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White House intervened in Travelgate hearings

Posted By Sarah Foster On 10/08/1998 @ 1:00 am In Front Page | Comments Disabled

In an unprecedented effort to control the direction of questioning and
flow of testimony during Travelgate hearings, White House counsel went so far as to prepare special scripts for Democrats on a congressional investigative committee — enabling members to ask friendly witnesses approved questions and to fend off potentially embarrassing ones, WorldNetDaily has learned.

“Extensively detailed briefing papers and a series of questions … were prepared to script the Democrat members of the [House] Committee on Government Reform and Oversight” — the Oversight Committee said in its 186-page report: Investigation of the White House Travel Office Firings and Related Matters.

“Such meticulous executive branch scripting for congressional hearings is something even the Nixon White House did not dare to undertake,” the committee observed.

Although the report was released in September, 1996, the scripting of committee members was something the public and the media overlooked — the matter being eclipsed by the report’s revelations about the notorious “Sherburne Memo.”

This internal White House document — so-named from its author Jane C. Sherburne, special counsel to the president — was a “task list,” created by Sherburne in December, 1994. It listed 39 scandals confronting the Clinton administration and outlined strategies and steps to take for dealing with them vis-a-vis the public and the press; these included the development of a “team” of White House staffers and attorneys to monitor and intervene in congressional and criminal investigations. Western Journalism Center, the parent company of WorldNetDaily, was specifically mentioned in the memo because of its on-going investigation into the death of Vincent Foster.

With attention focused on the Sherburne Memo, the scripting issue received no publicity whatsoever. Indeed, the information might have remained buried forever had it not been discovered by Ray Morton, a researcher in Northern California, who has been documenting the “impeachable offenses” against President Clinton and his administration — and plenty of these are detailed in the oversight committee’s report.

“This is a huge issue,” Morton told WorldNetDaily. “The public and the press are talking about Bill and Monica — but here’s Clinton and his cronies taking over Congress — intervening in its affairs and investigative work.”

The Sherburne Memo and the scripts were part of a cache of some 2,000 pages of subpoenaed documents which the White House had refused to release to the committee, claiming the usual “executive privilege.” Not until August 15, 1996, did President Clinton finally agree to relinquish them — and then only after the committee threatened White House Counsel John M. Quinn with criminal contempt of Congress.

The committee pointed out the selected date “would attract the least attention from the media as it was the same evening that Senator (Robert) Dole accepted the Republican nomination for president.”

The scripts were used at a hearing held by the Reform and Oversight Committee on October 24, 1995. The report does not say whether other scripts were drafted for use at earlier Travelgate hearings held in 1994, though it seems likely. Nor is it known who actually ordered their preparation; considering the date of the hearing it would seem to have been John Quinn, who was White House counsel at the time.

It is also not clear from the report how many of the 2,000 pages are scripts. Thirty-four pages — addressing six topics — are published as an exhibit with the report, but a transcript of a deposition of Special Associate Counsel Jonathan Yarowsky by committee Counsel Barbara Olson indicates this could be but a fraction of the number actually written and presumably used.

At some point before the deposition Olson had been allowed to review the still-withheld documents though she was not permitted to make copies; and in her questioning of Yarowsky, which took place in July, 1996, she speaks of hundreds, even thousands, of pages of scripts.

“We have seen thousands of pages of nothing but questions and questions that appear to be directed at witnesses in the hearing, which don’t appear to be for internal White House review,” she said. “They appear to come out of someone’s mouth to individual witnesses.”

Yarowsky denied writing scripts for committee members, but admitted having helped the White House witnesses prepare for the October 1995 hearing. This was “the lead-off hearing” by the Oversight Committee on Travelgate and it was “unclear what the scope would be.” He said he drafted “talking points, Q and A’s, questions, anticipating areas that might be the subject and what our position would be.” But, he insisted, these were simply to “clarify the facts” for White House witnesses and staffers, in part so they could speak to the press without making contradictory statements.

“But there are certain questions that the press would naturally ask the White House to respond, and then there are certain questions that are directed to Mr. (Michael) Shaheen, who was a witness from the Department of Justice, or to Ms. (Nancy) Kingsbury, who was a GAO witness,” Olson said. “There are hundreds of pages of questions directed at these individuals that are within the 2,000 pages we have seen.”

Hundreds? Thousands? Yet only 34 pages were published. Nonetheless, they are indicative of the degree of intervention the Clinton administration is willing to engage in and just how far it will go to assure congressional allies represent its viewpoint.

Some of the scripts have a commentary at the beginning, others have anticipated answers.

For example, from the script dealing with allegations of a lack of cooperation by the White House (in other words, stonewalling): “The Republicans may seek to justify undertaking this gratuitous committee investigation of the other Travel Office investigations by attempting to discredit White House cooperation with the other investigations. Such a tactic can be rebutted by questioning the panel witnesses about the nature of their particular inquiries and what was sought from the White House in assisting these inquiries. It is expected that all witnesses with the exception of Michael Shaheen (OPR) will indicate that the White House cooperated to the full extent sought by the various investigators.”

Then follow some questions and answers, with an FBI witness and an IRS witness responding to identical questions: 1) “Isn’t it true that the FBI/IRS Travel Office inquiry was a purely internal one? (yes)

2) Did the FBI/IRS even seek access to White House documents or witnesses in its review of the Travel Office matter? (no)

3) Can it be said that the White House interfered with or failed to cooperate with the FBI/IRS’ investigation? (no)

Nine of the 34 pages of script are attempts to disinvolve Hillary Clinton from any part in the Travel Office firings — but the questions are only to be used if the subject comes up. As the “Hillary” script puts it — in capital letters no less:

THE FOLLOWING QUESTIONS SHOULD BE USED ONLY IF THE ROLE OF THE FIRST LADY IS RAISED BY REPUBLICANS.

Assuming it does, the following questions were among those to be directed to John Podesta, former assistant to the president:

“What was the first lady’s involvement in the Travel Office Matter?” Then, following Podesta’s expected reply: “So, the First Lady’s involvement in the matter was rather limited, correct?”

“She heard there might be problems in the Travel Office and asked the deputy White House counsel and the chief of staff what steps were being taken to examine the situation, right?”

“She was not involved in the decision to terminate the Travel Office employees, was she?”

“Is it fair to say that health-care reform — not the Travel Office — occupied her attention in mid-May 1993?”

Some scripts even provided bully-rhetoric for Democrats to lambaste Republicans — in case they didn’t have the ability to frame their own remarks.

Here’s what some Democratic interrogator could say if the spirit moved him about the investigation into committee concerns that Harry Thomason and Darnell Martens were Special Government Employees, not simply ordinary contractors angling for a project.

“My questions are for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Why are we wasting valuable resources to investigate whether, two years ago, a Hollywood producer and his sidekick were special government employees (SGE) subject to conflict of interest laws?

“If you hadn’t noticed, while the committee’s investigative staff has been obsessed with Harry Thomason, the rest of the country has been embroiled in an intense debate over issues which affect people’s lives. Issues such as Medicare, Medicaid, welfare reform, immigration and education.

“That this committee — at such a critical moment in the national dialogue — would find an investigation into Harry Thomason’s SGE status a proper use of taxpayer money is truly shameful.”

In the past two years, little has changed for the oversight committee. The membership remains fairly constant — the list of 19 Democrats is the same; the chairmanship has changed with the retirement of Rep. William Clinger, R-PA, who chaired the committee in 1995 and 1996. His place has been taken by Rep. Dan Burton, R-IN.

More importantly, collusion between the White House and Democratic members of committees continues, according to John Williams, press secretary for Rep. Burton.

Williams cites a letter dated Aug. 4, to Rep. Burton from Janet Reno, in which the attorney general attempts to justify her refusal to turn over certain documents the committee had requested. Reno had phoned the committee earlier that very day asking permission to address the committee the following day to explain her decision. But the agenda had been set, and adding an additional witness would have meant shortening the time allowed for the testimony of such witnesses as FBI Director Louis Freeh who was scheduled to appear.

Rebuffed, Reno put her explanation (with the inevitable claim of executive privilege) in a letter addressed to “the Honorable Dan Burton, chairman” — with a copy sent to ranking minority member Henry Waxman. Waxman’s office saw to it that the Democratic members of the committee received copies as well.

There was only one problem. The letter was never sent to Burton. He and his staff knew nothing of it “until Tom Lantos started waving a copy in the air, ” Williams recalled.

“Here were the Democrats with a copy of a letter from the attorney general to the chairman — which the chairman never received,” Williams said. “That’s just one more example of the administration — in this case the Justice Department — working in tandem with Democrats on the committee.

For more information, the report on Travelgate by the Oversight and Reform Committee has been posted on the committee’s website.

However, since the scripts were not posted, Ray Morton has transcribed them verbatim for his site.


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