Amid debate over how much of Hillary Clinton’s past is fair game for her expected 2016 presidential candidacy, the Clinton Presidential Library still hasn’t released 33,000 pages of documents pertaining to the former first couple that were legally supposed to be public more than a year ago.
But transparency is on the way, officials with the White House, the National Archives and Records Administration and the Clinton library -- all of which have a role to play in releasing documents -- told Politico.
The Presidential Records Act states that records can be withheld from the public for 12 years after a president leaves office. For Bill Clinton, who left office in January 2001, the disclosure should have occurred in January 2013.
Documents are expected to shed light on past questions about the Clinton White House, such as the convoluted Whitewater real estate deal, the death of former White House aide Vince Foster and the mass pardons Clinton granted to politically connected allies on his last day in office. These records also relate to people considered for appointments to federal office.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama could also have explaining to do if there is no records release: he campaigned in 2008 on transparency and making presidential records available to the public.
On Jan. 21, 2009, his first full day in office, Obama signed an executive order to roll back the George W. Bush administration’s restrictions on presidential records. The order gave former president 30 days to review records before release and eliminated the right of a vice president or family member to review instead of a president.
For the Clintons, the conundrum could be whether the information in the documents is more damaging than the optics of trying to keep them secret.
If former Bill Clinton wanted to assert executive privilege over any of the documents, it would still be up to Obama as head of the executive branch – that includes the National Archives -- to back him up. If the Clintons sought to keep the records private in the library, it would almost certainly bring a high-profile Freedom of Information Act as the former first lady and secretary of state prepares her own campaign for president.
An Obama White House official told Politico that about 25,000 pages have been cleared for release.
“There have been no executive privilege assertions on Clinton materials to date,” the White House official said.
National Archives spokesman Chris Isleib told Politico that officials are still working to sort the documents and prepare for release to the public.
“Our goal is to make these records available as soon as possible, but it will take the Clinton Library and [the National Archives and Records Administration] additional time to complete the logistics of making available such a large release, including being able to make the records available on the web," Isleib said.
Isleib said the White House extended the deadline regarding the remaining records until March 26.
An aide to the former president also told Politico the records would be made public.
“We were notified today by the National Archives and Records Administration that the White House had cleared over 20,000 pages of previously closed Clinton administration documents, subject to an assertion of executive privilege by the former president,” the aide said. “We informed NARA that President Clinton did not intend to assert privilege with respect to the documents.”