding to the thousands of pages that have been unsealed this year, even as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton weighs a second presidential campaign. The former first lady’s new book on her State Department years, ‘‘Hard Choices,’’ will be released on Tuesday.
The records, being disseminated through the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas, offer an unvarnished look at the advice Clinton received from top aides during the 1990s. Here’s a look at some of the records featured in Friday’s release.
Commerce: During a practice session for the 1996 State of the Union speech, Clinton unloaded on congressional Republicans who wanted to close the Commerce Department, which was led by Ron Brown, a longtime Clinton confidante. Brown, the first African-American to lead the federal department, died in an April 1996 plane crash.
‘‘The reason they want to get rid of the Commerce Department is they are foaming at the mouth that Ron Brown is better than all of those Republican corporate executives who got those cheeky jobs because they gave big money to Republican presidential candidates,’’ Clinton told aides. ‘‘And here is this black guy who is a better secretary of Commerce than anybody since Herbert Hoover, which he was a success at.’’
An aide asked Clinton if he wanted to include it in his speech.
‘‘No,’’ Clinton said, ‘‘but I mean, they need a rabies shot.’’
Rwanda: E-mails from 1994 shed light on difficult internal deliberations over Rwanda. The Clinton administration was slow to react to the mass killings and went to great lengths to avoid calling the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi and moderate Hutu ‘‘genocide.’’ Clinton would later call the US inaction among his biggest regrets.
Gays in the military: Regarding gays in the military, a handwritten memo from Joe Bouchard, a national security official, revealed the high emotions involved as the Clinton White House dealt with the question of whether openly gay service members should be allowed to stay in the military.
Bouchard told White House official Robert Bell called it ‘‘a terrible idea’’ to return a gay soldier to submarine duty after waging a court battle to stay in the service.
Newt Gingrich: Countering then-Representative Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, was always a top political consideration. In an August 1994 memo, White House aide David Dreyer suggested ways to undercut plans by Gingrich to take a ‘‘class picture’’ of Republican incumbents and challengers seeking control of Congress in that fall’s elections — which the GOP did.
Dreyer suggested Democrats hold a House vote on campaign finance reform at the same time as Gingrich’s photo and offered other steps to affect coverage.
Veterans Affairs: A 1993 plea for more money from the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary shows the deep roots of the current complaints about veterans’ medical care.
VA Secretary Jesse Brown told budget director Leon Panetta his agency needed a $1.3 billion increase for 1994, and worried decisions were being made without assessing harm to veterans.
Separately, a letter from Brown to Clinton suggesting that the VA and other agencies be allowed to promote modest bills seemed to irk White House policy aide Bill Galston.
‘‘The last thing we need,’’ Galston fumed in a 1993 internal memo, is ‘‘more special interest-oriented freelancing by departments and agencies.’’