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Errors acknowledged in travel office affair 4 in White House are reprimanded


WASHINGTON -- The White House issued a strikingly self-critical report yesterday that faulted the behavior of one of its authors and rebuked four other officials for the dismissals of the White House travel staff last May.

The four were reprimanded for improperly dismissing the staff members, for appearing to pressure the FBI and for permitting a friend of President Clinton's to become involved in a matter in which he had a financial stake.

The 80-page report on the travel office affair, which paralyzed Mr. Clinton's staff for a week in May, also disclosed that Hillary Rodham Clinton had taken a personal interest in accusations of mismanagement at the office, which handles the itineraries of White House officials and the White House press corps.

The report said Mrs. Clinton strongly supported the original investigation into management of the travel office and was informed by memorandum, two days before the president was informed, that the seven members of the travel staff were going to be dismissed on May 19.

The report was published six weeks after the White House publicly humiliated the seven travel aides by announcing their summary dismissals, claiming it had evidence of gross mismanagement and hinting that some of the staff might have been involved in criminal activity.

Over the course of several embarrassing days, the White House was forced to retreat, rehire five of the seven and investigate its own actions.

The report made no significant mention of Mr. Clinton, although he had earlier accepted ultimate responsibility for the affair.

The White House Chief of Staff, Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III, who wrote the document with Leon E. Panetta, the budget director, assumed overall management responsibility for the dismissals, which he said he did without first notifying the president.

It was not clear what input, if any, the president or Mrs. Clinton had in subsequent decisions. The report suggests that they had none.

It concludes that Mr. McLarty and the White House Counsel's Office had "the opportunity to contain the momentum" of the travel office affair as it ballooned "but did not take adequate advantage of this opportunity."

The release of the report in the White House press room made for an extraordinary session of reprimand, self-criticism and confession by officials of the Clinton White House.

Appearing subdued, Mr. Panetta and Mr. McLarty were blunt in admitting mistakes. But they stopped short of admitting that any staff members had lied or that more than just "appearances" of impropriety, cronyism and pressure tactics had been involved -- even though the report itself suggests evidence of both.

"There were no criminal violations involved here," Mr. Panetta said. "Mistakes were made -- mistakes of judgment, mistakes of inexperience that included inappropriate actions with respect to the FBI, allowing the appearance that personal interest and favoritism could play a role in management decisions, and unfair treatment of White House employees."

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas criticized that discipline as too mild, saying, "Somebody ought to be more than just reprimanded."

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