Memo places Hilary Clinton at centre of White House travel office sackings


A NEWLY released internal memo has placed Ms Hillary Rodham Clinton at the centre of the much criticised sackings in 1993 of the long serving White House Travel Office staff, and cast doubt on an official account that portrayed the First Lady as only casually interested in the affair.

In an escalation of a Republican campaign against Ms Clinton, the Senate panel investigating Whitewater may also recommend perjury charges against two of the First Lady's closest associates, according to unconfirmed news reports.

The two, Ms Clinton's chief of staff, Ms Margaret, Williams, and a close personal friend and lawyer, Ms Susan Thomases, testified recently about telephone calls they made to Ms Clinton after the July 1993 suicide of the deputy White House counsel, Mr Vincent Foster.

The most damaging allegations about the travel office firings were made in a draft memo written in 1994 by former top White House administrative aide, Mr David Watkins, and released by the White House earlier this week.

Mr Watkins, since dismissed for using a White House helicopter to travel to a golf course, wrote the memo to another senior aide in 1993.

"The First Lady took interest in having the travel office situation resolved quickly," he said. ..... once this made it on to the First Lady's agenda, Vince Foster became involved and he and Harry Thomason regularly informed me of her attention to the travel office situation as well as her insistence that the situation be resolved immediately by replacing the travel office staff."

He added, "We both know that there would be hell to pay (if) we failed to take swift and decisive action in conformity with the First Lady's wishes."

The seven travel office employees were sacked after Mr Thomason, a California friend with travel business interests, told the First Lady he believed the office was improperly funnelling business to a favoured charter company. Charges of embezzlement against travel office director, Mr Billy Dale, were subsequently dismissed.

A White House report in July 1993 said that Ms Clinton was informed of problems at the travel office and that she asked concerned questions but did little, more. An Arkansas travel agency was brought in to replace the sacked employees but was dropped quickly as criticism of the White House action mounted.

The memo has unleashed a new round of Republican attacks on Ms Clinton. The conservative Washington Times newspaper headed its front page story yesterday "New Travelgate papers show Hillary lied."

It quoted another memo by a White House assistant, Mr Todd Stern, saying that if staff gave answers to the media that "aren't fully honest (e.g. no re HRC) ... you run risk of turning this into a cover up".

CNN on Thursday claimed the Whitewater committee's counsel had made a preliminary determination that Ms Williams and Ms Thomases engaged in a deliberate pattern of deception in testimony before the panel last year and a deliberate failure to recall key events.

The matter may be referred to independent counsel, Mr Kenneth Starr, who is investigating Whitewater and related matters.

Republican Senator Alfonse D'Amato, chairman of the Whitewater Committee, said he was "concerned and outraged" by their testimony.

A White House spokesman, Mr Mark Fabiani, said "Senator D'Amato couldn't wait even a few days into this presidential election year to begin levelling his nakedly partisan and political charges."

. The House of Representatives approved an emergency spending Bill yesterday to partially end the three week shutdown which has, paralysed critical government agencies. The lower chamber voted 401-17 to approve the Bill which is expected to be approved quickly by the Senate and signed by President Clinton.

The measure will put 280,000 government workers back at work until January 26th and provide salaries to another 480,000 employees who have been working without wages since the shutdown was triggered when an emergency spending Bill ran out on December 15th.