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Clinton secrecy III: More documents hidden through election

November 12, 2007 |  2:18 am

An intriguing trove of documents that could open a revealing window into Hillary Clinton and her claims of vast White House experience qualifying her for the presidency is stored at the University of Arkansas library system in Fayetteville.

The papers were amassed by Diane Blair, one of the New York senator's closest friends and confidants. Just imagine what a person with such access and status would know about the would-be president, her work, her thinking, her schedule, her personality, her troubled relationship with her husband -- who could be assistant president in the next administration.

But don't expect to get a look at this treasure trove of documents before the 2008 presidential election. That's no accident. And we can all guess why. Precisely because the papers would be so revealing.

Blair had planned to write a book about Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. She had intimate access throughout. She conducted extensive interviews. She never wrote the book before her death in 2000. But the fruits of her research are now in the libraries' possession where staff say they must process the paperwork before it can be made public.

But you'll never guess what. Progress in cataloguing the material is very....

slow. How slow? Well, The Times Peter Nicholas recently asked Tom W. Dillard, head of the libraries' special collections department, what percentage of the papers had been processed so far since they were received in 2004.

"Zero," he said.

While substantial sorting has been done, he said it may take, oh, two years before the papers can be publicly released. That would be, let's see, 2009, which happens to fall after the 2008 election.

One part-time person is now assigned to the task. That person calls people interviewed by Blair and asks permission for their oral histories to be released.

"That's our biggest hang-up right now,'' Dillard added.

He said the Blair files might contain a million pages of material. He denied any pressure from the Clinton campaign or anyone else to slow-walk release of the papers.

"I'm sure people think we're piddling along trying to wait out the election," Dillard told Nicholas, "but that's not the case at all. We're working to get it done as soon as we can. It's just a big collection.''

Coincidentally,slow staff work is the same reason given for being unable to release Clinton's documents as first lady, which are stored at the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock. However, Clinton is so sure of the value of her experience that she often cites it as a major qualification for her candidacy, though no one can see them.

The subject even came up near the end of the recent Democratic debate. Tim Russert asked her point blank if she would order the documents released, and she replied it's not her decision to make. Then, who's is it? The next day Clinton's opponents seized on her persistent secrecy. Now, Nicholas has updated Times readers on the document lockdown in Sunday's print editions and here on this website.

Further delaying matters on the Blair collection is that the university system has only four full-time archivists, Dillard said, who must also honor commitments to process submissions from others, who are not running for president.

There's a little catch though. The library system's annual report from two years ago discussed the Blair papers. One passage suggested the material might be ready for viewing. According to the report, "Archivists were hired to process both the Diane Blair Papers and the records of former third district Congressman Asa Hutchinson, and both collections are nearing completion."

That was the 2005-2006 report. This is 2007. Still not ready. Maybe by 2009.

--Andrew Malcolm

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