More than 75,000 pages of Clinton White House e-mails sent by or to Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan in the 1990s were posted on the Clinton Library Web site shortly after 4:30 this afternoon, setting off a needle-in-a-haystack scramble for interesting nuggets, along with partisan quibbling over the timing and quantity of the release.
"With the hearing rapidly approaching, the Committee has just now received, late this Friday afternoon, another delivery of documents from Ms. Kagan’s time as a senior aide to President Clinton," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in a statement. "There is a significant amount of material to review in a short period of time. I remain concerned by the both the pace and the timing of document production." Sessions is ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will open hearings on Kagan's nomination on June 28, 10 days from now.
Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) countered with a statement that the release of documents has been quicker than in past nominations, and is in plenty of time for committee members and staff to review. "The Committee and the public ... now have unprecedented access to Elena Kagan’s electronic mail files from her time as a White House attorney," said Leahy. "The evaluation of her record and qualifications has been the most open and transparent in history. There is no chapter from her professional life for which we do not have significant records to review."
The e-mails, like those that could be found in most any office worker's files, chronicle daily work life, with people trying to catch up on missed meetings, setting up times to meet, and even the mundane "I have to go pick up my car from the shop" note Kagan wrote to a colleague in June 1999. The e-mails are from her time in the White House counsel's office and the Domestic Policy Council. With a small but significant number of e-mails, a marker was placed in the file released by the library, noting a "personal misfile" -- presumably a personal e-mail that was inadvertently included but is not being released.
E-mails from 1996 showed Kagan working on such issues as campaign finance, welfare reform, voting rights and abortion. In one October, 1996 email, she responded to an inquiry about the constitutionality of a ban on campaign contributions by non-citizens.
"It is unfortunately true that almost any meaningful campaign finance reform proposal raises constitutional issues," Kagan replied. "This is a result of the Supreme Court's view -- which I believe to be mistaken in many cases -- that money is speech and that attempts to limit the influence of money on our political system therefore raise First Amendment problems. I think that even on this view, the Court could and should approve this measure because of the compelling governmental interest in preventing corruption. But I also think the Court should reexamine its premise that the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment entails a right to throw money at the political system."
In an Aug. 21, 1996, e-mail exchange, Kagan presented "talking points" on President Clinton’s veto of H.R. 1833, a partial birth abortion bill that did not include an exception for the mother’s health.
"This bill went too far because it would have banned use of the procedure even when it was the only or best hope of averting a serious threat to a woman's health, including her ability to have children in the future," the "talking points" stated. "Surely it is not beyond the ingenuity of Congress, working with the Administration, to write legislation making clear that serious harm to health means just that -- that it doesn't include fraudulent or minor health complaints, nor does it include, as some have suggested, youth, low income, or inconvenience. Moreover, such a limited exception would not make the bill more vulnerable to constitutional challenge, as some have claimed; indeed, the exact opposite is the case.”
In another e-mail exchange covering the “food stamp/illegal immigrant problem” in welfare reform, she suggested signing statement language for President Clinton that would say: "Neither should they be deprived of food stamp assistance when they have applied for citizenship and are only awaiting governmental approval of their applications." Then, at the end of that paragraph, she added, "In addition, I will take all possible executive action to ensure that applicants for citizenship do not lose benefits pending action on their naturalization applications."
In a September 1996 e-mail, Kagan described her experience sitting on a Washington jury. “I’ve spent the last three days thinking about whether two DC police officers wrongfully impounded the plaintiff’s hot dog cart,” Kagan wrote to White House colleague Carol Rasco, apparently describing a civil lawsuit brought by a food vendor.
The jury was initially “deadlocked,” Kagan wrote, “but after an instruction from the judge and an hour off for lunch, we decided the case in short order. Judgment for the plaintiff, but low damages.”
In a separate e-mail a day earlier, Kagan made clear that the jury service did not prevent her from attempting to do her administration work. She wrote an e-mail apologizing to colleagues for mishandling invitations to a 5 p.m. meeting. “I’ve been trying to do things while sitting in a jury room. Thanks for your indulgence,” she wrote.
Kagan flashed some anger in a September 1996 e-mail in which she wrote that someone had mishandled a meeting between White House officials and a senator.
“You know, a meeting like this shouldn’t happen in the first place,” she wrote to colleague Jeremy Ben-Ami. “It is absurd that the women’s office alone is representing the WH at a session with a Senator to discuss implementation of the welfare bill.”
-- Contributing: Marcia Coyle, David Ingram, and Tony Mauro