White House sought ex-aide's FBI files Congressman says aim was to 'destroy' former head of travel office

June 06, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Seven months after Billy Dale was abruptly fired as head of the White House travel office and while he was already under investigation by the Justice Department, the Clinton administration requested his confidential background files from the FBI.

Rep. William F. Clinger Jr., a Pennsylvania Republican who is investigating the 1993 firing of the travel office employees, asserted yesterday that the request showed that the White House was "bent on destroying an innocent man" and misused the FBI to do so.

The request to the FBI -- a document that was among 1,000 pages turned over to a congressional committee last week -- was dated Dec. 20, 1993, seven months after Dale was dismissed and was no longer a federal employee. The form states that the material was being requested because Dale was being considered for "access" to the White House.

A White House lawyer, Mark Fabiani, said Dale's FBI file might have been "mistakenly sought" as part of a routine record-keeping effort under way at the time. He said White House clerks were trying to fill in background folders and might not have known that Dale was no longer an employee.

Clinger, chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, suggested that the request, and receipt, of confidential information on a private citizen might have violated privacy statutes and could be a felony.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said yesterday that he would ask his agency's general counsel to look into the matter and supply any findings to Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, who is already investigating the travel office affair.

The December 1993 request form is from Bernard W. Nussbaum, the White House counsel at the time. But Nussbaum, whose name is typed on the form without a signature, said in a statement yesterday that he had "absolutely no knowledge of any request being made by anyone in the White House to the FBI for any report concerning Billy Dale."

Earlier reviews of the travel office affair -- in which Dale and six others were fired in order to make way for Clinton associates from Arkansas -- disclosed that White House aides improperly involved the FBI in an attempt to legitimize the May 1993 firings. The administration later issued a statement saying that future White House contacts with the agency would have to go through Justice officials.

The firings have long been a political embarrassment for the White House, with critics charging cronyism. The White House fired the travel office staff in 1993, saying it found evidence of financial mismanagement and even wrongdoing. Dale was prosecuted for embezzlement, but was acquitted of all charges.

"Smearing Billy Dale with allegations of financial misconduct apparently wasn't enough for a White House bent on destroying an innocent man to try to justify the firings," Clinger said.

Last month, the White House invoked executive privilege to keep several thousand pages of documents from the Clinger committee. After a review by Attorney General Janet Reno, the White House last week released more than 1,000 pages, including the Nussbaum request to the FBI.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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