House committee grills ex-aide over FBI files Personnel security chief for Clinton White House resigns before hearing

June 27, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Craig Livingstone quit his White House job without ceremony yesterday and soon sat seething with anger before a congressional hearing as Democrat and Republican alike lambasted him for ineptness in the handling of hundreds of FBI files at the heart of the capital's latest political controversy.

Livingstone should have resigned as head of the White House personnel security office "a long time ago," said one of the Clinton administration's defenders, Rep. Tom Lantos, who dripped sarcasm in accusing him of overseeing "stupid actions" and an "idiotic" mess.

"With an infinitely more distinguished public record than yours, Admiral Boorda committed suicide when he may have committed a minor mistake," the California Democrat said in his tongue-lashing, offering a stark reference to Jeremy M. Boorda, the chief of naval operations, who killed himself over an imminent news report that he had worn medals to which he was not entitled.

That analogy drew a cry of objection from one member of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, but Republicans were more blistering in their own way, and far more suspicious.

Rep. William F. Clinger Jr. of Pennsylvania, chairman of the hearing, accused Livingstone of being part of a partisan White House that indulges a penchant for "amateur detectives rooting around for dirt."

Looking forlorn, the husky, boyish-faced Livingstone sat at the heart of a hot election-year controversy, answerable not only to Congress but also to the independent counsel's office that is looking into Whitewater and related affairs.

His security office operation has sparked mounting outrage from Republicans with the disclosure that FBI files on as many as 800 people, including hundreds of officials of past Republican administrations, were obtained by the White House and kept in the care of political appointees charged with administering clearances for White House access.

"Neither I nor, to my knowledge, anyone else in the White House participated in any kind of smear campaign or an effort to compile an enemies list as some have alleged," said Livingstone, who admitted having been remiss, but not conniving.

He was placed on paid leave earlier this month. Well before yesterday's hearing, White House officials had made clear that he would not be permitted to return.

The hearing, one of the most partisanly charged of the summer, saw Livingstone concede only innocent mistakes.

Lawmakers grilled and lectured him on the sacredness of the FBI files, filled with sensitive personal information, and of the personal reputations of this city's many public officials.

While Democrats at the hearing accused Republicans of an anti-Clinton political "witch hunt," they skewered Livingstone for mismanagement.

Clearly resenting the scapegoat role, the witness turned livid but had to sit silently drumming his fingers when Rep. Dan Burton criticized his reputation.

The Indiana Republican cited accusations of "peccadilloes" listed on government documents, including Livingstone's allegedly "using various kinds of drugs."

Livingstone, the man once in charge of vetting others' reputations, weathered a severe range of denunciations during the hearing.

Looking bereft one moment and furious the next, he was left alone in defense of his own reputation as he moved beyond the White House pale.

"I did not attend the best schools or have the best resume in town," he declared, refusing to apologize for his administration roots as a political appointee who came from the Clinton election campaign.

"I have been described as a 'political operative,' a 'beefy former bar bouncer" and a 'henchman' who has supposedly engaged in all sorts of misconduct, dating back almost 20 years. These are false and unfair caricatures."

Also testifying was Anthony Marceca, a civilian investigator for the Army with a background in campaign politics, who had been detailed to the White House security office at Livingstone's request.

He, too, denied any improper intent in requisitioning files from the FBI, saying the names of those whose files were sought had come from a Secret Service computer printout that he had found in the security vault.

The hearing grew out of a running controversy over the Clinton White House's removal of Billy Dale as the holdover chief of press travel arrangements, a post that Republicans accuse the Clintons of coveting for their own political patronage.

Pub Date: 6/27/96

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