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Clinton Library documents illustrate testy relationship with press

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[October 11, 2014]  By Gabriel Debenedetti and Mark Hosenball
 
 WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House staff under former President Bill Clinton explored ways to manage public relations and fend off the national press as a series of scandals brewed in the 1990s, a new batch of previously withheld documents showed on Friday.

The seventh and final release of Clinton administration documents from the Clinton Presidential Library and the National Archives comes as former first lady Hillary Clinton considers a possible White House bid in 2016.

The nearly 10,000 pages of documents released on Friday did not appear to contain revelations that would affect her possible campaign. But the papers did offer inside looks at a Clinton White House dealing with controversies such as the 1993 death of White House lawyer Vincent Foster and the 1998 scandal surrounding Bill Clinton's affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

In a July 1998 email, White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal had harsh words about Linda Tripp, a former White House aide who secretly taped Lewinsky talking about her relationship with Clinton.
 


Blumenthal wrote that Tripp was an unreliable witness who might have "initiated" the creation of a key document, and said if this were true Tripp "would be a liar, a worthless witness and open to prosecution herself."

In another email, Blumenthal encouraged a journalist to write an unflattering story about conservative literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, who helped introduce Tripp to journalists and conservative activists.

Another document showed White House staffer James Kennedy discussing what the White House should say about whether Clinton planned to watch an interview ABC anchor Barbara Walters conducted with Lewinsky.

Kennedy told a press aide: "I had a line about him not planning on watching TV next Wednesday, but one of the lawyers took it out. Perhaps (press secretary) Joe (Lockhart), if asked, can say he usually watches 'Star Trek: Voyager' at that hour."

Bill Clinton, who was in his second term in office at the time, was impeached by the House of Representatives over the Lewinsky affair but acquitted by the Senate. Hillary Clinton went on to become a senator, stage an unsuccessful bid for the White House and then serve as secretary of state in President Barack Obama's first term.

Although she has not yet said if she will run for president again, Hillary Clinton has been considered the likely frontrunner for the Democrats since leaving her post as the country's top diplomat in February 2013. She has recently stepped up her campaign activities for Democrats running in November's midterm elections.

ADVICE ON A 'SPIN OPERATION'

The files focusing on Foster's death show the White House legal office deliberated over responding to Freedom of Information Act requests for Foster's office logs, phone records, and a handwritten suicide note.

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Republicans had accused the White House of covering up facts surrounding Foster's death. White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum cited "no significant public interest" and family privacy concerns in denying the requests.

A lengthy memo written by White House staffer David Dreyer outlined the administration's strategy to manage hearings on the Clintons' involvement in an Arkansas land deal known as Whitewater that involved risky loans from savings and loans groups run by Clinton political backers.

They expected questions about Foster's death, as Foster was working to manage the scandal before he died.

"This is going to be a bad story," Dreyer began. He recommended making the hearings difficult for reporters to cover, and using Democratic lawmakers to conduct a "spin operation."

Staffers also had hometown politics in mind: one wrote in 1999 that then Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee hated Bill Clinton, one of his predecessors, and was planning a Senate race against Democrat Blanche Lincoln.

Because of that, the note said, Clinton should give Huckabee a "quick/warm response" to the governor's request for a national proclamation highlighting the importance of positive images on television.

The files also included details of Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful work to pass healthcare legislation. Healthcare became a political flashpoint again following the controversial rollout of Obama's own healthcare law in 2013.



Clinton says she will decide in early 2015 whether to pursue the job that eluded her in 2008, when she lost her party's primary contest to Obama.

(Reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti, Marilyn Thompson, Mark Hosenball; Editing by John Whitesides and Frances Kerry)

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