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What's Hillary hiding in Bill's library?

October 25, 2007 | 12:32 pm

One of the more striking results of this week's newest L.A. Times/Bloomberg poll is the extent to which Hillary Clinton has overcome the negative fallout from so many episodes of difficulty, disappointment and scandal during her husband's eight years in the White House.

As laid out by The Times' Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook, Clinton has so successfully escaped the shadow of her husband's infidelity and other rancorous chapters, that she has opened a national poll lead of 31 points over her closest challenger, Barack Obama, 48-17, and defeats the top four potential Republican challengers in head-to-head matchups today.

More than 70% of Democrats and about half of all voters say they would welcome an Oval Office advisory role for the once-polarizing former president.

One of the little-known reasons for the successful reshaping of Hillary Clinton's image from the cold, conniving spouse to the convivial candidate who laughs at aggressive questions and talks often about becoming the first female president is actually something Clinton has not done.

Despite previous promises of openness and transparency and even while denouncing the secrecy of the Bush administration, she and her husband have not authorized the release of millions of pages of documents, letters, calendars, appointment logs, e-mails and memos from her years as first lady.

It is the years covered by these documents that Clinton constantly cites as proof that she has the necessary experience required to become president. And it is those documents that could reveal much about her true White House role in many events, controversial and not.

Yet, all these documents remain locked up in the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock overlooking the Arkansas River, as detailed in a lengthy August story by The Times' Peter Nicholas. And officials indicate none of them will be released before November 2008, which happens to be presidential election time. What a coincidence!

According to a recent Newsweek story, "Nearly three years after the Clinton library opened...

-- and more than 21 months after its trove of records became subject to the Freedom of Information Act -- barely one-half of 1% of the 78 million pages of documents and 20 million e-mail messages at the federally funded facility are public."

It is not just nosy journalists who are eager to comb through those e-mails and documents. As part of the checks and balances of primary and general election campaigns, every major political candidate runs a quiet but serious opposition research department that seeks to uncover unhelpful information, contradictions and hypocrisies on other candidates, which they may use themselves or leak to journalists.

Such revelations could puncture embarrassing holes in the new image of invincibility that the well-managed Clinton campaign has sought to create.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not, NBC's First Read political newsletter reported this week that the Diane Blair papers at the University of Arkansas would also not be available to the public until 2009. Blair was not only a researcher on Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign who compiled an unpublished insider's book on the campaign, but she was also wife of the chief counsel at Tyson Foods who helped Hillary Clinton earn nearly $100,000 in commodity futures.

This lack of access to Clinton background material could become a campaign issue among Democrats badly trailing the New York senator and next year by the GOP nominee.

Bill Clinton has sought to blame the Bush White House for the backlog. "Look, I'm pro-disclosure," Newsweek reported he answered testily recently. "I want to open my presidential records more rapidly than the law requires and the current administration has slowed down the opening of my own records."

A White House spokesman says they have not blocked the release of any Clinton administration documents and are not reviewing any.

Newsweek also wrote that it had obtained documents showing that while the former president publicly claims a willingness to release documents, he has given the National Archives private instructions to maintain tight control over certain documents, including everything relating to investigations by Congress, Justice Department officials and independent counsels, and "communications directly between the president and first lady, and their families."

Like any closed door, it makes you wonder.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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