The Clinton records: What's in the newly-released files?

This photo, dated March 17, 1992, shows Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton in Chicago, waving to the crowd with wife Hillary after winning the Illinois primary. TIM CLARY/AFP/Getty Images

After keeping them under lock and key for 13 years, the National Archives and the Clinton Presidential Library on Friday released about 4,000 to 5,000 pages of documents from former President Bill Clinton's administration.

The newly-released documents give the public fresh insight into the Clinton administration and into the history of Hillary Clinton -- the former first lady, former secretary of state and potential 2016 presidential candidate. Some of the documents, for instance, shed light on the administration's thoughts on health care reform, as well as its strategy for selling Hillary Clinton's plan -- a strategy that President Obama's team years later would deliberately avoid. And like the Obama administration, the Clinton administration considered how best to broach the issues of race and justice in America after a controversial criminal trial, the documents show.

The documents also include interesting insight into the White House's media strategy, including quaint ideas about the Internet. One memo gives Hillary Clinton advice ahead of a trip clearly geared toward her 2000 Senate campaign, telling the former first lady, "Don't be defensive," and "look for opportunities for humor."

None of the documents were related to the Whitewater or Monica Lewinsky scandals. Others were related to issues of little relative importance now, such as labor issues on the Northern Mariana Islands.

The documents released Friday are the first in a collection of about up to around 33,000 documents that the National Archives will release over the next month, now that they are legally permitted to. Certain presidential records can be withheld from the public for 12 years after the end of the administration. The Clinton records now being released include communication between the president and his advisers, communications from the first lady's office, and they will likely include communication surrounding Mr. Clinton's federal appointees.

Parallels to the Obama administration

The documents illustrate how many of the issues that have plagued the Obama administration during the debate over health care reform were just as problematic during the Clinton administration. They also show the thinking behind Mr. Clinton's response to the O.J. Simpson murder trial, which draws comparisons to Mr. Obama's response to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

One document released Friday includes remarks from the first lady in a meeting about health care reform with Senate and House Democratic leaders. In that Sept. 9, 1993 meeting, Hillary Clinton explains her opposition to the individual mandate, which was then an idea touted by moderate Republicans.

"That is politically and substantively a much harder sell," Clinton told the congressmen. "Because not only will you be saying that the individual bears the full responsibility; you will be sending shock waves through the currently insured population that if there is no requirement that employers continue to insure, then they, too, may bear the individual responsibility."

Clinton, of course, endorsed the idea of an individual mandate during the 2008 presidential primary, in contrast with then-candidate Barack Obama. Once Mr. Obama was in the White House, he too embraced the individual mandate -- now the most controversial part of the Affordable Care Act.

In a Jan. 22, 1994 memo, White House staffers worried about whether they could "get away with" promising voters that under the proposed reforms, people would be able to pick the health care plan and doctor of their choice.

"This sounds great and I know that it's just what people want to hear," the memo said. "But can we get away with it? Isn't the whole thrust of our health plan to steer people toward cheaper, HMO-style providers? It's one thing to say we'll preserve your option to pick the doctor of your choice (recognizing that this will cost more), it's quite another to appear to promise the nation that everyone will get to pick the doctor of his or her choice... I am very worried about getting skewered or over-promising here on something we know full well we won't deliver."

More than a year later, the Clinton administration was wringing its hands after the O.J. Simpson trial. Clinton speechwriter David Shipley wrote in an Oct. 12, 1995 memo that the president needed to address the issues of domestic violence and racism in the justice system "head on."

"The whole country is waiting for the President to talk about the racial divide. If he does not step up to the plate, it will be seen as an abdication of* leadership. *" he wrote. "If he does step up to the plate, but does nothing more than fall back on the dated elixir of 'opportunity and responsibility,' then the effort will fall flat and we will have missed a terrific opportunity to show leadership."

Shipley contended Mr. Clinton was "one of the few American leaders with the credibility to address both blacks and whites -- more than the G.O.P.; almost as much as [former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin] Powell. In fact, if he demonstrates that he can bring people together now, he could preempt the vision of Powell as the only leader who can erase division and bring us together."

Days later, Mr. Clinton delivered a speech at the University of Texas calling on Americans to "clean our house of racism."

Like the Obama White House, the Clinton White House deliberated over how to address issues like income inequality and gun control. In a handwritten note from April 6, 1998, Clinton speechwriter Jeff Sheshol noted Rahm Emanuel's thoughts on the issue of gun control: "Don't relate to Jonesboro," it said, referencing the March 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. "This is not partisan - that's why Bush rt it in '89," Sheshol wrote in reference to Emanuel's input.

Hillary Clinton's Image

The documents also show how Hillary Clinton's staff helped shape her image as first lady and later as a Senate candidate.

A July 6, 1999 memo from Mandy Grunwald, a political adviser to Hillary Clinton, advised the former first lady to prepare for media scrutiny on a trip ahead of her 2000 Senate race.

"It's important that your tone stay informal and relaxed and therefore not political," Grunwald said. "Don't be defensive. look like you want the questions: the press is obviously watching to see if they can make you uncomfortable or testy. Even on the annoying questions, give relaxed answers."

She advised Clinton to "look for opportunities for humor" because the public often sees her "only in very stern situations."

Grunwald suggests she be prepared for two questions: The first was, "Your only government assignment was health care which was a fiasco. How does that record stack up against Mayor Giuliani's?"

The second question to prepare for, Grunwald said, was, "Have you ever used drugs."

An August 31, 1995 memo to Maggie Williams, the first lady's chief of staff, maps out a media plan for Hillary Clinton's trip to the Beijing Women's Conference -- noting, among other things, the potential of "Internet."

"As Karen has said, Internet has become a very popular mode of communication," the memo says. "Hillary could speak to young women through Internet. I think Hillary would have fun with this... In addition, People magazine is tinkering with the possibility of using Internet. They have been in touch with me about the prospect of having Hillary communicate with parents across the country about children.and families through Internet. They would then run the transcript in the magazine."

Comments