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FBI Files Fiasco

After congressional Republicans discovered that the Clinton personnel security office improperly collected some 700 background FBI files of Republicans -- including former Secretary of State James A. Baker, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft and former spokesman Marlin Fitzwater -- many in Washington thought the Clinton White House faced its most serious ethical crisis yet.

High Season For Washington Political Theater: House and Senate Republicans promptly scheduled hearings on Capitol Hill, with suspicions fueled by revelations that security office head Craig Livingstone was not a security professional, but a political operative, a one-time advance guy, a former bouncer who had spent a large part of his 37 years working on political campaigns.

What was Livingstone's background, committee members wanted to know? Who hired him? Why would the White House entrust such a sensitive position to someone with Livingstone's experience? Were the FBI files collected to compile information on political opponents, a veritable enemies list? Or was it an "honest bureaucratic snafu," as President Bill Clinton explained, a position most congressional Democrats echoed?

These and other questions are fueling the FBI Files Flap, the latest, and possibly greatest, ethical threat to the administration. It grew out of a House Government Reform and Oversight Committee investigation into Travelgate, the 1993 firing of travel office chief Billy Dale and his six longtime colleagues. Only after two threatened contempt of Congress votes did the White House surrender the documents that led to the current contretemps on Capitol Hill.

Where will it all lead? Stay tuned.

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