Newly Released Documents Shine Light on Clinton Administration

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A new set of confidential documents from the Clinton Administration were released Friday by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. This latest batch of documents is the sixth to be sent out to the public, and it brings to light issues ranging from President Bill Clinton’s views on Osama bin Laden to downplaying the Rwanda genocide to when he sought Hillary’s counsel.

The papers are a part of a group of about 25,000 pages of documents — which include memos, speeches, and confidential communication between Clinton and his advisers — that are being released under the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Such papers are required by law to be released to the public 12 years after the end of a president’s term, but Clinton’s papers have seen delays from review by the Clintons and President Barack Obama. 

According to a 1999 note, Clinton was influenced by the media enough to doubt the CIA’s evaluation of Osama bin Laden. After reading a 1999 New York Times article that called bin Laden “less a commander of terrorists than an inspiration for them,” Clinton sent a note to National Security Director Sandy Berger asking for clarification. “If this article is right, the CIA overstated its case to me — what are the facts?” he wrote. This was a year after Clinton signed a directive authorizing the CIA to catch bin Laden and bring him to trial after the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

Bin Laden was not the only threat that Clinton was skeptical of during his presidency. A few days before the White House labeled the atrocities in Rwanda officially a genocide, Clinton edited language in a document from saying “reports that genocide has occurred in Rwanda” to “reports that acts of genocide may have occurred in Rwanda.”

The downplaying of the tragedies in Rwanda is something Clinton has since admitted to regretting, saying in 2013 that, had the U.S. gone into Rwanda sooner after the start of the 1994 genocide, it’s possible about 300,000 lives could have been saved. “If we’d gone in sooner, I believe we could have saved at least a third of the lives that were lost,” Clinton said to CNBC’s Tania Bryer in 2013. “It had an enduring impact on me.”

The documents also include mentions of Democrats’ speculative plans for the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, which came to pass in 2009, while Clinton was nominating her for U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1997. An unsigned memo in the collection notes: “A number of her other writings could be controversial if she were nominated to the Supreme Court. … Her fierce independence, and her non-nonsense style are admirable, but her nomination to the Supreme Court may prompt a vicious attack by Senate Republicans.” 

However, the predictions of a rough time for a female judge were more severe for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in preparation for her confirmation hearings in 1993. White House lawyer Ron Klain critiqued how Ginsberg felt toward the Senate and the confirmation procedure, stating that her “hostility” for the process was “evident.” He wrote: “The Judge has trouble addressing larger issues and speaking to core values. … Her failure to make eye contact, her halting speech, her ‘laconic’ nature … is not helpful.” Klain also noted that her severe left leanings and consistent defense of the American Civil Liberties Union could pose problems.

“She has an instinct for defending some rather extreme liberal views,” Klain wrote concerning Ginsberg’s views on issues like the death penalty, legalizing prostitution, decriminalizing marijuana, and decriminalizing the distribution of pornography to minors. In the subsequent hearings, Ginsberg did not display all of these “extreme liberal views,” as she refused to answer questions regarding her personal opinions on issues, including abortion, gay rights, separation of church and state, and disability rights, as well as refusing to respond to hypothetical scenarios.

Anything Clinton-related is relevant to both those supporting and nitpicking Hillary Clinton as she prepares to (most likely) run for president in 2016. Those interested in a look behind the door at Hillary’s involvement in the administration won’t find too much in this batch of documents. However, her husband did note to ask her opinion on one of the more controversial women’s issues. On a 1993 policy memo concerning the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited federal funding for abortion, Clinton wrote, “What does Hillary think” in the margin.

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