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Clinton library releases Kagan e-mails

The Supreme Court nominee was more of an administrator than provocateur during her time in the Clinton White House, according to the messages.

June 19, 2010|By James Oliphant, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Clinton presidential library on Friday released more than 75,000 e-mail messages that were sent by and to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, but they offered little new insight into her personality.

The messages showed Kagan — currently the Obama administration's top lawyer to the high court and a former dean of Harvard Law School — to be more administrator than provocateur.

Part of that was because of Kagan's role in the Clinton administration. As deputy director of President Clinton's domestic policy shop, she sat atop a pyramid of staffers who largely forwarded their proposals to her. Her job was to synthesize opinions to present to Clinton, not to sound off.

There were, however, some flashes of personality. In one March 1998 e-mail, she discussed a phone call with a lawyer from the tobacco industry, saying, "While we were on the phone, I let my rough edges show, and took their heads [off] about that letter."

Kagan is known for sometimes expressing her opinions forcefully, or even losing her temper. She seemed to acknowledge as much in an e-mail to then- White House staffer Barry Toiv, in which she said, "Sorry, didn't mean to be harsh — this probably could have been avoided if I had focused earlier."

In 1999, Kagan called herself the "biggest fan … in this building" of proposed legislation to safeguard religious freedom against government intrusion. But she warned against having Vice President Al Gore endorse it for fear of a "gay/lesbian firestorm."

Showing her pragmatic side, she also warned that if that bill was modified to benefit gays and lesbians, "you'll have a religious groups firestorm on your hands."

Proponents of the bill said it would protect religious rights, including those of fundamentalist Christians. Critics, including gays and lesbians, said it would legalize discrimination against homosexuals.

In another memo from July 1998, Kagan said she was "feeling somewhat baffled" about a proposed executive order regarding children.

"An executive order about children saying what??…I have to say I'd oppose an executive order…. We shouldn't trivialize our work in this area by issuing an executive order telling everybody to [do] everything they can for every child."

The release of the messages Friday was the last of more than 150,000 documents concerning Kagan that are housed in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum in Little Rock, Ark.

But not all of Kagan's e-mails were produced. An exception in the Presidential Records Act allows material that would amount to an "invasion of personal privacy" to be withheld.

Thousands of other records were previously kept from the public because they constituted confidential advice to Clinton.

Kagan's confirmation hearing begins June 28.

David G. Savage and Jennifer Martinez in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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