Memo Points to First Lady for Delay in Notifying Authorities
Aug. 27, 1996
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Contrary to the picture drawn over the past year by White House aides, a recently released memo suggests Hillary Rodham Clinton was responsible for the 30-hour delay in notifying authorities about an anguished handwritten note by Vincent Foster.
The memo by a White House lawyer quotes then-chief of staff Mack McLarty as saying the first lady insisted ``the president should not yet be told'' of the existence of Foster's note until White House aides decided whether to turn it over to police investigating Foster's death, ruled a suicide.
McLarty's lawyer, William Taylor, denied Tuesday that his client made the statements attributed to him in the memo and said that McLarty spoke primarily to then-White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum about the deputy White House counsel's note _ and never to Mrs. Clinton.
Nussbaum issued a statement taking sole responsibility for the delay in turning over the note to authorities, saying the first lady had no involvement.
``No one suggested to me that the first lady had any view with respect to how the Foster note should be handled,'' said Nussbaum.
``It was my decision to delay, for one day, producing the note, so that the president'' and Foster's wife ``could have an opportunity to view it first,'' Nussbaum added.
Deputy Whitewater prosecutor John Bates declined to comment on the recently produced memo.
White House aides didn't inform the president of the existence of the torn-up note until more than 24 hours after it was discovered on July 26, 1993 in the bottom of Foster's briefcase in his White House office. On the day the note was discovered, McLarty was in Chicago with the president. Foster had died six days earlier from a gunshot wound to the head.
Foster's note, in which he deplored political life in Washington, outlines a number of White House problems, particularly the highly controversial firing of travel office employees. ``Here ruining people is considered sport,'' Foster wrote.
The recently released memo by White House lawyer Miriam Nemetz is among 2,000 pages of documents the White House produced Aug. 15 to the Whitewater prosecutor's office and to Congress after a lengthy dispute with the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee.
Testifying under oath to the Senate Whitewater Committee, presidential aides have consistently portrayed Mrs. Clinton as having no role in the White House's handling of Foster's note.
But Nemetz' five-page memo to her file says that in a conversation with then-counselor to the president David Gergen, ``McLarty said he had decided to wait until the next day to decide whether to turn over'' Foster's note to law enforcement officials.
``McLarty said that the first lady was very upset and believed the matter required further thought and that the president should not yet be told,'' says Nemetz' memo.
Mrs. Clinton ``said they should have a coherent position and should have decided what to do before they told the president,'' said Nemetz' memo. ``She also was concerned about the privacy of the family,'' Nemetz' memo added.
Gergen on Tuesday gave a somewhat different account of the conversation with McLarty than what is stated in the memo.
According to his attorney Richard Pfahl, Gergen's recollection is that McLarty stated he had been told that the first lady didn't want to tell the president about the note immediately. According to Pfahl, Gergen recalls that his assumption was that issues such as reviewing the note for executive privilege would be reviewed first and then the matter would be taken to the president. Gergen's impression from the conversation was that McLarty was firmly in favor of turning over the note to authorities, but that the final decision was the president's.
Nemetz' July 13, 1995, memo summarizes Gergen's then-secret testimony the previous day to Senate Whitewater Committee lawyers. Nemetz' memo says that Gergen was never asked about all conversations he had with McLarty regarding the Foster note. The part of Nemetz' memo on Mrs. Clinton is based on her briefing from Gergen lawyer Burt Rein just after Gergen was questioned on Capitol Hill. Rein declined to comment.
White House spokesman Mark Fabiani said of Nemetz' memo, ``It's possible her notes are incorrect.'' He said, ``It's possible Mr. Gergen's lawyer misrecalled the facts or it's possible it's a combination of the two.''
``The information on which this story is based is fifth-hand. It passed through five different people before it was ever taken down in a lawyer's notes,'' Fabiani said.
Republicans on the Senate Whitewater Committee have been suspicious of the explanations about why the president wasn't informed of Foster's note until the day after it was found. Of particular interest to the Republicans is the fact that the first lady was informed of the note's existence as soon as it was discovered.
In testimony under oath July 6, 1995, to the Senate Whitewater Committee, McLarty said that he didn't tell Clinton of the note's existence because ``I wanted to see the note, and I wanted to have all of this in reasonably good order when it was related to the president. And it just didn't seem to me that we had this matter in good order to give him half information about what the note was and so forth.''
Nussbaum thought the note so important that he left his office to find Mrs. Clinton and escort her back to examine it.
``When she sat down and looked at'' Foster's note, ``she had an emotional reaction and she said, `I just can't deal with this. ... Bernie, you deal with this,''' Nussbaum testified.