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Ex-White House Aide Calls File Request Innocent

June 11, 1996|PAUL RICHTER and RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A former White House security official said in a sworn statement Monday that he never ordered FBI background files on former Republican White House employees "for any other reason" than to check whether they deserved access to the White House grounds.

As the administration struggled to lay to rest questions about how FBI background files on high-level GOP officials came into its possession, Army investigator Anthony Marceca said he ordered the files under instructions from a longtime, retiring White House employee.

He said he never gave his boss potentially damaging information on any top GOP official.

But the four-page document left unanswered other key questions, as White House officials readily acknowledged, including: Who instructed the retiring employee who trained Marceca on the procedures he followed? How did Marceca come into possession of the lists that brought the White House at least 340 background files, including those of former Secretary of State James A. Baker III; Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.); and former White House lawyer Arthur B. Culvahouse?

Even the number of the lists remained unclear.

"There's no question there are still unanswered issues," said Mark D. Fabiani, chief White House spokesman on the issue. He indicated that the questions likely would remain unanswered for now because the White House has decided not to investigate, since that could interfere with inquiries by the FBI, congressional Republicans and independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

The developments suggest that the White House may still need more days or weeks to build its arguments that the files came into its possession through a bureaucratic snafu. Top White House officials apologized over the weekend after Republicans decried the incident as an abuse of power.

But the unresolved questions seemed likely to complicate White House efforts to prove its case.

Marceca, a White House detailee between August 1993 and March 1994, said that one of his duties was to update security-clearance files for pass-holders, including those of holdover employees from the George Bush administration and others who needed access to the White House grounds.

He followed a procedure in which he opened a new file for each pass-holder whose name was on the Secret Service lists. He would fill the file either by taking the White House security report on the person or--if one was not available--by applying to the FBI archive to obtain an earlier report.

He said he had "no reason to believe" that officials from previous administrations would not be among those needing access. In fact, he said, he had seen several former Bush administration officials on the White House grounds, so seeing the name of a top GOP official on a list "would not have struck me as odd."

Marceca said that he did not routinely turn over file information to his boss, Craig Livingstone, head of the Office of Personnel Security. He only did so, he said, if he found inconsistencies in a pass candidate's paperwork, as he recalled doing in only three cases--a groundskeeper, a phone worker and a GSA employee.

He said it was not his job to decide who was on the Secret Service access lists. "I was not asked to make any judgments--and I did not make any judgment--as to who should or should not be on those lists," he said.

Marceca's successor, a political appointee named Lisa Wetzel, halted the practice of obtaining the files after he left. Wetzel is now a special assistant to the secretary of the Army, sources said.

Marceca, who will soon be answering questions from Congress and Starr, provided the statement at the request of attorneys for Livingstone. White House officials distributed the statement but said they did not urge him to make it.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. William F. Clinger Jr. (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, seized on evidence of multiple Secret Service lists to argue that the White House may have obtained files on more than 341 former employees.

He said that, despite Marceca's statement, it is not certain that others did not see the background files. And he disputed the assertion that the list included names of all employees whose names began with the letters A through G, noting that at least one former travel office employee, Barney Brasseaux, was not on the list.

"We still have many questions about this list," he said.

In San Diego with President Clinton, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry sought to minimize the story as so much election-year politicking. Told that the matter is under investigation by the FBI, independent counsel and Clinger's committee, McCurry told a briefing curtly: "Surprise, surprise. What else?"

Times staff writer John M. Broder contributed to this story.

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