Clinton Aides Shielded First Lady From ‘Monica’ Questions

A batch of previously unreleased documents from the Clinton administration show that sensitivity to Hillary Clinton’s public handling of the Monica Lewinsky scandal permeated the White House in February 1998.

Those concerns are evident in an exchange of e-mails between press aides before Hillary Clinton appeared on Voice of America, according to documents released today by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“I was thinking that perhaps we could invite a couple of reporters in just to sit in a studio next door and listen to her do the interview,” Mary Ellen Glynn, a former spokeswoman for the U.S. Information Agency, wrote to then-White House press aide Julie E. Mason. “Caveat: there may be questions from callers around the world on the Monica story. This would bring HRC right into the the story in the U.S.

‘‘Although chances are good that if she did anything newsworthy, it will be reported outside the U.S. and will boomerang back,’’ Glynn concluded.

Mason wrote back: ‘‘Can press in the U.S. call in to the VOA show during the interview to ask questions? If not, why by having press sitting in the studio next door (they won’t have contact with her, right?) will HRC be more apt to get questions on Monica, etc.?’’

She then asked to take the conversation off-line: ‘‘[Please] call me when you can.’’

Starr Investigation

At the time of the e-mails, on February 11 and 12, 1998, independent counsel Ken Starr was several weeks into an investigation of Lewinsky, who had an affair with President Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton at the time insisted the investigation would amount to nothing.

‘‘We’ve already seen how much of this charge and countercharge does not withstand scrutiny,’’ she told reporters on Feb. 11, 1998.

The e-mails were part of a third batch of documents released by the Clinton library since the end of February. The documents also revealed White House sensitivity to the scandal remained keen enough strike a Lewinsky-esque joke from a speech by Bill Clinton a year later. At that time, his wife was contemplating a 2000 Senate bid in New York.

‘‘I do hope Hillary makes up her mind soon,’’ Bill Clinton was to say at the Radio Television Correspondents Association’s annual gala on March 18, 1999, according to numerous drafts of his remarks. ‘‘The prospect of her running for the Senate is something of a distraction. And I’m not sure how much longer I can compartmentalize.”

The three sentences were deleted by the time he spoke.