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Mrs. Clinton Linked to Database Merger

Politics: Confidential memo shows she endorsed plan to use White House resources to update DNC information.

March 04, 1997|GLENN F. BUNTING and DAVID WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A confidential memorandum released Monday indicates that First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced an ambitious White House plan to help reelect her husband by merging White House and Democratic National Committee computer databases for "political purposes."

The 1994 memo, written by an administration official who was assigned to develop a massive computer system, recommends deploying White House personnel to work with political operatives to utilize high-powered technology for the 1996 presidential campaign.

"I suggest that instead of continuing with an old outdated system that does not meet our current demands, let my team work with the DNC to help them design a system that will meet our needs and technical specifications," aide Marsha Scott wrote on White House stationery.

Mrs. Clinton, in a notation scrawled on top of the letter, responded: "This sounds promising. Please advise. HRC."

The memo appears to confirm earlier accounts that the first lady personally directed Scott to oversee building a computer system with federal funds that was used to keep tabs on as many as 350,000 people and help the Democrats solicit large donations for last year's presidential campaign. Federal law prohibits use of government property for political purposes.

To date, the critical role played by Mrs. Clinton in helping to raise money and generate support for her husband's reelection has been largely overlooked. She served as hostess of four White House coffee receptions that were organized for supporters by the Democratic National Committee and appeared frequently as the star attraction at party fund-raisers, records show.

Administration officials maintained that Mrs. Clinton acted entirely appropriately in raising money for the White House.

"The first lady was hard-working for her husband's reelection in all respects," said White House spokesman Lanny Davis. "She certainly made as many appearances as she could in support of the president's efforts, including at fund-raising receptions."

But a Republican congressman leading a House investigation into the alleged misuse of the White House database said Monday that the memo, combined with previously released documents, raised serious questions about Mrs. Clinton's activities.

"It's now clear that Mrs. Clinton not only signed off on using taxpayer funds to create [the White House computer], but that she also raised no objection when Marsha Scott suggested illegally transferring database information to the DNC," said Rep. David M. McIntosh of Indiana, chairman of a House oversight subcommittee. "It troubles me deeply that Mrs. Clinton, who is a very bright lawyer, saw no problem with using taxpayer funds to aid the political operations of the DNC."

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Administration lawyers have issued repeated opinions advising that federal law prohibits the use of the White House database--dubbed "WhoDB"--for political or partisan benefit. But The Times reported in January that the White House staff frequently retrieved information on large political donors from the database and turned it over to the Democratic National Committee to help raise money for the president's reelection.

In three memos in 1994--all marked "confidential"--Scott told Mrs. Clinton that she was working to create a single database. On Jan. 26, 1994, Scott told Mrs. Clinton and White House lawyer Bruce Lindsey: "The President and the First Lady want this done."

But Mrs. Clinton and Scott have sought alternately to play down or deny the efforts to create a single White House database. Speaking briefly with reporters at a White House event on Jan. 30, Mrs. Clinton said:

"I'm not aware of any specific uses [of a database] and I would doubt if I was the person who ordered it. . . . I certainly thought the White House needed a computer database. But the design of it, the use of it, that was for other people to figure out. I didn't know anything about that."

Scott, who now holds the position of chief of staff in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, declined comment Monday. Scott has been the subject of controversy this year--in part because of her lead role in helping to establish a computer database at the White House.

Some congressional Republicans, including House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon of New York, have accused Scott of providing misleading answers last year, when she first was asked whether a database existed.

In a sworn deposition on June 19, 1996, Scott told lawyers for the House Governmental Reform and Oversight Committee that no computer database had existed at the White House. Asked, "Were you aware of any databases that were being maintained at the White House?" Scott answered:

"Well, there was no database at the White House at all. . . . All of us that worked there were very cognizant of the fact that we were not in any way allowed to, encouraged to, and--to my knowledge--no one ever did anything to create any kind of campaign context or database."

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