Top political appointee urged GOP Congress members to request Clinton files

November 17, 1992|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- A top political appointee at the State Department encouraged Republicans in Congress to request information from Gov. Bill Clinton's passport files in an apparent effort to justify opening the files at the height of the presidential campaign, administration officials said yesterday.

The appointee, Steven K. Berry, the acting assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs, recommended that Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon, a New York Republican, and other members of Congress file formal requests for Mr. Clinton's records before the State Department actually began the search, said federal investigators and aides to Mr. Berry.

An aide to Mr. Solomon confirmed yesterday that the congressman had made a request but said he had done so without Mr. Berry's prompting.

Mr. Berry did not return numerous calls seeking his response.

At the time, several conservative Republicans, speaking on the House floor, were raising questions about Mr. Clinton's anti-Vietnam War activities overseas and asking rhetorically if there might be something in Mr. Clinton's passport files that could answer their questions.

Elizabeth M. Tamposi, the assistant secretary of state for consular affairs, was dismissed last week by President Bush over her role in the search.

Ms. Tamposi has said she was told by Mr. Berry that the White House wanted information on Mr. Clinton to see if he had ever tried to renounce his citizenship or become a citizen of another country to avoid military service in Vietnam. In the 1950s and 1960s, the passport office collected large amounts of information about the political activities of U.S. citizens.

The findings of State Department investigators, with the statements by Ms. Tamposi, raise new questions about the department's motives for hunting through the Democratic candidate's passport files.

Mr. Bush's press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, and the State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, refused yesterday to discuss Ms. Tamposi's contention that the White House had asked her to search the files.

When asked if Mr. Bush was trying to determine who had ordered the search, Mr. Fitzwater said: "We'll wait for the outcome of the inspector general's investigation. He's looking into it, and we have full confidence in his ability to look into this matter."

The State Department's inspector general, Sherman M. Funk, plans to report his findings tomorrow.

The search of State Department files was conducted Sept. 30 and Oct. 1. The reasons for the search have never been completely clear.

The State Department has said it began the search as a routine response to requests filed by news organizations under the Freedom of Information Act. Two of the requests were filed Sept. 14 and 25. The State Department has acknowledged that it violated its own regulations by expediting those requests and taking them ahead of hundreds of others filed earlier.

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