State Dept. says it violated rules on Clinton files

WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Dropping its contention that an urgent search for consular records on Gov. Bill Clinton was properly handled, the State Department said yesterday that the effort had violated its own regulations.

On Wednesday the department defended the urgency of the search because of the presidential election.


But yesterday it acknowledged that its policies bar special handling of such cases when the reason for haste is an imminent election.

The disclosure that the search was contrary to department policy adds to the impression that the rush for information about the Democratic nominee may have been part of an


administration effort to gather material that could be used against him in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

The State Department has said the search was initiated by requests from news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act for records about Mr. Clinton's overseas travel while he was in England as a Rhodes Scholar in the late 1960s.

The Clinton campaign has charged that the administration used the requests as a pretext for an improper effort to find information that might support unsubstantiated rumors that Mr. Clinton considered renouncing his citizenship to avoid military service during the Vietnam War.

The department's handling of the search appears to have left career diplomats and officials uneasy.

Yesterday's disclosures by the State Department represented an awkward reversal for Richard Boucher, the acting assistant secretary for public affairs, who defended the search on Wednesday.

But even as he reversed course, Mr. Boucher seemed to hold low-level officials responsible for actions that he earlier said were personally directed by Elizabeth Tamposi, the assistant secretary for consular affairs.

Mr. Boucher told reporters yesterday that "low-level people" had erred in classifying the requests for expedited handling, which he said was meant to reflect "the urgency which the requesters in the media had placed on their requests."

He continued, "That particular designation and other notations were clearly a mistake."


Mr. Boucher said Wednesday that Ms. Tamposi, a political appointee of Mr. Bush's former Chief of Staff John H. Sununu, took personal charge of the records search.

An official at the American Embassy in London said Ms. Tamposi had taken the unusual step of ordering another political appointee, Norbert Krieg, the embassy's consul general, to oversee the search personally.

The order, by telephone, was unusual because such matters are normally handled by diplomatic cable. It is unclear whether Ms. Tamposi was aware of the request when it was designated for expedited handling.

Moreover, Ms. Tamposi directed her subordinates to check Mr. Clinton's records at a federal storage complex in the Washington suburb of Suitland, Md., Mr. Boucher said.

Mr. Boucher also told reporters on Wednesday that, "There is no inappropriate behavior at all in this."

The results of the search have not been released, and it is not clear whether they ever would have been. Under the law, Mr. Clinton would have had to sign a waiver to permit that release.


Mr. Boucher offered the agency's explanation of the error at the State Department's daily news briefing for reporters yesterday.

The Freedom of Information requests were made by two news organizations, The Associated Press and Hearst Newspapers, about Mr. Clinton's visa, passport, draft and citizenship records.