A long-awaited ruling in the case of AAPS v. Clinton was handed down by Judge Royce Lamberth on December 18, 1997. The federal government was ordered to pay AAPS the sum of $285,864.78, as attorney’s fees, costs, and sanctions.
The motion for sanctions and contempt against Ira Magaziner, who directed the Interdepartmental Working Group of the President’s Task Force on Health Care Reform, was filed May 16, 1994, because of Magaziner’s sworn declaration that all members of the Working Group were full-time employees of the federal government. This patently false declaration thwarted early attempts by AAPS to obtain discovery about the secretive group.
Congressman Bill Archer (R-TX) called upon the President to fire Magaziner from his position as a senior presidential aide and not to bill taxpayers for the penalty. Clinton has declared that he will stand by Mr. Magaziner, who was “vindicated” by then-U.S. attorney Eric Holder. (Holder was called on by Judge Lamberth to investigate the possibility of prosecution for perjury. Since then, Holder has been promoted to the second-highest position in the Department of Justice. Magaziner’s defense counsel Charles Ruff, a friend of Holder, has become White House Counsel.)
Magaziner was not the only official excoriated in Judge Lamberth’s opinion, which states: “It is clear that the decisions here were made at the highest levels of the government, and the government itself is — and should be — accountable when its officials run amok. There were no rogue lawyers here misleading this court. The court agrees with plaintiffs that these were not reckless and inept errors taken by bewildered counsel. The Executive Branch of the government, working in tandem, was dishonest with this court....
“It is beyond a ‘strained interpretation,’ it is dishonest to argue to this court that people are employees when there was never a piece of paper created that said they were employees-with or without pay.”
Conduct of the Executive Branch constituted clear evidence of an attempted cover-up, the Judge concluded. “It seems that some government officials never learn that the cover-up can be worse than the underlying conduct. Most shocking to this court, and deeply disappointing, is that the Department of Justice would participate in such conduct.
Lamberth agreed with Holder’s determination that successful prosecution for perjury would be difficult: “[T]here is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Magaziner intended to mislead the court when he signed his declaration on March 3, 1993.” Magaziner had relied upon the advice of White House attorneys, including Vincent Foster, “who is deceased and could not now testify as to any advice-and Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell — now a convicted felon, whose credibility could be impeached.”
The Department of Justice continued its obstructionist tactics late into the case. Even at the time that the White House was trying to moot the case by turning over documents, “it took weeks of prodding by plaintiffs’ new counsel [Thomas Spencer], and inspections of produced material, to identify a number of discrepancies that led to further court hearings and orders before the court could finally declare the case was moot.” Therefore, the Judge did not disallow attorney’s fees incurred late in the case, after AAPS refused an Executive Branch attempt to settle the case and release all officials from the threat of sanctions for misconduct.
Vexing questions remain, and many expected documents never turned up. Few travel vouchers, specifically mentioned by the Judge as germane in his order granting a Motion to Compel, were ever produced. As early as April, 1993, Clinton’s second cousin Catherine Cornelius was arranging Task
Force members’ travel through WorldWide Travel, a company owned by Clinton’s friends Harry and Linda Thomason. Cornelius was installed as head of the White House Travel Office when the entire staff was fired late in May, 1993.
From documents that were released, it is clear that Magaziner had to be aware of the factual and legal significance of the “federal employee exemption” scam and of the red flags being raised by the appointment of private-sector representatives to leadership positions on the various committees. Still, the groups pressed on in an attempt to meet their 100-day deadline to draft legislation that would have put all of American medicine under federal control. The pressure to stonewall the court came from the top — as evidenced in the new book Friends in High Places by former Clinton friend and confidant Webster Hubbell.
According to Hubbell, Hillary Rodham Clinton was infuriated by the filing of the lawsuit in February, 1993, and shouted at attorney Vince Foster: “Fix, it Vince! Handle it, Vince!” Foster’s friendship with Hillary Rodham Clinton had become an attorney-client relationship, and a very troubled one at that. After Foster’s body was found in Fort Marcy Park on July 20, 1993, Hubbell’s days continued to be filled with issues such as the AAPS lawsuit.
Attorney General Janet Reno twice refused Congressional requests to appoint an independent counsel to investigate misrepresentations about the Task Force, including testimony before Congress that only $300,000 (rather than more than $11.9 million) had been spent. It’s time for Congress to act.
“Based on documentary evidence, the revelations of Webb Hubbell, and the conclusions of Judge Lamberth, there is more than enough basis to believe that a major ‘cover-up’ existed in the highest levels of our government,” writes Thomas Spencer. The issues of obstruction of justice need to be reviewed before the Statute of Limitations expires, barring prosecutions.”
On Dec. 24, 1997, Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) demanded that Attorney General Janet Reno appoint a special counsel outside the Justice Department to investigate the “sordid case of unlawful arrogance” that Judge Lamberth found at the “highest levels of government.” Barr stated that “the taxpayers should not be made to pay for the illegal and unprofessional conduct of those who have done so much to impair...the lawful processes of government.” If Reno chooses not to act, Barr stated that he would ask for her removal as Attorney General.
Moreover, Congressional Republicans are demanding that the White House find another source of money, other than the taxpayers, to pay the legal sanctions. The Washington Times, as early as January 25, 1998, quoted Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) and Phil English (R-PA) as supporting Rep. Bill Archer (R-TX), chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. Their proposal would force the “non-government special interests,” including the Kaiser and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations, in the secret task force working groups to pay the fine.
On February 4, by a lopsided roll call vote (273 vs 126), the House passed a joint resolution expressing the sense of Congress that public funds should not be used to pay the $286,000 sanction against the White House Task Force (Human Events, 02/20/98).
Dr. Orient practices internal medicine in Tucson, Arizona, and is the Executive Director of the AAPS.
Originally published in the Medical Sentinel 1998;3(3):99-100. Copyright © 1998 Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS).