Politics

How Bill Clinton’s library is blocking the release of some Kagan memos

Jonathan Strong Contributor

The Clinton Presidential Library is blocking the public release of nearly 2,000 pages of documents from Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s tenure at the White House. How are they doing it?

According to a spokeswoman for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), Susan Cooper, under the Presidential Records Act — the law that requires the president to archive the documents in the first place — documents can be withheld from release for three reasons.

First, they could be classified or otherwise implicate national security. Secondly, they could comprise confidential advice to the president. And thirdly, they could include personal information such as health records or social security numbers that would impinge on someone’s privacy.

For the first two categories, the Clinton library is providing those documents to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who can view the documents but not talk about them.

But for the last category of documents, those that would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” as one letter from the Clinton library puts it, not even the Judiciary Committee gets them.

Approximately 500 pages of documents have been blocked from release under the privacy category, leaving at least some Republicans suspicious about what they might contain. Their reasoning is that the number of documents seems unusually high, and there isn’t a political check on what counts as falling under the category.

Cooper, the NARA spokeswoman, said the archivist makes the first call on implementing the law. But in a “very collaborative process,” Clinton’s representative gets a say, too, “as is his right under the law.”

Notably, Cooper said Clinton’s representative, in reviewing the documents, is far more interested in blocking documents that comprise confidential advice than those that would be privacy violations.

The Presidential Records Act defines these types of documents as “confidential communications requesting or submitting advice, between the president and his advisers or between such advisers.” NARA’s implementing regulations do not define this category any further.