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McLarty Says He Felt 'Pressure' From First Lady on Travel Office

August 06, 1996| From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Former White House Chief of Staff Thomas "Mack" McLarty said in a deposition released Monday that he felt pressured to take action on the White House travel office but First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton did not tell him to fire its staff.

And Hollywood producer Harry Thomason, who has emerged as a central figure in the firings, told the same House investigators the first lady had said to him the workers "ought to be gotten out."

Their statements to House Government Reform Committee lawyers were released by Rep. William F. Clinger Jr. (R-Pa.), chairman of the committee.

"I believe the first lady had a serious concern about this matter, and I felt a pressure from her to take it seriously and to act upon it, if necessary," McLarty said.

But when asked if Mrs. Clinton told him to fire the travel staff, he replied: "I don't recall her saying anything of that nature to me, and I just simply don't believe she did."

Mrs. Clinton has denied she pressed for the firings, which turned into an embarrassment for the White House. But she has said she was concerned about allegations of mismanagement in the travel office.

All seven travel office employees were fired May 19, 1993, and its chief, Billy R. Dale, was later charged with embezzlement. But Dale was acquitted, and the White House cleared the other six and offered them new jobs.

McLarty said Mrs. Clinton told him during a brief exchange before a dinner May 16, 1993, words to the effect of: "I think we will need to move forward with a decision. . . . This is a serious matter."

The committee lawyers pressed him over what decision Mrs. Clinton was talking about. McLarty said he believed it was in reference to a telephone conversation she had with former White House management chief David Watkins.

Watkins has told the committee that Mrs. Clinton told him "we need those people out, we need our people in." But he said that was not an order to fire the travel staff. He said she was referring to President Clinton's policy of cutting the White House staff 25% while replacing staff members with his own appointees.

Thomason and McLarty both said their first conversations with Mrs. Clinton over the travel office were brief and their second talks were more detailed.

"I think that when the first lady, the second conversation where it was more detailed, she said they ought to be gotten out, but what would we do about trips?" Thomason was quoted as saying.

Clinger accused the White House on Monday of protecting Mrs. Clinton by withholding documents, refusing to answer questions and providing witnesses with "hazy memories."

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