RNC questions timing of Clinton document release

RNC questions timing of Clinton document release
Defense Dept./CNN
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Sunday, March 9, 2014 - 11:20am

(CNN) -- The Republican National Committee alleged Friday that previously confidential papers from the Clinton White House were improperly withheld from the public for over a year, and requested the National Archives provide its correspondence with the offices of Bill and Hillary Clinton regarding the review and release of the material.

David Powers, the RNC's senior counsel, requested in a letter Friday to the Archives that the agency turn over "any documents, correspondence, and e-mails" it exchanged with representative of the Clintons regarding the "review, consideration, or withholding" of the documents, which he says includes "some communications with Hillary Clinton."

In response to the request, which was filed under the Freedom of Information Act, Archives spokesman Chis Isleib said in an email to CNN the agency "will process this FOIA request like we do all others."

A source close to President Clinton told CNN, "We have nothing to do with when (the Archives) puts them on the website or makes them available in the Clinton Library Reading Room."

Huge trove of documents

At issue are approximately 33,000 pages of documents from Bill Clinton's eight years in office that became eligible for public release in January 2013 under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, pending a review of by Archives staff and The White House.

Of particular interest to Republicans is information pertaining to Hillary Clinton, first lady from 1993-2001 and a potential presidential candidate in 2016.

The law established the public ownership of White House records starting with the Reagan administration, but it carved out several restrictions where certain documents could be withheld for 12 years after a President leaves office.

The restricted material includes confidential documents relating to appointments for federal office and correspondence between the President and his advisers as well as correspondence between advisers.

January 20, 2013, marked 12 years since Clinton left office, but the documents in question remained outside public reach for an additional 13 months.

A sitting President may assert executive privilege to withhold documents. Currently, approximately 8,000 of the 33,000 pages of documents at issue are still under review by the White House until March 26.

Former Presidents may request that executive privilege be asserted to withhold particular documents, but the ultimate authority lies with the current president.

Few headlines so far

The first batch of files that were released last week made few headlines.

Powers called the partial release "a positive development" but added that "the question of why these documents were not released in January 2013 remains unanswered."

Clinton is only the third former President and the first Democrat to fall under the disclosure requirements of the Presidential Records Act. The others were former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Prior to the Act, White House papers became the personal property of the former President once he left office.

The George W. Bush administration also came under fire in 2001 for delays in the release of restricted records from the Reagan White House.

The first restricted documents from those files were not released for more than 11 months after the 12-year mark since Ronald Reagan left office. Once the initial batch was released on January 3, 2002, all remaining documents were made available to the public within seven months.

In February 2005, the George Bush Presidential Library began releasing previously confidential documents from the first Bush White House within one month of the expiration of the 12-month period.

However, it took more than four years to release all 68,000-plus pages of records comparable to those the Clinton library began releasing last week.

Hillary adds different element

Asked whether the delays in the release of Reagan and Bush documents were also improper, Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokeswoman, told CNN that the matter pertaining to Hillary Clinton was unprecedented.

"A former first lady ran for President where the release of these documents was an issue. She then became the secretary of state and is likely running for President again. They have known for six years that these documents were in high demand and only when this became a press story did they act," she said.

The initial release last week of approximately 3,500 pages of documents included records on health care reform, women's initiatives of the Office of the First Lady, and various records from a number of White House speechwriters.

The release of the first batch of confidential documents last week on the heels of media reports have raised questions about the timing of the release and causes of the initial year-long delay.

"The Clintons have a history of trying to keep their past secret from the American people. Americans deserve to know who was responsible for keeping on lockdown documents that should have been released over a year ago," RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a written statement Friday.

Although document releases of this size require a significant amount of processing and review from Archives and library staff, it remains unclear how long that processing took, exactly when the White House and Bill Clinton's office were first notified of the intent to release documents, and how many, if any, extensions the White House requested to review the material.

Isleib said in a statement last week that the National Archives notified The White House and President Clinton's office that the 12-year period had expired, although he did not indicate exactly when that notification was given.

"When those restrictions expired, NARA then provided notification of our intent to disclose these Presidential records to the representatives of President Obama and former President Clinton in accordance with Executive Order 13489, so that they may conduct a privilege review of the records," Isleib said.

Reagan White House documents

Despite repeated inquiries from CNN, no official from the National Archives would speak on the record about the chronology of communication between the Archives and the White House and President Clinton's office regarding the review and release of records, except that the White House would be reviewing the additional 8,000 documents until March 26.

Past Archives officials were more forthcoming with information regarding communications with The White House on the release of restricted records from the Reagan White House.

A White House official told CNN last week that attorneys in the White House Counsel's office have been reviewing the Clinton documents "page by page" and that The White House authorized the release of many of these documents at some point in 2014.

According to the source close to Bill Clinton, "Within an hour of our being informed that the incumbent President had signed off, we notified NARA that we had no objection to their release."

Under the Presidential Records Act, documents pertaining to national security, trade secrets, and unwarranted invasions of personal privacy, such as Social Security numbers, can be withheld beyond the initial 12-year period.

As of Friday, the National Archives has not indicated when the next release of documents will take place.

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