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Scenes from the never-dull Clinton White House

Saturday - 4/19/2014, 5:10pm  ET

The Associated Press

Glimpses into behind-the-scenes workings of President Bill Clinton's White House, as revealed in newly released documents:

For Clinton's last State of the Union speech in January 2000, aides considered a long list of guests who might be cited in the address and sit near first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Among those discussed: The parents of slain gay victim Matthew Shepard because, an aide wrote, "It gets a hate crime hit." Nelson Mandela, "since he is retiring." Irish-American author Frank McCourt, because "with peace in Ireland pending, he might be a good message." And "possibly someone" from the Columbine High School massacre.

Among those who ended up sitting in the first lady's box were Atlanta Braves home run record-holder Hank Aaron, former Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Tom Mauser, father of one of the Columbine shooting victims.

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During the preparations for the 1999 State of the Union, Clinton told aides he wanted them to focus on realistic proposals on education.

"If we don't have any money, why are we even talking about this?" Clinton asked aides.

"Do something, because otherwise we're just whistling Dixie. I couldn't bear to say those sentences unless we can cite something we're doing," he said later.

He also expressed shock that his plan to add 35,000 new teachers was gutted to 1,400. According to a transcript that circulated among aides, he said: "How did that get by and nobody even discussed that with me? I would have had a coronary if I had known that."

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Clinton aides spent substantial energy trying to placate supposedly friendly lawmakers.

A July 1999 memo from deputy assistant Lisa Green warned a colleague about the bruised feelings of Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who was needed to push a White House "new markets" initiative in Congress.

"Apparently, she is very upset about issues which seem to have very little to do with the actual legislation," said the memo to aide Melissa G. Green. "She is bothered that Gene did not return her call," it said, apparently referring to top economic adviser Gene Sperling. Also, it said, Velazquez "is upset that the President did not visit New York and that we went to Watts and did not focus on the Hispanic community enough."

"I think the real problem is that she is looking for a little attention from the White House," the memo said. "I recommend we have Gene call Velazquez as soon as possible, for the primary purpose of soothing her ruffled feathers."

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Clinton's unscripted remarks sometimes caused headaches for his staff.

In an August 1999 memo, senior White House adviser Lynn G. Cutler warned a colleague, "You need to be very careful on the Leonard Peltier question."

Peltier, an activist in the American Indian Movement, was convicted of killing two FBI agents in 1975 on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Peltier's defenders sought a pardon, and "unfortunately, the President told the Peltier supporters that he 'would look into it,'" Cutler said in her memo to Debra D. Alexander. "This is very dicey."

Clinton did not pardon Peltier.

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A previously classified memo to Clinton from Sandy Berger, the president's national security director, explains why the administration faulted Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry Schwalier for failing to properly secure the Khobar Towers Marine barracks in Saudi Arabia. The outpost was devastated by a truck bombing in June 1996 that killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

In the July 1997 memo, Berger told Clinton that Defense Secretary William Cohen had concluded that Schwalier "failed to proactively support the local commander in protecting his forces." Berger said Cohen would not files charges against Schwalier "but will recommend that you remove him from the 1995 Major General list."

By removing Schwalier from the list, Cohen blocked his promotion to major general. Schwalier resigned several days later. But Schwalier disputed the move and in December 2006, the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records sided with him, ordering his retroactive promotion.

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In 1993, a longtime black member of Congress was "furious" about the way he was treated by Secret Service officers as he tried to enter the White House for a meeting with the vice president.

Rep. Louis Stokes, D-Ohio, "was asked for identification, although his white driver was not," according to an Oct. 5, 1993, memo from Susan Brophy, who served as Clinton's deputy director of legislative affairs.

"Furthermore, before Rep. Stokes was allowed in the gate, a K-9 detail searched his car," the memo said. "Rep. Stokes is understandably furious and believes the search to be racially motivated."

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