Pew study exposes internal “no notes” Clinton legal policy: Obama’s Sestak defense?
“We did not take notes. We were subject to subpoena. People
were very careful not to put things down in writing.”
— Charles Ruff, White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton, 1998-1999
“We just never put anything in writing. At least I
did[n’t]. All the habits I learned as a good litigator where I
took detailed notes about what was going on I threw out the
— Abner Mikva, White House Counsel to President Bill Clinton, 1994-1995
They didn’t take notes. To avoid subpoenas.
So say two Clinton White House Counsels in a long forgotten but newly explosive ten-year old academic study uncovered over the weekend. A study that may come back to haunt ex-Clinton aide Rahm Emanuel, now the Obama White House Chief of Staff at the center of accusations involving Congressman Joe Sestak and Emanuel’s former boss — ex-President Bill Clinton.
For the lawyers who ran the Office of the White House Counsel under President Clinton, the same White House where now Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was a senior political and policy aide, the rule was as simple as that. No notes, don’t write things down. Keep very few records. Why? The reasoning was short and sweet: No notes, no written record — nothing to subpoena.
Coming in the wake of a call on Sunday by California Congressman Darrell Issa for a criminal investigation into the Sestak Jobsgate scandal and the role of the Obama White House, the revelation is certain to launch a new round of demands for an independent investigation into Emanuel and the activities of the White House Counsel’s office itself. The office is run by former Obama personal attorney Robert Bauer, the husband of ex-Obama White House Communications Director Anita Dunn. Bauer succeeded Obama’s first White House Counsel, Greg Craig. Craig was a Special White House counsel to Clinton and represented Clinton during his impeachment trial — exactly the time the Clinton White House “no notes” policy was in effect, as recounted later by then-Clinton White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. Ruff died of a heart attack weeks after the Pew study was released.
At issue today: the record keeping of the Obama White House and whether potentially incriminating actions such as those involved in the Sestak Affair are simply — and deliberately — not noted by White House lawyers for fear of subpoenas. Subpoenas that could potentially reveal a deliberate cover-up of illegalities in the Sestak affair. Illegalities involving both Emanuel and his former boss, Bill Clinton.
The startling information, uncovered over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, was discovered in an obscure ten-year-old academic study of the Office of the White House Counsel. The revelations were buried deep inside the study, which was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and released on November 1, 2000, while Bill Clinton still served in the White House. The release and academic nature of the study conducted by three professors, coming as it did in the heated days at the close of the controversial Bush-Gore campaign, precluded it from getting any serious attention at the time. The Pew study had interviewed nine former White House Counsels representing every presidency from that of Gerald Ford to Clinton. Research into the views of others was provided as well.
Serving in the Clinton White House at the time this “no notes” strategy was in effect was Emanuel, now at the center of the swirling allegations of the job-for-a-political favor scandal that is Jobsgate. Emanuel, who ran the Clinton White House Political Affairs Office and later served as a senior advisor on policy and strategy, would presumably have been well aware of this particular policy demanded by the Clinton White House Counsel’s Office.
Now the discovery of the study, combined with Issa’s new call for a criminal investigation that would involve the FBI, raises a startling new series of questions around the role of the embattled Obama White House Chief of Staff. So too will it direct attention to the activities of both current and former Obama White House Counsels Bauer and Craig.
• Has Emanuel, fearing subpoenas to the Obama White House staff as did Ruff and Mikva in the Clinton era, re-instituted this “no notes” policy at the Obama White House in his role as White House Chief of Staff?
• Has a “no notes” policy been discussed with Obama White House Counsel Robert Bauer?
• Has Bauer re-instituted the Clinton White House “no notes” policy?
• Was a “no notes” policy discussed or instituted by Bauer’s predecessor as Obama’s White House Counsel, Greg Craig? Craig, it should be remembered again, was also serving as a Clinton White House Special Counsel during the period this “no notes” policy was in effect.
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