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Senate panel asks Clinton library to turn over documents on Elena Kagan

The Judiciary Committee asks for letters, memos, e-mails and more, before hearings on the Supreme Court nominee begin June 28. A library official says meeting the deadline would be 'very difficult.'

May 20, 2010|By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday set June 28 as the start date for hearings on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, and asked the Clinton presidential library to turn over voluminous documents related to Kagan's time as a top presidential assistant in the 1990s.

But Terri Garner, director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library and Museum, said in an interview Wednesday that it would be "very difficult" for her facility to meet the deadline. She said the records request is overly broad and "too general in scope" and that, under the Presidential Records Act, attorneys for both Clinton and President Obama have the right to read and review each document before it is released to the committee.

"There are just too many things here," she said. "These are legal documents and they are presidential records, and they have to be read by an archivist and vetted for any legal restrictions. And they have to be read line by line."

Kagan, currently U.S. solicitor general, served in the Clinton White House as an associate counsel to the president in 1995 and 1996 and as deputy assistant for domestic policy from 1997 to 1999.

Documents determined by Clinton or Obama lawyers to be privileged because of attorney-client matters would not be released to the committee. Those that are withheld are to be logged by date, author, recipient, title and subject matter and include the reason they are not being released.

Garner said she hoped the Clinton and Obama lawyers would come to the library in Little Rock, Ark., to read and review the records. "That would definitely save some time," she said.

But Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking Republican on the judiciary panel, warned that Republicans may find the attorney review process unacceptable. "Developments may occur during the course of such a review that simply require additional time," he said.

Sessions suggested that a hearing schedule after the July 4 holiday might be better.

Committee chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said the June 28 date would not be postponed.

He noted that when John Paul Stevens announced April 9 that he was retiring, the longtime associate justice said "it would be in the best interests" of the court to have a successor in place "well in advance of the commencement of the court's next term" in October.

"This is a reasonable schedule," Leahy said. "There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this nomination."

Garner said the library has 86 million documents, and only 3% of them have been made public. But under federal law, she said, after a president has been out of office for 12 years, the documents are to be released in a much speedier fashion.

The committee is asking Garner to provide a wide range of materials from Kagan's time in the Clinton administration, when she most notably worked on policy matters dealing with firearms, tobacco and campaign finance and often enjoyed open-door access to the president.

The panel wants records that she produced as a senior member of the Clinton staff, along with those related to other White House operations. Her own staff files and any records that she generated that were sent to other White House offices were also requested.

Further, the committee wants records related to her nomination for a judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., all e-mails that she sent or received, and all documents from other White House staffers that she reviewed.

richard.serrano@latimes.com

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