President Bill Clinton in 1994
President Bill Clinton in 1994 (Photo: Patrice Gilbert)

A group of previously secret documents from the Clinton White House—released today by The National Archives—contain the names of some Washington lawyers and some interesting legal tidbits.

Here are some of the high points from the correspondence between Bill and Hillary Clinton and their aides:

1) Jamie Gorelick Wants Something Difficult

In a Jan. 23, 1995 “legislative update” memo from national security official William Danvers, the administration mentions then-Deputy Attorney General Gorelick in a strategy discussion about legislation on Capitol Hill.

“DOJ— Jamie Gorelick—wants to have consultations with the Hill Judiciary Committees on Wed and Thursday on the proposed anti-terrorism bill before it is introduced,” the email reads. “This will be difficult to do if we intend to move the bill in the next week—I understand it is a fairly complicated piece of legislation. We need to come to some closure on this tomorrow in order to be able to advise DoJ as to how to proceed. One other point, it will not only be DoJ that will have to consult its committees but State, Intel, treasury and DoD as well. This makes meaningful consultations difficult. I believe Steve Simon concurs.”

2) Stuart Eizenstat Tries—and Fails—to Head Off a Trade War

The papers detailed an attempt by then-Treasury Deputy Secretary Stuart Eizenstat, now a partner at Covington & Burling, to head off what became a trade war with the European Union over tax breaks for exporters.

A May 31, 2000, briefing paper describes Eizenstat’s proposal for complying with a decision by the World Trade Organization, which held that the U.S. Foreign Sales Corp. regime was an illegal subsidy benefitting domestic companies such as Boeing.

Eizenstat pushed for a new elective tax regime that would apply to non-export sales, one that he said had bipartisan support and the backing of the business community.

“If we cannot reach agreement quickly, resolution of the [Foreign Sales Corp.] dispute would likely be delayed until well into a new administration, with potentially serious adverse consequences for U.S.-EU relations and the WTO system,” the briefing paper warned presciently. “Preliminary indications from the EU indicate that the initial response to the U.S. proposal will not be positive … . It is as yet unclear how serious the EU’s objections are and to what extent the EU will deal seriously with us.”

The EU’s objections turned out to be serious indeed. Two years later, the WTO ruled that the United States was not complying with trade rules and allowed Europe to impose $4 billion in retaliatory sanctions against U.S. imports. Congress then tried to fix the law, but the U.S. lost again before the WTO in 2006 before the matter was finally settled.

3) USTR Charlene Barshefsky Wants Credit for Enforcement

The papers also reference another major trade issue of the day—the establishment of permanent normal trade relations with China.

When numerous drafts of a speech by President Clinton on trade with China were circulated in March 2000 within the administration, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefky, now a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, “asked that we mention that the US (actually USTR) is stepped up enforcement efforts for this agreement. We have included language to that effect.”

4) Hillary Clinton Stopped From Being Honorary President of Vital Voices-Bulgaria

An undated memo to Melanne Verveer, Hillary Clinton’s chief of staff, asks the Office of White House Counsel to review whether she could accept the position of honorary president of the National Vital Voices-Bulgaria.

The call was made by Amy Comstock, an associate counsel to the president in the White House Counsel’s Office from 1998 to 2000. Comstock (who now goes by Amy Comstock Rick, now the chief executive officer of the Parkinson’s Action Network in Washington) wrote this note:

“As we discussed, not honorary president, but may serve as ‘honorary chair’ of specific event where it is easier for us to see how they are going to use her name. The problem with honorary president of an organization is that they may use her name for all its business (stationery) which would not be appropriate.”

Jenna Greene and Zoe Tillman contributed to this blog post.