Abuse of a compliant FBI Clinton 'snafu': White House obtains private files of Republican officials.

TO PRESIDENT CLINTON, it was just "an innocent bureaucratic snafu." To FBI director Louis J. Freeh, it was a lot more than that -- an "egregious invasion of privacy." To any American concerned about abuse of power at the White House or the FBI's toadying to the Clinton entourage or shameful governmental carelessness about the most basic of citizens' rights, the latest scandal to befall this administration should ring alarm bells.

We refer to the transfer of 408 individual files -- a pile of boxes large enough to fill a small room -- from the Federal Bureau Investigation to the Office of Personnel Security at the White House in December 1993. These were "unquestionably unjustified acquisitions," in Mr. Freeh's words, "without justification and served no official purpose."


The FBI director is contrite. He confesses a lack of vigilance that led his agency to comply with the administration's illegal request. He orders new procedures so "this will never happen again" on his watch. Meanwhile, White House spokesmen profess that never -- never -- was any improper use made of their improperly held property. They put Craig Livingstone, head of the personal security office, on leave.

Well, that's not enough. House and Senate investigations should help. Information turned over to independent counsel Kenneth Starr, probing both Whitewater and the Travel Office debacle, should be instructive. But an independent look at the FBI itself is in order, especially in light of charges by a former special agent that higher-ups ignored his warnings about White House tactics.


"Never before," wrote former FBI agent Gary W. Aldrich in the Wall Street Journal, "has any administration used background investigations of another president's political staff. [Italics his.] Among those whose private files fell into White House hands were such Republican luminaries as James A. Baker 3rd, Kenneth W. Duberstein and Marlin Fitzwater.

It is a chilling thought. While there is no evidence the White House went trolling for these big fish, it had its lines out for luckless Billy R. Dale, the holdover chief of the Travel Office who was fired by patronage-hungry Clinton insiders.

These latest revelations coincide with the opening of the trial in Little Rock of two Arkansas bankers charged with illegally channeling money to the 1990 Clinton gubernatorial campaign. It is any wonder that some polls indicate the president's double-digit lead over challenger Bob Dole has dwindled to a single digit?

Pub Date: 06/19/96