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Behind The Curtain At The Clinton White House


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. The Clinton Library and the National Archives released some 4,000 documents today from the Clinton administration. Among other things, the papers the deal with the Clinton's defeated healthcare reforms and then First Lady Hillary Clinton's image. They're part of a trove of documents and the first of several batches to be made public. NPR's Brian Naylor has been going through them and he joins me now. Brian, welcome.


BLOCK: And why the release now? What's the timing?

NAYLOR: The timing is they had - they remain under seal for 12 years after the Clinton administration. That timeframe ran out a year ago, last January, and since then, the Obama administration has been kind of looking at them to make sure that none of the documents violate any kind of an executive privilege. These were - a lot of these documents had dealt with officials giving the president advice and so there was a review period.

And finally, someone started asking, well, why don't we see these documents now and so they decided to put them out today.

BLOCK: Any surprises as you've gone through them?

NAYLOR: Well, you know, not really. We've had a team of reporters and researchers combing through them today and there were no eureka moments. What they do is fill in some of the background details, especially of healthcare reform, something that the Clinton administration attempted, starting back in 1993 when they first came into office. The initiative was lead by Hillary Clinton.

And through these memos, we see the concerns that they had as they crafted their proposal, which ultimately failed. How to proceed with the plan that gave the White House what it wanted but also gave Congress a sense of ownership, how fast they could proceed, the methods they could get it through Congress. One raises concerns about some talking points that says, quote, "you'll pick the health plan and the doctor of your choice."

The memo says, well, this sounds great and we know it's just what people want to hear, but can we get away with it? We're warning about overpromising - worried about overpromising here. So all of these things now that we look through the prism of the Obama administration's ultimately successful struggles, but still controversy to get healthcare overhaul passed, they look very familiar.

BLOCK: Yeah, passed his prologue. I mentioned, Brian, that some of these papers deal with then First Lady Hillary Clinton's image. What have you found?

NAYLOR: Well, there's little that would actually surprise anyone, but they do - these memos show a concerted effort by her staff to polish Hillary Clinton's image. A long memo from Lisa Caputo, her press secretary in 1995, she writes, quote, "Hillary should own women's media. Hillary likes to do radio interviews and has always been a fan of radio." Caputo suggested some media coverage relating to the Clinton's 20th wedding anniversary, this is in 1995, just a few months before President Clinton started his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

And later memos show the White House and the First Lady's advisors pivoting to her run for the Senate, talking about New Yorkers don't really know much about you beyond healthcare, your work for children and then a lot of tabloid junk.

BLOCK: And Brian, I mentioned this is the first batch, more to come.

NAYLOR: More to come. There are some 25,000 additional pages, some of those are expected to deal with issues like Whitewater and other controversies and we're expected to see those in the coming weeks.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Brian Naylor. Brian, thank you.

NAYLOR: Thanks, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.